James Chapter 3 Reflections

Oh man – James is on a roll now!
He leaves chapter two “faith without works is dead” and continues on by talking about the power of speech.
“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” (3:6)

James uses all sorts of images to remind us of the power of our words to do good or evil in the world:
Bits in the mouths of horses to direct the entire animal
Small rudder can steer a large boat
Forest fires start with only a spark

James is not shying away from making sure we understand how important it is to pay attention to what we say.
This fits so well with what James is saying about faith and works: we can SAY we believe, but unless we act it out in the world, it means nothing.
Likewise, we can’t say we love God and then speak poorly about others.
It’s just not possible.
“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” (3:11)
James doesn’t leave room for misinterpretation.
Your words say as much about your faith as your actions.
So speak wisely, speak kindly, and speak with love.

James ends this 3rd chapter with a lovely reminder of how to tell if things are from heaven or not… it’s a recipe of sorts:
“wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere.” (3:17)

Want to know if what you’re saying or hearing is from heaven? Put your words or the words of others to the test – are they first pure? Peace-loving? Considerate? Full of mercy and good fruit? Are they then impartial and sincere?
I think we would take a lot less words to heart, we’d believe a lot less of what we hear, and we’d probably speak a lot less if we held speech to this standard.

Try it this week.  And let me know what happens.


Why You Should Have (or begin) a Yoga Practice

For my entire life I’ve struggled with exercise.
Going to the gym, swimming, running, ultimate frisbee, even completing a half marathon.
I did it all.
But I never loved it.
I exercised to be healthy, or to eat ice cream, but never because I couldn’t NOT exercise.

So it comes as quiet a shock to me that lately, I’ve been getting up before the sun, at 5:30am, to continue my daily yoga practice.
And it’s amazing.
Look at that.  Sheesh.
I never thought I’d appreciate the slow lighting of the sky but man, it’s amazing.

Almost exactly two years ago, I began a daily practice.
I can honestly say I have never been in better shape and never have I felt better, and I know it is all a result of my daily practice.
It hasn’t been easy, and obviously I’ve missed some days due to illness or travel, but in these two years I have learned a few things.  So here are the reasons why you too should have (or start!) a yoga practice.

1.  It’s not just a fad
I know, I know.  Yoga pants are everywhere.  And it really can SEEM like everyone            is doing yoga lately.  But yoga has been a physical and spiritual practice for                        centuries.  It’s not new, and for those who legitimately practice, it’s not going                      anywhere.  Know that it’s been around this long for a reason, and it’s not the                      clothes (though they are a bonus).

2. It’s so much more than exercise.
Yes, yoga will increase your strength, flexibility and balance.  I’ve literally never                    been as strong as I am now, even more than the times in my life I weight trained at            the gym. I can bend and twist my body and do poses I always assumed were                      beyond my reach.  Yes, yoga is amazing exercise. But yoga isn’t just about that                  stuff.  It’s also about awareness.  This one thing has changed me more than the                  strength and flexibility and balance that yoga brings.  Those other things are                        awesome don’t get me wrong – but learning to listen to my body, to become aware              of how I feel and why I feel that way has been astounding.  I eat better, not                          because I HAVE TO or because I’m on some crazy new diet, but because I know                what things make me feel good and what things don’t when I eat them.  I am aware            of how I feel before I get on the mat and how I feel afterwards.  It is this awareness            that keeps me coming back to my mat. Morning after morning.  Day after day.                   Yoga just makes me feel good.  Really good.  Why wouldn’t I want that all the time?

3. Breath
In yoga we learn that if you can control your breath, you can control anything.  You            can do anything with breath.  I love this.  Not only is it empowering but the breathing          steadily with movement of yoga has all sorts of positive impacts on your health –                physical and mental.  Stress goes down, happiness goes up.  I always feel so                    awesome after a long or especially focused practice.  And that feeling leaves the                mat when I do.  My connection to the breath and feeling like I can do anything as                long as I keep breathing – that stays with me into all the areas of my life.
On top of that, for me, breath is equated with spirit.  The Greek word we use to talk            about the Holy Spirit, “pneuma”, literally means breath.  Yoga is holy for me because          it physically connects me to the Spirit in a way I don’t often experience elsewhere.

So that’s it.
Those are (a few of) my reasons why I think yoga is great.  And why I think more people should do it.
I mean really – What if everyone were a little stronger, a little more flexible, and a little more peaceful as they went throughout their day?
What if everyone felt good more often?
What if people had a daily reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit?
Maybe we’d feel more like this…
Want to try and don’t know how?
Start here.  She’s my fave.
Not annoying. Not complicated or fancy.
Try her “Yoga for Complete Beginners”, “30 Days of Yoga” (if you want to jump into daily for a month), or go through any of her Foundations of Yoga vids to get details on poses.
You can do it.

Thoughts on James 2

Into James 2 we go!

I preached on this text this past Sunday – so I feel like I’ve done this already.
If you missed it – go back and check out the podcast or scroll back one post on this blog for the transcript.

James 2 is moving the call to action from general to particular.
And really, James is reminding us that we cannot just say we believe things.
We have to actually do something.
James brings up this issue of someone walking into worship dressed really nicely and being given much care and attention, and then someone else walks in all dirty and they are told to go sit over in the corner.
James calls this favoritism.
And it does not fly.
You cannot show favoritism AND believe in Jesus, James says. (2:1)
What good is that “belief” if it doesn’t help anyone?
What good is that “belief” if it doesn’t act?
James is being none to subtle here – Your belief is NO GOOD without actions to back it up.
Faith without works, James says, is dead. (2:17)

I preached a bit on this part on Sunday – but I want to be clear here too – works here are works on behalf of the neighbor, not works that you do to get right with God.
James knows this.
But he’s not so sure everyone else does.
See, people were hearing that they were “saved by faith” and they began to think they no longer had to act.  They were saved!  Yipee!
But James knew that the people who would be most affected by this false belief were the poor – those who relied on the actions of others to survive.
He is reminding the early church, and US, that our faith saves us, but our faith cannot and is not true or real without actions on behalf of the poor and needy.
It is how we act that shows our faith.
Not because God needs our works to earn our salvation – but because our neighbor needs them to live.
I love the end of the 2nd chapter when James even pulls out Abraham as the example of this.  Yes, he says, yes, we laud Abraham as the greatest most faithful man, but he acted his faith out by placing his son on the altar. (2:21)
He says it was the action, not the words of Abraham that made his faith great. (2:24)

My thoughts on James Chapter 2?  One of my favorite chapters in the Bible.
You cannot have inactive faith.  It doesn’t exist.
It’s dead.
Faith is, by definition – alive and active.


Sermon, September 6, 2015

Title: Particular Love
Scripture: Psalm 146, James 2:1-4, 8-9, 14-17

Listen to this sermon here

We are in our second week of the book of James, and though I had always planned on preaching on Chapter 2 today, it is pretty wonderful that Chad set me up so nicely with his preaching on chapter 1 last week.  If you weren’t here or haven’t yet listened to his sermon, I really encourage you to go and listen to the podcast of his thorough history of James and why it is such a significant book in the New Testament.  

One of the main points of last week’s text from James was that we cannot simply be hearers and thinkers and talkers but that we have to be do-ers.  
And as Chad said in his sermon last week, at it’s core – James is a book of action.
And that call to action continues this week as well.
Last week was a sort of general call to “do” instead of just “hear” or “say”.
This week James moves from that general call to a particular one.

James begins chapter 2 with a question – “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in Jesus?”  Another, more literal, way to translate this is: you cannot have real faith and show favoritism.  James is asking, how can you say you believe in Jesus Christ, but treat people this way?

This one question tells us a lot about the community to whom James is writing.

We ended last week with this verse: “worship that God accepts as faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

James says: see, when you aren’t looking out for the orphans and widows, when you aren’t caring for the least of these, then you judge them.
He moves from vague charge to care to the least to a specific example of how this favoritism is happening in worship. When you gather, you give attention and honor to someone dressed really finely, and you ignore the poor person in dirty clothes.

You might think that’s horrible and you would NEVER do that – but how many of you, totally honestly, looked at me this morning when you first saw me and thought some version of “she’s wearing THAT?!”

How many of you have ever pretended not to see someone begging, or looked at someone on the side of the road thought “I’d give them money, but they are just going to spend it on booze”
How many of you have ever thought, someone else will do it.
Someone else will stand up for those people,
someone else will give to that cause,
someone else someone else… ??

As much as we don’t want to admit it – James is talking to US here as well.
Professor and New Testament Scholar Craig Koester said: “Christians in North America may not think of social class as a problem, yet it is worth asking how comfortable the people in our congregations are when encountering people who visibly belong to a different social class. Networks of friendships often run along the lines created by income levels, education, and, professional status. Perhaps we do not say to a poorly dressed person, “Stand there,” or “Sit at my feet” (2:3), but we may well leave them standing by saying nothing at all.”

We look around and categorize people by they way they look and act and then we judge them worthy of our care and notice or not.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad here this morning, but I am trying to get us to be honest about this…
The early church was erasing lines between people left and right, and the members of these congregations sometimes forgot that in the church there is no rich or poor, they might walk outside of the gathering for worship and see male and female and rich and poor and slave and free, but in the new community of Christ these things didn’t matter.

And because of this new way, how we treat the least of these matters, because they are the same as we are.  Children of God.

As Chad talked about last week, James is one of the pillars of the early church – one of the eye-witnesses to the risen Christ, listed alongside Paul and Peter. He was a big deal.

James is writing this letter to the early church, and he has some important words to say as they tried to find their way in this new way of Christ.  These early churches had been hearing from Paul as well as James, and they had heard Paul’s words on being justified by faith.  

James was writing this letter because he is worried about a misapplication of this theology – that we will be ok as long as we just believe.  I can do anything I want as long as I believe.

James concern is that this incorrect interpretation of Paul will have an adverse affect on the poor.  

In the last section of today’s text, James says “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but you do not have works?”

I’m going to go out on a limb here, but it is Martin Luther’s incorrect interpretation of this verse that caused him to dislike James so much.  Works here in James isn’t the same thing as what Luther meant when he said “works.”
Yet Luther was right. And so is James.
Stay with me.
Luther (and also Paul) were talking about works righteousness.: the things you do to earn your salvation. And Luther and Paul were clear that there is nothing you can do to work yourself into a better standing with God.

Here me say this clearly this morning – there is nothing you can do to earn the love of God.
And here’s the thing – it’s already been given.
God’s love and grace and forgiveness and salvation have already been given to you. That’s it.
Full stop.

So the rest of James starts with that truth.
James brings us the FOR WHAT that Chad talked about last week.
We have been saved.
We have been called and claimed and named children of God.

So now what?

James doesn’t mince words as he answers this question – “If a brother or sister is naked daily food, and one of you says to them – Go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill, and yet you do not supply their needs, what is the good of that?  So faith by itself, faith that has no works, is dead.”

James’s version of works is works on behalf of the neighbor.

Paul believed in this kind of works too – in his letter to the Ephesians he says that we are “God’s handiwork, created to do good works.”  

This is not works righteousness.
This has absolutely nothing to do with our own salvation.
But it is life and death for those we are called to help.

We can’t go up to someone begging on the side of the road and say “God loves you” or even “We love you” and walk away.
We can’t tell someone that we’ll pray for them and not do anything to meet their immediate physical needs as well.
We cannot be followers of Christ, cannot be people who have already received the love of Christ acted out on our behalf, without being ambassadors of that love to others.

Faith has to be embodied.
Faith has to be acted out.
Otherwise, it’s meaningless.
It’s dead.

James is called a book of action because we are called to be people that act.
Luther himself is famously quoted as saying that “God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does.”

We aren’t called to act on behalf of ourselves, but on behalf of our neighbor.
James is calling the early church, and in turn – us – to action.
Not because we need it for ourselves but because without our action in the world, the poor and needy will be worse off – and that is not what the Kingdom of God is about.

Today – James calls us to ask a new question.
“What is the good news for my NEIGHBOR?”

See, we know the good news for ourselves.
New life has been given.
We are beloved children of God.
We will come around the table and hear it again in a few minutes in the words “For you.”
We’ve heard the good news.
We know what it looks like for us.

Now it’s time to ask ourselves – now what?
What does good news mean for our neighbor?
What does good news look like for the guy you see holding a sign at that intersection every day?
What does good news look like for the person who is sitting by themselves at lunch?
What does good news look like for kid who just came out to his parents?
What does good news look like for the single mom working two jobs?
What does good news look like for the homeless kid couch-surfing again tonight?
What does good news look like for the Syrian refugees looking for food and shelter?

What does Good News look like?

Today we have the answer, Prince of Peace.
The good news looks like you.   


End of worship closing/Benediction:


“If not us then who
If not now than when
It’s time for us to do something.”

Teddy Roosevelt famously said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

We are called to be people who “Do.”
We heard and tasted the good news today – now it’s time for us to go out and be that good news for everyone else.

So do we go and do in peace, to love and serve the Lord

Thoughts on James 1

So as my last blog post stated – I’m reading through James this month – one chapter a week. It’s nice to spend some time digging deeper, and allowing the challenges of James to have time to be worked out.
Since James is a book of action, it seems right to give each call to action some time so I can actually DO it.

Read James 1 here, before reading my commentary below.

A little history for you:
James is commonly held to have been penned by James the brother of Jesus.  James is named one of the pillars of the early church by Paul (in Galatians 2:9), which is an honor only given to James, Peter and John.
Basically – James is kind of a big deal.

Unlike Paul, James isn’t writing to a specific church community, but instead to the “twelve tribes” (as he says in 1:1).  This could literally mean the people of Israel, or a more general “the church” meaning all Jewish and Gentile believers around in the time James was writing.

The first chapter of James is kind of ridiculous.
Not ha-ha ridiculous, but oh-my-gosh-how-can-he-pack-so-many-things-into-such-a-short-space ridiculous.
I mean seriously James.

So while there is a lot I could go with in this first chapter, I’m going to stick with three parts:
1. Joy and Endurance
2. Quick to listen, slow to speak
3. Do-ers

So first – Joy and Endurance. Verse 2 and 3 of chapter one start us off by saying that we should consider it “pure joy” when we face painful things.  Because those things help us develop endurance, which is necessary for maturity of faith.
Um, what?
Does this mean I should be glad when my life is painful?
Why would you ever say such a thing James?

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for joy in all circumstances, but going through pain does not mean we have to enjoy it.
But, James does make a good point about our faith being tested.  How will we know what we’re made of if we never get challenged?
I see this as training for a marathon or other athletic event but then never actually doing it.  How will we know if our training holds up?  How will we know how strong we really are?
I think James is just trying to say that when we go through difficult circumstances it changes our faith.
Does that mean we can’t have faith unless we have gone through pain or trials?  No.  Faith isn’t contingent on being tested.
This simply means that faith that has been put through fire is different than faith that hasn’t.
The churchy term for this is “refiners fire.”  It’s when gold and silver are placed into a fire and heated up.  They were gold and silver beforehand, but when they are removed from the fire, they are different – more precious even.
James is asking us, right off the bat, to look at the things in our lives that challenge us as ways to grow and mature in our faith.

Quick to listen – slow to speak.  (chapter 1, verse 19)
Oh man.
James, you are KILLING ME here.
This is, for me, the most challenging verse in the entire first chapter.
I like to speak.
I like to be right.
I like to fix things.
I like to put those all together.
And that doesn’t always make for the best combination.
What might be different about our society if we all took the time to be quick to listen and slow to speak?
This is where the first big challenge of James comes this week. I’m going to try to put this one into action and I encourage you to do it with me.
Next time you disagree with someone (which is likely going to happen in about three point two seconds on facebook or twitter), think about how you can be quick to listen.  What if your outrage and anger over someone else’s point of view came slowly?  What might that look like?

Verse 22 says to not just listen to the word, but “Do what it says.”  James is making a big statement here, and asking people to not just SAY they believe in God, to not just SAY they follow Jesus, but to go out and act as if that were true.
My colleague Chad preached a GREAT sermon on this very thing last week (which I’ll continue this Sunday, if you’re in town) and you can check it out here.
We are called to be do-ers of the word.
Challenge #2 this week is to ask yourself what you think that might look like for you?

Lastly – if you are looking for memory verses from Chapter 1, I’d go with these:
1:19 and 1:27

Work on your challenges – and let me know what you think…

Chapter 2 next week!

Project 12:30 August to September

Creation month is finished – and even though it was a new month today, I watched an absolutely STUNNING sunrise this morning and feel like I might not be able to give them up.  Which means a lot less sleeping in for me, but still, I don’t know if I can go back.


I mean, seriously.

It’s September 1st, which means a new month in Project 12:30, and this one is Bible.
I do have a daily devotional practice, and there are Bible verses in that daily devotional, so this month I want to add something to my existing practice.
I don’t often give myself a chance to really go deep into scripture unless I’m preaching or doing something for my job.
I’d like to change that, so here goes:
There are five weeks (at least partial) in September, and 5 chapters in the book of James.
Each week, I’m going to read a chapter and post on it.
Read with me, and let’s dig into this book together!
First post will be tomorrow!  Read James 1 today/tonight if you want to join me!