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.

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.

From John: We’ve been intentionally focusing on the Old Testament for much of this year, but this 2019 post from Jon Polk is one I felt I needed to see again, so we are resharing it today. The mirror of scripture isn’t intended to flatter us or to flatten us with self-loathing. It is a tool to encourage change, not pride or despair. May we look into it deeply.

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: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded. — Psalm 64.7

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 13-14 (Listen – 4:13)
James 1 (Listen – 3:26)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Chronicles 15 (Listen – 4:38), James 2 (Listen – 3:32)
1 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 5:21), James 3 (Listen – 2:38)

Read more about The Sojourn of Sanctification
Jesus is our model, our pattern, our leader to follow through the desert as we are changed from one kind of people to another.

Read more about The Cost of Repentance
How far will you go to remove sin in your life? Whatever it may be, the cost is worth it.

Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
A lament for modern times. We are too quick to spread ideas that we have not thought about ourselves. When we do, we are responsible for the consequences. But unlike before, our spreading of false ideas does not die with the few who might have heard them. They live forever. We must own and confess our sins rather than try to re-create ignorance. We are no longer clueless. Let’s stop planting false clues.

Originally published, May 11, 2020, based on readings from Isaiah 9:8-10:4 & James 3.

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 9.14-16
14 So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail,
    both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and dignitaries are the head,
    the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them,
    and those who are guided are led astray.

James 3.1
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

Reflection: Much Demanded—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

There is an often repeated biblical principle—the more you are given, the more will be expected of you. 

We see its implications in Isaiah’s prophecy against the leaders. (Isaiah 9.14-16) James echoes it in his warning to “teachers.” (James 3.1) Christ worded it, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12.48)

Part of God’s righteousness, his justice, is not holding those with little accountable for their poverty. Whether a poverty of finances, of knowledge, of access, or of power, God judges those with little lightly and those with much heavily.

This should be sobering to us who are greatly privileged.

We live in an age of unprecedented availability of knowledge. We are more accountable to God for what we say and teach than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to access the Bible at any time and on any device imaginable. We are more accountable to God for our ignorance of his scriptures than ever before. We have an unprecedented ability to reach around the world (or across the street) to know and befriend people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. We are more accountable to God for holding on to racial prejudice, divisions, and resentments than ever before. We are living in the most prosperous time in history with financial resources available to the majority of people that were unimaginable in prior ages of history. We are more accountable to God for abandoning and abusing those in poverty than ever before.

It is to our shame with such wealth that there are starving children.
It is to our shame with such connectedness that we cause divisiveness.
It is to our shame with such availability of the Bible that we do not avail ourselves of reading it.
It is to our shame with such access to expert knowledge that we scrape the basements of the Internet to find conspiracies that we like better than the facts. (Isaiah 8.12-13)

May we confess and repent, before God comes to settle accounts with us.
Much has been given to us. May we praise God in thankfulness for it.
Much has been given to us. May we serve our neighbor in humbleness with it.
Much has been given to us. May we challenge every form of oppression with it.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 38 (Listen – 5:18)
Psalms 11-12 (Listen – 1:59)

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post reminded you of Christ’s love?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7

Read more about Confession as a Crucible
The crucible of COVID-19 is revealing in our society and ourselves the ugliest most sinful parts of our nature.

If You Can’t Say Anything Good— Readers’ Choice

Selected by reader, Jason Tilley from Texas
Words matter. As small as it is, your tongue is a powerful tool to build up or tear down another person. It gets that power from a much greater source; your mind. Thinking before you speak (or tweet) is quickly becoming a lost art.

Originally published, November 21, 2019, based on readings from 1 Chronicles 16 & James 3.

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— Readers’ Choice
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
The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. — Psalm 119.14

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 32 (Listen – 7:34)
Psalms 1-2 (Listen – 2:05)

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.

#ReadersChoice is time for you to share favorite Park Forum posts from the year.
What post did you share with a friend?https://forms.gle/DsYWbj45y9fCDLzi7