I have had an odd mixture of Scripture reading and church calendar this week. I have found myself reading through Ezekiel, and I have made some interesting connections in the juxtaposition of God’s destruction of Jerusalem and our celebration of Easter.
In Ezekiel, the glory of the Lord is seen leaving the temple, leaving Jerusalem, and bringing judgment to that great city for its sins against the covenant. Ezekiel’s life becomes a living “sign” of what is to come when God instructs him to live out what will come. We see God drawing near to his people — but drawing near in judgment and it is terrifying!
In James, we read in chapter 2 about the Lord Jesus Christ, the glory [of the Lord]. God once again drew near to his people, as Jesus came in to the world to seek and to save that which was lost. At Easter, we celebrate that Jesus came to proclaim the year of God’s favor (Luke 4:19). We marvel at God’s grace to pull sinners to himself and make us part of his family.
Lastly, I remember that Jesus in Luke 4 when reading the scroll skipped over the last phrase from Isaiah 61:2, “to proclaim the year of God’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God”. Jesus said the first half of that phrase was fulfilled in his time. We wait the fulfillment of the latter part when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead, to set things right, and to destroy death. Let us proclaim this great truth: God shows favor/mercy through Jesus. We cannot wait forever for Jesus is coming. Amen; come Lord Jesus!
My new favorite song is by an artist I had never heard of before this. Matt Maher sings “Because He Lives (Amen)”, a song from his forthcoming album, due out next week (March 17th). I know nothing of Matt (if I may call him that) except that this song powerfully expresses that our salvation is wholly from God. Matt has mixed in the words from the chorus of “Because He Lives” by the Gaithers, with two verses speaking of our sin and shame now taken away by the mercy of God. Each time I hear this song, I am uplifted and more eager to meet my savior. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
I believe in the Son
I believe in the risen One
I believe I overcome
By the power of His blood
I was dead in the grave
I was covered in sin and shame
I heard mercy call my name
He rolled the stone away
I’m alive, I’m alive
Because He lives
Let my song join the one that never ends
Because He lives
It’s the little things — the small tests — that always trip me up the most, that interfere with my daily Christian walk. I can bear the stress of a looming deadline at work or the big unexpected repairs at home or even an extended hospital stay. But ask me how well I handle dropping a spoon when setting the table or a yapping dog at 3:00 am, and I have to admit (sheepishly) that I do not handle it too well at all. Anger and frustration and cursing are all waiting for me at those times because it seems so much more controllable than a big calamity.
I wonder if our perspectives get messed up with our facade of control. It plays a big part in my own life when I worry over small things – as if there were a part of the universe in which I am actually in charge and have somehow failed to manage properly. I have to give up my self-appointed role as overseer of the universe; that job is already filled.
James is convicting not just because I do not hold the “long view” in my sight (God’s work for my perfection) but because I cannot control my tongue either. But to the first goal: we tend to think of endurance in the big calamities of life, but we forget the “long obedience in the same direction”. Our small daily decisions to follow Christ shape who we are — and what trajectory our life is on.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2, ESV)
James interestingly enough does not say “Be joyful” when you meet hardships. He knows that hardships are not pleasant; he knows that hardships can cause great sadness. The psalms, the great songbook of our faith, reflect the great depths of emotion that a person can have in serving God. But what James tells us is how to think, not how to feel.
Hardship and trial comes, and James wants us to have a certain attitude when the testing arrives. Because trials and tests, in whatever shape they may take, naturally imperil our persistence in faith. Our attitudes are critical to how we come out on the other side of the trial. He wants us to seek out a contentment in every situation, to pursue a “deep, steady, and unadulterated thankful trust” in God.
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:3-4 ESV)
James explains his command to “count it all joy” by pointing out the purpose behind the trials and tests: they lead to endurance (steadfastness), and then endurance leads to maturity and perfection. This is no easy task; it seems downright impossible when we consider that Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). However, God designs testing to result in our “long obedience in the same direction” (to borrow from Eugene Peterson’s book). We face tests that prove us, that refine us as silver and gold are refined, that purify our faith. Our Christian character is rounded out incrementally and through continual striving — in the tests we are given.
James tells us to have a lifestyle marked by increasing maturity. Increasing maturity draws us closer to God. And that is why we can think about joy during a test: we see the benefit in a more mature life, a purer faith, following Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).
During the start of any book study, we take some time, before getting into verse 1, to discuss the book itself. Who wrote it? Why was it written? To whom was it written? What are the major themes?
Randy and I are using several different commentaries, but for the overview, I drew mainly from the Zondervan Exegetical on James by Blomberg and Kammell. It is well written and organized; I highly recommend it.
The bottom-line we drew from the book of James is below:
James, the half-brother of Jesus, wrote the letter to the ethnic Jewish-Christian communities in Syria and Cilicia. James wrote his letter in the early to mid-40s A.D., meaning it is likely one of the earliest New Testament texts we possess! James focuses his letter on the issues facing the communities: trials and temptations; wisdom in speech and obedience; riches and poverty.
The presentation I prepared for the class is available. Download it and go through it again.
At the end of January, our Sunday school class began studying the book of James in the New Testament. I challenged the class to read through the book at least three times each week. The book has about 100 verses and can be read in about 15 minutes. Its directness and focus on practical Christianity has made it a favorite of men and women throughout the centuries.
If you accept this challenge, by the end of our study, you will have read James more than 30 times. By fully immersing yourself into the text you will come to truly know the text. You will deepen your understanding of James and the Christian life. Ask God to open your heart to his Word. Trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the text and provide guidance and understanding.
Will you accept the challenge with me? We must shape our minds to Scripture (and not Scripture to our minds). And we do that by reading and thinking it over. I see something new to meditate on each time I read James, and I hope you will find value in combing through the book several times a week.
(Note: challenge idea came from Joe Carter’s post “How to Change Your Mind”, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-to-change-your-mind1.)
 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.  Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.  Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.  And say to Archippus, “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord.”  I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,  and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.  Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him),  and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.  Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.  At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.  Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.
 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.  Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.  Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.  Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality. [4:1] Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.