Thursday, November 26, 2009

James 5 - Defrauding the Poor?

After reading James 5:1-6 I am left wondering, am I the rich in this passage? Back in the day this was written one would only have their immediate context to compare themselves with others and figure out if they were the rich or the poor.

Here is the passage from James 5:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Today I have many contexts I can view myself from and based on the context I might be the rich or the poor. In my community of Westown I am rich. Within the city of Grand Rapids I am neither rich or poor. In the community I grew up in I would be considered poor. In much of the world I would be considered very rich.

God is listening to the cries of the people who are being defrauded. The very wages are crying out! I don't know exactly what that means but based on the rest of the passage the rich people are fattening themselves up on their luxuries awaiting the day of slaughter.

We now live in the information age and can see how people are living all over the globe. Should that be our context for identifying ourselves as either rich or poor? If we are the rich, how can we guard against not being like the rich in this passage? The rich in this passage were hoarding and defrauding.

Am I hoarding or defrauding? I'm pretty sure I don't hoard but could I be guilty of indirectly defrauding in the things that I consume? What kind of a responsibility do I have if I end up identifying myself as "rich"?

I am glad I am in Servants community where we can wrestle through these hard issues together.

Monday, November 2, 2009

James Chapter 2 (Part 1)

In this entry I would like to join a thought that came out of my reading of the first half of James chapter 2 and some thoughts from a recent study of Colossians. It will probably help to know the context of how I have come to these conclusions and so I give you the short version below.

Middle class Don and Karen move to poorer urban setting in 1998. We meet many other middle class people who have a heart for the poor. We are confronted over and over again with the obvious differences between us and our poor neighbors. The most obvious differences were money, education, mental health and physical health. We were the transplants and they were the people who were from the neighborhood. A "we/they" vocabulary naturally evolved and with it the desire not to have this "we/they" division.

I have lived here for 11 years and I still am not able to strike these distinctions from my mind and have only minimally been able to strike them from my speech.

Enter the New Testament where in Christ (Colossians 3:11) there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. From God's perspective class does not matter. What matters is whether we are in Christ.

Just a few verses later (Colossians 4:9-12) Paul says the following:

He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.

Paul obviously is making quite a few distinctions here. Even Jesus says "the poor you will always have with you." (Matthew 26:11)

So now we get to the second chapter of James.

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.
What I get from the James passage is that we are not to show favoritism. I don't think it is possible to get rid of distinctions. They are in your face. They are what they are. We are not all equal. We all have varying degrees of intelligence, beauty, abilities, health, etc. I think the question is, how are we going to act in spite of these distinctions/differences.

As someone who has been wrestling with this for over a decade, I welcome your responses.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Responding to Posts

Three people have tried to comment to posts but have either lost what they tried to post or were unable to sign in.

To establish a google account go here to create a google account. If you have gmail, you have a google account-just use your email address and password to sign in.

Once you comment on a post and use the little pull down to select the google choice, click post comment. You will be then prompted to sign in. Another way to do it is to sign in in the top right hand corner as soon as you click into the blog.

Hope this helps.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

To Give or Not to Give -That is The Question

Once again I have been confronted with the question of God's mind with regard to giving. While teaching the New Focus money management class for Westown Jubilee Housing, students are asked to go through a list of money beliefs they might hold*. Every belief on the list is incorrect. The point of the exercise is to show students that your money training (what you learned from your family) + your money beliefs = your money behavior.

We did the exercise and then I told the group that anything they had checked off was false. One woman had a real problem with that as she strongly held to two of the beliefs. One was "Money is the root of all evil." Quickly the class was able to convince her that no, money is not the root of all evil, the LOVE of money is according to I Timothy 6:10.

The next belief she was willing to fight for even with an example was, "Good people help others, even if they really can't afford it." With her example, giving her cigarette money to someone in need, I was able to convince her that she did not have to go into debt or not pay a bill in order to give that money.

My guess about the New Testament principles of giving would be that we are not to store up money but to give freely. But what about an emergency fund? Retirement? I know how Don and I tend to do things, but I am curious as to how you guide your decisions about giving. I can see scriptures on both sides.

*This sheet of beliefs is taken from Dave Treul's MSU Extension Class on money management.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Best Way to Learn

A person knows when they are right. At least I do. And though a thousand may say otherwise, if I know something in the core of my being, I will not be dissuaded. And I have no interest in going to the mat to prove to you I am right.

Recently though I read something that echoed my gut feelings and I thought I could get some public vindication by quoting a best selling author.

In my short 55 years I have heard quite a few times that people need to make their own mistakes, to learn by them. I have never bought into this theory, hence my propensity to give alot of free advice over the years.

When confronted with that statement I am always stunned. Sure, I have learned from many of my own mistakes, but does that mean people "have to learn from their own mistakes"? NO. It either just happens because one does not know any better OR because one has refused to listen to wise counsel OR maybe even because one is lying to themself. The Bible calls people fools who do not listen to the wise. Here are some of the best verses on the topic:

Pr 10:23 ¶ To do evil is like sport to a fool, But a man of understanding has wisdom.

Pr 17:16 ¶ Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, Since he has no heart for it?

Pr 17:24 ¶ Wisdom is in the sight of him who has understanding, But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.

Pr 23:9 ¶ Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words.

Pr 24:7 ¶ Wisdom is too lofty for a fool; He does not open his mouth in the gate.

Ec 10:3 Even when a fool walks along the way, He lacks wisdom, And he shows everyone that he is a fool.

My conviction comes from the Bible. My vindication comes from the main character in the latest book by Andy Andrews called The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective . Jones says to Andy,
"remember young man, experience is not the best teacher. Other people's experience is the best teacher." (p.9)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Perspectives & Reminders from James Chapter 1 (Part 2)

James 1:12-15 gives us a whole lot of information about temptation including how it starts and where it leads. The perspective we need to take is that temptation can lead to sin but it is not sin itself. We need to quit beating ourselves up over the temptation. Temptation is just another test where we get to show ourselves and God that we are listening and we have made our minds up to obey.

Verses 13-15 say so much I think we all need to commit them to memory:

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Right off the bat we can see that our temptation does not come from God. There are pieces and parts of us that God has not dealt with yet or that God has tried to deal with and we keep failing the test. So these parts of us that we have not surrendered to God are what ends up being enticed during a temptation. If when tempted we don't turn in the opposite direction and run, we may be dragged away and enticed. At this point it will be even harder to resist the temptation, be it in our minds or in real time in front of us. Once that desire has conceived, then it births sin. And birthed sin not dealt with leads to death.


  • Temptation is not sin
  • When you feel tempted, stop and turn from the temptation
  • Cry out to God for wisdom and help if turning doesn't turn the temptation off
  • Even if you go with the temptation for a minute think about the consequences of letting that temptation entice you
  • Think death, if not physical death, at the very least impaired spiritual health if that temptation is conceived and births sin
  • Not taking care of your spiritual health makes the church sick and makes nonchristians point at us and accuse us of being like the world
  • When we sin we taint the name of Jesus to the world we are trying to reach.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Perspectives & Reminders From James Chapter 1 (Part 1)

I think we will need a perspective adjustment if we want to obey James' admonition to "Consider it all joy when you fall into various temptations/trials." Other versions of this verse tell us not only to consider our trials "joy" but "pure joy" and the New American Standard Version goes even further by saying "nothing but joy". Excuse me? "Nothing but joy".
Why would anyone consider trials nothing but joy? We do want to be mature and complete, lacking nothing, don't we? Well, how do you suppose are are going to get from babyhood to maturity? Yes, according to verse 3 we are going to get there via our trials and tests. When these trials test our faith, (the Lamsa version even calls them "the trial of faith") we are going to have an opportunity to take the test and either pass or fail. If we pass, we will build on our endurance. If we fail, well, my theory is we will keep getting the same test until we pass!

This whole concept reminds me of a great C.S. Lewis quote I read 15 years ago. Will we or will we not do the right things when we are tempted or tested?

Every obedience to His prompting is as C.S. Lewis said,
"the capture of a strategic point from which a few months later you may be able
to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in
lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from
which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible."

Basically, Lewis is saying that by obeying we are setting ourselves up for future success.

How can we pass the tests and trials of life? Enter the reminder:

Verse 5 tells us if we lack wisdom we should ask God for some. Why is it that we over think or fret when all we have to do is ask God for wisdom? He will give us a generous amount of wisdom and not think we are weak or dumb having to ask for it.

There is a small catch. When we ask, we are to ask not doubting because as verse 7 says, "the person who doubts should expect nothing from the Lord." In fact, according to James, doubters are double minded and double minded people are unstable in all ways. (verse 8)

There will be more about wisdom from James in Chapter 3. For today I will just summarize these first eight verses from James 1:

  • Count your trials as nothing but joy.
  • You need these trials to become mature in Christ.
  • By obeying you get more endurance which prepares you for the next trial.
  • If you don't know how to respond to the trial or test, ask God to give you wisdom.
  • But once you ask, don't doubt because that just sets you up for instability.

Note the words in red italics. Strong stuff!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Speaking the Truth in Love

This week at the library we had an incident that is not uncommon. Kids crying in the children's room. Tim said that two kids collided with each other because they were running. "Don't run! Don't run! Don't run!" I said. We've worked together long enough for him to know I meant that the parents should have been telling their kids not to run in the library. He said that the parent(s) were comforting the kids and that they were only about 18 months old. Again I said, "Don't run! Don't run! Don't run!"

As he walked away and started the story hour, I thought I may have sounded hard or mean. I tried to put myself back to being a parent of an 18 month old. What would I have done? I would have reprimanded while touching my daughter. The touching would be the comfort part.

The truth of the matter is the kids should not have been running in the first place. As a parent, we need to be speaking these truths to our kids. It's not an either or response. It can be both. I can comfort while speaking the truth in love.

When I screw up, God, my heavenly Father disciplines me. (See Hebrews 12) Most of us have felt the chastening of God. Yet we also know that it is because He loves us that he chastens us. And He loves us while chastening us.

I want to encourage parents to speak the truth in love to their kids. And I want to encourage the church to speak the truth to each other. Not with a ball bat in hand, but with love in our hearts. Most people do not speak the truth because they don't want to appear judgemental, they want to be liked, or other reasons. But if we are to be imitators of God, we need to step up and begin to do it anyway.

God, my prayer for the church is that we will speak the truth in love and receive the truth in love. If I am not willing to listen and consider the truth someone is trying to speak to me, if I get angry and defensive, how does that encourage the church to do what it needs to do? Let it begin with me, the speaking and the receiving of the truth in love.


This week I have been reading James Chapter 1 over and over. I can never read James 1:19-20 without recalling a five year old Epiphany I had one morning in front of the coffeemaker. The short version of the story is someone had wronged me. I am not easily offended yet I was over the top offended and in my mind, I was going to call the shots on this apology. No, I was not going to let this person call and run it around the block for hours. My terms were to discuss it in writing.

So I laid out my terms and they were rejected. I was furious. Why the above verse fell into my head I can only credit the Holy Spirit. For years I had quoted "let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath", but now the rest of the verse popped into my head "for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God". (Of course it was in my head in the King James Version! I am 55 years old after all! )

The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God! What exactly was my highest hope for this person. Well, I had to admit it was that they would get their life on track with God. And was my anger going to get that accomplished? No. So I didn't get my discussion in writing, but I did get an apology over the phone and my epiphany.

Why didn't I get this Epiphany sooner? I have wondered that many times. Why did I get so angry when I was raising my children? I wanted them to do what I wanted them to do because it was right, correct, the best way, etc. But was my anger a good tool to lead them to the righteousness of God? No.

Feeling angry has its' place. In Kids Have Feelings Too! by H. Norman Wright, anger is said to be a secondary emotion. Behind anger you will find one of the following:

  1. Frustration
  2. Fear
  3. Hurt

The place anger has in our lives is to clue us in to something going on inside of us. Figuring that out and fixing that through the help of God will work the righteousness of God into our lives. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for that life lesson!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reading the Bible in Community

Last week in our Wednesday Bible discussion class called Cultivating the Word one of the guys in the group was talking about how some people on his street who claim to be religious were shunning and actually saying rude things to a neighbor who had been evicted. He was telling us that even though he and his wife were trying to respond in Christian charity to this neighbor, he felt he had to identify with the neighbors who were in this situation being hypocrites. This class when taken to heart can really challenge your beliefs and your actions.

I wrote an email to the participants. I have rewritten it below to make it more understandable for those of you who were not there.

I've been giving some thought to what _____ was saying about identifying with the church-going people who were being uncharitable to the evicted neighbor. My initial response was that I didn't need to do that, as they were exhibiting unChristlike behavior.

But the more I think about it, the more I think it is a dialectic. On the one hand, consider the part in the Bible where the disciples want to rebuke some people who weren't "of them" yet were preaching Christ. Jesus says to let them be, it is OK. This may be even the passage where he goes on to say, one can't preach me in one breath and be against me in the next. In this sense, even though the neighbors are sinning, we and they both profess Christ.

On the other hand, if we are to be rooting out of ourselves hatred, unkindness, etc., certainly we don't need to embrace/identify with those aspects of Christians who are at certain points sinning...other than the fact that we all have ungodly parts. Maybe that was exactly the point ______ was getting at. We might be better at not calling people "stinky" to their face, but certainly we have other sins that are just as bad or worse.

So, maybe I've come full circle in my thoughts. If we and those neighbors are true followers of Jesus, then we do have a common identity and certainly those outside the church are going to lump us all together. So let us encourage the good, godly, complete parts in each other and also call each other on the sin in our lives that is going to be a blot on who we are as the church in the world.

Let's Get Going!

Over the last year I've been reading portions of the Bible in the manner described in a book given to me by a friend. Search and Rescue by Neil Cole suggests large passages of Scripture be read over and over again for a week. Being a person who thrives on structure and routine, and armed with a log sheet I created to record my observations, I was off and running. From the beginning I determined that for me, reading the same passage over and over in the same version of the Bible would be boring, so each day I read from a different version. After five days of reading, my sixth morning would involve synthesizing what I had read. On Sunday I would journal the ideas gleaned from the passages that had made the biggest impression.

Why Blog? Over this past year I have written a few notes and many emails to my close friends that contained gleanings they might find interesting. I have enjoyed writing them and receiving the feedback. I am hoping this blog and the responses will move me to write more and better.

The Name of the Blog. The beginning of Hebrews 12 is my favorite passage in the Bible. I often refer to my Christian walk as a journey or a moving down the path. In this chapter the metaphor is a "race". And it is not just "my race", it is THE RACE set before US. I have purposed in my heart that I will finish this race and finish it well. Let's run it together and cross the finish line, eyes fixed on Jesus the Author and the Finisher of our faith!