Tag Archive: James


Submission is a Struggle

two wrestlers Greco-Roman wrestling

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is a popular sport these days. Men and women enter a steel octagon arena where they will use mixed styles of fighting to defeat their opponent. There are some fighters that are particularly skilled at submission moves. This is when one fighter has the other fighter in a spot that if they don’t tap out and give up they could be subject to some severe pain, broken bones or being knocked unconscious. Some of the names of the moves include: Knee bar, ankle lock, arm triangle, arm bar, triangle choke, guillotine, and the rear naked choke. I don’t know about you but I would not want to go through any of those. Submission in MMA means physical pain and the embarrassment of having to give up.

What does submission mean to you?

Is submission forcefully giving up to a stronger opponent out of fear? Or is it submitting to a higher authority knowing there is greater knowledge?

Submission really is a naughty word in the Western Church today. People tend to run from submission because we know better than to give up or in to someone else. We are taught to be self-sufficient, rely only on ourselves, and never show any weakness. This is the message we proclaim to the people we meet, “Don’t worry about me, I can handle it all and I have it all together.” Submission will only make us look weak.

To give you an example of how much we dislike submission, I have a story for you. About two years ago I was preaching on the subject of submission. I talked about how husbands and wives should mutually submit to each other and that in our relationships with others we should also submit to serve and love our neighbors before serving ourselves. I talked about some strategy to get that accomplished and felt good about the Biblical message that was proclaimed. After the service I had some positive comments from people as they were leaving, but as I would find out later, I would also get some negative ones. One gentleman went to his small group at the time and complained that it was the worst message of all time in the history of the world (Yes it was that dramatic) because he didn’t want to submit to his wife. He felt confident that his wife should submit to him alone.

In our human brokenness we never want the submission to come from us but would much rather have it from others submitting to us. James has a different word for us today.

“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.” James 3:17

We submit to something bigger than ourselves. We seek a wisdom that is not of this world or innate in human beings. When we continue down the same old paths and we attempt to live by worldly standards then why would we expect to get anything different from what has already been seen and experienced.

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

It is not much of a surprise to us that people have envy and selfish ambition, we have all been there, but when we confess our sins to God he is faithful to cleanse us of our sin of selfish desire and only looking out for ourselves. But there must be another way…

We therefore can submit ourselves to wisdom that is from God, not out of fear or because we have been forced into by some MMA maneuver, instead it is because we know that it comes from our Heavenly Father who loves us. I don’t want you to believe that this will be easy, this call to submission will be a continual struggle. We will constantly fall back into the old ways, our sinful flesh will be at war with the Holy Spirit who dwells in us…this will be a struggle. Know this…In God is forgiveness and in the Spirit we have the power to overcome. We don’t struggle alone, thanks be to God.

When have you failed to submit to God’s authority and found emptiness in the ways of the world? How can you daily submit yourself to God and his wisdom?

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Who Do We Please With Our Words?

Words hold great power.

Whether we are speaking the words or hearing them, words have the power to build us up or tear us down.

Words can express love. And they can express hate.

Words can comfort. And they can hurt.

Words can please God. Or they can please the enemy.

Encouraging words build us up and set us on a positive path. God speaks encouraging words of love and comfort.

Hurtful words tear us down and stay with us for a long time, longer than we probably realize. The devil speaks hurtful words of hate and hostility.

Our words either please God. Or they please the enemy.

Words can be apologized for. But they can’t be unsaid again. It takes only moments for the damage to be done, but can take a lifetime to recover from.

Encouraging words express value, respect, and worth to another. They take only moments to say, and can stay with us for a lifetime.

Our words either please God. Or they please the enemy.

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking;
the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words. 
Proverbs 15:28 NLT

When you think of the words you speak, who would be pleased?

In Christ,
Laura

This post, in its entirety, is running both here and at Laura Rath ~ Journey in Faith.

Faith Speaks

the-power-of-words-copy

There are certain words that are used in the english language that elicit a strong response. Depending on the time of year or what is happening in the world, certain words will escalate an already tense situation.

When you read these words how do you feel?

Abortion          Religion       Mohammad         Holocaust      Love

Homosexuality        Jesus         Buddha      Marriage         Hate

War         Peace          Dictator        Nazi     Church        Judgmental

Some words may be positive for you and negative to others. Each of these words, and many others, will generate a feeling or thought. I don’t think we are always aware of how our words will affect someone else.

Recently I was doing a private baptism. In the middle of the service I was sharing some Scripture about the little children being brought to Jesus. As I shared this passage with the family, the mother began crying and tears were flowing down her cheeks. I had never witnessed anyone ever weep because of that passage. I was a little thrown off by the way she was crying, but I assumed it was because it was a special day and God was claiming her son in the waters of baptism. Everything else went just as planned and the ceremony was over. I left the family in the sanctuary to take pictures and spend time together. I came back in when the family looked like they picking up and getting ready to leave. They were thanking me and very appreciative of my time and the ceremony. The mother asked me about the faith chest that we give to each child baptized at Gloria Dei. I told her a little bit of history on them and talked about the guys who build them. She asked if there was a way she could buy another chest, because she had a child who died at three months old. She said that’s why I was crying up there when you were sharing the scripture passage, it was the one they had at the funeral service. When she heard the scripture it took her back to the pain, sadness and sorrow of losing a child, but it was mixed with the joy of seeing another child baptized as the same passage was being read.

We never know the effect our words will have either positive or negative. As we have been studying the epistle of James, we find that this week James has some words for us to hear. Look at this small chunk…

“With the tongue (our words) we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” James 3:9-12

James believes it is a complete contradiction for the negative and hurtful speech to come out of the mouth that praises God. Why would a Christian have speech that is filled with hate, scorn or vile when the Spirit of the Lord is upon us? It doesn’t make sense, until you realize me live in a fallen world, where even the people of God fall short.

Once again we are called to awareness. We need to be aware that our words can have a positive and negative reaction. James calls Christians to speech and words that are consistent with our faith. Christians should be known for their positive, encouraging and life-giving words and not our words that tear down and defeat others.

Let us use our words in a positive way today to speak a word that someone needs to hear, because we never know what one little word could do brighten a day.

 

How can we become better at encouraging instead of tearing each other down? Who can you speak a positive word to today that could really need it?

Be a blessing today!

Faith Risks

risk

The game of Risk by Parker Bros is a really great game to play, unless you have delusions of grandeur, if so you might want to stay away. If you don’t know, the main objective of Risk is world domination or occupying all the territories on the board by eliminating the rest of the players. Whenever world domination comes into play you know the game will be serious. What I found after playing this game many times, is that some people are not willing to take risks to win. Instead of being on the attack they constantly fortify their defense until an opponent comes to battle for their territory and a strong defense is good but can’t hold up forever. I have never found it to be a good strategy to sit back and defend instead of taking some risks and being the victor.

Risk is what we re talking about this week in the Epistle of James. At the very end of chapter two James mentions a familiar Old Testament character as he talks about risk. Rahab is the prostitute that is mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus. Rahab risked her own life and wellbeing to hide the Israelite spies. Instead of sending them off in a different direction, she provided them lodging so that they could scope out the land and people who God was giving to them.

I think it is easy for us to look back at Rahab and believe that what she did was probably easy or not that big of a deal. But put yourself in her shoes for a moment. Rahab is a citizen of the city. There are rumblings in the city that the Israelites are coming to take them out just as they have done with Jericho. People are on edge and hoping no one will penetrate their walls and take them out. Someone has spotted spies in their walls. There is an all out search for them; men, women, children and soldiers. Rahab comes across the spies and has a decision to make, will she turn in the spies and have them killed, or will she hide them and pray they have pity on her later. Rahab has very little knowledge of the God of the Israelites, but she risks her home, family and life to hide these spies under the pile of flax. When the soldiers come knocking on her door she must show no fear or trembling at all because they will be able to see it. If the spies make any noise at all they could be caught. As it turns out, the soldiers come and go without spotting the spies, Rahab has been successful, the risk has worked so far, hopefully the spies keep their word and remember her. This sounds like a scene from a movie, doesn’t it? Tension, drama and suspense surround the whole story. All this happens because Rahab responds to a God she barely knows to help people she has never met.

Is there Risk in your Faith?

I think we more often than not try to find the safe route in all that we do. Safety is important because we don’t want to see anyone get hurt or harmed. The truth is that the safe route is not always the right route. God’s people throughout history have stood up risking life and limb to accomplish God’s mission. Rahab is just one example in the line of millions. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor in Germany, stood up in the face of the evils of the Nazi regime and refused to budge. He was thrown into a concentration camp and later died there. It was a risk that led to his death, but a risk that has stood the test of time and served as an encouragement for other Christians suffering for their faith.

That is a big example of risk but there are everyday examples of people stepping out in faith even when it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. It’s the young man who is willing to go downtown and talk and engage with people who are not like him. It’s the woman who uses her cooking and nutrition knowledge to feed the homeless camps in her city. It’s the married couple that had money problems in the past, but is now ready to put some money into building a center for struggling youth. It’s the thousands of others right in your own city that are putting their faith into action. Everyday people are stepping out of their comfort and safety to pursue the places and people God is calling them to. All of this based on faith from God, who empowers us and stands by our side through risk and comfort.

Faith takes risks. So where is God calling you to risk?

An Epistle of Straw

Wheat field against a blue sky

At Gloria Dei we are setting out on a nine week journey through the book of James. Martin Luther in his 1522 Preface to the New Testament calls the book of James, an “Epistle of Straw,” this could be troubling. I believe that in this book God gives us one of the most practical pictures of the Christian faith in the entire Bible. This letter, that is written to a scattered and persecuted church, lifts our lives above the superficial formalities and helps us to set our sights on active and authentic faith that should make a difference in the world around us.

So why does Luther call James an epistle of straw?

To clarify, this quote only appears in Luther’s original 1522 Preface to the New Testament. After 1522, all the editions of Luther’s Bible dropped the “epistle of straw” comment, along with the entire paragraph that placed value judgments on particular biblical books. It was Luther himself who edited these comments out. For anyone to continue to cite Luther’s “epistle of straw” comment against him is to do him an injustice. Instead we should try to understand what his issue might have been with the book so that we do not misrepresent his statement.

Martin Luther took a strong stance during the reformation in the foundational Sola’s; Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, and Christ Alone! When someone attempted to add anything to these Sola’s, Luther became very unpleasant and wasn’t afraid to write about it. There was a tendency in that day for works (good deeds) to play a higher role in salvation. It was perceived to be a Jesus + Works approach to faith and life. Jesus was good and did an amazing job, but his work only went so far, we (sinful humans) had to go the rest of the way with our good works to complete the job of salvation. For Luther this was simply an incorrect way of viewing the work that God does all on his own.

Luther’s opponents started to use portions of James to justify their perversion of God’s Word.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” 2:14

“You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” 2:24

These can be some very troubling passages for Christians that have never read James or believe these are contradictory towards other parts of scripture. Luther didn’t want to cause people to stumble back into a works based theology of salvation. He himself was freed from that slavery and didn’t want to return to it. If someone were to encounter James as their first time in the Word, it could cause them to stumble and lose sight of the Gospel message. Luther was fighting a battle that he viewed as essential to the Christian faith.

There have been critics of Luther that have called him anti-law because of his stance on James. He was not at all anti-law (quite the opposite, he believed it was good and holy) but believed the Gospel should be untouched and untainted. It kind of reminds me of Paul in Galatians:

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Galatians 1:8-9

The Gospel is all about what God has done for us. When we attempt to add anything to it we are attempting to put ourselves into the mix, like God can’t really do it alone, he needs me. God does not need us and our “good deeds.” The Prophet Isaiah says that our good deeds are like filthy rags. The purpose of our good works is to serve our neighbors, not to put us into a better position with God.

So…

Righteousness (God’s work of making you right) and Sanctification (Good Works done with the power of the Holy Spirit) should always be kept together but never blended. Luther believed that the book of James was full of good sayings and could be used to edify the believer. Because a life lived in faith will always produce works. Or better said, because God saves us apart from our good works and gives to us something we don’t deserve, from our lives flow the good works that God has created for us, right where we stand.

So let us not be afraid of James or of Luther’s criticism of the book. Instead, we should embrace the epistle and let God use it to speak to our hearts as we put our Faith into Action.

Where do you struggle the most, “Jesus saved me, now I don’t have to do anything” or “I am a good person, so Jesus will save me?” How can you overcome falling to the extremes of this issue?

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…” Hebrews 10:24

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