Daily Devotional, by pastor Jim Cymbala

Surface Religion – Part 3

“Religion that God… accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (James 1:27 NIV)

In his New Testament letter, James says to the church, “Let’s talk about what truereligion is: It’s looking after the widows and orphans in their distress.”  In other words, we are exercising true religion when we go out of our way to reach out to people who are hurting and vulnerable and going through stuff.  When we visit them, pray for them, give to them, and encourage them, we’re living as Jesus lived; and this James knew about well, for he had grown up with Jesus.

But there are many people who just want a form of religion.  They want a service, they want to sing, they want to perhaps give an offering and hear a great message; but after the service, it’s back to me, myself, and I, my family, my problems, and my success.  James is challenging us to break out from our little circle and help those who have been abused and taken advantage of.  And, guess what?   We don’t have to go into the mission field to accomplish this!  After all, who of us doesn’t run into folks who are lonely, who are hurting, who are in misery?  Sadly, many of us won’t even notice, because we’re too busy concentrating on what others can do for us.  But James says that pure religion is when we start looking at people’s lives and ministering to them in their suffering.  Not only will we run into them by chance, but if we’re open and say, “God, use me,” the Holy Spirit himself will prompt us and will lead us to people who are vulnerable and empty.  And that’s the secret, isn’t it?  A holy desire that is turned into ministry and takes us from surface religion to true religion by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us.

Read James 1:26-27.

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Daily Devotional, by pastor Jim Cymbala

Surface Religion – Part 2

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26 NIV).”

In his New Testament letter, James has been giving the church practical principles for real Christian living.  Now he cuts to the chase and tells us that religion can actually become deceptive.  We may grow up as a Baptist or an evangelical or a charismatic, or as part of any other tradition, and we can get into this rhythm of going to church and hearing the Word, but not being a doer; and by doing just that, we can deceive ourselves.  Notice that James doesn’t even say that the devil deceives us.  He says we can deceive ourselves. Moreover, he says that if we don’t put a rein on our tongues, our religion is worthless!  Did you ever hear that emphasis growing up? No, some of the worse talkers were right in the church!  The fact is that we can sin with the tongue at morning, at noon, and at dinnertime, but this sin is many times glossed over.  Now James, the half-brother of our Lord, is saying, “I lived with him.  He never said a negative word about anyone who wasn’t present, and when he had to correct anyone, he would speak right to them.  He was full of mercy.” Can you imagine Jesus voicing abroad in the earth everything he knows we ever did?  No, but we’re quick to tell people about the faults of others when they’re not present.  Some people even use prayer to slander others.  We can also wound someone with our words, and within five minutes, we can be saying, “Hallelujah.”  This is what James was talking about.  Then he says, “Now let’s talk about what true religion is…”

To be continued…

Read James 1:19-26.

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Daily Devotional, by pastor Jim Cymbala, the Brooklyn Tabernacle

 Surface Religion – Part 1

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?” (James 2:14 NIV)

James, the half-brother of our Lord, saw a problem developing among the believers, and he addressed it in his New Testament letter.  As more and more people joined the church, and Christianity spread, what James saw was that tradition was becoming more important than lifestyle and forms of worship were getting stronger than Christlikeness.  He was picking up on this trend, where people would say, “I believe, I believe,” but there was no real change in their lives.  So, he wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26 NKJV).  Of course, James wasn’t preaching salvationthrough works, because he knew that “the righteous shall live by faith.”  What he was saying was that we know what real faith is in a person by the change there is in their life.  He said in his letter, “You show me your faith without your works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works.”

James was dividing the nominal, surface stuff from what real Christianity is all about.  In the Old Testament, God had said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).  James was picking up on this as it pertains to Christianity: that you can go to church, you can sing, you can lift your hands, you can open your Bible, you can say a prayer; but if it stops there and it doesn’t go further, you’ve lost what this is all about.  Why?  Because James had grown up with Jesus and he knew him better than anyone. He knew how Jesus lived!  And James was now saying that it’s not about what happens on Sunday, but what happens Monday through Saturday.  Going to church is supposed to produce a change in our lives, and if that doesn’t happen, then our sermons and music and meetings are in vain.  In fact, the only way a person can judge how good the meetings are on Sunday or how good our devotional time is, is by the change it makes in the way we live.

James says, in essence, “You’re falling into the trap of surface religion, but where’s the real Christianity?  Because I grew up with him.  I watched the way he talked.  I watched when he turned away and wouldn’t say a word when others gossiped.  I watched how he reacted when he saw someone vulnerable and hurting.  That’s what Christianity is about.”

To be continued…

Read James 2:14-26.

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NEVER GIVE UP…by pastor Jim Cymbala, the brooklyn tabernacle

How many of us at some point of our lives we gave up…and not just once…How many of us so many times have thought of giving up…how many of us feel like giving up at this very moment…I just heard this wonderful and encouraging sermon, and I HAD to share it with everyone…The enemy is trying so hard to make us give up every single day, but the One and only Living God has unlimited verses in His word, the Bible, that tells us NOT to give up…Who we shall listen to and trust, the liar or our Creator…God says in His word that He knew us before we were even born, Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” David Wilkerson, when he was asked what is faith for him he said: “Faith is to believe in God with all of my heart when my prayers are not being answered”… This sermon spoke into my heart today. Maybe it will do the same to someone else, according to Gods will…God bless




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Daily Devotional by pastor Jim Cymbala, the brooklyn tabernacle

God is Love

“God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16bNIV)

Why is it that the fruit of the Spirit is love?  Because God is love.     And what does that mean?

It is the very nature and being of God to delight in communicating Himself.  God has no selfishness; God keeps nothing to Himself.   God’s nature is to be always giving.  You see it, in the sun and the moon and the stars, in every flower, in every bird in the air, in every fish in the sea.  God communicates life to His creatures.  And the angels around His throne, the seraphim and cherubim who are flames of fire—where does their glory come from?  It comes from God because He is love, and He imparts to them part of His brightness and His blessedness.  And we, His redeemed children—God delights to pour His love into us.  Why?  Because, as I said, God keeps nothing for Himself.  From eternity God had His only begotten Son, and the Father gave Him all things, and nothing that God had was kept back.  “God is love.”

One of the old Church fathers said that we cannot better understand the Trinity than as a revelation of divine love—the Father, the loving One, the Fountain of love—the Son, the beloved one, the Reservoir of love, in whom the love was poured out—and the Spirit, the living love that united both and then overflowed into this world.  The Spirit of Pentecost, the Spirit of the Father, and the Spirit of the Son is love.  And when the Holy Spirit comes to us and to other men, will He be less a Spirit of love than He is in God?  It cannot be; He cannot change His nature.  The Spirit of God is love, and “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22)

– Andrew Murray (excerpted from Absolute Surrender)

Where would any of us be today if it weren’t for God’s love? (Romans 5:8)

Read 1 John 4:7-21.

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Daily Devotional by pastor Jim Cymbala, the brooklyn tabernacle

Approaching God…
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5:14 NIV)

This confident asking and receiving from the Lord must follow the laws of prayer laid down by the Father.  These guidelines are found scattered throughout the pages of Scripture.  Obedience to them opens up the channel from the Father’s willing hand to our own hands stretched out in need.

First, approach God in and through Jesus’ name.  We make our appeal on the basis of what Christ did for us rather than on our own merits, because we have none.  It may be humbling to continually admit that we are helpless sinners saved by grace, but only this path will lead to a prayer-hearing God.

Second, a person who prays must also believe.  The Bible states that when we ask, we “must believe and not doubt” or else we will be “double-minded.”  A doubting, double-minded person “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-8).  A United States senator once told me that he encourages others to pray even if they don’t believe in God because “Hey, you never know!”  This philosophy might be effective for betting at a racetrack, but it will not obtain answers from heaven.

The third guideline involves the state of our hearts…  A clear conscience and a pure heart are absolute necessities for prevailing prayer.  I cannot confidently ask God for answers when I cling to the sins that nailed his Son to the cross of Calvary.  I cannot live in iniquity and enjoy the Lord’s favor simultaneously.  These are impossibilities in God’s moral universe.  This truth highlights the enormous fallacy of teaching that certain prayers bring success and blessing apart from the spiritual condition of the petitioner.  Prayers taken from Scripture, even the Lord’s Prayer, will be null and void if people harbor hidden sin in their hearts.  “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear (Psalm 66:18 NAB)…

A fourth guideline for effective prayer… is to approach God with assurance.  This is the attitude he desires from every believer every time we pray.

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Daily Devotional, (by pastor Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle)

No Guarantees of a Tomorrow…

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 NIV)

The terrorist attacks on the United States have altered our lives in much more profound ways than airport procedures for commercial airline flights.  God is using the present turmoil to remind us of these words of wisdom given many centuries ago: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1).  What Solomon declared under God’s inspiration, people throughout America – and other countries – are taking to heart now as never before in history.  Recent events have painfully shattered the smug confidence that tomorrow is somehow guaranteed to us.

Did the passengers who boarded the four fateful airline flights on September 11, 2001, ever imagine that it was the last day of their lives?  Did the men and women employed at the Pentagon and the thousands of others employed at the World Trade Center that day have any clue that they would never see their families again?  These are not rhetorical questions asked for melodramatic effect in the face of tragedy.  Rather, they point us toward an important truth rooted in Holy Scripture.

Not one of us knows what a single day may bring forth.  Yet we often live as if seeing tomorrow is a sure thing.  We easily forget that “each man’s life is but a breath” (Psalm 39:5).  Truly we live a brief, fragile existence.  Our life is something that “springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, [it] does not endure” (Job 14:2)…

Some people today dismiss the phrase “Lord willing” as trite, religious verbiage, but it is not.  It is the truth.  The Bible clearly instructs us that it is wise to recognize God’s sovereign hand in our plans for tomorrow.  The only day we really have is today.  Yesterday is gone, and we have no guarantee of a tomorrow.  So whatever we feel is most important and whatever we purpose to accomplish, we must begin to do today…

God wants us to focus on today.  That is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).   God’s way isn’t to provide next week’s or next year’s supply. His way is for us to walk with him daily and trust him for today’s necessities.   His provision might mean bread, spiritual strength, or peace for a troubled heart.  He has everything his people need, and he will provide it for us day by day.

The recent tragic events have made us realize how foolish it is to join with the ungodly who say, “Tomorrow will be like today, or even far better” (Isaiah 56:12).  While unbelievers are processing these facts of life, we who are Christians would do well to consecrate ourselves to living wholeheartedly one day at a time.

-Pastor Cymbala (excerpted from the book, God’s Grace from Ground Zero, copyright 2001)

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Daily Devotional (Pastor Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle)

“When I see the blood…” Part 2

“And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’” (Exodus 12:26-27 NIV)

Notice the separation that God made on Passover night: those that had the blood sprinkled over the doorframes of their homes experienced salvation; and those that had no blood, experienced judgment.  Some of the Jews were no doubt practicing idolatry while in Egypt, so it wasn’t their good behavior that saved them.  Nor was it their religiosity or their track record or their offerings.  It was the blood!

Do you know that’s how God separates the world, even today?  It’s not by race or ethnicity or by level of education or by the amount of possessions we have, or whether we have preached or sung in a choir for decades and worn nice suits and dresses in church.  In the final analysis, it’s “When I see the blood, I will pass over you!”  Perhaps you are a Christian, but you worry about whether God is really going to take care of you.  By doubting, we may lose our peace and our joy, but we don’t lose the blood… we don’t lose our salvation.  But if we try to put anything else on the door our hearts other than the blood, be it good works, or nice feelings or positive thinking, we’re doomed.  On the other hand, we could be downcast or thinking wrongly in a particular season of our life and not even understand the depth of God’s love for us, but as long as the blood is there, we are saved.

The Israelites were instructed to observe the Passover ceremony so that they would never forget the Passover sacrifice made to the Lord, who spared them from judgment because of the blood that was applied over their homes.  In the same manner, we are never to forget the sacrifice of the Lamb of God that washed away our sins through his precious blood applied to our hearts.  Egypt is a symbol for the world, and just as the Egyptians must have mocked the Israelites for putting the blood on the top and sides of their doorframes, people may mock us for our faith in the blood of Jesus today.  No matter what anyone says, we can rejoice and exclaim with the apostle Paul, “Praise be to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us”! (Ephesians 1:3-8).


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Daily Devotional (from pastor Jim Cymbala, The Brooklyn Tabernacle)

“When I see the blood…” Part 1

“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.” (Exodus 12:13 NIV)

Pharaoh refused to set the Israelites free from slavery, despite the nine plagues that God had sent in judgment of the Egyptian gods.   Now the last and worst plague of all was about to be unleashed: the death of every first-born, of both people and animals in the land; and God had Moses prepare the Israelites to avoid being struck down by the death angel.  You may say, “Of course they would be spared.  They were God’s people!”  No, that’s not what saved them.   Was it their money, then, or their clout or their power or their education or their fame?  No!  Moses told the people to put the blood of an unblemished lamb on the doorposts of their homes, and God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”  And that’s how the Israelites were spared and subsequently released from their bondage and set free to follow God’s leading to the Promised Land.

Imagine how the Egyptians must have mocked the Israelites: “That’s crazy!  You’re smearing blood on your doors and that is supposed to help you?”  But the Israelites did it anyway, in obedience to the word of the Lord spoken through his servant Moses.  There could have been some among God’s people who were doubting and afraid for their lives, thinking that the blood wouldn’t be enough; but if the blood was on the doorframe of that home, guess what?  They were saved.  And if one of the Israelites thought, “I don’t have to do that.   I’m a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That alone will give me a pass,” they would have been doomed.  Why?  Because God had ordained that without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sins, and thus no one could be saved.  Did it matter whether they had a nice house or a shack?  No, the angel was not looking for a type of house.  He was looking for the blood covering the entrance to that home.

Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, and what happened on Passover night is a type or symbol of what Jesus would do in shedding his blood for our sins, once and for all time.  In his letter, Peter says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

To be continued…


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