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Category Archives: James

James 5 – Prayers for Mom

I am not one to bury the lead, so I want to actually start with James 5:16 and the power of prayer and talk about wealth at the end.  This chapter was very important to my family when we first found out that Mom was sick.  The doctors had told us that Mom had brain tumors that required brain surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.  I found out some time later that the doctors thought Mom had about six months.  Prayer had always been important to my family, but it took on a whole new role at this point.  Based on James 5, my parents asked the elders at church to come and lay hands on Mom and pray for her healing.  It was a powerful experience to have that group of men pray for my Mom and my family.  (However, nobody said anything about anointing with oil until Mom afterwards said she wanted to do things exactly as James 5 instructed so the elders actually did it again the next Sunday at church, that time with oil.)  My parents also wrote a note to the church asking that everybody take a moment and confess their sins to God, because James 5 says that Christians should confess their sins to one another so that they could powerfully pray for healing.  I don’t pretend to know exactly how God did or didn’t answer those prayers, but Mom ended up having multiple sclerosis (and not brain cancer) and lived for six more years.  I have a lot of great memories from those years.  I tell you this story because of the heritage of faith and belief in God’s Word that was given to me by my family.  Anytime I read James 5 I am reminded of those important moments in my family’s life when we really did depend on our faith.  I will never forget that my family also called on others to join us in our prayers.  And if you were one of those people who prayed for us then thank you.  You will never know what a blessing to us you were.

The beginning of James 5 is the second half of a conversation James is having about wealth.  At the end of James 4, he writes to merchants who travel from city to city, making their own plans and relying on themselves.  Their confidence and faith is in their own ability to determine the future, which is foolish when only God knows the future.  In chapter 5, it transitions to talking to rich people, which is different from merchants.  This is the nobility, the people who own land and have servants who work the soil.  They have mistreated those who work for them and a guilty of valuing their wealth and possessions over people.  James focuses on how people handle possessions and wealth on several occasions, but this section makes it clear that when wealth causes people to trust in their own ability to determine their future they are in trouble.  When people put their confidence in money, insurance, jobs, retirement funds and don’t put their trust in God, they are in trouble.  When people take advantage of others for personal gain they are in trouble.

On the other hand, Christians should in every area of their lives seek to bring their thoughts, values, and actions into alignment with God’s thoughts, values, and actions.  This includes what we do with our money and our possessions.  It doesn’t mean that you have to be poor or give away everything you have.  What it does mean is that your priorities need to be brought into alignment with God’s priorities and how we handle our money needs to reflect that and be rooted in that.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in James

 

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James 4 – I Wish More People Were as Humble as I am…

It is a common lament of mine that the Christians around me aren’t as humble as I am. If they were more humble, like myself, we would have a more righteous church. Whenever New Years comes along people begin looking at themselves for what they can resolve to change. I like to spend this time helping people realize the changes they need to make in their lives to be better people. I don’t actually make resolutions myself; I help other’s see what needs to change in them. I’m just doing my part to help create a better world. Hopefully you realize that I’ve said all of this in jest.

James continues into chapter 4 in the theme of humility. Those who are truly wise are characterized by humility (3:13); it is the position for receiving God’s grace (4:6); and in the description of repentance, it is required (4:10). The opposite of humility is implied in the question immediately preceding in 4:11-12, “But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” It is quite natural for James to transition from the call to humility and confront the problem of arrogance.

 

 

“Judging” has become a hot topic in our culture. We have developed an idea that to not judge someone is to never disagree with what they are doing. This mindset really puts James in quite the conundrum. “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.” Isn’t James judging them and therefore contradicting himself at the same time? He is…if we have a poor understanding of what it means to judge. There is a difference between judging someone based on an evaluation of Biblical standards of conduct (are they in the image of Christ) and forming a negative, and usually self-righteous, opinion about someone because they do not measure up to these standards, or because we simply don’t agree with what they are doing. It would be an unfortunate misunderstanding of this passage to read it and assume that when we see a Brother or Sister not living up to the image of Christ that we shouldn’t lovingly confront them. There is a level of humility that has to be there to do that.

There is one God and judge of all who is able to save and destroy…you are not God. Never take on the position of God and bring condemnation on others. It is warranted to point them back to the way they should be living but we need to be careful in how we approach these situations. In short…we need, in every way, to be humble in all we say and do.

Humility is an elusive virtue. As soon as you realize you have it, pride sets in. We often associate humility with downplaying yourself and thinking less of yourself. When it comes to boasting about tomorrow…we like to talk ourselves up about the things we will do. I remember reading these verses and thinking that we always had to say, “if it is the Lord’s will” or we are going about life wrong. I look back over my life and there are lots of things that have not gone like I projected they would. I’ve loosened up my grip a bit on my future and have allowed my plans to change. I never intended on being back in this part of the country but God has blessed me greatly through the changes He has brought to my life. I’ve had to swallow my pride at times and be humbled. I hold my plans a lot more loosely now but I still have room to grow in humility. The overall question that needs to be asked at the end of this chapter is, what does humility look like? C.S. Lewis captures powerfully what humility looks like in Mere Christianity:

To even get near [humility], even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

— C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Bible Blog, James

 

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James 3 – Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…

…are uncontrollable and are like wildfires that can lead people astray and destroy you all.

We’ve all had those moments when words left our mouth and our hands began grasping in front of our face trying to grab the words and shove them back into our mouths.  Alas, we could not and the damage was done.  I can distinctly remember times when I spent nights sleepless with a sick feeling in my stomach just wondering how badly things would go because of words I wished I could have back.  As you remember those moments, we’re going to put this on hold for a moment.

Most people, if asked to name the most influential people in their lives, would name family members, close friends, and likely teachers.  Each of us could quickly name our favorite and most influential teachers from our lives (and least favorite and least effective as well).  We all know this to some extent and it’s because we do that people get so upset when their children have teachers that teach a religious or political view different from their own.  We know how influential teachers can be.

When we combine the two thoughts above, we arrive at the warning in James 3 that teachers must be so cautious because words are so powerful and teachers are so influential, the words of teachers have great weight.  As my friend Lee would say, this is a good place to cite the Spiderman clause, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  

The larger point is rooted in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 12 or Luke 6, that what comes out of the mouth is the overflow of the heart.  So start by controlling what comes out of your mouth and it will begin to have an impact on the matters of the heart.  James goes so far as to imply that if you can master your tongue, the hardest and most difficult part of the body to control, that you can master the rest.

You might be tempted to think that words are just words, but evil and good can’t come from the same source.  So if evil is on your tongue…maybe you need to reevaluate what your saying.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2013 in James

 

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James 2 – Destroy Social Status – Evident Faith

When you meet someone for the first time you are typically asked the same number of questions. Who are you? Where are you from? And the most important…what do you do? We might not realize it but in a lot of ways we classify people based on their profession. There is a certain level of social shame to have to say, “I don’t currently have a job.” We wrap so much of our identity up in “what we do” that we find our value, and often give people value, based on these professions. Is there a way to communicate to people that we don’t care who they are, where they are from, or what they do, all we care about is that they are a child made in the image of God and that is where all of their value and identity comes from?

Tatian (120-180 AD)

One of the major reasons the early church was persecuted was because it messed up the social order of the Roman world. In a culture that thrived on class and social status Christianity created problems. There are letters that were written from one governor to another, complaining about the Christians and how there seemed to be no divisions between groups of people. They all seemed to act as one. Early Christianity created a sense of belonging that made people feel included, loved, and cared for. They welcomed outsiders, regardless of their background, and thus overcame the divisions of gender, ethnicity and class that characterized the Roman world. The second century Christian writer Tatian claimed, “Because we do not make any distinction in rank and outward appearance, or wealth and education, or age and sex, they devise an accusation against us that we practice cannibalism and sexual perversions.”

 

James, in this first section, says, “God doesn’t show favoritism and neither do His people.” When we fully live this out we develop a community of people to which all are welcome. We embody the love and peace of Christ that transforms communities. See everyone in the same way that God sees them. Do not show favoritism and do not do things just so that others will favor you.

Thursday, Kent reminded us out of James 1 that, “Your faith should impact your life.  Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week.  What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior.  It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today.” James goes on in chapter two to say that if you say you have faith but it isn’t evident in how you live then you don’t really have faith.

What does this look like? If Jesus calls you to pick up your cross and follow him, to come and die, and you continually strive to preserve your sense of worth and identity then you haven’t taken the call of Christ seriously. When you say, “I’ve been crucified with Christ that I no longer live but Christ lives in me…” (Gal 2:20) and you live as though that happened figuratively in your baptism, then you haven’t taken seriously what you did in your baptism. Your baptism was not “just a symbol” of what has happened but it was you participating in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why throughout the New Testament we see the writers reminding Christians what they did in their baptism as a way of handling different situations.

You cannot simply believe in Jesus and actually be a Christian. You have to live it. Sitting in the auditorium during a worship service makes you a Christian about as much as sitting in the garage makes you a car. A transformation has to take place. Simply believing in Jesus puts you on the same level as the demons. Allow yourself to be transformed.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Bible Blog, James

 

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James 1 – Life Consistent with Faith

We don’t know for sure who actually wrote the book of James.  The name James was very common at this time, but it is most likely that the letter was written by the most well known James of the early church, the brother of Jesus.  James was a pillar of faith in the Jerusalem church.  While most people assume that Peter was the strongest leader in the early church, there is much church tradition that indicates that James was just as much a pillar and leader in Jerusalem.

This letter is addressed to the twelve tribes.  This could mean that James is writing to a more Jewish audience, but I lean towards it being a Jewish phrase (since James was a Jew) to describe all the Christians in the churches around the world.  This is different from many of the letters that we have in the New Testament that are addressed to a specific individual or congregation.  James understood his letter to contain instructions valuable to Christians in all places and all situations.

The book is well known for being full of practical instructions for Christian living.  Similar in many ways to the wisdom literature found in the Old Testament, this book puts forth the idea that our lives should be consistent with our faith.  If we believe in Jesus but that belief never touches our life through our actions and practices then we have nothing.  The book also seems to be dealing with problems that were already creeping into the early church community.  We know from Acts that the Apostles had to appoint servants to be in charge of making sure widows were fed fairly.  Apparently the widows who behaved more “Jewish” were getting better care than the Jewish widows who behaved more like Romans.  Prejudice towards widows is a problem.  And there was the problem with Ananias and Sapphira, who wanted the glory of generosity without the willingness to actually give.  In James we see that there is prejudice between the wealthy and the poor in the church as well.  

In the office we have a saying that’s more of a joke than anything, but occasionally we find ourselves saying “Ministry would be the greatest job in the world if it weren’t for the people.”  Well James has discovered exactly that and now he is writing to help people bring their lives into alignment with the Gospel that they proclaim to believe.

The last several verses of chapter 1 highlight this very point, that if you should get rid of moral filth and instead accept the word of God planted in you.  Don’t just listen to the word and deceive yourself, but actually DO WHAT IT SAYS!  Your faith should impact your life.  Unfortunately, this remains a radical concept today when thousands of Christians attend church on Sundays and it has no affect on their decisions, actions, or words throughout the rest of the week.  What’s frightening is when their conscience is not even pricked by such behavior.  It is to this crisis that James wrote and to which his words still speak today.  We will cover the entire book in the next week, so be sure to keep reading and measuring your life against the teachings of James.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in James

 

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