1245.) James 5

February 7, 2014

Calligraphy by Tim Botts

James 5

J.B. Phillips New Testament

Riches are going to prove a liability, not an asset, to the selfish

1-6And now, you plutocrats, is the time for you to weep and moan because of the miseries in store for you!

Hearing Jesus in James:

Luke 6:24 (New International Version)

“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have already received your comfort.”

Your richest goods are ruined, your hoard of clothes is moth-eaten, your gold and silver are tarnished. Yes, their very tarnish will be the evidence of your wicked hoarding and you will shrink from them as if they were red-hot. You have made a fine pile in these last days, haven’t you? But look, here is the pay of the reaper you hired and whom you cheated, and it is shouting against you! And the cries of the other labourers you swindled are heard by the Lord of Hosts himself. Yes, you have had a magnificent time on this earth, and have indulged yourselves to the full. You have picked out just what you wanted like soldiers looting after battle. You have condemned and ruined innocent men in your career, and they have been powerless to stop you.

Ultimate justice will surely come: be patient meanwhile

7-8But be patient, my brothers, as you wait for the Lord to come. Look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest. See how he has to possess his soul in patience till the land has had the early and late rains. So must you be patient, resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty. The Lord’s coming is very near.

“When God shall give you a rich return for all you have done for him, you will blush to think you ever doubted; you will be ashamed to think you ever grew weary in his service. You shall have your reward. Not tomorrow, so wait: not the next day perhaps, so be patient. You may be full of doubts one day, your joys sink low. It may be rough windy weather with you in your spirit. You may even doubt whether you are the Lord’s, but if you have rested in the name of Jesus, if by the grace of God you are what you are, if he is all your salvation, and all your desire, — have patience; have patience, for the reward will surely come in God’s good time.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

The pastor who married my parents in 1946 was quite an elderly man when I knew him in my childhood.  But I clearly remember him announcing on several occasions that he would not die, because the Lord was coming soon.  Well, he has been dead and buried for decades now.  Yet James is no less true — The Lord’s coming is very near.  We wait with joyful expectation!

9 Don’t make complaints against each other in the meantime my brothers (as you wait for Christ’s return)—you may be the one at fault yourself. The judge himself is already at the door.

10-11 For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men.

Don’t emphasize with oaths; speak the plain truth

12It is of the highest importance, my brothers, that your speech should be free from oaths (whether they are “by” heaven or earth or anything else). Your yes should be a plain yes, and your no a plain no, and then you cannot go wrong in the matter.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 5:34-37 (New International Version)

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Prayer is a great weapon

13If any of you is in trouble let him pray. If anyone is flourishing let him sing praises to God.

_________________________

Music:

I come from a musical family and my husband is musical and I think you can make a good case that God is musical, too!  So today I will give you one of my favorites, a hymn I have sung every week — if not every day — for most of my adult life.  “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” was written in 1680 and is now widely sung around the world.  Are you flourishing?  Then join in!

_________________________

If anyone is ill he should send for the Church elders. They should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name. Believing prayer will save the sick man; the Lord will restore him and any sins that he has committed will be forgiven. You should get into the habit of admitting your sins to each other, and praying for each other, so that if sickness comes to you, you may be healed.

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

–from “Morte D’Arthur,”  by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tremendous power is made available through a good man’s earnest prayer. Do you remember Elijah? He was a man like us but he prayed earnestly that it should not rain. In fact, not a drop fell on the land for three and a half years. Then he prayed again, the heavens gave the rain and the earth sprouted with vegetation as usual.

A concluding hint

19-20 My brothers, if any of you should wander away from the truth and another should turn him back on to the right path, then the latter may be sure that in turning a man back from his wandering course he has rescued a soul from death, and his loving action will “cover a multitude of sins”.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Mark 2:1-12 (New Living Translation)

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them,  four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves,  “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said,  “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

_________________________

James5 Faith

So we come to the end of this practical, brief epistle.  In it we have seen faith on trial.  We have seen faith tested by the problems of life, by unholy temptations, by obedience to the word of God.  The man who says that he has faith has been challenged to exhibit it by avoiding partiality or snobbishness and to prove it by a life of good works.  The reality of faith is seen in a person’s speech; the believer learns to yield his tongue to the lordship of Christ.  True faith is accompanied by true wisdom; the life of envy and strife is exchanged for that of practical godliness.

Faith avoids the feuds, struggles, and jealousies that spring from covetousness and worldly ambition.  It avoids a harsh, critical spirit.  It avoids the self-confidence which leaves God out of life’s plans.  Faith stands trial by the way it earns and spends its money.  In spite of oppression, it manifests fortitude and endurance in view of the Lord’s Return.  Its speech is uniformly honest, needing no oaths to attest it.  Faith goes to God in all the changing moods of life.  In sickness, it first looks for spiritual causes.  By confession to God and to those who have been wronged, it removes these possible causes.  Finally, faith goes out in love and compassion to help those who have backslidden.

Your faith and mine are on trial each day.   What is the Judge’s verdict?

–William MacDonald

_________________________

J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Botts.  http://www.prestoimages.net/graphics02/5592_pd287443full.jpg
coming soon.  http://www.bearinghiscross.com/jesus%20is%20coming%20again.jpg
faith.    http://finesuccessmag.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Faith.jpg

1244.) James 4

February 6, 2014

James 4

J.B. Phillips New Testament

Your jealousies spring from love of what the world can give you

1-3But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.

As the 20th-century philosopher Mick Jagger said so well, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

4-6 You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realising that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Luke 16:13 (English Standard Version)

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? No, he gives us grace potent enough to meet this and every other evil spirit, if we are humble enough to receive it. That is why he says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

You should be humble, not proud

7Be humble then before God. but resist the devil and you’ll find he’ll run away from you.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 4:1-11 (New International Version)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

   “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
   and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

8-10 Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realise that you have sinned and get your hands clean again. Realise that you have been disloyal and get your hearts made true once more.

Many of us are discovering that Christian growth does not happen apart from some disciplines like spiritual reading, meditation, prayer, journaling, Bible study, and worship.  Henri Nouwen has said that discipleship can never be real without discipline.

Many of us—I was one—rebel against the idea of self-discipline.  It seems easier to do “what comes naturally.”  But I’ve found that neglect of spiritual disciplines leads only to stagnation and frustration.

Disciplines make the time and space in which God can affect our lives.  He is always with us, but only through discipline can we become quiet enough to recognize his presence, to hear his voice from among the many that speak to us.  Someone has called this “active passivity.”  We grow by receiving, but we have to give; our task is to learn and practice those disciplines by which we receive.

I don’t do the disciplines in order to win God’s approval; I know I already have that.  I don’t even do them to feel I’ve made a certain amount of “progress” or to “make” growth happen.  I just do them, and leave the result to God.

Lord, I desire to grow closer to you.

–Lyn Klug

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As you come close to God you should be deeply sorry, you should be grieved, you should even be in tears. Your laughter will have to become mourning, your high spirits will have to become heartfelt dejection. You will have to feel very small in the sight of God before he will set you on your feet once more.

It is for God to judge, not for us

11-12Never pull each other to pieces, my brothers.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 7:1-2 (New International Version)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

If you do you are judging your brother and setting yourself up in the place of God’s Law; you have become in fact a critic of the Law. Yet if you start to criticise the Law instead of obeying it you are setting yourself up as judge, and there is only one judge, the one who gave the Law, to whom belongs absolute power of life and death. How can you then be so silly as to imagine that you are your neighbour’s judge?

It is still true that man proposes, but God disposes

13-17 Just a moment, now, you who say, “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so.”

“There are two great certainties about things that shall come to pass – one is that God knows, and the other is that we do not know.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.

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Music:

“Draw near to God . . .”  Here are the Sharon Singers of the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute with “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” written by Sarah F. Adams in 1841.  I did you all a favor by not choosing a video with Titanic pictures!

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J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Trust in his timing . . .   http://bereanbaskets.com/images/pio_un27786.jpg
James 4:8.  http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/raylapke/James48.jpg

1243.) James 3

February 5, 2014

James 3

J.B. Phillips New Testament

How do we control this tongue of ours? Make it a matter of daily prayer. Begin by praying Psalm 141:3: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Here are some other verses on words and the tongue to write in your prayer journal and pray into your life daily:
 
Proverbs 10:21 — “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.”   Lord, may my lips nourish people today.
 
Psalm 17:3 — “Today I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.”  Lord, help me choose righteousness, not sinfulness.
 
Philippians 4:8 — “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. . . ”  May I think on these things today so that my words may come from such thoughts.
 
I Timothy 4:12 — “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”  Let me remember, Lord, that I am representing you.

The responsibility of a teacher’s position

1Don’t aim at adding to the number of teachers, my brothers, I beg you! Remember that we who are teachers will be judged by a much higher standard.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 5:19   (ESV)

“Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

The danger of the tongue

“Three things come not back — the spent arrow, the spoken word, the lost opportunity.”

2-6We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect, for if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality! Men control the movements of a large animal like the horse with a tiny bit placed in its mouth. Ships too, for all their size and the momentum they have with a strong wind behind them, are controlled by a very small rudder according to the course chosen by the helmsman. The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 15:18  (ESV)

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

7-12 Beasts, birds, reptiles and all kinds of sea-creatures can be, and in fact are, tamed by man, but no one can tame the human tongue. It is an evil always liable to break out, and the poison it spreads is deadly.

James3 poison-bottle

A woman once came to John Wesley and said she knew what her talent was: “I think my talent from God is to speak my mind.” Wesley replied, “I don’t think God would mind if you buried that talent.” Speaking forth everything that comes to mind is unwise, poisonous speech.

–David Guzik

We use the tongue to bless our Father, God, and we use the same tongue to curse our fellow-men, who are all created in God’s likeness. Blessing and curses come out of the same mouth—surely, my brothers, this is the sort of thing that never ought to happen! Have you ever known a spring to give sweet and bitter water simultaneously? Have you ever seen a fig-tree with a crop of olives, or seen figs growing on a vine? It is just as impossible for a spring to give fresh and salt water at the same time.

Psalm 19:14   (NIV)

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Real, spiritual wisdom means humility, not rivalry

13-16Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom. But if your heart is full of rivalry and bitter jealousy, then do not boast of your wisdom—don’t deny the truth that you must recognise in your inmost heart. You may acquire a certain superficial wisdom, but it does not come from God—it comes from this world, from your own lower nature, even from the devil. For wherever you find jealousy and rivalry you also find disharmony and all other kinds of evil.

James3 dead tree

Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God . . .

17-18 The wisdom that comes from God is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy.

James3 apple tree

Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

. . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 5:9   (ESV)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

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Music:

HERE  is Hawk Nelson and “Words.”

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J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
taming the tongue.   http://www.rosesblossom.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/tongue.jpg
poison bottle.    http://www.returnofkings.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/poison-bottle.jpg
dead tree.    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_4xa_FQro8rY/TG2fjqIU2XI/AAAAAAAAAN4/6vc0VuUXLMA/s320/iStock_000010767061XSmall.jpg
apple tree.    http://imgc.allpostersimages.com/images/P-473-488-90/27/2725/LUYND00Z/posters/wes-walker-ripe-apples-on-a-tree-at-the-apple-farm-anderson-valley-mendocino-california-usa.jpg

1242.) James 2

February 4, 2014

James 2

J.B. Phillips New Testament

Avoid snobbery: keep the royal law

1-7Don’t ever attempt, my brothers, to combine snobbery with faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ! Suppose one man comes into your meeting well-dressed and with a gold ring on his finger, and another man, obviously poor, arrives in shabby clothes. If you pay special attention to the well-dressed man by saying, “Please sit here—it’s an excellent seat”, and say to the poor man, “You stand over there, please, or if you must sit, sit on the floor”, doesn’t that prove that you are making class-distinctions in your mind, and setting yourselves up to assess a man’s quality?—a very bad thing. For do notice, my brothers, that God chose poor men, whose only wealth was their faith, and made them heirs to the kingdom promised to those who love him. And if you behave as I have suggested, it is the poor man that you are insulting.

We do well to remember that James wrote to a very partial age, filled with prejudice and hatred based on class, ethnicity, nationality, and religious background. In the ancient world people were routinely and permanently categorized because they were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, Greek or barbarian, or whatever. A significant aspect of the work of Jesus was to break down these walls that divided humanity, and to bring forth one new race of mankind in Him.

–David Guzik

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NIV)

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Look around you. Isn’t it the rich who are always trying to “boss” you, isn’t it the rich who drag you into litigation? Isn’t it usually the rich who blaspheme the glorious name by which you are known? 8-11 If you obey the royal law, expressed by the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’, all is well. But once you allow any invidious distinctions to creep in, you are sinning, you have broken God’s Law.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 22:36-39 (New International Version)

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Remember that a man who keeps the whole Law but for a single exception is none the less a law-breaker. The one who said, ‘Do not commit adultery’, also said, ‘Do not murder’. If you were to keep clear of adultery but were to murder a man you would have become a breaker of God’s whole Law.

We are easily inclined to choose which of God’s words are relevant and meaningful to us and which we can safely discard.  St. Augustine says (and I am paraphrasing) — Those who choose which pieces of the Gospel to believe and which not, believe not in the Gospel but in themselves.

12-13 Anyway, you should speak and act as men who will be judged by the law of freedom. The man who makes no allowances for others will find none made for him.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 6:15 (New International Version)

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

It is still true that “mercy smiles in the face of judgment.”

The relation between faith and action

Now what use is it, my brothers, for a man to say he “has faith” if his actions do not correspond with it? Could that sort of faith save anyone’s soul?

James did not contradict the Apostle Paul, who insisted that we are saved not of works (Ephesians 2:9). James merely clarifies for us the kind of faith that saves. We are saved by grace through faith, not by works; but saving faith will have works that accompany it. As a saying goes: faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone; it has good works with it.

–David Guzik

If a fellow man or woman has no clothes to wear and nothing to eat, and one of you say, “Good luck to you I hope you’ll keep warm and find enough to eat”, and yet give them nothing to meet their physical needs, what on earth is the good of that? Yet that is exactly what a bare faith without a corresponding life is like—useless and dead. If we only “have faith” a man could easily challenge us by saying, “you say that you have faith and I have merely good actions. Well, all you can do is to show me a faith without corresponding actions, but I can show you by my actions that I have faith as well.

The faith that does not change my life will not save my soul.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 7:16 (New International Version)

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”

To the man who thinks that faith by itself is enough I feel inclined to say, “So you believe that there is one God? That’s fine. So do all the devils in hell and shudder in terror!” For, my dear short-sighted man, can’t you see far enough to realise that faith without the right actions is dead and useless? Think of Abraham, our ancestor. Wasn’t it his action which really justified him in God’s sight when his faith led him to offer his son Isaac on the altar?

Can’t you see that his faith and his actions were, so to speak, partners—that his faith was implemented by his deed? That is what the scripture means when it says: ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.’

24-25 A man is justified before God by what he does as well as by what he believes. Rahab who was a prostitute and a foreigner has been quoted as an example of faith, yet surely it was her action that pleased God, when she welcomed Joshua’s reconnoitring party and got them safely back by a different route.

“In Rahab’s Window” by Bethany Vanderputten

26 Yes, faith without action is as dead as a body without a soul.

The lesson from Abraham is clear: if we believe in God, we will do what He tells us to do. The lesson from Rahab is also clear: if we believe in God, we will help His people, even when it costs us something.

_________________________

Music:

“My Own Little World”  by Matthew West.  Wow.  Are you willing to take a risk with your faith and serve others in a way slightly out of your comfort zone?

_________________________

J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Faith that works.   http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-SROReXbciVU/TmnD9WHW2AI/AAAAAAAABmA/nMsyW7zfq7E/s1600/Screen+shot+2011-09-09+at+08.44.02.jpg
Abraham and Isaac.  http://st-mark.us/pray/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/abraham-and-isaac-on-mount-moriah.jpg
Vanderputten.    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_BtquRaCDOs8/S0I0P8CtVtI/AAAAAAAAAm4/rGpDPBwiURs/s400/InRahabsWindow_sm.jpg

1241.) James 1

February 3, 2014

James 1

(J.B. Phillips New Testament)

“Luther was specially severe on James, and the adverse judgment of a great man on any book can be a millstone round that book’s neck forever.  It is in the concluding paragraph of his Preface to the New Testament that there stands Luther’s famous verdict on James:

In sum:  the gospel and the first epistle of St. John, St. Paul’s epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians; and Peter’s first epistle, are the books which show Christ to you.  They teach everything you need to know for your salvation, even if you were never to see or hear any other book or hear any other teaching.  In comparison with these the epistle of James is an epistle full of straw, because it contains nothing evangelical.”

–William Barclay

But Luther’s remark should be understood in its context. He was sometimes frustrated because those who wanted to promote salvation by works quoted certain verses from James against him. His intention was to observe that there was little or nothing in James that preached the gospel of justification by faith alone. In another place Luther wrote regarding James, “I think highly of the epistle of James, and regard it as valuable . . . It does not expound human doctrines, but lays much emphasis on God’s law.”

–David Guzik

I think we will find James a practical and helpful book, one that puts in black  and white how a believer ought to behave.  For this reason, I am pointing out in our studies the many parts of James which echo the voice of Jesus Christ.

1 James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, sends greetings to the twelve dispersed tribes.

Which James?

Several different men named James are mentioned in the Bible, but tradition has long held that the author of this letter is James, the brother of Jesus.  This James, who was a leader of the Jerusalem church and who presided at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), is identified in Galatians 1:19 as “the Lord’s brother.”  The early church historian Hegesippus called him “James the Just,” noting his extraordinary godliness, his zeal for obedience to the law of God, and his singular devotion to prayer.  It was said that James’ knees became so calloused from kneeling in prayer that they resembled the knees of camels.  Church tradition also has that James was martyred in AD 62, thrown down from the pinnacle of the temple.

The Christian can even welcome trouble

2-8When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!

“Welcome them as friends!”

Many years ago when I was a student at Wheaton College (IL), I heard Elisabeth Elliot give a chapel message based on this verse, to welcome trials “as friends.”  She spoke with great credibility of some of the trials she had endured, particularly the killing of her first husband, Jim Elliot, speared to death while bringing the Gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador.  She described these things with tenderness and, at the same time, a matter-of-fact-ness — that the words of Scripture are true, and that God does work all things together for good.  This verse is a call to understand suffering from the vantage point of confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness.  Such an understanding does not come lightly, but to know the truth of that is to experience the joy of heaven on earth.  I have never forgotten the peace that was clearly shining on her face.

Psalm 66:8-9 (New Living Translation)

Let the whole world bless our God
      and loudly sing his praises.
Our lives are in his hands,
      and he keeps our feet from stumbling.

Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance.

Faith is not produced by trials; it is tested by them.  So how then do we gain faith?  Romans 10:17 tells us: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Supernaturally, faith is built in us as we hear, understand, and trust in God’s word.

–David Guzik

But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men of mature character with the right sort of independence.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 5:48 (New International Version)

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 7:7 (New International Version)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not. The man who trusts God, but with inward reservations, is like a wave of the sea, carried forward by the wind one moment and driven back the next. That sort of man cannot hope to receive anything from God, and the life of a man of divided loyalty will reveal instability at every turn.

Do you believe that God can give you wisdom, and that he will do so if you ask him? Then, go at once to him, and say, “Lord, this is what I need.” Specify your wants, state your exact condition, lay the whole case before God with as much orderliness as if you were telling your story to an intelligent friend who was willing to hear it, and prepared to help you; and then say, “Lord, this is specifically what I think I want; and I ask this of thee believing that thou canst give it to me.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

9 The brother who is poor may be glad because God has called him to the true riches. 10-11 The rich may be glad that God has shown him his spiritual poverty. For the rich man, as such, will wither away as surely as summer flowers. One day the sunrise brings a scorching wind; the grass withers at once and so do all the flowers—all that lovely sight is destroyed. Just as surely will the rich man and all his extravagant ways fall into the blight of decay.

No temptation comes from God, only highest good

12The man who patiently endures the temptations and trials that come to him is the truly happy man. For once his testing is complete he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to all who love him. 13-16 A man must not say when he is tempted, “God is tempting me.” For God has no dealings with evil, and does not himself tempt anyone.

My mother used to say, “Satan tempts.  God tries.”  One is working for your defeat, the other for your victory.

No, a man’s temptation is due to the pull of his own inward desires, which can be enormously attractive. His own desire takes hold of him, and that produces sin. And sin in the long run means death—make no mistake about that, brothers of mine!

17-18 But every good endowment that we possess and every complete gift that we have received must come from above, from the Father of all lights, with whom there is never the slightest variation or shadow of inconsistency.

By his own wish he made us his own sons through the Word of truth that we might be, so to speak, the first specimens of his new creation.

Hear God’s Word and put it into practice: that is real religion

19-20In view of what he has made us then, dear brothers, let every man be quick to listen but slow to use his tongue,

Yes, you have two ears but only one mouth for a reason!

and slow to lose his temper. For man’s temper is never the means of achieving God’s true goodness. 21-25 Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls. Don’t I beg you, only hear the message, but put it into practice; otherwise you are merely deluding yourselves.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 7:21 (New International Version)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

The man who simply hears and does nothing about it is like a man catching the reflection of his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, it is true, but he goes on with whatever he was doing without the slightest recollection of what sort of person he saw in the mirror. But the man who looks into the perfect mirror of God’s law, the law of liberty (or freedom), and makes a habit of so doing, is not the man who sees and forgets. He puts that law into practice and he wins true happiness.

26 If anyone appears to be “religious” but cannot control his tongue, he deceives himself and we may be sure that his religion is useless.

27 Religion that is pure and genuine in the sight of God the Father will show itself by such things as visiting orphans and widows in their distress and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 25:35-36 (New International Version)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

_________________________

Music:

A cry to be pure and genuine in the sight of God, by serving others — “Give Me Your Eyes”  by Brandon Heath.  Lyrics follow.

Looked down from a broken sky
Traced out by the city lights
My world from a mile high
Best seat in the house tonight
Touched down on the cold black top
Hold on for the sudden stop
Breath in the familiar shock
Of confusion and chaos
All those people going somewhere,
Why have I never cared?

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Give me your arms for the broken hearted
Ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me your heart for the ones forgotten
Give me your eyes so I can see
yeah
yeah

Step out on a busy street
See a girl and our eyes meet
Does her best to smile at me
To hide whats underneath
There’s a man just to her right
Black suit and a bright red tie
Too ashamed to tell his wife
He’s out of work
He’s buying time
All those people going somewhere
Why have I never cared?

I’ve Been there a million times
A couple of million eyes
Just moving past me by
I swear I never thought that I was wrong
Well I want a second glance
So give me a second chance
To see the way you see the people all along

_________________________

J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Count it all joy.   http://oneyearbibleimages.com/james1.jpg
Hello, friend.  http://www.sodahead.com/fun/heres-your-sign-blockers-paradise/question-1516115/?page=4&link=ibaf&q=&imgurl=http://images.sodahead.com/profiles/0/0/0/4/9/3/3/4/2/Hello-Friend-37820539132.jpeg
Jesus.  http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_y2-pBuandlc/ReHTZens_-I/AAAAAAAAABo/aPEcnG40o7s/s320/Jesus.jpg
Doxology.    http://www.freehymnal.com/png/doxology.png

775.) James 5

April 20, 2012

Calligraphy by Tim Botts

James 5

J.B. Phillips New Testament

Riches are going to prove a liability, not an asset, to the selfish

1-6And now, you plutocrats, is the time for you to weep and moan because of the miseries in store for you!

Hearing Jesus in James:

Luke 6:24 (New International Version)

“But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have already received your comfort.”

Your richest goods are ruined, your hoard of clothes is moth-eaten, your gold and silver are tarnished. Yes, their very tarnish will be the evidence of your wicked hoarding and you will shrink from them as if they were red-hot. You have made a fine pile in these last days, haven’t you? But look, here is the pay of the reaper you hired and whom you cheated, and it is shouting against you! And the cries of the other labourers you swindled are heard by the Lord of Hosts himself. Yes, you have had a magnificent time on this earth, and have indulged yourselves to the full. You have picked out just what you wanted like soldiers looting after battle. You have condemned and ruined innocent men in your career, and they have been powerless to stop you.

Ultimate justice will surely come: be patient meanwhile

7-8But be patient, my brothers, as you wait for the Lord to come. Look at the farmer quietly awaiting his precious harvest. See how he has to possess his soul in patience till the land has had the early and late rains. So must you be patient, resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty. The Lord’s coming is very near.

The pastor who married my parents in 1946 was quite an elderly man when I knew him in my childhood.  But I clearly remember him announcing on several occasions that he would not die, because the Lord was coming soon.  Well, he has been dead and buried for decades now.  Yet James is no less true — The Lord’s coming is very near.  We wait with joyful expectation!

9 Don’t make complaints against each other in the meantime my brothers (as you wait for Christ’s return)—you may be the one at fault yourself. The judge himself is already at the door.

10-11 For our example of the patient endurance of suffering we can take the prophets who have spoken in the Lord’s name. Remember that it is usually those who have patiently endured to whom we accord the word “blessed!” You have heard of Job’s patient endurance and how God dealt with him in the end, and therefore you have seen that the Lord is merciful and full of understanding pity for us men.

Don’t emphasize with oaths; speak the plain truth

12It is of the highest importance, my brothers, that your speech should be free from oaths (whether they are “by” heaven or earth or anything else). Your yes should be a plain yes, and your no a plain no, and then you cannot go wrong in the matter.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 5:34-37 (New International Version)

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

Prayer is a great weapon

13If any of you is in trouble let him pray. If anyone is flourishing let him sing praises to God.

_________________________

Music:

I come from a musical family and my husband is musical and I think you can make a good case that God is musical, too!  So today I will give you one of my favorites, a hymn I have sung every week — if not every day — for most of my adult life.  “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” was written in 1680 and is now widely sung around the world.  Are you flourishing?  Then join in!

_________________________

If anyone is ill he should send for the Church elders. They should pray over him, anointing him with oil in the Lord’s name. Believing prayer will save the sick man; the Lord will restore him and any sins that he has committed will be forgiven. You should get into the habit of admitting your sins to each other, and praying for each other, so that if sickness comes to you, you may be healed.

Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

–from “Morte D’Arthur,”  by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Tremendous power is made available through a good man’s earnest prayer. Do you remember Elijah? He was a man like us but he prayed earnestly that it should not rain. In fact, not a drop fell on the land for three and a half years. Then he prayed again, the heavens gave the rain and the earth sprouted with vegetation as usual.

A concluding hint

19-20 My brothers, if any of you should wander away from the truth and another should turn him back on to the right path, then the latter may be sure that in turning a man back from his wandering course he has rescued a soul from death, and his loving action will “cover a multitude of sins”.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Mark 2:1-12 (New Living Translation)

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them,  four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves,  “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said,  “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”

And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

_________________________

J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Botts.  http://www.prestoimages.net/graphics02/5592_pd287443full.jpg
coming soon.  http://www.bearinghiscross.com/jesus%20is%20coming%20again.jpg

774.) James 4

April 19, 2012

James 4

J.B. Phillips New Testament

Your jealousies spring from love of what the world can give you

1-3But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.

As the 20th-century philosopher Mick Jagger said so well, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

4-6 You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realising that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Anyone who deliberately chooses to love the world is thereby making himself God’s enemy.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Luke 16:13 (English Standard Version)

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Do you think what the scriptures have to say about this is a mere formality? Or do you imagine that this spirit of passionate jealousy is the Spirit he has caused to live in us? No, he gives us grace potent enough to meet this and every other evil spirit, if we are humble enough to receive it. That is why he says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

You should be humble, not proud

7Be humble then before God. but resist the devil and you’ll find he’ll run away from you.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 4:1-11 (New International Version)

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

   “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
   and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

8-10 Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realise that you have sinned and get your hands clean again. Realise that you have been disloyal and get your hearts made true once more.

Many of us are discovering that Christian growth does not happen apart from some disciplines like spiritual reading, meditation, prayer, journaling, Bible study, and worship.  Henri Nouwen has said that discipleship can never be real without discipline.

Many of us—I was one—rebel against the idea of self-discipline.  It seems easier to do “what comes naturally.”  But I’ve found that neglect of spiritual disciplines leads only to stagnation and frustration.

Disciplines make the time and space in which God can affect our lives.  He is always with us, but only through discipline can we become quiet enough to recognize his presence, to hear his voice from among the many that speak to us.  Someone has called this “active passivity.”  We grow by receiving, but we have to give; our task is to learn and practice those disciplines by which we receive.

I don’t do the disciplines in order to win God’s approval; I know I already have that.  I don’t even do them to feel I’ve made a certain amount of “progress” or to “make” growth happen.  I just do them, and leave the result to God.

Lord, I desire to grow closer to you.

–Lyn Klug

________________________

As you come close to God you should be deeply sorry, you should be grieved, you should even be in tears. Your laughter will have to become mourning, your high spirits will have to become heartfelt dejection. You will have to feel very small in the sight of God before he will set you on your feet once more.

It is for God to judge, not for us

11-12Never pull each other to pieces, my brothers.

Hearing Jesus in James:

Matthew 7:1-2 (New International Version)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

If you do you are judging your brother and setting yourself up in the place of God’s Law; you have become in fact a critic of the Law. Yet if you start to criticise the Law instead of obeying it you are setting yourself up as judge, and there is only one judge, the one who gave the Law, to whom belongs absolute power of life and death. How can you then be so silly as to imagine that you are your neighbour’s judge?

It is still true that man proposes, but God disposes

13-17 Just a moment, now, you who say, “We are going to such-and-such a city today or tomorrow. We shall stay there a year doing business and make a profit”! How do you know what will happen even tomorrow? What, after all, is your life? It is like a puff of smoke visible for a little while and then dissolving into thin air. Your remarks should be prefaced with, “If it is the Lord’s will, we shall be alive and will do so-and-so.” As it is, you get a certain pride in yourself in planning your future with such confidence. That sort of pride is all wrong. No doubt you agree with the above in theory. Well, remember that if a man knows what is right and fails to do it, his failure is a real sin.

_________________________

Music:

“Draw near to God . . .”  Here are the Sharon Singers of the Sharon Mennonite Bible Institute with “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” written by Sarah F. Adams in 1841.  I did you all a favor by not choosing a video with Titanic pictures!

_________________________

J. B. Phillips, “The New Testament in Modern English”, 1962 edition by HarperCollins

Images courtesy of:
Trust in his timing . . .   http://media-cdn.pinterest.com/upload/237072367854205931_LxmGRAua_c.jpg
James 4:8.  http://media.photobucket.com/image/recent/raylapke/James48.jpg