Friday, October 30, 2009
[What your NOT doing speaks so loudly that I can't hear what your saying]
"Can that faith save him?"
Can- "dunamai" Having power to, capable of, able to
Save - "sozo" Preserve [keep] one who is in danger of destruction, to save as from the power of messianic judgment
Are we not saved by grace alone applied by faith alone? John 3:36; John 5:24; Rom. 10:9; Eph. 2:8,9
What than is James talking about in this part of the chapter? James 2:14- He asks a question with the intentions of the answer being NO! "Can that faith save him? No!" WHAT?! Doesn't Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament say, "YES!?"
This perhaps is why Luther said of the book of James, "I'd like to throw Jimmy in the fire."
This is not the first time that James has taken us in the direction of faith in motion. James 1:27 "Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." Deceiving yourselves about what? That a faith that shows no 'doing' is able to save.
Vs 14-17 All we need is Faith in our Faith? [Leaving others destitute, naked and hungry must prove something]
My 6 year old daughter cut her thumb open the other morning, cutting a bagel[no it is not something we allow her to do]. She came into my home office clenching her fist around her thumb, blood dripping and crying. What did I, her dad, do? "I'm studying about the great truths of the faith, right now honey. I see your hand is dripping blood so I bless you. May you heal quickly!" Then as she walks back into the kitchen to apply a wet cloth and a band-aid she faints. What good is it if I come stand over her and say, "I have faith that you will recover, and be well! Now go in peace?" That's NO GOOD! That is NOT what love does! That's NOT what I did! I was there to catch her before she hit the floor and care for her until the thumb was taken care of and the color returned to her face. James tells us to have a faith that just quotes your faith- demonstrates no action proves something. It proves that your faith is dead!
Phillip Melanchthon, a prodigee of Martin Luther and one of the first writers of systematic Theology, said it this way, "We are saved by faith alone but we are not saved by a faith that remains alone."
Vs 18-20 We shouldn't mix Faith and Life? [Holding the right doctrine must make us something]
In 1752 a theologian puritan preacher named Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon titled, "True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils" Great Title! He focused on the heart of these verses, verse 19. Edwards talked about the good things devils have- 1)A sound understanding of who God is, He is One [they have attended the greatest divinity school in the universe, the very presence of God] 2)A respect for the power and greatness of God [They move about under His shutter]
In pointing this out Edwards gives us the picture of religion without a faith that saves! Religion alone often brags of a correct understanding of theological nuances, even knowing who God is. Religion continuously holds out the nature of God as means of punishment and manipulation to it’s subscribers so that the entirety of their life is to “live under the shutter”. Spewing religious terminology while always in the shadow of trying to do enough good deeds to appease an angry God. It is a knowledge of God without a knowing of God in the reality of life. Holding the right doctrine doesn’t necessarily mean we have a living faith. It may mean we are just equal to demons. James points us to way that we CAN KNOW if faith is a saving faith.
Vs 21-26 Justified by Works [A Pagan, a prostitute and You...the degrees of separation]
What demonstrates a true and saving faith? A true and saving faith is ALWAYS demonstrated, proven, authenticated, matured and completed by works. James gives us two examples of authentic faith that was so full and powerful that it moved those who possessed it to works beyond what seemed rational or were merely motivated by religious knowing. The first example, Abraham. A man chosen by the grace of God from a pagan setting. Asked to believe, trust, have faith in the One who was calling him. Believes God, surrenders all other hope of success and life to the promise of God alone- it is counted to him for right standing before God. This faith is so definite and so complete that even when God asks him to sacrifice his first born son, which by the way was not a religious rule, out of great love and respect for the God in whom he knew he could trust he does the unthinkable- prepares the human sacrifice. God intervenes in the last moment! From this point on Abraham is called the friend of God. Faith that so deeply understands the grace and care of God that it holds nothing back- a faith of intimate friendship- is no mere theological knowing. This is a faith that courageously trusts the good hand of God, Hebrews 11:17. The second example is not unlike the first. A Jericho prostitute bravely acts in faith to hide the spies of the God she barely knows but knows enough. Her faith, though young, is complete and therefore demonstrated by works. Works that places her own life at risk, but trusts God’s salvation when judgment comes to the rest of the city. This is the basis upon which she makes her decision to protect God’s spies in the city.
The degrees of separation between you, or I, and these two examples (the Pagan and Prostitute) are the degree to which our heart is so impacted by the faith that we possess. Faith that is merely knowledge of God exampled by religious platitudes and a life of shutter, James has told us is dead. A faith that is moved by the grace of God shown to us through His Son always demonstrates acts of worship- it has life!
Saturday, October 24, 2009
[Church health is about numbers, finances, programs and excellence?]
Your typical Sunday morning greeter to a new visitor - "Welcome to Our Church. Glad you're here to worship with us. You'll find that we are a growing, healthy Church."
Your internal dialogue, behind your pasted on smile, "Yeah... we'll see."
So how do you judge a healthy church? Do you have a top five or top three list?
1. Well known preacher - celebrity preacher?
2. People coming - success by numbers?
3. Worship Experience - Hill Song music?
4. Response Time - Altar calls and impromptu flag waving sessions?
James is about to give us some clues to what makes a healthy or unhealthy church. James uses the word for 'synagogue' to show these Jewish Christians how they were treating people who came into their assemblies, house churches or places of worship. Reading James 2:1-13 we get the feeling that James is looking for more than merely a worship experience as a way to measure church health.
Pimped out Pews and Health [our standards or God's standards?] vs 1-7 James tells us that these Christians were showing favoritism in who they 'offered their pew' to. If a person of status or obvious wealth came through the doors they would invite them to sit in their own seat. If a person who was obviously poor or had a low social status they would direct them to the 'standing room only section' or tell them to 'pull up a piece of floor'. They felt that their church looked far more healthy with the 'right people' in the pews. James calls them evil judges. In fact he points out how they are behaving entirely opposite of God who has chosen those who have seen their own poverty, their own neediness, their lack of resource and hopelessness. These Christians were falling over themselves to please the same wealthy people who were taking them to court and displacing them from their lands and homes. These are the ones who in word and deed were blaspheming the name of Jesus. They shouldn't be receiving royal Church treatment but loving, direct church discipline.
A Start Measure of Health [moral obligations] vs 8-11 Confronting these celebrity worshiping, status honoring, gold digging Christians James turns to the moral law first, Leviticus 19:15-18; Deuteronomy 16:18-19; Proverbs 28:21. The moral obligation is to treat every human being with the same dignity, value and worth that God has created them with. They are as valued to God as you are. Much more could be said about this... but I'll leave that for you to think through.
The Final Measure of Health [gospel obligations] vs 12,13 and 1 James moves our attention to a greater law, a law he has mentioned before in chapter 1:25, a perfect law. It is called the law of freedom. It is the law for those who have experienced the freedom of coming to Jesus Christ. The law that has been founded in God's mercy over payment, grace over judgment, friendship over enmity. This is a recognition of the Gospel so fully in one's life that mercy, grace and the relationship of friendship is extended to all those we come in contact with- no matter their personal status, their income or if they make our pews look better.
If that is not evident in our lives, homes and churches than James accuses us of holding "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with partiality." Withholding the work of Jesus in our prejudices would be a gross abuse of the grace of God shown to us at the cross.
Are you encouraging the Church towards a healthy demonstration of God's grace from the pew and beyond?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
[Young angry Christians don't have dirty faces because they are SO like Jesus]
To tell someone you are 'born-again' in our culture will get you some weird looks. "Your not one of those... born-againers' are ya?" is sometimes the reply. When addressing the nature of those who believe in Christ it has become synonymous with the young angry zealot who carries around the mega-phone for shouting people into heaven, the large print King James only, study Bible (extra thick) for thumping people into repentance, and a multi-colored chronological map to show people the only right way that the world is going to end, as a way to offer hope.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" 1 Peter 1:3
This is in essence is what James points out to us in James 1:18 - "Of His own will He brought us forth as by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures." When a person comes to a place in their life where they have seen the goodness of God, the sinfulness of their own heart, the incredible measures of love that God has gone to in sending His Son to pay for and take the penalty of our sin, surrendering all they believe in this grace of God - They become a part of this 'first fruit' a new creation, one who was once dead to God by sin has been made alive to Him through the work of Christ, who conquered death and sin on the cross- it is a spiritual birth. Having been born once physically into life now you are born again spiritually into spiritual life, by faith in Christ.
What then follows new life? The enjoyment of this life. Growth, maturing, deepening in understanding and opportunity, development of skill, relationship and trust. All this is true spiritually as it is true physically. God does not leave us as orphans to figure out what this looks like on our own. In fact right here James tells us how the resultant life of those who are the 'first fruits of his creatures' are supposed to look.
James 1:19-26, thankfully we are given a picture of someone who is not like the Bible Thumpn', mega-phone totin', apocalyptic dogmatin' zealot. Instead we get some clear, direct, instructions on how to move beyond the thump!
Moving Beyond the Thump!
1. By a righteous renewal in God's Word (vs 19-21)
The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. For those who are quick to rain down judgment on the sins of others, those who shout REPENT through a mega-phone of self-rightness, to all who call themselves 'born agains'(whether you own a mega phone or not) being quick to judge, slow to hear is not a way to mature, grow know the joy of spiritual life. But instead it is filthiness, rampant self wickedness. The only solution? Humble ourselves at the foot of the cross by allowing the Word of God to penetrate our own hearts first and constantly. A renewed surrender to allow the Spirit of God to point out the log in our own eye.
2.By a righteous revival in the Word (vs22-25)
Look, James says, to those who need to move beyond the thump, "You got 'schmutz' on your face. 'Schmutz' on your very soul. You can't really see it... it's right there... no, not on that side... in the very corner of your heart that you seem unwilling to look at...Look we all can see it in how you interact, live, talk with, your family, your co-workers, your spouse, your brothers and sisters, those who are different than you....Here let me show you with this mirror, God's Word, where the real schmutz is... don't worry. It may hurt for a moment... you may need to allow God to humble you... but He humbles us without humiliating us... this is the way of the cross... it is a 'law of liberty'... a place of freedom, joy and hope.... allow the truth of all that He gives us at the cross to point out the dirt in your soul so that we can continually walk as not merely a self righteous hearer (and shouter) but a revived doer who lives the Gospel.
3. A Righteous Religion through the Gospel is what follows (vs. 26-27)
No longer is it about being right first, being heard first, hiding safely behind the walls of comfort or our religious dogma. Now we are preaching the Gospel to ourselves first, renewed in His Word, revived by the truth of His work in transforming our own brokenness, that the 'born againer's' behavior has so completely changed. Instead of being quick to anger and self righteous judgment (that is full of filthiness and rampant wickedness), there is pure and undefiled acts of worship lived out before God. Uncomfortable, inconvenient, outflow of Gospel compassion on those who are hurting around us- as we continually live out love in a counter-cultural expression of the new birth God has awakened in us!
Don't you think it's time we Christians moved beyond the thump?
Monday, October 19, 2009
[Trials and testings are synonyms for sorrow, poverty and punishment]
Thanks to consumerism, T.V. evangelists and peddlers of a soft gospel- that tells us God is more concerned with our comfort than our transformation- many of us hide, hate and repent from trials. North American Christianity holds within itself a underlying appeal that some how because I have said a prayer, go to a Church, or do a good deed my life is going to be full of all kinds of physical treasures and trinkets that will give me great joy, popularity and affirm my 'rightness' with God and the rest of His world. All REAL Christians drive big Caddies, that come equipped with a license plate that says 'BLE-SSD'. If you are in North America and are reading this blog you have seen, or are believing, this Pablum version of the Gospel.
James- skeptic brother of Jesus, turned believer, becoming lead Pastor/Elder of the Jerusalem church,comes to these Jewish believers (who have fled Jerusalem because they were being hunted down as criminals) as their fellow 'bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.' He writes to them because they have allowed all sorts of poor theology to creep into their understanding of the Goodnews that Christ taught, lived and secured at the cross. Poor theology always results in poor behavior. A poor understanding of the Gospel always results in a poor expression of spiritual life and a resultant emptiness of soul. You think I'm being too blunt? Wait until you start thinking on the words of James.
James gets right to it- like stepping into the octagon- the bell rings and James walks across the ring... doesn’t throw a warning jab- just a straight hard right to the jaw... it rocks today’s North American Christianity:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." Jms 1:2 again in Jms 1:12 "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial..." No health, wealth, prosperity here! Straight up- 'Blessed' a beatitude- You are favored by God as you are remaining steadfast in the midst of all sorts of testing, trials, hardships! Rejoice! Count it a great gift and privilege from God! It will bring about something far greater than riches, fame, prosperity, comfort, and all the other trinkets of the world. It will bring about a depthness of life, a completeness of assurance in Christ, a soul that is lacking nothing.
How can I wrap my mind around this? What if my home and life has been uprooted by war, hate crimes, persecution? What if I just found out I have lost my retirement funds in the stock market? What if the doctor has just brought me the news that a dear loved one has died, or my child has cancer? Where does James point us to in various trials? A right trust and knowing of God!
Vs 5-8 A Surrendered Reliance on the Open-Handed Wisdom of God
Vs 9-11 A Determined Trust in the Providential Opinion of God
Vs 12-18 A Steadfast Commitment to the Goodness of God's Love
Think these through... if you refuse to surrender, rely and commit to the wisdom, providence and goodness of the love of God shown to you through the giving of His Son, Jesus when facing temptation, trials, and testings you are left with only yourself. Self wisdom, self reliance, self commitment. Of course you are going to come up with a perverted opinion of why you are going through trials. A right trust and knowing of God, as seen through the love of the cross, allows us to surrender to the point of being made whole, perfected and complete in the midst of the trial and testing.
God's not really that interested in your comfort, this life is a passing moment. He is more concerned with your transformation. A transformation that comes when we apply the hope of the Gospel to every corner of our life, relationships and heart, in the midst of all sorts of trials. You will discover that the grace of God more then sustains you to the point of deepening and filling you.
JAMES: Lies of Religion [How religion WONT make you jump higher, run faster, dodge judgement, find fullfillment, or have a relationship with God!]
PAXnorth began studies in the book of James the Fall of 09. James has been so laying the smack down on the emptiness of religion and we are watching God use His Word to transform the core of our church and many new people, religious and non-religious, who have begun hanging out with us. I hope I can communicate in short blogs what He has been teaching us.