Re:Verse passage – James 2:1-13 (day three)
“Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?”
James’s statement about “the rich” tends to elicit defensive responses claiming that there are some good rich people, too, just as there are some bad poor people. Okay. But that’s not James’s point. Rather, James declares that it’s not the poor who are calling the shots in this world. Behind every war, piece of legislation, rezoning plan, tax policy, banking rule, or economic strategy, there are wealthy decision makers who hold power and who shape the world we find ourselves in – much like wealthy leaders of prosperous nations carving up the Middle East in the 1920’s after the Great War. James doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, per se. The question he puts to the church is, “What system of living with people are you propping up?”
Re:Verse passage – James 1:19-27 (day three)
“…he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror.”
Peering into a mirror will motivate one to straighten a collar or address a grooming concern. It will perhaps prompt feelings of worry over one’s physical characteristics. But a mirror will only reflect the ways of thinking already present in your own head. You will regard the image you see in a mirror according to the way you’ve been taught you should appear. Peering into the scriptures, on the other hand, will place you in an encounter with God rather than with your own notions of the world. The mirror’s image is a feedback loop that reinforces what you believe. James says the word of God will reveal new things that will lead you to a new kind of living – the kind of living that Jesus said is eternal.
Re:Verse passage – James 1:13-18 (day three)
“…we would be a kind of first fruits among his creatures.”
There is a world coming, and in that world, people will work for each other’s good, they will bear with one another, they will listen to one another, they will in humility regard others as better than themselves, they will tell the truth to one another, they will let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another. And the only way that world comes is by beginning right now and growing until the appearance of Jesus Christ. That’s what the “first fruits” language is all about. James declares that when you live the way of life he preaches, that way of life will give lost people a window into a world they’d want to live in. You are the preview, and they’ll want to join you.
Re:Verse passage – James 1:1-12 (day three)
“Consider it all joy…”
Somewhere, there’s a list of irritating, irrelevant, and insulting platitudes entitled “Things to Say When You Just Don’t Want to Hear People’s Problems.” James’s statement would certainly make the list. So would Jesus’s “Do not worry about tomorrow.” And how about Paul’s “All things work together for good…?” What makes them irritating, irrelevant, and insulting is not the reality they reveal, but the way they’re often used: as a happy-talk escape hatch to avoid entering into people’s suffering. The Bible’s not trying to get anybody to look on the bright side, though. Instead, it’s declaring that hope and purpose fill the universe instead of determinism and indifference. At the center of the cosmos is a person, not an algorithm. And it’s that person – the Lord – who turns attentively to your cries of pain.
Re:Verse passage – Judges 2–8; 1 Samuel 3:1-11 (day three)
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Crucial to this circumstance was Samuel’s own curiosity. It was Samuel’s yearning to know coupled with his prayer inviting God to speak that resulted in a moment of growth and transformation for Samuel as a prophet who would one day carry the word of God to an entire people. Later, Jesus would evoke the spirit of this story when he set a child in the midst of his hearers, telling them that unless they became like children, they would not enter into life with the Lord. The world needs a child-like Samuel kind of wonder to emanate from the church. That’s what will represent God’s kingdom on this earth so that people will turn to Christ.
Re:Verse passage – Judges 8:18-34 (day three)
“And the land was undisturbed for forty years in the days of Gideon.”
Gideon’s campaign gave Israel two generations of peace. What they did with that peace unfolds in disturbing fashion in the succeeding narrative. For now, however, they had the peace for which they had longed, dreamed, and cried. There are incalculable differences between the ancient Israelite culture and current Western civilization. The one similarity, though, is that Gideon’s peace and the peace which currently characterizes the West both mean freedom from existential threat. In other words, nobody is about to eradicate your world. Do you take that for granted? Everybody does. But now is the time to build a good future. That’s been God’s command from the beginning: “Be fruitful.” That means more than population. Israel did not build a good future in the days of Gideon. With Christ, you can.
Re:Verse passage – Judges 7:23-24, 8:1-9 (day three)
“What was I able to do in comparison with you?”
With this remark, Gideon displays the humble character that enabled him to remain attentive to his own motives: “Am I just making things up?” “Can I really lead these soldiers?” “Do I have what it takes to do what’s needed?” He regarded his own abilities with curiosity and his own conclusions with self-doubt. That kind of posture might seem like weakness to some, but it made room in Gideon’s life for others to join him in the mission. He saw his limitations, and so he had the ability to let others do what they were good at doing. He didn’t feel the compulsion to be the hero. You can find the same characteristic in Jesus’s cousin John: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Re:Verse passage – Judges 7:12-22 (day three)
“This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash.”
Within the span of just a few moments, it all became spectacularly clear to Gideon: he was living rent-free in the heads of Midian’s fighting forces. They had already lost. For an army this spooked, it would only require a small push to tip them over into complete chaos. Gideon’s 300 was that small push. With this last-minute reconnaissance mission, God afforded Gideon a heaven’s-eye view of reality. From that point on, Gideon possessed the confidence to meet the task at hand. A very Gideon-inspired prayer is one which asks God, “What is the larger perspective in this situation?” That perspective won’t show you what’s easy, but it will show you what’s possible.
Re:Verse passage – Judges 7:1-11 (day three)
“Let all the others go home.”
The Bible says, in various ways and repeatedly, “You have more resources than you think you do.” Elisha told his servant, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The Israelites in the desert learned that “the one who gathered little did not have too little.” A little money amounted to an extravagant gift. A shockingly low word count from a political prisoner signaled to Pilate that he was dealing with somebody who knew a different source of authority than he had ever encountered. These are some examples. There are many more. Gideon could discharge thousands of soldiers and yet grow stronger. The Bible is consistent: What you think is mighty hardly ever is, and what you think is weakness is stronger than you’ve realized.
Re:Verse passage – Judges 6:36-40 (day three)
“And it was so.”
Why would God have responded any other way to a humble request? One might view God as working up against our limitations, but the witness of the Bible is instead that God works with our limitations – especially when it comes to doubt. We give doubt a pretty hard time. And though it is possible for doubt to harden into a default posture for dealing with the world, doubt is really just a function of our limitations. We understand that our senses have limits, that we can’t always trust that what we think we understand is the way things actually are. Gideon was not acting from a place of hardened skepticism, but rather from a place of honest doubt. We might even say that he was “doubting in good faith.” God will work with that all day long.