Monthly Archives: March 2012

Sizing Them Up (James 2:1-4)

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4, ESV)

So how do you size someone up? Is it their clothes or what they drive? Is it by asking what they do for a living? Finding out where their from? Most of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, put people in categories in our mind (“Oh, she’s from California so…” or “He’s a construction worker, therefore…”). These categories may not be all bad. For example, they may help us connect to or build a bridge with the individual. In a situation where I’m sharing Christ with someone, I may chose a different approach with an ex-con than I would with an ex-cult member.

The problem arises when these categories lead to condensation. All too often they cause us to treat people differently, giving an honored place to one over the other. These categories could have to do with race or economic and social status. When we show preference to and give privileges to one group (usually in a “higher” category), we are violating today’s passage.

The Christians James was writing to were, unfortunately, giving hookups to those  sporting fine bling and  donning lavish duds while at the same time hurriedly shooing the poor to the corner of the church. James said that in doing this, they have become “judges with evil thoughts.” Their motives were wrong. They were embarrassed by one group and wanted to kowtow to another all based upon clothes and wealth. Fortunately that doesn’t happen in our churches any more…HA! Let’s be conscious of how favoritism plays itself out in our local assemblies or even in our home. When we size our brothers and sisters in Christ up and give them preference because of intelligence, race, wealth or sock color, we dishonor Christ. He showered grace upon the poor, sick, tax collectors and prostitutes. May we endeavor to love as Jesus loved.


Faith in Action (James 1:26-27)

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26–27, ESV)

In characteristic “Jamesness” the author is blunt and to the point in today’s passage. He simply says, “If you can’t control your tongue, your religious beliefs are worthless.” James will elaborate on empty professions of faith and the abuse of the tongue in coming chapters, however it is a very interesting biblical principle that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our conversations and the words we choose reflect what’s inside.

On the other hand, a profession of faith deemed pure before God is one that has moved beyond talk — it gets its hands dirty. Genuine faith gets involved in meeting the needs of other people. The two groups singled out here: orphans and widows. God has always had a special place in his heart for those without parents or a husband to care for them because in ancient culture (and today, especially orphans) they had no means of providing for themselves (Psalm 68:5(. God placed the onus on his people to care for the oppressed and helpless. The word translated “visit” actually means more than stopping by and saying “howdy.” It can also be translated: to care for, to bring justice to, and to concern oneself with.

God is calling us to a full-fledged involvement in living out our faith. The ability to recite doctrinal creeds and argue fine theological points is fine, but if your faith doesn’t have hands and feet, it’s simply empty. More to come in chapter 2!


A Monday Morning Prayer

A Prayer of Praise in Jesus, Who Saves Us Completely   

  Because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Heb. 7:24-25

     Dear Lord Jesus, during this particular season of Lent, I have come to realize, yet again, how much I need a great and gracious Savior. And that would be you. You live and love forever, you advocate and pray for us forever. You are the forever Savior who completely saves us, and my heart is stunned with gratitude as this day begins.

Jesus, I praise you for already completely justifying me. Though my justification will be more public one Day, it will never be more certain than it is right now. Because of your work for me, I am fully and eternally accepted by God, in you. I can live today with this life-liberating chorus reverberating in the corridors of my mind and the chambers of my heart, “There is now (and forever) no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” I am no longer under law. I am under, in and all about your grace!

Not only is there no condemnation, there is perfect peace, irrepressible delight and unparalleled rejoicing going on from God towards me, and all his children. It boggles my mind, exposes my unbelief and stretches the limits of my imagination, but God actually desires, enjoys and loves me; and it’s all because of you, my perfect and complete Savior.

Jesus, I praise you that you will completely glorify me—you will instantaneously perfect me on the Day of your return. O, the great peace this gives me today. I am a mess, in constant need our your mercies. I know this, for sure. So to be certain that my eyes will see you as you are, and that I will be made like you… nothing gives me so much peace and hope.

You will bring to completion the good work that has begun in me. There’s no possibility that you’ll give up on me, Jesus. No more divided heart; no more brokenness or weakness; no more knowing or loving in part; no more fear or anger; no more confusion or cowardice; no more false worship or foolish medicating; no more posing or pretending. I will be whole. I will be holy.

Jesus, I praise you that you are presently sanctifying me—you’re changing me, you’re making me like yourself. When I’m aware of it, and when I’m not; when I’m cooperating fully, and when I’m resisting. For I can no more change myself than I can sneeze a rainbow into the sky. Jesus, I get very weary of me, very weary. I am so glad you don’t. And I am overwhelming grateful that my acceptance with God is not measured by the degree of change in me, but by the perfection I have in you.

I have no guilt in life and no fear in death, this is your power in me, Jesus. From life’s first cry to final breath, you command my destiny, and no one and nothing else. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from your hand. ‘Till you return or call me home, here in your power and grace, I’ll securely stand. So very Amen I pray, in your great and gracious name.

from Scotty Smith


Hearing Just Doesn’t Cut It (James 1:22-25)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22–25, ESV)

It’s no secret that as we get older our memory becomes less and less reliable. Some of us understand this from experience a little better than others, but we all know the frustration that comes from something really important slipping our minds. I recently read that the way that many of us remember information has completely changed with the advent of the internet. Rather than remembering specific information, we instead recall where that information is located and how to find it. Rather than spouting off how Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms effected small businesses, we remember the Wikipedia article that contained such information.

While forgetfulness is simply part of life, it should not be part of the Christian life. God’s Word should be a priority to us — something that we hold before our eyes constantly to keep us heading in the direction God wants us to go. Hearing God’s Word is very important. We must daily crack the Bible on our own to search it’s vast expanse and labor to mine the innumerable hidden gems. But more than that, we should surround ourselves with good Bible teaching at church and catch occasional sermons on the radio or our iPod. To hear the Word is to put ourselves on the right track, however it is not the end of the matter. Doing must accompany our hearing.

If I received word that by showing up at a certain place on a certain day of the week, I would automatically be entitled to $1,000,000, no strings attached; I would have received some very good news! But only hearing the message will do me no good. I actually have to show up to get the money. The information is useless unless I act on it.

In the same way, you can comb God’s Word for all the precious truth your heart can handle, but if you don’t act on what you find and learn, it’s useless. You’ve become like someone, according to James, who looks at his face in the mirror and as soon as he turns away, has completely forgotten what he saw.

So pour over the pages of scripture. Go before God in prayer asking him to open the eyes of your understanding so that you can see the rich and glorious truths he has revealed to us (Ephesians 1:16-19). But don’t stop there. Build those truths into your everyday life. Take them with you when you get out of bed, when you fix your kids’ breakfast, when you head off to work, when you face conflict with a family member and when you battle sin and temptation throughout the day. That way, you can be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.


Both Fast and Slow (James 1:19-21)

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. (James 1:19–21, NLT) 

God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue.

— Thomas Watson

I’ve never been a fast runner. I usually finished near the back when running laps in football practice and my younger brother Josh could usually get away from me whenever he needed to. But in today’s passage, being slow is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s commended. When it comes to our speech and anger, slow and steady wins the race. However, that’s not the typical response for many of us. We want to chime in, we want to be heard, we’ve got to get that jab in or let them know what the real facts are. But James cautions us against foolishly quick words. If we are easily angered and lash out with our tongue, we will not be able to achieve the righteous life that God desires.

On the other hand, if you want to be fast at something, be a world class sprinter in the field of listening. Oh how many of our conflicts could be resolved if we took the time to listen to the other person. All too often we love the sound coming from our voice drowning out the other person. Don’t be like that. Listen, be understanding and empathize. A fast listener — that’ s the kind of speed God’s looking for.


The Best Gift Giver (James 1:16-18)

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16–18, ESV)

“Hath God said…” (Genesis 3:1) 

With those words, Satan tested out what has become one of his most effective ploys — arousing doubt in the goodness of God. When we are at our lowest, feeling besieged by life, little wisps of discontent and suspicion slip into our mind. “If God loves me, why would he allow this?” “Why does it seem like nothing ever goes right for me?” “No wonder he’s so happy, have you seen the size of his house?”

It is imperative to our spiritual health that we believe and become fully convinced of what James says in verse 16: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights … How many gifts? All…every…the complete package. Who are they from? They are from God. He has given you all things that you need for a life of godly living, joy and contentment  (2 Peter 1:3). He has withheld nothing. Satan has made it top priority to get you not to believe what you just read. He wants you to believe that God likes your neighbor better than you. He wants you to believe God is out to make you pay for sins you’ve already been forgiven of. He wants  you to believe that God is out to get you or that he is withholding the best blessings for the “super-spiritual” Christians.

Being with universe’s best Father, God loves to give very good gifts to his children. This verse is not about material gifts, it is about something much better. God has promised to take care of our physical needs (Matthew 5:25-34) but here in James he promises to take care of our spiritual ones. He has promised to equip us to face everything that comes our way because he is good and he delights  in caring for his own.

May we sing with the psalmist:

 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:8–10, NLT)


A Truly Christian Love

I’m taking a brief brake from our study of James to drop this quote from Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections for you to reflect on:
Christian affections are like Mary’s precious ointment that she poured on Christ’s head, that filled the whole house with a sweet odor. That was poured out of an alabaster box; so gracious affections flow out to Christ out of a pure heart. That was poured out of a broken box; until the box was broken, the ointment could not flow, nor diffuse its odor; so gracious affections flow out of a broken heart. Gracious affections are also like those of Mary Magdalene (Luke 7 at the latter end), who also pours precious ointment on Christ, out of an alabaster broken box, anointing therewith the feet of Jesus, when she had washed them with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head. All gracious affections that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are broken-hearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit; and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior.