Faith In The Everyday World (7) : Oh For Grace To Trust Him More!
Two Kinds of Wisdom
They had options, choices and decisions, to make every single day in this new reality of theirs.
Trying to rebuild after losing everything was like pushing the reset button, and how they would go about their daily lives would say everything about them.
How would they acquire the necessities of life? How would they go about establishing themselves in terms of work, schooling, shelter and relationships?
Put yourself into their shoes for a moment. You lose everything as you are told to be gone within just a few hours.
You flee with little more than the clothes on your back, a suitcase in your hand and maybe a little money in your purse.
You find yourself in a new world and are trying to get established as quickly as possible, with more needs than resources.
This was the predicament that the people that James wrote about were in.
More bills than money, more questions than answers, more problems than solutions, and more needs than resources.
If you have ever been stretched beyond what you have, then you know the choices are extremely difficult.
James suggests that you will need to choose the wisdom from above or the wisdom from below. It comes down to one of two ways.
At the bottom of James 3 is a little section called Two Kinds of Wisdom (Jam. 3:13-18) in which James brings it down to two possible ways of getting what you need in life.
The difference in the two approaches couldn’t be more striking.
On the one hand is what James calls “the good life” (3:13) which is “wisdom that comes from heaven” and which is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Jam. 3:17
There is a way of establishing yourself in life that can only be called the good life, which is this wisdom that comes from heaven.
Then there is another way of establishing yourself that ends up in disorder and every evil practice.
This is where you take matters into your own hands, fight your own battles, do whatever you need to do to survive as you claw your way to the top.
If the good life is wisdom from above, then this life is wisdom from below:
“Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Jam. 3:15
The outcome of this approach to life was predictable: “ For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Jam. 3:16
You Can’t Always Get What You Want!
James then outlines the kind of life in which you take matters into your own hands, which he describes in Jam. 4:1 as “fights and quarrels among you.”
So what were they quarreling, squabbling and bickering about? Who knows what it was; in fact, it doesn’t even matter what it was.
What matters was that there were certain things in life they wanted which they weren’t getting. Could have been all sorts of things.
In fact, James talks about the desires that are within everyone of us. What you do with those desires then determines the outcome that in their case deteriorated into fights and quarrels.
That’s what earthly, unspiritual wisdom says. You want something? Fight for it until you get it.
You claw your way to what you want and it doesn’t matter whom you step on to get it. It’s the law of the jungle with survival of the fittest.
They had desires, wants and needs just like every one of us does as well. They wanted a slice of the American Dream just like you and I. Nothing wrong with that at all.
These are the desires, dreams and aspirations all of us have and many of them are not wrong or evil.
For sure, there are all kinds of evil desires that should never be entertained.
The forbidden fruit that should stay off limits might be elicit gain, someone else’s possessions, addictive and destructive pleasures, or a host of other things that are clearly not ours for the taking.
But more often than not it’s about the legitimate dreams and aspirations all of us have and the normal pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. These can also get us into trouble.
You see, the question is not whether our desires, wants and needs are legitimate; the question is how we go about the acquisition.
Do we take matters into our own hands and simply go after what we want regardless, or is there another way?
Earthly wisdom says take matters into your own hands. Everyone else does it so why don’t you? You deserve this. If you don’t, it’s going to be gone. That’s earthly wisdom talking.
And where does that come from? Jam. 4:2 outlines where earthly wisdom comes from and where it goes to: “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”
So where does it start? It starts with a desire as all things do.
“You desire but do not have.” No mention is made whether it’s legitimate or not. It’s simply a natural, normal human desire.
But then notice the second thing: “You do not have.” This is the desire blocked, which happens all the time.
I mean, who of us gets everything they want? Keith Richards wrote: “You can’t always get what you want.”
When that happens, when a desire is blocked, then one of two things can occur.
The first one is “you kill and you covet”, and the second one is you “ask God.”
Killing and coveting is all about taking matters into your own hands.
In other words, you have eyes for what another has and become jealous of others and what they have, which is what covet means.
Then you kill. Not (usually) literally, but figuratively, as you take matters into your own hands, lash out at others in anger and rage with predictable results of quarrels and fights.
At the end you end up no further ahead than when you started.
This is the classic dog chasing its tail scenario. It’s a vicious cycle of wanting, grabbing but not getting, which fuels the wanting even more.
This is what happens when you take matters into your own hands; this is earthly wisdom resulting in the “disorder and every evil practice” James mentions in 3:16.
So if not this way then what way? Notice what James says next: “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (Jam. 4:2)
This is about putting things into God’s hands. This is prayer at work. This is living out Phil. 4:6 of “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
“You do not have because you do not ask God”, James says. Heavenly wisdom would tell you to ask God.
So we pray, we ask, seek and knock. As we present our requests to God we need to realize that is far from an automatic yes.
Prayer is not a pre-charged credit card that we can cash in at whim. Prayer is not a one-armed bandit through which we hit the jackpot.
So why would I want to pray then? If God doesn’t say yes to me, why pray? Because we need to sort out whether what we want is actually good for us instead of somehow harming us. That’s why sometimes God says no.
God’s no is not a bad no or a spiteful no but a good no, a loving no and a protective no.
Notice what James 4:3 says: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
So prayer is submitting our requests to the will of God. It’s asking is this your will, is this what you want, is this what’s best for me. That’s what prayer is.
It’s not a one-armed bandit at the slots that makes God give us what we want.
“The point is that they are motivated by selfish desires and ask simply to gratify themselves. This is not the trusting child asking for a meal but he greedy child asking for the best piece or the spoiled child demanding his or her way. They are asking God to bless their schemes; God will have no part of it.” P.H Davids, GNC
When God says no, it is never the tight-fisted answer of a stingy God.
“The implication is not that God will not give us things that give us pleasure. God is the gracious God who gives not only bread and water but also steak and wine.” P.H. Davids
Paul talks about knowing what it means to have plenty and being well fed and Jesus was not known for his fasting.
I love the tone of Mathew 7 where it says: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matt. 7:7-8
And what we receive is God’s very best for us and in many ways Father knows best.
We only see the here and now. We have limited perspective and a very narrow vision.
God sees everything and he knows what will hurt and harm us and his responses and answers are always based on that.
So never doubt his goodness to you when he gives you a no.
God does not mock us. He is not here one moment and gone the next, nor does he pull the carpet out from underneath us.
I love that language of Matt. 7:9-11 where it says: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
Grace to Trust Him More!
I know this is hard. Trusting God is probably the hardest thing you will ever have to do.
And the temptation to go with the flow is great as is pursuing life, liberty and happiness the way everyone else does.
But hear me when I tell you the cost of doing that is great. Taking matters into your own hands means you are on your own. Doing it the world’s way puts you at odds with God.
Is that really what you want to do? James reserves some of the strongest wording in his letter for those who have no regard for God’s will in their lives and simply go with the flow of everyone else:
“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.” James 4:4
So don’t go down that path. Don’t end up being your own god and don’t create your own miracles.
Trusting God may be the hardest thing you are going to have to do. You know what, it won’t get easier as the times go by because the tests will become harder and the trials stronger.
But, oh, God will give you grace, my friend. If you will humble yourself before God, He will give the grace to trust Him.
I love the refrain in an old hymn that says: “Oh for grace to trust him more.”
That’s why James talks about grace in verse 6 because it does take unbelievable grace to believe that God has our best in mind.
That when we ask for bread He doesn’t give us a stone and when we ask for fish He doesn’t give us a snake.
His answers are for our best. Oh for grace to trust him more!
“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Who are the humble if not those who submit their wants, needs and desires to the Lord? That is true humility and true wisdom from above.
People of Humility
James describes how people of humility live their lives in 4:7-10: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
The humble submit to God, they resist the devil, they come near to God, they wash their hands and purify their hearts, they grieve at the chaos selfishness causes and they do not join in the laughter of the mockers.
Instead they humble themselves before the Lord. It is the humble that receive God’s grace to trust him more!
It takes grace to leave the matter with God, to abandon an illegitimate desire and to wait for God’s timing.
It takes grace to endure, grace to be patient and grace to go without. Oh for grace to trust him more!
Grace is like the oil that keeps your motor going in times when it feels like its going to seize up with frustration, anguish or even bitterness at unanswered prayer. Oh for grace to trust him more, friend.
Faith In The Everyday World (6) – Biting The Tongue
The Barometer of Spirituality
If you could boil it all down to one thing, that thing that would be the indicator of spirituality and the reflector of what is going on inside of someone’s heart, what would that be?
What would you choose as that one thing that indicates that you are alive inside?
Would it be an act of piety, an act of generosity or even an act of sacrifice?
Would it be a personal characteristic that you could point to such as joy or gentleness?
Would it be exuberance in worship and faith that can move mountains?
What would be the sign of a vibrant spirituality?
It’s funny how for James it was none of these. It wasn’t about faith that can move mountains or giving your body to the flames or even speaking in the tongues of men and angels.
James, ever being the practical guy, and always wanting to make sure that faith connects with the every day world, talks instead about the barometer of spirituality being all about the use of the tongue.
When you strip it down to the tongue you would realize how much sense that makes not only because of its great potential but also because it’s an incredible window into the soul.
The Tongue’s Great Potential
Think about the great potential of the tongue and the power of words both to build up and to tear down.
The tongue has an amazing potential for magnificent words that build up, encourage and edify both God and humanity.
What great heights the tongue can rise to as teacher and encourager of others and worshipper of God.
How often have we felt the soothing words of comfort spoken and the thrill of hearing an encouraging word?
How our faith rises as we hear the sound of worship and intercession!
This is what the tongue can do; it can rise to amazing heights and inspire those who hear it in a way nothing else can.
This is the power of words.
According to James, “with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father” (James 3:9) and according to Proverbs, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Prov. 16:24
This is the positive power of words; the influence of the tongue. I wish it would be only that. I wish that’s all there ever was. I wish that words would only be used to edify, inspire and worship.
But sadly James knows better than to be a dreamer. He knows the great potential of tongues not only to build up but also to tear down.
He was there on the Day of Pentecost when he heard people speak in the tongues of angels and he also had a front row seat during times of great disputes where words were hurled like stones that threatened to rip apart churches.
James knew that like a rudder that steers a ship to safety and a spark that provides the warmth and safety of a fire, so the tongue has the potential to do the same.
But he also knew that the tongue had the potential to drive ships straight into the rocks and light fires that burn down entire forests.
How did he say it? “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.”
So how can it be that from the same mouth flow two rivers and is that even possible? Praising God and cursing each other with the same breath?
The Law of The Jungle
Obviously word had gotten back to James that all was not well in the new world.
That while they kept their faith and were amazing at praising their Lord and Father, they were oh so quick to curse and pass judgment on others who had been made in the image of the same God they prayed to.
Maybe it was the law of the jungle that made them be this way.
Maybe civility flew out the window when it became a matter of survival. Maybe they forgot their manners in this ‘dog eat dog’ world they were now in.
Yet for James this was more than just the absence of social grace. You know, “watch your manners; eat with your mouth closed, use your fork and knife and speak graciously of each other.”
There was more at play here than the law of the jungle or the language of the ghetto.
Word had gotten back to James that all was not well in the new world and there were some serious interpersonal conflict issues happening.
There was bickering, squabbling and backbiting with angry words flung like stones.
If you read the letter through the lens of conflict management you will quickly realize that there was disparity between the rich and the poor, between those who had much and those who had nothing and that not all was well in the new world.
This rising anger that we talked about last week rose up into angry words that were flung like stones between giants.
And it came at such great cost; not only destroying others but destroying self as well.
Do you realize how nearly impossible it is to worship God when your tongue tears down. Prayers seem to bounce back and praise seems to go nowhere when we throw harsh words around.
James says, “My brothers and sisters, this should not be!”
In fact, if you read on into verse 11 and 12 you will actually realize that not only should this not be but that it actually cannot be!
Take a look at the verses. It would be like saying that “fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” or that “a fig tree bears olives or a grapevine bears figs” or that “a salt spring produces fresh water.”
It’s so impossible to do that; to praise God and curse others with the same mouth.
And what brought it to a head might have been poverty but this is not about poverty.
This was about the opportunity everyone faces to either bless or curse. Life is full of occasions to criticize, tear down and destroy but who says we have to go there?
A bitter tongue is a bitter tongue. This is not about poverty so don’t make it about that when this is about a bitter tongue.
You can have all the riches of the world and still have a razor sharp tongue that can cut up and tear down.
So don’t make this about issue of poverty and wealth. A bitter tongue is a bitter tongue.
A Thermometer into Your Soul!
The question this morning is where does a bitter tongue come from if not from a bitter heart?
This is not about circumstances, nor is this just a slip up. We can’t fluff this off as an unfortunate incident when the truth of the matter is that a bitter tongue comes from a bitter heart.
What rolls off our tongue comes out of hearts, friends. Salt water comes from a salt spring.
That’s what James says in James 3:6. A fiery, bitter tongue gives, points to, and comes out of the corruption of the whole body as it “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire by hell.”
There is absolutely a connection between the tongue and what goes on inside of us.
Not only is the tongue the indicator of the inner life, but also it’s the thermometer of what’s inside.
It’s like sticking a thermometer into your soul.
That’s exactly James’ point: “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” James 3:2
In other words, words of life gently spoken and for all the right reasons, point to this amazing life that reflects the beautiful life of Jesus.
The Good Tree Maker!
That brings me to my main point, which has to with how to come to this place where the beautiful life of Jesus shines through my words.
I want to bring forth the beautiful words of Jesus. How do I do that?
Is this something I do? Can I come to a place where I bite my tongue long enough that I have brought it into submission?
Is this about sheer will and self discipline?
The answer to that is absolutely not. We cannot tame the tongue. We can tame everything under the sun but not the tongue.
“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
No one can tame the tongue. Why? Because the tongue is attached to the heart and soul and no one can change who they are on the inside or their soul anymore than they can awaken their own spirit!
If this sounds hopeless to you, then please realize that is anything but hopeless.
There is one who can change the heart and that is Jesus. Does this sound hopeless to you? Listen to what 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.”
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good. Make a heart and soul good and its mouth will be good.
Who is it that makes our hearts and souls good and who is it that awakens our spirit if not Jesus?
If this sounds too simplistic for you then you have just stumbled over the simplicity of the good news of Jesus.
You don’t have to tie yourself up in knots to be this way nor do you have to exert some incredible energy to keep your mouth in check.
All you need to do is open your heart to Jesus and ask him to come into your life because notice what it says in Eph. 2:4-5:
“God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Dead in transgressions is like having a bitter heart and soul. Making us alive is like making our bitter heart sweet and our soul good.
God made our tree good and our spring sweet and from the abundance of that new heart and nature the mouth speaks.
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him.”
For those of us who have this new nature we now have a choice! We can let sweet water flow or revert back to the bitter water of what we were.
We have that choice! This is what James points to when he says: “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters this should not be.” James 3:10
He is talking to brothers and sisters, to those who now have this new nature; this good heart and sweet soul and James says to them that they have the choice of praise or curse.
He says to them to choose praise, choose positive and uplifting words, words that bring healing and life, and words that do not tear down.
Song: Praise is Rising
Faith In The Everyday World (5) – The Test of Genuine Faith
A Vibrant and Flourishing Faith
James is very much like any parent would be with kids moving out. He is over the top concerned that they would settle well, find their way, and most of all not lose the faith they had back in Jerusalem.
In many ways this would be the first test of faith. First time they would be away from the home church and the way of life they had always known. It would be like when your kids move out as they move on with education and career elsewhere.
What parent wouldn’t be concerned? Will they be ok? Will they be safe? Will they find their way and most of all will they stay true to their values, convictions and faith?
This is exactly what James goes through with his people as they were being scattered into the four winds by this terrible persecution.
Would they be well grounded and established with a faith that was vibrant and flourishing?
In fact, in James’ mind there was nothing more important than a vibrant and flourishing faith.
In his mind a flourishing and genuine faith is a faith that’s lived out in the open, which is the point he makes in James 2:14-25 in a section the NIV calls “Faith and Deeds.”
This is a faith that’s seen in actions and deeds and not just in something private, invisible or personal.
A thriving faith is a public faith impacting every aspect of our lives.
Living their faith in a public way didn’t have to happen in this new reality of theirs where they were scattered even amongst themselves and ended up in places where no one knew them.
How easy it would be to keep their faith private instead of living it out in the public arena, especially because of the opposition to the faith they were experiencing.
Private Christians occur when their personal faith is totally separate from how they live their day-to-day lives; with a faith that has no impact on daily living.
A Useless Faith
When you stop to think about it, isn’t that one of the big issues of our days as well, where professions of faith and lifestyle choices don’t necessarily add up and where people call themselves Christian but break every commandment under the sun?
James says: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” James 2:14
When James asks whether such a faith can save them, he is actually introducing the possibility of a faith that doesn’t save.
There is a faith that saves you and a faith that doesn’t save you and in James’ mind it had to do with deeds, behaviors and actions lived out in the public arena.
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
Faith that does not impact the public arena is not worth the paper it’s written on.
James calls it a dead faith in vs. 17 and in vs. 20 he calls faith without deeds useless.
In fact, non-saving faith is actually worse than useless because at least useless seems to suggest no harm done as in without good use and something that’s not going to hurt you. A useless thing is just that, useless, right? When in reality a non-saving faith is actually incredibly harmful both to the person who lives it and to those who see it.
What I mean is that if someone thinks they have a saving faith when in reality it’s useless, they may well be lulled into complacency assuming theirs is a saving faith when in reality it’s not so.
Imagine how terrible it would be to find out at the end of your life that yours was not a saving faith?
This actually raises the specter of false faith. Is false faith possible? Absolutely!
What kind of a faith is a false faith? This is not a false faith as in a faith in idols or other gods, but a false faith within the Christian context.
Can such a thing even be possible? You bet it can.
It could be a confessional faith in a catechism where a profession of faith is made and maybe even the right things are believed, but it never connects to the heart and doesn’t impact the public life.
It can be a historical faith that’s never personally owned. It’s what we always believed, the Judeo Christian heritage and the faith of our fathers that hasn’t trickled down into personal convictions. We’ve never owned it personally.
It can be an emotional faith where it’s rooted in feelings, experiences and exuberance that quickly shrivel up when emotions fall away.
It can also be an intellectual faith with head knowledge and mentally believing in something but, like emotional and historical faith, it doesn’t trickle down into the heart and soul nor impact how life is lived.
This stands in stark contrast to the personal faith outlined in the New Testament, which Serendipity defines as:
“The comprehensive, whole-life commitment that characterizes true New Testament faith (which involves) believing with all one’s being: mind, emotions, body (behavior) and spirit.”
This is what James was getting at. His fear was that that they would revert to a private faith not lived out in the public arena.
“The people James has in mind differ from their pagan and Jewish neighbors only in what they profess to believe. They are orthodox Christians who believe in Jesus; however, they live no differently than anyone else.” Serendipity
In fact, James draws this startling parallel between private faith and the faith of all the devils in hell: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19
So in James’ mind there is a useless and a useful faith, a dead and a living faith and a saving faith and one that doesn’t save. All of that can happen within the Christian realm.
Showing Faith with Deeds
This in turn raises the question of what are the markers of genuine faith especially since faith is invisible?
That’s the problem with faith, isn’t it? It’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s what I believe inside of me and invisible to everybody but myself.
Since faith is very much invisible to the naked eye, so the only way to test if it is genuine is by rolling out in public life.
In other words, it has to be seen in the way I live my life.
In actions, reactions, attitudes, words and most of all in our deeds, which is what James says in James 2:18 - “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”
By the way, his point is that you cannot show faith without deeds, at least not the New Testament faith that saves you.
There is no such thing as a private, hidden away faith! As Serendipity says:
“If faith does not make itself known in one’s lifestyles then it is non existent. Deeds are the only demonstrations of inner faith.”
Genuine faith will always impact the way we live our lives. Genuine faith shapes how we live our lives in the public arena.
If our faith doesn’t impact our day to day lives in terms of our choices, decisions, thoughts, attitudes, words and actions then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on!
“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” James 2:26
Abraham and Rahab
To drive home his point, James points to two masters of genuine faith in the Old Testament. Two people whose private faith impacted their very public lives.
The first one of these was Abraham.
Remember that James’s audience was intimately acquainted with the Old Testament and so when he mentions Abraham as an example of genuine faith it would resonate deeply since Abraham was considered the father of faith.
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 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,”[e] 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.” James 2:21-24
Abraham’s faith in the Lord prompted deeds, actions and behaviors that never would have happened if he didn’t have the kind of genuine faith that he did.
In fact, if anything, what he was prepared to do with his son Isaac would never have happened if it weren’t for his incredible faith in God.
It actually pointed to a mature and advanced faith, which is what James says in “his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:22
Don’t misinterpret this. James is not saying that Abraham’s deeds added to his faith or somehow made his faith but that his extraordinary deeds were reflective of the mature faith that he had.
Only someone with a well developed faith in the Lord would be prepared to sacrifice the very thing that was God’s promise to him.
“Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend.” James 2:23
Abraham had such an incredible trust in God that he was even called God’s friend!
And then there was a second example from the Old Testament, someone far more surprising and controversial, and that was Rahab who in a previous life was known as a prostitute.
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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. James 2:25-26
The fact that she was a prostitute points to how anyone in this life can have a genuine faith that shapes public life.
Rahab obviously had a spark of genuine faith that made her take a very public stand of hiding the spies.
I’m not sure where and when that faith sparked up in her. Maybe it was when she saw the impossibility of a couple guys driven by their faith in Jehovah climbing over the walls under the cover of darkness knowing it would end in their sure death.
I mean, who would do a thing like that? Maybe that was the spark of faith in her, but we know for sure that her faith showed itself in a remarkable courageous public act in which she defied her king and endangered her life.
I also bet that the very next thing in which her very real faith showed itself in her public life was in that she never ever went back to prostitution. I can almost guarantee you that.
“In both cases faith is demonstrated by means of concrete action. Abraham actually had the knife raised over his beloved son Isaac, and Rahab actually hid the spies. Without faith, Abraham would never have even considered sacrificing his only son, nor would Rahab have defied her king at great personal risk.”
So whether it’s hiding spies, or giving up a child of promise, the point is that genuine faith absolutely impacts how we live our lives in public.
A Very Public Faith
James’ point is these Christians, who were scattered far and wide, needed to come out of their closets and live out their Christian lives in the public arena and stand up and march by a different drummer and swim against the tide.
How easy it would be for them to keep their mouth shut, their faith private and let no one notice the difference.
Everybody knew that Abraham was marching to different orders and that his faith in God drove him to trust him in some of the most public acts possible.
Everybody knew that Rahab’s faith sparked an incredibly risky stand that could have cost her life.
So what was it going to be for the James’ people?
One thing for sure was how they were going to respond to perhaps the most pressing issue of their new reality and that is what to do with those in great need.
Their present reality as descendants of refugees meant that even some 30 years later there was still this crippling poverty among some of them and this would be an incredible test of their faith.
If they could be generous toward the needy even though money didn’t grow on trees and probably meant everything to them, they would demonstrate that their faith in Almighty God was stronger than their faith in the Almighty Shekel.
That an outpouring of generosity truly would be an example of genuine faith that spills over into the public life. So James says:
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?” James 2:14-16
While that was certainly one way of demonstrating genuine faith where they could overcome the pull of mammon by acts of generosity, it was by far not the only way of showing genuine faith.
The reason this is mentioned was because it was so obvious and so in their face.
So what does that look like for us today? What is in your face? What, where and how do you need to live out your faith in the public space?
For sure it includes a response to the poor. This thing with poverty continues to bedevil us.
We continue to have the poor with us, even as Jesus said we would. Maybe the reason for that is as a test of the genuiness of our faith.
I mean, let’s face it, folks. Nothing has a tighter grip on us than money.
And if faith has really come into us, then it would make us generous, willing to share, and respond quickly and with great compassion.
Stinginess and tightfistedness where every dollar has to be pried out of our hands is a sure sign that genuine faith has not come. So for sure what we do with the poor is indicative of the quality of our faith.
But it doesn’t stop there. Genuine faith spills over into every aspect of the public life. So what is that for you, friend?
If for Abraham it was his son and for Rahab it was her spies, then what is the big thing that you have in front of you?
Faith in The Everyday World (4):
Biblical Anger Management
The Perils of Starting Over
Can I tell you a little secret? Something that will help you have peace of mind and sleep well at night?
Here it is: Don’t ever compare yourself with someone else.
Don’t ever look at what others have and how others live their lives. Don’t have eyes for what others have for it will drive you mad. There will always be those who will have more, who will have it better, easier and nicer.
The grass will always be greener in your neighbor’s patch.
That is a slippery slope down into the murky waters of envy, jealousy, rivalry, and anger. These are mindbenders that lead to nowhere. This is the pathway into the very thing James warns about:
2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:2-3
By now you know the background of this letter. You know how these were the final words of a sage and wise man who saw his community having to flee their homes with nothing more than a suitcase and the clothes on their back.
These words of his were meant to ring in their ears as a guide of sorts as they started anew somewhere else.
Starting new was not going to be easy. So this is the story of a group of people who were resettling in a new land; and ringing in their ears were the words of this letter from James.
If you’ve ever had to start over you know how incredibly difficult that is. And yet people do it every day all over the world, and in fact many of you have had to do it as well.
Starting over can come in many different forms, from leaving one country for another to moving between cities or provinces and everything else in between. This can include recovering from life-changing events such as bankruptcy, eviction, employment termination, divorce and even the death of a loved one.
So hands up if you’ve ever had to start over again?
This is why the words of this letter resonate so deeply with many of us. We know about the struggles of starting over again.
My own story of starting over again is one of poverty, marginalization and in some ways discrimination.
One of my dad’s greatest struggles with coming to Canada was that his skills as a skilled bricklayer and small business owner in the old country meant nothing in Canada.
All he was good for was to be a laborer who had to work with a short handled shovel because his boss, who was also an elder in the church, believed that his workers should be as close to their work as possible.
Something about that broke my dad’s spirit, as he never pushed beyond being a laborer when he was so much more in the old country.
Seeing my dad like that made me angry. Seeing how we had nothing when all my friends at church had so much more made me incredibly jealous and also terribly insecure.
So I can well imagine the lives of these refugees and how some were incredibly poor and for whatever reason were stuck in this cycle of poverty while others quickly left their poverty and for whatever reason became entrepreneurs and business people who ended up incredibly wealthy.
Both had to somehow coexist as James speaks to both groups.
In fact, last week’s sermon was all about the level playing field the church is and how everyone can stand tall and look the other in the eye and how we don’t favor the rich by giving them places of honor and dis the marginalized by making them sit at our feet like dogs.
I love how James put it: “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:1-4
The Anger of The 99%
One of the other very real issues coming out of this dynamic are the very real feelings of anger that would arise, which is what James addresses in the later part of James 1.
In some ways it would be natural that both sides would be angry with the other side.
On the one hand, the poor had every reason to be angry especially as they saw the exploitation of the rich. The rich had all the power in the world while the poor had none.
There have always been those who have made their wealth on the backs of the poor who labor away in sweatshops with what we call precarious employment.
This comes in many different forms, from a minimum wage that is not a living wage to contract work where none of the employment standards apply, to the use of unpaid interns or offshore workers all of it meant to bolster the bottom line with no chance of profit sharing.
This was a reality in their day and it continues to be a reality in our day. Some of the strongest language in the letter is reserved for those who exploit the powerlessness of the poor:
“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.[a] 6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.” James 5:1-6
This is like giving a laborer a shorthand shovel just to keep him close to the dirt and maybe break his spirit or dropping a worker off two blocks from where he lives so that by having to walk the rest of the way home all knew who had the power and car and who didn’t.
In fact, you know what? This makes me angry just thinking about it; and if I am angry though some distance away, imagine the anger of those upfront and personal.
It is understandable that those in poverty would at times be very angry especially toward those who are seen as the rich oppressors and who make their wealth on the backs of the poor or as James said, whose “wages you failed to pay the workman who mowed your fields (and) are crying out against you.” James 5:4
This is what was behind the Occupy movement who coined the phrase “we are the 99%”. I am sure you have heard of this. This is what they say:
“We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.” http://wearethe99percent.tumblr.com[JR1]
There is this injustice in this world, this systemic discrimination against the poor and the rising tide of anger is understandable
There exists this anger that is always just underneath the surface and boils over into social unrest, uprising, civil disobedience and on a personal level, rage, attitude, entitlement and jealousy.
The very things James warns about when he says: “ You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:2
This is the slippery road of anger; a road that travels both ways with the rich as angry at the poor for not pulling their weight as the poor are at the rich for all the oppression they bring.
So it isn’t only the poor who get angry. The rich also get angry. “How dare you want your hands on what I have. I had to work hard for this.”
The rich get as angry as the poor, are equally quick to pass judgment and create stereotypes.
Slow To Become Angry
The bottom line, though, is that anger never solves anything.
If anything, anger makes things worse as anger is matched by anger creating entrenchment, resistance and fuelling alienation.
In fact, who was it that said: ‘human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires”? James; that’s right, our man James said this.
In fact, this is what he said and this becomes the key passage for today:
“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. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” James 1:19-21
Slow anger down, he says, anger does not achieve the righteousness of God; if anything it takes us away from it and down a slippery path.
There should be no anger even in the face of injustice since God hears those cries:
“The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James 5:4
God sees all things and will bring a fair and equitable justice.
And until that time you keep your mouth shut so as not to give anger a foothold which is exactly what today’s key passage says: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
Notice the correlation between slow to speak and slow to become angry.
The more you speak about it, the angrier you will get. The more you are fixated on an injustice and it’s all you see and give vent to, the more you will find anger rising up.
That anger will eat you up and eventually consume your life.
An angry, combative and argumentative attitude is not helpful for spiritual growth or as James says, “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
In fact, not only does anger not do anything to add to the life God wants for us, it actually takes away from that life God wants for you.
Which is what vs. 21 alludes to: “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” which is a reference to the anger of the previous verse.
By not giving vent to anger, by not feeding it, you will then be able to “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” vs. 21
It’s going to be one or the other, but it cannot be both. You will either give vent to anger or you will be open to God’s Word planted in you but you cannot do both.
An angry in your face know-it-all will be so consumed by this that there will be no room left for God to speak his Word into them.
A know-it-all doesn’t listen, nor does someone who vents their anger. That’s why James says, “be quick to listen!”
Listen to what? To the Word planted in you, which if we listen to it will save us.
Save us from what? From ourselves and the anger that distorts and destroys so much. This is about slowing down anger, cutting it off at the knee before it rises up.
How do I do that? Not only by not giving vent to it but also by giving full vent to the Word of God planted in us.
How? By being quick to listen to it and by doing what it says. Notice vs. 22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22[JR2]
This is absolutely key in anger management.
Biblical anger management is rooted in God’s Word. It’s neither about self-discipline nor avoiding certain situations. It’s about what God’s Word does in your life.
Yes, be quick to listen to the Word of God, and be equally quick to do what it says.
Listening without doing is meaningless. You know, if you feel angry, grab your Bible and start reading furiously trying to keep the devil at bay as though by reading lots you will somehow silence the angry devil within.
That’s not how this works. This is not about a chapter a day will keep the devil away.
Instead, it’s living out the Scriptures that will impact your life. It’s being so busy patterning your life after God’s Word that there is neither time nor appetite for what others have or don’t have.
It’s coming to the place where I am so consumed with trying to live for God that I don’t have time to notice others.
That approach knocks the wind out of anger.
Anger needs to be fed and you feed it by having eyes for others or for life’s situations.
But if you are busy having eyes for God’s Word, James says in vs. 25, you will then be blessed in all you do: “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 1:25
I love this line about looking intently into the perfect law that gives freedom. Freedom from what? From the old life, from the way we were, and from this natural inclination toward anger.
I love the language of looking intently. This comes back to what do you see, what do you have an eye for?
You will either see the injustices of life or the promises of the Word of God but not both.
If you look intently into God’s Word, not forgetting what you heard but committing to doing it, then you will be blessed in all you do for that will bring about the righteous life that God desires.
So you want to be free of anger? You don’t want to go down the slippery slope of its ugly cousins: resentment and jealousy?
Then turn your eyes toward God’s Word. And who and what is God’s Word if not Jesus?
In these closing moments do exactly that – turn your eyes toward Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace!
Faith In The Everyday World (3) – Favoritism Forbidden
The Have and Have-Not’s
James can really grate on your nerves and get under your skin. He has a way of upsetting the apple cart and throwing a monkey wrench into the mix.
His comments about the rich and the poor are especially unsettling, to say the least.
In fact, James devotes more time to the topic of riches and poverty than he does to any topic in his letter. He keeps coming back to it time and time again.
He says things such as:
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.
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
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 2:15, 16
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days…. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. James 5:1-3, 5-6
Obviously this was a huge problem in that church. Apparently not all had done well.
You might recall these people and their descendants were refugees who had fled for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs and maybe a suitcase or two in their hands.
Judging by these comments some of this poverty became a lingering poverty, maybe even systemic or generational.
The point is that within the same church were the have’s of this world, as well as the have-not’s of this world.
Each had issues and struggles unique to their situation. The trials and temptations of James 1 applied to both the rich and the poor.
If you read James carefully, you will notice how he speaks to each group about their struggles. Let me give you some examples of this.
The poor would, at times, have struggles of shame to which James says: “to take pride in their high position.” James 1:9
The rich would sometimes trust in their riches, to which James says: “the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.” 1:11
Sometimes poor people can become angry and given to Jihad against their oppressors, to which James says: “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” 1:20
Sometimes the rich become arrogant and oppressive who make their wealth on the backs of the poor in human sweat shops, to which James says: “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” 5:4
In fact, James has more to say about the rich and their arrogance than he does about the poor and their anger.
Hearing this might very well make us uncomfortable because in relation to the rest of the world we are the superrich of our days. James finds a way to get under our skin. No wonder Luther banished this little book to the back of his Bible. Maybe it irritated him as much as it does us.
The point is that we have a huge obligation before God toward the poor of this world.
There is just no way that we can live self indulgent, luxurious and indifferent lives without – as James says – “fattening yourselves in the day of slaughter.”
Clearly we have the dual obligation of righteousness and holiness on the one side and justice and compassion on the other:
“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
In our case, this takes on many different forms, ranging from providing MCC hygiene kits, to digging deep in our wallets to finance our international outreach, sending community kids to camp, sponsoring a child, providing relief when someone is destitute and a hands-up when someone needs to rebuild.
It means opening our arms to those struggling in our communities or those coming here from abroad looking for new opportunities.
It means withholding judgment and biting the tongue.
It means hitching our wagon to the dual juggernaut of righteousness and justice for if we do then our star will rise for that is “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless.”
Welcoming the Dalit
All of this brings me to what James says in his second chapter, which the NIV has entitled Favoritism Forbidden and where he, in essence, says not to show favoritism!
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 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. 3 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,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
Making distinctions between people based on appearances, status, name or fame may be out there but it cannot be in here.
The world may well be divided between have and have-nots but none of it applies in here.
There can be no caste system inside the church and whatever differences might exist between people in the world stays at the doors of the church.
Boss and worker out there? That is all fine and dandy, but brother and sister in here!
Rich and poor out there, equals in here!
Haves’ and have not’s out there, only haves in here!
Rich and famous out there, all equals in here!
Privileged royalty and aristocracy out there, brothers and sisters with all in here!
Street person and homeless out there, a kings kid in here!
Whatever distinctions are made in this life fall away in the church. James clearly says: “Don’t show favoritism.”
You say what does favoritism even mean? Serendipity calls it “the act of paying special attention to someone because he or she is rich, important, famous or powerful.”
Key here is not that we pay special attention. We are to pay special attention to some but not because they are rich, important, famous or powerful.
This is precisely what was happening in their church! As Eugene Peterson paraphrases:
If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?
And I can hear them thinking now, “That’s not all that bad; at least we are letting them in.” In a day and age when the poor were not let in anywhere, they were at least letting the poor into the church.
As Serendipity points out: “The church was one of the few institutions where traditional social barriers had been dropped. It would have been quite possible for a wealthy landowner to belong to the same Christian assembly as would one of his slaves”
It must have been quite a dynamic. It would be like two worlds colliding.
Roman Aristocracy with their “gold ring and fine clothes” in the same place as “the poor man” or the untouchables of their day; just like the Dalit of India are today.
So who are the Dalit, the Untouchable in our mind if not the pierced, the tattooed, the transgendered, the gay and lesbian, the divorced, the shacked up, the alcoholic, the mentally disturbed, gang banger, street person and the many others who are either at the bottom rung in society or someone whose lifestyle deeply offends us.
These are the Dalit or the Untouchables in our mind.
At least in their mind they were letting them in which they thought was good enough.
In fact, I can hear them now, self-congratulating for allowing the poor person to stand in the back corner or sit on the floor by their feet.
Has Not God Chosen the Poor?
When, in reality, not only is the beggar as important as the aristocrat, in some ways the beggar may actually be ahead of the aristocrat!
Do not only let them in but give them places of honor and not only because they have never had places of honor in life, but because something about them makes their hearts be more open to the Gospel of grace than the hearts of the rich and famous.
Notice what James says: “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?” James 2:5
Again, Peterson nails it on the head with his Paraphrase:
“Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges. This kingdom is promised to anyone who loves God.”
And who are those who love God most easily and most readily if not those who have had nothing all their lives?
Many of the poor of this world are richer in the things of God than most rich people.
“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?”
Why? Some say to turn the tables or to provide a level playing field.
I don’t know if that is really so, although a part of me would love to see the Dalit and the have-not’s come to a place of having! Maybe justice does require the turning the tables.
But there is something else at play here. If God were to favor the poor only because they are poor, then many of us would be in trouble because most are not poor.
AND many poor people live their lives intentionally far away from God. How would it be fair that the godless poor should somehow be blessed and inherit the kingdom?
Something else is at play here, friends. What’s at play is that the poor have a tendency to cry out to God more easily and desperately than those who have everything.
God favors those who cry out to him and live lives of dependence on God.
How else do you explain the incredibly rich spiritual lives of our brothers and sisters in the have-not world who see God intervene in response to their desperate cry to him?
“The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” James 5:4
God uses poverty to stir up our great need for God.
You see, there is nothing honorable in poverty. It is not a badge of honor to God.
He doesn’t single you out because you are poor anymore than he pushes you away because you are rich.
God favors anyone who mourns and becomes meek because of their spiritual poverty and as a result begins to hunger and thirst for the spiritual fullness that only God can give.
It doesn’t matter who you are. You can be rich and still recognize your spiritual poverty, or you can be poor and sometimes more readily see it.
Just because you are poor doesn’t mean that you are aware of your spiritual poverty any more than just because you are rich you can never see your spiritual poverty.
In fact, the rich who recognize their poverty are much further ahead than the poor who all they see is their entitlement.
So never ever stereotype, by slotting the poor into the category of seeking after God and the rich into the category of self-reliance and arrogance.
I have known a good number of poor people who were anything but hungering after God, and I have known wealthy people who were humble seekers of God.
Some people exploit their poverty, have huge chips on their shoulders, and feel that everyone owes them.
I have known poor people who were dishonest and fraudulent and who knew how to milk the system designed to help them.
I have known poor people who have borrowed money with no intention of ever repaying. Even though they are poor, they have not recognized their own spiritual poverty.
I tell you that God does not favor those people.
I also have known poor people who are honest, hardworking, God-fearing people who don’t like their poverty and who don’t have a chip on their shoulder nor a sense of entitlement, and in their poverty cry out to God for even the basics of life.
This is what James 2:5 means: “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?”
By the way, I have also known wealthy people who were not showy or arrogant and who didn’t make their money on the backs of the poor; who were private, discreet and above all hungry and thirsty for God because they saw their own spiritual poverty!
As we wrap it up, there are a couple of things I want to say yet.
First of all, this is the kind of church I dream about. This is so down my alley and the kind of thing that gives me a spring in my step.
I have always dreamed of a community that is inclusive, where those who do not know Jesus yet are loved and treated with dignity and respect regardless of status, orientation or gender.
A church where all followers of Jesus are equals regardless of struggles and status.
A church that doesn’t dis others, isn’t judgmental nor given to stupid prejudice.
A church that not only makes room but also seeks out the broken and the have-not’s of this life and gives them places of honor!
That’s the hill I want to die on and the cause I want to give my life to.
The last thing I want to say is that anyone that feels as though they are a have-not in this world; in this church you do not have to stand in the back or sit at anyone’s feet.
That you can stand tall and proud as you reach your hands up to heaven.
“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?”
Faith In The Everyday World (2): Making The Best Of The Bad
The Need For Wisdom!
James is writing to his flock that is no longer under his care.
He was actually one of the pastors in Jerusalem and most of his congregation was chased out of the city by fierce opposition to the faith. And his parting words that he shouts after them as they run is this:
“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
What an incredible set of last words. What an amazing claim this is! What a promise to make that we would be given wisdom from above to guide and help us with whatever comes our way in life.
And it does take a ton of wisdom to look upon the challenges and obstacles of life on the run as actual growth opportunities instead of things that knock us down.
You see, most people would rather not think about trials and difficulties at all.
Most would rather flee from these annoyances of life, run away from them and escape into some kind of fantasy world.
Some might even get angry – really angry – when the bottom falls out, while others would simply collapse into fear, panic or cynicism.
Trials in life can deteriorate into all kinds of destructive and sinful behaviors such as anger, escapism, cynicism, doubt or even fear.
That’s what these people were facing as they tried to
re-establish a new life and a new beginning elsewhere.
Of course, by the time the dust settled, they were far from home and many of them with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a suitcase in their hands. They were refugees in the truest sense of the word.
If you have ever had to start again at the bottom or had to start over again, then you know the struggle that can be.
The obstacles and challenges of something like that could easily have destroyed them.
It could make them or break them and it could have gone either way, which is why the need for wisdom was absolutely paramount (which is why James talks about this).
It takes an incredible amount of wisdom to see the upside of negative things.
Most never come to that place and never see how obstacles can be growth opportunities that shape and strengthen your character. Most never see that!
It takes a ton of wisdom to see obstacles as opportunities to shape character.
“Testing develops perseverance,” James tells them in; and “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”
This is the approach a wise person takes when it comes to facing “trials of many kinds.” Especially for someone facing poverty, as many of them did.
It’s obvious from the passage that while some may have done ok in the new world, many of them did not. Some did extremely well but others not so much.
For some the new world was a world of opportunity and the land of the golden sun, while for others it was a completely different reality.
The Challenges of the Dispossessed
Some of these refugees ended up in grinding poverty, who then faced challenges that only those who are dispossessed face.
This is what James addresses: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.”
“Humble circumstances” was James’ way of saying ‘poverty’.
There was more than enough poverty to go around.
Many of these refugees ended up in desperate poverty as they forfeited property and possessions.
With nothing more than a suitcase in their hands, they eked out a living in a foreign land, trying to put enough food on the table.
There would be crisis upon crisis among them. They lived from paycheck to paycheck, if even that. They were always one step away from disaster. Issues of survival were constantly on their mind. Unless you have been there you have no idea what the economically disadvantaged go through.
The despair and sense of hopelessness is enormous. The desire to find an escape is incredibly tempting. Shame and low self esteem are constant companions.
And then come the crippling emotions of anger and envy toward those who have so much more.
These are some of the temptations of the have-nots of this life. Going into those dark places will only make matters worse.
Anger, envy, despair and hopelessness are dark places of the soul. It is not a place you want to go to.
Where should you go? Go instead to the place of the high position James talks about: “Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.” James 1:9
This is absolutely key, friends! Those in humble circumstances actually hold an incredibly high position with God.
I’m not sure how to explain this. I’m not sure how much of this is about God turning the tables in an attempt to create justice, and how much of this is about those who are without being far more open to God’s intervention than those who have everything they need.
But the reality is that the family of God is a great equalizer and that inside God’s family the playing field is level.
Those believers in humble circumstances are as much king’s kids and children of God and thus as important and valued as anyone else.
They could walk tall and be proud; they could look people in the eye and speak with a confident voice of equals:
“Just because I am poor doesn’t mean I am less important or that my opinions matters less. I am no ones doormat and no one is going to walk over me.”
“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.”
So stand tall. Believe in yourself even as God believes in you! You really are a ‘somebody.’
And hear this: poverty is not God’s will for you! God wants you to prosper in life.
By not going into the dark places of anger, entitlement and despair, but instead turning your heart fully to God, He will make a path for you and direct your ways.
Whatever you do, never envy the rich because notice what James says happens to the Donald Trumps of this life:
“But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.” James 1:10
I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this passage in The Message:
“Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.”
Sometimes when someone is economically disadvantaged they envy the “haves” of this world and would do anything to become like them, and sometimes even sell their souls to the devil to do that.
But the Donald Trumps of this world end up in the same wooden box six feet under just like everyone else.
Not Tempted into the Dark Place!
While the focus of the passage here is on the unique challenges of the economically disadvantaged, the wealthy and rich also have their unique challenges and obstacles.
So it doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, each will have their own unique struggles in life.
What we are talking about is how to overcome these struggles in life regardless if we are rich or poor.
Here is the key to this: It’s not the obstacles but what you do with them that matters.
Will these trials of life make you or break you? Will they bring out that inner strength of character or cause you to spiral into the dark place of the soul?
At the end of the day the choice is ours, which is precisely what James points to next:
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12
You can persevere under the trials and withstand the tests, and when you do you will receive the crown of life, which is part of the rewards program of heaven!
So you have that choice. The trials of life do not have to become occasions of going into the dark place of the soul.
But you say that it doesn’t feel that way to me. I feel overwhelmed and it seems too much for me to bear.
You know what, if you are not a child of God then it will be too much to bear and you will be buffeted by every wind that blows.
But if you are a child of God then He is limiting the trials you are facing to that which you can withstand:
“God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I Cor. 10:13
Not only bearable but He also has a way out. Did you notice that the way out is about having the endurance instead of finding a quick escape?
More often than not God will not remove the circumstance with a magic wand, but give us the resilience to endure it.
So it really comes down to what you do with what comes your way. Will this trial of life test your resilience, or will it tempt you into the dark place?
Does it become an occasion for sin or an opportunity for personal growth? Is this thing going to make or break me?
Will it be a test or a temptation, that’s the question! Verse 12 says a trial can be a test while vs. 13 talks about it becoming a temptation.
It can go either way, so what’s it going to be? Whatever you do, don’t ever say God is tempting me:
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.
We tempt ourselves when we give in to our evil desires, which then give birth to sin and eventually to death.
Pennies from Heaven
So realize that behind every problem lies a devil and, in some ways, it’s a two-way struggle between good and evil with us being pulled into both directions.
And a wise person sees that and determines not to go into that dark place of the soul. This is why James talks so much about wisdom!
“If anyone of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously.” James 1:5
A wise person never says God doesn’t love me or God has done this to me or it’s all God’s fault!
In case that old lie still comes up in your head as to who sends what and whether God causes bad things to happen to good people, James talks about not being deceived: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.” James 1:16.
Who deceives us? Who is the deceiver if not Satan? The devil will try to deceive you into blaming God and saying that these terrible things God brought my way.
Do you know what God actually brings your way? This is what God brings your way: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
Temptations, disasters and destruction never rain down from heaven. Disasters and destructions are the reality of a broken world, and the lingering consequences of when the floodgate of sin was opened on the planet.
What rains down from heaven is “every good and perfect gift.”
These gifts are sure and constant. God does not play with us. He doesn’t hold out his gift one moment only to pull it back the next.
James calls him “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”. Here one moment and gone the next; teasing us, playing with us and pulling the rug out from underneath us.
That’s not God! He gives good and perfect gifts. Yes, even the trials of life can be pennies from heaven, for they forge in us a character that will far outlive our status and wealth.
God’s Bragging Rights!
In fact, take a look at verse 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 1:18
This is huge, friends! You will need to get your head around this because this is the reason why we face the trials of life!
It’s all about being “a kind of first fruits of all he created”! It’s about bragging rights; it’s about God showing us off to the universe!
What do you mean ‘showing us off’?
Our personal growth and development, as seen in our character and way of life, is a kind of first fruits of all he created.
It’s what God wants to show off to his angels, rub into the noses of the devils and have as a showcase for all to see.
There is nothing more amazing than to see someone’s character shine like the sun despite the severest of trials!
It’s not about your wealth or your fame. It never was! It’s not about your accomplishments and how big a person you were. It doesn’t matter where you have travelled and what you have built, even in the name of God.
What matters is your character! Does your life exhibit the sweet character fruit of the Spirit?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Gal 5:22-23
No law, no restriction, no limitation! These we can have in abundance.
Our character, which is forged in the crucible of life, is God’s bragging right! Nothing else matters.
So in these closing moments of our service, we invite you to stay for personal prayer or come forward for prayer from our ministry team.
If you have struggled with your lot in life and what’s come your way, turn your heart toward the Father of lights who is your very own personal Father.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Faith in the Everyday World (1): Growth Opportunities
Scattered Among the Nations
Starting over is never an easy thing. We have had to start over a couple of times in life and every time we did, it brought with it challenges and uncertainties.
Starting over again may be a physical relocation to a new place, maybe even a new town. Other times it may involve a new reality such as a new school, a new relationship, a new employment arrangement, or even the loss of someone near and dear.
In these times of great change also comes great uncertainty.
What will come of me? How will life be from now on? Will God be with me in what is up ahead?
With this great uncertainty comes an even greater desire to rely on our faith and to find our moral compass in a sea of change.
This is not so much in terms of will I believe what I always believed but how will my beliefs guide my actions, choices and decisions in this new reality of mine?
How will my faith provide a moral compass in this new reality by pointing me to the true North Star?
If any of what I have said resonates with you then the Epistle of James will provide you with a practical hands-on-guide when faced with a new reality.
James is an incredible book filled with spiritual hints and tips in times of great uncertainty in life.
James isn’t so much a theological book as it is a practical one.
It has less to do with doctrine and what we believe, and more with how we live out faith in the everyday world especially during times of upheaval and change.
In fact, James follows a group of people who were facing probably some of the most uncertain times of their lives.
Notice how he starts his letter. He writes this “to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.”
This was during a time of great persecution so the phrase “the twelve tribes” was code for those who were running away so that the authorities wouldn’t figure it out.
The key here is “scattered among the nations”, which basically describes the reality of their new lives as people literally scattered into the four winds as a result of the persecution they were facing.
Some of you know what it means to be scattered among the nations! Some of you have made incredible journeys through hills and valleys to come to where you are today.
And for some of you it still feels as though you are being scattered among the nations, as the winds of change buffet you from one place in life to the next.
You don’t have to be a refugee fleeing for your life to be scattered among the nations. Uncertainty and change is everywhere in life.
It can take on many forms, from a sudden sickness, to a new employment reality. It can be the separation or the passing of a loved one. It can even take the form of a new baby coming into the family, or having to go to a new school.
Facing the uncertainties of life is what it means to be scattered among the nations! Who of us hasn’t felt or experienced that?
Truth be known, when you are being scattered among the nations, then the last thing you want to do is read a theology or doctrinal book.
No, you are looking for something common sense, something hopeful and some way of finding your way to the North Star in this new reality of yours.
This is why self help books are such bestsellers. People want to figure out how to make sense of life’s uncertainties.
This is also what makes James such a brilliant book, because it does provide the compass that points to the North Star!
And it is also precisely the reason why his book had gotten him into trouble among the Reformers.
When Luther and his contemporaries translated James into the vernacular of the people, they felt that it was very light on doctrine and absent of references to Jesus.
In fact, Luther banished James to the back of his Bible just before Revelation because in his mind it was a frothy, light little jingle.
While it’s true that there are no references to Jesus other than in the salutation, and that the references to Lord refers to the name of God and not Jesus with the Heavenly Father as the book’s focus, it is nonetheless an amazing book of common sense faith in the every day life.
“James concern is not doctrinal (which he seems to assume) but ethical – how the Christian faith is to be lived on a day-by-day basis.” James: Faith at Work, Serendipity House
In other words, it is common sense faith for the everyday world.
Consider It Pure Joy!
When it comes to common sense faith, the first thing James tackles in these opening verses is this sense of loss of control that so often happens when things go sideways in life.
When James talks about “whenever you face trials of many kinds”, he is in reality talking about when things go sideways in life.
There is a sense of loss of control when we face trials of many kinds and we end up at the mercy of the circumstance. It’s like being buffeted by the winds.
A sudden sickness will do that to you, as will the death of a spouse, a forced relocation, or sudden unemployment, or even financial collapse.
There is nothing worse than the sense of losing control. There is something about us that makes us want to be the masters of our own destinies and to be in control of our own ships.
Gaining control is precisely what James says in these verses needs to happen.
Not in as many words; you won’t find him saying that. But when you read between the lines that is precisely what he says.
When James says to: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds”, he is talking about gaining the upper hand in the crazy circumstances of life.
Where do I see that? I see gaining the upper hand in the word “joy”.
It is actually a particular kind of joy. Not the goofy joy of liking trials but joy because of an anticipation that this can be turned around for something good in my life. “The joy James is talking about is not just a feeling; it is an active acceptance of adversity.” Serendipity House
The joy comes from coming to a place of an active acceptance of adversity instead of passively letting things simply wash over you.
We are not a people given to fatalism where whatever happens happens, but instead we look for the silver lining, the lesson learned and the upper hand gained.
You see, life’s school of hard knocks that can leave many spinning out of control in circles, is actually the means whereby we become stronger and better people.
Testing Develops Perseverance!
Look at what it says: “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” vs. 3
I am feeling joyful and hopeful because I am not rolling over when waves wash over my boat, but instead I use this to develop perseverance in my life!
Perseverance is a character trait critical to personal success in life and it is a character trait in incredible short supply in our times!
But just look at what perseverance actually is:
“Perseverance is overcoming difficulties, it is facing pressures and trials that call for a steadfast commitment to doing right and maintaining a godly life.” Lawrence Richards
Notice some of the key phrases that describe perseverance in that quote such as overcoming difficulties, facing pressures, steadfast commitment and maintaining a godly life.
Doesn’t that, in some ways, remind you of resilience, toughness, tenacity or even a bullheadedness where you just keep going regardless what comes your way?
That’s what perseverance is! It is an incredible character trait that causes us to succeed in life.
You can be swamped by waves, battered by the wind, bruised by the elements, but that little ship of yours just keeps on going.
Nothing throws you off course and nothing rocks your boat.
Lawrence Richards calls this “a strong commitment to doing right and maintaining a godly life.” I call that perseverance! No matter what, you stay the course!
The exact opposite of verse 6 where it describes an unstable person as someone who “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
Yet how many people are like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by whatever wind comes along?
How many people are like rubber dinghies, where all is well as long as the sea is calm, but as soon as the sea churns the dingy blows off course, or worse yet, capsizes.
The problem is that life is not a calm sea but an angry ocean and it is perseverance that gives us a steadfastness that keeps us on course.
Mature And Complete!
The million-dollar question, of course, is how do trials and tests develop perseverance?
There is a strength that can emerge through repeated exposure to the elements.
Think about it for a moment, isn’t a weather-beaten thing stronger than something always babied and tucked away somewhere?
If nothing else, the elements will quickly expose weaknesses early on that can be fixed and attended to.
Just like a car. Unless you expose it to various conditions how will you know what it is capable of and where its weaknesses and flaws lie that require special attention and fixes?
The same is true with us in life’s unpleasant circumstances.
These can bring out an inner strength we never knew we had, as well as making us aware of any weaknesses that surface during crises that we can then work on.
Never being exposed to difficulties is like a car that has never really been driven. It might be nice and shiny but I am betting it won’t be very tough.
How many people are nice and shiny when the sun shines but fall apart or lash out in anger when hard times come their way.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather be scraped and banged up a little with a workable faith that keeps my head above water, than to fall apart at the first sign of trouble.
I know far too many people who have to be babied and nursed through every crisis when what God wants is for them to stand on their own two feet and not fall apart.
That’s what James points to in verse 4: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
It’s super when all things are working well, with all the parts humming along. No matter what comes along you just keep on going. That is precisely what “mature and complete” means.
Lawrence Richards says: “What James has in mind here is wholeness of character.”
In other words, it results in a well-rounded person who does not react adversely to life’s various curveballs.
And boy, do we ever need people like that! We don’t need shiny cars safely tucked away in garages that, if ever exposed to the elements, would break down.
Life is tough, and we need tough people with a tough faith!
The Need for Wisdom!
That brings us to what James talks about the need for wisdom mentioned in verses 5-8!
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5
You say, what does wisdom have to do with any of this? It has everything to do with this, friends.
Think about it for a moment, it takes a ton of wisdom to look upon trials and difficulties as growth opportunities.
It takes a ton of wisdom to see the need for perseverance and be committed to the process of working it out in our lives.
It is indeed a wise person who sees trials as opportunities for personal development.
Do you realize that most people don’t see it that way?
Most people see trials as a nuisance and a headache; as something to be wished away or to get away from as quickly as possible or as something that you simply hunker down and endure.
Then there are those trials that are viewed as a God punishment or, worse, as a sign that God has abandoned them or that they have somehow sinned against God.
Only a wise person sees the actual opportunities in a trial for self-examination and personal development.
This is why we need wisdom so very much in these situations of life.
When it comes to asking for wisdom, here is the kicker: Don’t change your mind in the middle of it:
“When he asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”
When you start down the path of a wise person who sees the trials of life as the means for personal development, don’t change your mind in the middle when the storms blow the fiercest. Remain consistent in your wise conviction to use this trial to your advantage. Flip it on its ear, turn it on its back, friend.
It’s sometimes easy to be determined to see hardships as growth opportunities when just starting out in something.
But when fully engulfed in something, how easy it is to pull the parachute or just run for nearest exist sign.
So ask God for the wisdom to see the growth opportunities, remain committed to that, even when the going gets tough.
Remember, life is tough and we need to be tough people with a workable faith!
Where Are You Today?
So where are you this day? In the midst of a storm? Maybe it seems like you have been in a storm all your life? Or maybe it feels like you are going from storm to storm?
Maybe your ship is so battered and you don’t know how much longer it will hold up.
Friend, this is not about self-resilience, but God giving you his resilience and strength.
In these closing moments, if you need for someone to pray for you or you need a touch from God to help you through, we invite you to come forward and receive prayer and support.
Maybe come with a friend or come alone, but know that some of us are more than willing to pray with you and for you.
So as people quietly slip out of the sanctuary, why don’t you quietly head the other way to the front of the stage for prayer and ministry?
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.