“Faith” is an action word
This week’s daily readings continue to work through the book of James. During the weekly gathering on Sunday, Jeff Brodie (Lead Pastor at Connexus Church in Barrie) talked about our emotions, and the role the play in our growth (or not!) as people. James (the brother of Jesus and the lead pastor of the 1st church in Jerusalem) ALSO talks about the role our emotions can play in our faith, specifically in terms of how we relate to others. If you recall from the short video summary of the book of James (catch it here if you forgot or missed it), this book reiterates many of the teachings of Jesus, and biblical wisdom in general. As such, it is not teaching simply about God, but in fact about how we live and relate to God and each other. James’ instructions are all about what Jesus (just a few years earlier) had said were the two most important things – loving God, loving others.
As you read and engage with this week’s writings, do what James encouraged his readers to do – don’t just read/listen…act on it. This is meant to affect our every day lives. Trust that God can use what you’re reading each day to guide you in how you live this day, this week. God’s timing is perfect. You’re meant to be reading this today!
Day 1: Playing Favourites
Read James 2:1-13 here
In this passage, James is addressing an issue that was occurring in the first church, which was negatively affecting their community. A common and acceptable practice in the first-century Jewish & Greco-Roman cultures was to treat those with wealth & public/social importance better than those without.
Let’s be honest – that’s still a common practice in our day.
Not only did people assume that the better they treated a rich and important person, the better it would be for them, but they also believed that a person who was wealthy was clearly blessed by, and important to, God.
And so the people walking into their homes and worship gatherings who looked good, smelled good and were good to be around, were being treated with honour and privilege.
But Pastor James wasn’t having it.
He reminds them of the upside-down ways of God’s Kingdom (v.5), and the command to love (any) neighbour, as key distinctives of the Jesus-centered community.
If we think about it for a moment, we all have qualities and characteristics that we admire and prefer in others.
We might admire or want to get close to or are simply nicer to people who are wealthy.
People who are beautiful.
People who are successful, smart or well-educated.
People who have something to offer us.
These preferences and unbalanced treatment of others is hard to notice; it’s instinctive. We are unconsciously drawn to some and repelled by others. And if we look below the surface, it’s not always for good or noble reasons. It might simply be because we like how we feel when we are around certain people, and uncomfortable around others.
Ask Jesus to help you see what qualities and characteristics you “prefer” in others, or are drawn to the most?
Ask Him to show you if there is anyone you have been avoiding or ignoring, because they don’t fit your preferred criteria?
Ask you think about the people you plan on interacting with today, ask Jesus to help you treat each of them as equally loved, valuable and worthy of your time, attention and affection.
Day 2: Faith is an action word
Read James 2:14 – 26 here
Did you know that Martin Luther (the German monk and theologian), who many credit as the Father of Protestant Spirituality, actually thought that the book of James shouldn’t be included in the Bible??
His main reason was what you just read today.
Luther is famous in Christian history for calling Jesus followers back to the truth that we are saved not because of what we have done but because of what Jesus has done for us; that we cannot earn salvation or somehow do enough good things to get God to notice us and do good things for us in return.
And aren’t we thankful Luther called us back to faith. It’s all true. Thanks Lu.
But this made him suspicious of Pastor James and James’ insistence on “deeds” as a key part of our faith. I think we can conclude that Luther was unnecessarily suspicious, mostly because what James says here (and in the rest of his book) is an echo of so much of what the rest of biblical writers said, particularly and most importantly Jesus. If the most important thing is Love, then how we act is as much a part of faith as what we believe. James’ (and Jesus’) point was that if your faith in God is real, it will show in how you love and treat others.
In response to today’s scripture, I’m going to borrow a reflection exercise from the “Reimagining the Examen” app (a super-helpful daily tool based on ancient Christian practices of prayer and reflection). This will walk you through a review of your relationships in the last 24 hours:
- Take 1 minute to slow your breathing down, invite the Holy Spirit to guide you in this process.
- Spend a few moments in gratitude, thanking God for one or two of the blessings (big and small) that you’ve received in the last 24 hours
- Ask God “Of all of the people I encountered today/yesterday, who was the most outcast? The weakest and most fragile? The most difficult for me to be around”. In your imagination, replay the moment when you encountered that person
- Speak to God about your observations. Tell God your thoughts, words and actions toward that person.
- Ask God for forgiveness for any words, thoughts or actions that were unkind or uncharitable
- Thank God for moments when you seemed to have the right disposition
- Ask God “What do you see when you see that person? What do you have to say to me about that person?”
- Ask God “What am I called to do for this person? Who am I called to be for this person?”
- Get more concrete and specific: “God, what if anything am I called to do or be for this person tomorrow?”
- Ask God for the ability to do these things
- If you feel called to do so, make some sort of resolution.
- End your time of reflection with 1 minute of silent peace in God’s presence
Day 3 – Firestarter
Read James 3:1-8 here
Oh man. If that isn’t one of the most profound (and indicting) passages in Scripture, I don’t know…
Our words have such power.
We might think James is being overly pessimistic about his view of how and what we speak, but just take a look at the words that are flying around us these days – on social media, in music and with each other.
There’s a great deal of anger, cursing (as opposed to blessing), criticism, hate, despair, distrust.
And James is right – these words are like sparks which start fires.
Like rudders on a ship that steer families, churches, organizations and groups of people in different directions – often conflicted and destructive ones.
This past Sunday, Jeff Brodie talked about how understanding and getting control of our emotions is an important part of our spiritual journey – and certainly our words which express those emotions, need to (as James says) be controlled. Not by others (this isn’t about censorship or cancelling each other) – by ourselves, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s just review words we’ve said and heard over the last 24 hours:
- What was the most loving thing you said to someone in the last 24 hours? Who did you say it to? Why was it important to you to say that? How did it impact them?
- What was the most loving thing someone said to you in the last 24 hours? How did it make you feel? Why did it matter to you?
- On a scale of 1 (terrible) to 10 (excellent), how good of a listener are you? In conversations, how often are you talking vs. listening/asking questions?
- Who in your life gets the worst of your words? Why? Ask Jesus what he wants to say to you about that relationship.
- Is there someone in your life who needs to hear your words of:
- Pick one of the above and send an email or text or message to them now. Take a few minutes to think carefully about the words you will send. They have power.
Day 4 – Mind the Gap
Read James 3:9-12 here
Ridden the subway lately? Ever? It’s been awhile I’m sure…less commuting, no Raptors, Jays or Leaf games to go see (sigh). But when you do, and you’re waiting for the subway to arrive, if you look down you’ll see this:
You may not have realized it, but that’s life wisdom right there. It’s biblical wisdom, actually.
There is a gap in all of our lives. This past Sunday’s message talked about the gap between the real and the ideal – where we are and where we want to be. More specifically, WHO we are and WHO we want to be. A gap is inevitable. And it doesn’t just exist in our minds. We can probably all admit that there’s a gap between who others think we are and who we really are. Or between what we say and what we do.
James has been poking at this gap for his readers through his book. It’s what made him say that “faith without works is dead”. That’s “mind-the-gap” talk.
It’s also what makes him point out another way this gap shows up – a gap between the way we worship and praise God AND the way we talk to and about others. Quite simply James says “out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be”.
How you feelin’ right now?
If you’re not, I’m trying to get you to join my club.
Let me be honest. I love to sing the songs of faith – I have them playing in my car, I sing them into my mask during in-person worship (report me to Public Health, I don’t care). But I’m also quick to use my words for less-than-worshipful purposes. Mind the gap, Vijay.
So let’s do this – let’s try to close the gap a bit; or at least become aware that there is one. Here’s my idea:
- Let’s worship God, through this song that describes God’s faithfulness, presence, grace, forgiveness, perseverance, love and our desire to be with Him all the time. As you do, pay attention to the words
- Now…let’s use our mouth – our words – to show others the same faithfulness, presence, grace, forgiveness, perseverance and love that we have received.
- Pray and ask Jesus who He wants you to bless with your words today – wait and listen. It might be a name that’s familiar – family, friend, co-worker – it might be someone you just met or know very little about.
- Make a small resolution to use your words in some way today to bless whoever Jesus told you to bless.
Day 5 – Wisdom is as wisdom does (a.k.a James channeling Forrest Gump)
Read James 3:13-18 here
Well, if you’ve made it this far in the daily reading, congratulations.
Not my fault, blame the brother of Jesus.
Man, James’ words about our words and our actions, about the gap between who we say we are or appear to be, and who we really are…heavy stuff. Very convicting.
And he’s at it again in today’s reading: James’ comments about wisdom in this passage simply echo everything he’s already been saying. There is no such thing as godly wisdom if it doesn’t manifest itself in loving, self-sacrificing and humble behaviour towards others.
If you’ve missed any of the last 4 days, just go back and read the ones you missed. Today however, I feel the need to lead us together into God’s grace.
Who are we kidding. We can barely go half a day without saying something, thinking something or doing something that is so unlike Jesus; that is self-serving or hurtful to others.
Truthfully, if James wasn’t writing this letter to a group of Jesus-followers, if he Himself didn’t know and love and follow the living Christ, this would be a bummer of a book.
It would just sound like:
You’re selfish. Angry. You play favourites. You’re not humble. You’re a mess.
Try harder. Be better.
Maybe it has a bit to you as you’ve read this past week.
Aren’t we thankful for Jesus.
He is the one who not only models what perfection looks like, He meets us with grace and kindness in our many imperfections.
So let me lead you in a prayer that takes us to Him, and invites His perfecting work in our lives.
Take my mind Lord. You see and know all my thoughts. Nothing is hidden from you. I confess all the ways my mind expresses evil, selfishness, lust, worry and anger. Clean out my thoughts through your Spirit, and help the mind of Christ – which you have given me – start to function more powerfully, influencing all I think and feel.
Take my tongue Lord. You know the words I speak even before they come out of my mouth. Your words to me are wise, loving, gracious, powerful, forgiving, cleansing and hopeful. Let my tongue begin to speak words that are more like yours.
Take my hands Lord. Make them like yours. Your hands were embracing people, especially those who were outsiders, who others wouldn’t touch. Your hands brought healing. Your hands brought blessing when you put them on people’s heads, especially children. Your hands were pierced in self-sacrificing love. Help me set my hands – my energy and activity – to this kind of work.
Take my heart Lord. I so long to be like you, I really do. I want to have pure motivations in my relationships with others. I want to be generous to those in need. I want to be free to forgive others faults and not hold on to grudges. I want to have deeper wells of compassion for the hurting, the poor, and the victims of injustice. Shape and reshape my heart to be like yours.