Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Show No Partiality

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

I read these verses and think "What's the big deal about riches? Why are they so evil?" Especially when most of the Old Testament shows riches and material blessing being the rewards of obedience, and the New Testament shows over and over again God promising rewards to those who follow hard after him.  But there I think is the crux of the matter. God pours out blessing on us when we pursue Him for His own sake. But when we turn and pursue God's gifts or pursue God for his gifts sake, is that not sin? 

Money is not evil in itself, but the pursuit of it leads to all kinds of evils.  Placing faith in material things to save me is idolatry. Accumulating wealth will not protect my health or my family or my life; it will not make me happy or satisfy my soul, because I was made for something greater than things. I was made to be a pursuer of God. 

So money could be a stand in for a whole host of things that I try to put in place of God when I am in difficulty. I seek comfort in my husband, my family, my friends, food, quiet, rest, games, coffee, leisure, people's good opinion of me...

Ah, is this what James is driving at? Showing partiality is another form of idolatry. Either because we place certain people up on pedastles to be admired or because we want something from them (ie, my opinion/worship becomes a kind of currency: I bestow it on you and you thank me with some kind of favor).  So it would make sense that we would be partial to the rich versus the poor; the mighty versus the weak, the beautiful versus the ugly; the influential versus the reserved. In any group of people, bestowing my attention on one to the exclusion of others either makes them god to me or makes them a source of good to me.  And both places are places that God alone will have, must have, in my life! 

Oh Father God, 
Please keep my heart free from idols. I was created and saved to worship you and you alone, not money r fame or power or people or even the good things you have given me.  Thank you for the gifts you have graciously given: home, family, safety, health, financial stability, a husband who works hard and serves my family, a healthy and happy baby boy, a strong church where the Word is preached, a free nation where we can worship unafraid....these and many many more are all things that I do not deserve. But I am grateful for them. 
Please help me maintain a heart of gratitude, not one of idolatry or entitlement. And keep me from elavating certain friends over others for what they can do for me.  Help me to live on the level ground at the foot of the Cross. 

Be a Doer Who Acts!

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

All of last week, I did my lessons on the book of James, on the truth that God uses adversity to make us dig into Christ, with the result being that we become like him.  And all of last week, I was going through a trial of struggling to feed my little boy.  S had decided that he wanted to eat with bottles, not nurse as he had been, and I was fighting him to feed him my way, not his way.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday we made progress to the point that Sunday he nursed well all day with little to no fussing afterward. Then, that evening, J and I left him with my mum so we could go to a Chris Tomlin concert.  Mum gave S got a bottle, as per my instructions, and all my hard work came crashing down.  Yesterday and today were battles with my little boy, trying to get him to eat what is best for him, not what is easy for him. And it all culminated in my crying On the couch in frustration, calling my husband and mum in angry tears, complaining of my furiousness at S and my despair at ever being able to nurse him ever again.  

And when I finally snagged a moment to catch up on She Reads Truth, here comes dear brother James. "[Be] slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. Therefore put away all filthiness [...] and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, [...] But the one who looks into the perfect law, [...] and perseveres, [...] he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." 

Did my anger produce any fruit in my son or my self? No, my anger produced more anger, frustration, rage and then guilt that I was angry at a three month old little boy who does not know better,  
Did I receive God's word with meekness? No, my heart was filled with the pride that I knew what was best, that trials should not last this long, that I had already learned this, God, why am I still having to fight this war? 
Was I a doer of the word I had been studying? No, my faith was not reaching towards God in his promises.  My faith was in myself, my strength, my ideas, and my will to power over my son.
Had I bridled my tongue? No, no, no.  My tongue was running on an anger fueled, rage induced, streak of madness; yelling at my husband, bitter at my mum, furious at my child, and not doing anything. 

I read these verses and my heart grew heavy with conviction.  S needed a patient mommy to help him learn and I was being anything but.  

Please help me to bridle my tongue, to act on the promises of your word, and to put away my anger and frustration.  Let me receive with meekness your imparted gospel, which is able to save my soul.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Remain Steadfast

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. (v.9-11)"

God is all about upending our worldly notions.  "For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1Cor1:26-29) So it is little wonder that God would exalt the lowly and then call the lowly to boast in the source of his exaltation (namely, God). But why call the rich to boast in humiliation? We usually don't like being humiliated, it hurts our inflated notions of self worth. V.11 says that the rich man will fade away IN THE MIDST OF HIS PURSUITS. ie, pursue riches that fade away and you will also fade away.  But to give up that worldly richness, to be humbled in the eyes of the world, that is worth boasting in, because you then gain true riches.  "Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD." (Jer9:23-24)" Even those who are not rich, me included, still have the temptation to follow hard after those things that do not last, that do not satisfy, and that will ultimately fade.  So how do you not fade?

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (v12-15)" 

"Remaining steadfast under trial" seems to be James's recurring theme here.  Verse 5 was a trial of need.  Verses 6-8 was a trial of doubting. Verse 9 was a trial of poverty. Verses 10-11 was a trial of riches. Verses 13-15 are trials of sin and temptation sandwiched on both sides with the doctrine of God's promises. Verse 12 is a glorious reminder that for those who endure, who remain, there is a crown of life! God promises great reward to those who faithfully cling to Him. Just look at the Beatitudes of Matthew 5: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (v.3-12)" Blessing on top of blessing, promise on top of promise, reward on top of reward awaits for those who endure in the faith.  

And this is a good reminder, for here comes the biggest, longest, ongoing trial of the Christian life: temptation to sin.  Other trials, (need, doubt, poverty, riches) are usually brief and, in and of themselves, not necessarily bad or crippling things.  But add to them the pervasive effects of sin, and you've got yourself a bang-up trial.  We cannot blame sin on anyone but us.  God does not lure us into sin. God does not command us into sin. God does not create sin in us. And God even actively works to eradicate sin FROM us.  Our insidious sin nature breeds more sin and sin breeds more death and we would be forever caught in this death spiral were it not for the kind intervention of God.  

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

The last verse shows how God stops our sin from killing us.  By the word of truth (the Gospel), God calls us His firstfruits, which is the offering holy unto The Lord.  God uses the gospel to pull us out of the death spiral of sin. He uses the gospel to cleanse us. He uses the gospel to keep us. He uses the gospel to help us endure. In Jesus, the trials that would have once destroyed us, now refine us. Saving faith in Jesus Christ removes the penalty of our sin, covers us in the righteousness that makes us acceptable to God, brings us back into relationship with God, and enables all the promises of God (even the ones that were conditional on our righteous deeds) to be Yes! and Amen!  Faith digs deep into Jesus and draws up:
  • Access to God's Fatherly heart to meet our earthly needs
  • Assurance that we are fully and completely saved and will never be cast out to fight our doubts. 
  • A promise of inheritance that overshadows the wealth of this world so we can be content with very little
  • A call to drown the fading treasures of this life in the endless ocean of the soul-satisfying joy of having Jesus
  • Freedom from the tyrannical slavery of sin 
  • Hope of eternal life that kills the fear of death
  • Fellowship with the Father of Lights, who does not change
And a thousand thousand more promises of grace! This is our fuel for endurance.  This is what strengthens our faith.  This is what God offers us in the midst of trial. This is why trials become joys and why we are content with sufferings.  

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Phil3:8)"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Roots & Waves

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Verse 5 is a continuation of James's first thoughts on faith.  Faith is the deep root that reaches into the inexhaustible river of Christ for life, nourishment, hope, peace, and ultimately changes us into His likeness.  James encourages us to go to Jesus that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  

But what happens if we do lack something? We go to God, and James gives an example of what that looks like.  Say you lack wisdom (we all do), where do you turn? Who is the best person to give wisdom but the all-knowing, all-sovereign, source? All of proverbs can be summed up in one sentence: wisdom comes from God.  And King Solomon is a living example of the benefits of going to the source.  Solomon also illustrates the second point James makes: God is a generous giver.  Solomon asked for wisdom to rule Israel, God made him the wisest man who ever walked the earth.  When we come with our little buckets to The Lord's unending river, God opens up his floodgates.  

Whenever Jesus spoke of prayer to his disciples, he always hammered home the point that God is a generous giver. God is generous to the point of extravagance. And moreover, Jesus places no limits on what we can ask of God.  He calls, commands, explains, and woos us to ask and ask and ask of God.  
  • "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matt6:8)
  • "And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith." (Matt21:22) 
  • "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke11:9-13)
  • "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John14:12-14) 
But there is a caveat, the asking must be done in faith.  Faith, those deep roots that seek the river of Christ, must be present. Our faith doesn't have to be big (Luke17:6) but it does have to be there and it does have to be firmly fixed on God.  

So James turns and addresses the person who does not have faith. The doubter, the one who is not firmly fixed on and trusting in the promises of God, is like a storm tossed wave.  No stability, no peace, no calm, no trust; with nothing to be anchored to, this person is fraught with anxiety. And more, because he does not believe the promises, and does not expect God to fulfill them, he receives nothing from God. He is "unstable in all his ways", the ultimate contrast of the Christian in v2-4. 

So what can I do to increase my faith?
1) Ask.  (Mark9:24) God is a generous giver and will work to increase my faith. 
2) Read. Use the Word of God to mine the promises of God. 
3) Preach. Repeate the promises of God to yourself throughout the day. 
4) Practice. Is God your go-to when life happens? Retrain yourself to got to God first. Do so over and over again until it is your first reaction.  

Train your roots down into the riverbed of Christ. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Deep Roots

Note: yesterday I started the James reading plan from She Reads Truth. I'm intending to post my notes/thoughts/reactions/prayers here for personal accountability. I have a bad habit of starting a plan and then dropping it pretty soon afterwards.  My hope is that in putting it up on my blog, I will be more diligent in studying God's Word.  The following is today's post:

James 1:2-4
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Also: 2 Cor 12:9-10; Heb 12:7-11; Rom 8:35-39

White carnations placed in colored water will draw the color up into their petals, changing the white petals to match the color of the water they are placed it. This is the picture that comes to mind when I read the description of steadfastness means deeply rooted. Not necessarily an Oak Tree that can withstand a hurricane because of its massive root network, but a Willow Tree that sinks deep into the riverbank to draw up as much water as it can. And, like the carnation, the water changes the tree. 

Trials test our faith, James says. And faith, when tested runs to its object for strength and endurance and hope. Financial crises test out faith in money. Health crises test out faith in doctors. Crisis of the soul (ie: every single thing that happens to us) tests out faith in God. Faith runs to God. Various trials make us run to God for various solutions and various needs and we see that God is more than able to meet those needs. Our willow tree has found a deep and wide life-giving River and will dig its roots down deeper and deeper with every flood and drought. This is steadfastness. 

But what does it produce? Being perfect and lacking nothing, James says. Possessing Christ by continually drawing on Him is to possess everything we need. We lack nothing when Christ is all. And moreover, like the carnation, drawing Christ into us changes us into His likeness so that we are perfect. Paul says in 2 Cor 12:9-10 that Christ's power dwells in us when trials make us weak. Hebrews 12:7-11 tell of God's Love for us that is displayed in discipline. He sends the drought so we reach deeper into the river. And Romans 8:35-39 proclaims the surety of the object of our faith. Nothing can cut our roots in Christ. Nothing can stop His love for us. 

Jesus draws our faith towards Himself, no matter how weak and small it is, and rewards us with more and more and more of Himself, changing us so we are perfect as He is, and filling us so we lack nothing.