James wk4

mourn

What’s up, guys!  So today is our last week in our study over James.  And while the business of what we go over today isn’t very groundbreaking, I think there’s some really good stuff we’ll all take away and be challenged by.  So get someplace comfy and continue on…

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn, and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.     -James 4:7-10

We read this passage and we think that James is wanting us face-down groveling in front of the Lord.  To be fair, that’s partly what he is actually saying.  But what James is outlining here isn’t a demand.  It’s pleading.  Since it’s James, our first reaction is that he’s barking at us like a drill sergeant in boot camp…

drillsgt“Grovel, you filthy, worthless maggot!”

But as we look closer, we can see that he’s outlining our means to a saving grace.  How we should come to God in repentance for salvation.  And this is step 1 for any new Christian.  But it’s absolute gold for we who have been following Christ for years.  So as we go through this, think of it as a litmus test for your own relationship with God.

James uses this succinct little passage to list ten active ways a sinner turns to Christ.  It’s funny that we don’t hear much of it though, because it’s quite possibly the clearest call to salvation in all of Scripture.  But it’s not eloquent and it’s not even very compelling.  Because at the heart of it isn’t a promise of future blessings or growing relationship with Christ.  That just wouldn’t be James.  James’ only mission is to encourage appropriate action.  Just like everything else we’ve read!  Man, James is so James.  I love this guy!

But lets take a closer look at the ten actions a repentant heart needs:

  1. Submit to God – I love the idea of submission.  So often, we give it negative connotations and think that submission is for the weak-willed lemmings that go through life with a need for others to make their decisions.  But submission is one of the strongest and most unifying things we as people can do.  Think about it.  Without submission, no wars could ever be won.  Without submission, no agreement could ever be made.  Without submission, no relationship could last.  Because at the heart of all of these is the idea that we as people must submit to each other.  We fall under the same plan and commit ourselves to serving that plan and that person – i.e. submission.  So if we say we’re unwilling to submit to anyone or anything, we’re basically saying that we look out only for ourselves and desire folly over unity.  I think so often of submission in terms of military.  I’m a huge nerd and love studying American history, specifically the Civil War.  And I look at these men who fought on the lines and carried out the orders of their commanders.  These men weren’t weak individuals willing to die on the whims of the elite.  These were men who believed in what they were setting out to do.  And they realized that they couldn’t win the war on their own, so they submitted to one another and came under the same plan.  If they weren’t completely sold out to their cause, there’s no way they’d risk life and limb to take a silly hill.  But because they submitted themselves to the cause, they willingly did whatever it took.  And because they were part of the plan, they were resourced beyond what they themselves could do.  In this case, the government and the people saw to their needs to give them what they needed to fight.  James tells us here to submit ourselves to God.  To come under His command.  To take on His cause.  To be in unity with Him and every other person who calls Him Lord.  Because the life of a Christian is difficult.  We can’t live it on our own.  And the only way we’d ever be willing to face trials and help others is if we are sold out to God’s plan and using God’s strength.  So when we submit to God, we aren’t becoming mindless robots who do what we’re told.  We’re coming under God’s plan, to be fueled and resourced by God Himself.  Our battles are faced with the infinite wisdom of an omniscient God and we’re given everything we need through the infinite strength of an omnipotent God.  But a person must submit to God before His care can ever begin.
  2. Resist the devil and he will flee – The Bible doesn’t tell us to stand idly by and not fall into sin.  It tells us to resist.  Anthisetmi literally translates to stand against or to oppose.  When temptation, accusation, hostility etc comes from the enemy, we are to stand against him.  This is an active verb.  This isn’t like running away from a bully. This is standing up to him and his tactics, just like Jesus stood up to him during his temptation in the desert.  He battled with the devil and the devil fled.  We are to arm ourselves with Christ and His Word.  And we’re given assurance that we WILL have victory.  As powerful as he is, even those under his oppression can resist him.  Because he can only hold someone if he has their permission.  And when we oppose him, he flees.
  3. Draw near to God – Here’s a thought we take for granted.  James grew up in a culture where one couldn’t just draw near to God.  Only priests could be in close proximity to God in the temple.  As gentiles, we could never get closer than outside in the courtyard.  But when Jesus was crucified, the temple was shaken and the veil between man and God was torn.  And now we, through salvation, have access to an intimacy with God that was previously unheard of.  As salvation begins the relationship, we get to see and taste just how good God is.  And our natural reaction, as to any healthy relationship, is to draw nearer.  This drawing nearer is an ongoing process that takes us further and further in.
  4. Cleans your hands – Going back to the temple, priests had to ceremonially cleanse themselves before they could enter God’s presence.  Here, James is telling us to repent.  To turn from sin and seek forgiveness.  A bride would never walk in off the street for her wedding day.  She bathes, she wears her best dress, she does her hair and makeup.  She wants to look perfect for her groom.  So we should present ourselves before God.  Not satisfied with just showing up, but wanting to give Him the best of us.  And neither James or I are saying anything about Sunday.  This is an attitude that carries us every day into every situation.  Not an occasional event.
  5. Purify your hearts – This takes the cleansing one step further to find the root.  “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” Matt 15:18&19.  Jesus says that our sins start in our heart.  This is why David prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts” Psalm 139:23.  If we strive to honor God with our life, our hearts must be purified.
  6. Be miserable – God’s grace doesn’t matter if sin has no consequence.  The only way we can truly love grace is if we truly hate sin.  And misery isn’t a command, it’s the result of knowing what our sin cost us: a broken relationship with God.  Our misery is a result of facing up to what we’ve done.
  7. Mourn – Detest sin for what it really is.  If something came in the way of your marriage, you’d hate whatever it was that broke you apart.  You’d want it to be gone and out of your life.  You’d have no love for it.  And you would mourn that it ever found its way in.
  8. Weep – The manifestation of misery and sorrow.  The brokenness between us and God isn’t just spiritual.  It’s physical, emotional – it’s part of our whole being.
  9. Laughter to mourning, joy to gloom – James isn’t condemning legitimate joy and laughter.  He’s regarding the sinful pleasures that we willingly seek and take part in.  That our sensual laughter gives way to mourning what it’s brought on.  Where we once, while lost in the world, took our lives lightly and enjoyed the desires of our flesh, we now mourn our wayward self and that time is regarded as sorrowful.
  10. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord – And we’re back to square one.  We humble ourselves in acknowledgement of who God is and who we are.  Written on the board in my office are words that I pray often.  “You are God and I am not.”  It’s so simple, but to be honest I often have to remind myself.  In my arrogance, I think that I can solve the problems that people give me.  In my pride, I think that I have what it takes to save the world.  But the truth is, I have very little to offer.  On my own, I can’t do much.  Which is why I also have written on the board the words God gave to me one day when struggling with how little I could do for someone: “you be you and I’ll be Me.”  I’ll do what little I can do help someone and I’ll lead them to the one who can do infinitely more.  And when I do what I can, I can be sure that God will do what only He can.  I am weak.  He is strong.  God can’t use a heart that thinks God isn’t needed.  God can’t save someone who believes they can save themselves.  We must recognize who we are and who God is.

So this is how James instructs us to come to God.  And it sounds so extreme and miserable that we think maybe he’s going over the top.  But be James for a minute because I believe his perspective is one we should all see.

James is the earthly brother of Jesus.  Born the natural way between Joseph and Mary.  The Bible tells us that not only did Jesus’s siblings not believe He was the Messiah, they mocked Him publicly and scorned Him.  They urged Him to move against Jerusalem and Rome so the authorities would take Him away.  Pretty harsh!  “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind”” Mark 3:20&21.  And “…Jesus went around in Galilee.  He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.  But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the words you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.  Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”  For even his own brothers did not believe in him”            John 7:1-5.

James did an awful lot that he would later regret.  He mocked Jesus, tried to hide Him away from people, urged Him to take dangerous action.  And while scripture doesn’t tell us how James finally saw the truth, we do see just how much of a 180 he did.  In James’ own letter, he called Jesus Lord and Savior.  He humbled himself to the level of a servant.  He testifies to Jesus being the King of the Jews and the long awaited Messiah.  Imagine for a moment that you’re James.  How would you be feeling?  Saying what you said and acting how you did, only to realize who Jesus was!  You’d be heartbroken!  You’d have no words for how awful you treated your own brother.  You’d be miserable thinking of what you said to and about the Messiah.  And this was pain he would have to deal with.

So when we says to humble yourself, submit, be miserable, mourn, and weep: he isn’t being a masochist who enjoys seeing people suffer.  He’s depicting his own repentance and attitude toward God.  And if we were truly honest, we’d see in ourselves the same mockery and betrayal that James did.  So our response should really be the same.  We have done no less.  We have pursued other gods.  We have lusted over money and influence and success more than we’ve yearned for God.  We’ve taken His teachings so lightly and have treated our sin as if it’s of no consequence.

So today, I want to ask you this: when you look over these ten actionable steps, where do you see yourself falling short?

Maybe you allow sin in your life and don’t regard it for what it is.  Maybe you shy away from proclaiming him at work and in the world.  Maybe you chase after your own plan, rather than ask God for His.  But going over this list, and thinking about James’ response: how’s your heart?  How’s your humility?  How are you on board with God’s plan?  And ultimately in life: who do you follow?  Because this, my friends, tells you just who it is that you truly worship.

James wk3

wordshurt

Welcome back, friends!  I hope you’re enjoying reading through James and I hope you’re finding yourselves sharpened by God’s Word and your discussions with others!  If you haven’t already, take a minute to read James chapter 3 before you jump into today’s discussion.

Today’s discussion is pretty damning!  Not like James ever holds back, but he begins chapter 3 with a slap in the mouth.  Literally.  And it’s not like in some areas of the Bible where we can say to ourselves “I’m glad I don’t struggle with that in my life.”  Because no one can possible say that.  This hits every person of every demographic of every country.  You, reading this.  This is something you struggle with.  That even includes me as I proofread this post!  Today we’re going to talk about our words.  And how bad you are at using them well.

We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what  great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.     -James 3:2-10

Boom!  Your jaw hurt?  Cuz you just got struck!  Slapped the taste right out ya mouth!  I read that and I almost want to be like, “Alright, that settles it.  I’m never opening my mouth again.”  But James obviously isn’t calling us to live lives as mutes.  But he wants to be sure he’s crystal clear in what he says about speaking because it’s not just important.  It’s vital to the life of a believer!  And it can make or break the people who live life alongside us!

So James begins by saying, “look, we all sin.”  And because we live in a society where we never want to offend and people’s words are always set to pacify & justify, we almost expect the next words to be something along the lines of “…but it’s okay.”  But it’s not okay.  So James just barrels in to his point.  A man who can control his tongue must be absolutely perfect.  Because the tongue is the hardest part of the body to control.  I’ve seen alot of guys who tempt me to argue the point, but it’s true.  Because we can speak evil so easily.  We can do it away from the ears who will care and correct.  We can make the evil we speak sound lovely.  We can make it appear as news.  We can even disguise it as a prayer request.  Controlling our tongue is like trying to eat spaghetti with tongs.  Or playing the piano with baseball gloves.  It simply can’t be done.  And we’re all guilty.

James goes on to give three examples of the power of the tongue:

  1. Guiding a horse: You ever been beside a horse?  They’re huge!  Most horses average just under 1,000 pounds.  And when you’re up close, you don’t just see them run.  You feel them run.  With every hoof that hits the ground, your heart jars with the impact.  These mighty beasts were ridden to battle for centuries.  They’re fast, strong, and courageous.  And yet, a hobby of rich little girls is to ride them around obstacle courses and jump over walls.  This mighty 1,000 pound beast is controlled by a 50 pound girl who is still afraid of the dark.  And this tiny little girl puts a tiny little bit in the mouth of the horse.  And that’s all it takes to make the horse do what you want.  Control the mouth, control the horse.
  2. Steering a ship: Boats, no matter how big, are controlled by a small rudder.  The ships that James saw were not the same we see today.  They were powered by wind, not motors.  But the steering was the same.  All you needed was a paddle in the water behind the boat.  And these rudders only accounted for about 1% the size of a ship.  Tiny part of the boat, controls the entire thing.
  3. Forest fires: I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Tahoe.  It looks like such an incredible place during all four seasons.  But I’m glad I wasn’t there in the summer of 2007.  It was then that an illegal campfire began a fire that would take weeks to control.  By the time it was finally contained, it would claim hundreds of homes, nearly 100 businesses, over 3,000 acres, would do nearly $150 million in damages, and cost over 10 million to put out.  All that damage from just a small campfire, begun by a little spark.

These are pretty big claims!  But think about it: the unbelievable power of words.

Just this morning, I was at Owen’s basketball name.  Owen loves playing ball and he’s really good at it!  Problem is, he’s just not an aggressive guy.  But I’m watching him play and he’s got a cheering section, with family and some teens from the youth group.  And we’re all cheering him on.  And at one point, he’s right in front of where we are and the guy he’s guarding was dribbling the ball really high and sloppy.  I can literally see in Owen’s eyes his desire to go after the ball, but he was holding back.  And since he was just a couple feet away, I called out “Get it, Owen.”  Immediately he stole the ball, ran down the court, and scored two.  His cheering section erupted and a smile spread out across his face.  Owen was poised to win that battle.  He was completely able.  But he was holding back.  Just three words gave him what he needed to make it happen.

On the other hand, look at three other words I’ve said to Owen.  I remember like it was yesterday.  We were living at the house in Finley and Owen was riding his bike.  And cars flew down that road, I’m really not sure why.  It was a neighborhood.  But anyway, one time Owen wasn’t paying attention and he just flew out of the driveway, into the street, and into the the neighbor’s driveway across the street.  He did that with a car, unbeknownst to him, flying at him.  I was so scared I ran across the street and yelled “That was stupid!”  The moment I said it, I felt horrible.  Was it stupid?  Of course it was!  But what did those words do?  I could have said “Be more careful” or “Pay more attention” or “That car was coming right at you” or something.  But I blurted out “That was stupid”.  And immediately his face fell.  I didn’t do a single thing to help the situation or help him learn.  I backpedaled and tried to make good of the situation, but it was all lost.  He hung his head, put his bike up, and went inside the house.

Our words have so much power!

Consider this: you’re walking down a sidewalk and you overhear a group whisper about how attractive you are.  Feeling good, right?  Those words had the power to lift you up.  But you keep walking just to overhear a group making fun of you.  Those words had the power to tear you down.  And the sad thing is: which instance carries more weight?  Which one sticks with you?  The negative!  Those words doused anything that was said before.  Those words cut you.  And you put those words on your back and carry them with you the rest of the day.

And the scary thing is: words have the ability to haunt.  I don’t know how many people I’ve counseled who have talked about things that were said to them.  Things they can’t get past.  Things they’ll believe no matter the contrary evidence.  Words can not only destroy in the present.  They have the power to destroy permanently.

We teach kids “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  I don’t know who first said that crap, but it’s obviously not true.  We should be teaching them “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will utterly destroy me.”

James goes on to say that the tongue is a world of evil” that …corrupts the whole body” James 3:6.  That men have tamed every creature, but no man can tame the tongue.” James 3:8.  That’s why James is being so blunt.  Because our words have so much power!  But that power is impossible to control!  It’s like giving a child a gun.  Lots of power, can’t end well.  James pleads with us: “be careful with that thing!  It could go off any second!”

And then he brings it home:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.     -James 3:9&10 

You can say whatever you want about me.  Call me names, discourage me, slander me.  I won’t like it, but I’ll take it without a fight.  You say things about my boys?  I hope you’re ready.  Megan’s the same way.  Matter of fact, I’ve even got names for that side of her: Mama Bear & Magilla Gorilla.  She will defend her boys at all costs.  And nothing makes her go from zero to one hundred like the thought of her boys being mistreated.  It must be a parent thing.  We just lose our minds when we feel our kids are hurt.

And yet, here we are.  We praise God with song.  We worship Him with our service.  We pray earnestly to Him.  But we use our mouths to berate His kids.  We call our neighbors names.  We undermine our bosses at work.  We speak harshly when we discipline.  We spread slander about others.  We discourage those with the bravery to risk.  We bring down the more successful.  We’re hurting God’s kids!  We’re either really brave or really stupid!

Ouch!  I hope you’re feeling convicted!  I know I am!  How much differently would we treat people if we really saw them for what they are?  They’re sons and daughters of the King!  They’re heirs, just like we are!

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:10.  James may as well be yelling “You kiss your mama with that mouth?”  How are we going to pretend to be living holy lives when our mouths are filled with such trash?

James says in verse 6 that the tongue is “set on fire by hell”.  Outside of this verse, his word for hell is only used by Jesus in the gospels.  The word for hell “gehenna” refers to the Valley of Hinnom.  This deep gorge was used by Canaanites before the Israelites took up residence in Jerusalem.  It was a place that they would sacrifice burnt offerings, including children, to the pagan god molech.  When King Josiah put a permanent stop to the practice, the place was considered unclean and indecent for any sort of use.  So it turned into a garbage pit, where trash, dead animals, executed criminals and all the sort were continually dumped and burnt.  Because the place was disgusting, infested with maggots and worms, and constant fire, Jesus used it to represent hell.

That leads us to ask the question that James poses this entire section.  What garbage comes out of my mouth?  I’m not perfect.  I don’t have complete control, no matter what I want to believe.  So how is my mouth setting a fire from hell?  How is it doing the work of the enemy?  How am I letting Satan and his demons use what God meant for good?

  • gossip?
  • discouragement?
  • spreading discontent?
  • slander?
  • cheering someone’s misfortune?
  • name-calling?
  • wishing ill on others?
  • inciting anger?
  • complaining?
  • lying?
  • speaking truth in anger?
  • condemning?

James is forcing you to confront the horrible truth that your mouth causes great damage.

But we excuse it away.

We say we’re not gossiping.  Bull$#!+.  Gossip is Christian America’s favorite sin.  That and lust.  We dedicate entire television stations to it.  There’s a whole aisle of magazines just for that in every bookstore and every checkout line in America.  We huddle closely together and whisper in dark corners.  We disguise it as prayer or present it as informative.  But lets call it what it is.  It’s gossip.

We try to divide.  We speak of others to lower their status and raise our own.  We decide the only way we can get ahead is by bringing others down.  We can’t achieve way up at that person’s level.  We’ve got to bring them down to ours.

We don’t like how that person is so courageous.  They take risks that we could only dream of.  Our jealousy causes us to discourage them and make them fear, and hopefully abort, that dream.  We want them as hopeless and self-conscious as we are.

We complain.  About the weather.  About work.  About family.  About things close to our heart and things we couldn’t possibly care less about.  We find ourselves without anything worth saying, so we say worthless things to fill the space.  Be more interesting than that.  I always tell our students: you’re not bored, you’re boring.  Same thing goes if you complain out of lack of things to say.  If that’s the best you’ve got, keep your mouth shut.

On and on I could go, but I don’t need to.  You already feel God’s Spirit working on you.  So take a moment and pay attention.  Sit back for a minute and process what He’s saying.  How are you guilty?  How do you need to tighten your grip on reigning your tongue?  Now tell someone.  Confide in your spouse and ask them to help hold you accountable.  Get with your buddies and determine to be people who speak life.  Start taking steps immediately.  And when that moment comes up and you’re getting ready to use your words in destructive ways, think to this passage and ask God to give you the strength to hold your tongue.

And if you’re brave enough, text me.  Let me know how I can be praying for you and motivating you.  I love you guys and I’m so thankful for your friendship and for partnering with me in ministry!

 

 

Extra Credit reading: Here’s a blast from the past!  I’ve always been a bit of an antagonist.  Growing up, I loved listening to the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine and 2Pac and all that.  Because I’ve always had this bit of hostility toward what I thought of as corruption: whether it’s political or personal or whatever.  And I’ve never been one to shy away from a fight and I always feel the need to make people think deeper than they are and see new perspectives.  That’s why I’ve started more than a couple interesting conversations on Facebook.  But there’s a song from 2007 that I’ve always loved and it captures this idea of our power for good and power for evil.  The song talks about man’s path from purity to corruption.  Man’s incredible capacity to do great things, but its propensity to do great harm.  We have the ability to feed the world, but our energy is spent on selling products.  We could heal the hurting, but we seek to rule the weak.  We could invent all manner of helpful things, but it’s been the war machine that furthers science more than anything else.  And I feel like James would stand up with his fist in the air listening to this song.  Because up to this point in scripture, he’s been beating the same drum.  Let your life match your convictions.  Act out what you believe.  Don’t be a tool of hell.

James wk2

deadfaith.jpg

Welcome back to week two of our study in James!  I hope you took an opportunity to talk to someone about the image God put on your heart.  I know for me, it was pretty convicting.  I started a short reading plan on youversion the other day that encourages you to focus on one goal for the year.  It was pretty interesting.  It said this:

Clutter and complexity lead to procrastination and paralysis, while simplicity and focus lead to success and clarity.

So true!  But the purpose of the plan was to seek God for one word.  One word as far as how he wants you to grow this year.  And for me, the answer was simple because it’s the same thing God put on my heart after reading James 1: Time.

This year, God is calling me to be a better steward of my time.  To not spend an hour frivolously or take for granted a task I’m working on.  To be a dad when it’s time to be a dad.  To work on a project when it’s time to work on a project.  To be able to put a project aside when God puts d divine appointment in front of me.  And being diligent and open to discern where God wants my time spent.  He’s convicted me of being both too loose with my time and at other moments, too rigid.  God wants to determine my days.  I have a habit of predetermining everything and leaving little room for His movement.

Anyway, on and on I could go, but I hope that by now, God’s begun giving you a clear image that you’re fueled with the conviction that it needs to happen.  Today we’re going to turn to the next chapter and look at James 2:14, where it talks about faith and deeds.  Notice the chapter before, we talked about listening versus doing.  Today, we’re not pitting one against the other, as is often the argument with these verses, but we’re going to see how they relate to a degree of inseparability.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such a faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2:14-17

People really don’t like this passage.  Why?  Because it’s scary!  Paul is saying here that there is a certain type of faith that does not save us from anything!  There’s a belief system out there that its subscribers gain absolutely nothing!  So they think this verse must be wrong thinking.  But declaring any of God’s word as inaccurate is dangerous territory because then, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong in the Bible?  Is God’s word, then, erroneous and conflicting?  And many times when people feel this way, they’ll put up Paul’s words in the book of Romans as their evidence that James is just exaggerating to get his point across.  But lets look at it:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  -Romans 3:28

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  -James 2:24

What’s interesting to note is that at first glance, the two seem to contradict each other.  But we know that scripture is God breathed and inspired.  It is perfect, not lacking anything.  And these two verses were inspired to be both written and placed in the texts that make up our Bible.  What’s more is that the early church had no issue with them both being in there.  And even more, both James and Paul were church leaders who would meet in Jerusalem to participate in the council to determine this and they walked away in agreement.  So what do we make of all this?  What dynamic does faith play and what of works?

First it’s important to note not just the verse, but gain a perspective on the teaching and the framework it’s placed in.  Let’s start with Paul…

Paul obviously believes that a person’s righteousness, their right-standing, their salvation is done through faith in God’s grace through His son, Jesus.  That nothing apart from this is required.  “…to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” -Romans 4:5.  Here, he’s saying that we don’t work our way to righteousness, it’s a free gift.  We’re justified by faith.  Again, he says in his book to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” -Ephesians 2:8&9.  There is no work required to attain righteousness.  If one can attain it apart from faith in God, they would be able to boast in what their hands make.  But our hands can’t make both sin and righteousness.  We rely purely on faith in God’s grace.

But Paul also acknowledges that this faith has action.  In the very next verse in Ephesians, he says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”  -Ephesians 2:10.  That’s interesting.  We’re justified by faith, but it’s not so that we can just have faith and be saved.  We were created to do works.  Our faith justifies us, but also prepares us to do work.  This faith can’t just live alone.  It is followed by action.

How does this compare to James?

We’ve already read what James thinks: “Every good gift (there’s that word again) is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” James 1:17&18.  So this good gift is from God.  And we are brought forth through the word of truth.  Does the word make us righteous?  Surely not!  We’re to be doers and not hearers!  So faith in this truth, given by God, brings salvation.

Again ”…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  -James 2:5.  What is an heir?  Is an heir a laborer?  Someone who works for pay?  Or is an heir someone who is given a gift?  A beneficiary of the one who already did the work and earned the gift?  So we are heirs, not laborers, who receive God’s gift.

Just like Paul, James says that faith works!  James isn’t advocating that our works earn our salvation.  He says that our works are the natural follow through of our justification through faith.

And this is why it’s scary: we can believe and not be saved.  So often, churches try to make it easy to be a Christian.  But the truth is that it isn’t easy at all!  The first step is simple: “ …if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” -Romans 10:9&10.  But we’re not reciting a secret verse to enter a club, we’re beginning a relationship with God.  That’s why faith is so much more than just believing.  Need proof?  “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that — and shudder” James 2:19.  If a mere belief or stating that Jesus is God brought salvation, then wouldn’t the demons, who know God alot better than we do, also be saved?

But genuine faith cannot exist without it changing you.  So accepting Christ as Savior costs us nothing, but living for Christ costs us everything.  Paul even believed this so much he repeatedly tells us that we’re to die to ourselves.  Jesus instructs us to pick up our own cross.

That’s why James says “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead” -James 2:17.  Our faith is transformative. A non-transformative faith is one that simply believes something to be true.  But God calls us to so much more.  And he uses James’ words to speak it so forcefully.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” -James 2:26.

I can tell Owen that I love him.  I can tell my son every day that I cherish him and will care for and protect him.  But what if day after day, I allow him to be hurt?  What if I never provided him another meal?  What if my only acknowledgement of him were the drive-by I love you’s?  Would Owen believe me?  No!  Owen can only judge my actions.  His determination of my love for him isn’t done when I tell him I love him.  It’s done when I show him I love him.  It’s my deeds that reflect my heart.

In the same way, we’re called to be different.  We’re called to faith.  And that faith, if it has any power at all, transforms us to a person who acts out God’s word.  See how this is tied so closely to last week’s study?

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller.  He wrote a book called “Blue Like Jazz”.  And the premise of the book is that he hated jazz music until he witnessed someone genuinely love it.  And their passion for it was the catalyst for him beginning to love it.  In the same way, he argues, many people are turned off by the Christian faith.  But witnessing someone who truly loves Jesus can be a catalyst for others.  Anyway, the book was a wide success and they were looking at turning it into a movie.  And another book of his was written that detailed the process of turning the previous book into a movie.  This book is called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.  I highly recommend both!  But this book, while detailing the process of making a book a movie, talks about how in a book you can go on and on into the thought process a person goes through.  You can go for page after page to tell the mind and heart of someone.  But a movie is so much different.  In a movie you only have the story and the story only has actions.  So in a movie, you have to communicate a person’s thoughts and beliefs through their actions and nothing else.  That’s why in the movie Rocky, the main character Rocky Balboa saves a dog, befriends a boy, and cares for a needy waitress before he even acknowledges boxing.  The movie can’t just go on and on about how Rocky is caring.  They have to show it.

And I love how Miller’s book lines up so perfectly with these verses.  It’s our actions that reveal our heart.  They don’t earn our reward, but they allow the world to witness what’s going on inside of a man.  And so if a person does nothing for the needy around them, what faith do they actually have?  Surely not a faith that is active and life-changing!

So my question to you is going to be really pointed.  What does your life say about you?  If your life were a movie, would it inspire people?  Would the audience even cheer for the main character?

Or maybe a more intimate way to ask it is: does your faith inspire your children?  Do the students in our ministry see your work and glorify our father in Heaven?  Is your faith real or is it more like the demon’s, a simple belief in truth?

Again, talk to your trusted person about this.  Because these questions should be wrestled over.  James’s words and his challenges aren’t to just be heard.  They’re a slap in the face, a shaking by the collar.  Are you in or are you not?

In Revelation, God says to the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15&16.

Many times we hear this verse and think of lukewarm as the middle ground between hot (good) and cold (bad).  But hear how the church in Laodicea heard it:

At nearby Hierapolis, there was a hot spring that people would come to from far and wide to drink from and bathe in.  Imagine living in a day before hot water heaters and modern hospitals.  Imagine traveling a long time and having sore and tired muscles.  Imagine you’re sick and your body is stiff and rigid.  Now imagine entering the hot spring.  It would be almost miraculous!  Your body would immediately relax.  Your joints and muscles would find instant comfort.  How amazing would this hot water be?!

Also close by was the city of Colosse.  Colosse stood at the foot of Mount Cadmus that brought pure ice cold water down to them.  In the same way, the pure cold water was great for drinking and bringing immediate relief.

Laodicea had no water supply.  And if they brought it from Colosse, the pure, cold water be lukewarm by the time it traveled those twelve miles.  Likewise, the hot water from Hierapolis would be lukewarm by the time it traveled the shorter route, five miles.  So Laodicae built an aqueduct from Hierapolis to them to bring water.  And the people of that city only ever had lukewarm water that was so hard, they had to design the pipes in a way that they could regularly take out the mineral deposits that would build up.

So when you’re a Laodicean, you know how awful lukewarm water is.  It isn’t medicinal, it isn’t comforting, it isn’t refreshing.  It’s barely enough to keep you alive.  So when God says, you’re not hot and not cold, but lukewarm, he isn’t saying you guys are somewhere between good and bad.  He’s saying, “you’re worthless!  You disgust me!  You’re good for nothing!”  And as a result, “I spit you out of my mouth.”

The measure of our faith isn’t our temperature or our fervor to what we read.  The measure of our faith is to the works it inspires in us.  Faith without works is lukewarm.  It’s dead.  But a faith in action, a faith with works, is a faith that saves us.

Team, let’s keep it simple.  What’s the spirit telling you right now?  Listen closely to what it says and do it.  Then your faith will be made complete.

“…show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  James 2:18

James wk1

thinker-vs-doer1

James is such a fantastic book!  I hope by now you’ve gotten the chance to read through the first chapter.  If you haven’t, don’t worry you can do that now.

…seriously, I’ve got time.  I’ll wait.

Welcome back!  How refreshing was that?  I love reading James because of the perspective he gives us.  Here’s an apostle of Christ and an early church leader and he was also Jesus’ brother.  And you can almost hear him pleading with you to live the life that you claim.  And that’s really the gist of the whole book.  James urges readers to live out their faith.  That their actions would match their convictions.

The book of James is written to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and were living in community with other believers.  But James was seeing all over the same thing that we see today:  people who wear the Christian badge and wave the flag, but don’t actually represent Christ.  It’s like every time I see Westboro Baptist and I can’t help but hang my head because nonbelievers see them claim the same faith that I do.  Yet the two of us are so different!  But it’s not just extreme cases like that.  It’s when I see someone that goes to our church treat a waitress poorly.  Or when one church speaks ill of another.  Or when we walk around seeing all sorts of needs, but do nothing about them.  This behavior is all over, I don’t have to convince you of that.  And that’s why the book of James is so compelling.  Because it speaks to us and convicts us so thoroughly.  And he doesn’t do it like the apostle Paul, with eloquence and theology (Romans is hard), but he just puts it out there.  He’s like that friend of yours that doesn’t care if people overhear what they say or how they take it.  And it’s this brutal honesty that I love and I hope you’re coming to love too.

But this week, I want to look closely at chapter 1, verses 22-25.  And it’s wrapped up in this whole section of hearing versus doing:  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 a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.

He starts off saying to not just be hearers and so deceive yourselves.  Back in James’ day, reading and writing wasn’t a given like it is today.  Many people didn’t have the ability to read.  And even if they did, they probably didn’t have the money to own the written scriptures.  Paper was expensive and copying text even more so.  So generally, the only scripture many received was at meetings when the scroll was read.  And I’d like to think that in the last two thousand years, we’re a little better.  But truthfully, most of the people at our church only hear God’s word on Sundays when Pastor Brian is teaching; or our students on Wednesday nights.  So the message to the original audience is generally the same as to us today.  Don’t just hear it.  Don’t consider yourself a Christian just because you hear God’s word.  James says that if you do, you’re deceiving yourself!  You’re joking yourself!  You’re fooling yourself!  James says, you hear God’s Word?  Congratulations!  For not a single thing!

Think he’s being too dramatic, this James the jerk?  Consider these more politely written verses:

1st John 2:3-4 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

or

Matthew 7:21-22 (Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out many demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

James’ next sentence is almost a summary of the rest of the book…

DO WHAT IT SAYS.

He’s telling us that hearing the word or, if you’re in the minority of people who regularly read the Bible, reading the Word amounts to nothing if we don’t live it out.  That’s harsh!  I hope you’re feeling your toes getting stepped all over!

James goes on to compare it to a man that looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  And I like looking at this a couple different ways.  And I think each way pulls out a different truth tucked away in this analogy…

  1. Mirrors back in James’ day were nothing like the glass mirrors we have now.  They were made from metal and flattened and polished as well as they could be.  But the image they reflected was far from perfect.  You can imagine looking at a piece of metal, with it’s blurriness and irregularities and not quite seeing a solid reflection.  But there were pockets that showed a solid reflection.  So in order to truly see yourself and get an idea of how you looked, you’d have to stare intently at it in all sorts of directions and piece together the image, based on lots and lots of observation.  And with all the effort of seeing yourself, to forget what you look like when you walk away is preposterous!  So it is with hearing or reading.  You peer intently into God’s Word, studying, meditating, but then you walk away from it without the teachings you so carefully poured over.  And all that effort is wasted.
  2. Me looking at a mirror and Megan looking at a mirror are two completely different occasions.  When I look at a mirror, I’m really just checking to make sure I’m still unattractive.  I’m still convinced that one day I’ll walk by and a tall dark Gosling-esque man will look back at me.  He’ll wink, flash a brilliant smile, turn his chiseled chin and wave his perfect hair before I realize that it’s me, at which point I’ll weep uncontrollably.  But that’s okay because I’ll even cry pretty.  Where was I?  Anyway, my looking in the mirror is really just a glance.  Megan, on the other hand, is there with a purpose.  She’s checking her hair, making sure there’s nothing in her teeth, playing with her eyelashes, and generally looking herself over to see how she can take her perfection to another level.  She’s looking intently.  She takes the time to determine what can be changed, what needs modified, how she can look better.  She’s looking with a purpose.  She’s looking with the desire to improve.  So when she walks away from the mirror, she’s walking away more put together.  When I glance by the mirror, I just walk away.  If someone asked how my hair looks, I don’t know.  Zits?  Blemishes?  No idea.  Because when I looked in the mirror, I really didn’t care what I found.  I was just glancing.
  3. Too often, I’ll hear a podcast or a sermon or just a solid word across the table and it will baffle me just how much it resonates with me.  I’ll be super convicted by it and feel so sharply in that moment the change that needs to happen.  And I don’t just feel that need to change, I start getting a picture of the me that could be.  Maybe it’s a wiser me or more patient me.  But I always realize that God is leading me to be a more complete version of myself or closer to the man that He has in mind.  And I can see myself so vividly with these new changes.  I see how it will strengthen my family and inspire my students and help change the community.  And I fall in love with this vision of me and I want so badly to see it realized!  But then I go to lunch or I have a meeting or Jax poops his diaper.  And my mind goes somewhere else.  And suddenly, I’m not just no longer seeing that image of me, I’ve forgotten about it altogether.  And I’ll forget all about it until the next time I see myself and I forget it yet again.  God so often moves in me to become more than I am.  But after seeing myself, I walk away and completely forget.  The vision is gone, as is the determination to become it.

He then goes on to contrast this forgetful fellow saying that a man who does not forget what he looks likes, but lives according to the Word is blessed in everything he does.

So basically there are two ways of hearing God’s Word.  As a passive listener or an active participant.

Wow, that’s a thought!  Are you a passive listener or an active participant?

Are you hearing just to learn some neat facts you can tell others?  Don’t waste your time, you’ll probably forget them anyway.  Are you reading it just because you hear that you should?  The effort is good, but the motive is wrong.  Try again.

Or are you hearing it and studying it with a genuine desire to encounter divine truth?  Humbly seeking ways to grow closer to Jesus?  When we do this, we not only see ourselves and the picture of what God wants for us, but it’s fueled with the conviction that it needs to be completed.

Think about that for a moment.  How does that dictate our behavior?  Allow me to make an analogy of my own.  Owen and I can walk by the same mess in the same house.  I have the desire for at least a fairly organized and clean home.  Owen could not possibly care less.  So when Owen approaches said mess, he identifies it and he acknowledges that it could be clean instead of dirty.  He even knows that it would be better clean.  But he is not fueled with the conviction that it should be.  He just doesn’t care.  Megan or I, on the other hand, could walk by the mess.  And we could walk by either leisurely or with some other purpose, but our response is different than Owen’s.  We are fueled with the conviction that it should be cleaned.  So regardless of what we’re doing or what we’re on our way to enjoying, we must stop and clean the mess before we move on.  That is essentially the difference between hearing and doing.  Between walking away & forgetting our image and acting on it.

And what’s more is that when the mess is cleaned, there is peace.  Especially for Megan.  She can’t relax unless the house is clean.  She will refuse to sit down and relax if there’s a mess nearby.  She’s completely incapable.  She’s a freak like that.  But when it’s done, there is peace.

In the same way, when we act on God’s Word, we also have peace.  We are living in the freedom of His Will.  There is no peace like knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for you.  None in the world.  It’s a feeling beyond peace and beyond joy.  It’s a feeling of wholeness.  Of completeness.  (I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop there.  I hope you’ve felt that at least a couple times in your life!)  But beyond that, we will be blessed.  The blessings of this obedient life will be realized.  Joshua 1:8 says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, (why, you ask…) so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God promises blessing and success.  But He does not just hand it out frivolously.  God is much too good of a steward and much too good of a father to do that.  He hands it out to those who are obedient.

…who hear His Word

…who write it on their heart

…and who do what it says.

Chances are that God’s Spirit has been speaking to you the whole time you’ve been reading this.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a reflection you saw in the past, but forgot and never acted on.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a place you’ve been wanting blessing and success in, but it seems to be avoiding you.  Maybe He’s showing you an image for the first time.  But regardless, He’s doing it for a purpose.  But He won’t act it out for you.  He wants you to choose.  How will you choose?  Will you look away and forget what you saw?  Or will you immediately, in the moment that proceeds this, begin making steps toward doing?

If you’re married, have a conversation with your spouse tonight.  Talk about the reflection you saw.  Talk about what God’s putting on your heart to do.  If you don’t have a spouse, meet up with a good friend or accountability partner.  If you have neither, you’ve always got me!  You have my cell number and you know where my office is at.  But do something.

And maybe you’re feeling discouraged right now because you recognize that your conviction-to-do-something tank is low.  Please let me know and I’d love to pray with you.  Nothing combats uninspired faith like prayer to God and proximity to His people!

So guys, get after it!  Lets all continue to grow together!  I’m walking this out with you!  When you see me, call me out!  Ask me what I’m actively doing and keep me in check too!  I love you and can’t wait to see you!

And just in case you need a little more motivation…