18Jul
8 BOOKS FOR WHITE CHRISTIANS

8 Books for White Christians on Race

#BlackLivesMatter…#BlueLivesMatter…#AllLivesMatter

Tragically, this is about more than hashtags. People are dying and the rest of us are divided.

I started down a journey a few years ago when I unexpectedly found myself mostly unaware of the experience of the average African-American, especially in the South, and especially in my predominantly white suburban church setting.

I remember feeling terrible when a tornado warning went through our town. As the sirens blasted all across the neighborhood, my wife and I headed down the street to our local tornado shelter and we quickly realized we, as white people, were the minority. I felt so ashamed because my church, my community of friends, and my life experience, looked so unlike the life that was happening all around me.

So I started having conversations with some of my minority friends, specifically my black friends. I wish I could tell you I had hundreds to pick from, but I didn’t. My friends mostly looked, thought, and lived about like me. But God graced me with a few black friends that were patient with my ignorance. I hope they know I saw them then, and even more so now, as much more than my token “black friends” from which to learn.

Out of those conversations came a realization that I needed to learn much more before I asked much more. The books listed below are recommended, in no particular order, because they have all helped to shape my journey toward racial reconciliation and understanding over the last several years. Some have helped more than others. I disagree with something in every one of them but that’s not the point.

Parts of these books might get under your skin. Good. I vented to one of my black friends one day after I was feeling discouraged and frustrated in the middle of one of these books. He simply replied, “You’re frustrated while reading for a few months? Imagine how frustrated we’ve been living it for years and years.” 

Make no mistake, race is not a political conversation; it’s a Gospel conversation. To consider others more significant than yourself, to refuse to look exclusively to your own interests but also to the interests of others, is exactly what Jesus did and exactly what Jesus commands us to do (Philippians 2:3-4).

If Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped, maybe we should not count white privilege as something to be grasped.

If you’re willing to humble yourself, and learn in quietness before you ask too many questions, allow me to recommend the following books. (FYI: I don’t get any sort of payment/reward if you buy these books, but you can click on any title/cover to purchase from Amazon. If you live in the Austin area, you’re more than welcome to come borrow one of these from me). 

 

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep us Apart, by Christina Cleveland 

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Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity, by Edward Gilbreath

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Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith

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Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, by Soong-Chan Rah

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Bridging the Diversity Gap: Leading Toward God’s Multi-Ethnic Kingdom, by Alvin Sanders

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

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The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, by Soong-Chan Rah

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Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and How We’re Stronger Together, by Tony Evans

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After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,  and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10

23May
When Being Still Isn't Enough

When Being Still Isn’t Enough

We all know it. You can feel it. Even Darth Vader knows it.

We all know that our pace of life is simply out of control. In an effort to do more and be better we’re doing less that matters and becoming worse. (See: Do More Better)

It seems like every bit of our time is spoken for and a never-ending bidding war ensues from all sides. Some of this chaos is simply a product of our culture today. For many, the 40-hour work week is a figment of past imagination, like waking up from a really good dream you can’t quite remember.

However, most of this chaos is self-imposed.

Maybe you’re a people-pleaser and struggle with telling people “no.” You end you end up helping someone move every weekend and take on projects at work that are outside of your normal scope simply because someone asked.

Maybe you’re a parent and your kids are all involved in 3-4 activities at a time…each! I have regularly witnessed the anxiety this produces in teenagers as school starts to get more challenging and college looms a mere few years away. I worry that we’re teaching the next generation to live life at even more frantic and chaotic pace than we are.

Maybe you’re a procastinator and your unwillingness to stick to a schedule is constantly leaving you scrambling to finish tasks at the last minute.

 

In short, we all feel stressed, hurried, and a bit overwhelmed at times. You don’t have to follow Jesus to know that.

A popular solution: meditation

Recently, meditation has experienced an undeniable resurgence as a solution to our unbridled hurriedness, an addiction to production.

The world is recognizing our need to be still.

I love when our culture catches up with the Bible. 

“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

For thousands of years, the people of God have practiced meditation as an integral part of prayer. This is not primarily an Eastern Buddhist practice, but a distinctly Christian practice.

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” – Joshua 1:8

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” – Psalm 1:2

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” – Psalm 19:14

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” – Psalm 119:15

…and many more.

 

The world is learning in part what God has always fully known. 

The world knows we need to be still, but that’s not the full solution.

Slowing down isn’t good enough. We need something else on which to fix our gaze, away from ourselves and our busy schedules and our endless striving.

The world knows the first half of Psalm 46:10 but not the 2nd. 

Being still isn’t enough. The solution to our obsession with ourselves is an obsession with God. 

Once we actually slow down, we need to remind ourselves who’s really in charge of our lives. 

Spending time with God isn’t complicated, but it’s also not easy. See: What a Dentist Knows about Faith

It takes time. See: It Takes Time to Take Heed 

But once you get started, it can become an obsession, one that will actually save you from yourself. See: What Christians Can Learn From Cross-Fit.

If you don’t know where to start, click here for a free 10-day study called Jump Start through the book of James.

This week, be still, but remember that being still isn’t enough. Be still and know that he is God!

1Mar
Biblical Dating Part 2

7 Biblical Principles for Dating, Part 2

This is the 2nd post in a series on how to date as a Christian. Click here to read the first post containing the 1st four principles.

 

5. Their identity is in Christ, too. So act like it.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This one was a game changer for me. When you begin to see members of the opposite sex as equal bearers of the image of God, equal temples in which the Spirit of God dwells and equally ones for whom Christ died, it changes everything.

You no longer see girls as a collection of body parts or guys as the key to acceptance and worth.

This changes how/if you flirt and it changes what you do on dates. This is ultimately the heart of the Gospel: before anyone is your boyfriend or girlfriend, they are first and foremost a child of God and God cares deeply about how his kids treat one another.

 6. Sexual sin damages in a unique way.

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. – 1 Cor. 6:18

Paul is writing to a culture in 1st century Corinth not unlike 21st century America. It is a very distracted city with lots of different worldviews and religious thoughts all mixing together. Notice the way Paul starts the second sentence in v. 18, every other sin.”

Paul is explaining that sexual sin has a different set of consequences than other categories of sin. This is not to say that it separates us more or less from God; all sin is equal in that regard. Instead, Paul is explaining how sexual sin damages and creates baggage that we must deal with long after that sin has been forgiven by God.

It is not hard to see this play out both inside and outside the Church. How many times have you seen a 2nd marriage not stick so a 3rd and 4th are attempted with similar results? Porn addiction has been linked again and again to lower sex drives and less intimate sex lives. Those sins have already been forgiven and fully paid for by Jesus on the cross and in his resurrection, but that does not mean we get to avoid the consequences of bad decisions.

 

7. Jesus redeems ALL our mistakes.

10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more. – John 8:10-11

At first glance, this principle might seem to contradict #6 but this encounter in John 8 will help explain. John 8 begins with a group of religious hypocrites who were tired of hearing about the less than respectable reputation of a promiscuous woman in town. One day they decided they had heard enough of this 1st century reality show and decided to do something drastic.

They Bible says they caught her in the act of adultery which means they laid in wait for her, like a bunch of self-righteous peeping toms, as if there could ever be such a thing.

They literally ripped her out of bed and threw her, naked and ashamed, at the feet of Jesus and demanded Jesus to tell them what to do, since the law said they should stone her to death.

Jesus then uttered some of my favorite words in the New Testament, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

Jesus dropped the mic and the religious haters dropped their stones and walked away.

Even if you haven’t had sex before marriage, everyone knows the burden of sexual sin. The reality of redemption is that you’re not doomed to have a bad sex life inside marriage if you’ve had sex outside marriage.

Jesus said two things to the woman and every single one of us always needs to hear at least one of them:

  1. “Go and sin no more.” – Jesus has reminded this woman who she truly is, who he created her to be. Far too often, Christians can label all the ethical teachings of Scripture we don’t like as “legalistic” but here Jesus gives her a clear, loving command to simply go and live out that identity. But we can’t live out that identity and never let it affect the decisions we make, people or ways we date, and ultimately where our hope lies.
  2. “Neither do I condemn you.” – These words are necessary because principle #6 is true. Sexual sin produces a unique shame that can spiritually cripple you and allow you to start to believe lies about your acceptance in Christ. Since God, who knows everything about you, more than you even know yourself, refuses to condemn you we can go out in celebration and live like it! Live like you belong to a God who created you, loves you, and knows all your secrets and still refuses to condemn you.

 

Can you think of any other Biblical principle(s) for dating?

29Feb
Biblical Dating Part 1

7 Biblical Principles for Dating, Part 1

Dating is hard.

For the Christian, dating is like every other area of life in that we should be deeply concerned with how following Jesus informs the way we think and act and love.

If you did a Bible search for the word “dating” you know what you come up with? NOTHING.

There are some that feel the Bible prescribes a courtship form of dating because that was the cultural norm in that time. Using that same logic you can make the argument that we should all be polygamous because that was the cultural norm in that time as well.

Instead of direct, explicit instructions, the Bible teaches us several  principles that we can apply to dating and ultimately, the pursuit of marriage.

 

7 Biblical Principles of Dating

 

1. Walk with Jesus.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. – Colossians 2:6-7

Far too often the first step a Christian takes in thinking about how to date God’s way is to sit down and make a list of all the qualities their future spouse needs to have. Then, they only date people who fit the list.

While the forethought is admirable, our first step in trying to date in a way that honors God is to BE someone worth dating. Our faith in Jesus should be active and meaningful as Paul described in Colossians. We should be rooted and built up in Jesus. Lists are just fine but we should make a list for who we need to be first.

 

2. Only date people who walk with Jesus.

The second principle is where you can use your list! In looking for someone to date, you’re really looking for the type of person you will marry. That person needs to have the same active faith you’re living out.

They need to be more than cultural Christians who attend church. They need to be able to explain the Gospel out loud. They need to be able to talk about what Jesus means to them and describe what Jesus has done for them. They should be able to point out ways they are more like Jesus this year compared to last year and be able to share what God is currently teaching them.

 

3. Keep physical boundaries.

Flee from sexual immorality. – 1 Corinthians 6:18

You know what this verse says in Greek? Flee from sexual immorality. Literally run away from it. Since sex is a good gift from God but a gift meant to be enjoyed only in the covenant marriage relationship, sex outside of marriage falls under the category of sexual immorality.

So does pornography, homosexuality, lust, objectification, and crossing physical lines even if you don’t “go all the way.”

If the Bible calls us to run away from something, why are so many of us trying to get as close as possible to the line without stepping over? We are fundamentally misunderstanding God’s heart for us to live a pure life walking with him and honoring others.

Setting and keeping firm physical boundaries helps you flee from sexual sin instead of flirting with it.

If you’re an unmarried Christian I would suggest you consider boundaries that keep you from:

  • sex outside of marriage.
  • living with someone before marriage. (co-habitation)
  • being alone in a private place (apartment, dorm, parked car, etc.)
  • being alone in a room with your computer/phone late at night.
  • sending pictures, Snapchats, etc. that you would not want others to see/know about.
  • laying down (even in an Eno!) with someone you’re not married to.
  • Isolating yourself from godly friends who can hold you accountable.

 

4. No marriage. No commitment.

One of the reasons the Bible doesn’t talk explicitly about dating is there is absolutely zero commitment in dating. It doesn’t matter how many times you say, “I love you” or how long you’ve been together or how many promise toe rings you’ve exchanged.

The covenant relationship of marriage is the only place to find real commitment. Dating can be a wonderful experience but don’t deceive yourself into crossing physical boundaries you wouldn’t normally feel comfortable crossing under the guise of a commitment that simply does not exist.

 

Check back tomorrow for the last 3 principles.

28Feb
ESTHER (2)

4 Thoughts after Preaching Esther

Yesterday our church finished up a 9-week preaching series through the book of Esther. Click here to listen to any of the sermons.

At the end of every preaching series, I like to take some time and reflect on my own heart, not as a pastor but just as a person. If you let him, God will change your heart as you spend more and more time in the Bible and Esther was no different for me. I have four main thoughts from our journey through Esther.

 

1. God’s divine providence knows no bounds.

The only caveat worth adding here is that God does never does anything outside the character of God and we know that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). However, we need to be careful to not impose our concept of what we define love to be onto the actions of God.

In a book historically criticized by some due to God’s apparent absence, (God’s name never appears in the book of Esther) it is impossible to miss God’s providential activity.

  • What are the odds that Esther, a Jewish girl living in Susa, would be chosen to be Queen of Persia?
  • Why were Esther and Mordecai still in Persia? God’s people were no longer in exile but Esther and Mordecai did not return to Jerusalem.
  • How was Mordecai, a Jewish nobody, able to maintain communication with Esther after she was crowned queen?
  • What are the odds that Mordecai would be the one to uncover the secret plot to kill the king?
  • The turning point of the entire book begins with the king’s seemingly random sleepless night (6:1).

God’s divine providence isn’t on center stage in Esther, but it is undeniably moving in the background, moving closer to true redemption all the while using surprising reversals and non-Israelites to accomplish God’s purposes.

Even though we can’t always see how God is moving, we can trust that God is moving.

 

2. We still have a responsibility to obey.

Even though God’s divine providence moves the story of Esther forward, people are still called to obey along the way.

  • Esther eventually realized this and decided to obey with her bold, famous declaration, “If I perish, I perish.” (4:16)
  • Mordecai’s wisdom and faithful support of Esther accomplish much at great potential danger to his own life.
  • Even King Ahasuerus decides to do what is right and honors Esther’s courage instead of Haman’s evil plan even thought he risked being labelled a “flip-flopper” and losing political collateral.

Is there an area of your life where you know what’s right but you’re not doing what’s right?

“22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” – James 1:22-24

 

3. Power is a fleeting tool.

Power comes and goes in the book of Esther. The only people who retain it are those who see it as a tool to point others to the glory of God.

  • When the book of Esther opens, Esther and Mordecai are displaced Jews with no power. When the book ends, Esther is queen and Mordecai is VP of the Persian Empire (10:3).
  • Haman quickly gains and quickly loses power. He dies arguably the most ironic death in Scripture, hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.
  • We first meet King Ahasuerus in the middle of a 6-month long, no-rules party which some scholars estimate was attended by up to 15,000 of the king’s most vicious warriors and most cunning politicians. As great and powerful as his reign was, history tells us King Ahasuerus was later assassinated by his own chief official.

Even though it might not feel like it, you have a certain amount of power and influence. Friendships, work opportunities, and social media profiles can all be leveraged to point others to the glory of God.

 

4. It’s important to remember and celebrate God’s work in our lives.

The book of Esther ends with the inauguration of Purim, the festival to commemorate God rescuing his people from Haman’s edict to eradicate the Jews from the Persian Empire. Jews today still celebrate Purim by reading and remembering the story of God’s divine provision through the bravery of Esther and Mordecai.

One of the ways my wife and I remember the good, normal days of our marriage is through these photo books she makes every year. Our most recent book just came in a few days ago and I found myself remembering good moments from the last year I would have forgotten if it weren’t for the books.

As Christians, we should remember the landmark moments of our faith. We should celebrate our baptism and other significant breakthrough moments of spiritual growth. But the key to a lifetime of faith might just be the ability to remember God’s everyday goodness even when it doesn’t feel like it’s real. Maybe it’s journaling or telling faith stories around the dinner table on a regular basis, but I would encourage you to find a way to remember and celebrate the good, normal work of God in your life.

 

Have you read through the book of Esther lately? What were some of your take-aways?

17Jan
JUMP START(13)

Jump Start Day 10: (James 2:8-13)

Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.

If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. – James 2:8-13

 

The Bible reads you. (v. 8-11)

In the typical police-crime drama television show there’s always an interrogation scene. Right as they’re about to trap the accused into sharing too much information the viewer realizes what’s about to happen. The detectives ask a series of questions all meant to trip up the criminal and then all of a sudden it works. The criminal realizes he’s been caught and he never saw it coming.

That’s how God sometimes works in Scripture.

The claim James makes in verse 8 is a bit tongue-in-cheek because of course no one always loves their neighbor perfectly all the time.

The word James uses for “royal” law is the same root word for kingdom. So here, James is not just talking about the Torah. Instead, he is again echoing Jesus in his definition of kingdom/royal law: loving God and neighbor with your whole being.

Without knowing that, you and I might read verse 8 and think, “I’m doing pretty good at loving my neighbor. He stays on his side of the fence and I stay on my mind. Yeah!” Side note: My neighbor has free range chickens that have mistaken my yard for their range. One or two or twelve might start disappearing soon.

We’re again reminded by James that the kingdom definition of neighbor is re-defined by Jesus and now is extended even to our worst enemies.

But then James reveals that if we show any partiality, any level of favoritism to anyone, we’ve broken the royal law.

But even if we think we haven’t done that, James writes in verse 10 that all we have to do is fail in one point of the law and it’s just the same as failing the whole thing.

All of a sudden, instead of coming to the Bible expecting to glean some practical truths about how to be good people, we’re reminded that we’re not good people and we don’t measure up to the kingdom standard. We are in a constant position of need.

Ironically, if we respond appropriately to our inability to obtain the kingdom on our own, that’s precisely what we gain.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Boundaries actually free you. (v. 12-13)

James concludes this section with a charge to live under the law of liberty, this kingdom law of loving God and loving neighbor (everyone) with everything we’ve got. We need to remember that the law of liberty is still a law, by definition a boundary. When we commit to the way of Jesus there will always be things that we simply cannot do. They are simply not God’s best for our lives.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. – Psalm 16:6a

But it’s these very boundaries that free us instead of enslave us. Many people, outside and inside the Church, think following Jesus is all about what you don’t get to do anymore. There’s definitely an aspect of that to our faith but much more so there is an aspect of freedom from the captivity of sin and a whole new world that has been opened to us through mercy.

So what do we do with this grace?

We extend it to others.

In the midst of the good news of v. 12-13 we would do well to not miss the stern nature of James’ warning to those who cannot extend mercy to others, “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.”

One of my friends is always saying, “Mercy received is always mercy given.”

Grace and mercy were never meant to stop with you and me. It always comes to us through others because it is always going through us to others.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. Have you ever been surprised by Scripture? Can think about a time when you’ve been listening to a sermon and it seemed like it was just for you? Spend a few minutes thanking God for all the ways his word reads us.

2. What good boundaries do you have in your life? How do those help you love God and neighbor?

3. Who do you need to extend mercy toward today? Mercy is not just a good feeling, but a definitive action. Is there someone you’re holding a grudge against or someone you’re avoiding because they’ve hurt you. Confess your wrongs to them today. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

17Jan
JUMP START(11)

Jump Start Day 8: James 2:1-4

Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.

If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:

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? – James 2:1-4

 

Faith and Favoritism Don’t Mix (v. 1)

The word James uses for partiality or favoritism (“prosopolempsia”) literally means to receive someone based on their face. We can’t get much more superficial than that.

Faith is the great neutralizer of power and status.

I had several world class professors in seminary. While none of them attended my church regularly, I would occasionally attend events at theirs. They all, without hesitation or exception, refused to answer to Dr. ______ at church. Dr. Olson was Roger and Dr. Werntz was Myles.

At my church we have one of the most prolific coaches in high school football history. His teams consistently compete for state championships and he has been named the best high school football coach in the country.

At church, the legendary Coach Jones is Rick. Chief Dawson (police) is Will.

The Gospel reminds us that faith in Jesus neutralizes positions of worldly power. It puts all of us on the same level: in need of Jesus.

 

Picking Favorites (v.2-3)

The hypothetical scenario James shares in verse 2 and 3 is probably not hypothetical at all. While it seems as if he’s just making up a scenario, it’s either a real recollection or such an applicable scenario that James’ church members can thing of numerous times this has already happened.

90% of the people in the time and area of James’ ministry were classified as poor. There was hardly any middle class and most people stayed within the same social and economic class as their parents. It’s easy to think about how special a member of the elite 8-10% must have been treated, especially seen through the eyes of the resources they could give to the persecuted, poverty-stricken church.

Favoring rich people in church over poor people (the word James uses actually means destitute, very poor) is an undeniable case of a failure “to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (1:27)

Who are you tempted to play favorites with? If you can’t think of anyone, think through the following questions:

  1. Do you surround yourself with people mostly like you?
  2. Are you uncomfortable around people from different racial backgrounds?
  3. Do you have friends from a diverse group of economic backgrounds?
  4. Do you show more attention to people who can help you get ahead?

The Church in DisUnity (v.4)

Question #4 above might be what James is most concerned about. Remember, James is writing to Christians about how they interact with other Christians.

When Jesus followers use one another to advance their own personal gain or achieve higher status, we become divided “judges with evil thoughts” in the one place where God has called for the highest unity.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. How do you treat people who you cannot benefit from in any way? Ask God to help show you the benefits of serving people who cannot offer you anything in return.

2. Think about the people in leadership in your church. Does your church seem to value wealth and business experience over the spiritual qualifications outlined in Scripture for the church’s leaders?

3. In what areas of your life might you be guilty of playing favorites? What can you do to begin to surround yourself with “a fellowship of differents” as Scot McKnight calls the church?

17Jan
JUMP START(10)

Jump Start: Day 7 (James 1:27)

Welcome to the second week of Jump Start! This is the 2nd of 5 posts available exclusively to e-mail subscribers. Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.

If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:

James ended yesterday’s passage in verse 26 by discussing what type of faith is acceptable before God. Now in verse 27, he turns to what type of faith is acceptable.

27 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. – James 1:27

 

Orphans and Widows

Henry Blackaby’s book Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God has a very simple call to action; “find out where God is at work and join him there.”

While the Bible doesn’t make God’s opinions clear on everything, it is clear about how God feels toward orphans and widows.

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” – Deuteronomy 10:18

Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.” – Isaiah 1:17

Orphans and widows also function as representatives for a general class of people who are unable to help themselves. Don’t be mistaken, God certainly cares about orphans and widows today but today’s widows have a much better shot at a sustainable life than they did in the oppressive times of the first century.

One of the questions today’s reader of James should be asking is “Who are the ‘orphans and widows’ of today?” Who are the people in our world today who are unable to help themselves?

  • What about kids trying to make it in school but struggling to learn English because their families moved to America to pursue their dreams?
  • I never had to wonder if I would be able to live my dreams because I had parents who consistently encouraged and supported me. How can Christian fathers and mothers serve kids who don’t have moms and dads who encourage or support them to be all that God has called them to be?
  • When the Church (rightly, in my opinion) cries out against abortion in the name of life, what should the Christian’s response be toward a young woman who bravely keeps an unexpected child?

 

The Cleanse that Actually Matters

Far too often, people quote the first part of verse 27 but leave out the second. The first part makes a great tagline for an Orphan Sunday service or Widow’s Banquet but we often stop before the back half that charges us with remaining “unstained from the world.”

This is the second aspect of what pure religion (real, active faith).

James does not want Jesus followers to abandon the world or look down upon it. This posture against the culture of the day might be the number one thing that drives non-believers away from churches.

Think about it: someone who is far from God and far from church decides to give your church a chance one Sunday. Think about how many obstacles they have to get over in their head and heart to even get inside the door, and the longer they’ve been away the harder it is to come back. Imagine now, if once they’re there all they hear about is how wicked the world is and how awful the culture of the day is (the culture they’re currently in).

In James, we clearly see that God wants his followers to remain supremely focused on him which will naturally mean staying away from things the world can offer but the Bible never calls followers of Jesus to be antagonistic toward that culture or run off and leave it. If we did that, who would be left to tell them about Jesus?

In nutrition circles, cleanses have become more and more popular. There is a juice shop in my town that offers a 7-day cleanse to help your body detox and reset.

That sounds awful to me.

Then I heard about a taco cleanse. Yes, it’s real.

taco

From the book’s description, “A group of vegan taco scientists in Austin, Texas [the most “Austin” job in the world], know just how you feel, and now reveal their one-of-a-kind cleansing journey that anybody can follow and stick to—the Taco Cleanse. While the typical cleanse works by depriving you of your favorite foods, the plant-based Taco Cleanse rewards your body with what it naturally craves: tortillas, refried beans, guacamole!”

James is not concerned with juice and taco cleanses but he is concerned with the hearts of the people Jesus has set free from sin. Remember: obedience isn’t legalistic. Obedience is our “I love you” back to God. Part of obedience is staying away from some aspects of the world we know can damage our relationship with Jesus.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. Where do you see God at work in your world today? Are you joining him there? What does that look like?

2. Who are the orphans and widows of today? Who should the Church being helping who can’t help themselves? It’s easy to think about who the Church should be helping but what about you? You are the Church. Who are the orphans in your life? God’s heart is toward them.

3. Sit still for a few minutes in silence. Ask God to bring to mind things from the world that might be pulling you off track in your relationship with Jesus. What actions do you need to take today to remain unstained from the world?

17Jan
JUMP START(9)

Jump Start: Day 6 (James 1:19-26)

Welcome to the second week of Jump Start!

If you missed any of the first week, catch up by clicking on any day below:

This week’s Jump Start posts are only available to email subscribers (awesome people like you). Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year. It’s an opportunity I don’t take lightly, which is good news because in chapter 3, James says anyone who attempts to teach others about God will be “judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 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. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 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. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. – James 1:19-26

The wisdom theme from 1:5-8 is repeated here in 1:19-25. In today’s passage, James links one activity with wisdom: obedience.

One of my best friends has consistently described obedience as our “I love you” back to God. That’s simple and beautiful and really hard to do sometimes.

As Christians, we are in no way obedient in an effort to earn God’s love or to try and impress him. We’re already bad enough at doing that with each other. Instead, obedience is simply real, active faith lived out because we already have God’s love.

The 3 Commands (v. 19)

James, remaining in line with the Wisdom Tradition of the Old Testament, lists three commands his audience would be fairly familiar with. He will then return to expound on each one in the coming verses.

  • Slow to anger (1:20-21)
  • Quick to hear/listen (1:22-25)
  • Slow to speak (1:26)

Can you imagine how much better the world would be if everyone would simply live out these three things? But remember, every time we think the Bible is aimed at someone else it’s always piercing our own hearts first. So, can you imagine how much better the world would be if you would simply live out these three things? I know I would be a much better husband, pastor, and friend. What about you?

Slow to Anger (1:20-21)

It’s fairly rare to find a specific story mentioned in all four Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). For example, only two (Matthew and Luke) include the birth of Jesus – that’s kind of a big deal. But all four Gospel writers include a story where Jesus seems to lose his mind when he went to the Temple and saw money-changers shaking down God’s people as they purchased animals to offer as sacrifices. (Matthew 21:12–17, Mark 11:15–19, Luke 19:45–48 and John 2:13–16).

My Bible titles this story, “Jesus Cleanses the Temple.” That’s like describing an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie as “A Minor Political Disagreement.” Massive understatement. Jesus saw all the corruption and went nuts. He flipped tables over and grabbed a whip driving all the con artists out of the temple along with their animals.

In all four Gospel accounts it is clear that Jesus was angry. But we also know that Jesus never sinned so there is such a thing as righteous anger. Furthermore, Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesian church, “Be angry and do not sin.” – Ephesians 4:26

But how often does that actually happen? Because I don’t know about you…well, yes I do – you’re not Jesus! I’m definitely not either. When I’m angry, 99.999% of the time I’m in sin. Even when I feel like I’m righteously angry at something unjust like child slavery, I find myself getting personally angry at anyone who disagrees and I find my angry turning into hate toward those who cause that injustice. I fail to see wicked people as God sees them, people created in his image and people for whom Christ died.

Quick to hear/listen (v. 22-25)

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and you know they’re not really listening? They may appear to be listening they’re really just formulating their own response instead of listening to yours. They’re just waiting for you to take a breath so they can jump in with their own opinion.

When James expounds on what it means to be quick to listen, he doesn’t use an example of a conversation. Instead, he centers the discussion around Scripture. That person who’s clearly not listening to you – that’s how you and I act toward God when we hear his word and don’t do what it says.

Notice: God is looking for do-ers of the word, not don’t-ers of sin.

Far too often, Christians are known for what they’re against instead of what they’re for. Remember how James echoes Jesus? If we were to truly live out the Sermon on the Mount, our primary job would be ways to serve in the kingdom of God not a list of sins to avoid. Remember, sin is also a primary theme of the book of James and he will pay great attention to it later in the book but here, he wants us to focus our attention on what it means to live out the word of God in our daily lives. Real, active faith.

 

Slow to speak (1:26)

Self-control. It’s one component of the fruit of the Spirit Paul writes about in Galatians 5 and it is something sorely lacking in the Church today, specifically in the area of speech.

Maybe if James were writing this today he would say everyone should be “slow to tweet.” This verse should drastically change the way we interact with others on social media, especially and arguably primarily in conversations with non-believers.

But notice the reason James is so concerned with a Jesus follower’s ability to “bridle his tongue.” It is not so we can be a good example of real, active faith to a non-believing. No, the reason is so the Jesus follower doesn’t “deceive his heart” and find his “religion is worthless.”

Some of the people I am beginning to value most in my life are those who speak sparingly. You know these people. When they speak, everyone in the room seems to sit up and take extra care to listen, knowing the speaker doesn’t waste words and all they say is beneficial for all. I want to be one of those people and James goes as far to say that if we are incapable of being someone like that we are incapable of following Jesus.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. What role does anger play in your life? What currently makes you angry? Do you think it’s possible to have a “righteous anger?” Ask God to help you be slow to anger. If you’re unsure of what that looks like, think of someone in your life who you can’t remember seeing get very angry. Start with trying to be more like them.

2. James says when a Jesus follower hears the word of God and doesn’t do what it says it’s like someone who looks at themselves in the mirror and then immediately forgets what they look like. In what ways is this an accurate description of your life? Identify some areas you can grow in and seek out the help of some people you know succeed in those areas. For example, if you want to become more patient, have coffee with someone you know to be patient and ask them how they do it.

3. On a scale of 1-10, how strong would you rate your ability to control your speech? What about what you post on social media? You can delete a tweet but if someone saw it the damage is done. Spend a few moments in prayer, asking God to help you see clearly if you need to make changes in this area of your life. Consider taking a social media fast, logging off all your accounts for 1, 3, or even 7 days. Remember, this is not about what other people think but so you don’t deceive yourself.

13Jan
JUMP START(12)

Jump Start Day 9: James 2:5-7

Thanks for giving me a chance to help you connect with God through Scripture this year.

If you missed any of last week’s posts, catch up by clicking on any day below:

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?  – James 2:5-7

John Q is one of my favorite movies.

It tells the story of a desperate father (Denzel Washington) whose son needs a heart transplant but they don’t have adequate health insurance or money. Given no options, John Q takes the hospital hostage and demands that his son get the care he needs. If you’ve got two minutes and a few tears to spare, watch the clip below.

SPOILER ALERT (for a 14 year-old movie): John Q saves his son’s life and the movie ends when he’s taken off to jail with a profound “thank you” from his son who was doomed to die.

When James writes about “the poor in the world” (v.5) he’s talking about people who woke up with a John Q type of desperation each and every day. These are not just poor people in general but desperately poor Jesus-followers.

It is these people whom God has chosen to make “rich in faith.” Here, James speaks to an abundance of faith not an abundance of stuff. Remember, James is all about real, active faith so an abundance of faith in the lives of these Jesus-followers would make a very real impact on the world around them. I wonder if our faith shouldn’t be doing the same.

Isn’t this just like God?

God uses the people nobody wants to bring the hope that everyone needs.

But James isn’t primarily writing to the poor or the rich. He’s writing to the middle.

God knew we would read this letter one day and be tempted to think about ourselves as not quite poor but not quite rich either so we should not have to give James’ teaching much thought.

James is showing us that the way to life in the upside-down kingdom of God starts with John Q desperation. James’ teaching about God’s love for the poor parallels the way Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3

James is echoing the words of his brother, Jesus, about the value of desperation. “Poor in spirit” is not a concept that easily translates in our lives today. It’s difficult to explain it but we use the phrase “spiritually bankrupt” a lot. If you could translate “poor in spirit” to financial terms, it’s not as if you’re a bit down on your luck this month. It’s like you’ve lost literally everything you own and there’s no insurance.

That’s our standing before God apart from Jesus Christ.

But it’s that very standing that Jesus calls “blessed” because he knows it’s the beginning of the road to the real, active faith James writes about here that frees us from status and materialism.

Re-read verse 5 again. Did you catch the last four words? “Those who loved him.” How do you love God? You start by realizing your desperate need for him. John Q desperation.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. If God granted you an unlimited amount of something, what would it be? Why?

2. How do you see God using unexpected people in our world today? In what ways do you think God is wanting to use you? Pray this simple prayer today, “God, I give myself to you today.” God will always use someone who can sincerely pray that.

3. How often are you aware of your desperate need for Christ? Have you ever realized how spiritually bankrupt we are apart from him? Simply rest in silence for a few minutes and let God’s love become real in your life today.

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