journey through James: what really stuck with me this time through (20)

 

As our three-month Journey Through James comes to a close today, let me share three of the things that were reinforced in my head this time through his letter.

1. You can hear Jesus everywhere in Scripture. It’s hard to read a single paragraph in James and not be reminded of some statement made by Jesus or some experience involving him. Perhaps that’s not surprising since the James who wrote this letter is most likely the Lord’s half-brother. But then again, the more familiar you are with the Christ of the Gospels, the more you’ll recall his life and hear his voice wherever you find yourself reading in Scripture. I need to see and hear my Lord at work wherever I am and it’s been so very good to see and hear him so easily and often in James.

2. Everything is to be handled with prayer. While there are several direct references to prayer scattered throughout James’ letter, it’s hard to read a section and not see prayer indirectly involved in some fashion or form. To me, it’s as if prayer is the subtle watermark that shadows the vocabulary and subjects of the whole document. And with James’ letter being about boldly living out Christian faith in the midst of any and all circumstances, particularly in those settings that are anything but comfortable, wouldn’t we expect prayer to take such a prominent place? My whole life needs to saturated with prayer and I appreciate James subtly, and not so subtly, reminding me so.

3. Our relationships reveal our real religion. There’s little room in James’ mind for Christian faith lived all to itself. No, if James is about anything it’s about our life together as a community of faith. How we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ is how treat the Christ. If we complain against, deceive, dishonor, neglect, or break faith with others, James would have us see that we’re doing these things to God. God dearly loves the people against whom we are guilty of doing these things and he surely doesn’t take kindly to our mistreatment of them. My respect and care for my kin in Christ are crucial to the health of my faith and the health of the community of faith and I thank God for using James to hold me accountable for such.

I do hope you’ve found our time together in James profitable. A masterful, mature teacher of Christ he is and diligent, dedicated disciples of Christ he would have us be. To that end, may God give us grace for the journey until the end of our days. Amen.

Question: what was impressed on your heart as you “journeyed through James?”

journey thru James: what we now know of God (19)

With our three-month Journey Thru James coming to a close tomorrow, I got to wondering what exactly it is we’ve learned about God our Father and Jesus his Son from James’ little letter. So, I made a list of everything explicitly stated about God or Jesus in James’ letter and then attempted to categorize all of those statements into logical groups.

God is our creator and sustainer. He’s the Creator (“… the creator of the heavenly lights …;” “… everything he created …”). He sends the rain (“Elijah … prayed again, [and] God sent rain …”) and every good thing (“Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above”).

God is holy and consistent. He does what’s right (“… God’s righteousness”) and he’s faithful (“… the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ …”). He’s true to his word (“… his true word”), keeping his word and his promises (“They will receive the life God has promised to those who love him as their reward”). He isn’t tempted to do wrong (“… God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone”) and he doesn’t tempt people to do wrong (“… nor does he tempt anyone”). He resists evil wherever it’s found and evil resists him. He stands against the proud (“… God stands against the proud …”) and sadly, this gains him enemies (“Don’t you know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?”). His character doesn’t change (“… in whose character there is no change at all”).

God is good, kind, and generous. His nature is to give (“… ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score”) and he pours out great grace on people (“But he gives us more grace”). He’s full of compassion and mercy (“… for the Lord is full of compassion and mercy”). He gives and restores our health (“Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health”). He intervenes and rescues people, giving them spiritual health as he lifts them up (“… and he [the Lord] will lift you up”), gives them rebirth (“He chose to give us birth by his true word”), and extends to them forgiveness (“And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven”). He chooses what blessings he’ll give people (“Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him?”) and as he does so, he favors the humble (“God … favors the humble”). God is one (“It’s good that you believe that God is one”) and is full of true wisdom, being worthy of imitation (“What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.”).

God rules, being extremely powerful and knowledgeable. He’s able to both rescue (“… he is able to save …”) and bring ruin (“… he is able … to destroy”). He’s far greater than death, having proven this by raising Jesus from the dead (“… who has been resurrected in glory”). His knowledge is great, being fully aware of what’s happening in our lives, even knowing our deepest anguish and hearing the prayers of the oppressed (“The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of heavenly forces”). He rules for he is Lord (… the Lord Jesus Christ;” “… in the name of the Lord; “in the name of the Lord”). He is the only true lawgiver (“There is only one lawgiver …”). He is the only judge (“There is only one … judge …” and “… the judge is standing at the door!”). He can be served and is served (… a slave of God …; “… submit to God”). And his role as such, and the fact that he is present, calls for our humility (“Humble yourselves before the Lord …”).

God wants us to have a close, healthy relationship with him. He’s approachable (“Come near to God …”) and he approaches us (“… he [God] will come near to you”). He can be befriended (“What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend”) and is like a Father to us (” … come down from the Father …;” “… before God the Father …”). He longs for our faithfulness to him (“Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us?”) and he sets people right with him (“… Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous”). Consequently, he is to be trusted, so much so that withholds from those who do not ask of him in faith (“People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord”).

God is coming our way. We must only be patient, for his arrival is sure (“… be patient as you wait for the coming of the Lord;” “… the coming of the Lord is near”).

I make no claims to the preceding list being comprehensive and yes, the groupings are rather arbitrary. However, I think you’ll agree it’s rather impressive what this one document claims and declares about God our Father and his Son! How great is our God!

whoever

My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:19-20 CEB)

One of my favorite and most common expressions is “a lot of creeks feed the river.” What I mean by that is that rarely is something the result of any one thing, but comes about from the influence of many.

This is surely most true in cases where Christians who have wandered away from God come back to him. Oh, one person or one happening might prove to be “the tipping point” to such a person’s return, but it’s almost always the case that that’s all they were, “the tipping point.” A million factors, many of them exceedingly subtle and indirect, are almost always at play.

  1. A sincere prayer you offered for God to use you to influence the hearts of others to a closer walk with Christ may be answered as you seek to live like a child of God each day.
  2. A simple courtesy or act of everyday kindness done to one, but witnessed by another, just might help open a door to a heart that has long been dead-bolted shut.
  3. Your good service and ministry in Christ’s name that helps give a portion of God’s people a good name and reputation in a community might contribute powerfully to someone thinking afresh about their relationship with the Lord and his people.
  4. Simply being a deliberate contributor to a positive, loving atmosphere in a congregation might make far more of a difference to someone than you’ll ever know.

And the list could go on and on and on. The bottom line of it all is this, though: we’re all in this thing together and we all have an influence on each others’ lives, so how careful and deliberate we ought to live so as to help people come closer to God and not be turned further away from him.

My dear brothers and sisters, realize that if anyone strays from God’s path and someone helps turn them around again, nothing less than certain death has been averted and the forgiveness of many sins is what has taken place. (James 5:19-20 DSV)

Father in heaven, if you will lead me to some soul today to influence for you, I will do my best to do just that, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

journey thru James (18): twenty questions on James 5:7-20

 

This coming Sunday morning (Nov. 27) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 5:7-20. This will mark the conclusion of our Journey Thru James. We’ll use the following two phrases to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: persevering in patience in view of the Lord’s presence (5:7-11) and keeping your promises, offering your praise, praying in faith & pursuing the stragglers (5:12-20). To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty exercises and questions.

Scripture

Therefore, brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the coming of the Lord. Consider the farmer who waits patiently for the coming of rain in the fall and spring, looking forward to the precious fruit of the earth. You also must wait patiently, strengthening your resolve, because the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged. Look! The judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of patient resolve and steadfastness. Look at how we honor those who have practiced endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job. And you have seen what the Lord has accomplished, for the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Most important, my brothers and sisters, never make a solemn pledge—neither by heaven nor earth, nor by anything else. Instead, speak with a simple “Yes” or “No,” or else you may fall under judgment.

If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven. For this reason, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve. Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

My brothers and sisters, if any of you wander from the truth and someone turns back the wanderer, recognize that whoever brings a sinner back from the wrong path will save them from death and will bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:7-20 CEB)

Questions

1. Would you say this section (5:7-20) is rather random in thought or do you see a connecting thread? Explain.

2. James’ original readers clearly hungered (vs. 7) for the Lord’s return (10 on a scale of 10). How about you? Why?

3. How does James’ teaching to be patient (vs.7-8) fit in with the preceding context (4:13-5:6) and consequently, what
does it mean to be “patient” here in this context?

4. What can a Christian practically do to “strengthen” their “resolve” to wait patiently for the Lord (vs. 8)?

5. It’s easy for church to become “the complaint department” (vs. 9). How can a person break their habit of complaining?

6. What statements by Jesus come to mind when you read about how to avoid being ‘judged (vs. 9b)?

7. Does vs. 8b,9b teach that James expected Jesus’ return to be quite soon? It’s been nearly two millennium. Thoughts?

8. What specific prophets and events come to mind as examples of “patient resolve and steadfastness” (vs. 10)?

9. Read vs. 11. Knowing what you do of the book of Job, how is it exactly that it can be said that Job “endured?”

10. Read vs. 11b. What evidence in life speaks strongly to you that God truly is “full of compassion and mercy?”

11. Does vs. 12 forbid the taking of oaths by Christians in a court of law or saying the Pledge of Allegiance today? Explain.

12. What have you seen happen to peoples’ prayer life when they underwent suffering? (vs. 13a) What happen to yours?

13. The word “sing” (vs. 14) could be literally translated as “psalm.” What Psalm do you like to read when happy or what song do you particularly like to sing to God in praise?

14. Which do you think the illness spoken of in vs.14-15 is, physical or spiritual? Why?

15. Does vs. 14-15 speak of an experience limited to the time of the apostles or of one that is still valid today? Why?

16. James says “confess your sins to one another” (vs. 16). Why don’t we see and practice such more often than we do?

17. Working only from 5:13-18, what would you say are some essential qualities or traits of godly prayer?

18. How can you tell if someone has wandered (vs. 19), taken “the wrong path” (vs. 20) and is headed for death (vs. 20)?

19. Whose sins are being forgiven in vs. 20, those of the restored wanderer or those of the earnest seeker? Explain.

20. What is the best thing you’ve learned or been reminded of in this Journey Thru James?

a person just like us

Elijah was a person just like us. When he earnestly prayed that it wouldn’t rain, no rain fell for three and a half years. He prayed again, God sent rain, and the earth produced its fruit. (James 5:17-18 CEB)

We live in a time when talk of “heroes” and the portrayal of “superheroes” is all the rage. I confess all of this unsettles me a bit for I don’t see it as perfectly “harmless.” It is only a very small step to thinking that nothing of great significance can be accomplished except by super people with super skills or super “powers.” But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it’s with that same sort of thinking that James is doing battle here in this very text.

Contrary to popular notion, James affirms the prophet Elijah was no “superhero.” God worked great things through him not because he was a great or special person but, because he chose to do so. James says Elijah has nothing on us, but was “just like us.”

Contrary to popular belief, God’s people are not in dire need of super people with super talents or super resources. Rather, what the church most needs today is a membership with a mind fully persuaded that a super God answers the fervent prayers of ordinary people who are completely sold out to him. This is no small thing. It’s the difference between focusing on Elijah and focusing on Elijah’s God. It’s the difference between being dependent on extraordinary people and depending on an extraordinary God. And that’s a world of difference, to say the least. Some powerful questions to mind.

  • Do you believe the God of Elijah still lives and works today?
  • Do you believe God can hear and answer your prayers the way he heard those of Elijah?
  • Do you believe God so that you’re willing, as you are, to be totally sold out to him for his use however he will?
  • Do your prayers reflect that faith and your life that commitment?

Elijah was an ordinary person just like us. He prayed fervently that it wouldn’t rain and it didn’t rain – for three and a half years. When he prayed again, God brought rain and the earth brought forth fruit. (James 5:17-18 DSV)

Holy Father in heaven, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.