Category Archives: James

The Trouble with Democrats… and Republicans

Next time you are arguing about politics (or anything else…) pay attention to what is going on in your mind when the other guy is speaking.  Most people spend that time putting together their next argument and mentally rehearsing it, while only halfheartedly listening to what is being said to them.  They may hear a word here and there, enough to get the gist of what they assume the other person is saying.  And when they get a chance to reply, the same thing happens in reverse.  Which is why arguments are rarely constructive.  Nobody is listening.

James, the brother of Jesus wrote this good advice:

 

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,…” –  (James 1:19 (NIV84))

Real listening is more than registering noises in one’s ears.  Listening means attempting to truly understand the emotions and meanings being conveyed.  Real listening has not happened until you can restate what you heard, in your own words, to the other person’s satisfaction.  That last part is the key.  The idea is for them to look startled and relieved, with the realization that you really understood it, your really got it.  If you work for that to happen, before you state your positionthen you will have a better chance of being understood, too.  But as long as two people simply lob angry slogans at one another, without listening, not much is accomplished.

It seems to me that much of the hostility and divisiveness we experience in our culture could be reduced or even eliminated by the simple act of listening.  Real listening.  Give it a try and see if James wasn’t right.  Be quick to listen and slow to speak.  And slow to get angry, too…

“…for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”  –  (James 1:20 (NIV84)

Perfect

Are you perfect yet?  Me either.  And yet, that is the goal: not ‘pretty good’ but perfect.  Really?  Take it straight from Jesus:

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. “ (Matthew 5:48)

And Paul says, the reason he struggles to teach everyone about “Christ in you”  (See: Don’t Miss This!) is:

“… so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28b)

You’re thinking, “If following Jesus means I become perfect, then either I’ve failed or the whole thing is a hoax.”  Not to worry; Jesus’ brother, James, wasn’t perfect and he knew we all mess up:

“We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” (James 3:2)

And Paul knew he wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot.

” Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,… (Philippians 3:12a)

But he knew that perfection was the ultimate goal:

“…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” (Philippians 3:12b)

So, what’s the deal?  If no one attains perfection, how can that be the goal?  Why does Paul work so hard to “present everyone perfect in Christ”?  It’s the last two words, “in Christ,” that make all the difference.  Perfection is something Jesus does, not something we attain by our own striving.  It comes for all believers in the future, at the end of the age and the renewal of all things .

But right here and now, it is important for us to know that the word, perfect, in Greek, also means, complete.  And that helps us understand.  When someone trusts Jesus, Jesus completes that person by installing the essential, missing piece, His eternal life and Spirit in their soul (See: Don’t Miss This).  Their connection with God is restored immediately and the process by which He will one day  perfect them begins.  All that has been prepaid by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

“But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… because by one sacrifice he has made perfect [complete]  forever those who are being made holy [perfect].” (Hebrews 10:12&14 with my explanations)

So, are you perfect?  Not yet.  But, with Christ alive in you, you will be.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

James 3:2; Phil 3:12; 1 Co 13:10; Heb 10:14 & 12:2; Eph 4.13

Knowing You Don’t

The man with the money turned out to be a con-artist and a crook.  And when everything came crashing down, I thought I’d been ruined.  After months of negotiations, we were about to close on the sale of our business.  Mentally, I was already spending the money.  The night before the closing, the whole deal evaporated – in the space of one phone call.  Poof!  Gone!  That happened 30 years ago.  Now, I can look back, grateful for how it worked out. What seemed like a setback actually directed me down the road to a most satisfying and life-changing career.  But at the time?  Ouch!  Would that I had known these words:

” Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”” (James 4:13-15)

My wife and I have experienced more than one of those sudden detours.  We have figured out how little we truly know or control what tomorrow holds.  In response to that truth, James basically says, understand these two things:

  • There is a God
  • You are not Him

But he also adds this insight: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Not only do we not know what tomorrow holds, we also don’t know if tomorrow will exist for us!  What do we do in the face of that reality?

“As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins. “ (James 4:16-17)

In short:

  • Be humble
  • Since life is short, instead of building yourself a paradise you can’t keep, do good while you have the chance!

Chew on that…

 

 

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Without a Word

I had occasion, during my former career as a sound engineer for concerts, to hang out with rock and roll bands backstage.  One extraordinary incident sticks in my mind but not something you might guess.  It had to do with one man’s silent example.  The musicians (who you might recognize) were sitting around between sets, relaxing, when the conversation turned ugly.  It began with a critical remark about someone they all knew.  Then one person after another piled on, and their insults quickly became more vicious.  Each new jibe was received with raucous laughter and backslapping. But one guy, the bass player in the band, did not join in. He never said a word, but quietly stood up and walked out.  I remember the look of sadness on his face to this day.

I don’t know anything about his beliefs except for what I witnessed that night and on one other occasion when I saw him gently and respectfully refuse an offer by a female fan.  But that guy influenced me with his silent example of kindness.  I suspect he may have been familiar with these words, written by Jesus’ brother, James:

“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12)

When kids slander, they call it bullying and it makes headlines.  When adults do it, it’s business as usual on Facebook.  But God is the only One with enough information and insight to judge.  And He, the only Lawgiver, tells us humans, don’t do it.  It’s one thing to take exception to what someone else does, but it’s not our place to judge or condemn the person.

By the way, when this talks of “judging the law,” that’s Bible-speak for the attitude that says, “I know better than God what is acceptable in this situation, so I’m going to do it my way.”  Not a good policy.

That bass player was one of the stepping stones God laid out for me as I drew close to Jesus.  He probably wouldn’t remember what he did.  But I do and I’m grateful.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

When You’re Ready

My wife and I got mugged in Savannah, not physically but verbally, by a guy holding a sign and yelling Bible verses at us.  He literally followed us down the street, trying to “save” us by forcing Scripture on us.  He probably thought he was earning brownie points from God.  I was annoyed.  More than that, I was frustrated, wondering how many people he had chased away from God’s grace that day.  If you get accosted by someone shoving God or the Bible down your throat, don’t fight back; run away.  Because God doesn’t work that way.

It’s not that God doesn’t care; He really does.  Jesus’ brother, James, wrote of how God intensely yearns for His Spirit to live in us, just as He intended.  (That is my rough and loose paraphrase of James 4:5)  God is passionate that we be restored to the fullness of spiritual life by having His Spirit alive in us.  He wanted that for us so much He paid a terrible price to accomplish it.

BUT HE DOES NOT FORCE HIMSELF ON US!  He waits for us to be ready.  James continued his thought with this:

“But He [God] gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 – my explanation in brackets)

“The proud” in that verse are those who think they have life figured out on their own and who have no use for God.  He waits.  Stuff happens.  Sometimes “the proud” become “the humble.”  In the words of Bob Dylan (Like a Rolling Stone)

You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal

When “the proud” become “the humble,” when they are ready to receive Him, then God approaches.  With grace.  Not with loud, angry shouting.  He sent His Son to find you and rescue you.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

Jesus invited people to come to Him and find rest, saying He was “gentle and humble in heart.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I remember seeing a video on Facebook about a guy who rescued an abandoned, starving dog.  The dog was aggressive, unwilling for anyone to approach but the guy just sat there and waited him out.  After a long time, when the dog was ready to receive it, the man gave him “more grace” – care, nourishment, healing and a new life.  There was no yelling involved, no signs, no scolding.  It was very much like my own experience with God, Who waited until I was not so full of myself.  Then, when I was ready to receive His grace, without holding anything against me, He gave me the life of His Son, Jesus.

He waits for you, too.

Quotes:  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Like a Rolling Stone lyrics: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/rolling-stone#ixzz3UwbEdylf

What Corrupts Government

Two words explain the root of what is wrong with our government.  You thought I was going to say Republican and Democrat.  Sorry…   Good guess, but those aren’t the two I was thinking of.  And it’s not just our government.  These two words define the problem with every system of government.  Which two?  Selfish ambition.  The reason governments don’t work well is that those who gravitate to positions of authority over others tend to be people who are ambitious and selfish.  Of course I’m not talking about your favorite leader.  But I am talking about the majority of those who claw their way up into positions of influence and power.  Consider this:

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:14-16)

In the United States, our leaders are supposed to represent and serve the people.  Too often they behave as though the people are supposed to serve them.  But the same root problem exists in repressive dictatorships.  The people who manage to get to the top tend to be self-centered and driven.  That’s not the kind of personality that works best to govern.

Imagine if our governments were filled with people who were described like this:

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. “ (James 3:17-18, NIV)

Next time you start thinking about someone in government, take a moment to pray for her or him.  Ask God to fill them with those qualities which are developed from within by His Spirit, and to protect them from the destructive attitudes of the world.  Then pray, “Thy Kingdom come…”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

An Important Person

He’s brilliant but has always suffered from mild brain damage.  He reads and retains books on lofty, intellectual subjects far beyond my capacity but works as a busboy in a nursing home.  I bumped into him at the store and he was telling me about one of the patients who has Alzheimer’s.  She helps herself to everyone else’s leftovers while he is bussing the tables.  He stopped and thought deeply for a moment and then said, “You know, she is every bit as important as either of us…”

I love it when God speaks through His people. He reminds us that His ways are not like the ways of the world.  Like this:

” My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.