So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You

This blog has been going since July 2008, and in that time there have been a lot of changes in my blogging (and my life). Most of the changes have been to accommodate my growing writing career.

For a long time I used my blog to think out loud about my faith: what I believed and why, and how to work that out in my life. As my writing career has progressed I have found myself more and more sharing good material from elsewhere: sermons from church and conferences, daily Bible reading commentary, and similar. While these are very helpful – they have helped me – they are no longer my own thoughts.

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Over the years I have had a stroke and several grandchildren, all time-consuming things. I have written and published four history books, a poetry collection and a science fiction novel. I’m now finishing work on my second science fiction novel and starting my third. With all the work involved in publishing and promoting them it has finally got to the point where something has to go.

So, with the end of the series on James from Lizzy Smallwood, I have decided to stop blogging here. My faith is still so precious to me but I just don’t have time to write about it. I apologise to my followers and hope you will find inspiration elsewhere. This blog will stay online but will not be updated. Thanks for your support.

If you are interested in my writing, you can check out my author blog or better still, join my mailing list. I would love to have you.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk and follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.

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Lifegiving Surgery from the Book of James part 11

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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Remedy 5: Prayer and praise
Someone once said that a Christian who doesn’t pray to God is an atheist. and I suppose you could say in the same breath a Christian who doesn’t praise God is an atheist. Our life of prayer and praise reveals the true state of our faith: what we really think about God.
If we are to be whole-hearted and humble, we will pray about everything.

Talking to God about everything may not be our first reaction – in sad times we often become self-absorbed, in happy times we often become complacent and forget to thank him for his goodness.
But if we have correctly adjusted our view of God and ourselves, our first reaction in difficult times or happy times should be prayer and praise.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. (James 5: 13)

Jesus heals

But, James then gets very specific:
Is anyone among you ill? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5: 14-16)

I’m not sure I’ve got this right but it seems James is saying that God may use the trial of sickness to discipline us and bring us to repentance if we are being double minded. Like where the Apostle Paul says God is disciplining the Corinthian church with illness because of their proud discrimination amongst one another – sound familiar?
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1 Corinthians 11: 28-30)

So if we are sick we should ask:
“Is there some specific or ongoing sin of pride and spiritual adultery I should be confessing and repenting of?”
If so – the believer is to call the elders to come and pray with them and anoint them with oil. The anointing with oil in the name of the Lord probably represents being purified from sin, as it sometimes did in the Old Testament tabernacle.

And the word “if” in 5:15b is crucial. If the sickness is God’s discipline for a particular sin, then healing will come, you are forgiven. If there is no healing, the sickness presumably wasn’t linked to a specific sin, it is just the result of living in this fallen world.

Then we see in 5:16 that it’s not just the elders who can pray. We must be honest with one another about our weakness
and pray for each other’s spiritual health.
Visit any church prayer meeting in the land and you’ll know we’re great at praying for one another in the difficult trials of life – the illness, the financial difficulties, the kids…

But how often do we pray for one another that we won’t fall into sin in the midst of these hardships? That we won’t be spiritually adulterous? That the Lord would save us from spiritual pride?
Now, this may be – ironically – because we’re too proud to admit to each other we have any spiritual pride.

So if our greatest need is to be spiritually faithful to the Lord, we need to be praying for this for each other constantly. And God promises, The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16)

Elijah prays for rain

Then James uses Elijah as an example.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (James 5:17-18)

You may think that’s a strange prayer to use as an example. What’s rain and crops got to do with anything?
Well, the reason James uses Elijah’s prayer about rain all relates back to the episode in the Old Testament when Elijah was calling back the people of Israel from their…wait for it… spiritual adultery.
As they, led by King Ahab, turned away from the Lord to worship Baal, Elijah claimed in prayer God’s promise in Deuteronomy to withhold the rain when Israel turned away from Him.

Then came the big old face off on Mount Carmel when Elijah challenged Baal to a duel. Would the real God step forward, please. Of course, Baal failed to show up. Then it was God’s turn.
Listen to Elijah’s prayer:

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, LORD, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18: 36-37)

Do you see, then, James uses this example of Elijah’s prayer because it is a prayer that the adulterer would return to their true love. It’s a prayer crying out to God to turn his people back to him.

James’ letter has been packed with great and urgent concern for his readers to recognise their faithlessness, their proud, worldly behaviour, and repent.

And at the end of his letter, James urges us to share his concern. This is how we should pray for one another, that we would be constantly turning back, single-hearted to the true God.


My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

The responsibility to apply this is personal and communal.

From what James has told us:
a) The wanderer’s situation is serious. Remember James 1:15. Sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death, – it’s a matter of life and death!
b) But God does not want this. He wants us to turn each other back to him.

Sadly we’re not so good at this.
We hate to interfere or be seen as judgemental.
But actually, it just means we value our friendship with that person more highly than their friendship with Christ! It’s so important, if we see a fellow Christian wandering off into sin, we must love them enough to challenge them.

It may be that you can testify to a situation where a Christian has challenged you and turned you round. I know for myself I have felt most uncomfortable when I have been challenged, a bit like the lights going on in the nightclub, but it has usually led to a turning point.

And the Lord’s grace is always available – no matter how much he has been wronged, we can be forgiven.

So, we have a collective responsibility.
v19: the ‘someone‘ wandering away could be me.
The ‘whoever’ bringing them back should be me.

So as we finish let’s recap – How will we know the wise life when we see it?
Well. Let’s look at 3:17-18, it’s another good one for your fridge:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Pleading man

Remember: This is God’s intention for us: to reflect the beautiful characteristics of our Saviour Jesus Christ:

  • Pure – not adulterous and contaminated by the world
  • Peace loving – not troublemaking
  • Gentle – not selfish and unkind
  • Willing to yield to others– not overbearing and proud
  • Full of mercy – not harsh and unforgiving
  • Showing no favouritism – not unfair and judgemental
  • Sincere – not double-hearted and hypocritical

And as we allow God’s royal law of love to enslave us, leading to a humble, peace-filled, love shaped life,
we will see real results: a harvest of righteousness.
Want to be useful to God? Well – notice that James doesn’t say, “Be better trained, better qualified, more gifted, more able…” he says “Be faithful – get some wisdom from above – Be like Christ in the way you speak and act.”

So. we got there:
James’ shocking diagnosis is that our adulterous hearts are so often opposed to God’s will for us: his making us more like Jesus project.
But God has given us the prescription:

  • We must see him as he really is
  • meditate on his character
  • remember the gospel that saved us
  • and then see ourselves as we really are.
  • We must humbly turn to him in repentance, trusting that there is grace sufficient for even our rotten hearts.
  • We must hear, receive and act on that word, giving up our vain pride, confess our sin and then
  • Get on with putting our faith into action: the job of patiently trusting God, humbly submitting to his law of love
  • and then actively loving those around us

It is excruciating, isn’t it – heart surgery – but it’s a life-saver.
After the intensive operation, now we are in the recovery room.
After studying this letter we may need to spend time alone with God, on our knees, confessing our spiritual adultery and accepting once again God’s amazing grace into our hard little hearts.

So let’s think back to those questions in talk 1
1. Do you ever consider what God’s intention is for your life?
2. Do you ever consider whether what you spend your life trying to achieve for yourself is what God is working to achieve?
Let’s allow his Holy Spirit to do that wonderful work of heart transformation – to make us more and more like Jesus. That is God’s intention for us.

“Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up”

I hope you have enjoyed this series. I know when I heard the original talks they had a profound effect on me. May you be blessed and changed for the better.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk and follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.

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Lifegiving Surgery from the Book of James part 10

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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Remedy 4: Humble Confession and Repentance
This self-examination – seeing God for who he is, seeing myself as I really am -should naturally lead to humble confession and repentance

Remember James’ diagnosis:
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us. But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.’ (James 4:4-10 )

James calls us ADULTEROUS when our lives are driven by envy for what we want and ambition to get it at any cost. The attitude which excuses fighting, quarreling, and conflict with other Christians. He condemns it as cheating on God just as much as an unfaithful wife is cheating on her husband. And it makes us God’s enemy.

So if we continue to live according to the world’s wisdom, God takes that choice not to trust Him very personally. He is jealous for us. He won’t easily allow us to continue to lead lives of self-service and self-reliance when He has placed His Spirit in us.. This is a very serious matter.

So then James then writes out his prescription for us. If we remember nothing else today, write out these words and stick them somewhere. on your fridge He says again:
Submit yourselves, then, to God. (v7)

And as we humble ourselves before God, there are specific instructions and a promise each time:

Ashamed


v 7 Instruction: Resist the devil.

Once we are clear about who God is, we will refuse to live under the devil’s authority and stop treating him as a friend – how adulterous is that! Stop listening to his lies about God’s character.
And because of what Jesus has achieved on the cross we can stand firm against the devil. And look at God’s Promise: we will have success in this – Satan will flee – he has no lasting power over us.

Jesus and woman

v8 Instruction: Come near to God.

Like the returning prodigal, we should run into the Father’s open arms.

God’s Promise:
He will come near to us – He is always there for us, he is always ready and waiting for his people to turn back.

Taking rubbish out

v8 Instruction:
Wash your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts.

For James’s Jewish readers who had grown up under the law, these commands would have called to mind ceremonial washings. The idea here is to completely turn from our sin, to wash it away. to resolve that we will serve God, and to begin again. That is what true repentance is.
This will mean sitting down and doing business with the Lord – confessing areas of past double-mindedness and resolving to live under his Lordship.

Sorrow

v9 Instruction: Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
James says: feel wretched – be real about your sin – see it for what it is and be full of grief. James is saying: Stop messing about – take this seriously.

Have you ever had the experience of being in a nightclub with all the glitz, glamour, noise etc? Have you seen it in the morning with the lights up? It’s a horrible mess. The logical sequence is this: as we draw near to God, as we come into his presence, the lights go on and we become very aware of our own sin. It should horrify us – we shouldn’t glory in it.

Supplication

v10 Instruction: HUMBLE yourselves.
Admit before God what you are really like.
And look at that wonderful promise.
God’s promise: The Lord will lift you up.
The Lord doesn’t rub our noses in it, if we truly repent he will restore us, that’s what he loves to do.

So we’ve seen most of the remedy,
but there is one more instruction for the truly humble Christian – obvious really. James writes in chapter 5: 13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

More on that next week.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk and follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.

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Lifegiving Surgery from the Book of James part 9

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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We have looked at Remedy 1 Have a right view of God,
and Remedy 2 Constantly remember the Gospel
And this leads neatly into the third remedy

Remedy 3 Get a right view of yourself

The third step in our recovery programme is
threefold: we need to hear God’s Word and humbly accept it and then act on it.

Look again at James 1:19-22:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

So the first step: Listen to God – hear His word of truth. We must be quick to hear what God is saying, and slow to speak. 2:1 ratio. Because, as we saw last week, when we start speaking, we stop listening.

Surprised with mirror

There are many voices fighting for our attention out there. The media, our families and friends constantly at the end of our arm on our phone… But the one we listen to most attentively is the voice in our head. Our inner conversation with ourselves. Think back to the last few weeks’ posts. Were you willing to listen? To let God speak to your heart? Or was there a lot of arguing going on inside your head?

Oh, that’s not me! But it is her…
Oh, that’s not fair! I’m not that bad…
Oh, that’s taking it too far!
We have to stop arguing against God’s word of truth, the Word of Jesus and hear it as truth, God doesn’t lie.

Then the second step: We have to humbly accept that word:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:21)

Do you see the contrast?

Throughout, James has been challenging the pride and arrogance we show in our daily lives. The obvious antidote will be humility. And this isn’t play acting – false humility. This is honest acceptance of God’s verdict on me as described by James 1:21 – that actually my life is full of moral filth and evil.

Pride

The biggest step we will take in the war against our vain pride is to accept that we are proud, that even the good we do, we do largely because we choose to do it for our own glory. So even when we think we are being humble, that usually makes us feel proud!
It will take a big dose of ‘humbleness’ to accept God’s word that we cannot save ourselves, that by God’s perfect standard we are morally bankrupt. When we truly believe this we will fling ourselves on his mercy.

So: We are to hear his word (v19), to humbly receive his word (v21),
and then step three we are to act on his word.
Do you remember our spinach incisor incident earlier…?

But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. (James 1:25)

As we’ve seen, God’s word shows us His character and nature.
But it’s also His perfect law that shows us His perfect goodness. It’s the law that shows us how we should live,
but it’s also the law that brings freedom– because it also shows us
how we can be set free to serve Christ and others instead of ourselves.

Someone has WISELY said, True humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves
it’s thinking more about Christ and his people.

There was a Christian band years ago called The Dive. They had a brilliant simple lyric:
Be a slave to God
on that day
You’ll see
a perfect paradox –
Jesus sets you free.

How we can be set free from proud religious box-ticking?
How we can be really happy in this life – really blessed – instead of temporarily gratified by our selfishness?

Become enslaved to God’s law of love. Receive the word of truth with meekness, humble yourself, pushing aside your pride, and let the Father transform you into the likeness of his son. This willingness to be enslaved to God’s perfect law of love – this is true freedom. It allows Christ by his Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out – a total heart transplant.

Remember we saw that the disease of double-mindedness shows itself in the way that we proudly think it’s up to us, who we choose to love. Well, the most radical change in us as we submit to God’s law of love is that we will start genuinely loving others – whoever they are.

But what does that look like in reality?
James very simply points us to what he calls the royal law:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing right. (James 2:8)

Now, real “God copying” love is not sentimental – and we get that, don’t we?
When we ‘love ourselves’ we don’t kiss the mirror (anymore!) and whisper sweet nothings to ourselves, do we! (Do we?!) No. We just get on and care for ourselves. We wake, we wash, we remove gorilla’s-armpit-sensation from the mouth, we inject caffeine, we look after ourselves. It’s natural!

Arrived

Well, that is how we will treat everyone if we obey the royal law of love. We don’t need to wait till we feel the warm fuzzies for people at church. We will just get on and care for each other in practical ways.

James tested our understanding of faith in 2:14-26, didn’t he?
Well, the Christian who is hearing and receiving God’s word of truth will not be content to sit and ponder it in their armchair. They will act on it.

  • They will demonstrate their saving faith by their acts of compassion and care for others
  • They will be hospitable
  • They will be generous with God’s money he has entrusted to them
  • They will care for the weak and vulnerable around them
  • They will treat all Christians, whoever they are in the world’s eyes, with the same respect and honour befitting a child of the King

That is faith in action.

Next week, more self-examination in remedy 4.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk and follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz for monthly newsletters.

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Lifegiving Surgery from the Book of James part 8

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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Remedy 2: Remember the Gospel

Again it seems obvious but our Christian life begins, continues and never ends with Jesus Christ.
Our second step then, on the road to recovery will be to remember the Gospel daily.

The great reformer Martin Luther didn’t like the letter of James. He thought it didn’t mention enough about Jesus and his saving work on the cross. In fact, the cross isn’t mentioned once. But it’s implicit, isn’t it?

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1: 18)

God has given Christians the gift of new birth – a life restored to him, cleaned up, forgiven. The first fruits are the pick of the crop! He did all this by “the word of truth.” Now listen to these words of the Apostle John – describing Jesus Christ:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1: 1–4, 12)

Jesus preaching

This word of truth James is talking about is the same Word John talks about – Jesus – God the Son – It’s all Jesus!

  • there he is v3 as the agent of Creation, God the Father creating everything through Jesus
  • there he is v4 – giving life to everything, and
  • there he is v12 making it possible for us to be reborn as Children of God

But how?
How could Jesus reconcile proud sinful rebellious humans like us to a perfect God?

  • Well, there he is in history – recorded in the Gospels – willingly dying on a cross to bear the punishment for our rebellion and pride, our adultery and envy.
  • There he is in history – recorded in the gospels – resurrected – beating death on our behalf
  • So making it possible for us to be forgiven and saved from eternal separation from God
  • God’s prized possession: brought back into a relationship with Him

It’s the Word of truth about Jesus.
It’s the Word of Truth that is Jesus.

And we were born again – as we humbly accepted this Word planted in us.

So throughout our lives, we must never, never move very far away from the Word of truth. If we do – if we forget who Christ is, what we were and what Christ has saved us from – we will become proud, adulterous Christians. We don’t ‘graduate’ from the simple truth of the gospel to more ‘intellectual, important’ things.

I’m convinced one of our greatest dangers as we go on in our Christian lives is we think we no longer deserve God’s judgment. That, somehow, we’ve done enough good as Christians to have earned our place in heaven – to have cancelled the debt.
As if Christ dying for me was like him paying the deposit on my mortgage. He got me going but I have been paying off the debt since, with all my Christian activity, service for the Lord.

So, we need to hear this.

Today, after being a Christian for [fill in the gap] years, I still deserve God’s judgement. I still deserve Hell. What’s your secret response to that statement? “No, not me! I’m nice now! I must’ve paid him back by now…?”

The glorious news is that my spiritual rebirth is a gift from my Father above – will go on being a gift from my Father above – will always be a gift from my Father above, all through Jesus.
Never ever something I contribute to with my own work.

If we constantly REMEMBER this truth, we will be far less tempted to slip into either self-glorification or fear that I haven’t done enough.
Our self-worth will be rooted in knowing I’m a sinner who is loved and saved by Christ instead of somebody who thinks Jesus needed me on his team.

Next week, we look further at the good news, the surgery, and how we get a right view of ourselves.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lifegiving Surgery from the Book of James part 7

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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So we’ve seen the specialist, he’s run his tests and made his diagnosis.
However, the treatment will be painful and costly.

Now, we’ve got that choice we heard about last week: we either choose the path of pride and faithlessness – we ignore the diagnosis and carry on as before, or we choose the path of wisdom and humility and we accept the treatment, however painful, however costly.

The problem with God’s treatment of our pride and adultery is that it is excruciating. It involves the ongoing termination by the Holy Spirit of my self-love which keeps re-rooting in my heart and mind.
So, in this look at the letter of James, we are going to see God’s remedy for our conceit and self-importance.

Remedy 1: See God as he really is

The first step in our recovery seems like stating the bloomin’ obvious.


Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)

This verse comes straight after the verses we looked at previously, on whether we will trust the goodness of God in the face of suffering.
We’ve seen that it has always been our gravest fault – since the Garden of Eden – to mistrust God’s goodness.

It was Satan’s master-stroke, to get Eve to question God’s ‘God-ness’ – his right to decide what is good and what is evil.
So how do you view God? It’s worth taking a moment to consider what you think God is really like.

As you pray, what is the picture in your mind? Maybe the head teacher? The policeman? The overbearing father? The indulgent uncle?

Then ask: Is this a true view of God, or a distortion in my mind? Which of Satan’s lies do I believe about God that then shape my attitude towards him and my consequent choices and actions?

James says, “Let’s get this clear. God is the source of all good.” According to these verses he never changes and is perfectly good. But he’s not completely remote! He is a loving and giving God. James says every good and perfect gift comes down from him.

People have always been tempted to worship the sun – because it is such a good picture of a constant powerful source from which we all benefit, receiving light, heat, and life.
No wonder, then, that James reminds us that God is the Creator of all the Heavenly Lights – with him there is no change or variation – no shifting like shadows.

He is utterly consistent
He is altogether faithful
He is perfect

Some of the other characteristics of God that James calls our attention to in his letter:
God’s law is perfect 1:24
God loves the poor and downtrodden 2: 5
God is generous 1:5
God is in no way involved in evil 1:13
And the one James mentions again and again:
God is the judge of all mankind (see 2: 13 for example).

This is the characteristic of God we find least palatable in our liberal age, but we are fools if we ignore God’s holiness described again and again in His Word; his active intolerance of sin, his divine jealousy for his people, all those vivid images particularly from the Old Testament of the pure moral glory and passion of God against everything and anything that offends him. God’s promised future judgment on sin once and for all should make us tremble still as we cling to him for mercy and cleansing through the precious blood of Christ.

When we meditate on his holiness and his absolute vastness, what fools we are to think we can question God’s actions and motives. We are mad to think we can play God instead of him!
Who do we think we are?

AND it’s when I see myself compared to this God and when my ego shrinks down to its intended size, then I’m getting there.
It’s when we begin to see God as he truly is we’ve started on the road to recovery.

So part of the remedy for our adulterous pride is to immerse ourselves in God’s true character, revealed in Scripture.
Read the Old Testament – meditate on the psalms.
And one of the most important outcomes of this will be that we will learn to
trust God in the midst of trials.

Remember nowhere in Scripture does God promise us an easy life.
But we saw in James Chapter 1: 1 – 8 that the Christian who is struggling can either doubt God’s goodness and get blown off course, or they can exercise their faith and ask the Lord for wisdom.

This time like all times

And he does promise to give us the wisdom to patiently trust him in the midst of trials. To humbly accept that he’s God, he’s good, and he knows what he’s doing.
He is using trials to mature us and make us complete (v4), to make us more like Christ. Remember – that is his plan, his intention for us.

Now – it’s easy for me to stand and say this but the reality is hard, isn’t it, in the face of the death of a beloved, abandonment, betrayal, poverty, constant pain, terminal illness. But listen again to the wonderful promise of verse 12: Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

And the other motivation: read 5:7:

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

James urges his readers to be patient in the face of suffering because of the promise of Christ’s return.
Patience is not something we esteem in our culture is it? Delayed gratification is seen as a

nonsense – we want everything yesterday! Amazon Prime: Next day delivery, ARGOS: Same day delivery.

But God calls us to patiently wait. Christ is coming back as Judge of all mankind and that truth must shape my whole thinking.
James says: think about a farmer waiting for the harvest, think about the prophets of old and Job who persevered. Even when they didn’t necessarily see the harvest of their suffering, they truly believed the best is yet to come and (v 11) they believed that despite their circumstances.

God is full of compassion and mercy, and if I truly believe this about Christ’s return it will transform my whole attitude to my daily trials.

money

Particularly in relation to my wealth. I will no longer be preoccupied by the growth of my riches (my ISA!) but the growth of my righteousness. I will no longer be jealous of others’ possessions because I know they are heading for the dump, where they’ll rot and corrode.
I’ll no longer grumble against my brothers and sisters in Christ because I see myself, and them, in the light of God’s judgement.

If I’ve been saved from hell by God’s undeserved compassion and mercy, who am I to murmur about anyone else?

Get a right view of God and his big plan and we will begin to get a right view of ourselves and our circumstances too.

After all the diagnosis and bad news, next week, we look further at the good news, the surgery.

Ann-Marie-Thomas-head-shot-80x90-300[1]Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lifesaving Surgery from the book of James part 6

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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AND FINALLY! Wow, it’s been a long slog, hasn’t it! We come briefly to James’ last diagnostic test.


Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:13-17)


Test Number 5: Running My Life

Desk calendar

This is probably the most innocent looking symptom of all. The way we plan our lives.
’Come on James,’ you may say, ‘This is pushing it too far. Surely how I plan my day isn’t a symptom of anything sinister… is it?
Well, I’m afraid James says it is another symptom of pride; the blasé planning of my life – my right to choose what I do, and when.
It’s just another example of our double-mindedness – a lack of faith – seen in the most normal of daily activities.
But why? What’s wrong with a bit of forward planning?

Now let’s remind ourselves of the root of sin:
Cast your minds back to what we saw from Genesis 3:
Satan makes it sound so attractive to shake off the confines of God’s restrictive ruling, by tempting us to doubt God’s goodness. To make us believe we know better and should go for self-rule.
And that is what every single human has done who has ever lived except the Lord Jesus.

We do the opposite of faith:

  • We don’t trust God – we think he is lying or mean or just plain wrong
  • We then play God – thinking we know what is best for us
  • We disobey God and do whatever we like to suit ourselves.

And we have seen this addressed in James as he uncovers my double-mindedness. That I want – I deserve – a trouble-free life, which honours me with wealth and status. I want to be listened to and admired.
But surely planning my week isn’t in the same category… is it?

Well, James says yes it is.

I am sinning against the Lord when I want to plan my life the way I want it.
When we leave God out of the picture and we plan our lives without reference to him – when we take his place – we display this overconfidence – as if we are in charge – We play God.

As Christians, we know it is God who should be at the centre of our lives. That is his right.
Remember how James describes himself:
A slave of God and Jesus Christ (James 1:1)

This is what it means to be a slave of Christ. We give up the right to run and ruin our own life.
Read 4:15-17 again:

Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

Now, we know James isn’t talking about not putting a foot outside your bed in the morning without divine guidance. But we do know that he is challenging whether we commit the little and the big decisions to the Lord in prayer, whether we are always conscious that the seconds, the hours, the days, the years of our life belong to him. We have no idea what tomorrow holds.

Our life is a gift from God, it’s not ours to boast and brag about.
James is questioning whether we are mindful of this as we go about our business.
Are you mindful of your Lord as you go about planning your day or does he get the fag end, a sort of checking in as you drop off to sleep… didn’t I do well? James says this is sin.

I’m sorry it’s been a slog. But we need to hear it, don’t we? We need to have our bubble burst.
If I commit adultery or beat my children, there would probably be an uproar in our local church.
But day by day, week by week, my walk with Christ is being eroded by the deadly disease of two-faced adulterous pride.

And I don’t hear a peep from my Christian brothers and sisters. Why?
1. Because we’re all suffering from the same disease
2. We spot it in others but ignore it in ourselves

We see it in each other, and we hate it. It’s the stuff we talk about behind each other’s backs.
But we don’t challenge it because actually, it would be to challenge our own lifestyle, our own behaviour.
And we don’t want to disturb people’s little bubble of pride because they might disturb ours back!

I don’t want to be challenged on how I cope with difficulties, how I treat people, how I speak to my husband or children, what I do with my money and how I map out my life. That’s my business.

Well, God says (through James), “No, it’s my problem!”

We need some serious heart surgery from the master surgeon if we are to survive.

Microscope

Spend some time in quiet to reflect on your own life.
In the quiet ask the Lord by his Spirit to show you:

Where does my double-minded pride show itself?

  • How does it show in the way I speak about myself? about others? to others?
  • How does it show in my choices?
  • Does my faith show itself in my loving sacrificial actions or am I all talk?
  • Do I demonstrate risk-taking God trusting faith or do I play it safe?
  • How does adulterous pride show in the way I plan and run my life?

It may be worth writing some things down so you don’t forget them. Think of
Head, Heart and Hands: Thoughts, Feelings and Actions.

That’s all the diagnosis and bad news, so next week, we start on the good news, the surgery.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web Gravatar_thumb[1]Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lifesaving Surgery from the book of James part 5

Sorry this is a week late, we have had no internet for a week.
See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

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TEST NUMBER 4: My TONGUE

We thought earlier how James looks around at the way we behave in everyday situations to spot the symptoms of a deadly disease, this proud, adulterous heart we think we hide so well. So often we have the wrong heart attitude towards God, the wrong heart attitude towards others and how we often have a wrong heart attitude towards ourselves.

So, on to another of James’ diagnostic tests and it is linked to the last three:
There is no clearer test of what’s going on in my heart – and it’s pink and wobbly and lives in my mouth. My tongue! The most powerful muscle in my body. When the real me comes out into the open. James has a lot to say about our words in his letter…Why?

Because the stuff that comes tumbling out of my mouth will very quickly reveal the state of my heart.


My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James (1:19-21)

So, here’s the test: Are you quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry? Or the opposite?
slow to listen,
quick to speak,
and very quick to get angry?
It’s the old saying – We’ve got two ears and one mouth, so we should use them in that ratio, but we so quickly get it the wrong way round.

And as I constantly tell my little darlings at school: as soon as you start speaking, you stop listening. And if you stop listening, you’re more likely to put your foot in it, speak angrily, which James says:”does not bring about the righteous life God desires ” It’s not part of his “making me more like Jesus” project that we thought about earlier.

Why are we so fond of the sound of our own voices?
Why do we speak when we should listen?
Isn’t it that once again, just as we saw earlier with our desire for a trouble-free life; the way we judge and mistreat others, our desire for wealth and status – and the way we think others should treat us – we just think far too highly of ourselves! Much more than we ought. It is once again a symptom of our proud hearts.

Talking over fence

It’s like the accountant who applied for a job enclosing his 43-page CV which included a reference from his scout leader, his first aid certificate, and a photograph of his wife and child. We love to blow our own trumpet!

We may think we are good at controlling what we say, but, it’s when we get nudged, isn’t it! Like teacups on a tray
When someone contradicts us or interrupts us
Someone doesn’t pay us the respect we think we deserve
Someone irritates us
It’s when I’m alone in my car, driving, and someone cuts me up…
… or doesn’t thank me for letting them out
… or gets in my way when I’m in a hurry

Have you ever noticed that when someone is driving slower than you, you call them an idiot and when someone is driving faster than you, you call them an idiot?

It’s in those situations that the real me comes out into the open and it’s not a pretty sight or sound.

We not only like to put others down we also like to big ourselves up.
Now, over time, we devise clever little tricks, little phrases which we think disguise our boasting:
 Repeating someone’s praise of us to others
 Telling people what we do with our time, how busy we are…how tired we are
 Fishing for compliments by putting ourselves down
But no one is fooled, really.
We’re just too polite to challenge each other: “Are you boasting again?”

No! We just think bad thoughts about each other:
“She’s so big-headed”
“She thinks she’s the bee’s knees”
“She’s so manipulative”
“She’s not an easy person…”
“She’s always fishing”
But why does it make us so cross when people talk about themselves?

Well, because actually, we hate their implication that we’re not as important as they are; or as ill, or as busy, or as tired – whatever it is – they should be focusing on us!

Do you do that thing when someone is telling you a story about themselves or something that has happened to them and you find yourself trying to trump their story with one of your own that’s better, funnier, more dramatic? I do it all the time. I like to call it empathy – making connections. Actually, all it is, is me secretly thinking I’m more interesting or amusing than they are, what I have to say is more important.
That’s why we try and outdo each other in conversation. Isn’t it
“Anyway – enough about you…”

And James goes on …we use our tongues too much but we don’t use our ears enough.
We can deceive ourselves that we are good listeners. We can claim to be those who regularly listen to God’s word, we can even be moved or challenged by it, and then walk away and do nothing.

But real listening leads to change.


Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it— he will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:22)


Here’s the test: Do you just listen to the Word of God and so fool yourself, or do you do what it says?

James uses this great everyday illustration of the mirror. Think how often we must look in a mirror! But it’s strange, isn’t it, how we do forget what we look like. As I stand and talk to you now, I can’t picture myself, my features, my expressions.

Surprised with mirror

We’re always fascinated and often horrified when we catch a glimpse of ourselves on video or in a shop window. It’s not just vanity, we are surprised! We see a photo of ourselves and think, “Oh that’s what I look like!” or, “Ooch. That’s what I look like?”

Now, picture yourself at a wedding reception. You’ve enchanted the other guests all evening with your wit and poise. You’ve conducted yourself perfectly, laughed in the right places, been attentive and charming, and now you need the loo. You excuse yourself. As you’re replacing the lipstick, you spot it. Just a glimpse. You smile at yourself in the mirror and…
Horror of horrors!
Oh yes – it’s there!
Wedged on your left incisor.
A large clump of fluorescent spinach from your Egg Florentine starter. That was about 40 minutes ago! You are mortified and you immediately set about removing the offending vegetation! Of course, you do. You wouldn’t leave it there once you’ve seen it.

Well? James says “Don’t then do the same with God’s word!”
I don’t know about you but as I’ve studied James, I’ve been left feeling like I’ve seen the spiritual equivalent of Aldi’s super 6 in my teeth.

Well? James says. What are you going to do about it?

Don’t hear it, feel bad temporarily and then just forget everything you’ve heard. Don’t come here, hear God’s word, then walk away and ignore what it says.

That is either the height of pride. “God, you are wrong! I don’t need to change how I speak or how I treat people – whatever it is… “
Or it is the height of disloyalty: “Yes I suppose God has got the right to challenge my speech and behaviour but I don’t intend to do anything about it. Either because I can’t be bothered or I don’t think it’s that serious. Or it’s just too costly, involves too much personal sacrifice?”

Well. James says if you are all talk and no action listen up:

If anyone considers themselves religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on their tongue, they deceive themselves and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James (1:26-27)

This person James is challenging obviously claims to be ‘religious’ with their mouth, but then uses their words in a worldly way. James says, “You are deceived and your religion is worthless if you can’t control your tongue.”
Put your money where your mouth is!
Stop talking about your spirituality and do something about it!
To use an old cliché: Walk the talk!
Look after widows and orphans
Root out the worldliness that pollutes your life

So rather than risk condemning ourselves with empty words about how godly we are, we should quietly get on and do the stuff that God accepts. We should act like Jesus and care for the weak and vulnerable around us.
We should watch how we speak.

Here’s the test: Do you show your faith by what you do not just by what you say?

James goes into a lot more detail in 2:14-26. Let’s read 2:14-18:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

Notice: The person claiming to have faith – using their mouth to declare their status before God – needs to prove this faith is alive by what they do. Words without actions is dead faith.

I’m not saved by my actions… but my actions show I’m saved.

Now. We who belong to evangelical churches may be in grave danger here.
We may be very hot on ‘The Truth’. We love our Bibles. We know our creeds. We love a good sermon [and complain bitterly about bad ones …] And yet, our churches are merely like Strictly come Preaching or Preaching on Ice if we just sit and listen, give the preacher marks out of 10 and then don’t act on what we hear.

We may be very ‘cold’ when it comes to actually physically, materially, sacrificially caring for people in need.
“Ah – but what people need is the Gospel,” we say.
OK True enough!! But actually people need both! They need their daily bread and the bread of life “AND” says James “look who I’m talking about in v15 “- Your brothers and sisters who already believe the Gospel;
Are you going to sit back and let them freeze and starve?”

“Well,” James says, “I’ll show you my faith by my good deeds!” It’s got to be both … faith in action.
It’s what Jesus did – he got his hands dirty. He mucked in. He helped people in the mess and hurt of their lives. He lived out his message. He was a servant. WE are called to be servants of God
How? by serving each other.
We are saved to serve.
We must adorn the spoken truth with actions that do other people good. Otherwise,
we are no different from the demons who can also say the creed, James writes in verse 19:
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James gives two examples from the Old Testament, somewhat contrasting: The father of all God’s people, Abraham, and Rahab, a prostitute.
But they both demonstrated their faith in a faithful God by their sacrificial actions, not just their words.

Abraham was willing to obey God at extreme personal cost.
On the basis of God’s promise, he was willing to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
Abraham figured it like this: if God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac who was the child of promise – through whom God’s people would descend – then it must mean God would raise Isaac to life again. He trusted God and put that trust into action.

Abraham sacrifices Isaac

James says – Do you see? His faith and actions were working together.

Rehab also willingly helped God’s people at extreme personal risk- again because she believed what she had heard about the God of Israel. She took him at His word based on his past record. She followed the spies’ instructions to hang the red chord out of her window and she was spared destruction. That is faith in action. Such a beautiful echo of the Passover – the red cord like the blood of the lamb: Act according to God’s proven character, and follow his instructions even if it is costly- and you will be spared his judgement. Rahab knew that God always keeps his promises.

So: Our adulterous pride, in this case, is our scary ability to speak about our faith:
Participate in Bible studies
Lead Bible studies
Indulge in a bit of Sunday lunch sermon discussion
And yet do little to demonstrate our faith in action.

We are play-acting at loving God and we may fool others. But we certainly won’t fool God! We prove our faith in God not just by our correct words but by living a risk-taking, knife edge, God proving sort of existence that generously benefits those around us.

Here’s another test: Who’d be a teacher?

James now moves swiftly on to warn us that we should not rush into being teachers of God’s truth.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. (James 3:1-2)

Why shouldn’t we presume to teach?
1. Because teachers will be judged more strictly by God
2. Because it’s blatantly obvious that none of us can claim to be perfect because we can’t control our tongues
So, why will teachers be judged more strictly?
In our culture, teachers come pretty low down the professional food chain. And I know because I am one!

“Those who can’t – teach.”
If I had a pound for every time I’ve heard that!
And as for Vicars and Pastors? Well, they just raise a sad smile, don’t they?
It’s a great conversation killer at a party:
“So what does your husband do?”
“Oh, He’s a Bible teacher.”

“Oh…”

But in Scripture it’s a very different picture. The Bible teacher’s job is very important. Why?
Because they are passing on, implanting, God’s Word of Life. Notice, it’s the teacher’s job is important, not the teacher.

Jesus preaching

Because they are entrusted to speak this Word of Truth, the Lord holds them highly accountable for the way they use their tongues. He is not happy when a teacher of his Word – or any Christian, but particularly a teacher of his Word – is uncontrolled and sinful in their speech.

It’s interesting. James then goes on to illustrate that actually, it’s impossible for anyone to control their tongues.
 It’s the tiny bit, he says, that controls a half-ton horse
 It’s the tiny rudder, he says, that controls a thousand-ton ship
And It seems to be that it’s not us that control the tongue but the tongue that controls us and – gets us into heap loads of trouble
 It makes grand speeches, for a tiny bit of muscle
 It’s like a tiny spark that sets off a forest fire.

Listen to this:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. … no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:6 & 8)

James says it like it is!
Isn’t that a bit excessive? No, not really. I bet if we spent a minute thinking over our own lives, we could each come up with at least one incident where our little pink tongue has caused a big load of trouble!

Our words are powerful. That “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me” thing? Rubbish. Words don’t just hurt, they can destroy people.

If we need proof that we are proud adulterous Christians, just look at what trips off our tongue. It’s where our disloyalty comes out in the open.

With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. (James 3:9)

Take an average Sunday in an average church – one minute we’re singing hymns of praise, next minute we’re scrapping and bitching about each other over a cup of tea. We say terrible things about each other, don’t we!

We are past masters at wrapping it in phrases that stop us looking completely – I use this word cautiously – bitchy! We say:
 “She’s sweet, but…”
 “I was so hurt/sad when so and so did…”
 “I’m sure she’s got her good points.”
 “I’m not being funny, but…”
 “Do you think I should say something to so and so? It’s just that…”
      “I really think we need to pray for…”

And off we go, slagging people off in the name of constructive criticism, taking the moral high ground as we point out others’ faults, being two-faced. But, of course, it’s evil and actually, it reveals something very sinister.
Because a test of our loyalty to God is seen in our loyalty to people made in the image of God.

With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. (James 3:9)
The very people God has put us on the planet to serve – we slander.
The people God commands us to love – we libel.

James says this is just wrong!
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:11-12)

Have you ever had that experience of putting salt in your tea instead of sugar? Have you ever eaten an olive expecting it to be a grape? It’s just WRONG in your mouth!! Well, James is saying blessings and curses in the same mouth are just Wrong! They cannot belong together in the servant of Christ.

And nowhere is disloyalty as deadly as it is in the teacher of God’s Word. Someone who sets themselves up to be the implanter of God’s Word is in big trouble if they actually use words to destroy people’s reputation.

James uses a very shrewd argument here. Why would anyone want to be a teacher? What’s the motive?
James knows that of all people the teacher is going to be in danger of being proud… awkward moments for the Bible teacher…
Is it that I love the sound of my own voice? Is it that I think myself clever? Isn’t the expert king these days? Held in high esteem, treated with respect? Don’t I deserve that?

It’s good to be clever – knowledgeable – we think.
James says, “No! It’s good to be wise, and that’s not the same thing.”

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Remember that choice we make all day every day about which path we will take. A wise person is one who sees themselves as they are in relation to God – small – and behaves accordingly.
The wise teacher will be the one who concentrates on true humility, not their great reputation.
Whose life demonstrates Christlike servitude, not how clever they are.
A teacher will be judged on their deeds, not their gifts.

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)
James talks about bitter envy and selfish ambition in the heart – and boasting about it? It seems an odd thing to say doesn’t it, because leaders don’t actually openly boast about such things.

For example, we didn’t hear Theresa May campaigning to be the leader of the Conservative Party declaring, “I’m standing on the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition ticket.”
No, she will have put forward the argument that she was the wisest, the most experienced, oh and by the way, the others are all weak and wrong…

It’s the same with church leaders. You would rarely hear a minister claim to be harbouring bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. But you may hear them slating other preachers; criticising other modes of ministry; claiming special knowledge of God; putting themselves up as a super-preacher, the man of God.

Pride

James says “such wisdom” is earthly – not from heaven but from the Prince of this world’s training school. Pride is Satan’s greatest problem and it’s in all of us too. We will always be able to spot worldly wisdom in action because it always leads to disorder and evil practices.
If we see division in our churches, someone somewhere is speaking in a proud and envious way – Satan’s type of wisdom,
and someone somewhere is listening to it.

So there’s another test from James. What comes out of your mouth?
We may not all claim to be teachers but we’ve all got a tongue.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I put people down – criticise – secretly hoping to make myself look better in the process? That’s pride!
  • Am I quick to take offense so I can make someone feel bad? That’s pride!
  • Am I prickly and awkward, always getting the wrong end of the stick, so people are uncomfortable around me, giving me a feeling of power? That’s definitely pride!
  • Do I boast about my knowledge of God’s truth and yet deny it by my selfish desire to be admired? That’s pride!
  • Do you turn every conversation back to yourself, that’s pride!

It’s all so underhand, isn’t it? Yet it all comes from an adulterous pride – a divided heart, one that claims to love Christ, but loves self a lot more.
In a book called The Fall by Albert Camus, one of the characters says, “I, I, I, is the constant refrain of my life. You can hear it in everything I say.”

Do you listen to yourself sometimes and hear that? James says, “Brothers, Sisters, this should not be.” These are all symptoms of jealousy and selfish ambition.
It’s all a by-product of an adulterous heart.

Then, one last mention of words from James 5: 12:
But above all else, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. 
Perversely I nearly skipped over it because it seemed so out of the blue but then I spotted the “above all else” bit!
Above all else must mean this is a big deal. James then, nearly word for word, repeats Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:34-37.

Now I think it is clear James isn’t talking about bad language here or even using God’s name in vain. He is referring to the common Jewish practise of the time – when people made an oath to convince someone they were telling the truth or would keep their promise.
So the modern equivalent might be “I swear on my mothers grave…”

Jesus forbade Christians from doing this and James is echoing that command,
and the issue seems to be the importance of words again and their power. It’s all about TRUTH. Honesty should be the absolute norm for the Christian if they are to reflect the nature of Christ. Our simple Yes or No should be completely binding since deception isn’t an option for us.

Let your Yes be Yes and your No be No

We are people who have put their faith in JESUS – the Word of Truth, so we should be known as those who speaks the truth; who speak honestly; who keep their word and can be trusted. Are you?

More diagnosis and bad news next week, but you have to know the bad news before you can appreciate the good news.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lifesaving Surgery from the Book of James part 4

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

Lizzy-Smallwood_thumb7

TEST NUMBER 3: My attitude towards MYSELF

James runs another test to uncover another related symptom of this heart disease in 4:1-2 Again it is linked to poverty and riches. But this test may reveal how I think God and others ought to treat me.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (James 4:1-2)

It is a universal constant that when a human has their desires frustrated it leads to violence.

Now, many of us have children who will go to any lengths to get what they want, ranging from low level whinging – to bloodshed. And They are very quick to point out any sniff of unfairness in the distribution of family resources.

A twelve year old boy, on learning there would be a third child born in the family:
“Will I only get a third of my inheritance?”

But as we mature, we learn much cleverer ways of covering our frustration or getting our own way.
Well, we think we do, but eventually, selfish desire will lead to discord somewhere; we may not murder anyone with a knife, but we’ll have done the equivalent in our thoughts and it will eventually show in the way we treat those we envy: put-downs, complaining gossip, sniping… whatever.

Angry

Because secretly I think I deserve what they have got! But we forget to ask God for what we actually need. Remember from chapter 1- that is how our faith increases.

Or maybe we do pray but not prayers of faith just selfish longing:

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:3)

We shouldn’t expect God to listen to our self-pitying prayers if all we want from Him is more wealth to spend on ourselves. How we expect others to treat us is a good test of the condition of our heart.

SO as we finish this first set of tests – let’s recap:


Test number 1
. Ask yourself:
Does my attitude to God in the midst of troubles reveal a lack of faith – a disloyalty, a double-mindedness which is not God-trusting but doubting and unsteady? Do I even blame God for my troubles?


Test number 2
: Does my attitude towards other people reveal a heart which is judgemental and condemning? Does my attitude to my own wealth reveal a heart that is callous towards the needs of others?


Test number 3
: Does my attitude towards myself reveal a heart that is proud and self-seeking – showing itself in how I react when I don’t get what I want, when someone has something I think I deserve? Are my prayers full of selfish requests with skewered motives?

To sum up – which path are we walking?
1] are we choosing to follow God’s plan: the pathway of FAITH – the humble slave who TRUSTS & OBEYS leading to spiritual maturity? Becoming more like Christ?
Or
2] are we following our plan: and continuing on the pathway of FAITHLESSNESS – that proud MISTRUST & DISOBEDIENCE, self-rule that leads to spiritual death?

Later – James will continue his diagnosis. It’s worth bearing the discomfort and taking a good hard look at ourselves under the Holy Spirit’s microscope before we hear the remedy.
So avoid the temptation to let yourself or others off the hook by justifying or despairing or shrugging your shoulders. “That’s just the way I am! ” “Oh well – We’re all the same.”

Have a time of quiet to let these challenges sink in. As you look at your life – what are you spending your time and resources trying to achieve for yourself and your family?

  • If you are honest – Is it what God is working to achieve? to make you more like Christ?
  • How do you approach the trials of life? With God trusting faith and joy or resentment?
  • Will you ask for the wisdom to trust God even if you never fully understand what he is doing this side of heaven?
  • How do you discriminate between people?
  • How do you expect people to treat you?
  • How often are your prayers for ease and comfort?
  • How do you treat the poor? what do you actually do to help?

WRITE THINGS DOWN FOR PRAYER

  • Head: faith = trust & obey: change the way I think particularly about trials
  • Heart: change the direction of my loyalty/ faithfulness adultery/ loving the wrong things
  • Hands: action points

More diagnosis and bad news next week, but you have to know the bad news before you can appreciate the good news.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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Lifesaving Surgery from the book of James part 3

See part 1 for the introduction to this series.

Lizzy Smallwood

TEST NUMBER 2: My attitude towards OTHERS

James runs another diagnostic test. We’ve seen how the ‘poverty and riches’ test reveals our attitude to God, but how do we fare in our
attitude to others? In this instance to the poor and the rich?

I may say I belong to the family of God but then act in a way which denies this:
James begins:
My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism. (James 2:1)

He states the fact at the beginning: Jesus is the glorious one. He’s the one who decides who is valuable or worthy. Yet he showed no favouritism in his earthly ministry. He hung out with the absolute no-hopers of society. He now shows no social favouritism in whom he chooses to belong to his family.

But listen to this:
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)

If I, in any way, judge who is worthy or unworthy by their appearance or social standing – I am denying Jesus! I’m committing those two proud adulterous sins: I’m acting as if I’m God and I’m disobeying God’s law of love. He’s the only one who decides who’s who, and it’s nothing to do with wealth and status.

Homeless man

So, how do we discriminate in our relationships, in our church? It may be based on wealth but also on class or race or age. It’s not something we admit to openly, we probably wouldn’t say to someone a bit shabby in church “Oi Stinker – sit over there at the back by that open door.” No, it’s just quietly shown in the people we choose to spend time with, the people we choose to sit with.

Would we go out of our way to befriend (and I mean befriend, not patronize!) someone in church who is awkward and chippy, dresses funny, and doesn’t seem to like us? Or is our friendship group made up entirely of somebodies who are like us – and who like us?

But Jesus is not interested in our definition of worthy. He is looking for sinners to save – be they rich or poor. He is looking for recipients of his grace; that includes all of us! None of us is worth anything without Christ.

If we show prejudice, we just don’t understand the mercy and grace that has been shown us. And if we play God and judge people in this way we are lawbreakers. We may say we are obedient children of God but actually, we are as bad as murderers and adulterers. Do we treat nice respectable visitors or preachers – with more honour than the passing oddball who just wants a cup of tea?

We call it protocol, don’t we? Jesus calls it evil discrimination, v4
We call it respect where respect is due. Jesus calls it merciless lawbreaking, v9:
But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:9-11)

Have you read the book Philomena or seen the film?

Philomena film

It’s about a young girl who fell pregnant in Ireland in the 1950’s and was sent to a Magdalene house to have and give up the baby. Yet many of the young girls there didn’t even know how they got pregnant because no one had ever told them the facts of life. The early description of her appalling treatment at the hands of the nuns is heartbreaking.

Women who claimed to be serving God treated those young vulnerable unmarried women as the absolute condemned scum of the earth. It was a classic case of themselves breaking God’s law of love as they condemned those young girls to hell. And yet when the Bishops came to visit (one who later turned out to be a practicing paedophile) they tripped over themselves to honour and pamper them.

But we can be like that too, in more subtle ways – we like to play God – always putting sin into a nice hierarchy with the big ones at the top (like sexual immorality) and the ones we do at the bottom (like ignoring tricky people in the church and wanting to be seen with the “In people”).

We are adulterous and disloyal to God when we choose to ignore our respectable sins – our impartiality, favouritism, and judgemental-ism. And it puts us in grave danger. James says we may say we are obedient children of God but actually we are as bad as murderers and adulterers.
We think to ourselves, “It’s not that serious!”
James says, “Yes, it is!”
Any part of God’s law of love that we break is deadly.

He goes on:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

We have been shown total mercy by our holy God. If we don’t show mercy, then we’ve missed the point of the Gospel and we’re in danger of missing out on God’s mercy and facing his judgment instead.

In this look at our attitude to others, there is also a section at the beginning of chapter 5 to see James’ final verdict on our treatment of the poor:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)

It’s pretty grim reading, isn’t it! It’s tricky to work out who James is addressing here but let’s face it – they must be people in the local churches because presumably people outside wouldn’t get to hear the letter read out. So it must be a warning to the visible church: if we are Christians who have spent our time accumulating wealth, laying up treasures for our last days, wallowing in a self-indulgent luxurious lifestyle, feeling powerful and secure, whilst neglecting the poor around us we are condemned by James words.

Cup of coffee

It’s a trivial example but how many of us go on drinking coffee that has come from companies with appalling reputations for fair trade – because we think the other stuff tastes ropey? Isn’t it my ‘right’ to have nice coffee? Er – No! We just don’t think our Christianity needs to stretch that far. As if God won’t notice.

How many of us have gone on spending money on clothes from certain companies, even though we know that the people who made them earn a pittance and live in squalor?

Do we bother to check which companies our shares and investments are ploughed into?

We don’t mean to harm anyone, do we? But we do! And where wealth is pursued, injustice is never far behind. And if we are lovers of material wealth to the detriment of the poor amongst us, we are in serious danger.

The comfortable and luxurious lives we live are described as fattening our hearts for the day of slaughter. What is the end of the body that we lovingly care for? We tan it, adorn it with lovely clothes and jewellery, nurse it, pamper it feed it, starve it, feed it, starve it… but it, too, is traveling unavoidably towards a coffin.

It’s a picture of the cow, feeding itself, placidly chewing the cud, taking another mouthful, whilst out of sight the butcher sharpens his knife.
What is the end of riches? Destruction. This is the new living translation – a bit more graphic:
Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. (James 5:2-3)

It doesn’t make very pleasant reading does it?

More diagnosis and bad news next week, but you have to know the bad news before you can appreciate the good news.

Ann Marie Thomas head shot (80x90) (300dpi) Web GravatarAnn Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Find out more at www.annmariethomas.me.uk

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