Search Results for: jump start

17Jan

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 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: 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: 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 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.

7Jan

Jump Start: Day 5 (James 1:12-18)

Day 5 of Jump Start picks up with James 1:12-18.

Check up on past days by clicking below:

12 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. 13 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. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 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. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. – James 1:12-18

In today’s passage, James returns to a similar discussion we read in v. 2-4 on trials and steadfastness. The second half of chapter 1 mirrors the 1st half.

  • Trials are discussed in 1:2-4 and 1:12-18.
  • Wisdom is discussed in 1:5-8 and 1:19-26.
  • Wealth is discussed in 1:9-11 and 1:27.

#blessed (v.12)

So far James has taught us that Christians can experience joy in the middle of trials (v.2) and now in verse 12 he connects enduring trials with what it means to be blessed.

This concept of being #blessed is massively misunderstood in our culture today. Watch any postgame interview with any athlete in any sport and what’s the very first thing out of their mouths? Answer: some version of “I’m just so #blessed to be able to win this game.” Does that mean the losing team is not blessed by God? Does God love them less?

Search any social media platform for #blessed and you’lll come up with millions of entries. If you search on Instagram, you’ll find pictures of new cars, shoes, jewelry and even food…all the with caption, #blessed.

Now most of that nonsense comes from non-Christians, people who James would say are not yet living the #blessed life of real, active faith. But is the Church any better? Does the average, well-to-do American Christian really have a better understanding of what it means to be blessed than the average well-to-do American non-Christian?

If you were asked to list off ways to obtain the #blessed life, would resisting temptation make the list? Persevering in trials? That is precisely the pathway James is guiding us toward.

 

God Can’t Do That (v.13-15)

Did you know there are some things God can’t do? It’s not that God is not powerful enough. Instead, since we know God is love and God has faithfully revealed his character and heart toward us in Christ Jesus, there are certain things that are simply outside of God’s character. For example, God cannot sin. God also cannot tempt us.

So when you find yourself torn between what God wants for you and what you want for you, James is clear; we don’t get to blame God for the tension.

So who can we blame for temptation? Ourselves! Notice the progression James lays out. Our own desire (what we want, not what God wants) leads to sin and sin leads to death. Our fault all the way.

I was talking with some young men in our church about lust a few weeks ago. It’s the single most relevant topic I find across all different types of guys. The struggle can seem impossible to overcome, especially in the teenage years. One of these young men was fairly exasperated as we were looking at Jesus’ teaching on lust in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:27-30). He told me how his father sat him down one day to talk about sex, girls, etc.

His dad told him, “It’s okay to look and fantasize but it’s not okay to touch.”

James doesn’t leave much room for that application in the life of a Christian seeking to live out a real, active faith. Desire is dangerous because desire misapplied leads to sin and death.

 

God is good and never changes. (v. 16-18)

Do you sit around the Thanksgiving table and take turns with your family sharing what you’re thankful for? I love that. James doesn’t want you to be deceived (v.16) into thinking God could somehow be the source of temptation in your life. He further reveals the wonderful character and nature of God in verse 17 when he directs our hearts to see that every good gift is from God who never changes.

How many good things in your life go unrecognized? Unappreciated? If you connected those good things (friends, peace, good food, a sense of stability, family, support system, etc.) as gifts from God, how much more aware would we be to just how blessed we really are?

  • We would resist temptation more than we do now.
  • We would endure struggles better than we do now.
  • We would be more patient than we are now.
  • We would worry less than we do now.
  • We would comfort others in their suffering better than we do now.

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. What does it mean to be blessed? How do you see our culture getting this wrong? Do you see yourself getting this wrong? Ask God to show you more and more what it means to live the blessed life.

2. Think of a time when you survived a struggle and/or resisted a temptation. Remember what it felt like to win? To make the better choice? Ask God to help you remember how good that felt and to remind you how much better his ways are than our ways.

3. Have you experienced a big change in your life? Specifically a negative change? Most of the time, when the dust settles you realize you can handle the changes, no matter how drastic they are. But it’s the unexpected way they came about that is hard to deal with. Nobody likes being blindsided. You know what I love about God? He never does anything out of character, never blindsides you. Your whole world might be upside down right now but God is with you and God never changes. Close with a simple prayer of thanks.

 

There are 5 new Jump Start posts coming next week that are only available to email subscribers. Click here to have posts sent directly to your e-mail.

6Jan

Jump Start: Day 4 (James 1:9-11)

Day 4 of Jump Start picks up with James 1:9-11.

Check up on past days by clicking below:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 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. – James 1:9-11

Jesus > Money or Status (v.9-10)

James uses two different words to describe the poor. In verse 9 he uses “tapeinos” translated as lowly. It does not refer primarily refer to economic status. Instead, it best describes social status. The “lowly brother” is not just a poor person; he’s an outcast, socially awkward.

The lowly brother should boast in his exaltation because he’s a brother. The New Testament frequently uses familial language to describe the Church, the family of God. Notice the rich man in verse 10 is simply “rich” and not a “rich brother.” Even though the lowly brother in verse 9 is a social outcast, he has infinitely more reason to rejoice than the rich man in verse 10.

The lowly brother knows he can boast in Jesus and an eternal life that will not pass away, like the rich man’s will (v.10). James reminds the rich man that no matter how much he may acquire, it’s all fleeting and temporary.

It’s Not Always a Slow Fade (v.11)

In 2009, Casting Crowns released a song called, “Slow Fade.” Read the chorus below.

“It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade.” – Casting Crowns

There’s definitely some truth to the song. Most people drift from God slowly, over a long period of time. Few people have a Jonah-like moment of dramatic rebellion and running away from God.

But that’s not the picture James paints.

I grew up in Central Texas where summer temperatures regularly stay above 100 degrees with heat indexes creeping up over 110. Grass definitely withers. Flowers fall and their beauty perishes…fast.

James paints a bleak reality for those who put their identity and self-worth in the material aspects (wealth and status) of this world. They, their net worth, and their chance to live a life of real, active faith can fade fast.

 

Questions for Application and Prayer

1. Think about all the various aspects of your life. In what area do you take the most pride? Work success? Family status? Spend some time asking God to help you develop a “lowly” spirit that drives you to boast in Jesus above all else.

2. Who do you think of when you read about the rich man in verse 10? Only one of the 7.1 billion people on the planet does not have someone else’s wealth/status to be jealous of. When we read the New Testament’s warnings to the rich, we need to first and foremost read them as directed to us, because we are the global rich. One of the greatest temptations when reading the Bible is thinking about how so many other people need to be reading what we are only to find the text is piercing our own hearts and we don’t even realize it. How does verse 10 shake up your world?

3 In verse 11, James talks about how people can fade away from faith quickly. Spend a few moments in prayer, asking God to bring to mind some people in your life that might be nearing that fast fade. Send them a message now. Ask them about what’s new in their world or what their kids have been up to lately. Ask them how you can be praying for them and then actually pray for them. Create an opportunity to invite them to church or a small group with you. The fade isn’t always slow – you might not have time to wait.

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5Jan

Jump Start: Day 3 (James 1:5-8)

Today’s text is James 1:5-8.  You can catch up on earlier day(s) of Jump Start below.

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.

You Will Need Wisdom

Even though James writes “if any of you lack wisdom” he obviously knows we all need wisdom to progress into real, active faith. As a major theme of James, wisdom is much more than knowing facts about God and the life he desires us to live. Instead, wisdom is the maturity that a Christian acquires and develops as they deepen their relationship with God and the knowledge and courage to then live out that real, active faith.

James is wonderfully simple: if you don’t have wisdom you need to live out a real, active faith…ASK.

What Kind of God is God?

That’s a huge question. Ask several Christians that question and you’ll no doubt get varying answers but can you imagine what kind of answers you’d get if you asked several atheists? Or several agnostics (people who simply don’t care if God exists because even if he does then that God clearly doesn’t care about them?)

James helps us understand what kind of God we serve. We ask for wisdom from “the God who gives.” In Greek, James uses the present participle, “the giving God,” which means giving wisdom is not something God does just once or something God did in the past but doesn’t do anymore. It is a continuous action meaning that God is (and always will be) gladly giving wisdom to those who ask.

We can trust this giving God because we have nothing to be afraid of when we ask since he gives “without reproach.” No hesitation. No mocking. God doesn’t even think once about making fun of your request. There’s no chance you’ll get shut down so why not ask?

How Do We Ask God for Wisdom?

Verse 6 teaches us to ask in faith. This is not the initial faith (justification) in Jesus that transforms us from death to life in Christ. This faith is the every day work of believing God is who he says he is and he’ll do what he says he’ll do. Much easier said than done.

James claims that the one who can’t ask for wisdom in this way, “the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea blown by the wind and tossed about.” This might be one of the most misinterpreted verses in the entire Bible.

Doubt is not an enemy of faith. Silence is. If you have hard questions about faith, ask them! Find a friend or a pastor…better yet, talk to God about them!

James does not tell believers to never doubt God or have questions about his nature or activity in the world. Instead, James wants to warn a believer that if they lack wisdom, they should not spend their lifetime doubting the character of the loving God who is ready to generously give that very wisdom they seek without hesitation.

Doubt can help our faith grow but endless doubting squashes faith.

What does a life of endless doubting provide?

  • The endless doubter lives a life of chaos. (v.6)

Don’t miss this: the endless doubter isn’t tossed by the sea. The endless doubter is the sea.

Have you ever been to the beach and just watched the waves? They are nothing like the coloring book pages where the waves are all the same size and perfectly aligned in a row. Even when the ocean is not in a storm, the waves are unstable and irregular. It’s partly why surfing is so hard because even on a calm day, some waves are bigger than others. Some are small, seemingly unassuming, but others are big, crashing with tremendous force. The endless doubter lives a life of perpetual chaos.

  • The endless doubter gets nothing from God. (v. 7)

A person unwilling to deal with sin is even more unwilling to trust the God who could grant them the wisdom they need to develop real, active faith. They doesn’t add up to much of a relationship with God.

  • The endless doubter is consistently inconsistent. (v.8)

He is “double-minded” – incredibly unsure. Remember, James is all about active faith. So a double-minded person isn’t just conflicted in their thoughts but their actions are inconsistent as well. In fact, that inconsistency is the only constant in their life.

Double-minded people try and live two separate lives instead of committing their whole life to Jesus Christ. This echoes back to Jesus teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other.” – Matthew 6:24

 

Questions for Prayer/Application

1. In what areas of your life are you currently lacking wisdom? If you can’t think of anything, what decisions are you making that keep failing or bringing about negative results? Ask God to grant you the wisdom you need to live out a real, active faith in those areas.

2. Do you trust our giving God? The Bible makes it clear that God is waiting and ready to give you wisdom. He doesn’t make fun of you for needing it or laugh at the way you ask him for it. Pray a simple prayer today, “God I trust you today. I’m all yours. Give me the wisdom I need to live out a real, active faith.”

3. What doubts do you have about God? Are those small things you’re just confused about (Noah’s Ark, really?) or big things (Why do bad things seem to happen to good people?) keeping you away from a committed relationship with Jesus? Ask God to help you surrender to the reality that we don’t get all the answers we want. Thank him for the gift of faith.

If Jump Start has been meaningful for you, don’t miss a post! Click here to have posts sent directly to your e-mail.

4Jan

Jump Start Day 2 (James 1:2-4)

If you missed the first day of Jump Start (James 1:1), catch up by clicking here.

Today’s text is 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.

Yesterday we looked at the themes of James and we saw that if you could boil the book of James down to one theme you could easily argue that theme is suffering. James cares deeply about how Christians respond to the real struggles of life.

Joy is a decision

As a young boy growing up in church I never understood how we should count life’s struggles and trials as joy. At the time, I simply did not have a concept of God that was big enough to handle something that paradoxical. The reality of the Gospel is that we do have a reason to meet the struggles of life head on and it has nothing to do with our feelings.

Joy is a decision, and a hard fought one. This joy is strong and real. It’s not the put-on-a-fake-smile-and-pretend-like everything’s-great counterfeit joy. James claims that if we can choose that strong joy in spite of our circumstances, God will eventually produce something even stronger in our lives: steadfastness.

 

I love the word “steadfast.” I have it highlighted in my Bible every time I find it. See: My Favorite Word in the Old Testament. It reinforces the idea that joy requires and produces strength.

 

What counts as a trial?

James writes that we should count “trials of various kinds” as joy. I used to only think this verse applied to martyrs who were brave enough to die for their faith in hostile parts of the world.

But that’s not what the text says.

Trials of various kinds include all the struggles of life, even the ones we’re tempted to think don’t matter to God.

Trials come when…

  • Your car engine is fried and the cost to repair is more than the car is worth. Choose joy.
  • You have to get a root canal. Choose joy.
  • You make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences. Choose joy.
  • You get sick at the worst possible time. Choose joy.
  • Someone betrays your trust. Choose joy.

We all know it’s hard to choose joy and it doesn’t take a life-changing diagnosis or tragic accident for us to experience “trials of various kinds.” In big trials and small, choose joy and the Bible says you will become steadfast over time. Eventually the big trials seem smaller and smaller because you know God is with you.

Fight or Flight?

Few things show what we’re really made of like adversity. When the trials come, how will you respond?

Even if you don’t always know how you would respond, I bet you know people in your life who respond well to trials – who fight to choose joy instead of fleeing in fear.

This picture below went viral after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

boston-police-bombing

Can you imagine the chaos? It is estimated that this picture was taken just one second after the bombs went off and look at how these officers are responding! As many ran away in fear, few ran toward the danger, toward the trial.

James is not saying all Christians should become police officers. However, that same attitude is what we should have in the midst of our own trials, no matter how big or small they may be.

These officers responded the way they did because they were experienced and ready, steadfast.

Are you ready to choose joy in the midst of whatever trials come your way today?

 

Questions for Prayer and Application

1. What is the greatest struggle you’ve ever experienced? Were you able to choose joy? If so, how did that strengthen your faith? If not, what would you do differently? Ask God to help prepare you for your current trials or whatever may be coming your way soon.

2. When you just feel like giving up, what do you do? How do you cope? Are those activities the right choices or do you feel like God might be calling you to a higher level of trust in him?

3. Think of someone who consistently chooses joy in the midst of life’s struggles. How has their strong faith impacted yours? Thank God for them. Send them a message today letting them know that you’re stronger in your faith because of the way they are strong in theirs.

If Jump Start is helping you grow in your faith, would you consider sharing with a friend, family member, or co-worker?

3Jan

Jump Start: Day 1 (James 1:1)

Welcome to Jump Start, a place for you to connect with God through Scripture.

We’ll be walking through the book of James, verse-by-verse. I’ll be providing some background but I would strongly encourage you to grab a study Bible and read through the introduction information for the book of James.

Who was James?

James was the brother of Jesus and a very important leader in the early Church. He was the chief elder of the church in Jerusalem. If you ever struggle to believe that Jesus really was God – remember his brother was convinced he was actually God. Do you have a brother? I do. He has never once mistaken me for God!

Themes in James

We’ll return to these throughout the book so we won’t go over them in great detail here but be on the lookout for these things in James’ letter.

  1. Wisdom – James is often grouped with the other wisdom books of the Bible like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes and rightfully so. James is deeply concerned with Christians becoming mature, wise believers whose faith has a real impact in the world.
  2. Suffering – If you could boil James down to one subject, suffering might be it. James led the church in Jerusalem during one of the worst periods of persecution in Christianity and his message is simple: endure and count your blessings.
  3. Jesus – A professor in college once asked my class where to find Jesus in the New Testament. The nerds in the front row quickly spouted off the Gospels. Unimpressed, he asked where else. The class was mostly silent. After a few miserable guesses, someone got it right. James! There are more echoes of Jesus’ teaching (especially the Sermon on the Mount) found in James’ book than any other outside the Gospels.
  4. Faith in Action – hence the title, Jump Start. James wants to be clear – following Jesus is not about intellectual ascent to a set of beliefs about who Jesus was and why he came. Faith in Jesus should be active and noticed by non-Christians.
  5. The Poor – James has a deep concern for the poor. His concern is not purely a personal one, however. James concludes that Christians should be deeply concerned for the poor because that’s what Christians do.
  6. Sin – Right belief should lead to right behavior. James tackles a few practical examples of sin in his day – ones that we would do well to apply in ours.

James 1:1

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

James is a servant.

Actually, James is claiming to be a slave for Christ. The Greek word “doulos” literally means slave.

In the Roman Empire, at the time of James’ writing, there were various levels of servanthood. The best allowed a slave to hold positions of political power and the worst had slaves condemned to a short, hard, risky life spent working in the mines.

Early Christians actually had a reputation for serving these mine slaves, the lowest of the low. The historian Eusebius records a letter thanking the church in Rome for repeatedly giving money to other churches so they can continue to care for the slaves in the mine.

There are also several records of early Christians selling themselves into slavery to free other people. What a beautiful picture of what Jesus accomplishes on the cross for us!

But it’s surprising that when given a chance to describe himself James chooses the word SERVANT.

James was the brother of Jesus (if ever there was someone who should name drop!) and a massively important leader in the earliest age of the Church but he is not exercising false humility. In spite of all of his accomplishments and connections, James chooses to focus on being a slave for the one who freed him from the slavery of sin.

 

Jesus is the one true God.

At first glance, this phrase sounds weird, “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” James is making a clear claim to two separate parties.

To the Jews waiting for the promised Messiah, James wants them to see that Messiah has come in Jesus. He really is who He said he was. The Greek word for Lord, “kurios” also enforces James position as a slave with its primary meaning of “master” or “boss.”

To the Romans, James is making the claim that there is only one true God. It’s not the Emperor or the local expression of the temple cult religions. The Roman Emperor Domitian ruled from AD 81-96 and had a particularly strong hatred for Christians. He officially referred to himself in Latin as dominus et deus, or “Lord and God.”

James is drawing a line in the sand. Even as Roman citizens were legally bound to recite the creed, “Caesar is Lord” many of the early Christians died with a better expression on their lips, “Jesus is Lord.”

“to the Twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings”

James’ original readers must have immediately thought of the Twelve tribes of Israel scattered across the Roman empire, largely living without identity or hope.

However, another layer is present. James is busting the door open to all people, not just the Jews. That’s the message of Jesus; the Gospel is for everyone! The twelve tribes now take on a more symbolic meaning as all of God’s people in the new covenant.

The Gospel breaks down every dividing line we normally encounter: race, social status, economic background, interests, allegiances, etc.

 

Questions for Application and Prayer

1. James gets the chance to describe himself and uses the word “servant.” How would you describe yourself in one word? Would a close friend or family member use the same word to describe you? Pray and ask God to help you live the life of a servant today.

2. Who are you serving right now? Who might need you to start serving? Spend some time thanking God for the people who have served you or your family. Send them a message today and thank them for the role they’ve played in your life.

3. The opposite of humbly serving is selfishly seeking power and influence. How are you doing this in your life? Pray a prayer of repentance and ask God to help you move away from seeking power and influence and toward lovingly serve others.

 

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