James


I was driving on Wednesday when I heard two back to back radio ads.  The first reminded me that I only had a short time to buy flowers for Easter.  The second wanted to let me know that I needed to buy some new clothes so I could look my best on Easter morning.  As if Jesus cares whether I bought flowers or new clothes.  Many of His followers in the world can afford neither.  Do we really think that Jesus is more pleased with the man who has new clothes than He is with the the man who has ragged clothes? Of course not!  Jesus is primarily concerned with the heart, while the hearts of men and women are often concerned about what those around them will think.

The only things in the New Testament I read about clothes are that we should be modest (I Timothy 2) and that we should not play favorites based on attire (James 2).  On a related note, if we really wanted to be symobolic in our attire for Sunday then perhaps we should wear work clothes to remind us of the cost of following Jesus.  His road was a hard road of suffering.  Are we greater than He?  In fact Jesus instructs us to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Luke 9).

Jesus, please help us to keep everything in perspective of Your life, Your death, Your resurrection!  You are the glorious Lamb of God that was slain!  Help us to complain less and act in love more!

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“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

In every state in the U.S.A. there are children who are in foster care who are up for adoption.  The parental rights of their parents have been terminated.  They are in need of a permanent home, preferably a home that is full of God’s love and truth.

In my state of Georgia there are thousands of churches that claim to be Christ-centered and tens of thousands of homes that make this same claim.  On Georgia’s My Turn Now website there are 185 listings of children that need to be adopted, 25 of those listings are sibling groups.  We can clearly see that there should be many more Christian homes available than their are adoptable foster kids.  Yet, many of these are at risk of going through life without a family.  Can you imagine to be in that sad state where your biological family has either failed you or died, and there is no other family in the whole world that will make you part of theirs?

Instead of there being a waiting list of kids hoping to be adopted, there should be a backlog of hundreds of Christian families in our state waiting and hoping for their turn to adopt one of these precious ones.  What is stopping us other than a lack of awareness, selfishness, and fear?

Are we really taking seriously the command of God to take care of the orphans? It would be a powerful testimony in your community if it could be said, “There are no orphans here because the church in my community has handled its business.”

May Jesus soften the heart of His church to the needs of the least of these!  May we stop asking the question, “God, do you want my family to adopt?” and start assuming His command to love our neighbors does apply to us in this area by asking the question, “God, is there a reason you have why we should not adopt, or is there a reason you want us to wait to do this?”

Take a look at the kids available in Georgia at My Turn Now.  A quick Google search is all it takes to find the kids in your state.

James 1:27, “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.”

I have been desiring to write about this for almost a week now, but finding the right combination of time, words, and strength has been tough to come by.

Last Thursday, I was having lunch with a good friend of mine at Doc Chey’s in downtown Athens.  I was enjoying our conversation and some spicy orange chicken.  I had my phone on vibrate as I normally do when I am having a conversation with someone.  (disclosure: I have a pet peave about incoming phone calls being more important than the current conversation between two face to face humans.)  The phone in my pocket rang once, it rang twice, a third time, and then a forth.  At that point, I had to say sorry man but something is going on here.  It turns out that Pepe in Mexico was trying to get a hold of me.  He had tried to call me first, but when I didn’t answer he made the smart move to start emailing and calling anyone else in Athens who may be able to track me down.  So still at the table I call down to Mexico, “Hola Pepe!”  He tells me that a lady had a baby the night before that she did not want, and would we want to adopt this baby little boy?  Wow, my heart lept, “I have to tell Claire!”

I called her office which is right downtown, but I was told she was at a meeting on campus.  So my friend and I go to the building she is in.  It turns out that she is in a meeting that happens once a year that has about 50 people in it…lots of UGA big shots.  I interrupt having come from ripping the gutters off my house and lunch – jeans and not showered.  Turns out she is on the other side of the room and I can’t find her so, “Claire, I need to speak to Claire.”  She hops up and comes outside giving me one of those, “Do you know what you just interrupted?  This had better be really important,” looks

I told her Pepe called about a little baby boy that could be ours.  She could not stand.  She just fell to her knees, crying with joy, weeping, heaving.  I kneeled down and held her and we prayed. It was beautiful.  The lights were on.  The cameras were rolling.  This was our moment.

Later, I got home and called Pepe again to find out more details.  The first words out of our mouth were, “Chet I’m really sorry.  She changed her mind.”   News like this feels like a punch in the stomach.  I felt bad for him to have share that news.  I felt worse for my wife and wondered how I would tell her.  I sat for a couple of minutes, prayed, asked God for help, and then made the call.  As soon as I say “hey.” She says, “Oh the ladies here are so great they have already decorated my office for me.”  I say, “Claire, can you get alone? I need to talk to you.”  She says, “No it’s okay go ahead, I think I know what that means.”

And the roller coaster continues with more twists, turns, loopty loops, and abrupt stops.  God’s grace is sufficient, and on the Rock of Jesus we stand.  It is anything but easy, our since of loss is at times very difficult to deal with.  But we are more determined than ever to see this through.  I am so thanful that even though she hurts, the Lord has given my wife a rare strength.  I am thanful for the many friends who love us and pray for us.  I am thankful beyond words for the compassion of my Savior, King, Priest, and Lord – Jesus Christ.  Regardless of our circumstances, we will praise Him!

Claire and I laughed and laughed when we saw this giant ladder on this little Mazda Miata as we were driving on the interstate.  When the engineers at Mazda were designing the Miata, I highly doubt they were thinking, “It can be a utility vehicle to carry around large ladders.” 

Yet many people in life find themselves in a similar predicament.  What they were created for and their current life do not match up at all.  Ephesians 2:10 states, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  You see God has created each one of us and has given us unique places in time and history and unique gifts to use.  When we are living life according to our own rules and desires we step outside of God’s plan and go out on our own.  How foolish to think we could know better than God what is best for the future.  

So how can we make sure that we do not go through life like a Miata carrying a ladder?

1.  Make sure you truly know God through faith in His Son Jesus.  Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” 

2.  Read the Bible consistently with an open heart and mind.  II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

3.  Pray daily seeking to grow closer to God. Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” 

4.  Repent of things in your life that you know don’t please God.  Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

5.  Be involved in a local church where you have godly fellowship and accountability. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

6.  Seek Godly counsel.  Proverbs 15:22, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

7.  Act on what you know is right.  James 1:22-25, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

If you know Jesus and are consistently doing 2-7, I believe you will get on and stay true to the plan God has for you.  Remember in that great exchange we get to give Jesus the unwieldy burdens that we have picked up along the way and only carry what He gives us.  “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

We must come to the realization that unless we are living according to God’s plan, then we cannot fully love Him and love our neighbors as He created us to do.  If your life does not line up with what God created you for, will you give up your plan and take on His?

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:13-16).

The key to interpreting these verses in James is to determine if the words sick and healed are of a physical nature or a spiritual nature. The Greek words could be used either way to describe a physical sickness or a weakness of spirit. An important fact that tips the scale in favor of a primarily spiritual condition is the promise, “the Lord will raise him up.” Practical experience has shown us through the centuries that as hundreds of thousands of believers in Jesus have called for the elders of their churches to come and pray for their physical diseases that sometimes the person gets better and sometimes they do not. However, in all cases where a believer is spiritually weak or in sin, if he humbles himself and confesses those sins God will “raise him up” and cleanse him (see James 4:7-10 and I John 1:9).

Important observations:

  • the spiritual weakness could be a result of going through hardship or because of sins committed – in either case the individual has a responsibility to ask for prayer from the leaders of his/her local church.
  • it takes humility to admit weakness and ask for prayer – but it is THE path to strength
  • accountability is crucial to our spiritual growth – without confessing our sins to God AND one another our spiritual health gets hammered
  • anointing with oil was a common cultural practice in the writers day to give refreshment. While anointing with oil is surely an acceptable practice today, we could also substitute it with many things…washing the persons face with a warm washcloth or giving the person a cup of hot tea are two examples.
  • the prayers of a righteous person accomplish much – here is a great truth and a call for the leaders of local churches to make sure they are in close communion with God.

Testimony:

In our church we have a groups of guys and a group of ladies who meet at 5:30 AM one morning a week to pray together. Part of the prayer time is confessional. It is a humbling thing to know that the person you are praying with could write down a detailed list of your sins from the previous week; however, it provides a needed accountability, helps keep short accounts with God and our church community, and develops a needed trust.
We have also seen God use this time in powerful ways to “accomplish much” in and through our lives. How will a church change after a few months of this? As the Scripture tells us, “much more than we could think or ask.”

The tongue is such a tiny part of our bodies, yet it is so powerful. It expresses the ideas of our minds, and the feelings of our hearts. Our tongues reveal us to the world every bit as much as our actions, yet people can see right through the hollow words that we don’t follow through on.

All over the news this week, talk radio, and blogs the comments Imus made about the Rutgers womens basketball team have caused quite a stir. Where Imus and so many others have failed this week is that their tongues are like roadside bombs – you never know when one will go off. Now we shouldn’t expect Imus or any others who are not trying to walk in the footsteps of Jesus to have any real success in keeping their tongues in check. The motivation for people to say or not to say racist or sexist comments often comes down to reward or punishment in a very temporal sense. God’s standard is higher. As James 4:11-12 states:
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

To speak evil of someone is defined as saying something that doesn’t have the other person’s best interest at heart. It does not mean that we never confront or tell the truth to someone who has wronged us, but we must be careful of our motivation and our method and avoid gossip. The law that the Apostle James is referring to here is the law of love – love for God and love for neighbor. If I am in the act of loving someone, I will not intentionally hurt them with my words. When I do fail in this regard, I am basically saying that God’s law of love does not apply to me, that I have given myself an exemption, and that I am equal to or above God.

Instead of using or tongues to speak evil and destroy, today we have the opportunity to speak encouragment and build up.

For more of what the Bible says about the tongue read James chapter 3.

(note – this is part 6 of 6…so you may want to catch up if you aren’t already)

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:7-10).

The Apostle James gives us seven steps to peace with him and our neighbors.
  1. Submit to God (agree with Him that He is king and I am not)
  2. Resist the devil (I must put forth effort to say no to temptation – but note the promise – “he will flee from you.”
  3. Draw near to God (I must desire to be close to Him – He will rarely force Himself on us. note the promise – “He will draw near to you.” Every time!
  4. Cleanse your hands – stop doing what I know is wrong and try to make amends for the wrong things I have done wrong.
  5. Purify your hearts – check my motives
  6. Lament and mourn and weep – this is where we often stop short of true repentance, normally we stop ourselves and say, “oh I’m not really that bad; everybody has problems.” The consequence is to short circuit this necessary part of the process to becoming the person God wants you to be.
  7. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord – understand who I am before God, that He is God and I am not!

What we have here are practical things we can do to have peace with God, and by doing these we will live in such a way that we will have peace with others (as much as depends on us).

If you haven’t already, let me encourage you to read the previous 4 parts below…this is part 5 of 6 (there are a couple of other posts mixed in).

The reason Nascar and reality TV are so popular is that if you watch long enough you are bound to see a horrendous crash – weather metal is flying or people’s emotions are colliding the part of us that is attracted to disaster will be temporarily satisfied. Even at least 50% of our news isn’t really important information.  It is the story of human train-wrecks…and people love to see the carnage.

The question is, “Why are so many people crashing in the first place?” It’s not just celebrities, it is everywhere. Just list the names of people in your family and your friends and often times even yourself and you’ll see some serious collisions of an emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical sort.
The Apostle James wrote, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:
‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’” (James 4:4-6).

Note that when James is talking about being friends of the world he is not talking about individuals. He is talking about the world system that promotes selfishness, envy, and greed. We know Jesus Himself was touted as a friend of sinners – praise God! Our problems come when we naturally and foolishly buy in to the world’s system and agree with its goals, morals, and ethics.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop.”

In fact, what Lewis is saying is that left to ourselves and being ourselves, we are trainwrecks. We desperately need God, and our proper relation to Him is one of humility. (More on this cure of humility in the next post.)

You will need to look below to see the first three parts of this series.

Ever Wonder why you aren’t getting what you want?

“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3).

Many times we aren’t getting what we want out of life because our motivation is wrong. If we are seeking to be the ones who ultimately benefit from our actions, we will find ourselves always lacking and missing something. For one thing, God in His love will not give us what we are looking for because He is not in the business of stroking our egos, and He does not encourage our destructive tendencies. God will resist our pride and lovingly show us our errors. But many of us are like stubborn mules who insist on going our own direction regardless of the harm to others or ourselves.

The Apostle James does not write these verses as hypothetical; rather, he knows the destruction that takes place in homes, churches, and communities when people are not focused on the greatest pursuits of loving God and neighbor.

We will see the solution in the next 2 posts.

Before reading part 3, Please read Part 1 – Make Peace not War and Part 2 – Hindrances to Your Best Life

“This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:15-18).

This sort of wisdom that promotes bitter envy and self-seeking come from one or more of three sources:

  • earthly – the world’s system that rewards envy and self-seeking
  • sensual – coming from your fleshly appetites and desires (the sin nature)
  • demonic – ideas influenced by the plans of spiritual darkness

The result of this human “wisdom” is confusion and every evil thing. It doesn’t take much more that a casual glance at the police blotter, court TV, or the headlines to realize that man’s envy and self-seeking results in all sorts of chaos and destruction.

Contrast this to the result of wisdom that comes from above:

  • pure – it’s motive is to love God and love neighbor
  • peaceable – it desires the outcome of situations to be peace not strife
  • gentle – it doesn’t strong arm its way into getting what it wants or what is best
  • willing to yield – it doesn’t make minor issues major, it bends to what is best for the whole or another.
  • full of mercy and good fruits – it has mercy because we all need mercy – we all mess it up sometimes and the people around us will do the same. The result is an environment where people can thrive and produce well without fear.
  • without partiality and without hypocrisy – it treats everyone the same regardless of race, economic status, or personality. See James 2:1-4 for an example. (This topic is definitely worthy of its own post)

Now this wisdom results in peace and is sown by those who make peace. These are the ones who from verse 13 can say, “Yes I am wise and have understanding.” Here are the 3 primary elements of peace:

  1. Peace with God through repentance and faith in Jesus.
  2. Peace in your interpersonal relationships through heavenly wisdom.
  3. Peace by helping other find peace with God through walking with God and sharing the Good News of God’s love and provision of salvation through Jesus.

May God help us today to exercise His wisdom and promote peace.

“Make Peace not War” – James 3:13-4:12  Part 2 (Please read part 1 first.)

“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth” (James 3:14).

  • Bitter Envy = desiring the position, power, praise, or possessions of another individual.

The sad and most wasteful thing about bitter envy is that it keeps the follower of Jesus from fulfilling his true calling in Jesus. Think about it this way. God gives each follower of Christ a spiritual gift by the power of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7), and each person has a unique set of natural gifts and experiences. In others words there is only one you! If by envy you are trying to obtain what God has for someone else, then you will forfeit what God has specifically laid out for you.  In other words it is possible through envy to miss your calling in life.

  • Self-Seeking = desiring to be the one who ultimately benefits from the actions done rather than God and our neighbors.

Motivation is so important in living a life that pleases God. Often times our “efforts for God” hide our true desire to gain benefit from the situation. Brothers and Sisters this should not be the case. God’s love for us should be motivation enough to respond in kind. The problem is that we have inherited our self-seeking nature through Adam’s sin. When you were a small child and playing with other children, no one had to teach you to be selfish. No one had to teach you to grab the best toy, and no one had to teach you to throw a fit when you didn’t get your way. You came by your self-seeking ways from the get go. In fact you had to be taught to share and threatened with punishment if you did not.

Left to our own devices we will not to be anything but self-seeking. We must have a new life in Jesus and walk according to the power of the Holy Spirit in order to have the best kind of life. Religious programs and things done in your own strength may have an appearance of “good conduct,” but they will ultimately result in a heart full of pride happy with its own accomplishments. I cannot say enough that without God’s help and power any attempt at living for Him is futile.

May God help us today to walk in the power of His Spirit…to put bitter envy and self-seeking away and enjoy the kind of life God truly intends for us!

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth” (James 3:13-14)

First let’s define some of the words used in these two verses:

  • Wise and understanding = the knowledge of an expert
  • Good Conduct = manner of life, a persons walk on their journey of life, the emphasis here is on the way a person lives over time as opposed to isolated events
  • Works = James generally uses the word works to describe the result of a changed life by Jesus. the Apostle Paul normally uses the term to describe the futile efforts of man to obtain favor with God. Knowing how these two authors use this word and the words “faith” and “justified” help to clear up the perceived disagreement between the two. No true disagreement exists.
  • Meekness = We just really don’t have a good English word for the Greek word “prautes”. The best we can do is meekness, but meekness generally conveys the idea of weakness, which is no where to be found in the Greek word. Jesus in Matthew 11 describes Himself as meek, yet we know He made the blind see, the lame walk, and raised people from the dead. Meekness is not a lack of power, but rather the proper use of power in a way that is submissive to the desires of God and for the benefit of our neighbors.
  • Wisdom = forming the best plans and using the best means of execution for God’s glory and the benefit of our neighbors.
  • Bitter Envy = desiring the position, power, praise, or possessions of another individual
  • Self-Seeking = desiring to be the one who ultimately benefits from the actions done rather than God and our neighbors

Now that we have defined the terms, I encourage you to read the verse again several times and to meditate on its meaning and what in your life you would allow God to change for you to be more like Jesus. Let me also plainly state that the goal of a good way of life without self-seeking cannot be obtained by human means. You must be changed by Jesus by repenting of your sins and putting your faith in Him – that He died for your sins and rose again. You must then walk humbly before God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Any other attempt to obtain the reality of meekness with wisdom will only result in pride and ultimately be self-defeating. 

Read James 1:26-27 to find out:

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  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.”

It is very interesting that James use the word “religion”, the greek word “Threskeia”.  It is used only 4 times in the New Testament, twice here, once in Acts describing Judaism, and once in Colossians chapter two, describing the false worship of angels.
James uses it here in a tongue in cheek way.  James knows that it is human nature to desire to be viewed as a religious person.  Most people who are considered religious are often known as this because of the outward ceremonies they participate in, which includes the physical motions of posturing, bowing, standing, kneeling, and repeating common phases.   The external religious activities are appealing to our flesh to make us feel like we are connected to God, and that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Whether that is really true or not is a completely different matter.
James is pitting religious ceremonial externalities against the types of outward things that God approves of: 

1.  controlling the tongue
2.  looking after orphans and widows
3.  not participating in the sinful things of the world

While this is not an all inclusive list, it does give us a major clue of how God wants us to live our short lives – loving Him and loving our neighbors.