Wednesday, February 27, 2013

James Study - Session 2

This session began with a video which can be viewed by clicking this link:

 http://www.sermonspice.com/product/29943/thoughts-on-prejudice




In contrast to this parady – James has this to say:

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.





James is talking about a wide range of sins –

The video calls it prejudice.

He calls it partiality. 

We can call it discrimination.

Racism.

Being a snob.

            If I go somewhere and wear a suit and tie, I find that I can get waited on in a store a little quicker than if I wear baggy jeans and an old worn out shirt – with the exception of Lowes or Home Depot where the customers are always dressed like they are in the middle of a project.

            On the other hand, in my last church I could never wear a suit.  Ever.  We worked with so many tourists, vacationers, and homeless people that a suit became an impediment to ministry with them.  The first funeral I did in my last church was for a homeless man who had fallen asleep on the beach one night.  He had probably been drunk, because when the tide came in, he drowned.  This sadly happened all too often.  When I showed up for the funeral at the church, I asked the volunteers who worked with the homeless in our programs about what I should wear – I had a suit and tie on.  They asked me to change into blue jeans and a shirt with a church logo. 

            In my mind, wearing a suit was an act of respect.  In the minds of the homeless who came to the funeral, my wearing a suit would have been an act of disrespect, because they would think I was saying, “I’m better than you.”

            In God’s eyes, none of us are better than anyone else.  We are all equal in the eyes of God.

           In fact, that recalls a phrase that is deeply ingrained in American culture. 




Where do these words come from?

The Declaration of Independence.  They also show up in the Gettysburg Address, when Lincoln said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”

And they appeared a few decades ago when Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave his great “I Have A Dream Speech.” 

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'”

The idea of this equality goes back to the Bible.  There were slaves in the Bible.  There were people who were rich and poor.  Visibly, the world of the Bible was always a scene of inequality.  

But underlying that was the call of God to love all people equally.  To treat all people with respect.
 




“God does not show favoritism.”  Romans 2:11


 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality
 Deuteronomy 10:16-17


(God) shows no partiality to princes
and does not favor the rich over the poor… Job 34:19



As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance. Galatians 2:6


James 2:1
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism.








So how do we show favoritism?
You are an employer.  One of your part time people needs to have surgery, and even though the personnel handbook says part time people do not receive sick leave, you grant paid sick leave to this person.  Is that favoritism?  The law would say yes.  Why give it to one part time person and not another?  Because one person is single and other is married?  Because one has been there longer than the other?  Because one is better dressed than the other? 

There is a Youtube video that shows one of the great violinists of our age playing in a Washington DC subway station.  Joshua Bell plays as hundreds of people pass him by.  A few will toss in a coin or two.  ONE person stops and enjoys the concert – free concert.  She recognized him because a few weeks earlier she had paid $250 for a ticket to sit in a concert hall and listen to him play.  Now she is 10 feet away enjoying a free concert.  Everyone else walks by because they see a man dressed like a bum, playing a violin in a subway station.

No one wins when we show favoritism.

How many have seen the movie, “Pursuit of Happyness?”    In it a homeless man, who is a single father of a young boy, struggles to get a job.  He begs for a job interview day after day, and finally gets it – and this is what happens when he gets the interview – AND what happens at the end of the movie.

CLICK TO SEE CLIP
 


Contrast this clip to another scene in the movies.  In the film "Catch Me If You Can," a father dresses his teenage son in a suit and has him drive his car to the bank.  He instructs his son to open the car for him and to stand at the car until he returns.  His son asks why he's doing this, and the father says he is going into the bank to get a loan, and that appearing to have money will help him get money.  The son doesn't understand.  The father asks his son, "Do you know why the New York Yankees always win?"

The son suggests, "Because they have Mickey Mantle?"

"No son, it's the pinstripes.  The other team can't see anything but those pinstripes."

When we fall into the sin of prejudice or favoritism, we not only hurt the other person, but hurt ourselves by depriving ourselves of good workers (as could have been the case in Pursuit of Happyness), or we fall victim to scams as in the case of the loan officer in Catch Me If You Can.

James keeps going and he shifts gears a bit.






This is where we move into the faith without works is dead issue.  This is what many people struggle with in James because we are saved by grace, not by works, but James is insistent that we work.










That seems in contrast with other Scripture.


Romans 3:28

A person is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.





But let’s take a look at how this appears from the point of view of the non-Christian.  People who are outside of the church are looking at us, and they know all about this business that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and they are not impressed by us – because we have faith – but not works.

I want to show you a video – I had to edit it because it is a very offensive video.  And it is by someone that I find personally offensive.  But occasionally, this non Christian who speaks frequently with hatred toward Christians gets it right.

video







James would love what this guy is saying – because I think James is telling us the same thing.  We either love our neighbor and DO the word, or we don’t.  We are either followers or fans.  There is a difference.

The Bible agrees!




Romans 3:28

A person is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.


Romans 2:6

God will give to each person according to what he has done. 


1 John 3:10
This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.


Matthew 7:21-22

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.


Titus 1:16
They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

This session closed with a video which can be viewed by clicking this link: 


http://www.sermonspice.com/product/1412/faith-without-works







Wednesday, February 20, 2013

James Study - Session 1

(To view the opening video, click the play icon - or arrow at the bottom left)

video

This is the first in a series of studies on the Epistle of James.  The first question to ask about James is this....







Is James in the Canon?
This is a question that has often been asked in history.  Is James in the Canon?
To answer that, you have to know what we are talking about when we say the word “Canon.”  It is not the type of camera I have, nor is it a military weapon.    It is more related to a tape measure than it is to those other things.
SLIDE 3

The word “canon” comes from the Greek noun KANON meaning reed or cane.  But it was also a word that referred to a rule, like a tape measure.  The NT Greek word is, in fact, from the OT Hebrew word Kanah, which is often a word referring to a standard of measurement.
 


Why am I talking Greek?  And Hebrew and about tape measures?  Because the word Canon today refers to the Table of Contents of a specific book – the Bible.

The Bible is not really a book, but a collection of books – and letters and songs and poetry.  What is included in the Bible and what is not included – that is important because everything that is in the Bible is what we consider to be ‘the word of God.’ And as such, it is Scripture.  Scripture is, as the Bible says about itself, is profitable for “teaching, rebuking, correcting”  (II Timothy 3:16)

How did this official Table of Contents of the Bible, or the Canon, come about?

It was a process.  To over simplify things, the process took place between 400 BC and AD 200  starting first with the Torah, then the Prophets, and eventually the rest of the OT.  



Though the Early Church people accepted and used the OT, but the Apostles did not leave a defined set of NT Scriptures, because these books and letters were still developing.  By the end of the 1st Century AD, the Pauline epistles were being copied and circulated.  In the early 2nd Century the Gospels were being circulated.  They were considered to have equal authority with the OT.


The “Muratorian Canon” is the oldest list of New Testament Scripture, originating around AD 170.  James and Hebrews are missing from this list.

 


Origen (185-254), was one of the earliest Christian theologians.  He was the first to make an intentional effort to formulate the New Testament Canon.  His canon is very different from what was eventually accepted.  He omitted James.
 


 
Eusebius (263-339) also compiled a canon for the New Testament, again James was omitted.

 
The African Synod of Hippo, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today.  That decision was repeated by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. James makes the cut!

 
 

Now what was the problem with James – why did some early church fathers feel this was not Scripture?
First, there is the issue of how are we justified or saved?  By works or be grace.  If you have read James you will pick up on the fact that James is heavy on the importance of works.

A second reason why James gives some people trouble is that there is no passion, as in the death of Christ.  No resurrection.  Christ is only mentioned twice. 

A third problem comes long after the canon was set.  The leader of the reformation, Martin Luther rejected it outright.  He called it an “epistle of straw.”

So why study James?

It is Scripture.  Like it or not.

And it does have value in that it gives an important balance to the theology of salvation and justification, as we will see.



So let’s take a look at James.

Read… James 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

First thing we learn about James is that it was written by James, but…
*
James who?









James is a common name today.  It was a common name back in the days of the New Testament Church.

Here are just a few possibilities:

1. James the Son of Zebedee, brother of John. Early Disciples of Jesus (But he was martyred in AD 44 – too early to have written the Epistle)
2. James Son of Mary at the tomb.
3. James Son of Alphaeus, A Tax Collector? This is not a very prominent figure in the early church, and we don’t know much about him.
4. James Son or Brother of Judas/Jude: A connection to Jude?
5. James, the brother of Jesus: Leader of the church in Jerusalem
6. Someone else writing as James





Most scholars believe that the author was James the brother of Jesus.

There are some interesting passages about James in Scripture, but not many, and he is not always called by name, as in the case of the Gospel…

John 7:3-5
Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.


There is another passage from Scripture…
Acts 1:9-14
After Jesus said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.   They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."  Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day's walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.


James was just there sometimes, and not even being named.  However, James quickly becomes the first leader of the post-Resurrection Church.  

It is to James that Peter sends the news of his escape from prison (Acts 12:17)

James presides over the Council of Jerusalem, which agreed to the entry of Gentiles into the Christian Church (Acts 15)

It is James and Peter whom Paul met when he first went to Jerusalem, and it was with Peter, James and John, the pillars of the Church, that Paul discussed and settled his work (Galatians 1:19, 2:9)

It is to James that Paul comes with his collection from the Gentile Churches on the visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18-25)

So we get the impression that James was a non-believer in John’s Gospel – or at least a skeptic, to a church leader in Acts.  What brought about the change?  Early Christian leader, Jerome, quotes the non-canonical Gospel according to the Hebrews thus:

 “'Now the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James, for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he had drunk the Lord’s cup until he should see him risen from the dead.' And a little further on the Lord says, ‘bring a table and bread.’ And immediately it is added, 'He took bread and blessed and broke and gave it to James the Just and said to him, "My brother, eat your bread, for the Son of Man is risen from the dead."’”
            
    What else do we know about James?

May have been a high priest among the Jews.


Prayed so diligently that his knees were as worn and rough as “camel’s knees.”

He was executed by the High Priest of the Sanhedrin by stoning (according to Josephus).

Eusebius says he was first thrown from the top of the Temple, and when that didn’t kill him, James began to pray for his enemies, and was then stoned to death.

Now one of the criticisms of the Epistle of James is that there is not enough of Jesus in the book.  Christ is mentioned only twice.  However James reads like a man who knows the Bible like the back of his hand.  He quotes Scripture, without quoting it.

Let me show you what I mean:
 













 So let’s look at James, starting with verse 1 chapter 1.

In James chapter one, we learn how to make our faith grow.  Everyone wants their faith to grow – but the way James suggests, it is not so pleasant.



My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.







James 1:2

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…




This is very much like what Paul taught in Romans:


Romans 5:3-5

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance , character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

What kind of sufferings did Paul go through?
2 Corinthians 11:23-29
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.


James 1:2-4
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James gives us some great advice on how to deal with suffering.

                Step one is natural – even if you are not a person of faith, the first response in a time of trial and trouble is to say, “Oh my God….”  Which in some circumstances is taking the Lord’s name in vain, but for those of us in the faith, it is prayer. 

                This is what James says:
 




If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8 for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.





                What does James suggest we pray for?  

                Wisdom – not escape from the trial, but wisdom.

                When you are in trouble – doesn’t matter if it is cancer, job loss, financial problem, raising a difficult child – what you need is wisdom.


                One also needs to realize that all of our problems are unique, and God provides you with what you specifically need for the facing of these days:



Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.




God gives to each person what he or she needs.  The poor learns self-respect and value.  The rich learns humility and is reminded not to put one’s hope in wealth.

Now, let’s read a little more in James, and YOU tell me, what do you see in these verses in terms of help for those who go through tough times?

 

12 Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. 13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; 15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved.




What do you see here that might help someone who goes through trials?

  1. Promise of a good ending – “he or she will receive the crown of life”
  2. Don’t think it is God who is at fault – don’t blame God. 

The next verse we look at has a clear cut piece of advice for those who are going through difficult times:





19 You must understand this, my beloved let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.




Ephesians 4:26-28
26 "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.

The next verse is also a clear cut bit of advice – 

We are people of faith, and sometimes we leave our faith behind when we enter difficult times – we need to take these lessons learned on Sunday or Wednesday and carry them into Monday and Thursday.


 
 

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.




One final bit of advice –


26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
 



How many of us in times of trial lose control of what we say?  We become angry and we vent our anger on our family, or friends, or others.




So – how do we handle difficult times?


At the beginning of this study session, we showed a video with a music theme - "Blessed is the name..."  Let's listen to the same song, but see different images - images that resonate with James.
(Click the play icon - or arrow at the bottom left)

video