Category Archives: James

Final thought on James; June 16, 2010

Final thoughts on James…

Begins and ends with faith…

The book of James takes us on a journey through the tapestry of a Christian’s walk.  Unsurprisingly, James begins and ends with faith.  For the Christian, faith is what separates us from the world.  It’s what grants us power and understanding not found in the world.  It is our faith in Christ that ushers us into the presence of God and saves us for eternity.  And so, James goes to great lengths to show us the importance of faith and what it looks like in the life of a Christian.

In beginning with faith, James attempts to show us the role that faith plays in our lives.  Faith in Christ is not simply a list of religious duties or a mantra that is repeated in one’s mind and heart.  Faith in Christ is something completely different.  It is a total trust in the relationship established with almighty God.  A trust that exposes the hidden places in the human heart and allows them to be changed.  Faith in Christ exposes the true conditions of our hearts and transforms them from dark to light.

Because this faith in Christ changes us if we totally surrender to Him “with no doubting (1:6),” our outward actions are changed as well.  We no longer accuse God of tempting us (1:13-18).  We no longer are satisfied with knowing about God’s word, but we are eager to put it into practice (1:19-27, 2:14-26).  We love everyone without showing partiality (2:1-13).  We surrender what we say and how we say things to the Lord for his glory (3:1-12).  And finally, we choose the things of God over the things of this world (4:1-12).

We allow these things to be changed within us because we have found relationship with our Heavenly Father.  We allow ourselves to be changed so that He may be glorified in us.  We allow worthless things to be sacrificed for the sake of His name instead of holding on so that we can deceive ourselves into believing we’re fine on our own.

The Father desires to use us, but instead of putting all of our faith in Him, we choose to put our faith in our own strength.  Sometimes we put our faith in popularity, intelligence, abilities and gifts, or in other people.  Anytime we put our faith in something other than Christ, we are setting up idols made with our own hands or ideas.  The Lord is calling us back to Him, that we may be used by Him and for His glory.  Get into the Word and find out what it looks like to put complete faith in Him.  I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,

JOT

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James 4:1-10; June 2, 2010

James 4:1-10 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

Draw near…

James chapter 4 is the beginning of James conclusion to his letter to Christians, and honestly he’s through pulling punches.  True he has already called us self-deceiving (1:22), double-minded (1:7) snobs (2:1) who walk in a dead faith (2:17).  Of course James is not simply trying to beat us down in our faith.  He is simply giving us an accurate picture of how most Christians live.  Often we become very offended by this, but that’s only because it’s true and we simply don’t want to change.  Please notice that I use “we” and not “you”.  This is something that applies to Christians across the board and even applied to James.

In chapter 4 James pushes us to a whole new level of conviction.  He goes so far as to say that we set ourselves to be enemies of God (4:4).  Now that is a lot more extreme than simply walking around in a dead faith.  But James wants to make it very clear that there is no gray area in our relationship with God.  There is no middle ground in which we are simply neutral in our faith.  We are either for God or we are against Him.  And unfortunately, it is not enough to simply say that we are for God.  If we simply say that we believe but don’t actually do anything that lines up with those words we are useless and make ourselves enemies of God.

Something that is important to keep in mind is that we are not just enemies of God when we are doing things that are bad on the outside.  Some of us don’t struggle with killing people, sleeping around, or substance abuse.  Some of us simply try to be good in our own strength and think that because we don’t do bad things we are being obedient to God.  This is simply not the case.  Read Luke 18:9-14.  Jesus tells the parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who are praying in the temple.  The Pharisee prays and thanks God that he’s not a bad guy.  He even does really good things like fasts twice a week and tithes regularly out of obedience with God’s commands.  Now we get tricked sometimes because this guy is a Pharisee.  Jesus rarely had anything good to say about them, but this guy isn’t a bad guy.  We’d probably like him and he’d probably like us.  We’re not extortioners, unjust, or adulterers.  He was a good guy and did good things.  Despite that he was not brought into right relationship with God through his prayer.  His focus was on all the things “he” had done.  He had made himself righteous by acting a certain way.  The tax collector in the story is brought into right relationship with God because he recognized his sin and need of grace.  In humility he came before God and recognizing that even the good things he had done weren’t enough to save him.

Sometimes we get in the mindset that as long as we go to church, read the Bible every now and then and don’t do bad things we are in right relationship with God.  That simply is not the case.  We can do nothing to earn right relationship to God.  Even the good things we do are not enough.  You can go on every mission trip, conference or youth camp you can think of and that won’t bring you into right relationship with God.  James says “submit (4:7)” and “draw near (4:8)” and that is what brings us into right relationship.  We should be broken by our sin and turn to God.  And when we are able to do that, the Lord is able to use us and change us more into the likeness of Christ.  It’s not easy to submit everything to God, but it’s so worth it.  For those of you who are struggling with temptations, submit to God.  It is only through submission to God that we can resist the devil.  If we are not submitting to God, we can give no resistance to the devil.

Want to know what submitting to God looks like?  Get in the Word.  Want to know how to draw near to God? Get in the Word.  Want to be able to resist the devil?  Get in the Word.  Are you picking up on the theme here?  If you need a reminder about getting in the Word, let me know.  I’ll call you, text you, email you, facebook you, or send a pigeon if that’s what it takes.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 4:1-3; May 26, 2010

James 4: 1-3

What causes fights and quarrels among you?

Girls fighting because they are wearing the same shirt…

Girls beating up boy because he is dating someone else…

Boys fighting over nothing…

Quarrels over who is right and who is wrong…

Wars over religious supremacy…

Battles over boundaries…

Drug wars…

Spiritual wars…

So what is at the root of all of this?

Our sin nature… wanting what we cannot have or

what is not in the Lord’s will for our life.

We struggle with greed, pride, envy, lust, authority

all these inner desires driving our outward actions…

You don’t have these things because you don’t ask or

ask with the wrong motives…

So what do we need to do???

We need to align our will with what is the Lord’s will for

our lives.

Mike

James 3:13-18; May 19, 2010

James 3:13-18

(I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

What’s my motivation?

James continues to explain the struggles that sinful human beings have in their faith.  The majority of chapter 3 is spent explaining how we use our tongues for evil instead of using them as we should.  After his time on taming the tongue, James begins to reveal the motivations behind the untamable tongue.  Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are at the core of why our faith is not lived out in our daily lives.  We are often unaware of the motivations that drive us to sin, but it’s important that we understand what James is saying so we can begin indentifying them in our lives.  So let’s define some of our terms before we move on.

What is jealousy?

Jealousy as used by James is a divisive term that also drives a person to an action against someone who has something that they want.  Most often this motivation is not about something physical.  Teenagers rarely act in jealousy towards their parents because their parents have something physical that they want.  Teenagers and parents generally don’t’ fight over a toy or gift that the parent has and the teen doesn’t.  More often in this scenario, the child will feel that the parent is withholding favor, love or has given favor to someone else instead of to them.  This makes the child jealous and makes them demand that they get their way not matter what rules are in place or what limitations have been given to them.  Have you ever heard a teen say (or maybe you’ve actually said this to a parent, I have I’m pretty sure) “Well my friend’s parents let them have it…” or “Well this friend’s parents let them stay out as long as they want…”  Statements such as these come from a motivation of bitter jealousy.  We are jealous of what we feel is being withheld from us.

What is selfish ambition?

Selfish ambition is something that we can all understand fairly easily.  It’s working to achieve something for your own pleasure or glory.  It’s something that is taught to us from a very young age and is what our country has thrived on.  Capitalism is the highest form of selfish ambition.  Selfish ambition is looking out for number 1 instead of living a life of service.  It means that everything you do has nothing to do with the good of anyone else around you.  And sometimes we are selfishly ambitious about good things.  Sometimes church events open the door and actually encourage selfish ambition.  Instead of coming to serve the church or serve the other people at the church, we come to get what we want from it.  We come to get recognition for how godly we are or to be reminded how much God loves us despite the fact that we sin.  It’s generally not too hard to find selfish ambition in your motivations, but we let it stay there because we’re selfish about good things or we listen to our culture which tells us it’s okay to be selfishly ambitious because that’s what makes the world go round.  James through the power of the Holy Spirit is telling us that it’s not okay.

James says that instead of selfishly ambitious or bitterly jealous we should be meek and humble.  Instead of wanting to satisfy our own desires, we should seek to serve those around us as Christ served us.  If that is our heart, our faith is lived out.  If our motivation is to serve Christ and serve others, we walk in a faith that is living and active.  Knowing the motivations behind our actions is a big step in allowing the Lord to change us from the inside out.  Christ doesn’t want to only change the things you do, He wants to change the motivations behind the things we do.  Let Him do His work and you’ll find that you are given “a harvest of righteousness (3:18)” through Christ which brings peace not only to you but also to the people around you.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 3:1-12; May 12, 2010

James 3:1-12 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

The Tongue…

James moves from describing a faith without works to a work that generally discredits an individual trying to live for Christ.  The work is presented as the work of the tongue.  The things we say have tremendous consequences.  We cannot say that we are living in faith in Christ and continually use our words to cut people down, build ourselves up or speak the lies of the devil.

Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Basically what this means is that whatever is in your heart will eventually come out of your mouth.  If you have trouble with the things you say, if you react sharply to your parents, teachers, or siblings, if you have trouble with gossip or speaking judgmentally about or to people, I can almost guarantee that you have other issues of sin in your life.  Whether those sins are sexual impurity, rebellion, favoritism, bitterness, or pride, those sins that you try and keep hidden in your heart will eventually come out in the things you say.

James likens the tongue to a “bit (3:3)” for horses and the “rudder (3:4)” of a ship.  Both objects are very small but control the larger object and dictate the direction it is going.  James says just like these examples, “the tongue is a small member, but boasts of great things (3:5).” Meaning that the tongue has a great effect on us despite how insignificant it may appear by itself.  The famous idiom “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me” gives a clue as to how we often underestimate the words that are spoken.

James also says that the tongue is a fire (3:6), a world of unrighteousness (3:6), a stain on the whole body (3:6), untamable (3:8), and a source of two opposing substances (3:11-12).  James doesn’t mess around with the severity of the damage the tongue can do.  The key to taming our tongue is not found in our trying really hard or correcting ourselves.  The key is in us allowing Christ to change us.  We cannot tame the tongue.  James says that anyone who has tamed his tongue “is a perfect man (3:2)” and none of us will be perfect until Christ returns and makes us perfect.  So what we do now is hide ourselves in Christ and follow Him as we work out our salvation.  This working out of our salvation means that we allow Christ to keep changing us on earth knowing that we will never be perfect here.  That’s the call we have, to die to ourselves and live in Christ.  He does the work that we can’t do on our own.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 2:18-26; May 5, 2010

James 2:18-26 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

Faith without works…

To conclude his point on faith without works, James gives us two examples of people in the Old Testament who were commended for their faith.  Abraham and Rahab were people of faith, but James points out that their faith was more than just an agreement of a set of ideals.  Their faith dictated their action.  Their faith was alive and lived out.  If they did not live out their faith there would be no reason for us to know their names.

Now if you don’t remember Rahab, don’t worry.  She’s not exactly a pillar of our faith (although she is mentioned twice outside of genealogies in the New Testament).  She was a prostitute from Jericho.  She had heard the stories of what God had done for the Israelites and believed.  She allowed this faith to dictate her actions and she hid the Israelite spies and helped them escape Jericho.  Because her faith was turned to action, she and her family was saved from destruction.  God then used her to bring Jesus into the world thousands of years later.

It’s hard to be in church for very long without hearing about Abraham.  He is the father of the Hebrew nation and he was called a friend of God.  That’s not a title that is thrown around a lot in the Bible.  He wasn’t perfect by any means, but he was called righteous because of his faith.  His faith was tested when he was asked to sacrifice Isaac, his only son with Sarah, the son who was supposed to fulfill the promise of God in making a great nation.  Obviously, it would be hard for Isaac to fulfill that promise if Abraham sacrificed him.  Abraham took Isaac and was going to sacrifice him to the Lord because he had faith in God and that faith was walked out in his obedience.  Now Abraham was not called a friend of God because he only believed in God.

If Abraham told God that he would sacrifice Isaac but didn’t follow through with action, there are two things that would not have happened; that dead faith would not have been counted to him as righteousness and he would not have been called a friend of God.  He would have been a rebellious, disobedient man who most likely would have been disciplined for his dead faith.  That would be a very different story and not as fun to tell in Sunday School.  If you have a dead faith, God is trying to get your attention.  Stop living in a dead faith.  Let your faith be seen through the things you do and say.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 2:14-17; May 2, 2010

James 2:14-17 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

Dead faith…

James continues to focus on faith and works as he challenges the reader to make sure that faith and works are both present in the life of a Christian.  Now something that I want to make clear before we move on is the definitions of faith and works that James is using.  The faith that James is talking about is not just a knowledge of God and Jesus and simply knowing that they exist.  Just like works for James are not just following the rules in the Bible and trying to be good.  Faith is the total surrender to Christ as Lord of our lives, and if we have faith like that then we will have works that are obedient to Christ and model the example Christ lived.  So to sum up, the faith that James talks about is not just knowledge of God, it is a relationship with Him, and works are not just good things we do, they are things we do in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s moving in our lives.  Sometimes we forget what we’re talking about with “faith and works” so I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

Now I want to start by saying something that seems harsh but must be said.  I only say this because I care about and love you deeply.  Most of you reading this blog are living in a dead faith.  You go to church, you try to do good things, you may even read your Bible, but you have missed what it truly means to have faith in Christ and live for Him.  You’ve been taught to be good and you’ve been taught about who Christ is, but you’ve never taken the steps of having relationship with Him.  I’m not saying that any of you are bad people, and I am not saying that you are not saved.  You’re faith is simply dead.  What you say and what you do don’t line up.

Some of you do good things like volunteer at food shelters or have been on a mission trip before, some of you have even led someone to Christ, but when you get home you disobey your parents, you get drunk at parties, you refuse to show love to the person at school who is annoying, rude, weird, or unpopular.  Some of you are in church Sunday mornings after a weekend of partying and fooling around in things you shouldn’t be anywhere near.

A dead faith leads to confusion, doubt, rebellion and ultimately it can lead to death (like the Hell kind of death, not the have a nice funeral before going to Heaven death).  James questions whether a faith without works can save a person.  He’s not looking at someone who says they have faith and telling them that they are not really saved.  No one can see the heart of a person except for God.  I would never accuse anyone of not being saved.  Thankfully that’s not my place.  Jesus says that there will be many people who will go to Hell who lived their lives in a dead faith (Matthew 7:22).  Those that Christ cast into Hell prophesied, cast out demons, and did “mighty works” in the name of Jesus, and were called workers of lawlessness and told by Christ that they never knew Him.

Simply saying you believe is not enough to save.  Simply doing good things, even in the name of Jesus, is not enough.  We must have faith that changes you.  We must have works that are obedient to Christ.  Being a Christian is all about relationship with Christ, and it’s that relationship that is so easy for us to neglect.  I challenge you to examine your life.  Are you walking in a dead faith?  Get in the Word every day this week and see what the Lord shows you.

There’s one thing I know for certain, Jesus did not call you to a dead faith.  He desperately wants to have relationship with you.  He desires to heal the parts of your heart that cry out in pain and confusion.  There are no answers to your problems outside of relationship with Christ.  Amy and I are always here to help where we can.  Call us, write us, find us after service.  We’ll make time for you.  I love y’all more than you’ll know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 2:8-13, April 28, 2010

James 2:8-13

The Whole of the Law…

James continues his thoughts about the sin of partiality by reminding his readers of the command “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is a common command that just about everyone has heard in one form or another.  Even those outside of the Christian faith have their own version of the command in their golden rule “Do unto others…” you know how it goes.  It is very easy to focus on the first half of the command and neglect the second.  We focus on loving others and tend to neglect the love of ourselves that must precede the loving of our neighbors.

This is a very tricky subject in that most of us, if we have been in the church, have been taught from a very young age not to be selfish, prideful, and focused on ourselves.  The command does not breech the essential need that we have to put others before ourselves.  Instead it challenges us to love ourselves in view of how wonderfully God has created us.  Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  The psalmist expresses here the love that we are to have for ourselves.  It is an acknowledgement of God’s plan for His creation.  The way we have been made is no accident.  We may live in a fallen world and we may be sinners but that does not diminish God’s craftsmanship in His creation.  We fulfill the command when we learn to recognize our worth as God’s creation and are then able to pass that same love to your neighbors.

James goes on to finish his thoughts about fulfilling the law by stating that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (2:10).”  If we fail to acknowledge our own worth as being created by God we are unable to fulfill the command to the fullest.  So instead of being obedient to the law of God, we become “transgressors (2:9).”

Now this is my own tangent away from the point that James is making, but the truth of it is often missed in modern Christianity.  Teenagers especially love to hate themselves and focus on their own shortcomings while exalting others, even basing their self-destructive behavior on this command and others like it in Scripture.  James overall point is to draw our attention to the condition of our hearts.  We don’t all judge people by how much money they make.  Sometimes the condition of our heart is misguided in other ways like I have suggested here.  The point of this lesson is to hopefully help us all to think more about where our hearts have missed the point of the commands of God.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 2:1-13, April 21, 2010

James 2:1-13

Partiality…

In chapter 2 of his letter, James begins to describe the works part of how a Christian should live. In chapter 1 he established how faith works in our life and even what a person looks like who says they have faith, but don’t really understand what true faith is and then goes on to talk about how that faith affects us. One of the practical examples of living your faith, according to James, is not showing partiality to people who are easy to love. James uses an example of when a rich and poor person comes into the group of Christians. The Christians that James is writing to favored the rich man over the poor man because of his fine clothes and gold rings. James is drawing attention to a condition of the heart. The condition of the heart that makes us “judges with evil thoughts (2:4).” When we judge someone else based on outward appearance or attitude we sin and the faith that we claim to hold is dead.

So how does this apply to us? You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never judged someone for being poor” or “I’ve never shown liked someone more because of how rich they were.” If either of those thoughts have entered your mind, you’ve missed James’ point. We naturally are drawn to certain individuals that we label as “friends” and we naturally are repulsed by others due to some imagined defect, and I use imagined because we make up things to be repulsed about. When we do this we are making ourselves “judges” over people at our schools, workplaces, and in our families. We judge their behavior and choose to love other people more. James is saying that this is sin and kills the very faith that we claim as Christians. It doesn’t matter if a person is rude, annoying, obnoxious, cocky, poor, or rich, they are all deserving of the love of God.

This love has been given to those who have faith in Christ, not to be locked away inside of us, but to be given away. Most people that we reject due to personality differences have been hurt very deeply and are desperately looking for someone to show them love. I challenge you this week to love those at your school whom you have deemed unlovable. Show them the mercy and love that God has given you. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,

JOT

James 1:19-27 April 18, 2010

James 1:19-27

(I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

Mirror, Mirror…

In the second half of James chapter 1, James changes his focus from what a life looks like with and without faith to how our faith should affect us.  James acknowledges that we are brought forth out of darkness and sin into faith by the “word of truth (1:18).”  And it is upon hearing this word that we have faith.  So James’ natural conclusion is that our faith should lead to action.  The “word of truth” is God’s word to us, calling us to Himself and to repentance.  Since the word calls us to act we must become “doers of the word, and not hearers only (1:22).”  If we refuse to act according to our faith first end up “deceiving ourselves (1:22)” which we’ve already talked about, and we also make our faith “worthless (1:26).”  If our faith, or as James calls it our “religion,” is worthless then we have nothing to give to the people around us and we will very often feel trapped in our faith.

So how do we keep from having a worthless faith?  James gives us the example of a man looking in a mirror (1:23).  The mirror is “the perfect law, the law of liberty (1:25).”  So James is saying that in order for our faith to mean something in our lives we must examine the law of God and allow it to change us.  We must ask ourselves “Am I living in obedience to the law of God?”  And as we’ve talked about, the law of God is summed up, as Jesus says, in these two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is when we walking in obedience that our faith means something.

Now let me be very clear here.  This does not mean that if you sin that your faith is now worthless.  When your heart is seeking after God and you are actively wanting to obey Him you are walking our your faith as you should and do not fall under the category of one who is deceiving yourself.  We are going to sin until Christ returns.  That is an important part of our faith.  We must understand this, otherwise it is easy for us to be deceived.  We love to believe the lie that if we sin we are no longer following after God.  Sin is a reminder of our need for God’s grace and strength.  It should prevent us from becoming full of ourselves and believing that we can do it on our own.

We deceive ourselves when we look into the mirror of the law and, as soon as we are not looking at it, we forget that we are sinful and believe we do not need to change.  Often we believe the lie that we are good people and therefore do not need to change.  Very often we refuse to look into the mirror in the first place and choose to look at the lives of others and compare their faults to our strengths.  We tell ourselves “At least I’m not like them…” “At least I don’t get drunk or have sex…” “At least I’m not doing this like those people…” And when we look into the reflections not based on the perfect law, our vision is distorted and we believe the lie that we don’t need to be changed.  We believe that we don’t need God’s law to change us as long as we still consider ourselves “Good People.”

Take a good look into the perfect law and we will all find that first and foremost we do not seek God as we should.  And secondly we will find that we need God to change us.  This is why it is so important for us to read the Bible.  If we don’t count the Bible as an important part of our everyday life, we will never see our reflection clearly.  It will always be distorted and we will end up deceiving ourselves.  Get into the Word and ask the Lord to show you where you are in need of change and then be willing for Him to do it.  It will take some time.  Don’t get discouraged if you mess up.  Just keep believing the truth.  I love y’all more than you’ll know.  Grace and peace,

JOT