Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lessons from James--Week 1, Chapter 1

I'm not yet sure what the theme of the previously mentioned Barton Bible Camp will be this year, but I know that our director has said he wants to study from the book of James. Since there are five weeks till camp, and five chapters of the book of James, why don't we take another look at this book, in an effort to prepare for camp, one chapter per week! How convenient! Here we go...I'll just share with you some things that stand out to me as I read through, perhaps I'll inquire of you in your wealth of knowledge, and I'll also share with you some notes that I pulled out from last fall, when our Singles class was studying the book of James on Wednesday nights.

***Side comment***

If you are not someone who typically takes notes during church or Bible studies, I highly recommend it. I started when I was in college, and it amazes me how much more I retain just by writing something down! Plus I can go back months, or even years later, and have valuable information readily available! Not only that, reading what I've written helps to jog my memory back to when I wrote, so I remember more of the actual sermon or lesson as well! These days you will rarely find me in church or class w/out a little notepad and a pen to go along with my Bible. Just one girl's opinion.

Now, on to James...

"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. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does."--James 1:2-8

----How often do you pray to God for wisdom? I confess that I don't often. I sit here right now, with my most current prayer list written down on a note pad, laying on my desk in front of me. As I glance over it, I notice that I tend to pray for more earthly matters. Not that they're bad things to pray for; my list consists mostly of names of people who are important to me, and it includes specific needs of theirs, some of them earthly and some of them spiritual. But wisdom for myself from God? Nowhere to be found. I should be brave enough to ask for that. I say brave, because we are promised that God will give generously, as long as I believe that He will. And just how is it that He gives that wisdom??? I believe it is mentioned in this passage--it is through trials that our faith is made stronger and that we are made "mature and complete, not lacking anything." What about you? Do you pray often for wisdom? Do you find that it comes to you in moments like these, the more trying times in your life? Any examples that you care to share???

"The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."--James 1:9-12

----Wait a minute? How is it that James switches subjects on us so quickly, without even the slightest hint of a decent segue? First he's talking about asking for wisdom from God and having faith that God will give it. Then all of a sudden he goes off on the necessity of being humble, warning that the rich man will fade away??? Then he goes back to persevering under trial, telling us that those of us that persevere will receive a crown of life??? The only way this makes sense to me is to realize that he's not necessarily changing subjects...or at least I don't think he is. Seems to me that it's not so much about being rich or poor, high societal position or low societal position, as it is about realizing what is only temporary versus what really matters. And it's when we are persevering through trials that we begin to realize what is truly important and put the more temporary things into perspective. I think his point is that even if you are rich in this life, if you place your stake in earthly things, concentrating solely on your earthly business, you will fade away. However the one who focuses on the business of loving the Lord will receive a crown of life. What a stark contrast! Fading away like a withered wildlflower that is scorched by the heat, versus a crown of life eternal! Do you think this is a fair interpretation? Why, or why not?

"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."--James 1:13-18

----Here's a little better segue, as he moves on from talking about persevering in trial to remind us that, when we are tempted and face trials, not to blame the Lord. James says that rather than blame God, we should be grateful to Him, recognizing that all that is good is from Him. He reminds us that it is our own earthly desires that lead us into the temptations in the first place. Evil desire gives birth to sin, which gives birth to death. Doesn't quite add up to birth to death??? Isn't that an oxymoron?!?!?! I think it's meant to be so, and it's abundantly clear as James elaborates on the goodness of God. He contrasts the oxymoron of sin giving birth to death with God giving us birth through the word of truth! That makes us the firstfruits of God's creation!!! What does this mean??? Well, "first fruits" usually refers to an offering up to God, giving Him what is gathered first, rather than mere leftovers. We, as Christians, are the first of His creation, rather than mere leftovers. Besides being a prized and loved firstfruits of His creation, we also become firstfruits to the Lord as we become living sacrifices--the aroma of Christ. Any thoughts on what else it might mean to be "a kind of firstfruits of all He created"???

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen ot the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. --James 1:19-25

----So how is it that we become this firstfruits, this aroma of Christ? He stated that God gives us that birth through the word of truth. So it makes sense, then, that James would encourage people to pay attention to the word. He warns us to get rid of the filth and evil which might drag us away and instead, focus on His word. We are to look into it intently, so that we remember what it says we are to do. Then we are to do it! In fact, as we were studying this passage last fall, one girl stated that her version used the phrase "effectual doer." That is, one who doesn't just give to others the appearance of "doing" but one who is being effective, having an impact on the world around them by listening to His word and doing His will. Does anyone have any idea which version it is that uses the phrase "effectual doer"? It's not NIV, because that's what I use, and I don't think it's KJV either, because that's what my E-sword on my computer is, and I didn't see it there. Anyone???

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."--James 1:26-27

----Here he goes again, changing subjects on us again. Or does he? These last two verses, though seeming a little unrelated to the previous passage (or to each other for that matter!) are, I believe, a good summary of what has been said thus far. When James is talking about keeping a tight reign on one's tongue, I wonder if it's because he remembers the words of Jesus from Matt. 12:34, when He says that "...out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I wonder if James' point is that if you cannot keep a tight rein on your tongue, it may be a sign that your heart is not right. And God is abundantly clear, throughout His word, that the heart, not outward religion, is what matters most to Him. Likewise, I believe, is the last verse of this chapter. For Jesus also said that "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." Our hearts must be pleasing to God, and for our hearts to be pleasing to God, we've got to have a heart for our fellow man, and in doing so, we will have an effect on the world around us. Oh yeah, and remember, once again, while helping your fellow men in the world, not to be polluted by the world, with its evil desires that give birth to sin and death.

At least, that's what I think James is trying to say here. Again, your comments are appreciated, as I study in preparation for camp! I'm excited, can hardly wait!!! Much love!

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