Archive for October, 2013

Book of James.00114 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. – James 2:14-17 (CEB)

How can you take these words from James and sum them up?  Maybe it would sound something like this: You can’t just “talk the talk,” you have to “walk the walk.”

Simply put, faith requires action.

There’s a great temptation sometimes in church world for faith to become a “passive” activity.  We can come to church. We can sit for an hour or so in a worship service.  Maybe we can sit for another hour in a Sunday School class or a small group.  We can listen to the choir, musicians, band, etc., during a worship concert.  We can listen to a pastor or other speaker share with us some inspiring and uplifting words from the Bible.  Then we can smile, shake some hands, get in the car and head home until the next time we gather in church.  It’s the world of low-impact faith.

But what if we could make faith active?  Maybe that same scenario would sound a lot more like this:  We ARE the church.  We gather with other believers fully expecting that something is going to happen because God is there.  We participate, maybe even lead, in small groups or Sunday School classes.  We open ourselves up during music in the church and make a joyful noise as those words connect with our hearts.  We become participants in a holy conversation between ourselves and God (it’s not just a sermon — it’s a challenge).  Then, we join with other believers to take the faith we share into a world that desperately craves the chance to connect with the God who loves us all.

I have a feeling that the writer of James would tell us that the second option is THE option.  In fact, the writer really doesn’t hold back on describing a faith that’s just about talking about faith.  It’s described as “dead.”

Maybe the great challenge of what we read here in James is to know that we follow a God who is in the resurrection and the redemption business.  And just as God can resurrect the dead, actively following that God can resurrect a dead life of faith.

Want to grow in your faith? Then do something.  Action is required.

Gracious and loving God. When we read Scripture, we see how you are constantly taking action.  You create, love, forgive, redeem, save and the list goes on and on.  Help us God, in our life of faith, to follow your example. Help us to take action and put into practice the things that you have taught us.  And be with us each and every step of the way.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

8 You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. 9 But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. 10 Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. 11 The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. 12 In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. 13 There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. — James 2:8-13 (CEB)

In Scripture, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus’ response is that, first, you love God with everything that you are and, second, you love your neighbor as yourself.  He goes on to say that the entirety of the law hangs on those two commandments.

Here, in James, that command of loving your neighbor as yourself becomes known as the “royal law.”  Basically, it becomes the lens through which we can see every other law and rule regarding human relationships.

It is this “royal law” that the writer of James now points to his continuing arguments against showing favoritism.  To basically sum up this argument, James says showing favoritism is a violation of the law that says to “love your neighbor” as yourself.

It all ends with the challenge for us to follow this law and to show mercy to others.

What does mercy mean?  Grace is getting a gift we don’t deserve.  Mercy is not getting the punishment that we do deserve.  When we show mercy to another, we are acknowledging that the other person has done something, has hurt us, etc., but we are making the choice to forgive and to, in a sense, let them off the hook.

And it all comes back to Jesus’ statement on the greatest commandments:  Love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as yourself.

Gracious and loving God, open our hearts to the needs of the world around us.  Be with us in our efforts to live out the great commandments in which we love you with everything that we are and we love our neighbors as you have loved us.  Help us to show grace and mercy in our relationships with one another.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

James 2:5-7: Rich and Poor

Posted: October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

5 My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism? — James 2:5-7 (CEB)

In the time of James, as he is writing this letter, there is a stark division in society.   There are those who are wealthy and, most often, you could tell that they were wealthy simply because of the clothes that they wore.  Then there was a very large group that was considered, by society’s standards, to be poor.

This new church that was starting to grow and develop and spread became a mixture of those who were rich and many who were poor.  At times this division must have created a great deal of strain on these growing communities of faith.  The issue is frequently addressed in the New Testament.

James uses that issue here to paint a contrast — being poor in earthly standards as opposed to being rich in terms of faith.

There’s so much going on in these verses — especially in the ways that those are rich and poor can treat one another.  But I keep coming back to that phrase “rich in terms of faith.”

Isn’t that the goal of discipleship?  I want to realize that, on my own, I am poor in spirit, even spiritually bankrupt.  Yet, in my connection to God, in following after God, in reading scripture and in connecting to God, then I’m making a huge spiritual deposit that changes my life.

It makes me think of those times when the busy-ness of life can get in the way of spiritual connection.  It’s been a particularly busy few days, I’ve been on the go a lot, I haven’t spent as much time reading Scripture and my prayers have been hurried.  I often describe myself in those moments as feeling “tired.”  It’s because in those moments I’m feeling “poorer” in Spirit.  Yet, what often turns those moments around is taking the time and being intentional to pray and reconnect with God.  It has the power to change my outlook and my direction.

Maybe I can see this challenge from James in light of the haunting question that we find in Matthew 16:26: “Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives?”  Faith and connection to God are what ultimately matter for our lives.

The challenge:  What can I do today, and every day, to continue to grow “rich in faith?”

Gracious and Loving God, your love for us knows no boundaries.  You give us a gift of grace that is beyond anything we could ever pay for or deserve.  Your mercy is priceless.  God, help us to continue to grow rich in our faith as we spend our days following you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Book of James.0011 My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. 2 Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. 3 Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” 4 Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? — James 2:1-4 (CEB)

It was a cold January afternoon and a man found a spot in a Washington, D.C., subway station during the height of rush hour.

Thousands of people walked by as the modestly dressed man would spend the next 45 minutes playing through six pieces from Bach.

In those 45 minutes, only six people stopped and paid attention to the man as he played.  A couple of those who stopped to watch were children and their parents grabbed them and hurried them along and away from the man playing the violin in the subway.

In that 45 minutes, 20 or so people walked by and tossed money into the man’s violin case.  In all, he received $32.

When he finished playing, he stood up and put his violin back into its case and walked out of the subway.  There was no applause and no acknowledgement of the gift that he had shared.

Maybe it was because he was seen as someone seeking money in a subway.  Maybe it’s because of the way that he went about it.  Maybe it was because he was perceived to be something that he wasn’t.  Maybe he was just ignored.

Yet, what thousands missed out on in that 45 minutes was a free concert from world-class musician Joshua Bell who was playing on a violin valued at $3.5 million.  A couple of nights before, Bell had played a sold-out concert where seats went for an average of $100 each.

His appearance there was part of a social experiment arranged by the Washington Post.    It was designed to gauge how we perceive our surroundings and whether we would notice the exceptional in a common, everyday setting.

From a distance, it’s easy to take a look at that story and say, “How could so many people miss this?”  Yet, this is a scenario that we can play out everyday, even in church.  Do our preferences and our perceptions get in the way when it comes to how we see others?

That’s the message that’s at the heart of these words from James.  In the time of James, the way that wealth and power was displayed was through the way that people were dressed.  James warning is don’t get caught up in looking at the clothes, the outside.  Instead, don’t judge “a book by its cover.”  See to the heart.

That’s a challenging message for us.  How do we honor these words and this message from God as we live our daily life?

Most gracious and loving God, help us to see the beauty in all of your creation.  Keep us from judging others based on outward appearances.  Help us to see to the heart in the way that you see to the heart.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

Book of James.00126 If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless. 27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us. — James 1:26-27

Sometimes in Scripture we will encounter a verse or a passage that should make us stop for a moment and think.  These two verses from James are a tough word for those who follow Jesus.

In fact, let’s read verse 26 again, but this time from another translation: If you put yourself on a pedestal, thinking you have become a role model in all things religious, but you can’t control your mouth, then think again. Your mouth exposes your heart, and your religion is useless. (The Voice)

Ouch.  What a strong word for us to think about.  In fact, for a moment challenge yourself with this question:  How many relationships issues have you encountered in your life that come back to words, to things that were said about someone else, things that were said and overheard, words that tore down instead of built up?  How many times have words destroyed family relationships, friendships, church family ties, even our very relationship with God?

So, James warns us to be careful about what we say.  He warns us to learn to control our mouths and not be mislead.  All of this can remind us of a song that we might have heard children sing.  Do you remember these lyrics?

O be careful little mouth what you say
O be careful little mouth what you say
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down in love
So, be careful little mouth what you say

In the middle of this tough word from James, we get a comparison of what devotion to God doesn’t look like and what it ultimately does look like.  It doesn’t look like someone who struggles to control their mouth, who says things they shouldn’t, who has a false witness.  Instead, true devotion to God looks like someone who follows Jesus’ commandments of loving God with everything that we are and loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Here, specifically, James points to one of the biggest social issues of his day:  True devotion leads us to care for widows and orphans — those who have nothing.

Maybe what all of this does is point us to a better way.  When we are concerned with what we say, when we think before we speak, when we love God, love others and do stuff, then we’re in the process of transforming this world to look a lot more like the Kingdom of God.  And when you’re in the process of transforming this world into God’s Kingdom, it’s a lot more difficult for this world to transform your heart into something other than God’s Kingdom.

And it all starts with being careful of what we say.  Are we up to the challenge?

Loving God, we thank you for the ways in which you love us despite the ways and times we stumble. God help us to think before we speak and help us to love those you love as you love them.  In this we pray, Amen.

Book of James.00122 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do. – James 1:22-25

I have a guitar that sits in my office at church.  It’s a beautiful guitar and those who know about these kinds of things have told me that it has an incredible sound.

In my guitar case, I also have a tuner, picks and an extra set of strings.  In the bottom of the guitar case, I have some papers that include the chords for several songs.

Each week, I drive a couple of miles from the church to take a guitar lesson.  My guitar instructor gives me things to work on, he shows me how to play and he teaches me music theory.

However, if I never take what I’m learning in lessons and put it into practice, then the guitar that sits in my office is nothing more than an expensive dust-collector.

That’s the point that James seems to be making here when it comes to our spiritual lives.  We need to be more than just those who “hear” the word — the goal is to move it from hearing to putting it into practice.

The more that we put it in practice, the more that it sticks with us.  And the more that it sticks with us, the more that it becomes a part of who we are.  And when it becomes a part of who we are, the Word of God transforms us.

Someone walked past me the other day while I was playing through a song on the guitar and said, “Wow, you’ve really been practicing on that one.”  If I can do that with a song on a guitar, how much more can I do by putting God’s word and law into practice in my life?

Gracious and Loving God, help us to do more than just hear your word.  Help us to take your word and your law and put them into practice in our lives.  God, help us to see that by putting them into practice, we will move closer and closer to you.  Transform us from the inside out.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you. — James 1:19-21 (CEB)

Sometimes we read a passage of scripture and all we can really say is “ouch.”  It’s a word that cuts straight to the heart.

We live in a social media driven world where it’s easy to make a quick response or comment.  We see it in politics.  We see it in rivalries in sports. We see it in comments that people make about one another.

Without much thought, we type in that comment and hit “submit.”  Unless someone challenges us, we really don’t have to think about the consequences of the statements that we make or the reactions that they might cause on the receiving end.

In the world where it is so easy to “fire off” a shot at one another, these words from James can sting.

And we see it in our relationships too.  Issues and questions and comments from others can send us to a quick response.  They can bring out our anger.  In our hurt and anger and pain, we can respond with words that hurt another.

In that world, these words from James can sting.

James offers advice for everyone.  Be quick to listen.  Make listening the priority when it comes to others.  Hear what they have to say, engage in what they are saying to you, take it to heart.

Then, be slow to speak.  Take your time in your response and think it through.  Know that your words have the power to lift up or the power to tear down.

And be slow to get angry.  Don’t quickly respond when you are angry and don’t fire shots back just because you’ve been hurt.  Think it through.

How many relationships would be improved simply by employing these words from James?

Oh Heavenly Father, forgive us for the times we respond in anger and in hurt without thinking about their consequences.  Help us to listen more, to be careful in our response and slow to become angry with others.  It is a difficult task, God, but we know that you are with us in the task.  In this we pray, Amen.