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07-26 - Thy Will

James 4:11-17

We have been looking at the writings of James, the brother of Jesus. James was a man who it appears throughout Jesus public ministry did not believe what Jesus’ said about himself. And yet, James listened to what Jesus said.  At one point in Jesus ministry throughout Galilee, James thought Jesus was out of his mind and came to seize control over Jesus and bring Jesus home.  And yet, James paid attention to Jesus’ teachings and remembered them.  James’ separation from his brother Jesus’ ministry seemed so complete that upon Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus appointed his own disciple, John, as the caretaker of Mary, mother of Jesus and mother of James.  And yet, James would come to honor his brother Jesus as Lord and Savior and did so even to the point of his own death by the hands of a mob who stoned and clubbed James to death.  What accounts for the transformation of James from doubter and skeptic to disciplined believer?  The apostle Paul revealed to us the reason James’ transformation in the letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth.

For what I [Paul] received I passed on to you [the believers in Corinth] as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me [Paul] also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)

Jesus, risen from the dead, first appeared to those who believed in him and who grieved so terribly after Jesus’ crucifixion. Paul said Jesus appeared to Peter, a man broken by his own denials of Jesus.  Then Jesus appeared to the other apostles.  Jesus then to 500 people who believed in him, men and women alike. Only after resurrecting the faith and spirit of those who had believed in Jesus, did Jesus then appear to those who had not believed in him.  Paul lists only two such appearances to non-believers: James and Paul.  Jesus first appeared to his brother James, a man who thought Jesus was insane.  We do not know when or where Jesus appeared to James.  We know when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, Jesus spoke her name, “Mary,” and at Jesus’ calling, Mary threw herself to the ground and wrapped her arms around Jesus’ feet and cried out “Rabboni,” a term of endearment.  Did Jesus do likewise when he appeared to his brother and simply say, “James?”  And did James fall to Jesus’ feet knees calling Jesus by some pet name?  Or did Jesus just appear, standing before his brother, James and say nothing?  And in that silence did all the words James said about Jesus, about being insane or a fraud, come pouring into James’ mind, reminding James of the judgments he had made against his brother, Jesus?  And in that silence, did Jesus who was and is perfectly innocent judge his accuser James? Innocence accuses its accuser. And after those few moments of terrifying silent reflection by James of what he said to and about Jesus, did those words depart from James’ mind and replaced by forgiveness and words of Jesus? We do not know.

            But we do know two important things about James from that encounter with his brother, Jesus.  First, James believed in Jesus.  The resurrection changed and transformed the entirety of James’ life.  The resurrection of Jesus was and is the defining event for James, for you, and for me.  Today, people chant, “No justice, no peace.”  For the Christian, the statement should be “No resurrection, no peace.” The apostle Paul said, “17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).  James believed and so after becoming a witness to the resurrection, James called himself, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).   James called his brother, the “glorious Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James believed in Jesus without reservation and, instead of being a detractor of Jesus, became a servant of his brother.

            The second thing we learn about James after the resurrection appearance by his brother is that James was concerned about what came out of his mouth and the mouth of Jesus followers.  James’ letter is not long and yet he speaks numerous times about what we say to one another.  Let me give you just a few examples.

  • Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).
  • 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).
  • Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law (James 2:12).
  • The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (James 3:6)
  • With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be (James 3:9-10).

James was concerned about what people said, perhaps because what James said before the resurrection of Jesus about Jesus was unkind, unworthy, and earthly leaving James open to judgment by the Son of God. James seeing his brother, Jesus, appear before him, resurrected from the dead, must have been a terrifying moment. The final words of James’ letter may give us some insight into what those brothers shared in that moment. James wrote, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). In that moment of the resurrection appearance of Jesus to James, it seems clear that Jesus turned James from James’ error and rather than judgment into eternal death, Jesus covered a multitude of James’ sin and brought him into eternal life.  That is the promise we too share with James.

            James, perhaps like few other people, understood the significance of brother speaking against brother and the power of forgiveness found in one brother forgiving the other.  James wanted his readers, he wanted you and me, to understand that what we say matters in this life and what we say carries eternal significance.  From today’s reading, James wrote, “11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.  Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.  When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).  James’ words showed the eternal significance of our words. “Do not slander one another.”  The King James Version of this verse is more pointed, “Speak not evil one of another.”  These words are as old as one the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” (Exodus 5:12).  Slander is the act of making a false statement against someone else.  James made this connection.  To slander is to violate the law of God.  To violate the law of God is to set yourself as judge of the law.  To judge the law is to judge the lawgiver, God.  Slander thus hurts the person we speak against and places us in the position of judging God.  James said, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12).  James’ words here reflect that he understood what Jesus said on this very matter and in many ways applied to the way James treated Jesus.

            Jesus said, “21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). “Raca,” meant the person was considered emptyheaded or a fool.  Makes you wonder if James felt he had called his brother Jesus, ”Raca,” when James believed Jesus was out of his mind.  James had judged Jesus and quite wrongly.  To judge another is not a small matter. Jesus said, “28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  James must have remembered his brother, Jesus’ words, when James wrote, “12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12).  James, standing before his resurrected brother Jesus, stood the risk of being judged for eternity but instead James was saved by Jesus whom James saw as his Lord.  James, the new person saved by his brother, the Son of God, said, “Who are you to judge?” (James 4:12).  Indeed, who am I and who are you to judge another and slander the reputation of a brother or sister?  James’ question and his words of admonishment are powerful and should call us to check our words.  Jesus said, “36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

            James finished up this chapter by continuing to address the impact of what we say.  We pick things up again at verse 13, “13 Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  14 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.  15 Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’  16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.”  James’ point here was that his readers, believers in Jesus, were using the gift of language and testimony to boast that they would use their lives, also a gift, to make money – lots of money.  The boasting represented a desire to set their own plans in motion for the purpose of amassing wealth for themselves.  Wealth itself is not necessarily a problem.  The problem James was pointing out was that God was absent from the plan.  The boasts of James’ readers were strictly earthly centered and that the objective was to amass wealth such that these people would become even more self-reliant. The boast means James’ readers saw no dependence on God at all for their lives.  James brought his readers up short and said, “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).  We are a mist.  A mist appears for a while and then vanishes, and no one remembers anything about the mist. That is a sobering thought and a hard truth.  Now we could be discouraged or even depressed by the idea that we are seemingly so inconsequential.  But that was not James’ desire.  His point was that we must not see our lives through the lens of earthly living alone. We must have an eternal view. James was reflecting the teaching of Jesus who said, “19Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Jesus point, James’ point, was that the treasure of life will not be found here in the pursuit of wealth.  The treasure will be found in doing what God desires.  James said we must approach God in humility and in dependence to him.  From that posture, James wrote, “15 You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15).  Our posture ought to be found in seeking God and in seeking God’s will.

            James knew something about the power of words and thoughts expressed about life. James knew something about the power of words and thoughts expressed to God and about God.  James shared the same living space as God lived among us in the person of Jesus.  James had plenty of time to know Jesus, his brother, and to speak with his brother. James thought his brother was insane. James thought his brother was not genuine.  James thought his brother was wrong in his thinking.  James was not quiet about his thoughts and his words were hurtful. Then something happened.  James’ brother Jesus was killed and buried. Then came the terribly wonderful and terribly frightening news.  Jesus was alive.  He had been raised from the dead.  Jesus was who he claimed to be, the son of God.  The wonder and terror of that news came to a peak when James stood before Jesus. All of James’ idle and unkind words flooded James’ mind.  James must have thought to himself, “I am doomed.”  Then Jesus spoke to James in a reassuring tone that James’ sins were forgiven; that is why Jesus came and died.  James shared with us that we need to be thoughtful about what we say and to use our words not to judge our neighbors but to seek the will of God; God’s good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:2).  That is the good we can do.  With that in mind, James concluded, “17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

            This week, let’s restore our language with our brothers, sister, parents, children, and neighbors because we know what is good and seek to just do it. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Amen and Amen.

07-19 - James - Draw Near to God

James 3:18 & 4:1-10

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  What [then] causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 3:18; 4:1) The opening statement and the question appear back-to-back in the New Testament Book of James.  James, the brother of Jesus, wrote these words to the people of the early Christian churches.  James’ statement is comforting.  “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).  We like to hear words about peacemakers, peace, and righteousness.  To James’ readers peace was embodied by the word Shalom, which means wholeness and complete in every regard.  We are content when we feel complete and settled.  When we are at peace, we do not tense up nor are we easily startled. When we are at peace, we breath easier because we feel safe.  People who can usher a sense of peace, peacemakers James calls them, are a true blessing to our lives.  But James’ comforting statement about peacemakers, peace, and righteousness is abruptly changed by a harsh sounding question to his readers, “What [then] causes fights and quarrels among you?” (James 4:1) James’ question makes clear that James does not consider his readers to be peacemakers.  They are instead peace-breakers.  James’ readers are engaged in fights and quarrels; shouting and screaming at one another.  It seems their behavior is not a just an occasional sort of thing, it is persistent and pervasive.  Fights and quarrels are part of the lives of James’ readers.  James asks his readers, “Why are you behaving this way? What is going on inside of you to choose to behave in such a way as to oppose peacemaking, peace, and righteousness?” James’ questions were an extension of his thoughts we talked about last week.  Namely, that fighting and quarreling come from using the wisdom of the world which is earthly (self-centered).  Such wisdom progresses to being unspiritual (peace-breaking), and it culminates in demonic behavior (it outright opposes God).

James asked, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they [these fights and quarrels] come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet [jealously envy others] but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have [peace] because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask [God for something], you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:1-3).  James wasted no words laying into his readers and putting the responsibility for the fighting squarely onto the individual.  James does not allow for lame excuses for the situation.  James does not allow his readers to say, “I am only responding to the way I am treated by others.  I would not have to fight if others would listen to me the first time.  There would not be any quarrels if people just agreed with me.”  James said to each, you are responsible for the fighting and quarrelling because of two reasons.  First, you desire control, authority, and power believing that they are the means to bring you wholeness, joy, and peace.  I remember when I was a kid, we enjoyed playing a game called King of the Hill.  The object was to stand on top of hill or mound of dirt while all the other kids came at you from every side of that hill to wrestle you to the ground and throw you off that hill so they could become king of the hill.  As king, you had to fend off the attacks of others and try to throw them down the hill.  As king of the hill you were considered in control, you had the authority, and you had the power, but you never had any peace.  It was a fun kids’ game.  It is a terrible game for adult Christians to play with one another’s life.  James point was you fight because first you desire to be king of the hill believing that brings you peace and you know that it does not.

Second, you fight and quarrel because you do not ask God.  You do not ask God for what?  James previous said people lacked wisdom from heaven.  James said in Chapter 1, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).  In Chapter 3, James wrote, “17 The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). James point was that his readers are not asking for wisdom from heaven to put an end to the fighting and quarreling. Instead, James’ readers were asking God to intervene on their side in the dispute and give them the victory over their battles with other Christians.  The motives behind their prayers were all wrong.  James said God was not answering such prayers because those prayers were earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.

James’ point on prayer is sobering.  Many people, Christians and non-Christians, can remember and recite Jesus’ words on prayer.  They remember Jesus said, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  Religious practices, even our own worship services, reinforce the idea of all prayers answered as we desire.  Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).  This gives rise to us concluding every prayer with the words, “In Jesus name we pray.”  People pray for all kinds of things that are not of God.  “God, please let me win the lottery.  I promise the money won’t change me and I’ll even give some of the money to the church.  In Jesus precious name I pray.”  We pray with wrong motives because we want to believe Jesus answers all prayers.  But the quote from Jesus was not, “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you,” it was “ If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).  To abide in Jesus and his words, means our motives in prayer will be proper because our prayers will be focused on the wisdom of God not on self-centered desires.  James’ point was his readers were not having their prayers answered because Christ was not abiding in them and they were not following Jesus words.  As a result, James’ readers were acting and thinking in an earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic manner and at the same time asking God to bless their mess.  God will not bless a mess.

James went so far as to say that acting earthly and praying heavenly is a form of adultery because his readers were trying to share in an intimate relationship with the world and with God.  That just cannot be.  James said, “4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (James 4:4-6).  Strong language.  “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” You cannot love God and have the world as a secret lover.  A relationship with God means peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they are the children of God.”  James gave the other side of the same coin, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world [a peace-breaker], becomes an enemy of God.”  The language used by Jesus and James gives the impression that we face the ultimate coin toss.  Heads you’re a child of God.  Tails you’re an enemy of God.  Heads you will.  Tails you lose, and lose, and lose.

But here is the good news. Whether we want to be known as a child of God or an enemy of God is not a game of chance or a coin toss.  James in completing his thought set out a new set of ten commandments to be on the side of God, even if we are presently fighting, quarreling, and otherwise acting in an earthly, unspiritual, and demonic manner as an enemy of God.  James wrote these 10 commands:

  1.  7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. 
  2.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
  3.  8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. 
  4.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and 
  5.  purify your hearts, you double-minded. 
  6. 9 Grieve, 
  7.  mourn and 
  8.  wail. 
  9.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 
  10. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Let’s see what James was talking about here.

James said the first commandment is to submit yourself to God.  Submitting to God is a recurring theme for James.  Submission means to let God be God of your life.  To submit means to accept what God’s word says and to obey it. In James’ language, we end the adulterous relationship with the world.

Second, James said to resist the devil and the devil will flee from you.  This is an important point. If we are submitted to God, then we can guarantee the devil will make his appearance.  We must resist his presence by drawing closer to God, not moving away from God.  When we feel that pull to leave our faith journey by praying less, going to church less, by following worldly thought, that is the precise moment we need to draw nearer to God.  The closer we draw to God the less influence the devil has over us because evil will not come into God’s presence.

This is notion of movement is affirmed in James’ third command to draw nearer to God.  The Apostle John put it this way, “5 This is the message we have heard from him [Jesus] and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him [God through Jesus] and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he [God] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7).  Draw near to God and the devil leaves.  Draw near to God, and we become purified.  Draw near to God and we stop fighting and quarreling and we have fellowship with one another.

Fourth, we need to cleanse our hands. We need to stop the actions that contaminate our life with sin.

Fifth, we need to purify our hearts. We need to stop taking into our life the things of this world that contaminate our thinking and emotions. We are both blessed and cursed to have access to so much information through newspapers, books, television, and the Internet.  But not all of what we can allow into our life is good.  Some of what we can receive is enriching and a lot of it is destructive, rude, and crude.  We need to purify our hearts and use the wisdom of heaven to bring into our lives what builds us up.

Commandments six through eight call us to grieve, mourn, and weep.  The object of these behaviors is the sin of our lives and making a public decision to turn from these behaviors.  Our grieving, mourning, and weeping expresses that our past life is done and over.  We have entered into a new relationship with God alone.

The ninth commandment is to transform our laughter and joy at sinning and the frailties of others.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).  We need to push the world out and let God in.

Finally, James said humble ourselves before God so that God can lift us up.  We need to stop trying to be the king of the hill by force and be a humble servant toward others.  In our servanthood, God will place us high as a righteous person; someone worthy of being called a child of God.

In a few words, James brought his readers from being confronted about the nature of their fighting and quarreling with each other that James equated to murder and adultery to being humble and lifted up by God. He gave ten things to do but at the very center of James’ words was the key.  James said the key is to draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Regardless of the issues and challenges we may face, the imperative action is to draw near to God so that we can be made right.  James’ command spoke of God’s character for God loves when his children return to him. Jesus shared this part of God in a story.  Jesus shared a story of a father who had two sons. The younger son asked for inheritance from his father, who granted his son's request. This son left home with his money and squandered his fortune on sinful living. The son eventually became destitute. As consequence, the son had to return home empty-handed,  He intended to beg his father to accept him back as a servant. To the son's surprise, he was not scorned by his father but instead his father welcomed back his son with celebration and a welcoming party.  The son drew near to the father and the father drew near to the son.  God stands ready for us to draw near to him and in doing so, he will draw near to us. In our drawing toward God, our fighting and quarreling nature will subside, our prayers will be answered because they will be consistent with God’s will, and will we exalted by God. The apostles of the New Testament said, “We proclaim [the gospel message of peace] to you what [because] we have seen and heard [it], [in sharing the message] so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

This week, let us draw near to God and feel Him draw near to us.  In that closeness, let the tension of life give way to the peace from God that surpasses all understanding surround us.  Amen and Amen.

07-12 - James - Which Wisdom

James 3:13-18

I have shared with some of you that later in September, I plan to begin teaching a ten-week course online called Christian Ethics.  What is Christian Ethics?  Christian Ethics is simply the way that people think about moral questions from a Christian perspective.  Christian Ethics is not about telling someone what they must think about a social issue. Although, some churches and denominations do prescribe what congregants are to think through a catechism.  If you are interested in reading a book on ethical responses to a variety of circumstances, you can borrow my copy of the catechism for the Roman Catholic Church.  Even with fine print, the catechism is 845 pages long.  Christian Ethics that I will present is more about helping to organize our thinking from a Christian perspective.  If we know how to think like a Christian, then we can apply that understanding to whatever circumstance or issue comes our way. There is no need for someone else to write a book telling us what must think about an issue.

Now what Christians and non-Christians believe should be done in a situation or on an issue is guided by three primary considerations.  First, what we decide to do can be dependent upon what goal we hope to achieve. Second, what we decide to do can be dependent upon what duty I feel I must fulfill.  Third, what we decide to do can be dependent upon what kind of person we should be.  So, let’s say that this afternoon, you are in your front yard just enjoying the moment. Across the street from you is your neighbor who is in their front yard also just enjoying the moment. You get along with your neighbor, even though they seem a little sketchy.  One thing you do know is that your neighbor is an atheist; they do not believe in God in any way, shape, or form.  As you are both enjoying the day, a car drives slowly down the street between your house and your “across the street” neighbor’s home. You recognize the car as belonging to someone who lives down the street.  The driver of the car is known to be a very disagreeable person, to everyone. As the car passes by, you notice something odd.  There are small pieces of paper coming off the roof of the car.  The pieces of paper look like money.  You see that your neighbor notices the paper coming from the car as well.  After the car has passed by, you and your neighbor calmly walk to the street and discover the paper coming from the car are $100 bills.  You collect 10, $100 bills and your neighbor collected 4, $100 bills.  That is $1400 between you.  Your neighbor says, “Why not give me all the money.  I will take care of this matter if you like.”  What you decide to do, and what your neighbor will decide to do, will be guided by ethics.  Your decision, and your neighbors, will be guided by a combination of goals, duties, and what type of person you want to be.  But here is the thing.  Although you will have the common ways of making a decision, that is goals, duties, and what type of person you each want to be, the Christian Ethics you will use is different from worldly ethics your neighbor will use.  Or at least it should be.

This was the point James was making in this weeks’ reading from the book bearing his name.  James was concerned about how Christians make decisions.  Do Christians make decisions based upon the wisdom of the world with its goals, duties, and role models.  Or do Christians make decisions based upon the wisdom of God with its distinct and different goals, duties, and role models?  James asked in verse 13, “13 Who is wise and understanding among you?”  Being wise here has nothing to do with intelligence or education.  It has everything to do with being having a solid foundation, a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Jesus explained being wise through the story of two builders found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  One person built a house by first digging down deep into the soil and laid a foundation for the house in the rock.  The other person built a house on the ground without a foundation.  Then the heavy rains came.  The house built on sand was washed away by flood waters but the one built on a good foundation could not be shaken by the flood.  Jesus said, “24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock” (Matthew 7:24-25).   To be wise then is to know the words of Jesus and to make Jesus words the foundation of their way through life.  James’ question focused on whether Jesus’ words formed the basis of his reader’s goals, duties, and type of person they were being called to be.  James asked, “13 Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13).  Whoever has Christ in them, the very wisdom of God, then let that person show it by the way they live that life.  James wanted his readers to live life like Jesus lived his life.  James wanted his readers to do things in humility; that sense of wanting to serve others without a desire for status or ambition or repayment. In the New Testament, this type of love fueled desire is described by a Greek word for love, agape.  Agapeic love is not reciprocal.  You simply give requiring nothing in return.  Agapeic love was the type of love Jesus spoke about when he addressed the host of a banquet.  Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14).  The purpose of giving was to express love leading to righteousness. 

A couple of weeks ago, Becky and I met with the parents of a young man who died at the end of April.  The parents shared about their son and his desire to help other people. Some of those this young man helped were kind and others were, quite frankly, dangerous people.  What struck me was that this young man was as humble with kind as he was with the dangerous.  This young man gave to each type of person knowing that those he gave to could not or would not ever return his love.  That is agapeic love moved by humility.  We cannot learn humility from a book or a course.  We can only learn about it through experience.  James wondered aloud if anyone who was reading his letter was wise and understanding of the ways of Jesus and had shown those qualities in humility through experience.  Living agapeic love is difficult.  Let me illustrate.  When Jesus was approaching Jerusalem just before his death, two of his disciples asked in secret for seats of honor; one on each side of Jesus.  When the other disciples heard of the secret request from the two disciples an argument sprang up among the Twelve each arguing they were greater than the other.  Jesus interrupted the argument and said, “11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12).  James was asking in his letter, “Who among you is the greatest servant of the others?”  If that is who you are, then that is wonderful, continue following your Lord, Jesus Christ.

However, James knew his readers and was aware that few if any of his readers were living a life of humility and agapeic love.  So, James offered an alternative view in verse 14.  James wrote, “14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”  James had a simple view of life.  Either you were fully like Jesus or you were envious and selfish.  There was no middle ground.  James said of those who had envy and selfishness in their lives, “15 Such “wisdom” [such an attitude] does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  I suspect he was called a lot of things in his time but the “life of the party” was probably not one of them.  James was blunt and James pointed out something we could easily miss.  James said that envy and selfishness, that type of wisdom or attitude, is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  James was not using three adjectives to describe the same condition.  James was describing the inevitable progression of envy and selfishness.  James’ point was that envy and selfishness is at first earthly, meaning we put on a façade, our relationships are superficial, we avoid people who offer conflict, we may be friendly but for the most part indifferent to the problems others face.  If left unchecked, uncorrected by God’s intervention, then our approach to life develops into that which is earthly and unspiritual.  We develop other priorities such as money.  We allow dishonesties to enter our life; small ones at first and then larger ones.  We avoid the truth.  We criticize the church and openly doubt the goodness of God.  If left unchecked, uncorrected by God’s intervention, then our approach to life that is earthly and unspiritual becomes demonic.  With demonic elements we want what we want when we want.  We seek attention, power, and greed.  We no longer care if we upset people; too bad, deal with it.  We are easily tempted.  We no longer even try to understand someone else view or experience. It does not matter.  They will just have to deal with us the way “God made us.”  Except God did not make us this way.  We chose this path and are following demonic leadings.  Envy and self-centeredness have a progression to them; earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  To see that progression unfold in someone’s life is frightening and we want to intervene and change that person.  The truth is we cannot change someone who is on the progression toward demonic behavior. Only God can change that person.

This change away from earthliness, and unspiritual and demonic behaviors was James’ next point.  James wrote, “17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”  James shows that wisdom from heaven, a transfusion from God, follows a progression and corrects what is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. This progression and transformation occur when we first accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.  The transfusion of Christ, Jesus living within us, begins with purity, the very character of God.  The Apostle Paul said it this way, “17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a).  With the purity of Jesus, we then become considerate meaning we want to just towards others and avoid being abusive.  We then become submissive toward the truth in God’s Word and we want to follow it.  We progress and acquire the desire to express mercy and to produce good fruit.  Our deeds are not self-centered, they are rich in agapeic love.  We care for those who are in need because doing so is good for them.  Finally, we understand the being impartial and sincere is the mark of a focused person.  We are no longer doubleminded being concerned about the things that concern God and being concerned about how the world see and respects us. We are devoted only to God and to a positive spiritual life from which flows a life lived like Christ.  The transfusion of Christ, the wisdom of God, brings us peace.

To be a peace with God, to be a peace with one another, to be a peacemaker is the Christian life.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Congratulations from God are in order for those who have taken God’s wisdom from heaven which is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17) for they shall be God’s children. James put Jesus words this way in the final verse of chapter 3 of the letter bearing James’ name.  “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).  James’ final words form the basis for our Christian Ethics because peace and righteousness from God serve to inform our goals, duties, and the kind of person we want to be.

What do we do with James’ words which can be hard to hear? James’ words, like all of Scripture, are focused on life.  And because we can hear and read James’ words there is hope for renewal in our life.  Let me illustrate.  One time, two young men worshipped God.  One worshipped with purity and sincerity.  The other worshipped in an earthly and self-centered manner.  The one who worshipped with sincerity found peace with God.  His name was Abel.  The one who worshipped selfishly found no peace with God nor with Abel, who was his brother.  His name was Cain.  God could see the conflict within Cain.  God saw that Cain was acting in an earthly and unspiritual manner and so God intervened. God said to Cain, “Cain, why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7).  God was offering to restore Cain and confirm upon Cain the acceptance of a loving father.  But Cain would have none of it.  Instead, Cain progressed from earthliness and being unspiritual to demonic.  Cain, in a rage of selfishness, lied to Abel and then murdered Abel.

God knows that each one of us is tempted to be earthly, unspiritual, and, yes, even demonic.  God offered to restore us and confirm upon us the acceptance of a loving father if we would just receive Jesus and live a life like Jesus lived; that is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”  (James 3:17).  Jesus is the wisdom of God from heaven.  The questions then we need to ask ourselves is, “Have I received the wisdom of God through Jesus?”  If I have, am I using that wisdom to form my goals, determine my duties, and establish what kind of person I should be by living my life like Jesus lived?  If you have not received the wisdom of God through Jesus, then today is the day to ask God for that transfusion of Christ.  If you aren’t sure what that all means, let’s talk because I know that God wants each one of us here today to be known now and forever as children of God.  Let’s pray.

07-05 - James - The Power of the Tongue

James 3:1-12

This past week, I received a box in the mail.  It was just an ordinary cardboard box.  My name and address were handwritten on the box as was the sender’s name and return address.  Some postage was placed on this box.  That was all that was needed for one postal employee after another to move the box hundreds of miles.  Those postal employees did not question themselves as to what was in the box; they simply moved it along.  All that was required to cause people to move the box along were some silent words handwritten on the outside of a cardboard box.  Words, simple words, have enormous power.

The box I received was from my brother.  He is four years older than me.  Inside the box was a very package carefully wrapped in thick white paper.  The wrapped item containing something soft and yet substantial.  Taped to the top of that wrapped package was a single sheet of paper.  It too had words on it.  The words were neatly typed into a letter.  Here are a few things my brother said.  “I’ve been meaning to send this flag to you from Dad’s funeral service for quite a while.”  My brother’s words immediately caused me to pause and not be in a hurry to remove the wrappings.  I still have not unwrapped the flag; I am not sure if I will.  My brother continued, “Honestly, just looking at this flag makes me get emotional.  All I can think about is a little boy with immigrant parents, who then loses his dad at a young age.  He grows up in a house where the other brothers and sisters all chip in to make ends meet.  He meets Mom, gets married in a catholic-episcopal merger (that must have been interesting) and soon after, he gets drafted and shipped off to fight for our country in a faraway place.  No email, no Instagram, no way to communicate back home while gone except for writing a letter, which could take a month or probably longer to receive.”  I will not now share with you other things my brother said because the sentiments in those words are just too personal and just too strong.  It felt good to receive what my brother had to say.  It reminded me of things about my father and taught me again that an ordinary cardboard box and an ordinary piece of paper with a few words have enormous power.  Some of you have been emotionally affected by what I have shared even though you never met my father or brother, or have seen that cardboard box, the neatly typed letter, or carefully wrapped flag.  You are affected because you have heard my words.  I think you will agree with me, words are enormously powerful and revealing.

בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים בְּרֵאשִׁית, (re'shiyth bara’ ‘elohiym):  “In the beginning, God created.”  With these powerful words, God began to reveal himself to us.  So important were God’s words that He caused humanity to memorialize what He said into what we now call the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.  The words contained in those texts are unlike any other.  They are deep and rich with emotion, joy, sadness, struggle, and triumph. God’s words shaped people, nations, and destinies.  And as rich as the words of the Old Testament are, God sought to reveal Himself a more intimate way.  We read about His new revelation start this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”  The He referred to here was Jesus and Jesus was called the Word because the words of Hebrew Scriptures that revealed the character of God were literally lifted off the page and made alive in the flesh.  The words of Scripture became flesh in Jesus. For this reason, at birth, Jesus’ was called Immanuel, God among us.

Jesus spoke and His words caused people to be healed of illness, blindness, deafness, and paralysis.  Jesus spoke and His words caused people to be raised from the dead. Jesus spoke and His words gave eternal life to those who would follow Him.  We are so impressed by the words Jesus spoke that many of us have Bibles in which the words of Jesus are shown in red lettering.  We recognize words are enormously powerful.

Jesus spoke to his disciples and cautioned them about the power of their words.  Jesus said, “21You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22). Raca was term used by Jewish people to convey the person was emptyheaded or senseless.  Jesus’ point was to insult another was to murder their reputation and it was sinful.  Jesus knew the words of His disciples would speak in their day were enormously powerful. It remains true that the words we speak today as disciples of Jesus matter.

If fact, one of the things we should keep in mind is that those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are largely indistinguishable from their neighbors in the way they dress and their mannerisms except for one thing, the way we speak.  What made the early Christians different and what makes them different today was and is the understanding that their words about life are different than their non-believing neighbors.  Or at least, that is the way the words of a Christian should be.  It is that difference of Christians being guided by Christ that Jesus’ brother James went after in our New Testament reading today. James was not concerned about the way people dressed but he was concerned about the way they spoke to each other.  James was concerned about the power his readers had given to their tongues.

Listen to how James describes the effect of the tongue, the instrument of speech.  James wrote, “We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their 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 are 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 a 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 body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:2-6).  Many of you may have heard James’ words before.  I have.  But this time, the words that stood out to me and ring so true were the words that the tongue, “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.”  I have known and know some people who have or are presently setting their whole life on fire by what they say.  They are systematically destroying the very people and ideals they claim to love by what they are saying.  That is very sad.  And more than the destruction of their own mortal life to the distress of those that love them, they are, as James says, creating the conditions for eternity in which their tongues will be set on fire by hell.  James’ words may have their origins in a story Jesus once told of a rich man and a beggar.  In that story, the rich man is unnamed.  The beggar’s name was Lazarus.  Jesus said, “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades [In Hell], where he [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he [the rich man] called to him [Abraham], ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’” (Luke 16:22-24).  The rich man’s eternal life and his tongue were in agony through the fire of hell ignited by words he chose to live by.  Words are enormously powerful in the present and for eternity.

James continued to get his readers to recognize the harm that comes from ungracious speech.  Verse 9, James wrote, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and saltwater flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:9-12). The ending James gave to his words were consistent with the tone of his entire letter.  “Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”  James point was that if what comes out of the mouths of his readers was curses, then that reflects what is what spring within can produce.  If we curse others, then any praises we may utter to the Lord, to God, are as worthless as handing a cup of saltwater would be to a thirst person in need of fresh water. In Chapter 1, James said, “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”  In Chapter 2, James said, “ If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” In Chapter 2, James also said, “15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”  James is repeatedly hitting the point that our words matter and should distinguish us and reflect the holiness of Jesus.

James’ thoughts are not original to him.  James drew his understandings from the teachings of his brother, Jesus.  One day, Jesus was engaged in conversation with the religious leaders of the day who fought Jesus at every turn.  Jesus said, “33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:33-37).  Jesus was making plain, that our words reveal our inner convictions and that we will be held to account for the idle or unkindness words we speak. 

There are consequences to what we say.  In the book Through the Looking Glass, Alice found herself in Wonderland speaking with the Red Queen.  When Alice misspoke and tried to take back her words, the Red Queen said to Alice, “'It's too late to correct it, when you've once said a thing, that fixes it, and you must take the consequences.”  How many of us are living with scars from the things we have said that could never be fully taken back?  We know from personal experiences that words are enormously powerful, and we must use care in what we say.

What then are we to do with James’ words?  James said use your mouth and your words to praise our Lord and Father.  The apostle Paul said, “Bless and do not curse” (Romans 12:14).  Paul said, “Let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6).  “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up” (Ephesians 4:29).  “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).  James’ point, echoed by Paul, who gathered their strength from Jesus was simple, “In the name of Christ, stop.”  Stop speaking curses upon one another, like the world does.  Instead, be different in your speech because you are different. Become quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Let this approach allow the Spirit of Christ living within you come and produce the fruit of blessings and not curses.  Let the Spirit of Christ living within you produce praise and not division.  Let the Spirit of Christ living within us steer our entire life away from the fire found in hell and toward the peace found in heaven.  James said, “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:7).  But the Spirit of Christ living within you can.

As Christians, your words and my words are enormously powerful, if we allow them to be powered by the Spirit of Christ.  If we do not allow Christ to power them, then they are at best worthless and in the worst case, powerfully destructive towards those we claim to love and to ourselves.  Today, let us begin a life spent with words that praise, bless, and enrich.  Amen and Amen.

06-28 - Faith & Deeds

James 2:14-26

We have been exploring the words of Jesus’ brother, James, through a letter James sent “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1b).  James’ letter referencing the “twelve tribes” suggests that the original readers of this letter were Jewish people, the twelve tribes, dispersed among the various nations of the Roman world who had come to believe in the message of hope that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God.  This was a wonderful development in God’s plan; people coming to faith.  And as wonderful as it was that people were coming to faith, James was concerned that these people were not saved.  How can that be?  Does not faith in Jesus as the Son of God mean that we are forgiven, made free, and saved?  Why “Yes” it does and “No” it does not.  Yes, having faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior grants us salvation and eternal life. But James was concerned that the people had only accepted Jesus as an act of intellectual assent.  James was concerned the people of these churches only thought about Jesus as a fulfilment of God’s promises in Scripture and had not received Jesus as Lord of their life.  Let me offer an oversimplistic illustration.  I can believe that 4 plus 4 equals 8.  I know that in my mind but knowing that fact changes nothing about my character, my ethics, my relationships with other people, my desire to express compassion, my soul, or my destiny.  I simply believe 4 plus 4 equals 8.  If I treat my belief in Jesus in a similar manner, that is I only believe Jesus was a historical figure, even sent by God, to teach and perform miraculous signs as the Messiah until he was killed, then nothing changes about my character, my ethics, and my destiny.  I have not believed in the Biblical sense of believing.  The Biblical sense of believing encompasses and changes my  mind, body, and spirit.

If I only ever mentally accept Jesus, or his teachings, then “No” that sort of belief, that sort of faith, does not lead to salvation.  C. S. Lewis, a 20th century Christian writer once observed, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus]: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity).

James was addressing the same issue C. S. Lewis talked about. James was concerned that some people in these congregations were living out their beliefs of mental acceptance of Jesus, an intellectual faith, which was in other words “practical atheism.”  Practical atheism is a faith in Jesus that does not transform the person and thus they are not saved.

James offered a test of sorts for these people, his readers, to take so that they could gauge for themselves whether their faith in Jesus was just intellectual or genuine leading to salvation.  He started at Chapter 2, verse 14.  James wrote, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”  James offered that intellectual faith cannot save anyone.  Only a genuine faith that encompassed the mind, body, and spirit could save someone and that there would be easily identifiable evidence of that faith expressed through deeds.  An intellectual faith could be secretive and hidden but a genuine faith cannot be hidden. A genuine faith would be evident through the deeds and actions.  And so, James asked, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”  This is a rhetorical question in which the answer is such faith is not going to save anyone.

Where did James acquire such thoughts?  James’ source was, of course, his brother, Jesus.  One day, crowds were coming toward Jesus.  Jesus gathered his disciples and they, together with the crowds, moved up on the hillside.  There Jesus sat down and began to teach.  Among the things Jesus said were these words, “14 You are the light of the world.  A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).  Jesus’ point was that genuine faith is like a light in the darkness.  The darkness cannot hide the light and that everyone can see it.  In the same way, our faith expressed through the performance of good deeds lets others know that God is part of us, and they see that God is glorified through our actions. In this sermon on the hillside, Jesus offered his disciples and the crowds a positive expression of how deeds reveals our faith.

We learn the same lesson about deeds in a completely opposite way at the scene of the crucifixion.  Jesus was crucified with two criminals, one on each side of him.  One of the criminals hurled insults at Jesus.  “40 But the other criminal rebuked him [the insulter].  ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’”  This criminal was making clear that his deeds expressed an outworking of his beliefs and that his own deeds were deserving of death.  The criminal saw that Jesus expressed an outworking of his beliefs and that Jesus’ deeds were deserving of life.  Biblical belief in Jesus, that is believing in mind, body, and spirit will cause us to express an outworking of our beliefs with deeds that are deserving of life.  With an active faith, we move from death to life, which is the very meaning of salvation.

So James had a good foundation from which to open this topic of faith and deeds when he wrote, “14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).  James gave us this painful example of dead faith.  He supposed an encounter with another believer in Christ who is without clothes and without food.  And the response is, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.”  This is a response empty of heart.  It is shocking and cruel.  James minces no words.  Faith expressed in such a manner is dead.  When we think of something as dead, we think of it as no longer having life.  The sense James was conveying is slightly different.  Faith without action was dead in that it was “never alive.”  It is not that the light has gone out, it is that the light was never lit. We might think to ourselves, “I would never be so cold and heartless to a member of my church who is without food or clothing.  I would give them something to wear and something to eat.”  But what about the member whose love one dies, do we do more than send a card or offer a “I’m sorry?”  What about the member who cares for a sick family member at home and is now rarely seen? Do we bring a meal to make to burden lighter?  My point is not to compile a long list of things we could be doing for one another.  My point is that we should not assume James’ specific illustration of a heatless response to the needs of another does not more generally apply to us.

The Apostle John expressed this idea in this manner, “If we claim to have fellowship with him [If we claim to believe in Jesus] and yet walk in the darkness [without his light within us], we lie and do not live out the truth” (1 John 1:6).  John’s point was that faith in Jesus, genuine belief in Jesus, must be lived out in a manner like Jesus not because we are obligated to do so but because we must.  We must because John could not imagine a life lived in another way.  Moreover, John and James wanted their readers to know that consistent Christian living has the power to draw others towards the kingdom of God and that an inconsistent Christian life repels people from the kingdom.  We become a stumbling block to others.

As we return to James, we see that James was no one’s fool.  He knew his words would spark some disagreement.  Beginning in verse 18, James dealt with the disagreement.  “18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.  20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”  James then offers two examples of faith and deeds together as a unity.  James’ first example is that of Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew people and for the Jews a man of unquestioned and unquestionable character.  James asked, “21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions [deeds] were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”  For the Jewish people, now believers in Jesus, at least intellectually, seeing the example of Abraham combining faith and actions would be compelling.  Jews would welcome having their life favorable comparison to the likes of Abraham.

For James’ second example, James goes a completely different direction from the faith of Abraham.  James selected a woman named Rahab.  When we first meet Rehab (Joshua 2:1) in the Bible, we see she is a woman of questionable reputation because she was a prostitute.  Rahab was living in the city of Jericho, a city under the control of the Canaanites.  Rahab was not Hebrew.  Yet, she offered comfort, protection, mercy, hospitality, and faith to Hebrew spies sent to Jericho in advance of an attack by the Hebrew armies.  Rahab gave testimony to the goodness and greatness of God with her words and the strength of her faith through her actions to safeguard the Hebrew spies.  James used Rahab in his second example of the unity of faith and deeds.  He wrote, “25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” James 2:25).  Rahab was faithful in her words and actions.  And so, James offered two seemingly unmatched bookends with Abraham and Rahab as model examples of the unity of faith and action. Yet, as different as Abraham and Rahab appeared, they were similar because their faith informed their actions and they demonstrated their faith.  In using unmatched bookends for his examples, James made clear that we can all find ourselves somewhere in that spectrum between prostitute and patriarch.  Thus, James’ message of faith applies to us.

James then concluded, “26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”  The spirit, the very breath giving life, must be present to energize and show evidence the body is alive.  No breath, no life.  So too, are deeds the evidence of a body alive in Christ.  No deeds, no life.

What then do we do with James’ teaching?  James’ words should make us free and make us alive.  James’ words should reinforce to us that Jesus did not say to us, “Pick up your cross and sit right there!”  Jesus said, “Follow me!”  To be in Christ, to be saved by Christ is to be free, alive, and as active in following him as our mind, body, and spirit are capable.  If you are a believer in Jesus, then you want to be obedient to Him. If you are obedient to Him, then you are a believer.  Belief and obedience are two sides of the same coin.  As far as I know, there is no one sided coin.  Obedience precedes faith and obedience is a consequence of faith. Each of us should examine our lives in view of James’ words and immediately look for those opportunities to express our faith in action and service in the name of Jesus, our Savior and giver of life. Amen and Amen. 


06-21 - James on Favoritism

James 2:1-13

The past few weeks we have been exploring the Book of James and how the words of the New Testament guide and inform us how to live amid the chaos and churn of our present day.  We learned that we cannot be doubleminded in our thinking; that is, we cannot lean on our own understanding and human wisdom.  James said that we need to turn to God and ask for His wisdom to deal with the trials of life and that in doing so our experiences are changed because we are changed.  With God’s wisdom, trying experiences do not defeat or deplete us because through them we are made more and more into the image and likeness of Jesus.  James said to be more like Jesus is pure joy. Secondly, we learned that joy comes to us when we take that image, that reflection of Jesus within us, and live out God’s Word by our actions.  To do that, we must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  In our calmness and self-control, the very image of Jesus, then our efforts to serve those who are most vulnerable is seen properly as God working through us.  Our actions with God then appear as light in the darkness, mercy for those in need, and is strikingly seen as love amid the swirling winds of hate.   That sort of “religion,” James said God accepts as sees as pure and faultless.

Today, we want to continue to explore James’ practical teachings for a Christian life with an understanding of favoritism.  The subject of favoritism is literally burning across our country today.  Favoritism, according to the dictionary, is “the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another.”  Favoritism when practiced by an individual can be a painful experience for the person disadvantaged.  In my work with abused and neglected children, I saw firsthand the destructive power of favoritism expressed by parents toward one child at the expense of the wellbeing of another.  The neglected child always struggled for acceptance, to feel unloved, and often sought validation of their worth in harmful ways such as alcohol, drugs, or risky sexual activities.  Favoritism is not enhancing, it is destructive.  James wrote in Chapter 2, verse 1, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”  Christians should have no part of personal favoritism.

Now, in the collective, favoritism is indistinguishable from prejudice where one group is favored over another group.  Prejudice or systemic favoritism is part of the national shouting match that is going on right now.  I call it a shouting match and not a dialogue because it appears that everyone is speaking as loud as they can, and no one is listening.  The media is doing its part to foster division among us because keeping people outraged makes for good news.  For example, hardly a day goes by that there are not several incendiary stories about the Black Lives Matter movement or organization.  I am not going to comment on Black Lives Matter except to note that the media tends to present stories about that group in such a way as to almost add a word to the group’s name.  Instead of “Black Lives Matter,” the media fosters a sense of “Only Black Lives Matter.”  This sense exclusivity, of course, leads to others openly saying, “All Lives Matter,” and the shouting begins.  If the media felt compelled to add a word to Black Lives Matter, perhaps it would be better to foster the sense that “Black Lives Matter Too.”  With the addition of this sense of disparity, it becomes clear our dialogue ought to be about the fact that under God all of us are equal and that there must not be favoritism.

The early Christian Church was not stranger to favoritism and wrestled with disparity within the church.  The apostles saw the destructive nature of favoritism and promptly addressed it.  In the Book of Acts, Chapter 6, we read, “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. [There was favoritism and one group of Christians complained that their widows mattered too.] 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together.”  The church met and acknowledged the disparity and put together a plan that resolved the issue.  What was the result of ending the favoritism?  We see in verse 7 of Chapter 6, “7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”  When we are quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger and with God’s wisdom we end favoritism, great things can happen.

James was addressing a similar issue of favoritism in the early church outside of the confines of Jerusalem.  James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”  A more accurate translation of the sense James was conveying might sound like, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must [STOP SHOWING} favoritism.”  James was confronting a real issue not a hypothetical problem.  James confronted the matter head on starting in verse 2.  “2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.”  I want to pause here just for a moment to make sure we do not read past an important word.  James set the stage for this story by making the scene a meeting among Christians who are gathered to share in the good news of the gospel, to enjoy the love feast of the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship with one another.  We call this church.  It is in this setting and this set of expectations that two men enter.  One wearing gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes.  In that setting, James continued, “3 If you show special attention [during this time of worship and fellowship] to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James was pointing out the historic favoritism given to people of wealth over the poor by all organizations including, in this case, the early Christian Church.  Moreover, the affront is committed in full view of all who are gathered for the expressed purpose of hearing the gospel message and experiencing fellowship.  If Christians will openly show favoritism toward the rich in worship, then what would be their response when in a private setting?  A few verses earlier, James cautioned Christians, “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:26-27).  We think of controlling our tongues as not speaking in anger alone.  Here, James’ example was the tongue of this host at a time of worship had made the “religion” worthless by showing favoritism toward the wealthy man.

Compare for a moment the scene James painted of favoritism of the rich with the earliest example of church we have from the Book of Acts.  “42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 4:42-47).  There was no favoritism and God prospered the church.

Over a short period of time, the church experienced favoritism at least toward the rich that James was seeking to correct.  Why would the host of this meeting give favor the rich?  Because the rich can contribute significant amounts of money. The poor cannot.  Because the rich can contribute more we equate their greater giving with greater faith, greater depth of commitment, and greater standing before God than the poor.  One day, “41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:41-44).  Jesus saw the purity of the heart in the giving and declared the small offering greater than all the riches giving by the wealthy people because the widow gave to the depth of her existence and she saw her giving as joyful.

James picked up on Jesus’ theme in verse 5.  “5 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?” The point of James’ letter was that we dishonor people when we show favoritism.  It is wrong.  It is destructive and as we will see, favoritism within or by a Christian or within the Christian community is a sin before God.  That is how significant favoritism is to God.

James made the point of favoritism and sin this way beginning in verse 8, “8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.  [So far so good.] 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” Favoritism necessarily breaks the law of loving your neighbor because to show favoritism means you love one and you do not love the other.

 Now James hits this subject of sin hard.  He wanted his readers to understand that they cannot see breaking the law in this one regard, favoritism, and keeping it elsewhere, as acceptable.  James said, “10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker” (James 2:10-11). Here is a practical way to think about what James was saying.  Suppose you are cutting the grass at your home.  As the lawnmower blades are whirling at highspeed, the blades strike a small stone sending it out the grass shoot and straight at your neighbor’s oversized window.  You flinch. Then you heard a loud “crack” sound, a noise you hoped you would not hear.  You shutoff your mower and go over and see that the stone hit that beautiful window and put a hole in the bottom corner of the window, about the size of a dime. You ring the doorbell and inform your neighbor what has happened, and you offer to compensate your neighbor for the damage.  Your neighbor informs you it is a specially made window and it will cost you $1,000. You tell your neighbor to hold on. You only put a small hole in the window the size of a dime, perhaps 1% of the total area of the window.  The cost of 1% of the window would be only $10 but you are willing to be generous and pay double that amount, $20.  Your neighbor points out, you did not break 1% of the window.  You broke the window.  This is the point James was making.  James was saying we cannot say we broke only 1% of the law.  When we sin, we break the whole law because the law is singular, like a window.  The law is not made up of 100 - 1% pieces; it is made up of one single unbroken piece.

James then concluded his thought this way.  “12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13).  James made two key points about our personal behavior.  He said we should speak and act always as though we were going to be judged in that very moment by God against the standard of breaking one part of the law breaks the entire law.  James said that with this attitude before God we have the freedom to always do the right thing because our motives would be those of God and not our own alone.  James understood this principle in a unique way. He was Jesus’ brother and repeated saw the peace and freedom Jesus had to speak and act in accordance with God’s will even when others, including James, were trying desperately for Jesus act in accordance with their will.  We must act in accordance with God’s will; that is a freeing experience.

James’ second point is that freedom to act in God’s presence will result in us extending mercy and not judgment.  James was reiterating Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the merciful [Congratulations are in order for the merciful], for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).  And twice Jesus reiterated words from the Old Testament passage, “I desire mercy” (Matthew 9:13, 12:7).  Mercy is a gift that binds and heals wounds.  Mercy is ours to give and receive in greater amounts.

Our role as Christians is to speak and act to create a sense of sanctuary wherever we are individually or as the collected church.  We should speak and act without favoritism and always towards the celebration of life.  We should speak and act with freedom knowing that it is God who will judge our conduct immediately in the moment and for eternity.  When faced with uncertainty, we should speak and act with mercy that restores and heals all wounds.  Our role as Christians may not be the easiest path to travel.  But then it was not easy for our Savior Jesus.  He has been down the road we travel; we need only follow Him. This week let’s remember each person we meet matters too, and we should reflect to them the love of Christ that resides within us. Amen and Amen.

06-14 - Listen and Doing

Psalm 123

James 1:13-27

            Last week, we spoke from the Book of James about doublemindedness; that condition of choosing to see the world through our own understand instead of seeking God’s wisdom.  James said that those who are doubleminded are unstable in all they do. James encouraged us to seek God, so that our minds would be made clear and we would become empowered to imitate Jesus in all we say and do.  With God’s wisdom, we can make the right choices because we are guided by the right reason. 

            Right reasoning seems missing today.  A poet once satirically observed the behavior of a society without belief in right reason followed this prescription.  He wrote:

“We believe that man is essentially good.  It’s only his behavior that lets him down.  This is the fault of society.  Society is the fault of conditions.  Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.  Reality will adapt accordingly.  The universe will readjust.  History will alter. 


We believe that there is no absolute truth excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds, And the flowering of individual thought.”


And then the poet added this postscript reflecting the result of this thinking.  He wrote:


“If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky and when you hear:  State of Emergency!  Sniper Kills Ten!  Troops on Rampage!  Mobs go Looting!  It is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.”


The postscript is the very definition of life lived without right reason and without the wisdom and presence of God.  From the Book of James, we heard James make this same point in this manner.  “13 When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).  Acts of evil do not come from God, they are simply an expression of man worshipping his maker.

The good news though is that with God, we are more able to see ourselves as part of the larger context of humanity stretching through the whole course of history.  With God, we can see that each person truly is made in the image of God.  With God, we understand better the destructiveness of sinful thinking and behaviors.  With God, we come to realize why Jesus, God coming in the flesh, was the decisive act of God in history and that only God is capable of freeing humanity from the effects of sin.  Redemption then from sin, is only possible with God.  Redemption is God’s decision for humanity to transform lives and the world to what was intended by God.  But that redemption is not just about an abundant and peaceful life on earth, it is about destiny with God now and forevermore.  And so, the resurrection of Jesus assures Christians that making the right choices now is meaningful not just in the present but for the immediate future and for all of time.  Creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and the resurrection are themes God revealed through the Old Testament and Jesus fulfilled and are described in the New Testament.  Last week, James began his discussion of these themes by encouraging us to seek God first, then assess everything else in our life from the posture of being in God’s presence and surrounded by His love.  In this posture, we can find fulfilment and happiness.

I read the other day some words from Augustine, a brilliant Christian writer from the 4th century, whose words still shape much of the thinking of the western world believed that there were two conditions necessary for happiness, peace, and contentment. The first, is that whatever we pursue in life must be the highest good and be more complete than anything else. The second condition is that that highest good would have to be something that could not be lost or taken away. Augustine concluded only God through Jesus Christ met these two conditions.  Other things in life may be good, but they are not the highest good. Other things in life may be good to have, but they could all be taken away.  Augustine was affirming what Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is first condition.  Jesus also said, “And this is the will of him [God] who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day” (John 6:33).  This is the second condition.  From our reading earlier today, James encouraged us all to see what happens when we follow these conditions.  James wrote, “16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:16-18).  Everything good will come from God and in that, God never changes.  He has given us birth, new life, through his word of truth, which is the Bible and his living word, His son, Jesus.  Neither good nor God’s Word can be taken from us, and yet both can be thrown away if we wish.  James was saying that we must not be deceived into believing that humanity can go it alone and be successful.  Do not throw away God, otherwise you will end up worshipping your maker who is marked by violence, lies, division, and chaos.

Now, James’ words speak on a grand scale of God, Jesus, creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and the destiny of the resurrection and seeking God first.  But how do we practically live in this manner? What steps must we take?  James turns his attention to those very questions.

James wrote, “19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20-21).  Think about James’ words for a moment.  “Everyone should be quick to listen.”  We must be immediately ready to listen but not with the intention of responding but with the intention of listening.  First, we need to listen to God through his word.  If we do not read the Bible, if you do not hear God’s word proclaimed through the church, and if you do not pray, then how can we hear God? God once told the Apostles Peter, James, and John.  Jesus was His Son and that they must “Listen to him.”  We must listen first to God and then with God’s wisdom we can begin to properly listen to one another.  Listening is sorely needed today.  Then when we have listened, James said we should be slow to speak.  We should measure our words towards one another in view of our relationship to God.  We should be asking ourselves, “How will my words reflect on my relationship with God? Will my words reflect the love I have for God and for the person I am speaking with?”  We, Christians, should concentrate on expressing the distinctive truth that lets us stand apart from what everyone seems to believe to be true of human nature.  Finally, James said we need to keep our anger in check.  Anger is a secondary emotion; meaning anger is an expression of something else going on.  Anger may come because we are frustrated, hurt, or confused by a trial or a trying person.  An angry outburst, James said, does not reveal God within us and does not achieve what God desires. 

Being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger is necessary for our relationship with God.  What must we do to have this posture before God?  James said, “21 Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent [worldliness] and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you [God’s wisdom].  [But] 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:21-25). James moved from simply meditating on God’s word or reading the Bible or being in prayer.  Now, James gave rise to the Nike shoe branding, “Just Do It!”  We must act consistent with the thinking we have been given by God.  We are two beings in one.  We are spirit and flesh.  In the spirit, we can listen to God and in the flesh, we can still choose to do what we know is wrong.

The Apostle Paul shared with us the battle between spirit and the flesh. Paul wrote, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:15, 18b-20).

James was saying we must let go of the past ways of doing things and be willing to embrace in action living that imitates Jesus.  Otherwise, we are no different than someone who looks in the mirror, gets a good look at themselves, walks away from the mirror and has no idea what they look like anymore.  There are a couple of ways to think about James’ analogy of the mirror.  The one I favor is James was saying, “We look in the mirror and we see the reflection of Jesus Christ.  We see that God’s Word has been received into our mind and we are at peace. We like that image and feel close to God.  Then we turn from the mirror and begin doing whatever we want whether in anger, or lust, or greed, or brutishness, or gossip, or sowing division. We have forgotten the image we once reflected, and we present Jesus as sinful and ugly.  What on earth are we doing?  James said though that congratulations are in order for those of us who do not forget the image of Christ present within us and have the desire and strength of character to present that image to others as we do the tasks of life, whether mundane or noble.  When we get in the habit of making the right and righteous choices based upon the word of God, based upon the completed work of Jesus, then we acquire congratulations from God.

James then completed his immediate thought on personal actions of being quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and remembering that God within us has become our outward reflection.  He said, “26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”  James will have more to say about our tongue or instrument of speech.  But it is important to distinguish what James was saying to religious people, like you and me.  He wasn’t saying, “When you are religious…” or “When you are preaching…” or “When you are assembled in church…” then it is important that you choose your words carefully.  James assumes that our “planned language,” will be suitable.  When we plan to be religious, then our speech generally is alright.  What James was getting at here was that we must not be deceived.  Our language, what we say and how we say it, in our unguarded moments, in our unplanned or unscripted conversations is more revealing about who we are and what we believe than our planned conversation.  We must recognize that the setting we find ourselves can alter what we say and how we say it.

A short illustration may help here.  To put James’ words into context, we need to think about the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat.  A thermometer we know is an instrument that measures temperature.  You can take a kitchen thermometer and place it in a hot oven and the thermometer will change to become the same temperature as the oven. Remove the instrument from the oven and place it in the refrigerator and the thermometer is happy to change again to the same temperature as the refrigerator.  James was warning us, religious people, not to allow our tongue to be like that thermometer by changing what we say to fit the environment in which we find ourselves; that is don’t change to locker room language just because you are in the locker room.  Do not allow yourself to adjust to the environment and adopt the standards of others.  Where does the thermostat come in?  A thermostat is useful instrument because a thermostat can change the temperature of the environment.  When a thermostat is engaged to change the temperature of an area guess what happens? All the thermometers in that environment will change to match the actions of the thermostat.  We can be a thermostat by our presence in any environment and cause the thermometers, that is other people, to change.  Meaning what we say in all conditions, guarded and unguarded will cause others to change to what we, as believers, set.  We would then be sharing the proper perspective as religious people.  James said that religion, “27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Our language and our actions bring about peace and hope to others.  Our local missional activities to support the most vulnerable in our community cause others to see the God or at least righteousness.  Some people see that our words and behavior are congruent, and they seek God in their life.  Other just see our words and behaviors, still reject God, but they imitate us by joining efforts to help the vulnerable in our community.  Either way, all are changed by our words and behaviors just like all thermometers change at the action of the thermostat.  So, are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

James was calling his readers to listen carefully to the word of God.  Speak slowly and purely when words are needed and always to act with grace and not in anger.  James wanted his readers to understand that such a life is possible and peaceful when we put God first.  Our Old Testament psalmist today wrote, “1 I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven” (Psalm 123). Keeping our eyes on God through Jesus Christ brings us into a peaceful understanding of our place in God’s creation, the destructiveness of sin, the grace revealed by God through Jesus, the redemption from sin that Jesus brought and bought, and the destiny of eternity. When we keep our eyes on God, then we no longer forget who we look like and we will be congratulated by God for sharing in his desires for humanity.  Let’s pray this week that our eyes remain focused and our words few and our actions righteous.  Amen and Amen.