Thursday, September 6, 2007

James 1:19-27: Right Actions

"Be not only hearers of the word, deceiving yourselves, but do what it says." ~ James 1:22

James challenges his audience: "Do you believe God's Word can transform your life or not?" Of course so! Yet, in the stillness of our hearts, we have doubts. These doubts can infect our actions and poison our relationships. In these verses, James names some the malign fruits of doubt: anger (v.20), moral filth (v.21), a loose tongue (v.26), and looking into a mirror and forgetting what you look like (v.24).

The last metaphor is peculiarly apt. A mirror doesn't hide or conceal anything; rather, it faithfully reflects your image back at you. This has two fateful implications. First, we have to acknowledge the sin in our lives. If I have a pimple on my nose, the mirror is going to show it every time, no matter how I try to wish it away. Second, looking in a mirror reminds us that we are daughters and sons of God, made in His likeness (Gen 1:27). Zits or no, we can't deny that we have a Maker who loves us, knows our hearts, and wants to enter into fellowship with us.

Hearing is meaningless without acting. If I'm driving down a highway, and I hear over the AM radio that there's an accident ten miles ahead, I'm going to plan an alternate route. No sensible driver would keep going and get stuck in traffic. But with something infinitely more meaningful - the ultimate end of our sould - we have God's Word and His creation to warn us to take a new path, but we persist in our sin down the road that leads to death.

Praise be to God and his Son, Jesus, that with your Spirit we can "humbly accepted the word planted in you, which can save you" (v.21)!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

James 1: 12-18: Temptation

"Each man is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed." ~ James 1:14

Yesterday, we heard that God wants each of his beloved ones to be "mature and complete, not lacking anything" (v. 4). James confronts, head-on, the greatest obstacle to mature belief in Jesus Christ: temptation. Earlier this summer, in the context of Jesus's desert temptation, I noted that Satan is the source of temptation. Growing believers struggle with this fact, sometimes for years. My own record humbles me - though I sense that victory is drawing near.

When men and women choose to put away their old lives and dedicate their bodies and souls to Jesus, it's hard not to expect imminent, drastic transformation. I suspect that certain kinds of evangelism (not all) condition new converts to expect instant change in their lives solely by the act of believing. James writes to correct this false teaching, which prevailed in his time too!

He is clear that God loves good and hates evil: "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone" (v. 13). God permits Satan to extend a hand over certain portions of our lives, but only so we can say No to sin and Yes to grace. Then, we will receive "the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (v. 12).

Alleluia to our God whose Spirit brings us out of sinful death and gives us abundant life!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

James 1: 1-11 - Perseverance

"Brothers, consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of any kind." ~ James 1:2

James, the half-brother of Jesus and pastor of the Jerusalem church, wrote what is perhaps the earliest book of the New Testament. It's as fresh and relevant today as it was nineteen hundred and threescore years ago. The book is a energetically argued guide to true holiness - that is, lived holiness, in contrast to loud professions of faith. In essence, it's a call for all of us believers to reject Pharisaic pride, that most stubborn of sins.

Trials are part of the Christian life. Jesus promised his followers comfort in an ultimate, cosmic sense, but he never promised a comfortable life. My annotated Bible wisely notes, "Whenever you face trials." Christ-followers will face trials; it's not optional! James says that if we can't withstand trials on our own, we must sincerely ask God for wisdom. The one who doubts God's provision is "a double-minded man, unstable in all he does" (v.8), doomed to estrangement from God when his half-hearted prayer goes unanswered.

Since we will face trials, regardless of earthly station, being poor or rich is inconsequential to God. James mentions the honor of poverty and the futility of riches throughout his epistle. Once, at St. Colette's, a man from the Haitian relief organization Food for the Poor preached. He was born into dire squalor, but rose above it, guided by the word he preached in suburban Detroit that morning:

"The Lord God is King! And He is a wealthy king. He has given me everything I need."

Monday, September 3, 2007

Welcome back!

This blog, after a long hiatus, is up and running again. I'm going to reflect on a different portion of Scripture: the epistles of 1 Peter, James, and 1 John. I heard these epistles on the road in August as part of a "Bible on CD" program sponsored by Lake Pointe Bible Church. The pith of these three texts struck me; each one sounded like an effective sermon.

Yet these texts are inspired words of God, not mere human sermons; what's more, their authors (I have doubts about 2 Peter, but I'm not a revisionist like Bart Ehrman either) effuse the texts with their personalities and their leadership roles in the early Church. If I were to introduce someone with no knowledge of Scripture to Christianity, I'd begin with the Gospel of Mark and immediately follow with these epistles.

I promise to blog daily, but slowly and thoughtfully. I anticipate each book to take about four weeks, which should wrap it up near Thanksgiving.