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.

Meals Together, Forgiveness to Go

Scripture: James 3.17-18
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

Reflection: Meals Together, Forgiveness to Go
By John Tillman

It almost takes a special occasion for many of us to pause our fast-paced lives and eat together. We eat on the go, in the car, at our desks. We even skip eating—not for a spiritual purpose, but using faddish intermittent fasting to kick our bodies into burning fat. (In American culture skinniness is next to godliness.)

Even Christ’s disciples ate on the go at times, But food is more than physical nourishment, and the regular meals Christ participated in and instituted for the church were acts of community and communion.

In his essay, Beyond Easter, Milton Brasher-Cunningham sees an expansion of the table of communion to the community around us.

“As often as you do this” might mean more than simply observing the Lord’s Supper. What if Jesus had in mind that we would remember every time we broke bread or sat down at the table together? What if Jesus was calling us to widen our sense of every table to include those who harvested the crops and raised the animals, and to make sure they are paid fairly and treated justly?

Christ’s breakfast on the shore is a model for us of gathering those who have failed, reinstating each other through Christ’s redemption, and being sent out to feed others.

What if all our meals were markers—altars of forgiveness and belonging? Come to the table. Lay down your burdens. Offer forgiveness. Ask for it, too. And bring anyone else you can find. Christ is risen!—pass the potatoes.

The power of Christ’s resurrection is realized most, not in our building of monuments or institutions, not in our grand schemes and fantastic programming, but in the breaking of the bread, the quotidian collecting of those whom we love around a table that nourishes us all, and praying God would give us new eyes to see those who belong alongside us.

How do we expand the Communion table to include every table? How do we make sure everyone has a table and food to put on it? How does every meal become part of the story of our redemption, our sustenance? How do we hear the call to feed the sheep?

May we pray these questions from Cunningham’s conclusion and expand our hearts and tables to those we have previously excluded.

May we take our meals together and our forgiveness to go.

Prayer: The Greeting
Hosanna, Lord, hosanna!…Blessed is he who comes in the nam of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.26-26

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 9.8-10.4 (Listen – 8:50)
James 3 (Listen – 2:38)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 10:5-34 (Listen – 5:14) James 4 (Listen – 2:25)
Isaiah 11-12 (Listen – 3:39) James 5 (Listen – 3:01)

Meaning of the Ascension :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: Luke 24.51
While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

Reflection: Meaning of the Ascension :: Throwback Thursday
By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Jesus will come again. Our Lord is doing the best thing for his kingdom in going away. It is clear that he has not quit the fight, nor deserted the field of battle. It was in the highest degree expedient that he should go, and that we should each one receive the Spirit. He has not taken his heart from us, nor his care from us, nor his interest from us: he is bound up heart and soul with his people.

The scriptures tell us—and this is a reason why we should get to our work—that he is coming in the same manner as he departed: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” [What does this mean?]

Do not let anybody spiritualize away all this from you. Jesus is coming as a matter of fact, therefore go down to your sphere of service. Give of your wealth and don’t talk about it. Consecrate your daily life to the glory of God. Live wholly for your Redeemer.

Jesus is not coming in a sort of mythical, misty, hazy way, he is literally and actually coming, and he will literally and actually call upon you to give an account of your stewardship. Therefore, now, today, literally not symbolically, personally and not by proxy, go out through that portion of the world which you can reach, and preach the gospel to every creature according as you have opportunity.

Be ready to meet your coming Lord. What is the way to be ready to meet Jesus? If it is the same Jesus that went away from us who is coming, then let us be doing what he was doing before he went away.

Don’t stand gazing up into heaven, but wait upon the Lord in prayer, and you will receive the Spirit of God, and you will proclaim, “Believe and live.” Then when he comes he will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.” So may his grace enable us to do. Amen.

*Abridged and language updated from Spurgeon’s sermon The Ascension and the Second Advent Practically Considered.

Today, across the world, millions of believers celebrate Ascension Day, on the Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Easter season continues, until Pentecost. 

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
And they will say, “Surely, there is a reward for the righteous; surely, there is a God who rules in the earth.” — Psalm 58.11

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 8.1-9.7 (Listen – 7:02)
James 2 (Listen – 3:32)

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