May 24, 2018

Today you should read: James 3:1-12

This passage of scripture is one that changed the direction of my life not long after I became a Christian. I had no idea of the power that my words could carry. I was sitting at the lunch table with a group of friends (who were not Christians). I was very open about going to church and that I had become a Christian, yet my language was terrible. I talked about others in a very vulgar way. Then one day my friend Ethan looked at me and said that I talk about church all the time but it was clear that I was really no different than them. His basis was on the things that were coming out of my mouth.

Now this passage is not just about cursing. It is about understanding the power that something as small as your tongue can have. James is very straight forward with this and is not afraid to step on any toes. He says that the tongue is a fire and a world of unrighteousness, and that it stains the whole body and can set the entire course of our lives on fire.

Our words and the things we change have that kind of power because words can be weapons. When they are put into the form of gossip, or purposeful hate, or shaming comments, suddenly the words hurt. We try to cover it up saying that we didn’t mean it, or that it was a joke. But the reality is that words don’t hurt less just because we might not mean it or we were just kidding.

James talks about our tongue staining our body and changing the course of our lives, which seems a little confusing. But what he is saying is that the things that come out are a direct reflection of what is inside. So if we are constantly using belittling, reckless, shaming, hurtful words, chances are that we might be a belittling, reckless, shaming, hurtful person. And it makes so much sense that our words can shape our lives because we have all said something and immediately wished that we could take it back. We knew in that moment that those simple words changed everything about a relationship, or friendship, or situation.

So when we think of our words, we must heed James’ warnings, and understand the power that they hold. But remember they are not just powerful in the sense of destruction. Your words have power to be a force for the gospel, and building others up, and encouraging, and bringing hope to the darkness.

By: Dakota Gragg — Student Ministry Associate

May 23, 2018

Today you should read: James 2:15-26

In today’s passage, we read about faith and works. James follows his charge to the Church abroad to “show no partiality” (James 2:1, ESV), or favoring some people over others, with describing a dead faith. This “faith” is one that is not evidenced by works. James presents a hypothetical situation where one sees someone without food or clothing and does not help them, but only wishes them well. He argues that this person who did not help his fellow man has a dead faith. Faith without works is dead.

He even goes as far to say that “we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone” (v.24). The ESV says “a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”

Right after reading this, you might be thinking to yourself, “Aren’t we saved by grace? I thought that’s what Christianity is all about!” And you would be right!

What we must consider is what kind of “faith” is James talking about? James is showing a “faith” that isn’t really faith at all. If our faith does not produce good works in us, then it is a dead faith.

We are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. We must wholeheartedly affirm this truth. There is nothing we do or have done that can earn our salvation and right standing with God. It is only by the grace of God that we are saved. But what proves our faith? Our good works. Look at Ephesians 2:8-9, one of my favorite passages of Scripture:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (ESV)

But what comes immediately after in Ephesians 2:10?

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

Those who are in Christ have been saved by grace through faith, but you have been created, in the 2 Corinthians 5:17 sense, for good works. A faith in Jesus that does not produce a heart of love towards God and others is a dead faith, and our good works evidence a true faith. Good works are only the evidence of a person with a heart changed by God after being saved by grace. In the words of our Pastoral Ministry Apprentice, Graham Withers, “the fruit proves the root.” The fruit (love for God and for others) is evidence for a heart that has been rooted in salvation by grace through faith. This passage serves as a great warning to us who know we are saved by grace through faith to examine the fruit of our lives.

Take a good look at your life today: Does the fruit prove the root?

By: Lucas Taylor — West Campus Pastoral Ministry Apprentice

May 22, 2018

Today you should read: James 2:1-13

“I have a dream”… Possibly the most famous speech in history, packed with themes of prejudice, freedom, hope, and equality. Martin Luther King Jr. gave this speech in 1963. He was a man who lived by the Word of God, and in the words he delivered on that August day are undertones of a letter — written 1900 years earlier — that also rings out with a dream.

The book of James is that letter.

In James 2, we find a pastor shepherding his people through a number of issues. This practical passage tackles a handful of very basic yet poignant illustrations that serve to get James’s point across. In today’s reading, we deal with the issue of prejudice. James wanted to make sure that all who read this leave favoritism and discrimination out of the church.

The illustration that James uses to describe the kind of prejudice he saw is a distinction between rich and poor. There were some in the assembly that had much to put in the offering baskets while others had very little. What James teaches us here is that we are to not only not judge, but we are to give preference to those who don’t enjoy the same blessings we do. We must go out of our way to help them feel welcome. We need to do what we can to improve their situations and meet their needs. The problem is that we get caught up in judging and mocking, which is the opposite of true kingdom-mindedness. Here’s how James puts it:

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? (James 2:2-4 ESV)

Jesus also has words for this issue. It came up when there was a widow who had very little to give. Jesus wanted everyone to know that this woman, though she was poor, was infinitely valuable in the eyes of God. How Jesus puts it:

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4 ESV)

Here are some questions for us to wrestle with today in our comments below:
1) What are some ways Christians show prejudice?
2) How are you personally guilty of this?
3) What can we do as a church to stay on guard and avoid such harmful distinctions?
4) What else did you learn from James 2:1-13?

By: Todd Thomas — Worship & College Pastor

May 21, 2018

Today you should read: James 1:22-27

Do you notice the words “religious” and “religion” in verses 26 and 27? Those words are actually very rare in the New Testament and for the same reason that many Christians today try to avoid them. I’m sure you’ve heard this one. “CHRISTIANITY: IT’S NOT A RELIGION BUT A RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS,” which is true but tends to confuse many people who think that’s kind of weird getting into a relationship with Jesus. But we try so hard because these words “religious” and “religion” are used in context of outward practices of ceremonies in honor of a god. Among Jewish writers, the words often referred to the cultic worship of the temple. I believe James deliberately chose these words to sharpen his point. ANYONE who claims to such genuine religious experiences must submit those claims to these tests.

1. What we do with our mouth (more on that later in this book)
2. Visit Orphans & Widows in their affliction.

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: 1. to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, (Justice) and 2. to keep oneself unstained from the world. (Righteousness) -James 1:27

The OT Prophets cried this out many, many times. In this ancient world, with an absence of money making possibilities for women and any kind of social welfare, widows and orphans were helpless to provide for themselves. A mark of Israel’s obedience then, was to be a special concern for those helpless people. In these actions the people of God were to imitate God Himself. Remember that Psalm 68:5 says He’s, “A Father to the fatherless and defender of widows.” It is probably for this reason that James describes God here as the FATHER.

This only echoes Isaiah in which he says “16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” Isaiah 1:16- 17 to visit orphans and widows in their affliction isn’t really just visiting orphans and widows. As NT Scholar at Trinity Evangelical School, Douglas James Moo, who in my humble yet accurate opinion, in the year 2000 happens to have written one of the best commentaries on the book of JAMES said this about this passage: “One test of pure religion, therefore, is the degree to which we extend aid to the “helpless” in our world – whether they be widows and orphans, immigrants trying to adjust to a new life, impoverished third-world dwellers, the handicapped, or the homeless.” It’s entering their unfair circumstances and defending them, protecting them, loving on them, serving them, bring out an awareness of their unfair situations to the world… Otherwise JUSTICE.

These feelings that you feel seeing that stuff points back to the Holy Spirit’s conviction upon us to protect, defend, and fight for the innocent. Justice in relations to others demands equal rights for everyone. Every person born in the image of God should have the same opportunity to live, to not have to die of starvation, to not have to be born of AIDs and suffer for their parent’s choices, to be killed for stupid purposes, to be raised by a mother and a father, to minister to and love on refugees. I’m not talking about or arguing about border control and immigration legalities. We can argue over opinions outside of Scripture and what’s the best decision for government. But as long as we have a church that will let God’s Word speak for itself we have to recognize that the majority of refugees are orphans and widows and now our neighbors. And if that’s hard for you to get on board with, remember that, in Romans 9:2 the apostle Paul said he would switch places with those bound for hell. Think about that in light of the church’s approach to refugees. And as Christians, it is the church’s responsibility to do what we can in these things. We step into these atrocities place and say “NO MORE” and defend the innocent by protecting their lives and looking at them as imago dei.

He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. – Deuteronomy 10:18

Thus says the Lord: Do Justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. -Jeremiah 22:3

Biblical justice attempts to bring the kingdom of God here on Earth. To join together with other people who want to defend the innocent. And this is God’s timing that we get to talk about this the same week as many Christians march for life in DC every year and the wonderful announcement by the President that there’s steps of defunding Planned Parenthood. Defending the innocent is pro-life but pro-life is always going to be more then just sticking up for the babies in the womb but the ones who are deserted, abandoned or parentless outside of the womb. The Bible has a lot more to say about adoption & it represents the Gospel. In fact all of these justice issues are ultimately Gospel issues as they help save the bodies of the souls Jesus wants to save and the two are not separated in the resurrection.

So as a church lets recognize that a relationship with Jesus is more then just accepting Jesus into our hearts but a whole hearted life change along with that salvation experience that includes backing up our talk with our walk by protecting the innocent, fighting for justice and sharing the Gospel with those around us. Because as much as you may not like the word “religion” it’s probably because it’s been associated with hypocrisy which is exactly what we are when we don’t do those things as Christians.

– What did you notice out of this passage?

By: Erik Koliser — West Campus Pastor