Monday, April 22, 2019

Playing Favorites

“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

 (James 2:1-7 ESV)

Our natural tendency, as sinners, is to show partiality. We naturally favor some over others. And that favoritism is typically based on our perception of who is the most useful.

A perfect example is the one that James cites above. We tend to favor those who are wealthy over those who are poor. And, why? Because they have the more to offer us.

We might think that this happens in our personal lives, and not so much in the church. But nothing is further from the truth. In reality, this happens as much in the church as it does everywhere else.

The poor are not able to contribute as much as the rich. Therefore, we value their opinions less. And, not only that, but we value their contributions less.

We value their contribution less even though, according to Jesus, the two small coins of the elderly widow were more significant than the donations of the rich (Mark 12:41-44). They were more valuable because, even if her gift was lesser from a monetary standpoint, it was more generous. It was a more sacrificial gift than those given by the wealthy.

Favoritism is even expected in the church by those who are wealthiest. It’s expected because, if the church won’t or can’t spend the money on a specific project, the rich will do it themselves. It’s assumed that the church will never turn away that significant of a donation. They will not turn it away at the risk of losing a member who contributes so much.

We do this despite the fact that God has chosen the poor in this world to be blessed. We do so despite the fact that it’s the rich who oppress us and drag us into court. They do so because they have the means to accomplish their goals.

Showing partiality, according to James, is sinful. In this way, we have made distinctions. In this way, we’ve become judges with evil thoughts.

We can show partiality for other reasons, of course. We can show it based upon a person’s educational level. We can show it based upon a person’s race. We can show it based upon a person’s background.

Whatever the case, when we show partiality, we are not looking at people as God looks at them. We are not valuing people as God values them. The worth of a man, in God’s eyes, is in no way dependent upon his means. His worth is found in the price paid for his redemption.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Our Easter Hope

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

(1Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)

I remember, a couple of years back, as my family and I were at the funeral home. It was just prior to the visitation for my mother. At one point, my dad approached the casket by himself, as he struggled with the loss of his wife. My son, who was five at the time, went and took him by the hand. He said: “Don’t worry, Grandpa. She’ll rise again when Jesus comes back.”

Out of the mouths of babes. In that moment, a young boy expressed a truth that escapes many who are more learned in the Christian faith. He comforted his grandpa with the great hope we have in Jesus.

Many of us believe that, at death, our spirit goes to be with the Lord and that’s the end of it. We imagine ourselves or our loved ones sitting on clouds and strumming harps. We imagine eternity as a purely spiritual existence.

Where we get this understanding, I don’t know. While it’s true that our spirit goes to be with Jesus at the time of our death, that’s hardly the end of it. The end of it comes when Jesus returns and, as we read above, the dead are raised imperishable.

Death, you see, is the punishment of our sin. And since Jesus has born the punishment of our sin, because that price has been paid, death must be no more. If we have been redeemed, then death has been rendered powerless.

If our bodies remained in the grave, it would demonstrate that the victory had not been won. It would reveal that Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough. It would reveal to us that we are still under the power of sin.

However, in the end, everything will be as it was in the beginning. Man will exist as both a physical and spiritual being in the new creation. He will live in the presence of God where sin and its consequences no longer wreak havoc on us.

This is our hope. This is the hope of Easter. Because Jesus rose, we know that we too will rise. As God raised Jesus from the dead, we know that he will raise us also.

Monday, April 08, 2019

A Religion or a Relationship?

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

(James 1:26-27 ESV)

“Religion” has become a dirty word to many Christians today. It’s associated with a mere profession of faith and a hypocritical life. Christianity, they say, is not a religion, it’s a relationship.

It’s believed that this also sets Christianity apart from other world religions. Other belief systems are “religions,” we are told, while Christianity is something different. They are dependent upon a system of works, while we experience this “relationship” with the Lord.

There is certainly a relational aspect to Christianity that is not known by other faiths. Jesus tells us that those who believe in him are empowered to become children of God (John 1: 12). He tells us that we are not mere servants, but friends (John 15:13-15).

However, that being said, “religion” is not the dirty word we often make it out to be. Our faith can be properly described as a religion. A religion, after all, is defined as a conviction, a creed, a faith, or a belief.

James also ties our faith together with religion in the above passage. If our religion isn’t put into practice, he tells us, it’s worthless. If we fail to bridle our tongue, it’s worthless.

He goes on to describe what a pure and undefiled religion looks like. It’s to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. And it’s to keep oneself unstained from the world.

It seems that James’ definition of religion is synonymous with faith. Religion is not an empty profession of belief. It’s a belief that results in action. According to James, a religion that does not result in action is no religion at all.

This also ties together with his discussion of faith in chapter 2 of this book. Faith without works, he says, is dead. Faith is not a mere profession of belief. It’s a belief that both empowers and motivates action.

Just as a sincere faith will result in works, just as a sincere faith will be expressed in our works, so too will a sincere religion. If it is not being expressed, then our religion is not sincere. In that case, according to James, we are not truly religious.

So, is Christianity a religion? The answer to this question has to be “yes.” If we have faith in the Lord, it will lead us to serve both God and our neighbor.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Doers of the Word

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

(James 1:22 ESV)

Many of us, in the church, fit James’ description above. We are hearers of the Word. Perhaps we come to church and listen as the Scriptures are read. Perhaps we listen as the message is preached. However, we are not doers of the Word.

We think we’re on the right track. We think we’re doing well. After all, here we are, at church, hearing the Word. Yet, as James points out, we’re deceiving ourselves.

We’re deceiving ourselves because we aren’t truly receiving what God is offering to us in his Word. We don’t allow his Word to speak into our life. And this isn’t about doing more good works to earn brownie points with God. It’s not about earning our salvation.

In order to receive the blessing of God, we must “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). We must receive what God is revealing to us in his Word. We must receive what it tells us about ourselves and what it tells us about Christ.

Failing to be a doer of the Word, James says, is like a man who looks intently in a mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like. We learn from God’s Word that we are sinners, in need of the grace of God. In fact, our exact sins are revealed to us as we look to Scripture. And we hear his call to repentance. So, if we are hearers only, we forget this truth as soon as the proclamation of the Word comes to an end.

We also forget that our righteousness is found in Christ alone. We forget that we have nothing in ourselves to endear ourselves to him. We are righteous only in Christ. We are righteous only because we’ve received his sacrifice upon the cross.

Being a doer of the Word means that we live in the Word of God. We live in the knowledge that we are mere sinners deserving of judgment. We live in faith that Jesus gave his life on our behalf, that our sins might be forgiven and that we might receive his righteousness. Our works, then, flow naturally from this life of repentance and faith.

Believing that we are sinful and unclean, we turn from our sinful desires. We reject them. In fact, we hate them.

We seek the mercy of God. We seek his forgiveness for our rebellious spirit. We seek his forgiveness for the sinful acts in which we participate. And we trust in Christ alone for this gift.

We, then, look to him for strength that we might live for him. We realize that we can’t live for the Lord as we desire. It’s only with his guidance and power that we are able to do so.

The person who has received the freedom found in God’s Word will then be blessed in his doing. He will not be perfect. He will not be free from sin. He will, however, receive the blessing of God as he lives in the truth of his Word.