Saturday, December 31, 2016


James 4:4 (ESV)

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.



James writes, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” But, how does James define friendship with the world in this text? I have a feeling that our definition of Friendship with the World is different from James’ definition. Ask the next three believers you meet how they would define Friendship with the World. It might be interesting to hear their answers. My guess is that you will hear something like, “Too much time watching TV,” or “Having unbelievers as your close friends,” or “hanging out in bars,” or something along those lines. But James’ definition is very different.



James defines Friendship with the World in three ways. First, being a friend of the world means defining self by my passions and letting that drive my thoughts and actions. You quarrel, he says, because “your passions are a war within you” (Jas 4:1). It is common in our world to challenge people to pursue their passions. But the first question we must ask is whether that passion is from God. It is common in our world to define oneself by one’s passions. If someone has same-sex attractions they are then defined by that. They are called gay, or bi-sexual, or a variety of other terms that have been developed to clarify individual passions. If someone has a passion for hunting, we call them a hunter. If someone has a passion for motorcycles, they are called a biker. Their passion defines them, but passion should never define who we are. Christ defines the believer. When we allow our passions to define us and drive our thinking, we are being a friend of the world. When we allow Christ to define us it changes everything.



Second, James defines Friendship with the World as pride. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he challenges believers in James 4:10. Pride is Friendship with the World. Humility comes from friendship with the Lord. Jesus challenged his disciples to take the lesser seat at a banquet. If someone wants to move you to the head of the table, they can do that, but don’t choose it yourself. Our world tells us to “Look out for Number 1.” Our world tells us that if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else will. Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Friendship with the World looks out for Number 1.



Third, James defines Friendship with the World as presuming upon tomorrow. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” (Jas 4:13). This is connected to pride. He goes on to warn of those who “boast in their arrogance” (Jas 4:16). In this case, however, their pride isn’t directed toward others in looking out for Number 1. It is pride that exalts us to the level of God. Only God knows what tomorrow holds. Only God can make plans and know that they will be carried out. Only God is sovereign. When we make our plans, and expect them to be carried out, or when we make our plans, and get upset when they are not carried out, we have placed ourselves arrogantly and presumptuously in the place of God. Friendship with the World is assuming that I can predict or control the future. It is presuming upon tomorrow.



Did any of those definitions show up when you asked people to define Friendship with the World? My guess is, that’s not what people think when they hear that phrase, but it is clearly what James had in mind. Friendship with the World is allowing our passions to define us and drive us. Friendship with the World is pride that places Self first. Friendship with the World is arrogance that presumes upon tomorrow. James warns, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” Perhaps Joshua’s words are appropriate then, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15). That’s not a bad thought to end the year on.

Friday, December 30, 2016

James 3:2, 8 (ESV)
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

When we read these verses about bridling the tongue in James 3:3-7 our response is almost always to try harder to control what we say. We try to monitor our speech a little better. We try to say nicer things. We try to stop ourselves before we say something we shouldn’t. James 3:3 says, “If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well.” We read that and assume that James is saying that if we just control what we say, then we can control all that we do. We can please God. But that misses the whole point. We are trying to do the very thing that verse 8 says is impossible. “No human being can tame the tongue.

So, what then? Are we just supposed to give up and say whatever comes to mind? That is hardly what James is saying. His whole point is that the problem is not really a problem of the tongue. It is a problem of the heart. Notice the verses that follow:
James 3:14-18 (ESV)
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Sin is never simply a problem of obedience. It is always a problem of the heart. Chapter 4 will go on to ask the question, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). When you read these two chapters together you realize that wrong speech is a result of wrong attitudes, and wrong attitudes are the result of wrong values. We desire something we do not have, or something we think we do not have. That overflows into words and actions that do not reflect Christ. Sin is never a problem of obedience or disobedience. It is always a problem of the heart.

So, what do you value today? You will find yourself chasing after that which you truly value, not what you say you value. Your speech will betray you. When it does, the answer is not to double down and try harder. The answer is to do a heart check. The good news is not that God will like us better if we fix our faults. The Good News is that God loves us anyway. Let him search the depths of your heart, and let him change what you value. We chase after what we love. “Father, I confess that too often what I love is me.” I don’t know who wrote the words, but this chorus is my prayer today:

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God
May I be like You

You are the potter
I am the clay
Mold me and make me
This is what I pray

Change my heart oh God
Make it ever true
Change my heart oh God

May I be like You

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

James 3:8 (ESV)
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

This statement stands between two bookend statements. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:13 asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” Our speech is often the first clue to what is in our hearts and minds. Humility is needed.

No one is perfect, yet how often people seek after the significance of being a teacher, or spewing what we consider wisdom. True wisdom starts with humility. True wisdom understands the responsibility and accountability that comes with being an influence in the lives of others. True wisdom understands the dangers of the tongue and guards one’s heart.

It is amazing what damage one little thing spoken without thinking can do. By contrast, Proverbs 12:18 says that, “the tongue of the wise is health.” Proverbs 20:15 tells us that, “the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.” Proverbs 15:1 reminds us that, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Proverbs 25:11 instructs, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Words that flow out of wisdom are healing, restorative, and valuable. But too often our words flow not out of wisdom, but out of arrogance, jealousy, self-centeredness, insecurity, and a lack of humility. We will be held accountable for our words.

The problem is not just with the words. They do the damage, but they are not the root of the problem. James 3:14-17 reminds us that what we say is simply an expression of what is in our hearts.
James 3:14-17
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Destructive words flow out of jealousy, bitterness, and selfishness. When we find ourselves running off at the mouth we need to stop and ask what is going on in our hearts, below the surface. It starts with wrong attitudes. It starts with wrong focus. It starts with wrong assessment. It is connected back to the first two chapters which talk about giving preferential treatment to the wealthy and influential people of our world. We honor the wrong thing. In doing so, our own priorities in life get skewed, resulting in a tainted heart and destructive words.


So, what do you really care about? No one can tame the tongue (James 3:8). But we can address our wrong heart attitudes. Our jealousy reveals itself in our speech. Our insecurity reveals itself it our speech. Our hurt, bitterness, and “selfish ambition” reveal themselves in our speech. Don’t be quick to speak. Rather, but quick to humility. Be quick to expose your heart to God. Be quick to let him search your heart and cleanse your soul. As James warned back in chapter one, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19 ESV).

Monday, December 26, 2016

Apparently I forgot to post this earlier, so here it is. My apologies.

James 1:2-3, 12 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.


I’ve been reading James lately. When we think of James we almost always think of the passage, “Faith without works is dead.” Some see it as a troubling passage, putting emphasis on works instead of grace. Others see it as a corrective passage, bringing balance to Paul’s teaching on grace. Still others see it as contradictory to Paul. Those in this last camp tend to take sides. They assert either that Paul is right, or James is right. Personally, I see it as complementary to Paul. I don’t think they are saying anything different at all. But what has really caught my attention this time is that I’m not sure that is what James is really about at all. James starts and ends talking about suffering. I think James is about living as though there is more to life than this world and our few years on it. I think that James is about living in light of eternity.

How can one possibly “count it all joy” when we face a wide variety of trials and difficulties? I have friends in constant pain. I have family members grieving. I hear of brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted for their faith. How do we count that all joy? I have a friend who was stoned as a boy for his faith in Christ. He had to get ten stiches in his head from one of the rocks thrown at him. As a young man, he was knifed, and had a knife held to his throat demanding that he denounce Jesus. His church has been burned, burgled, and shot up. His response? “God says to forgive.” But how do you count that all joy?

I think that is what James is ultimately about. How do we live in an unfriendly world and remain faithful? He offers a quick answer to the question of joy in the verses quoted above. He reminds us of two truths. First, trials build steadfastness in the life of the believer. Second, steadfastness leads to ultimate blessing. “When he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12). 

I’ve been told that in wet years, trees grow fast. Rain produces growth in size. But it is the dry years that make the trees strong. If you look at the rings in a tree you will notice that some are very narrow, and some are quite wide. The wide rings developed in years with plenty of moisture. They make the tree big. The narrow rings came in years of drought. They make the tree strong.

We have been too often focused on how to make the church bigger, while God’s concern is with making the church stronger. We may have lots of people attending church, but how many are willing to attend when their church starts getting shot up? How many are willing to attend when they are being threatened because of their faith? How many are willing to attend when it is not convenient, not comfortable, and not entertaining?


I am not criticizing churches. I am re-evaluating my own life. Do I count it all joy when I experience trials? Am I choosing faith or comfort? Am I living as though now is all there is, or am I living in light of eternity? Is Jesus seen more clearly in me when things go wrong, or does the Old Man take over? Do I attend church because I need to be there, or because it is a fairly convenient habit? I hate to say it, but maybe what we really need as 21st century American believers is a little more pain in our lives. 
James 2:20-24 (ESV)
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

When one talks about living by faith, or walking by faith, the above passage is the one most often pointed to as a rebuttal. But often, those pointing to these verses are functioning under two misunderstandings. First, they misunderstand what it means to live and walk by faith. Somehow the assumption is made that if one is proposing that the Christian life is lived by faith and not works, then we are saying that the Christian doesn’t do anything. The impression is given that the Christian just sits on the couch waiting for the Spirit to move them. If the Spirit doesn’t move, then they are not responsible to act. This is a complete misunderstanding of walking by faith. Faith means that one steps out in faith (action and obedience), trusting God to do through them what they know they cannot do themselves. Faith always moves to action. That is exactly the argument that James is making.


A second misunderstanding surrounds a correct definition of faith. What is faith actually? Works do not equal faith. Many who make James 2 their go to scripture for the Christian life confuse faith with works. If faith without works is dead, then they reason that the Christian life is first and foremost about doing. Works and obedience become central to their focus to such an extent that for all practical purposes works equal faith. But they are not the same thing. Works flow out of faith, but there can be works without faith. Faith without works is dead, but works without faith are also dead. Faith is trusting. Works flow out of faith. What we truly believe, and what we truly trust changes what we do.

There is no disagreement between Paul and James. Paul challenges a world focused on works to first understand that the Christian life is a life of faith. James challenges a church of believers who have been more concerned about what people with wealth and power think of them than what God thinks of them, to re-evaluate their faith and their walk with God. Paul would say, “If you are trusting your works to make or keep you right with God then you have misunderstood the Christian life.” James would say, “If you are claiming faith in Christ, but are more concerned about keeping the wealthy and powerful happy than about being the hands and feet of Jesus to the needy, then you have misunderstood what it means to walk by faith.” Both are correct.


It is not Paul or James, it is Paul and James. Both would agree that if there is a problem with how a believer is living out their walk with God then they need to reevaluate their faith. I didn’t say that they need to reevaluate their salvation. That may or may not be the case. What they need to reevaluate is what they are actually trusting. Paul’s audience was trusting their religious activity. He challenged them to faith. James audience was trusting their relationships with the wealthy and powerful. He challenged them to reevaluate their faith. The question for the day then is: What are you trusting? What is the object of your faith? It will be reflected I how you live.

Sunday, December 25, 2016


It is Christmas day! Yes, I know this isn’t actually the day Jesus was born, but it is the day we have chosen to celebrate the birth. What happened that night in Bethlehem was far more significant than its impact on a young family and a small community. It began a series of waves that have spread around the globe. There is a sense in which the birth was the first scene in Act 2 of God’s redemptive play. Act 1 was the Old Testament. It set the stage for what was coming. It promised a Messiah, and blessings that would extend to all nations. The 400 years between the Testaments were like an intermission. Then, Act 2, Scene 1, the birth of the promised King. The birth is a key part of the story that extends from Eternity Past to Eternity Future. All history hangs on the truth of the birth of the King. Augustine wrote about this key point in time about 300 years later. Here is his poem:



Incarnation

Maker of the sun,

He is made under the sun.

In the Father he remains,       

From his mother he goes forth.

Creator of heaven and earth,

He was born on earth under heaven.

Unspeakably wise,

He is wisely speechless.

Filling the world,

He lies in a manger.

Ruler of the stars,

He nurses at his mother’s bosom.

He is both great in the nature of God,

And small in the form of a servant.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

May you have a blessed Christmas as you contemplate the incredible truths captured in Augustine’s poem. Blessings!

Friday, December 23, 2016

James 2:14-17 (ESV)
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Now we come to the Faith and Works section of James. It is amazing to me that when people think of James they almost always think of the last two paragraphs of James 2. James is much more than these two paragraphs, and they are written in the larger context of the whole letter. Observe three things about James 2:14. First, these verses are preceded by a discussion about the Law of Liberty. James 1:24 instructed us to be looking into the Law of Liberty and be a doer, not a forgetter. Not doing results from forgetting who we are in Christ. James 2:12 carries this thought even further by challenging the believer to speak and act “as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” Verse 13 goes on to clarify that the Law of Liberty is about mercy, not judgment. “Mercy triumphs over judgement” (Jas 2:13b).

Second, notice that the worthless faith described in the verses above is a faith of words only. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, …without giving them the things needed.” The illustration of worthless faith is a faith that speaks, but doesn’t translate into action. The problem isn’t with the lack of action. The problem is that faith is understood simply as words. Unfortunately, we have promoted the gospel that way. We don’t care what a person’s heart condition is. We only want to know if they prayed “The Prayer.” We act as though there is some magic prayer that automatically saves someone just by uttering the words. But, if you go back and look at John 3:14-16 you will realize that belief involves desperation. Belief comes out of the depths of the heart. It is not just empty words spoken in the heat of an emotional church service. The problem with faith that does not translate into works is that it wasn’t faith in the first place. It was just words.

Please don’t misunderstand. A person can be a genuine believer and still struggle with depression, mental illness, or even a habitual sin they can’t seem to break. James is not talking about perfection here. But, genuine faith changes us, particularly in the area of how we treat others. That is the third observation. Too often, we read James words about faith without works, and misapply them.

We interpret them to mean that in order to have real faith we must stop doing “bad´ things. Every community interprets bad differently. For some it means that if a person claims to be saved, but can’t seem to stop drinking, then they must not be saved. For others it means that if a person claims to be saved, but can’t stop smoking, or looking at pornography, or gambling, or speaking harshly, or… “Works” are somehow translated into our favorite virtues, and “Sin” becomes our favorite vices to condemn. That is hardly what James is talking about.

James is talking primarily about how we treat other people, particularly how we treat the less fortunate. The typical evangelical response to poverty is, “Go get a job.” But it is not that simple. The typical Liberal response is, “Redistribute the wealth and give the poor all they need.” It is not that simple. Conservatives and evangelicals need to understand poverty. They need to learn how to truly help the poor. Liberals need to understand poverty as well. The solution is not just to pass out free stuff. This is a discussion for another time, and other Scripture texts. But, it is important for us to note that when James talks about works, he is primarily thinking about how we treat those less fortunate. He is not primarily concerned here with whether we stop swearing, or drinking, or whatever favorite vice we like to castigate.


Bottom line? James is saying that when individuals truly believe and understand who they are in Christ, they treat other people differently. Mercy begins to characterize their lives. Deference to the wealthy no longer drives them. Compassion for the less fortunate begins to grow. Genuine faith translates into mercy toward others. It emulates God himself, who became a man in order to save us, his enemies. What an incredible truth to contemplate this Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

James 2:8, 12 (ESV)
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well….  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.

There are two laws referenced in this passage, really three. The first is the Royal Law. That is defined by Jesus words quoting Leviticus, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The second is the Law of Moses which is summarized by “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is implied by the discussion in verses 9-11 by the truth that if you break one law, then you are guilty of breaking the whole law. The final law is the Law of Liberty. The reader is challenged to speak and to act “as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” The Law of Liberty is a law of mercy. That’s why James writes says that mercy triumphs over judgment.

As believers, we are no longer under the Law of Moses. Here is the interesting thing, the Law of Moses can be summed up by “Love God and love your neighbor,” but the Law of Moses cannot produce love. The Law of Liberty grows in the believer the very thing the Law of Moses cannot do. It changes us. It produces love and mercy. James challenges the believer to speak and act as one under the Law of Liberty. Understanding that we are new creations in Christ both motivates and empowers the believer to speak in love. Believing that we are new creations in Christ motivates and empowers the believer to live in mercy and express that same mercy to others. It understands that the Cross covers all my sins. It also understands that the Cross covers your sins as well. I can show mercy to others because I have been show mercy by God.


Christmas is a time of “Peace and Goodwill.” We can’t conjure up feelings peace and goodwill by simply putting up colored lights, mailing cards, and giving gifts. Peace and goodwill start in the heart rightly related to God through Jesus Christ. Peace and goodwill grow in a heart transformed by the grace and mercy of God. It overflows in grace and mercy to others. We do not show grace and mercy because we will make God angry if we don’t, but because the Spirit of Christ indwells us, empowers us, and grows grace and mercy in our hearts. We are to live as those judged, not by God’s Law of Moses, but by God’s Law of Liberty. What a difference it makes when we begin to understand that God evaluates us according to his mercy, not according to his justice. His justice was satisfied at the cross. We live by the Law of Liberty. It is not a law to obey, but a law that defines who I am in Christ. Obedience, love, and mercy flow out of that identity. That is the spirit of Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2016

James 2:1-4 (ESV)
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Over the past year, I have repeatedly read public announcements of the deaths of celebrities. Recently I saw a video that recounted all the celebrities that died in 2016. There were a lot of them. Here is what I find interesting, they were all from the entertainment industry. As a people, we mourn the loss of wealthy, well known individuals with less than stellar morality, while we ignore the deaths of thousands of helpless unborn, children who died of neglect, disease, accident, or abuse, the hundreds or perhaps thousands killed by terrorists, rebels, and war, and the many who died of preventable disease or starvation, not to mention those killed specifically because they were Christ followers. When we look at those numbers, I honestly fail to see the great loss in the death of a few entertainers. In fact, we are very close to being guilty of the very thing James is addressing in the verses above.

The beautiful people, the popular people, and the wealthy and influential people matter. The poor, the helpless, the less fortunate are not important. We do the same in our churches. The ones with a regular paycheck are welcomed with open arms. The ones who appear to have life all together are quickly embraced. The poor, the needy, the broken, the helpless often feel less than welcome. James says that when we do this we have made distinctions among ourselves, and judge “with evil thoughts.”

We would never think of ourselves as judging with evil thoughts. Yet when we make distinctions in how we treat people, we are guilty. When we rush to welcome the important people, we are guilty. When we ignore those in need, we are guilty. No, we can’t fix everyone’s problems, but we can love them. We can welcome them. We can listen carefully to them. Look around church sometime and ask yourself, who is it that I would rather not stand and chat with after the service? Why is it I am avoiding them? Are they needy? Are they dirty? Are they less than beautiful? Are they different? Aren’t those the very people God called us to love?

“If a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing…. have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4).
 Father forgive us! May the mind and heart of Jesus Christ be seen in me today. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

James 1:19, 26-27 (ESV)
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

What does it mean to be holy? We tend to define holiness by the things we do not do. We don’t cheat. We don’t steal. We don’t lie. We don’t stay home on Sunday morning. We don’t hang out in bars. But God defines holiness in two ways in this paragraph in James 1. We bridle our tongues and we minister to those less fortunate. Here’s the problem. As believers, we typically don’t do either of those very well. We are quick to speak, and slow to listen. We let our anger spill over into hurtful speech. We throw a few dollars to the Salvation Army at Christmas, and feel we’ve done our duty.

Jesus said that the Law can be summed up with these two phrases: Love God; Love your neighbor. Let’s be honest, the way we define holiness has very little to do with either loving God or loving our neighbor. It is interesting that the two verses quoted above about our speech serve as bookends around James 1:21-22

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

What does it mean to put away all filthiness, and be doers of the word? In this passage it primarily means to listen well, control your speech, don’t let your anger take over, and minister to those less fortunate than you. How do we do that? “Receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21). “The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:25). Holiness has to do with that which God has already done in our hearts.

What is the law of liberty, and what does it mean to persevere in it? Notice three things. First, it is a law of liberty. Not a law in the sense of something we must obey, but a law in the sense of natural laws, or scientific laws. In other words, it is a law in the sense that it defines how things work. The law of liberty is a spiritual law that says we are free in Christ. We have been accepted, embraced, indwelt, and empowered through Christ. It is what Paul is talking about when he says in Galatians 2:20,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

It is what Jeremiah prophecies when he writes,

Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV)
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Notice the similarity between God writing his law on our hearts (Jeremiah) and the implanted word (James). The Law of Liberty is a spiritual law that defines who we are in Christ. We are new creations with the implanted Word in our hearts, a heart that is inclined toward God. It defines us as accepted, embraced, indwelt, and empowered believers.


Second, our part is to look intently at this Law of Liberty. The word translated “looks into” means to stoop down and look closely. This is not a law to obey. This is a law to contemplate. This is a law to look into carefully. This is a law that we should allow to fill our vision. It tells us who we really are in Christ. It defines us. Our passions don’t define us, God’s Law of Liberty does. God’s part was to change our hearts. Our part is to let that change be our focus.


Third, the text says that when we look at this Law of Liberty, we are to persevere. When we read the words law and persevere our natural tendency is to understand them to mean that we should remain steadfast in obeying, but that is hardly the point James is making. We noted above that this is not a law to obey, but a law that defines who we are in Christ. The word translated “persevere” means to remain closely associated with something. In this case then, we are not only to look intently at this Law of Liberty, but we are to remain there, constantly keeping the Law of Liberty in our focus. We are not to move away from it. We are to allow the truth of who we are in Christ to be in the center of our vision continually.



What does it mean to be holy? According to James, it means to listen well, control your speech, don’t let your anger take over, and minister to those less fortunate than you. How do we do that? By looking intently into the Law of Liberty, seeing clearly who we are in Christ, and not shifting our vision away. Being a Christian is first about who we are in Christ. What we do flows out of that. This is what Paul continually preaches, and what James is clearly saying. So, who are you in Christ? Who you are in Christ looks a lot like Jesus. Don’t let your passions define you. As Hebrews says, we are to be “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2 NIV).

Sunday, December 11, 2016

James 1:16-18 (ESV)
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

This passage is preceded by verses 12-15. They talk about remaining steadfast in the face of testing and temptation. It is followed by verses that talk about anger and thoughtless speech. What is the connection? What do good gifts received from God have to do with temptation and angry speech?

We tend to focus in on the phrase, “every good gift and every perfect gift…” We then start thinking about all the blessings and gifts God has given over the years. We reflect on the times we were without and God provided. We think about the times we felt helpless and hopeless and God brought hope and help. We think about our nice warm houses, our full tables, and our comfortable clothes, and we are thankful. While all that is good and appropriate, that is not really the point James is trying to make.

Notice that the good gifts he refers to are related to the nature of God, the will of God, and the purpose of God. First, every good gift comes to us from God because he is a God who never changes. He doesn’t flicker like a candle in a breeze. He remains steadfast. We can trust him, no matter what gale wind forces of testing come our way. He gifts flow out of his very nature.

Second, these gifts are related to the will of God. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18a). He didn’t give us good gifts because we earned them. He didn’t give us good gifts because we pleased him. He didn’t give us good gifts because we manipulated him through obedience or prayer. He gave them to us because it was according to his will, and by his word.

Third, these gifts are connected to the purpose of God. They are given to us so that “we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18b). In other words, God’s good gifts are not given to us to make us happy or contented. They are given to bring us back into right relationship with God. They are given to reproduce the image of God in us. As the firstfruits of his creatures, we are the first part of creation to be redeemed.

The gifts are good because they are related to the nature of God, the will of God, and the purpose of God, in accordance with his word of truth. They are not good simply because we have them. If we assume that, then we have this passage backward. We possess inclinations that are not good. These are not from God. We cannot say, “Because I have a particular natural inclination, therefore, that is how God made me. It is his gift.” That is hardly the point. He said earlier in the chapter that we are tempted, lured, and enticed by our natural desires. These good gifts God is talking about in this passage are not our natural inclinations. Neither are the what we commonly call the blessings of God. What God is talking about is this passage is the gift of grace, life, and empowerment for holiness.


James talks a lot about doing the will of God. What we miss is that for James doing the will of God flows out of the good gifts of God. He will call this the “law of liberty.” James recognizes that remaining steadfast in the face of testing and temptation, and avoiding angry, thoughtless speech isn’t something we just do. It is something that results from the good and perfect gifts of God’s grace, life, and empowerment. These are the gifts he is talking about. This Christmas, let us give thanks for these gifts. Let us rejoice over these gifts. Let us never forget the gift of who we are in Christ. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

James 1:12 (ESV)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Reading through James 1, between verses 12 and 13 my version of the Bible switches from the word “trials” to the word “temptation.” What is interesting is that it is the same Greek word all the way through. It is the same word found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” The word can mean trials and difficulties, or enticement to evil, but always with an edge to it. Testing and proving are involved. We have an enemy who is trying to prove that our faith is not genuine. The believer, by God’s power, stands up under the test.

This passage in James goes on to say that God cannot be tested in this way. He cannot be tested by evil; neither does he test us with evil. What is interesting is that he does not go on to say that this testing comes from the Enemy. It is true that Satan tests God-followers. Clearly Satan tested Job. Yet James’ focus is on the inner man. The testing comes from within. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14 ESV).

The real test comes from our own natural inclination toward evil. Of course, when James talks about evil, he is not talking about card playing, dancing, drinking, or going to movies. He is not talking about whether you go into a bar to eat a burger, or whether you wear a tie to church on Sunday. He is talking about envy, divisiveness, anger, and injustice.

This reveals two problems that are at the heart of genuine holiness in the life of the believer. First, we want to blame testing and temptation on outside sources. It is not the man’s fault for lusting. It is the woman’s fault for wearing revealing clothing. It is not my fault for wanting more and more stuff, it is the fault of subversive and manipulative advertising. It is not my fault for being overweight while much of the world starves. I was just born into a wealthier part of the world. We blame outside sources. In doing so, we fail to take responsibility for our own complicity.

Second, we fail to understand what real evil is. We define evil in terms that make us feel good about ourselves, while ignoring the real issues. God is concerned about issues of justice. I am concerned about how people see me. God is concerned about issues of the heart. I am concerned about issues of control and manipulation. God is concerned about faith. I am concerned about keeping the rules. My understanding of evil does not align with God’s heart at all, but it does make it easy to feel good about myself while judging those who are different from me. James says that the real issue is our own heart.

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (James 1:12). God has a solution. James will go on to talk about the “perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25). We’ll get to that passage eventually, as we work our way through James. But for today, suffice it to say that we need to stop blaming others, and take full responsibility for our own culpability in evil. When we recognize where it starts, we can begin to apply God’s solution. As long as we blame circumstances, Satan, and others for our sin we will never find freedom.


The word translated “remains steadfast” in James 1:12 means, “to stay under.” In this case, it is the idea of continually standing firm in Christ when the brokenness within is inclined to lead us toward selfishness. The word translated “blessed” can mean enviable. So, in the context of James 1, we might say, “Enviable is the individual who stands firm in Christ instead of envying others.” Where is your focus? Are your eyes fixed on the stuff you want, or on the blessing you already possess in Christ? As we approach Christmas, perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is not, “What do I want for Christmas?” But, “What do I already possess in Christ?” After all, isn’t He what Christmas is about?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

James 1:9-10 (ESV)
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

 These two verses are directed at two different groups of people within the church. As I read the passage above it occurs to me that we have often gotten this backward. It seems to me that the lowly are told to exalt in their lowliness, and the rich in their exaltation. What if the lowly learned to exalt in the reality that they are children of the King? What if the rich learned to exalt in their lowliness?

The word “boast” means to walk with one’s head held high. You’ve seen people with low self-esteem. They tend to walk with their head down. They don’t look anyone in the eye. Those with a strong opinion of self tend to walk into a room with confidence. That often is determined by wealth rather than intelligence, gifting, or faith. The well-dressed walk into church confidently. They poorly dressed walk in tentatively. The wealthy are known by everyone and deferred to. The poor are looked at with suspicion. This is a reality of our world that is backward to God’s economy.

The answer in many health and wealth churches has been to tell the poor that they too can be wealthy. That is not God’s answer. God says that we need to recognize the inherent value of those who are poor. “Let the lowly brother ‘hold his head up high’ in his exaltation.” Do we understand that the believer who is the poorest of the poor is created in the image of God, bought by the blood of Christ, and treated as a child of the King with welcome access to his throne room? Let the rich “hold his head up high” because of his humiliation. Do we understand that God does not accept the wealthy and powerful because they are wealthy and powerful? They come to God with nothing to offer but their brokenness, just like their poor brother.

What a difference it would make in church and society if Christians learned this truth. One of the most difficult aspects of church life is the challenge of building unity between people who are different. It appears that things were no different in James day. The poor envied the wealthy. The wealthy and powerful looked down on the poor. We would like to think that is not true of us, yet it is.

This has affected mission work over the years. Wealthy Europeans (and now Americans) walked into a new culture with their heads held high, believing that they were somehow superior to those they were trying to help. This is evident even in the language we use. Natives were called savages. We were called educated, or cultured, or civilized. That very arrogance hindered the gospel and caused us to export a culture more than a contextualized gospel. We do the same thing today. We tend to view unbelievers as uncouth and unacceptable. We want them to clean up and look like us. What a difference it would make if we carried the gospel in humility instead of pride.


Father, forgive me for the times I have judged people based on their clothing, their education, or their apparent wealth or lack of wealth. Forgive me for the times I have felt superior to someone because I didn’t understand their world. May I learn to walk in humility among those less fortunate than I, and may I learn to walk with my head held high in the presence of those who of wealth and power. May I find my significance in you, Father, not in my position in life, nor in the social status of those I call acquaintances. Both my significance and my humiliation are found in Christ. That changes everything. What a difference it would make in our churches if we really lived that truth.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

James 1:5 (ESV)
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

In James 1, verses 5-11 talk about wisdom, about humility of the wealthy, and about exaltation of the poor. This is in the context of the brevity of life. Our tendency is to read those passages like we read the Proverbs, as distinct and disconnected concepts. But they are sandwiched between two verses about trials. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV). “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (James 1:12a ESV). There must be some connection between the need for wisdom, the importance of humility in the wealthy, the value of exaltation in the poor, and trials in life. In fact, it may be that the poor are experiencing trials at the hands of the wealthy. Additionally, those who were once wealthy may not be so wealthy anymore because of embracing Christianity. To deal with these issues in life requires a wisdom that comes from above.

In James, everything is received from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17 ESV). Do you need wisdom to deal with life issues? Ask God. Wisdom involves an understanding of self and others. It brings life into perspective. I clarifies who I am in Christ. It equips me to face whatever life throws at me. It takes God’s wisdom to be able to look beyond the pain of the moment to see God’s guiding and protecting hand. Wisdom leads to steadfastness and maturity, but wisdom cannot be manufactured. It is not the same thing as intelligence. Wisdom comes from God.

When we ask for wisdom, we can ask confidently. First, because God gives “generously to all without reproach” (James 1:5). Second, we can ask confidently because God instructed us to ask for wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5a). Thirdly, we can ask confidently for wisdom because God told us to ask in faith. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5a, 6a ESV). Wisdom is not the same thing as intelligence. Wisdom comes from God, and God told us to ask for it.


Are you struggling to understand what is happening in your life? Are you facing pain, betrayal, difficulties, loss, grief, or hurt? God calls these trials. You can’t face them alone. It takes divine wisdom, divine power, and divine provision. Job wanted to understand why he was facing the trials he faced. God never gave him a clear answer to that question. God’s wisdom may never explain why, but it will guide you through the messiness of life to his full provision of grace. . “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2 ESV). “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial” (James 1:12a ESV). Sandwiched between those two verses is this incredible promise, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5 ESV).

Thursday, December 1, 2016

James 1:2-3, 12 (ESV)
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.


I’ve been reading James lately. When we think of James we almost always think of the passage, “Faith without works is dead.” Some see it as a troubling passage, putting emphasis on works instead of grace. Others see it as a corrective passage, bringing balance to Paul’s teaching on grace. Still others see it as contradictory to Paul. Those in this last camp tend to take sides. They assert either that Paul is right, or James is right. Personally, I see it as complementary to Paul. I don’t think they are saying anything different at all. But what has really caught my attention this time is that I’m not sure that is what James is really about at all. James starts and ends talking about suffering. I think James is about living as though there is more to life than this world and our few years on it. I think that James is about living in light of eternity.

How can one possibly “count it all joy” when we face a wide variety of trials and difficulties? I have friends in constant pain. I have family members grieving. I hear of brothers and sisters in Christ being persecuted for their faith. How do we count that all joy? I have a friend who was stoned as a boy for his faith in Christ. He had to get ten stiches in his head from one of the rocks thrown at him. As a young man, he was knifed, and had a knife held to his throat demanding that he denounce Jesus. His church has been burned, burgled, and shot up. His response? “God says to forgive.” But how do you count that all joy?

I think that is what James is ultimately about. How do we live in an unfriendly world and remain faithful? He offers a quick answer to the question of joy in the verses quoted above. He reminds us of two truths. First, trials build steadfastness in the life of the believer. Second, steadfastness leads to ultimate blessing. “When he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (Jas 1:12).

I’ve been told that in wet years, trees grow fast. Rain produces growth in size. But it is the dry years that make the trees strong. If you look at the rings in a tree you will notice that some are very narrow, and some are quite wide. The wide rings developed in years with plenty of moisture. They make the tree big. The narrow rings came in years of drought. They make the tree strong.

We have been too often focused on how to make the church bigger, while God’s concern is with making the church stronger. We may have lots of people attending church, but how many are willing to attend when their church starts getting shot up? How many are willing to attend when they are being threatened because of their faith? How many are willing to attend when it is not convenient, not comfortable, and not entertaining?

I am not criticizing churches. I am re-evaluating my own life. Do I count it all joy when I experience trials? Am I choosing faith or comfort? Am I living as though now is all there is, or am I living in light of eternity? Is Jesus seen more clearly in me when things go wrong, or does the Old Man take over? Do I attend church because I need to be there, or because it is a fairly convenient habit? I hate to say it, but maybe what we really need as 21st century American believers is a little more pain in our lives. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Job 42:7 (ESV)
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

I find it fascinating that God did not say to Eliphaz, “you have not spoken of Job what is right.” He said, “You have not spoken of me (God) what is right, as my servant Job has.” God is here affirming Job’s innocence. Throughout the book, Job asserted his innocence. In this last chapter one might question whether Job’s estimation of himself was correct. His response to God was, “I despise myself and repent” (Job 42:6). Yet here God says Job was innocent. Job spoke what was right concerning God. Given Job’s innocence, it would have made sense for God to say to Eliphaz, “You have not spoken of Job what is right.” Reading back through Job, their theology seems fairly accurate. It was the application concerning Job where Eliphaz and his friends were off. Yet God says that they have not spoken what is right about God. Why does he say that?

Jesus said that in the final judgment “the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40). Have we considered that what we say to others and about others, we are saying to God and about God? Could that really be true? What we do to the least in society we do to God? Really!? How often, then, have we ignored God? How often have we spoken disparagingly about God? How often have we been rude to God? How often have we dismissed God out of hand? What Job’s friends said about him, they were saying about God. How we treat others cannot be divorced from how we treat God.

Too often we love God; we worship God; we would never speak disparagingly about God, yet we turn around and mistreat, or ignore others, and speak disapprovingly and unsympathetically toward them or about them. How is that possible that our lives can be so compartmentalized that we can love God and hate others at the same time? Yes, I know; hate is a strong word and we would never hate another person. So, we must be okay, right? But the Apostle John wrote these words,
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20 (ESV).

God doesn’t just require that we not hate our brothers. He requires that we love them. We cannot separate loving God from loving others. Life just doesn’t work that way. Job’s friends found out that if you disparage and disrespect others, you disparage and disrespect God himself.


Father, today may I see Jesus in every person. May my words, thoughts, and actions reflect love for you that overflows into love for them. Lord, I can’t do that by myself. I’m not resolving to live in such a manner, I am pleading. Only by your grace can that happen. Fill my vision and let me see only you.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Job 42:10-11 (ESV)
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

Job 42 is a short chapter, but it raises so many questions. Why did God mention Job’s three friends, but not Elihu? Why did Job’s family not come to him with gifts and help earlier when things first fell apart, instead of waiting until after the fact? Are Job’s children supposed to be replacements for those he lost? That seems to be a harsh thought. No child can replace a child who has died. I don’t believe they are replacements. Rather, they are further blessings. Verse 10 says that God restored Job’s fortunes, but then verse twelve says that God blessed Job’s latter days more than his beginning. He children are not replacements. They are simply blessings.

This chapter raises a number of questions, but gives few answers. But, there is one interesting statement that takes further consideration. Verse 10 says that “the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends.” Job’s fortunes weren’t restored first, and then he prayed for his friends. He prayed for his friends, and then his fortunes were restored. Three thoughts occur to me as I consider this verse. First, this was an act of faith on Job’s part. It would have been much easier for Job if his fortunes had been restored first, and then he was asked to pray for his friends. We often think that we need to have everything together in our lives before we can minister to others. But ministry is ultimately an act of faith. It is trusting that God can use a broken pot to deliver water to a thirsty soul. It is trusting that ultimately the ministry is about God, not about us. It is trusting that I don’t have to have it all together in order to minister to others.

I think that sometimes we expect or assume that pastors are able to minister to others because they have all the answers, and they have their life all together. Things could not be further from the truth. Pastors are just people. They have their struggles. They get weary and frustrated. They are far from perfect. We must not expect that pastors and those in ministry somehow live on a different level of spirituality that is unattainable for the ordinary person. Neither must we fall for the lie that until we attain that level, we are not really worthy or able to ministry. God uses broken vessels. Ministry is always an act of faith.

The second thought that occurs to me as I consider verse 10 is that this was an act of humility and repentance on his friends’ part. In verses 7-9 God spoke to Job’s friends and told them to take an offering to Job and ask him to pray for them. Job didn’t initiate this prayer. Eliphaz and company initiated. They had to come to Job with gifts in hand. They had to come to the one they had just been trying to convince of sin in his life. They had to lay aside their own ego, and their own need to be right in order to humbly ask this “sinner” to pray for them. That is not easy to do, but they did it. How often has our own pride kept us from restoring relationships, admitting wrong, and finding God’s blessing. What an incredible experience to have Job’s self-righteous friends come, gift in hand, and ask him to pray for them. How much healing could occur in relationships if we would lay aside our pride and ask those we have offended to pray for us.

That brings me to the third thought, which is that this was an act of love and forgiveness on Job’s part. Job could have been easily offended. He could have decided that he never wanted anything to do with his friends after how they had treated him. They had assumed the worst of him without evidence. They had pushed, prodded, and insisted that there was sin in his life. Who wants to hang out with friends like that? Yet Job was quick to pray for them, even before his own fortunes had been restored. In our own brokenness, we can often see the brokenness of others better. Job was willing to offer to his friends the grace and acceptance that they had failed to offer him. But that is where restoration begins; not with responding in kind, but with responding in grace.

We can’t always expect the story of our life to end like Job’s. Not all of us will become wealthy. Not all of us will live a long and full life after tragedy. That may be the experience of some, but that is hardly the point of Job. At its heart, Job is about God, and it is about humility. Eliza Hewitt’s words come to mind in her 1887 hymn, More About Jesus. It must be more about him, and less about me. That is the lesson Job and his friends had to learn. It is a lesson that is essential for each of us to learn. May the first two verses of this hymn become our prayer:
More about Jesus would I know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me


More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love Who died for me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Job 40:1-2 (ESV)
And the LORD said to Job:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

The word translated “faultfinder” means to complain or argue with another. The word translated “argues” means to judge or argue a case in court. The NIV reads, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Job’s friends, including Elihu, insisted that some hidden sin was at the root of Job’s troubles. God never accuses Job of sin. He does accuse him of complaining against God and accusing God of wrongdoing.
Job 40:6-8 (NIV)
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm:
“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

There was no sin in Job’s life at the root of his troubles, but his response to his pain was less than stellar. What Job and his friends failed to consider was that the whole issue really had nothing to do with Job. It was really about God. The rest of Job 40-41 describes God’s power. God asks, “Who has a claim against me that I must pay?” He then goes on to say, “Everything under heaven belongs to me” (Job 41:11 NIV). In these chapters God uses the weather, and a description of two creatures, Behemoth and Leviathan, to demonstrate his power.
Job 41:10 (ESV)
No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he who can stand before me?

Here are two creatures, a land animal and a sea creature, that are apparently impervious to man’s weapons and powerful enough to never be tamed. They are just creatures. Their power is greater than man, yet God created them. They yield to his will. Even the weather, something man has never been able to tame, yields to the will of God. In all creation, only man stands and argues with his creator.

The more I read Job, the more convinced I am that Job is not about Job. Job is about God. Is God sovereign, or is he not? Is God Lord, or is he not? Can we trust him, or not? We live as though life is about us. We challenge God as though life is about us. We even present the gospel as though life is about us. Maybe what we really need is to see behind the veil and realize that we are not the center of the universe. Life and death, pain and ease, wealth and poverty…it’s just life in a broken world. Despite how our parents treated us, life does not revolve around us or around them. It revolves around Almighty God.

When he is the center of our universe, our perspective changes. That is what Job was learning. It is what Elihu needed to learn. It is what Job’s friends desperately needed to understand. So much pain has been caused, and so much damage has been done because we have the wrong person at the center of our little world. We are like the wheel on a clown bicycle where the axle is off-center. Our world is filled with ups and downs that make riding the bike difficult at best. The ride smooths out when our lives are centered on Christ.
I don’t mean that everything becomes good. I don’t mean that nothing bad happens. I don’t mean that pain disappears. Just look at Job. But when life is not about us, those things take on a different look and a different experience. In the midst of our pain, we find the comforting peace of God. In the storms of life, we find his calming presence. When bad things happen, we look to a God who can be trusted even when things don’t go our way. When God is at the center, our perspective of everything changes. After all, it is no longer about us. Life is about something much higher and grander than we can imagine, and He is at the center of it all. Life is about Him. In all creation, only man stands and argues with his creator. Perhaps it is time to stop arguing, and trust him.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Job 38:1-4 (ESV)
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.”

It occurs to me that when we read Job we make the same error that Job and his friends made. They speak as though the issue was about Job. Job cries out for justice and an explanation. Job’s friends insist that the explanation is that there is unconfessed sin in his life. When God speaks, he doesn’t reference either Job’s physical condition or his spiritual condition. The truth is, it is not about Job. And that is what bothers us the most.

We want life to be about us. It isn’t. We want Job to find relief, but what he really needs to find is God. Like Job, we think and act as though we are the center of the universe. If there is pain in our lives, it must be the consequence of some great sin. If there is pleasure in our lives, it must be that God is pleased with us. “Why me?” is one of the most common prayers uttered around the world. Perhaps God’s answer is, “Why not you?” After all, life is not really about us; we just think it is.

God never answers Job’s question of why. That leaves us feeling unsatisfied. We want to know why. We want to know that Job’s suffering had some higher purpose. We read Job as though it were about suffering, but I am beginning to think that it is not about suffering at all. It is about theology. It is about who we believe God is, and what we believe about him. If we believe that he is the Celestial Servant of mankind, then that question of why Job suffered is the ultimate question of life. If he is the Sovereign Creator, then the question of Job’s suffering is hardly the point. The real question is, who is God?

There is the bottom line. When we insist on answers and explanations, then we have put ourselves in the place of God. When we insist on a gospel that is primarily about feeling good about ourselves, then we have placed ourselves at the center of the universe. Granted, we are the only part of creation that was said to be made in the image of God. Granted, God placed people over the rest of his creation. Granted, we were designed to rule and oversee creation. But, we were not designed to oversee creation as gods. We were designed to oversee creation under God. Ultimately it is all about him.

Does that make him a megalomaniac? Hardly! It makes him creator, designer, sustainer, and upholder of all that exists. Without him we would not be here. Without him this universe would not hold together. The Apostle Paul quotes two Greek poets in Acts 17:28 to make this point. “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” Colossians 1:16 says it like this,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Bottom line? Life is not about us. Maybe that is the real message of Job. Maybe we would be better off if we could just learn that simple lesson. I am not the center of the universe; nor will I ever be. Bishop Noel Jones wrote a simple chorus around these words, “It's not about us, But it's about Jesus.” His response to this truth follows:


I present my body
A living sacrifice
Holy, acceptable
Unto You now
Everything I am
And everything I'll be
I lay it all at Your feet


May that be my prayer today!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Job 36:4 (NIV)
Be assured that my words are not false;
one perfect in knowledge is with you.

This phrase, “perfect in knowledge,” is used to describe God in the next chapter.

Job 37:16 (NIV)
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who is perfect in knowledge?

Job 36-37 contain picturesque and powerful descriptions of the supremacy of God. Yet something feels just a little off about these chapters. This is Elihu’s final speech in Job, and I’m just not sure what to think of Elihu. He is a young man driven by passion and frustrated by Job’s friends’ inability to convince Job of his sin. Elihu speaks much truth about the greatness of God, yet it is built on a foundation of arrogance that colors everything he says. Ultimately his conclusion is no different than that of Job’s friends.
Job 36:11-12 (NIV)
If they obey and serve him,
they will spend the rest of their days in prosperity
and their years in contentment.
But if they do not listen,
they will perish by the sword
and die without knowledge.


Elihu falls right back into the argument that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. He then goes on to challenge Job’s appeal to God.

Job 37:14, 19-20 (NIV)
“Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God's wonders.

“Tell us what we should say to him;
we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.
Should he be told that I want to speak?
Would any man ask to be swallowed up?


He is telling Job that he should not be so bold as to ask to speak with a God who is powerful and unapproachable. Yet in the very next chapter God will respond directly to Job. Elihu understands that to approach God is to invite death. God is unapproachable. Yet here is Elihu claiming to have the same kind of perfect knowledge that God has. It makes me wonder how many times I have had my theology slightly tilted and yet was arrogant enough to think I had it all right. Probably more than I care to know.


There must be a humility to our faith that we too often fail to embrace. Truth is important. Correct theology is vital. What we believe about God matters. Yet we can have our theology almost perfect, and still have it tainted by arrogance. In chapter 38, the unapproachable God draws near to the very one Elihu and company claim is undeserving of God’s attention. Elihu’s theology was pretty accurate, although I wouldn’t call it “perfect knowledge.” Any time we think we have it all figured out, we are standing in dangerous waters. Humility is preferred above theology in God’s economy. That is what separates Elihu from Job. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Nowhere has God said that he exalts those with perfect theology. Humility is preferred above theology. I think we often have that backward. 

Isaiah 50

Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him w...