Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Hand Envy

Most scholars believe the author of the book of James was Jesus' brother (Galatians 1:19). James remembered what it was like before he believed that his older brother was the Messiah, the promised one. He could remember the time he and his other brothers wanted to put Jesus away for losing his mind and moments when they had taunted and made fun of him (Mark 3:21; John 7:5).

Jesus was popular. They were not.

He and his brothers went to the temple to worship God. They were devout Jews. But their hearts were not yet changed. It was not until after the resurrection that James finally understood who Jesus was. It was then he recognized his envy of his brother's fame had blinded his eyes to the truth. He knew first hand how demonic envy, strife and bitterness can damn a person, so he warns us.

If we find our tongues impossible to restrain, we must ask God to change our hearts.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Kick Them Out

I grew up in a pastor's home. The churches tended to be small congregations in remote towns of Northern California. Life was often interesting as a daughter of a minister, but one incident particularly sticks out in my mind.

The deacons in the church called a special meeting to make a demand of m dad. In their opinion there were too many of a particular ethnic group in our church. They wanted my father to tell these people to not come back. I cannot tell you how shocked I was at these professed men of God, or how proud I was of my father when he said to them, "Then here is my resignation".

Scripture tells us that Christ has made one people and one flock out of many nations. Salvation is not for one ethnic group, nor are his people to be seclusive from one another (Ephesians 2:14-18; John 10:16). If God decides where people of nations live, why do we think he has not sent a people from a different culture to live among us? James makes it clear we are not to reject a people (James 3:9; Acts 17:24-26).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Try?

James writes, "No one can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil full of deadly poison" (James 3:8). If it is impossible to control our tongue, why try?

The tongue is not the issue. The tongue is only a symptom of what is in the heart. We need God to cleanse our hearts.

We need him to remove the hidden envy, selfish ambition and anger from us. If we do not trust that God is in fact directing our lives, we fall prey to the temptation of comparing ourselves to one one another. We praise God with our mouths and rip his children apart with our tongues. Our words may sound righteous to our ears but they are bitter in the mouth.

Just as it is impossible or a fig tree to produce olives, so a bitter heart cannot produce pure praise (James 3:8-14).

Friday, October 26, 2012

California Forests

In the fall the hillsides of the California forest become ablaze with color. The cypress, oak and dogwood trees present shades of gold and orange leaves. The green needles of the pine trees create a beautiful frame for the brilliant colors.

Squirrels are busy hiding nuts for the winter. The grizzly and black bear are getting ready to hibernate. The mountain lions with their sleek yellow coats continue to roam the mountains and the giant mule deer graze at higher elevations. The smaller deer roam near green yards and golden fields in rural areas. The raccoons hunt during evening hours and the scrub blue jays hide food for winter and steals food from neighboring woodpeckers.

The streams are alive with salmon, trout, bass, sunfish and carp. Trickling streams giggle across pebbles and through the tall grasses as they seep into creaks and river beds. The Sacramento River begins as a babbling brook bubbling up out from under small boulders in a quiet little park at the foot of mount Shasta, but quickly becomes a rushing river with dangerous undertows as it is joined by thousands of other babbling brooks and creeks.

All of this breathtaking beauty lives in danger of one careless smoker throwing a lit cigarette butt out the window. Hundreds of thousands of acres of beauty destroyed in a matter of days. Charred corpses of wildlife lie beneath gutted stumps and black arms of once vibrant trees. Sadly some men's life's are lost during the fight to put out the flames. All because of one person who does not care.

So it is with one careless word we damage our neighbor's world (James 3:5-6).

Thursday, October 25, 2012


An aircraft carrier ship is a large city that travels on the ocean. They are world wide command and control centers. The NIMITZ class carrier is a floating airport. The flight deck alone is 4.5 acres. The four aircraft elevators are each the size of two city blocks. "Powerful steam catapults (affectionately known as "Fat Cats") can accelerate 37-ton jets from zero to a safe flight speed of up to 180 miles per hour in about 300 feet and in less than three seconds". The electrical system can furnish enough electricity to support a city of 100,000 people.

These ships carry missiles, guns and electric warfare. They have distilling units that can make 400,000 gallons of fresh water from seawater every day. "NIMITZ-class carriers boast all the amenities that would be found in any American city with a comparable population, including a post office with its own ZIP code, TV and radio stations, a newspaper, a fire department, a library, a hospital, a general store, two barbershops and much more"

Yet this traveling city turns direction by a rudder "wherever the pilot desires" (James 3:4). So our tongue controls much of the outcomes in our lives. With it we give grace to others or harm others (Colossians 4:6).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Mother Tongue

When I was a young mother, I knew a person who was gentle and kind. She did not speak evil of anyone. She made each person feel as though he or she was important. You had the sense that she paid attention to every word you spoke.

I asked her once how she learned to control her anger. She said one morning as she was yelling at her children, the thought came to her, yelling does not accomplish anything. She decided on that day never to yell at her children again. Though she disciplined them, her words were firm yet loving.

The mother's tongue can destroy a child's conception of God's love so that the child struggles with it the rest of his or her life. Our tongues can not only harm ourselves, they can harm those we love (James 3:2).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dangers of Being a Teacher

This next verse makes me sit up and take notice. "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement" (James 3:3).

Whether we are a teacher of five or a teacher of thousands, we will receive a stricter judgement. Does this mean teachers should be held to a higher standard of behavior and students are excused? Does this mean God does not expect those who are hearers and not teachers to be less committed to following God's word? Does it mean if you feel called to teach that you should avoid the opportunity in order to avoid judgement?


It does mean when we teach, we need to make sure what we are teaching is an accurate dividing of God's word. If we say God said, or God says, and he did not, we will be, misrepresenting God and leading people away from God. For that, we will have to answer to God. (Ps 50:16; Jeremiah 14:14-16, 23:32; 2 Corinthians 12:12-15; 2 Peter 2:1-2)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dead Bodies

The last verse in chapter two is one of the clearest illustrations of faith without works. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.

A dead body has no life in the eyes. It cannot move on its own. It does not accomplish tasks. It does not think. It cannot solve problems. It cannot taste food. It does not recognize people. And most significantly, in a matter of days it will become the permanent home of parasites and maggots. Not a pretty sight, and the stench is unbearable. That is why we burry dead bodies.

So faith without works appears to God.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Abraham and Rahab

If Abraham had refused to take Isaac up the mountain and followed God's instructions, his refusal would be an outward display of inward rebellion. If Rahab had turned away the spies, her actions would have been a clear statement of trust in her own government to rescue the city.

Humans are destined to act on their beliefs. If we honestly believe God is actively involved in our lives, we will make our decisions based on his word to us. If God is an idea to us, but we do not truly believe that he cares about us as individuals we will naturally be guided by our desires.

The outcome of either belief is eternally significant (James 2:21-26).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Six Year Olds

What does James mean when he says works perfect our faith (James 2:21-22)? Can faith be perfected? Can it be improved? What is the connection between works and improving our faith?

Let's look at it from a different angle. I may study about having a baby, but there are things I learn about parenting that can only be learned through experience. I may read about being a teacher in a grade school and have the degrees necessary to obtain the job, but controlling and teaching a room full of six year olds is an entirely different kind of teacher.

We only learn what faith is when we live through something that forces us to completely rely on God and not on our own understanding. Obedience in those kinds of circumstances strengthens our hope and faith in God, because we experience him as faithful (Romans 5:1-3; James 1:1-3; Hebrews 5:7-9).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Apparent Contradiction?

Paul writes in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus, "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourself, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). In His letter to the Romans he writes, "therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Romans 5:1).

Yet James writes, "what dies it profit, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but dies not have works? Can faith save him?" (James 2:14). Do these letters reveal an argument between Paul and James? Do they expose a contradiction in the Bible? It seems like Paul is clearly stating that we are saved by faith only and James is saying we are saved by works.

But that is not the case. James and Paul are both teaching that faith in The Lord Jesus Christ changes you from the inside out. True faith comes first and is immediately followed by works as a natural outcome of faith.

Saying I am a butterfly does not make me one. Mouthing faith does not mean I have faith. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, not to excuse them (1John 3:8).

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Driving on a hot day, water appears in the distance across the pavement. But when you arrive the small pond has moved further ahead. You will never reach the water because it is a mirage. The water can never fill your radiator, it can never cool you down, you can never get a drink from it.

Faith without action is as helpful and as real as that mirage. If we say we have faith but do not live, breath and make our decisions based on God's word, our faith is simply empty words (James 2:14-17).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Drinking Glass

Can you imagine being a guest in someone's home and your host serving you a coke from a drinking glass with a sharp jagged edge on one side? Imagine your host saying, "we didn't want to throw it away because the lip on the other side is not broken". You would think there was something seriously wrong with the person, and you would be right.

We understand that if any part of a drinking glass is broken, the entire glass is broken. Why do we have such a difficult time grasping the fact that if we break one command of God we are as guilty as though we had broken them all (James 2:8-13)?

It is not a break in thought when James immediately says, "for judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement" (James 2:13). When I recognize my need for God's mercy, I am ready to approach others with mercy. I will love based on God's love for me, not on a misconstrued idea that I am better than someone else.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Strange Idols

James warns us that showing partiality or favoritism toward the wealthy makes us transgressors of the law of liberty (James 2:8-9). Making your decision on how to treat someone based on their income is self focused, rather than God and people focused. We are to treat other people the way we would like to be treated, "love your neighbor as yourself". This clearly places both the poor and rich as our neighbor. If we honor the wealthy, we must honor the poor.

Our provision comes from our Father (Mt 6:11, 25). To be envious or to covet what someone else has is to despise God's decision for us (Ephesians 5:5). James calls it breaking God's law and Paul calls it idolatry.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Famous Trials

Many of us can remember the Simpson trial. He was a wealthy former sports star accused of murdering his ex wife and a man who was returning her eye glasses that she had left at a restaurant. A great number of the public associated the none guilty verdict with his ability to hire the best attorneys.

Some of us have vivid memories of President Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Many members of the public were persuaded that President Clinton escaped impeachment because of his wealth and power.

If we find ourselves in court opposing the wealthy, chances are we are going to loose simply because we cannot afford the expensive litigation process. So why would we value the wealthy person above the poor? Perhaps it comes from our hoping to obtain enough favor to eat from the crumbs of their wealth.

Knowing a wealthy person may reveal our sinful heart (James 2:5-7).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pig Farm

Three men worked on a pig farm. Not wanting to be late to church, they would come straight from their work to worship. The stench from their clothing made your eyes water. The smell was so overpowering that the pastor eventually talked to them about taking a shower before attending service. He assured them that God would not be upset if they were a couple of minutes late coming to his house. The brothers were happy to comply and we all rejoiced in the Lord together.

James is not encouraging us not to bathe. He is not telling us to use our filthy clothes to test people's tolerance. He is reminding us that possessions are no indicator of God's favoritism.

God has blessed his children who are poor with an abundance of faith. They are aware that they literally rely on him for food and shelter. Those of us who have extra tend to forget we are in the same position.

If we disdain the poor, we would have disdained Jesus when he walked the earth (James 2:1-7).

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Puppy Tails

Our tongues can be like puppies tails. They wag incessantly.

James says if we do not control our tongues our religion (our display of worship) is useless. Meeting the needs of widows and orphans and keeping oneself unspotted by the world are true acts of worship (James 1:26-27).

Note the way James puts it, keeping oneself "unspotted" by the world. It is like putting on your white wedding dress or tuxedo and finding a faded brown spot on your lapel or just below your neckline. Imagine you are the guest speaker at a large gathering and you glance in the mirror just before going on stage and see a bright red pimple on the tip of your nose. It is like coming home from the grocery store to find your pants have been unzipped the entire shopping trip.

James reminds us that actions speak louder than words.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Time in the mirror

On those days when we take a little extra time to make ourselves presentable to the world, when we take time to look in the mirror and adjust what needs to be adjusted, we are far more ready to face situations that may arise throughout the day.

But the blessing that comes through "looking into the perfect law" and making the necessary adjustments is more than simply making us feel better. In fact sometimes the adjustment required may make us miserable, for the moment (Hebrews 12:11).

If we are a doer of the law, we will avoid unnecessary difficulties because we recognize the wise choices in circumstances. When we do not understand, our trust in God gives us the strength to do what is right regardless of choices made by family and friends. We will benefit from acting on God's principles, both in this life and in the life to come.

God's perfect law is for his glory and our benefit (James 1:5).

Friday, October 5, 2012

Which Law?

James says "he who looks onto the perfect law of liberty and continues in it " will be blessed in what he does. What is the law of liberty? Why would James tell us to follow the law? Aren't we supposed to be free from the laws of Old Testament?

It is true that we are no longer required to bring animal sacrifices for worship and sanctification. Those laws have been made complete, or finished, when Jesus literally became the lamb slain for our sin. But scripture talks of the law of liberty (James 2:12, 4:11), the law of the wise ( Proverbs 13:14), law of justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23), and the law written in our hearts (Romans 2:13-15).

God never changes (Hebrews 13:8), neither his character nor his pleasures. Therefore what he hated in the Old Testament, he hates in the New. What he loved in the Old Testament, he loves in the New.

Jesus put it this way, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Public Displays of Self Deception

We are experts at deceiving ourselves. Every morning I say to myself, "I am going to eat healthy today. When I get home tonight, I will not eat after six PM so that I can loose wait." 8 PM finds me in the kitchen either making toast, peanut butter and jelly sandwich or ( my favorite) eating a piece of chocolate. I am telling myself, this one time won't make a difference. For thirty years I have been intending to lose 15 to 20 pounds. But my self deception keeps getting in my way.

We have all seen the man or woman who goes to the store in pajama bottoms and slippers. Some women wear tight fitting polyester pants that show not only their panty line but every roll of skin. Some men wear pants below their bottoms. They have to walk awkwardly to keep them from falling to their feet.

Like the public display of physical imperfections, our lives display our spiritual depravity when we read the Bible but do not practice what we read (James 1:26-27).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Making Things Worse

Because we know that God choose us and we did not choose him, because we know that he alone is wise, because we know that all righteousness comes from him, we put away from us any semblance of sin. We turn away from our wisdom and seek God's word which will save our souls.

Our ways will always make things worse. His ways will always save us from ourselves (James 1:21).

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Piece of My Mind

There is a saying that makes me chuckle, "I'd give you a piece of my mind but I can't spare any."

Sometimes the apparent foolishness of others gets under our skin. We want to point out a thing or two to the person who is irritating us. When we realize someone is taking advantage of us, or has pulled the wool over our eyes, or has done something to which feelings of anger arise, we want to set them straight in no uncertain terms.

But James makes it clear. "The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God (James 1:20). Therefore, when we need to confront someone with wrong doing, we must first make sure our hearts are prepared with a spirit of humility, recognizing that we too are capable of similar sin (Galatians 6:1-5).

Monday, October 1, 2012

First Fruit

In the Old Testament the first of every produce and animal belonged to God (Exodus 23:16; Lev 19:23; Leviticus 27:30. The first born child also belonged to God ( Numbers 3:13).

James brings this to our attention when he says God has brought us forth by his own will that we might be a kind of first fruits of his creatures (James 1:18).

All of God's creation belongs to him, but he has chosen to call certain of his creatures to be closer to him. None of the animals, plants or minerals have the ability to have a close relationship with God. Our creator has only blessed humans with this capability. We did not will this to happen. We did not manipulate God into inviting us into his presence. He choose to invite us of his own will.

God could have just as well only allowed angels to know him and not humans. Knowing that without God speaking to us we would have no wisdom or spiritual insight, it makes sense to be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:18-19).