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James Abbreviated: Chapter 5

This is our final chapter in the series, James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)
  4. True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity. (Chapter 4)

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.

  1. Rich people in the church (vv.1-6)
  2. Persistence (vv.7-12)
  3. Prayer and confession (vv.13-20)

Let’s look at each category to find the thread of James’s overall message woven throughout the chapter. Starting with vv. 1-6

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, (more…)

James Abbreviated: Chapter 4

We’re approaching the end of James Abbreviated!

If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:

  1. Christians grow to maturity by trusting God in difficulties; God’s Word renews the way you think. (Chapter 1)
  2. Christian’s must look after their own poor; generosity within the family of God is evidence of genuine faith. (Chapter 2)
  3. Holiness is manifest in your speech. (Chapter 3)

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:

True faith makes the church grow in holiness and generosity together.

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. AdulteressesDon’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… Read the rest of this entry

4 ways to make a crowded room feel smaller

In a prior post I wanted to bring attention to the problem of community in large groups. One way of bringing community to large groups, is by making large groups feel smaller. In this post are some ways my local church gathering has attempted to accomplish this.

Serving.

It may seem relatively simple, but asking a newbie to show up and set up chairs, clean, or make coffee, has had some great results at Adorn, but only when the other volunteers are intentional to get to know that person. Serving is very conducive to relationship, and it’s easier to get to know someone when you share a common goal (e.g., greeting people at the door).

Comm groups 

Tribes can develop in a neighborhood pretty organically if you have that type of socialite on the block who can just throw parties. For those who can’t do this, organized community groups are very helpful. Instead of serving at a church, the common bond can be the neighborhood space, bible study, mission, food, etc.

Hobbies 

You would be surprised how effective it is to grab a couple socially awkward guys and invite them to shoot guns in the wilderness. Bring a bag of chips and drinks, and conversations will follow shortly after. Or billards. Or a book club. Whatever floats your boat.

Food

This is my favorite cannon for community. When all else fails (or even if it doesn’t) just break out the food. People love gathering around shared meals. It’s not just a way to fill a felt need, but an open table is a loud invitation tot he stranger that they are welcome where you are. No wonder Jesus came “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34).

How have you created small yet meaningful community?

Cultivating Community

Our little college group in Carpinteria, California has been blessed with some rich community by the grace of God. I wanted to look closely to see if there were any elements that can be adopted by any community of believers. Below is what I learned over the past three years.

Here’s how it’s worked for us at Adorn…

There is commonality. We noticed that Jesus has been forming a common identity in us that brings us together. From this identity, he is tangibly expressed through knowing Him (in his word together), prayer (meetings), worshipping (God together), serving (each other), repentance (of sin to each other), eating (food together), etc.

 

Let me explain…

  1. Identity. When God brings you into a new family, and you begin to recognize this with others.
  2. Scripture. When you open the Scriptures…it’s like sitting at the feet of Jesus together!
  3. Prayer. Prayer changes things. It also changes our view of one another. I made most of my closest friends through prayer meetings. This is a great community builder.
  4. Worship. We build one another up with our common awe of God. 
  5. Service. The most tightly knit people at Adorn also serve each other, or serve others with one another.
  6. Repentance. The transparency that one must undergo in order to confess and repent sin to another is incredibly transformative, not to mention a deep bonding experience for all parties involved.
  7. Food. Yup, every transformative time of community at Adorn always seems to have food, which, when the above elements are not enough to bring some people together, always seems to work wonders.

These are some bonuses characteristics that have helped us cultivate everything listed above….

  • Regularity. Some of the moments of community listed above happen several times a week.
  • Availability. In order to allow for regularity, Adorn doesn’t pack the year with a lot of frivolous events.
  • Simplicity. We don’t make things too complicated or structured beyond what is needed, so that community can still happen organically.

By the way, even our corporate gathering is largely communal. Only a small part of it is teaching or worship, roughly two hours of our weekly gathering. But there are about forty people who are there for nearly eight hours doing life together in the ways described above, praying for one another, serving each other, confessing to each other, and eating with one another. As far as I can tell, this has naturally spilled over into our normal way of life as a core group.

Here’s some ways you can implement what happens at Adorn in your own life… Read the rest of this entry

Missional Millennials (part 5) ~ The Narrative of Mission

In the past three years of pastoring a college ministry (Adorn), I have been overwhelmed by God’s grace to send his Spirit and his presence upon us on a weekly basis. We started as a prayer meeting of three people that used to meet at the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography to pray for college students. Now, it is a worship gathering of 400+ twentysomethings that meet on Friday nights in Carpinteria, coming as far North as Isla Vista, and as far south as Malibu, Thousand Oaks, and Newbury Park. Out of this group have come restored identities, passionate worshippers, overseas missionaries, builders of community, beautifiers of culture, and lovers of the King.

I’ve noticed five elements that are prevalent in these young adults who are cultivating a lifestyle of a Millennial on Mission…

  1. They are always having their identity renewed in Jesus (identity)
  2. Their new identity forms their worship of Jesus (worship)
  3. Their lives influences other lives (discipleship)
  4. They bring everything back into community (community)
  5. Their community reaches outsiders (evangelism)
Notice that this is not a systematic, point-by-point outline of steps you should take. It’s not, “Ok, first lets go evangelize at Target, then let’s go disciple some people at the coffee shop, and then let’s have an outdoor concert, and how about a bible study on Thursday, and then…”

Rather, these elements seem to happen all at once!

It’s not a system, but a story.

But wait, you say, “where is the ‘missional’ element in this series on Missional Millennials?”

All five of these elements encapsulate mission, because in order for mission to work, the messenger must be identified with Christ, a worshiper of Christ, wanting to draw others to worship Christ through every area of life, and in a community that is just as concerned with outsiders as they are for each other. It’s a culture.

It’s communities of 18-30 year old men and women that are living in this story, not only through Adorn, but across the Coast, that have captured my attention, and they seem to be making a difference, by the wonderful grace of God.

For this reason, I sometimes refer to them as Missional Millennials.

Missional Millennials (part 2): Discipleship through worship

In the first post of this series, I suggested that our identity forms what we worship. Now I’m proposing that what we worship will inevitably form discipleship in our lives and in others around us.

My mom used to say “You are what you eat,” as a euphemism for healthy nutrition. In other words, you become like what you digest. It’s not much different for making disciples and being discipled. You are who you hang around, and most communities gather around a common purpose. Something which both parties share a mutual interest in.

You will become like who you hang around.

You will hang around people you have something deeply in common with—your social circles will revolve around the things that you adore. In a nutshell, you will be discipled in accordance to what you most value. Further, you will also influence others in the same sphere of shared desires. Take bowling, for example. If your identity is shaped by your desire to become the best bowler in the world, the practice of bowling will feed your obsession; you will go bowling all the time. You will also surround yourself around a natural community that gravitates towards the same passion, and in so doing will unavoidably become like them, as they become like you. Mutual discipleship. You are what you eat, and you eat bowling.

This can get really interesting for the Christian. We immediately have an open door of evangelism with many people based on shared interests.

  1. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  2. Who else likes to do that?
  3. Share with them this common purpose, and build a community around it.

The reason this is usually problematic, is because many Christian’s don’t like hanging outside of their usual church culture.

We like to spend time with other Christians, and remove ourselves from the big bad world. In doing so, we disciple other Christians, and only influence them. Yet if you scan the New Testament, you will see that all people are disciples of something or someone, because we all have an inherent sense of identity, that leads us to seek out communities of worship centered around a common purpose. But dozens of people in your social stream are being naturally discipled by everyone else but you. If it’s true that God shares common grace on the wicked and the righteous alike, then shouldn’t we learn how to enjoy the finer things in life with the non-believer, if for no other reason, than for friendship?

It seems these days, the only time we will ever spend with a non-believer is for the split second it takes to convert them to Christianity. And even supposing that strategy works, they will convert to Christianity without any hope of godly discipleship. Oh but they will be discipled. The question is who?

The conversion lie.

Adventures in rubbernecking: The New Testament’s original community group.

Acts 2:42-47

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” (NLT)


On Saturday, I asked about the successes and failures that we’ve experienced in church-sponsored community groups. You can see that conversation here (comments are now closed).

Now I’ve been chasing after the notion of community through the story of the Early Church and their perception of true community. I’m not one to romanticize them (they were just as messed up as we are), and I understand that some practices in the Bible are merely descriptive, not prescriptive for us today. But I think we would be hard pressed to find an ounce of Acts 2 that is foreign to our current church practices, since the results of Acts 2 birthed the church that we now populate! Take the above passage for example, and allow me to paint from it this picture,

Jesus just rose from the dead, and you can’t do much to contain the adrenaline rush surging through your body. You’re still fresh from grieving over the loss, yet now find your entire life revolving too fast to calculate. You desperately need to process this unusual set of circumstances, so you crash your friend’s house and compare stories well into midnight. Amid mouthfuls of food and wine, you can barely contain your excitement as a few of you recall some Old Testament suggestions that this would all unfold. Every few minutes a fresh, startling announcement causes you all to stop and pray—others break out in song. In another lively corner of the house are a few people who used to hate you, yet are now cordially gathered by the chips and salsa—one must blame the overwhelming effect your friend’s ascension is having on the neighborhood. Your entire block is abuzz. One thing you know; Jesus has risen, and you are in awe.

This is a great story of community—found in my own Bible—and it  has my whole modern-day structure in a snafu because what I know of community falls depressingly short of this.

I want to spend a few days looking at different elements of this passage to see how we might be able to weave our lives together with what the New Testament community lived out. But in the meantime…

What immediately stands out to you about this Pentecost-borne community group? Is it possible to replicate this now? Should we try?

Jesus came “Eating and Drinking”

In his book, A Meal With Jesus, Tim Chester points out the many times Jesus is pictured eating with people in Luke’s Gospel,

  1. In Luke 5 Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners at the home of Levi.
  2. In Luke 7 Jesus is anointed at the home of Simon the Pharisee during a meal.
  3. In Luke 9 Jesus feeds the five thousand.
  4. In Luke 10 Jesus eats in the home of Martha and Mary.
  5. In Luke 11 Jesus condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law at a meal.
  6. In Luke 14 Jesus is at a meal when he urges people to invite the poor to their meals rather than their friends.
  7. In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to dinner with Zacchaeus.
  8. In Luke 22 we have the account of the Last Supper.
  9. In Luke 24 the risen Christ has a meal with the two disciples in Emmaus, and then later eats fish with the disciples in Jerusalem (p.10)

To top it all, Luke emphasizes that Jesus came into the world “eating and drinking” (Luke 7:34)

Considering this blatant purpose statement, it would appear that sharing meals with people was an important aspect to the Lord’s mission.

How many outsiders have you eaten with recently? Got any stories or experiences?

Do community groups create community?

George Gallup Jr. concluded from his studies and polls that Americans are among the loneliest people in the world. (Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church. 16)

The quote above is startling considering the massive networks of communication that we all have. From the personal touch of a cellphone call, the convenient tap of an email, and the intricate relational rhythms of social media, we are a generation that has the ability to stay un-lonely. As if that weren’t enough, the gathering church pulls out all the stops with its prized relational weapon: community groups! (or whatever 12 monikers it’s also known under: small groups, home groups, cell groups, etc).

But are these actually creating real community?

I think many of you have some worthwhile things to say about community groups. This is a safe place to be real, and for whatever it’s worth, I really would like to know…

What are YOUR honest thoughts on your community group experiences? Are they creating community for you?

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