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.

Lizzy-Smallwood_thumb7_thumb

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

Advertisements
Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Happy Easter!

800px-Callac_Chemin15_3742

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lifesaving Surgery from the book of James part 2

See part 1 for the introduction to this series

Lizzy Smallwood

Test Number 1: My attitude towards God in the TRIALS of life

Firstly, in chapter 1:2-17, James looks at how we react to the trials of life. This test may show up my lack of faith – my proud adulterous attitude towards God:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

We all face hardship, unexpected events that floor us. Relationships fail, loved ones die, we get ill, we face financial problems, life just isn’t turning out as we’d dreamt it would, and we think, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this! This wasn’t my plan for me…”

The shock is, James says: When troubles of any kind come your way – Consider it an opportunity for pure joy!

Now he surely can’t be asking us to have a perma-grin on our face. We can’t pretend to enjoy suffering? No, he is asking us to be joyful because we understand God’s purpose behind the trial – that perseverance through the testing of our faith leads to maturity; making us more like Christ – Remember – that is God’s plan for us.

The question James asks is: How will you deal with the trials? Will you turn to the Lord, and ask for his wisdom, to trust him through times of trouble… and in turn have your faith strengthened?
 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

Or will you ask for wisdom, and then continue to doubt his goodness – thinking in some perverse way that he is wrong to allow you to suffer like this?
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

When things are tough, it is a real test of our faith… whether we believe God is good. But James says that if we doubt God’s good intentions for us through trials, we have divided loyalty – we are being double-minded and unstable… like a wave tossed on the wind.

In the Bible we are taught that God doesn’t promise us health and happiness in this life, but actually that he will use our trials for the strengthening of our faith. But often we choose to ignore that uncomfortable truth! No – secretly, we want to sue God! We want compensation for losing out on our happiness.

James goes on to give an everyday example of an everyday trial – that of our financial and social standing. Which path will we choose: faithfulness or adultery? Obedience or disobedience. Will we be like Jesus?
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower. (James 1:9-10)

money

Much of our lives are taken up with money matters, aren’t they? Earning enough to feed ourselves and our families, create a nice living environment, run a car, have plenty of clothes, holidays, haircuts, etc. etc. Here’s an area, James says, where we will be tempted to mistrust God’s goodness… where we will be likely have divided loyalty.

There are two tests. First, the test of poverty in 1:9:
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.
“What high position?” he mumbles. Well, flip over to chapter 2 verse 5:
 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Listen says James – the poor person has many more opportunities to practice trusting God because they face more hardship. It’s as they trust him – they see that God provides all they need, not necessarily all they want. In turn they learn to trust God more and more – they become richer in faith. It’s a virtuous circle.

Also, Christ chose to live on this earth in incredibly poor and shameful circumstances, he never lived an extravagant lifestyle. Ultimately The Lord of the universe allowed himself to be humiliated in the extreme as he died the worst possible public death. And yet because of Christ’s humility, he has won for us – the kingdom of heaven!

And that is what the poor Christian must set their eyes on – that amazing inheritance waiting for them beyond the grave. But here is that choice, those two pathways – the pathway of faith and trust and wisdom or the pathway of proud wilful double-mindedness. Will they actually feel hard done by, not content with their position in God’s eyes?

The temptation is obvious isn’t it: The measures of status in our culture are:
How gorgeous are you?
How clever are you?
How rich are you?
So, as Christian [men and] women, we are going to be tempted to believe those things are what’s really important in life. But we are fools if we fall into the trap of caring what the world thinks is worthwhile whilst ignoring God’s assessment of what is worthwhile. The poor and lowly are so precious to him. In God’s eyes, they hold a high position. But will we believe that?

Well, What about the trial of riches in 1:10:
But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wildflower.
It would appear that James is saying the troubles faced by the rich are harder than poverty. But we don’t believe that, do we! We think “I’d quite like to have a go at the trial of being rich!”

But of course, riches are dangerous. The world says money = security. Life is not so hard when you’ve got dosh. Money is power – just look at who landed the top spot in the USA… because he was rich. But it’s lethal because – The richer you are the less you will think you need to exercise faith in your God.

James says, “You rich people BEWARE!
“You need to take pride in your low position.
“You are not secure without Christ!
“Your security in this world is not security beyond the grave! Along with you – It will all just get blown away like a fragile flower in the field. Have you ever picked a wildflower and seen how long it lasts? However beautiful it is, it’s not long before it droops and drops and withers.

There was a vicar at a millionaires funeral and at the wake someone sidled up to him and whispered “How much did he leave?” and the vicar whispered back “Everything…!”

We Christians are in danger in this green and pleasant land. We are good at talking like God-trusters but actually, how much of our security is tied up in our worldly wealth?Putting our FAITH firmly in pension schemes, savings, and insurance policies. I’ve got an ISA. That is my only savings and its value bounces up and down like a yo-yo on Red Bull – ooh, I get really cross. That’s my future security… Really?

How much of my time, or if I’m married, my husband’s time, is taken up earning just a bit more to make my life more comfortable, more secure? So, James says, Beware! You are in danger!

The only thing the rich person has to be proud of is that he is a slave of God. The things that make a person rich in this world will not last, so we must evaluate our lives by God’s plan for us, not our worldly one.
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. (James 1:12)

The promise here is wonderful – As we trust God through trials he will increase our faith and we will be richly rewarded – the crown of life has been won for us by Christ and is waiting for us when we cross the finishing line.

However, James has a serious warning for us too – the other path is to shake a fist at God. To blame him for our misfortune.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is fullgrown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

This is a perfect potted version of what happened in Genesis 3 with Adam & Eve and the fruit. Listen again to that dreadful event: From Genesis 2:16-17 we read
And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.

God is essentially asking Adam to trust him – that he – God is the only one qualified to make the rules and to decide what is good and what is evil. And he is commanding Adam to obey him: TRUST & OBEY – it’s THAT SIMPLE! Fundamentally – that is what FAITH is: TRUST & OBEY.

But then Satan crawls in and undermines the very essence of God’s character:
He questions God’s right to make the rules and calls him a liar. 3:1
He tempts Eve to mistrust God. 3:4
Then Satan implies that Eve would make a great job of deciding what was right and wrong. He tempts Eve to disobey God. 3:5 -6
and she falls for it completely.

And the rest as they say – is history – literally HISTORY. This has been happening ever since in every human heart; every second of every minute of every hour of every day of History.
MISTRUST & DISOBEDIENCE
WE HAVE A TOTALY WRONG ATTITUDE TOWARDS GOD
And the terrifying thing is – exactly as God had promised – the result is death.

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

Posted in faith | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lifesaving Surgery from the book of James part 1

Last weekend I attended the Womens Bible Study Conference (Wales) at Hebron Hall, where Lizzy Smallwood taught from the book of James. It was so good, that over the next few weeks I am sharing her talks, with her permission.

Hebron Hall

What I hope to do this weekend is a whistle-stop tour of James. To look at the themes James develops throughout the letter. He doesn’t seem to write in a straight line, but in a form like the Jewish chiasm where, simply put, there is a repetition of similar ideas in the reverse sequence. A bit like a sandwich with the central theme in the centre.

So bear with me – we won’t be able to cover everything. But be warned: by the end of the first two talks you may feel like you want to throw the towel in – but hang in there. We’ve got a serious problem, but God has a wonderful solution and I hope that by the end of this teaching we will all have benefited from some spiritual heart surgery.

Lizzy Smallwood

As we begin can I ask you two big questions:
1. Do you ever consider what God’s plan 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?
You see – God has revealed in his word what his plan is for us in this life – it is to increase our faith in him, to get us ready for heaven, to bring us to that beautiful wise maturity –
when we truly reflect the family likeness, the character of Jesus his perfect son – The Servant King.


So, that should be our plan too. But so often it isn’t.

At the very beginning of his letter in chapter 1:1 – in the NIV James describes himself as a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. A more accurate translation is actually a slave – not a very popular word in our day and age. But all the way through his letter James will challenge us: as we hear God’s word we will always have to choose between two pathways and two destinations.

Will we choose to follow God’s plan: the pathway of FAITH – the humble slave showing a trusting obedience that leads to spiritual maturity? Becoming more like Christ?

Or will we follow our plan: and continue on the pathway of FAITHLESSNESS – a proud disobedience, a self-rule that leads to spiritual death?

Because if we say we are slaves of Christ, then actually continuing to live as rulers of our own lives, we are going to be living at cross purposes – with God and his plan for us.
BUT, hang on a minute, we are Christians! We know about disobedience; we know what it cost Jesus so that we could be forgiven… don’t we? That’s why we don’t swear anymore/much or nick biros from work or sleep with people we aren’t married to or murder people we don’t like… isn’t it?


Well, James has got a bit of a shock for us in his letter

This prideful playing God thing runs much deeper and more subtly than robbing, stealing and adultery. And sadly this side of heaven it still runs through us Christians like a stick of seaside rock. It still colours and shapes much of our behaviour in our churches and homes.
It’s like a virus – a disease that affects everything we do – it’s a spiritual disease of the heart.

And we ignore this spiritual disease at our peril
It’s a bit like this: Our hospitals are full of dying people who ignored the onset of their symptoms. They pretended not to notice the drastic weight-loss. They thought if they ignored the lump it would go away. They deceived themselves and now it’s too late.
Well, studying James may be a bit like that.

The outcome of this consultation is a bit of a shocker! James doesn’t just give us the spiritual equivalent of Calpol. He runs a few tests and announces that, actually, Madam you are very ill indeed, and if you don’t have treatment you are in grave danger. It’s a very serious diagnosis about a very deadly disease, and we must take it seriously.

So what is this deadly disease? Quite simply James calls it adultery, BEING UNFAITHFUL, a divided heart, loving the wrong person.
Let’s read 4:4. This is the HEART of James’ diagnosis, his central theme.

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.

That’s the bottom line.
We, in very crafty ways, are adulterous. As Christians, we are betrothed to Christ and yet we’re having an affair with the world. We often behave just like nonbelievers behave. We are unfaithful. Our hearts are divided. We are two-timers.

So what tests does James the expert physician-run to diagnose our lack of faith?
Well, he looks around our lives, at the everyday things, the ignored, entrenched things and shows that it is these that reveal our proud, adulterous, divided heart.
It shows in how we relate to everyone:
We often have a wrong attitude towards God
We often have a wrong attitude towards others
We often have a wrong attitude towards ourselves

The symptoms of this deep-rooted disease of adulterous pride pop up in all our relationships. So let’s spend some time looking at some of James’ diagnostic tests.

Test 1 will be next week’s post.

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged | 10 Comments

Together in the Christian Life

Church Important

In Hebrews 10:25, the author makes it clear that believers should not stop meeting together. God wants us to regularly meet with other believers—He wants His people in church! There are those, however, who don’t take this admonition seriously. I’ve often heard this refrain: “I can worship God at home. I don’t need to go to church.” Many believe the sole reason we meet together is to worship—and understandably so. After all, we call it a worship service.

If worship were the only reason we’re commanded to meet, then those who claim they can worship at home would have a strong argument. But worship isn’t the sole reason. Nor is it so we can be taught God’s truth. We can turn on our radios, televisions, and visit websites to hear sound biblical teaching. On the surface, it seems that anything we can do at church we can do just as well at home.

church

So why are we commanded to meet? Why go to church?

The writer of Hebrews says it’s to safeguard against drifting. We’re the body of Christ, and when we’re with other believers, we’re doing what comes naturally and what we’ll do for eternity—being together in His presence. We make up the church, and together we provide strength for one another through prayer, fellowship, and encouragement.

Enemy forces are always at work around us, seeking to blow us off course. Sheer individual commitment is not enough to keep us in line. We need the presence and accountability of other believers—and they need us. When we surrender our lives to Christ, He uses us in countless ways we may never know.

The accountability and encouragement found in church anchor us against the tides that work to sweep us away. To neglect the regular assembly of fellow Christians is to miss out on this essential element in the development of our faith.

Regular church attendance should never be viewed as something you do to gain God’s merit. Instead, it should provide the catalyst for spiritual growth. Ask God to lead you to a church that teaches the Word of God without compromising His truth and demonstrates His love, grace, and forgiveness to all. When He does, you will find He’s led you to a church you can truly call home.

[Bible study from Charles Stanley]

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

Posted in faith, Thinking Thursday | Tagged , | 1 Comment