Praying for Rain

Scripture Focus: James 5.17-20
17 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. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

1 Kings 18.42b-45a
42 …Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 
43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. 
“There is nothing there,” he said. 
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.” 
44 The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” 
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” 
45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling…

Reflection: Praying for Rain
By John Tillman

Early last week, our area got rain after 67 long, hot days. Social media feeds overflowed with pictures and videos of people outside, standing in the rain, playing in their driveways, yards, and streets. The joy was tangible.

Relief from a hotter than normal summer was only one part of it. Practical concerns about water levels were not front of mind. The joy came from a recognition that rain is a blessing.

James connected the story of Elijah praying for rain to bringing back to the faith those who wandered from the truth.

Prior to praying for rain to fall, Elijah had prayed for fire. He was confronting Israel for wandering and wavering between two opinions—worshiping Baal or Yahweh. He challenged them to return to God and when they did, rain returned to the land after a long drought.

James also connected rain to blessings of growth—of crops coming up from the earth. Crops and harvest are gospel language. Metaphors of seed and planting and growth sprang up frequently in Jesus’ teaching. After speaking to the Samaritan woman and describing himself as bringing living water, Jesus told the disciples the fields were ripe for harvest. (John 4.35-39) Not just one woman, but an entire town turned to God.

Before the resurrection, James was among those brothers of Jesus who rejected him, (John 7.5) were offended by him (Mark 6.3), and thought him to be insane. (Mark 3.21) Jesus, after his resurrection, poured out the rain of living water which grew faith even in the hardened heart of his brother, James.

Many of us know of and pray for those who have rejected Jesus or wandered from the truth. We know offended and doubtful people like James. We know questioning people like the woman at the well. Our family members and friends need to feel the blessed rain of God’s grace, and we do too. For in the rain, Elijah was also rejuvenated. (1 Kings 18.46) And as James would testify, even the obstinate can be won over through the winsome winds of the Holy Spirit.

Elijah and James encourage us to keep planting seeds of truth in a drought and pray for rain.  Watch for clouds, even small ones, that show that God’s Spirit is moving and working. (1 Kings 18.43-44) When the rains come, they will be a refreshment for your spirit, even as they bring life to the seeds of the gospel you plant in faith now.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture; we will give you thanks forever and show forth your praise from age to age. — Psalm 79.13

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 9(Listen -4:38)
James 5(Listen – 3:01)

Read more about The Blandness of Hell
In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God…Hell is a place of self-exile…When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
We need to know your favorite posts from the past 12 months. Even if all you have to say is, “It blessed me,” share it with us and we’ll share it with others.

Law of Freedom

Scripture Focus: James 2.8, 12
8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 1.25
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Reflection: Law of Freedom
By John Tillman

We have positive and negative associations with the concept of “law.” Law brings judgment. But law provides justice. Law brings guilt. But law provides accountability. Law brings punishment. But law provides peace. Law brings retribution. But law provides restitution.

When first-century Jews spoke of “the Law,” they were not referring to the law of the land. Jews believed the laws of Rome and other city or regional governments they lived under were corrupt—even sinful. They lived their lives within and under these governments, however, they followed and appealed to a higher moral code from the scriptures. 

What we call the “Old Testament” is composed of “The Law,” “The Prophets,” and “The Writings,” which correspond to the Pentateuch, the prophets, and the wisdom books such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. However, “The Law,” often referred to the entire collection. The Law was more than a civil code. “The Law” implied the totality of the wisdom of God expressed through scripture in many ways.

James, the brother of Jesus, mentions “The Law” many times. It is unlikely that he meant only the sections of the Torah that contained rules and regulations. When he referred to the “Royal Law” he quoted not just Leviticus 19.18, but Jesus from Matthew 5.43. 

James seems to make an analogy between The Law he grew up reading and following and the “law that gives freedom.” Through this law that gives freedom, mercy will triumph over judgment. James describes ways this law frees us and the effects of that freedom.

Freed from sinful personal behavior, our lives should demonstrate that our faith has an effect on our actions. (James 2.14) Freed from greed and selfishness we should act on social concern for our neighbors, caring for the poor and standing against favoritism in all its forms. (James 2.3-4, 15-17) Freed from cultural relativism, we can live according to renewed inner values, loving all without fear, regardless of how the culture or governments respond. (James 2.22, 25-26)

Christian distinctiveness from the world is not merely in exterior behaviors but in our inner being. We may live under governments that are corrupt—even sinful. Our higher moral code is the law of freedom. This law Christians live by sets us free from something but it also sets us free to something. The freedom we have in Christ is that sins can no longer hold us back from what God calls us to do.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence

Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; Lord, be my helper. — Psalm 30.11

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 6(Listen -5:10)
James 2(Listen – 3:32)

This Weekend’s Readings
Jeremiah 7(Listen -5:18)James 3(Listen – 2:38)
Jeremiah 8(Listen -3:52)James 4(Listen – 2:25)

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us your favorite post from the past 12 months. We’ll repost it in September.

Read more about Captivity, Exile, and Exodus
While living in political freedom, the people of Israel and Judah became spiritually enslaved.

One Righteous

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 5.1,
1 “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem,
look around and consider,
search through her squares.
If you can find but one person
who deals honestly and seeks the truth,
I will forgive this city.

9 Should I not punish them for this?”
declares the Lord.
“Should I not avenge myself
on such a nation as this? 

Reflection: One Righteous
By John Tillman

Popular stories often have moments where the plot forces a horrible choice.

A secret agent struggles to stop a missile launch with time running out. Will his best friend bomb the compound, stopping the launch but killing his friend? Will he risk evil continuing in order to spare a loved one?

The tension of these stories holds us rapt. What will the heroes do? Will they still be heroes if they do it? 

Jerusalem is facing a disastrous reckoning for its evil. God points out Jerusalem’s evil to Jeremiah, saying, “Shouldn’t I punish them for this?” (Jeremiah 5.9) Should God allow evil to continue?

In Genesis (Genesis 18.25), Abraham asked God to spare Sodom on behalf of the righteous. Eventually, God agreed that for ten righteous people he would spare the city. This story is reversed. God challenged Jeremiah to find even one righteous person. Jeremiah looked among the poor and uneducated and among the wealthy and wise. He found only rebellion, greed, and abuse. 

Suppose Jeremiah found a righteous person and God relented…the city would remain evil. The wicked would continue to abuse the vulnerable. Would that be righteous?

There were, and are, none righteous. (Romans 3.10) So God sent the righteous one. Jesus is the one righteous person for whom many will be spared. But this is not that simple. Jesus isn’t a holy hostage, or a heavenly human shield preventing God from punishing evil. God goes beyond that. We are not simply “spared” on account of the one righteous one. The gospel is greater than that. It’s not just a rescue. It’s a rebellion. 

In Jeremiah we see the evil city of Jerusalem punished by a greater evil city of Babylon. However, through Jesus, we can redeem and transform the evil cities we live in by the light of the heavenly city we carry within us. Rather than allow the city to be overcome by evil, God, through Jesus, through us, desires to overcome evil with good.

The question is not whether you or I should give an evil city a pass because there is some “good” in it. The question is whether you and I will become the righteousness of God that transforms cities.

May we become righteous ones through Jesus. Let his righteousness fill us from within and clothe us without. By his Spirit pray with your mouth, love with your heart, and work with your hands to establish righteousness.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. — Psalm 52.8

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 5 (Listen -5:04)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

Readers’ Choice is Coming!
Tell us your favorite post from the past 12 months. We’ll repost it in September.

Read more about Jesus, Our Blessed One
We are…partaking of his righteousness.
It is he who makes us prosper, and spreads the seed of his gospel over the earth.

Seeing And Believing

Scripture Focus: Acts 28.25-28
25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “ ‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Reflection: Seeing And Believing
By Rev. John Paul Davis

In a Special Edition of Scientific American Magazine, Sharon Guynup asks, “Is Seeing Believing?” Her article addresses how sensory illusions shape our reality. 

Acts 28 documents the latter stages of Paul’s ministry. After approximately 28 years of rejection from Jewish leaders and followers, 28 years of debates among false apostles, 28 years of preaching and teaching to Gentile believers, and 28 years of hardships, trials, persecutions, and slanderous accusations, Paul now finds himself under house arrest, in Rome. Yet, he remains committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If seeing is believing, why was it so difficult for many Jews to accept Jesus as the manifestation of the Law and the Prophets after seeing and hearing of Jesus’s resurrection? If seeing is believing, why did many Gentile converts revert back to their previous ways of idolatry after seeing and hearing of Paul’s miraculous healing abilities (Acts 20.7-12)? If seeing is believing, why was it not evident to many that Paul experienced a life-transforming event so dramatic that he changed his name and ceased being a Christian-despising Pharisee to become a humble servant of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Saul claimed to have had a unique and personal experience with Jesus, which transformed him and thus his life. One could venture to say the truth lies in the fact that it is our personal experiences (what we encounter) and not our senses (what we see or hear) that shape our realities! So then, the question for us to answer is what personal experience have we had with Jesus that points to a transformative experience in our lives today? If there is none, try praying for someone, meditating on a bible verse, or even taking a moment to reflect on the good in your life. It just may be that reading or hearing the Word of God may not be enough to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. We need to show people Jesus.

Father God, I pray that every reader of this devotional will have the opportunity to confess to others your life-changing abilities in having Jesus Christ as Lord over their lives so that others may continue to see and believe through their actions and behaviors that you are the God of all creation and there is no other like you! Amen!

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it. For where your treasure is, there is where your heart will be too.” — Luke 12.33-34

Today’s Readings

Jeremiah 4 (Listen -5:23)
Acts 28 (Listen – 4:56)

Read more about The Shema and The Lord’s Prayer
Shema implies not just hearing words but carrying them out. In The Lord’s Prayer, action is also implied.

The Hand of Providence

Scripture Focus: Acts 27.22
22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 

Reflection: The Hand of Providence
By Dennis Nicholson

In Daniel Defoe’s classic work Robinson Crusoe, the eponymous hero finds himself shipwrecked on an uninhabited Caribbean island. Marooned! And just when Crusoe had begun making a living for himself, too. It’s the latest in his lifelong streak of bad luck.

However, in the following days, Crusoe begins to see the gracious hand of Providence at work. Though he’s stranded, he’s alive. Though he’s hungry, he’s surrounded by wildlife to scavenge. And as he reflects on his old life, he begins to hear the call to repent of his sinful ways and turn to God.

Providence saved Crusoe’s life.

Luke tells us of another tempestuous ocean journey in Acts 27—Paul’s journey to Rome. Here, too, we see flashes of Providence. Julius, the centurion assigned to the prisoners, treats Paul favorably. Storms sweep the group away but also usher them towards Malta. The ship runs aground, but everyone reaches land safely.
As the storm rages, Paul’s companions lose hope of salvation. But Paul encourages them: “Not one of you will be lost.” Paul is confident that they will all survive because he sees the gracious hand of Providence at work.

Paul knew that God would protect him because God had plans for him in Rome. No storm could thwart God’s plans then. And no storm can thwart God’s plans now.

Paul’s eyes were open to God’s providence in his life. So often we blind ourselves to God’s work. As the storms of life surround us, as fear and loneliness consume us, we lose hope of salvation. But we can take heart, for “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8.28).

God will protect his church for his good purposes.

Let this hope be our anchor in the midst of the tempestuous seas. Let’s fix our eyes not on the waves, but on the outstretched hand of our Savior (Matthew 14.22-23). Let’s remember that we weather the storms not by our wisdom but by his providential hand. And let’s thank him for the ways he provides for us each and every day.

Thank you, Lord, for the breath of life.
Thank you, Lord, for sunshine and rain and food.
Thank you, Lord, for the strength to work.
Thank you, Lord, for friends who encourage and exhort.
Thank you, Lord, for saving our lives.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me…Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful. — Psalm 86.1-2

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 3 (Listen -4:40)
Acts 27(Listen – 6:09)

Read more about Faith After the Storm
Jesus rebuking the storm rebukes us as well. “Quiet. Be still”…He is no longer someone we can shake awake and push around.