If You Can’t Say Anything Good

Scripture Focus: James 3:9-11
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

Reflection: If You Can’t Say Anything Good
By Jon Polk

Reading through James’ letter, one might get the impression that he has a pretty pessimistic view of our ability to control our speech with one another.

Without a tight rein on our tongue, our religion is worthless. (1:26)
No one is faultless in what they say. (3:2)
The tongue is a fire, a world of evil in the body. (3:6)
The tongue corrupts the whole person, set on fire by hell itself. (3:6)
The tongue is an untamable, restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3:8)
With our speech we curse one another. (3:9)
We slander and judge one another by our speech. (4:11)
We selfishly brag and boast. (4:16)
We grumble and complain against each other. (5:9)

Ouch.

Honestly, though, it sounds as if James could have been writing these words in 2019 rather than in the first century AD. And when he refers to our speech, we should certainly include our tweets, posts, and texts.

Before we start pointing our fingers at the world around us though, let us be reminded that James was writing not to unbelievers, but to an audience of those claiming to follow the way of Christ. Unfortunately, we know all too well based on our experiences (not the least of which is the unflattering stereotype of the church business meeting) that Christians can be the worst about using our words to wound rather than to speak grace and love.

We know this so well, in fact, that the Christian band Third Day turned James 3 into an unlikely #1 rock hit with the song, Nothing At All, from their debut album in 1996.

“Well, on and on and on and on and on it goes
Now look who’s the one playin’ the fool
Criticizing, telling lies, putting down
Ain’t you got nothin’ better to do?
But if you can’t say nothin’ good, don’t say nothin’ at all”


But wait! There is hope! James also says that with our mouths we can speak on behalf of God (5:10), pray for ourselves (5:13) and each other (5:16), sing songs of praise (5:13) and confess our sins (5:16). 

When we learn to control our tongues, we can bring great teaching, healing and joy to many.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rule for the students of his seminary classes was that no one should speak about another student in their absence. Many of his former students admitted they frequently broke this rule, but they learned a great deal from their mistakes about the power of our words to damage the body of Christ.

Oh, how would our speech be different today if we tried to follow Bonhoeffer’s rule?

*Song, “Nothing at All” by Third Day

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who walk with integrity.—Psalm 84:11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 16 (Listen -5:21)
James 3  (Listen -2:38)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Waiting at the Beautiful Gate
Jesus has left his church work to do in this world. They are waiting for us at the Beautiful Gate. We are their miracle

Read more about The Language of a Good Neighbor
The words we speak plant seeds that come from our hearts. When those seeds are violent winds, we reap the whirlwind of violent actions.

Read more about Killing With our Hearts
We rush to soften Christ’s teaching about violent thoughts and words because we are unwilling to let go of them.

Don’t Play Favorites

Scripture Focus: James 2:5-6a
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor.

Reflection: Don’t Play Favorites
By Jon Polk

A man walks into a church for worship wearing an expensive, tailored Armani suit and the greeter at the door shows him to a seat near the front of the sanctuary. An obviously homeless man arrives at the same church wearing clothes and worn-out sandals from a thrift store, and he is promptly escorted away from the sanctuary and asked to watch the service from the overflow room. 

Yes, the example seems extreme, but James, having been the leader of the early church in Jerusalem, does not sound as if he is speaking hypothetically in the opening verses of chapter two. 

We express preferences and show partiality every day in our lives. We cheer on our favorite sports teams, listen to music by the artists we enjoy, have dinner with friends and cast our votes for our preferred political candidates.  

While most of this favoritism is harmless, James is quick to call out our hypocrisy in showing favoritism unjustly while Jesus has expressly directed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matt 22:39

One of the most egregious ways James says we manifest the sin of partiality is the way in which we treat the poor and those in need. His words to the rich here in chapter two (2:6-7) and later also in chapter five (5:1-6) are quite scathing in their rebuke. The church should be a hallowed ground where all people are found equal before God, regardless of their financial profile. 

James cites a paradox when seen through the eyes of the world: the poor are a model of humble courage and deep faith and the rich are examples of arrogance and shallow faith.

We make judgments with our own eyes as to the character and circumstances of someone in poverty. Jim Wallis writes, “Most Americans believe that if you work hard and full-time, you should not be poor. But the truth is that many working families are, and many low-income breadwinners must hold down multiple jobs just to survive.” 

There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible that refer to poverty and our God-given responsibility to seek justice for the poor. Theologians use the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor” to refer to the trend in Scripture of commands and teachings from God, Jesus, and the prophets towards care for the needs of the poor and powerless in society. 

Looks like God may have turned our notion of favoritism upside-down.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O God of hosts, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. — Psalm 80.7

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen -4:38)
James 2  (Listen -3:32)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Waiting at the Beautiful Gate
Jesus has left his church work to do in this world. They are waiting for us at the Beautiful Gate. We are their miracle.

Read more about Whole Life Generosity
Christian generosity is not passively giving a portion of income as if we were being taxed. If we treat Christian generosity in this manner, we rob it of any spiritual power.

Practice What You Preach

Scripture Focus: James 1:22-24
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Reflection: Practice What You Preach
By Jon Polk

Turning the pages from Hebrews to the letter of James, we notice a marked contrast in content and style. While Hebrews is filled with lofty theological concepts, James is quite the opposite, with little exposition of Christian doctrines, but rather an almost random collection of ethical instructions for Christian living.

The author James is the brother of Jesus, leader of the early Christian church in Jerusalem. It is clear by his emphasis on Christian behavior that James had experienced arguments and conflicts in his congregation. Sadly, James’ instructions on civility are needed as much today as they were two thousand years ago.

Some have noted James’ focus on behavior, not doctrine, and have demoted James’ letter to a lesser place in the biblical canon. Martin Luther famously referred to the letter as an “epistle of straw,” stating that it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it.

But this short letter is an exercise in practical theology, the discipline that seeks to align theological practices with theory. Richard Osmer defines the four key questions and tasks of practical theology: What is going on? Why is this going on? What ought to be going on? How might we respond? Reading through the instructions in James’ letter, we find that he often addresses these questions.

Behind James’ admonition to be doers of the word and not merely hearers is a call to a higher level of accountability and responsibility. James compares a person who hears God’s word and proceeds not to follow its instructions as someone who has immediate memory loss upon stepping away from a mirror, unable to recall their own face.

In Disney’s classic Snow White, the evil Queen employs a magic mirror to remind her that she is the fairest in all the land. It is simple flattery at its finest, which aids in masking the deceit lurking in the Queen’s own heart. 

So often we look into the mirror of God’s word and congratulate ourselves for having the right beliefs and purest theology, only to cover up the destructive actions and attitudes that characterize our daily dealings with the world around us.

James encourages us that we have every perfect gift from our Father in heaven (1:17) in order to produce the fruits of faith in our daily lives and to rid ourselves of the sinful nature lurking within.

Mirror, mirror of God’s word, remind us to do the things we’ve heard.

Divine Hours Prayer:
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.—Isaiah 1:18

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 13-14 (Listen -4:13)
James 1  (Listen -3:31)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Hours of Prayer

From John: 
Read the Bible. Reflect and pray. 

That is the two-pronged, ultra-simplified vision that we have for our readers. This past week we have taken some time to curate and comment on some classic readings about prayer to strengthen and encourage us in the practice of prayer. Tomorrow we return to following the reading plan with a series on the book of James by Jon Polk.

“Praying the hours,” which is also called “fixed-hour prayer,” “daily office,” or “the divine hours” is an ancient practice of prayer in which psalms, other scriptures, and written prayers are prayed according to a set schedule throughout the day at assigned times. It has been continually practiced by faithful Christians for thousands of years.

Reflection: Hours of Prayer
By John Tillman

I grew up in a faith tradition that eschewed “rote” prayer for “spontaneous” prayer. When I discovered the freedom, emotional connection, and expression that was possible in fixed-hour prayer, it was a revelation and a revolution in my spiritual practice. Ruth Haley Barton writes from similar experience in her essay, Sweet Hours of Prayer.

“I was convinced that spontaneous prayers were the only real prayers because they came from the heart; only people who were not very spiritual and did not have much to say to God needed to rely on prayers that were written by someone else!”

In so-called “spontaneous” prayer times of my youth, our leaders and I often fell back on familiar patterns and idiosyncrasies. We knew that deacon so-and-so was going to incessantly repeat, “DearLard,” in a pattern so familiar when it was our turn to pray we inadvertently mimicked him. These repetitions became just as “rote” as reading prayers thousands of years old but less polished and beautiful.

Of course, every prayer, well worded or not, is beautiful and may be heard with joy by our Father, but Barton continues:

“No matter how alone we might feel on any given day, fixed-hour prayer gives all of us a way to pray with the Church even when we are not in a church…This way of praying affirms that we are not alone, that we are part of a much larger reality—the communion of saints that came before us, those who are alive on the planet now, and all who will come after us. In a spiritual sense, praying with the Church through fixed-hour prayer expresses that deeper unity that transcends all our divisions—and that is no small thing.”

*Quotations from, Sweet Hours of Prayer by Ruth Haley Barton.


Another way to pray with us as a community is through our private Facebook group for subscribers to The Park Forum. Its primary purpose is for us to pray and connect as a community. Join us there if you have not yet and leave us a prayer request to pray for you.

You can also pray in community with us by following our prayer feed on the Echo prayer app.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.—Isaiah 1:18

From John: 
Read the Bible. Reflect and pray. 

That is the two-pronged, ultra-simplified vision that we have for our readers. This past week we have taken some time to curate and comment on some classic readings about prayer to strengthen and encourage us in the practice of prayer. Tomorrow we return to following the reading plan with a series on the book of James by Jon Polk.

“Praying the hours,” which is also called “fixed-hour prayer,” “daily office,” or “the divine hours” is an ancient practice of prayer in which psalms, other scriptures, and written prayers are prayed according to a set schedule throughout the day at assigned times. It has been continually practiced by faithful Christians for thousands of years.

Reflection: Hours of Prayer
By John Tillman

I grew up in a faith tradition that eschewed “rote” prayer for “spontaneous” prayer. When I discovered the freedom, emotional connection, and expression that was possible in fixed-hour prayer, it was a revelation and a revolution in my spiritual practice. Ruth Haley Barton writes from similar experience in her essay, Sweet Hours of Prayer.

“I was convinced that spontaneous prayers were the only real prayers because they came from the heart; only people who were not very spiritual and did not have much to say to God needed to rely on prayers that were written by someone else!”

In so-called “spontaneous” prayer times of my youth, our leaders and I often fell back on familiar patterns and idiosyncrasies. We knew that deacon so-and-so was going to incessantly repeat, “DearLard,” in a pattern so familiar when it was our turn to pray we inadvertently mimicked him. These repetitions became just as “rote” as reading prayers thousands of years old but less polished and beautiful.

Of course, every prayer, well worded or not, is beautiful and may be heard with joy by our Father, but Barton continues:

“No matter how alone we might feel on any given day, fixed-hour prayer gives all of us a way to pray with the Church even when we are not in a church…This way of praying affirms that we are not alone, that we are part of a much larger reality—the communion of saints that came before us, those who are alive on the planet now, and all who will come after us. In a spiritual sense, praying with the Church through fixed-hour prayer expresses that deeper unity that transcends all our divisions—and that is no small thing.”

*Quotations from, Sweet Hours of Prayer by Ruth Haley Barton.


Another way to pray with us as a community is through our private Facebook group for subscribers to The Park Forum. Its primary purpose is for us to pray and connect as a community. Join us there if you have not yet and leave us a prayer request to pray for you.

You can also pray in community with us by following our prayer feed on the Echo prayer app.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.—Isaiah 1:18

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 11-12 (Listen -11:59)
Hebrews 13  (Listen -3:31)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Called to Prayer :: The Angelus
It is not the bell that unites them—it is the spiritual bond of prayer.

https://theparkforum.org/843-acres/called-to-prayer-the-angelus/

Read more about The Cultivating Life
Praying is like watering the soil of your heart so that it doesn’t become hard and dusty and so that the things God plants there can grow.

Extra Ordinary Prayer

From John: 
Read the Bible. Reflect and pray. 

That is the two-pronged, ultra-simplified vision that we have for our readers. This week and part of next we take some time to curate and comment on some classic readings about prayer that may strengthen and encourage us in the practice of prayer.

Reflection: Extra Ordinary Prayer
By John Tillman

A kind of prayer that can have a profound difference in our lives is what Richard Foster refers to as “Ordinary Prayer.” Ordinary Prayer is anything but ordinary. It is seldom well-practiced. I would not say that we need less of any kind of prayer, but we could all use a little extra ordinary prayer.

Part of this type of prayer is putting our prayers into action. It is praying less with whispered words and more with the sweat of our brows and the work of our hands. A key part of Praying the Ordinary is the Prayer of Action.

Speaking of the Prayer of Action in his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster quotes, Jean–Nicholas Grou: “Every action performed in the sight of God because it is the will of God, and in the manner that God wills, is a prayer and indeed a better prayer than could be made in words at such times” Foster continues, “Each activity of daily life in which we stretch ourselves on behalf of others is a prayer of action…These times are lived prayer.”

We enact prayers by putting what we say to God, ask of God, and know of God into all we do. C.S Lewis noted that the woman, noisily cleaning the sanctuary of a church and distracting him as he attempted to pray during the day, was praying with action, saying, “her enacted oratio is probably worth ten times my spoken one.”

But we do not need to be serving in a church or cleaning one to enact our prayers. Foster continues:

“Another way of Praying the Ordinary is by praying throughout the ordinary experiences of life. We pick up a newspaper and are prompted to whisper a prayer of guidance for world leaders facing monumental decisions. We are visiting with friends in a school corridor or a shopping mall, and their words prompt us to lapse into prayer for them, either verbally or silently, as the circumstances dictate. We jog through our neighborhood, blessing the families who live there. We plant our garden, thanking the God of heaven for sun and rain and all good things. This is the stuff of ordinary prayer through ordinary experience.”

We carry prayer with us into every moment of our lives. As we do, may our actions be blessings not curses, carrying the good news of the gospel.

*Quotations from Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, Richard Foster

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Bless our God, you peoples, make the voice of his praise to be heard;
Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip.— Psalm 66:7-8

Today’s Readings
1 Chr 5-6  (Listen -12:23)
Hebrews 10  (Listen -5:33)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chr 7-8 (Listen -9:04), Hebrews 11  (Listen -6:22)
1 Chr 9-10 (Listen -6:48), Hebrews 12  (Listen -4:36)

Thank You!
Thank you to our donors who support our readers by making it possible to continue The Park Forum devotionals. This year, The Park Forum audiences opened 200,000 emails with free, and ad-free, devotional content. Follow this link to join our donors with a one-time or a monthly gift.

Read more about Prayer as Vocation
To some, it might be a surprise that one of the primary definitions of the word “vocation” is a divine calling.

Read more about Cultivating Daily Bread
Daily bread refers to a daily need for God and purposely highlights the need for spiritual disciplines that are required for us to grow in faith.

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