Reblogged from life and building:
The big question with the pursuit of justice is whether it is personal or institutional. No one denies that justice in the world around us is important. Jesus Himself directed the Pharisees to the practice of justice (Matt. 23:23). But how, why, and to what extent justice should be pursued is debated.
Jon Tyson wrote a great article last week called, Driven vs. Called, where he revealed two ways we find motivation to serve. One is from a sense of calling, where God directs us to do something; the other is drive, which Tyson identifies as the pressures of ministry. The latter is steeped in a high view of our own merit, a low view of Christ’s work in us, and will end up draining the most well-meaning Christian. But there’s another motivation that confronts divine calling. It’s need.
A lot of urgencies are menial, tedious things, such as crisis management, pressing needs in the community, issues that other people want you to champion, even answering email, replying to texts, and making important phone calls. Many of these things are necessary, but as Stephen Covey brilliantly suggested, they are pressing, and this is what makes them so difficult—they are the needs that demand the most attention. And because they demand attention, they sometimes steal attention from those things which are most important, though not always urgent.
Important things can include vision, passions, preventative measures, forward-movement, planning, and in this case, calling: those things we know God has led us to do, not more or less.
My dad and I once had to tear out an entire yard of ivy. The garden used to be beautiful—full of other plant life, but now, it’s just an enclave of overbearing vines. My dad explained that this ivy might look nice in a potted plant, but once it lays down roots it will quickly take over. After that, you’re done growing anything else—it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problem. That’s kind of what it’s like to be need driven. You say yes to so many urgent needs, that you have no time to spend for the things that are most important; it’s simply a matter of maintaining the problems.
But instead of learning from them, we use their stories to bury ourselves further in the pressure to be better (i.e., more productive) Christians! For example, we read of all the radical things that happen from Genesis to Revelation, and think that a faithful Christian life should include all said things. But not even Jesus did everything. For example, he was called, not to the Gentiles, but specifically to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24)—even though Jesus’ mission was a part of God’s redemptive plan for the Gentiles. Even the things that Jesus did, were not always done. For example, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. Why not? Because He said that he came to do “the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34; 6:38). Jesus was call-driven. He got his call from His Father. And in the grand scope of the Biblical story, we see that Jesus wasn’t being heartless; he was committed to that which mattered most. And eventually, his obedience would offer salvation and redemption to everyone with needs.
How does this slice of God’s redemptive plan, as seen in Jesus ministry, shape our practice? First, consider a few things.
1. We have union with Christ by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live like him.
A part of that enablement comes, albeit counterintuitively, when we focus, not on what we need to get done, but on what has been done for us in Jesus. The Gospel, then, becomes the motivation we need to do what we are called to, and to not do everything life demands of us. Why?
2. Because we trust in the sovereignty of God to handle the universe and it’s overwhelming needs.
God’s satisfaction in us through Christ frees us from the pressures of doing everything; and in moments of self-doubt, we can continually fall back on those things we must to do, not those things we should do.
Our union with Christ allows us to enter into the freedom of being call-driven, and frees us from the pressures of answering every need. Eventually, every real need will be met in Jesus. We are called to be faithful.
Britt Merrick | The Person of the Holy Spirit (an overview)
Chris Lazo | The Work of the Holy Spirit (an overview)
Britt Merrick | Being Baptized With The Holy Spirit
Britt Merrick | Being Filled With The Holy Spirit
Britt Merrick | The Anointing of the Holy Spirit
Britt Merrick | Being Led by the Spirit (Part 1)
Britt Merrick | Being Led by the Spirit (Part2)
Britt Merrick | The Gift of Prophecy
Britt Merrick | The Gift of Tongues
Chris Lazo | The Gift of Healing
Chris Lazo | The Gift of Service
Chris Lazo | The Holy Spirit & Prayer
Britt Merrick | The Holy Spirit & Mission
A sermon on revival…
A sermon on persevering as a church in Santa Barbara…
A sermon on Spirit-Filled worship…
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.
Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB).
The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!
James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that,
James then transitions from a group of unregenerate in the church to those who are enduring well in a reminder to persist in hard times.
James 5:7-12 “Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door! Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.” (HCSB).
What is the “Therefore” there for? Well, after just reading vv.1-6, it seems that James is reminding the poor and downtrodden that their cries have “reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (v4). The reason Christians can carry on in the midst of tremendous suffering is because we have a sense that God hates injustice, and is going to work things out, in this life or in the one to come. That means your grueling efforts are not in vain. The enemy of God’s kingdom will not prevail. There is hope for the Christ-follower if they will but persist to the very end! After all, the Lord, who’s “coming is near,” (v8) is “very compassionate and merciful” (v11). The first appearance of “brothers” in verse 7 of this chapter signifies that James is now addressing those within the faith, whereas the rich of 5:1-7 seem to be unrepentant and unregenerate. So there is a clear difference between the eternal identity of those being addressed in verses 1-6 as in verses 7-12. The former has put all their trust in their riches; the latter has put all their trust in God, and James is imploring them to stay in that place of trust, as evidenced by the repeated terms, “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “endurance” in this sequence of Scripture (highlighted in green).
Contrasted with the “miseries that are coming” on the unregenerate who hoard their resources, James urgently implores the believers Jerusalem to…
James finally ends on a note of prayer.
James 5:13-20 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (HCSB).
This is one of the most beautiful swathes of Scripture in all of James.
In his closing chapter, James identifies those who have no faith (vv.1-6), those who are proving their faith (vv.7-12), and concluding with a call to arms (vv.13-20), reminding everyone that there will be some who stumble and fall, and that salvation doesn’t come to make us an island, rather, we are saved into a community that is under the allegiance of Christ, and we are to leave no man or woman behind.
This was a rewarding journey through a delightful epistle. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Remember our original intent in starting a study like this, where we are not just looking at the minutia of the letter, but zooming out to a view of 30,000 feet in order to identify sweeping themes that hold this book together. Before I end this blog post, let me provide you with a brief summary of James. I hope after reading this, you will find James beyond just a disjointed grouping of “fortune-cookie” proverbs; it is robust with the themes of trust, suffering, wisdom, holiness, and love for the poor. Check out the summary below. When you are reading James, and mining different verses, you will be able to plug them into this overall train of thought that James had, in order to illuminate the individual verses at hand with tremendous meaning.
When life gets difficult, God will use bad circumstances to transform you, as long as you trust in Him; this occurs when our thought life is brought in subjection to what God says is true (ch.1). This new maturity is most visible in two ways: 1) how we treat others in the body of Christ, specifically, the ones who cannot repay us; in fact, the way we treat the poor in our own local churches is evidence of our faith (ch.2)! and 2) how we speak to one another (ch.3). These elements can only be cultivated in the Christian who continually trusts in God in all circumstances, bringing the theme back around to the first chapter (ch.4). At the end of the age, our fruit will either condemn or vindicate us, so we must be diligent to grow in holiness and love towards one another—the one who perseveres is confident that they are the Lord’s, and must not leave anyone in the family of God behind, even those who appear as falling away (ch.5).
Adventurous? Exciting? Perhaps through a prophetic word, a confirmation, an opportunity; maybe through a divine revelation, the kind that gnaws at you when you lie in bed, and consumes your thoughts; or a burden, as though you felt the very heart of the Lord on the matter. Regardless of the form it takes, one thing is certain. God calls us to obey—often in ways outside of our comfort zone—and that, in a very mysterious and satisfying way, is exciting. I remember when Brianna and I experienced God’s calling on our life, and the urge we felt to obey God in that moment. We immediately rearranged our lives, not to mention our emotional and mental state of mind. Unfortunately, that calling never materialized, and we were both left wondering if we heard from God all those years to begin with.
The examples of my friend, Dominic Balli, are exemplar. In one conversation I had with him, he brought up some dreams and ambitions of music God put on his heart, that he pursued for years, and are only just now transpiring. After we shared mutual stories (and laughs), he pointed out that many of those grand callings God put on his life didn’t take place for eight to ten years later! Then a sobering thought: When God gives you a calling, he is not necessarily giving you the timing.
Why am I saying this?
For example, I hear lines like these a lot:
“I’m called to ministry—right now!”
“I’m supposed to be with that guy/girl—right now!”
“God’s calling me to this job—right now!”
“God is telling me to move to Russia—right now!”
“I think we are supposed to get married—right now!”
Sometimes God may call you to the former, but you mistakenly assume the latter. Unless you hear God giving you a time, or a specific command to “move immediately” you should consider that He might be revealing his plans just to excite you, or refocus your attention on him, not so you can “help” make it happen. When you rush too quickly, you end up working outside of His will by pursuing a God-given calling through power-hungry cravings and willpower; God never blesses those self-reliant efforts. Here, outside of God’s will, your calling will likely not happen the way you envisioned, and you will find yourself entertaining all sorts of explanations, dead ends, and endless circles of confusion. Kind of like I did at the beginning of the story. Where did we go wrong? We moved without him telling us when. Premature obedience is still disobedience.
Gen 37:3-8 (HCSB)
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
Joseph ends the first book of the Bible with a lofty calling, to save all of Egypt. Yet, he blabs his calling (which came in a dream) and ends up exacerbating the divide between the brothers that already hated him for the favoritism shown him by his father.
Luke 2:15-19 (HCSB)
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
This might be the greatest calling on earth! An angel shows up in the home of a poor, Jewish woman during the Roman empire, to tell her that she will carry the incarnate God of the universe to term…as a baby!?! Had I received a revelation a fraction of that weight, I would have posted it instantly on Facebook, and perhaps started an Event Page to get things rolling. You know, all grassroots style. Notice her response to this astonishing message in the last verse: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (19). No wonder she was so “highly favored” (Luke 1:28, KJV). We have much to learn from her.
What should you take from all of this? Simple.
Store it away in your heart for prayer, rumination, further confirmation, introspection, community discernment, the council of your elders, and the sovereign hand of God to move your calling into a place in history, while refusing to succumb to the impulses brought on by your insecurities and desire for position, security, or control. And enjoy this process, for it is in the waiting that God fits you for the calling.
Congratulations—you’re normal! And for all your lack in discerning God’s specific calling, you can still find enough comfort through the everyday wisdom he will graciously supply to you.
What happened to some of those dreams and ambitions Brianna and I had? To put it in Dominic’s words, we realized they may not happen for 10 years—maybe even 50 years! So we stored those things away in our hearts, and decided to live in the present. This is true of everyone: God can change the course of your life 50 years from now, but why would you waste the next 50 years thinking about it? As we decided in our hearts to immerse ourselves fully in the present, we realized that God had a tremendous calling on our lives right now. And it has been so liberating and exciting to follow in that. Do you have a burden on your heart for something, somewhere, or someone that is not yet materializing? Store it in your heart, keep your hand on the plow, and your eyes on Jesus. Very little else matters.
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
Now let’s glue these together and see if we can get something that flows better. Here is my best attempt:
As a Christian, we must grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties, and His Word will help us by renewing the way we think about our circumstances; in other words, we are immersed in the messiness, yet unstained by it. With this in mind, getting messy requires that we look after the poor in our own church, because God loves them, and generosity is evidence of genuine faith in us. To be unstained by the world requires keeping a firm watch on the things we say, since holiness is manifest in our speech.
A shorter version of this might be:
Chapter 4 starts to feel a bit like disjointed proverbs (more so than before!). But a close look reveals a steady pattern. Let’s read through the text all at once before we dive into the details. Remember that what I believe are key verses will be in italics. Any suggestive motifs I’ve put in green; these are useful in identifying the dominant idea of the chapter which is what we’re going to need when we do Biblical Theology (or any sweeping study). I’ve included the entire chapter this time.
James 4:1-17 “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from the cravings that are at war within you? You desire and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires. Adulteresses! Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you think it’s without reason the Scripture says that the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously? But He gives greater grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, double-minded people! Be miserable and mourn and weep. Your laughter must change to mourning and your joy to sorrow. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it“ (HCSB).
First I read the chapter without stopping. Then I looked for naturally occurring segments that seem to carry a unified thought. For example, the first three verses are all about an inner war going on in every Christian. The next two verses are about two kingdoms opposing one another (and so on). After I’ve done this through the chapter, I created a bit of an outline to help me make sense of James’s driving themes. Here they are below…
The basic trajectory of the fourth chapter matches these five points.
Remember, we are not looking to uncover the nuances in every verse, but to retrieve the basic point of the chapter, the tapestry. Later, we can go back and look at every verse in light of the overarching point. But what we have so far is a straightforward message woven through the fourth chapter of James. At this juncture, we should add a prominent motif: “adulteress!” (v4). If you consider that an adulteress describes one who is unfaithful to their covenant partner, this becomes a screaming analogy of the Christian who rejects the lordship of God by entertaining their fleshly indulgences. In other words, James is warning the Christian that the “war” between the regenerated spirit and the sinful desires within is ongoing, and they must tirelessly engage in that battle without relenting if, indeed, they are under the lordship of God. Further, we are not of the dark kingdom because “the Spirit who lives in us yearns jealously” (v5), and gives us a “greater grace” to persevere. You may remember that this is the very same premise that James started off with in his first chapter:
Christians are made more complete when they endure conflicts by trusting in God.
Ordinarily, one might be at easy with the period at the end of verse 10, and move on to the next paragraph to form a new thought, but as shown by his lead-in, “Therefore” (v7), James does seem to continue with his train of thought.
Verses 11-12 are a more in-depth look at the masters of each Kingdom—God and Satan—and yet God clearly has no equal in this battle, for he tells us that if a Christian submits to God, and resists the devil they will experience victory (v7).
This is where it gets a bit controversial. The following paragraph on criticizing each other suggests that submitting to the lordship of God is inextricably tied to how we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the local church; a dynamic emphasized in Chapter 2. But what does “criticizing” mean? Surely there is a type of constructive criticism that is honorable and useful in the body of Christ. The type of criticism that James speaks of is more damaging to others in the church—i.e., it is able to “destroy” (v12). We see this in the ambiguously labeled “fights” going on in the church (vv1-2). That’s why James says that criticizing each other is essentially to “judge the law” (11), since the law James is most likely referring to is the law of love that came earlier in the epistle (2:8-11). So then, James is not forbidding constructive criticism, necessary discernment of sin, or church discipline; but rather, flagrant condemnation from of selfish ambition or jealousy (3:16). Or to overlap a similar theme from chapter 3…
Keep in mind that James was writing to a group of exiles struggling with their identity as Christians in a culture that was very different from their way of life and belief; their background is similar to any post-Christian environment today: it is hostile and foreign to the worldview of Christ-following men and women.
The bottom line: God knows better than we about every minutia of our lives, and we would be silly to disregard Him on anything, even what we are planning on doing tomorrow (vv.13-15), and especially how we view those in the body of Christ (v11-12). But submission to the lordship of God is not tiresome or disagreeable for those regenerated and filled with the Spirit (v5), but joyful and full of life (v8,10). Such is the life of the Kingdom family. For it is not human thriving to simply keep oneself unstained (1:27b), but one must also be a part of the expanding kingdom family of God (2:15-17), for “it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it” (4:17).
Reblogged from life and building:
As the conclusion and telos of the Bible, the book of Revelation is a book of divine blessing to believers.
Blessed is he who reads... --Revelation 1:3
The first blessing mentioned in Revelation is bestowed on readers. Blessing begins with reading. In light of the following apocalyptic blessings, I think it's appropriate to say that overcoming also begins with reading. The word 'blessed' appears seven times in the book of Revelation, and every instance seems to apply to the overcomers (
On another occasion, I was with a friend who disclosed to me a lot of their weaknesses and failures. They confessed faults that you would not expect from a person of such “spiritual stature.” There was no real resolve, or Christian “zinger” to make the story end well. Just an old-fashioned complaint, couched in real angst, almost permitting me to feel human. Imagine that.
I long for my conversations to look like the latter example. Sometimes they don’t. There are a lot of ways to “bless” someone into a deeper grief; I am beginning to realize more and more that what I crave most in difficult times is two-fold: a listener, and a safe environment to be real.
How about you?
(Thanks Nathanael Matanick for posting this link)