Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taming The Terrible Tongue

Ready for more on James? This week we studied the first half of James chapter 3. It is easy to read these 12 verses, nod our heads and agree that we all need to tame our tongues; it’s difficult to do but we all could use some work in this area. Right? Sometimes we read a familiar passage like this and then proceed on our merry way.
But God’s word is intended to be like a light shining into our lives. Like a mirror held up to our hearts to show us what is really in there (and sometimes that is not a pretty sight, no it’s not…Ugh!) and what we can become (which is a sight of true beauty).

This focus of this passage is the tongue, our speech, what we say. We can’t brush past the first 2 verses just because we do not hold the title of teacher. James points out that those who teach (and we use our tongues to teach) will be judged more strictly as teaching brings more responsibility and more accountability. Don’t we all fit into this category at times? When we share Christ with someone? When we plant a spiritual seed in someone’s life?
James compares the tongue to bits in horses’ mouths, rudders on ships and forest fires started with one tiny spark. Such small things produce large effects. Our tongues make up a small portion of our body but can set the course of our lives on fire.  “It corrupts the whole person” and holds the power of life and death. (Proverbs 18.21) “All kinds of animals… can be tamed… but no man can tame the tongue.” What?! This sounds like a hopeless situation! If we can’t tame our tongues, we are doomed!

We use our tongues to praise God when we are in church, when the sun is shining, when things are hunky-dory.  We also use the same tongues to complain when the dishwasher breaks, gossip about someone who is not meeting our expectations, and cut others down when they get under our skin. “This should not be!”
It’s not enough to just try to clean up our speech, try not to put others down and not to swear. That won’t fix the problem. It’s what’s in the heart that comes out of the mouth (Matthew 12:34) and our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), so what are we to do? What’s in the heart starts the spark.
But don’t despair, my dear. God is here to rescue us from this deadly poison. With Him, all things are possible. The can’t-do becomes something we can do. We can tame the tongue, with the help of His power. We can be made new in the attitude of our minds (heart), how we think, what we value, where our choices are made. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

What we are connected to is what comes out of us. (John 15) Do we truly have the Living Water? (John 7:38) Or have we dug our own cisterns? (Isaiah 2:12-13) If we are connected to the Vine, we will bear good fruit that pleases God and this will be reflected in our speech. If we are connected to the world and self we will not bear fruit and the end result is not good. It may be time for fruit examination. Is there fruit in your life? Not fruit from years ago, fresh fruit. And is it good fruit?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Is It Faith Alone or By Works?

This our 4th week studying James in our Ladies Bible Study on Monday evenings and I’m so glad to have you join us for the weekly recap! It has been so much fun digging in and studying scripture and using our own pretty little heads to think it through. Yes, sir, we are becoming scholars for sure! Well, maybe we have a way to go to achieve that title, but we’re getting closer, don’t you agree?  There is a lot to discuss in this passage, so let’s get started before our coffee cools.
V 14 If we claim to have faith in God but there is no evidence in our lives, what good is that faith? Can faith that just sits and doesn’t produce anything save you? Scripture makes it clear that we are saved by faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:28) But this whole passage seems to suggest otherwise. 

Verse 17 “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Verse 20  “…faith without deeds is useless.”  Verse 26 “…so faith without deeds is dead.”

V 19 Mere belief in God is not enough. Even the demons believe in God. They know He is real, the only true God, and they know His power. They know this strongly enough to shudder. But there is a difference between believing in God and believing God. Many people believe in God and that seems like enough to them. But to believe that He exists is one thing. To believe what He says so completely that it affects how you live is quite another.

V 15-16 Its meeting the everyday needs of those around us that God is interested in.   Not necessarily because they are so loveable. Or because we have warm fuzzy feelings for them and we want to reach out and help. We show them love because the love of the Father is in us. How does this go along with faith? Galatians 5:6 gives us a hint, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
V 20-24 The best way to explain this is to look at Abraham.  Genesis 22 tells the story of God providing a sacrificial lamb in place of Isaac. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son to show His love for God. AND ABRAHAM OBEYED! Did you catch that? As a mom, I struggle with this passage. What if Abraham had said “No.”? What if he took time to think about it, to rationalize that it certainly wasn’t God’s voice he heard. That God really didn’t want him to do that. But that is where Abraham and I are different. He had a stronger faith than I do; at least at this point in my walk. He trusted God enough to gather wood and fire. To take his son and walk up the mountain. To build the altar. To tell his son “God will provide the lamb.” That, my friends, is faith. Real-live faith. The genuine article, not a reproduction. And it wow’s me each time I read it. When I grow up, I want to have that kind of faith, yes, I do!

Abraham’s faith was expressed by his actions. His faith was made evident by his actions. Faith with feet. Faith that doesn’t move you is dead. Faith with feet that compels you to live it out is alive and real.
V 25-26 Rahab had that kind of faith too. “…was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did?” Though she knew less about God than Abraham did, she acted on that knowledge. It affected her actions. Rahab’s story is a picture of the gospel. She knew she was doomed to destruction. She knew who the true God was. It was those beliefs that compelled her to risk her life to secure deliverance for herself and her family. If she had only suspected that their God was real and powerful, it wouldn’t have been strong enough to develop into that action.

V 22-24 “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
Being a doer and not just a hearer proves your faith. I thing the following two passages help explain this, I will leave you with these to think on all day. I can’t think of a better way to use those brain cells, can you?

Colossians 1:10-12 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you[a] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Rom 2:13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Romans 4:2-5 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Do You REALLY Keep the Royal Law?

I’m so glad you’re back! This week we discussed James chapter 2:1-13. In just 13 verses, James packs a lot of meat for us to chew. In case you’re just joining us, you can catch up on the first 2 posts on James here and here. If you would like to read along in James, Biblegateway is an awesome resource for that.
V 1-4 Don’t show favoritism. We all know this, don’t we? The situation he brings up is a classic. And none of us would be that blatant about showing favoritism to the well-dressed visitor versus the shabby-looking visitor.  Would we? Nope, we are way more clever than that. We tend to avoid the overly needy, not wanting to start something we might not want to continue. What if they become too dependent on me? What if they need my help more than I want to help? And so it is much easier to reach out to those less needy, those who are less likely to follow us home and invade our lives like a lost puppy. Yup, that’s favoritism. In its sneakiest form. And God says its evil. Ouch.

V 5-7 Moving right along, James talks about the poor and the rich. This is not to say that all poor are good and all rich are bad, that would contradict other scripture. He is speaking to their specific situation at that time, but carries a spiritual parallel as well.
God chose the poor to be rich in faith. Poor in the eyes of the world, that is, which is not necessarily poor financially, though it could be.  Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  If you contrast that whole passage against our society, you get one very poor person in society’s eyes –humble, meek, merciful, peacemaker. Yes indeed, He chose those who are poor to inherit the kingdom.

Check out Revelations 3:17-20 “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Are you poor or rich in heart? Do you have needs only God can fill or have all your needs been met? That is the question.

V 8-11 “If you really keep the royal law…” Really? Really, as in truly, for real, not show.  Sincerely love others as you love yourself. Treat them as you would want to be treated. We all want the bigger cookie, so loving others as I love myself would mean giving everyone else the bigger cookie. Giving the bigger cookie only to the more loveable and likeable is not just selfish, its sin and leaves us convicted.
That’s his point. We can’t keep the whole law. Especially when we apply it the way Jesus interprets it, at the heart level. We are incapable of being good enough on our own. We are all in the same boat. This is why favoritism is so wrong. No person is better than the next. We are all wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked without Christ.

V 12 So….speak and act like someone who will be judged by the law that gives freedom. Law that gives freedom… an oxymoron.  But not in God’s world. His law sets us free. We can live in freedom vs. bondage to sin.
V 13 Be merciful = receive mercy. Withhold mercy to others = receive judgement without mercy. That’s pretty straight forward. A true servant of Christ shows mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.

It’s important to remember again who this is written to. Out of love and concern for the scattered church, James is willing to be hard on them. Consider him their coach. “Don’t give up! I know it hurts, I know you feel like you need a rest right now, but keep going. It will be worth it. We will have victory! Stay in the game, don’t slack on the court.”
It never ceases to amaze me how the word of God, written almost 2000 years ago can apply to the everyday in my life in 2013. Coach James is there to encourage me, to push me to walk in that freedom. “Don’t get sucked into giving preference to some people and avoiding others….Remember who you are…Love your neighbor…Speak and act from a heart that is grateful for mercy received and pass that mercy on to others. Don’t give up, don’t get comfy in this life, look forward to the next.”

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, I'd love to hear from you!