Monday, November 21, 2011

James 1 – the pure joy of trials, and my second favorite verse

I love James. Written (probably) by the brother of Jesus to Jews scattered throughout the world, it “sounds” like Jesus. You can almost hear the Sermon on the Mount. This is no accident. The Lord’s brother was preserving the flavor of His earthly teachings. I am just guessing here, but I wonder if some early believers considered James the inheritor of the ministry, the logical viceroy of the departed King. Theirs was a family-based culture, after all. Martin Luther disliked this letter, calling it “the epistle of straw” because he thought it over-emphasized works, not faith. I disagree on both the particular objection and the general characterization. James is just dripping with both holiness and mercy, whether the subject is God the Father or distressed orphans.  

James gets right in my face. “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds,” because trials + perseverance = maturity. Stop whining and let God use your circumstances to make you the man you are meant to be!

Hmmm….my trials…..well, a guy my age and family status can typically expect some of the following: loneliness, aging, money trouble, children in difficulty, and health problems. In my case loneliness has prompted me to make many new Christian single friends, with blessings all around, and to see myself as a unique, distinct member of the Holy Bride, loving Him and the other unique, distinct members according to the grace and gifts given to me. That’s rewarding and exciting. Aging – an increased realization that I’m not getting any younger has prompted me to take better care of my temple. That too has been a blessing. Financial trouble – well….not so much, thank God. Compared to the rest of the world I’m a One Percenter, with an embarrassing overabundance of shelter, clothing and food, not to mention transportation, toys, books and spatulas. I have a good job I enjoy. My family has been provided for. Could I grouse about others having more than me and worry about the future? Sure…..but instead I think I will just “take pride in my high position” as a Prince of the King and an Inheritor of Heaven. Satan, you chump, I wouldn’t trade all of the kingdoms of the world for the high position you tried and failed to prevent. Children? All three healthy and saved. Health problems? Nothing much and if something Big does come, I’ve seen firsthand that His grace is sufficient.

Vs. 13 – 18: God does not tempt with evil, instead he gives good gifts. In fact He is the only one who does. The wise man can tell the difference, and if he can’t, he should ask God for help. Sin gives birth to death, but the word of truth gives birth to life.

Vs. 19: my second favorite verse in the Bible, I think: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” How many times have my kids hear me declare that one, sometimes with voice raised above the fray? As a natural “high talker” I haven't always obeyed it, but I’ve been blessed just about every time I have consciously done so. That's good because "man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Holy anger demands justice for another, but carnal anger just wants its own way. Holy anger: get out of God's way. Carnal anger: get out of my way. James goes so far as to say that anyone who can’t keep a tight rein on his tongue has a worthless faith.

My favorite verse, by the way? From Psalm 119, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

During December and January, JCC readers of David Platt’s “Radical” will be challenged to clarify what God has taught them and how they will apply it. This process is intentional and goal-oriented, like the behavior of the godly man in 22-25: “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.”

The mercy and holiness I mentioned above? Vs. 27: “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.” Favorite verse of Jon Svitavsky, founder of the Burlington Emergency Shelter.

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