Friday, May 29, 2009

James Lesson 4: Live the Law of Freedom

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

The Epistle of James: A Blogged Bible Study
May 1: Study intro

May 8: James 1:1 Intro to the Epistle of James

May 15: James 1:2 – 18 Make Quality Decisions

May 22: James 1:19-27 Make Real Changes

May 29: James 2:1-13 Live the Law of Freedom

Last week, I noted that James indicates that we're to continually look at and adjust our lives to the 'perfect law that gives freedom' (1:25). Today, we get a little closer look at what he's referring to.

I. Examples of Error: James 2: 1-9
James is still discussing ‘listening and obeying vs. hearing and forgetting’, so this lesson begins with illustrations of some errors in behavior that result from 'forgetting'.
The first error he mentions is judging someone’s personal worth by his/her appearance. The illustration is a church service, in which someone who looks wealthy and important is greeted warmly and honored, while someone who obviously is not wealthy is more or less dismissed.
I'll freely admit it's fighting our nature to resist judging other folks by their appearances. Some time ago, I had to spend some time in a hospital waiting room before some tests and there were a number of people in the room representing a wide variety of dress and mannerisms. And, despite my better knowledge, I found myself making judgments about what kind of people these folks were based on their dress and manner of speaking and how they interacted with their companions. It was almost as if my spiritual self was watching my natural self react in the very thing which James states is having 'discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts.' (v.4)

Now, I was in a corner with a book waiting my turn and so I didn't have any opportunity to interact with any of them, but I could see how easy it would be to treat the folks differently based on how they presented themselves, which is the second error James notes: giving preferential treatment to the one you deem more valuable.

Why do we do this? I really think it's because our desire is to gain favor with the rich and powerful in order that they might ‘return the favor’ to us in some fashion. This is a subtle action of actually trusting man over God; it's basically idolatry.

James indicates that this is crazy: poor people have a greater reliance on and faith in God, while the rich people tend to be the ones who exploit those beneath them and make a mockery of God.

But, if we heed and obey the ‘Royal Law’ to love each other, we will not fall into this error. James quotes Leviticus 19:18, 'Love your neighbor as yourself', which Jesus also quoted in Matthew 22:35 - 40:
Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' this is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." This is the 'perfect law that gives freedom' James refers to...the law of love, because if we truly act with love towards God and towards others, the rest of the law falls into place.

Treating some better than others is wrong: it violates the royal Law of love. It is sin.

II. Essence of Sin – James 2: 10 - 11

So, James continues, if you break one law, you are guilty of breaking the whole Law. We tend to think of the Law as being a set of small laws, like a set of china, and so believe that if one is broken the rest are ok. And if it's a minor piece...say, a salt cellar...then the value of the set really isn't harmed *that* much. But the truth is, The Law is a integrated unit, like a chain, and if one matter which broken the whole thing is broken. The example he gives is murder vs. adultery, but he could have selected any example...lying vs. stealing, etc. The truth is, any time I assert my will over God's will I have broken God's law. I've sinned.

III. Essence of Obedience – James 2: 12 - 13

But, James points out, we are to be living under the Law that gives freedom, the Law of Love that frees us from bondage to the written laws. The perfect law of love is not based on a list of dos and don'ts, it's based on the heart attitude of love.
It's God's mercy operating in our lives that will defeat the natural tendency to judge.

Things to think about: In what ways do I allow the old nature and its self-centered judgment to express itself? How can I bring that part of me under submission to the Law of Love...the mercy of God?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jubilee Monday # 38: Divine Wrecking Ball Requested

I need a healing.

While looking through Facebook albums last night of orphans in Moldova, new grandbabies and other significant events in the lives of my friends, I happened upon a photo of a happy event that totally shocked me by triggering a response that I wasn't expecting.

People would never celebrate with me like that.

It wasn't was grief. And I was blindsided by it.

No, it wasn't grief over a lost loved one or anything so understandable and quantifiable as best as I can describe it, it was grief that I am me and not someone else.

Schoolground rejection, multiplied by small odd hurts in random events, capped off by a still-raw wound from three years ago when I threw a party to which no one came, suddenly dumped back on me. I looked hard at it...was I angry at the people involved? Did I need to forgive?

I don't think I was. I looked hard at myself and I found that in my core, I believe I am a flawed person, and so rather chalked those things up to a legitimate reaction to an inferior, annoying person instead of an offense. I also found that I now keep an emotional distance from people, that has been increasing over the years, I think as a guard against being vulnerable to more hurt. I have to acknowledge that I can't have wonderful friendships if I don't let people in past a certain point. I've looked with amazement at other people who can arrive at a place and glide into meaningful reciprocal relationships with others with seemingly no effort. I don't know how they do that.

They perceive doors as open...I perceive all doors as shut.

But...I've been doing it unconsciously for so long that I don't know how to NOT do that. I can't just do away with it by an act of will.

This is a thing that God must heal.

Because, you know, He may not call me to walk in the footsteps of a 'popular' person. Doors that others walk through may not be doors I'm meant to use.

I've thought of The Seventy...disciples that Jesus had who followed him, but were not part of the Twelve. They were chosen for their task...but their assignment did not include being as close to Jesus as others. How did they handle that? What determined who was included in the Twelve, and who was relegated to the Seventy? Maybe in my spirit I am too selfish to make the sacrifices necessary to be close to others? I'm avoiding the responsibility of close friendships?

I don't know. All I know at this point is that there are walls in my spirit and I've got to throw myself on God's mercy to break them.

Jubilee is a good time for wall breaking.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Reminder

Our Senior Pastors have taken a team to Moldova, visiting orphanages and halfway houses that are supported by Philip Cameron. They have been posting photos daily on Facebook.

So, I did my little weekly sewing blog post about what I made and wore in choir this morning and then went to FB and looked at their photos.

It's all I can do not to go back and delete my whole sewing blog as being frivolous and shallow.

That's why I started Beer Lahai I would have a place to talk about something deeper than clothes/sewing. I'd been getting a little...I don't know, discouraged isn't a good word but I can't think of a better one...with it lately, as it seems that I'm really not talking to a lot of people here.

Today I was reminded of why I blog here.

So that I can say those photos of those kids in the orphanages...the girls in the houses who now have somewhere to go besides into prostitution...wrecked me. They are grateful for so little; I whine and complain with so much.

I'm ashamed of myself. I can say that here.

Thanks for listening. ;-)

Friday, May 22, 2009

James Lesson 3: Make Real Changes

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

The Epistle of James: A Blogged Bible Study
May 1: Study intro

May 8: James 1:1 Intro to the Epistle of James

May 15: James 1:2 – 18 Make Quality Decisions

May 22: James 1:19-27 Make Real Changes

Ouch again. One thing I've learned from the Jubilee Posts (on the sidebar, if you're new here) is that it's pretty easy to identify changes that need to take place but it's really not so easy to make those changes. Today's lesson is for me. I've *got* to get with the implementation.

James identifies three steps in the change-making process, beginning with listening (Jams 1:19-20). Now, there are a number of sources that the 'listening' could be applied to...Bible reading, teachers, parents, friends...but ultimately what each of us should be listening to is the Holy Spirit, who can speak through all those voices.

There are three things that hinder listening:
Lack of interest
Planning your own response
Having an emotional (especially angry) response

This specifically applies to hearing God’s message – that’s what James is speaking of here. (Reference James 1:18)
His instructions are specific –
be quick to listen (be interested);
be slow to speak (don’t be forming a response while you should be listening)
don’t get angry with what is being said, then tune the rest out

A number of years ago, I taught Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God study to high school students. One young lady in the class took exception to Blackaby's use of the word 'invites' in the point 'God invites us to join Him in His work'. She was insistent that God doesn't 'invite', He 'commands' and we either obey or disobey. She was so offended at that concept that she dropped out of the study and got nothing from it. Offense and anger stopped her from listening.

If you get angry and defensive about what the message reveals in you, you will not allow God to deal with those issues. Now, it's true that we need to test all things and hold only to that which is good, but when an angry or offended response arises we need to be very careful to make sure that it's not just a reaction from the flesh to avoid conviction.

But, James 1:21-23 tells us that listening well is just the beginning...the message must be accepted. Accepting the message doesn’t just mean agreeing; it means putting it to work, as it says in the tail end of verse 22, 'Do what it says.'

Circle ‘accept’ in vs. 21 and ‘merely listen’ in verse 22. Note that this is the contrast -- ‘accept’ vs. ‘merely listen.’ James says that if you consider yourself okay just because you listen to the message, you are fooling yourself.

When The Actor was about 7 years old, he was learning the basics for the Royal Rangers. One of the verses he had to learn was The Golden Rule, and one day I walked by the kitchen table where he was having a snack and repeating, "Do to others what you would have them do to you. Do to others what you would have them do to you..."

I stopped and looked at him. "That's great! Do you know what it means?" He looked up at me kind of blankly, so I continued, "Do you know what it means to do to other people as you would like them to do to you?"

He sighed, "Mom, I don't have to do it, I just have to say it!"

Well, that was the start of a longer conversation, let me tell you! However, there are a surprising number of folks who seem to agree with that sentiment...the idea that as long as someone is 'in church', they're doing ok.

James says you deceive yourself if you think all you have to do is hear. Like looking into a mirror and seeing broccoli in your teeth, then turning away and forgetting about it.

Listening without putting what one hears into practice is useless.

We are to keep looking at the ‘perfect law that gives freedom’ -- the instructions for living that God has given us -- and consistently making adjustments to life to stay in harmony with that law. Then everything we do will be in obedience to God, so He has to bless it!

James then gives an example of folks who think they're 'religious', but who don't keep a tight rein on what they say (He'll talk more about that in chapter three).

An 'uncontrolled tongue' is characterized by cursing, lying, gossip, bad-mouthing, catty speech, off-color humor, even just ‘saying what you think’ without regard to whether or not it hurts someone. Now, one doesn't have to have all those traits to be uncontrolled...even one is a result of uncontrolled speech.

He contrasts that with religion that God considers pure and spotless: one that takes care of widows and orphans and resists the influence of the ungodly.

Things to think about: How have I 'not listened' to the voice of the Spirit? Why have I closed my ears -- was it because I wasn't interested, too busy thinking of how to respond, or because it made me angry so I avoided it?

What am I hearing from God but not implementing in my life? How can I begin to put those things to work?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Friends Last Week: Integrity Lesson 5

Thought I'd post about the object lesson...

I scanned a tape measure, then cropped the scan down to 6" so I had a little 6" ruler.

Then I played with it...shrank it, stretched it, printing out each iteration on card stock.

I then put the girls in teams, with a list of things to measure, and gave each team one of the little rulers. My teaching buddies used the original tape measure to record the actual measurements of things like the height of the table, the width of the door, the length of a dry erase marker...stuff like that.

When they were finished, there was, as you'd expect, a wide range of measurements for each one of the items...and none of them matched the tape measurement.

Then I handed them the tape measure and had them check their little ruler against it. They were astonished that, even though they *looked* right, those standards were corrupted.

Our standard is, of course, the Bible. Point being that we cannot allow popular opinions about God and faith determine what we believe...we have to go back to the original standard.

It was a cool lesson. ;)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Jubilee Monday #37 Lovin' Spontaneity

I'm a sanguine...I live in spontaneous.

But somehow it's gotten kinda buried under the gotta-get-dones.

So tonight, even though I had some chicken I could've cooked up, My Sweet Baboo and I took a night out. The Princess was in charge of dinner (I think she warmed up leftovers?), and we grabbed one of the giftcards we had courtesy of our Disc*ver Cash back bonus and had dinner at Outback.

Y'know, we couldn't even remember the last time we went out for dinner, just the two of us.

I'd say it was long past due.

If I could have one Jubilee wish, it would be for a long weekend off, just the two of us, someplace peaceful.

But I'll take dinner out...whenever we can manage...

Friday, May 15, 2009

James Lesson 2: Make Quality Decisions

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

The Epistle of James
May 1: Study intro

May 8: James 1:1 Intro to the Epistle of James

May 15: James 1:2 – 18 Make Quality Decisions

In C.S. Lewis’s book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the characters encounter a dilemma in which they must decide whether, having sailed to the easternmost island in their world, they will turn the ship around and head for home or continue on to the unknown utter east in order to leave at least one of their company at that point, then return to the island to break an enchantment over four former lords of Narnia. They have been a long time at sea, and most of the crew initially grumbles at the thought of journeying still farther before turning for home. Reepicheep the Talking Mouse, who has often quoted a prophecy that he should see the utter east and whose penchant for honor and adventure knows no bounds, is uncharacteristically silent during the debate. Finally, Lucy asks Reepicheep if he will not speak.

“No. Why should your Majesty expect it?” answered Reepicheep in a voice that most people heard. “My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise and Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”

Reepicheep understood the implications of making a quality decision.

Definition of a quality decision: a decision that changes some aspect of one’s life and is only made once. It is setting one’s face toward a goal and not giving up, even if the goal is not reached.

Now, this doesn’t mean there won’t be difficulties or that temptations to quit won’t present themselves. Actually, a decision that is not challenged in some way is really not a necessary decision at all. A quality decision is the thing that must be walked out when everything in you and around you appears to agree that you should quit. In the course of walking out a quality decision, you may:

-- slip and fall
-- get knocked backwards
-- get disgusted and sit down and throw a fit about how hard and how unfair the road is... nobody told you it would be like that!
-- even wander slightly off the path.

BUT, you NEVER give up, turn around and go back to where you came from. Eventually, you shake it off, get up, correct your course, and keep going...always heading toward the goal, even if you never quite make it.

James properly places early in his letter an exhortation to make a quality decision to trust God, no matter what happens. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1: 6-8)

James is describing the kind of people Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13): those that hear the word and get excited about it but don’t let it change their lives, so they fall away from believing when trials come (the ‘rocky soil’ folks). There are three aspects of this decision to trust God no matter what that James looks at in particular.

1. Decide to rejoice when tested-- James 1:2-4
Everyone has troubles. James instructs us to be joyful in our troubles because we know that, by enduring them with the right attitude, we will grow and mature in the faith. He gives us a progression:

Testing -- Produces --> Endurance –-Produces-- > Maturity

From this progression, you can see that Maturity does not come until one has learned Endurance...and Endurance cannot be learned unless there is something to endure – a Test. We tend to think that if God really loved us, we would not have to suffer anything. But, the truth is God does not want to leave us as babies but for all of us to come into the maturity of Christ. That can’t happen without tests (otherwise known as trouble). So, James says, rejoice in your trouble: it’s your opportunity to grow.

2. Decide to believe God will give you what you need – James 1:5-8
The first thing we need to develop under trials is wisdom. But, it's not a thing we struggle to develop; God will give that when we ask Him. But, no matter what you ask God for, if you don’t really believe He will give it to you, He can’t give it to you. Hence the necessary quality decision to trust God no matter what. We must have Wisdom in order to make decisions in life, but if you don’t really believe God will give you wisdom you’ll be stuck in perpetual indecision.

My oldest daughter was in the local drama magnet program when she was in high school, and her sophomore year the students were asked to make a video for the Army Corps of Engineers regarding unexploded ordnance in former military installations that were being converted to civilian recreational use (BTW, this video is still being shown around the country, so far as I know, to those who are going to be spending time on former military facilities). The location where the video was filmed covered pastures and wooded hillsides and involved shots of people doing what folks do on recreational property...hunting, camping, hiking, picnicking, etc. In one scene, a number of the teens were playing Frisbee in a mowed meadow, running through above-ankle grass and stubble. After the scene was filmed, one of the kids discovered he’d lost his dad’s car keys somewhere in the field. He reported it to the producers/directors, and they picked about half a dozen people for the next scene, to be filmed in the woods, and instructed the rest of us to look for his car keys. Oh, and we were to be quiet while we were doing it since they were, of course, filming just over the hill. The kids spread out, helter-skelter across the field, resisting any efforts for a systematic search. The grass from the last mowing was still lying over the stubble and new growth; I didn’t think we had any chance at all of finding one set of keys in the field. Nonetheless, I began walking in a straight line, eyes on the ground, praying as I went that we would find them. Straight line...straight line.... When I’d gone about 40 yards, I suddenly, for no real reason, turned to my right, took about three steps and was looking at the keys lying right at my feet. Now, I basically had to trust that God would guide us (I didn’t expect to be the one to find them, but I knew no one would without His help). If my conscious mind had tried to logically find the keys, I would’ve constantly been trying to remember where he’d gone and where the keys were likely to be, changing directions and definitely not going straight to them. I felt like I’d just seen a miracle, but the rest were just happy the keys were found. Now, I didn’t feel any kind of goose bumps or hear any whispered instructions, I was just trusting that God would guide us to the keys and sort of let my feet go where they wanted. No common sense to it – but the keys were found. I really think that that’s how God works most of the time; it’s not an obvious voice speaking, but just that gut inclination to go a certain way. Once you ask God for wisdom, you’ve got to believe He’s given it to you, even if it doesn’t come with carpet time and visions.

We need Wisdom to know differences between Trials (difficulty or waiting that must be endured), Temptation (opportunity to sin – see below), and Consequences (natural results of actions taken/not taken)

3. Decide to trust God, not wealth – James 1:9-11
This is hard for Americans because we are so materially blessed; we put our security in what we can see and touch and hold and count; but the truth is that what we can see and touch and hold and count is all temporary stuff and is less real than God who upholds us when we don’t see him or touch him. When God humbles the rich, all he does is shake down the fragile riches to reveal what was solid all along – God’s love for the individual.

4. Decide to recognize the difference between temptation and God’s testing – James 1:12 – 18
God will bless you if you don’t give up! Quality decision! But – when temptation comes, don’t blame God. James shows us another progression:

Lust—conceives and births --> Sin – matures into --> Death

I heard this definition years ago in a message from a Promise Keepers stadium event, but I can't remember who the speaker was. But it's good.

Temptation: The opportunity to achieve a legitimate goal through illegitimate means (usually a ‘shortcut’). Original Greek (epithumias) implies conception of a living creature (Note: Here, ‘desire’ actually is lust – consuming, obsessive desire, not a honest desire for blessings of life. This is a reference to the ‘Desires of the flesh’ – see Gal. 5:16, not the ‘desires of the heart’ – see Ps. 37:4)

Consuming desire mated with opportunity to fulfill that desire in an illegitimate fashion results in sin; which always leads to death.

A quality decision will deal with desire and refuse to answer the door when the opportunity to take a shortcut to fulfill that desire knocks.

Things to think about: In what areas of my life am I feeding the desires of the flesh instead of the desires of the spirit? How am I trying to second-guess the wisdom that God is freely given me so that I can feed the flesh instead of the spirit? How would making a quality decision to pursue Him...regardless...impact my daily living?

Ouch. I said I needed to revisit this book...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jubilee Monday #36

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

I have exactly two months left in the Jubilee year, and I'm wondering how much of the needed change that I have identified in the past ten months will really get implemented in the remaining time.

Over and over in the past few weeks, I've been encountering the concept that I've got to move up to a new level in many ways.

Today, that was sort of confirmed by a word one of the associate pastors gave the staff in a meeting (have I said yet how amazed I am that I have a job in my church? And what an incredible place it is to serve? I'm just speaking for myself, but I got *taught* in the two most recent staff The word was something God spoke to him, but it caused sympathetic vibrations in my spirit too.

You will not get away with what you have gotten away with in the past.

Lack of focus and self-discipline; frittering away precious time; being selfish in my choices. It's gotta go.

Procrastinating away that time with Him...that's gotta stop.

I've gotten away with some rather sloppy stuff; but I think The Time Has Come for it to change.

Not at once. Babysteps. But it's gotta start now.

Friday, May 8, 2009

James: Lesson 1 - James and His Audience

Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Here we go! All scripture references are taken from the New International Version. (I hope...the original study was written for the CEV; I *think* I got everything edited!)

The Epistle of James
May 1: Study intro

May 8: James 1:1 Intro to the Epistle of James

I) Who Wrote the Epistle of James?

So, who was “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” anyway? I know for years I just sort of assumed that he was John’s brother, the son of Zebedee, the third member of Jesus’ ‘ inner circle’. Then, studying the book of Acts for the umpteenth time, it finally hit me as I read chapter 12 that John’s brother could not have been the James that wrote the Epistle; he had been killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). Yet Peter, miraculously released from prison later in that same chapter, instructed the amazed believers who had been praying for him to ‘tell James…about this,” before he left them (Acts 12:17). Obviously, James was a leader in the church even at that time.

It is the Apostle Paul who gives us a clue as to the identity of this brother. In Galatians 1:18-19, Paul writes of his first trip to Jerusalem after his conversion, when the believers were understandably wary of his intentions. Paul spent fifteen days with Peter and states that, “I saw none of the other apostles -- only James, the Lord’s brother.” (Italics mine). In the next chapter, Paul writes of a return trip to Jerusalem fourteen years later for a consultation with the other church leaders (recorded in Acts 15). Speaking of that meeting in Galatians 2:9, Paul refers to James, Peter and John as “those reputed to be pillars.” The book of James was written by the same James who stood up before that gathering of early church leaders and declared, “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19) and was most likely the same James who is listed in Matthew 13:55 as a brother of Jesus. Since the Hebrew convention was to list the oldest first, James was also most likely the second son of the family – Jesus would’ve been James’ only older brother.

Wow! Jesus’ own younger brother! Can you imagine growing up with Jesus as your big brother? His parents didn’t just think He was perfect...He was perfect! What kind of impact would that have on James? Believe it or not, we can kind of trace the development of James’ faith through the New Testament and see how he became the ‘servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ’.

The first time we meet James is indirectly early in Jesus’ ministry. In Mark chapter 3:21 and 31-35, he is implied to be with his mother, Mary, and several younger brothers. They had heard reports of Jesus appointing ‘apostles’ and being so overwhelmed by seekers that he didn’t have time to eat. Misunderstanding what Jesus’ ministry really was about, they decided he was “out of his mind” and went to “take charge of him.” When they got to the house where Jesus was teaching, there were so many people that they could only send in a message to Jesus that they were there. But Jesus refused them, saying that, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother,” and they apparently were turned away, without Jesus.

At this point in his life, James was a skeptic...probably an offended skeptic! He didn’t understand who Jesus really was or what He was really trying to do. James was still trying to deal with Him as if He were a regular person with dreams of grandeur. James may even have been somewhat embarrassed by the fuss his big brother was creating in the region. That Jesus could really have an impact on his life beyond that was probably incomprehensible to him.

But, sooner or later, James came around to the idea that Jesus might do him some good after all. Jesus became the new darling of the crowd, the hottest topic for discussion and gossip. People were saying nice things about Him, calling Him 'Rabbi,'which was an honor for any Jewish family. There are indications that James and his brothers began to think it might be kind of cool to have a prophet and a miracle worker in the family, because the next time we hear from them is John 7:4–5, when they are all encouraging Jesus to head for the big time in Jerusalem. They tell Him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that you disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” However, John adds, “Even his own brothers did not believe in him.”

They didn’t have to really believe Him to benefit from His popularity, though. It appears that James and his brothers had become opportunists looking for personal benefits from Jesus’ ministry, hoping a little of His fame and glory might come their way. They seem to have had expectations of returns from their ‘encouraging’ remarks to their older brother.

However, as it happens so many times, the humanly desired outcome is not what unfolded. Jesus did not go to Jerusalem to become the great leader of the country, or even the great healer and prophet who had been so long gone from Israel...he was tried as a criminal and publicly executed in the most humiliating and shameful fashion. No longer the wonder boy of the crowd, He became an acute embarrassment to James and his siblings. James' attitude is revealed in Scripture at the his rather conspicuous absence. With the death of Jesus, James would become the leader in the family. Yet he is nowhere to be found at the cross, and Jesus gives his mother into the care of John (John 19:25-27). Shamed and disillusioned, James and his brothers apparently have even abandoned family duty to avoid association with their now scandalous older brother. Jesus did not do what they expected, and they distanced themselves from Him.

But the most unexpected event was yet to come. Jesus did not stay dead. None of the Gospels record this, Acts does not mention it, and James himself doesn’t hint at it. But Paul, in citing eyewitness evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, states in 1 Corinthians 15:7 that Jesus appeared to James after His resurrection. In other words, James had a personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus and it completely changed his life. From that point, Jesus wasn’t his big brother...Jesus was his Lord. Acts 1:14 records that Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers were constantly in prayer with the eleven apostles and the women. James was no doubt present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit filled every believer with power.

It appears that James remained in Jerusalem from that point on, and, as was mentioned earlier, became one of the key leaders in the church there. But he remained humble (wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus said to him when He visited after his resurrection!), because in James 1:1, he finally refers to himself, not as ‘The brother of our Lord’ or as ‘an apostle to the Jews’ but merely as ‘a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Church tradition holds that James finally was killed because he refused to recant his belief in Jesus as the Messiah. The generally accepted story is that he was thrown from the top of the wall around Jerusalem, but suffered only broken legs. When he was found to be still alive, some of the crowd began to stone him while others protested, until one man ran up and struck James, who was praying for his tormentors, in the head with a brick and killed him.

In actuality, the life and death of James is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for the resurrection and deity of Jesus. Of all people who would have had opportunity to know if Jesus was a fake or a crazy man, it would have been James. Obviously, he was ultimately convinced that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, because he was willing to die rather than to save his life by denying it. Contrast the behavior of James at the Crucifixion with the behavior of James at the end of his life. What could have so utterly convinced James, the disillusioned, disinterested, faithless brother of Jesus that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah other than absolute evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be?

But there is one more point to be gleaned from this glance at the life of James. Note the progression: First, he was a skeptic; then he became an opportunist who was then disillusioned. However, a personal encounter with the risen Lord changed his life, and he became a part of the body of believers, finally seeing himself as a servant of God and our Lord Jesus. That is the progression of James’ life...and everyone reading these words is also somewhere on that progression.

Maybe you’ve always thought people who believed Jesus was God were just a little crazy or following fairy tales. Consider the evidence of James that shows that those who were closest to him were willing to stake everything on their conviction that Jesus was God. Not only did James stand firm, not one of those men ever recanted his belief. They all chose to endure excruciating pain, torture and death rather than deny what they professed as truth. That’s pretty powerful evidence that they were absolutely convinced, by irrefutable life experience, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

Or perhaps you’re in this Christian thing because you believe it will be good for you, that God will solve your problems and give you what you want. Perhaps you think that’s what ‘God is Love’ means. Or maybe you’ve made a decision to act like a Christian, because it will benefit you in some way...give you favor and influence with someone; give you the image you desire in your community. Well, like James and his brothers, you are setting yourself up for a fall. An opportunist now is always disillusioned later.

So, are you disillusioned? Did God ‘let you down’ somehow? Do something you didn’t want? Allow something painful? Or did other people who call themselves Christians treat you badly? Have you made a decision to abandon Christianity, or at least the outward practice of it? Disillusionment is dangerous; James was disillusioned and he basically hid. Judas was disillusioned and he hung himself. The only solution to realizing that things aren’t the way you want them to be is an acknowledgment of the way God really is. This is the personal encounter with the Lord; the moment of Salvation when Jesus meets you where you are and you turn your life over to Him. This is a life-changing encounter, and you cannot go any farther on the progression unless you have done this. To honestly serve Jesus, you must know Him. Identifying with other believers comes after meeting Jesus yourself.

Then, as you grow in Him, you finally reach the place where you realize it really is all about Him. Even misunderstanding and mistreatment by other people who also claim to follow Jesus will not shake your identity with Him. Then you can truly call yourself a servant of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II - To Whom was the Epistle of James written?

James states that he is writing to “The twelve tribes, scattered among the nations.” What we tend to forget now is that when James was writing, most believers (they did not call themselves ‘Christians’) were Jews. In fact, what we call Christianity was considered to be a sect of Judaism, not a separate religion at all. James, ministering to Jewish believers, was writing to Jews scattered all over the known world who believed Jesus was the Messiah. These folks were oppressed by the Roman government and by traditional Jewish leaders, suffering with regard to civil liberties as well as religious expression.

However, even though James’ primary audience was Jewish believers, his message was not exclusively for Jewish believers. He wrote of the necessity of living consistently with one’s faith. He covers the practical aspects of daily living the life of one who believes Jesus is the Messiah. He discusses topics ranging from such things as suffering to gossip to favoritism, emphasizing that true faith will express itself in right actions...not, as some have claimed, that right actions make true faith. This is a message that is applicable to believers of all backgrounds, and one we will explore as we journey through James.

Things to think about:
Where on the progression of faith (skeptic-opportunist-disillusioned-personal encounter with Christ-Servant of Jesus) do you believe you are?

What do you feel you need to do in order to move toward the goal of this progression – to consider yourself a servant of Jesus Christ?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Let's Pray

posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and President Obama signed a proclamation to that effect.

There are those who believe that such an observance violates the establishment of religion clause; there are others who were disappointed that the President simply signed the proclamation and went on with his business.

As for me, I spent the noon hour at a multi-congregation prayer meeting, praying corporately for the country, for our leaders, from the local to the national levels; praying for our teachers and our children; praying for our military; praying for other countries around the globe.

Did I feel obligated to pray because Congress and our President said to? No. I felt encouraged to pray. And I was encouraged by participating.

Last week I was handed a printout of a proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln regarding a national day of prayer and fasting. You can find the text Here.

It's a call to prayer. Voluntary. Attendance/participation is not required. It's a recognition that we have the right to freely exercise the religious activities of faith.

It saddens me that that offends people.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Jubilee Monday #35: Self-Analysis.

Confession: I've forgotten how to discipline myself. I'm not sure how it happened...maybe it's from working under a deadline that consumed all resources so many different times...stuff got behind and then, when the deadline passed, I didn't have the energy to put into getting things caught up. In the relief of 'making it', all the focus I'd used to meet the deadline just kind of dissipated for a while. When I'd caught my breath enough to refocus, another deadline loomed and the whole process began again. So things got more behind.

I know, I know. Flylady's emails have been arriving with regularity in my inbox. And, since the first of March, when the job and the costuming both hit at once, I started deleting them unread. I didn't have time to read them, and I couldn't do what they said.

Now, it's time to pay the fiddler. I have out of town company arriving Saturday and...well, it's CHAOS.

I have a plan to at least make things question to myself is, do I have enough self-discipline to stick to the plan?

Answer: probably not. I know myself very well.

That's why I need God's grace. I don't have the self-determination...but He does.

So, I'm relying on Him this week. And I *will* find a way to implement those routines! Eventually....

Friday, May 1, 2009

Time for a New Study

Several years ago, I taught one of the Bible study classes for the local Christian Women's Job Corps site. It was a 10 week program and I taught the book of James...sort of taking it a half a chapter a week. It was also the first study I did in a home Bible study I taught for three years through a program at church.

To be honest, I felt like I was probably too familiar with it to do the study again here; I wanted something to be fresh.

But in the last couple of weeks, phrases from that study have come back to me...usually along the lines of 'are you really doing this?' and I feel like it's time to revisit James. I'll use the same syllabus and basic outlines that I've used before, but, well, we'll see how it pans out as I get to it.

So...we'll start next week! Here's the syllabus:

The Epistle of James

May 8: James 1:1 Intro to the Epistle of James

May 15: James 1:2 – 18 Make Quality Decisions

May 22: James 1:19 – 27 Make Real Changes

May 29: James 2:1-13 Live the Law of Freedom

June 5: James 2:14 – 26 Demonstrate Real Faith

June 12: James 3:1-12 Discipline Your Tongue

June 19: James 3:13-18 Exercise True Wisdom

June 26: James 4:1-10 Check Your Sources

July 3: James 4:11- 5:6 Lose Selfish Desires

July 10: James 5:7 – 20 Apply The Principles of Patience

Wow...that runs right up to my birthday and the next regularly scheduled blogging break! Um, I'll leave the syllabus like that for the moment, since we have no idea when or if we'll be doing any travel this summer. If we end up doing a vacation in June, I'll just adjust the syllabus as necessary.

It's a good study...I'm looking forward to getting into it again!