That's The Book: James
When people ask me for a life verse I have a hard time responding. I believe so much in the whole grand story of the Bible that I don’t love to take only one verse as the most important. And there are SO MANY I love. But if pressed - the book which most often challenges me where I struggle and holds me to growth is the book of James.
The book of James is a letter to believers from James, the brother of Jesus. Imagine those two boys growing up. Interesting family dinners. The gospels indicate that Jesus’ family was not in support of his early ministry and had even come to try and bring him home. (see Matthew 12). Our pastor says the only thing that would make a skeptical brother a devoted disciple is the resurrection. I love the humble language of this brother in reference to his sibling. Lord and Savior. Yes - Jesus is our best friend and closest counselor. But he is also Creator, Judge, Lord and Savior. And that weight is part of the reason James calls his readers to act seriously on their faith. Nike's slogan could sum up the book of James. Just Do It.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. 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 preservers, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1: 22-25
My daughter had the flu last week during VBS. She missed the first night and bawled her eyes out. She was symptom free for over 24 hours so she went for the second night and only made it through half the night. Seriously bad flu. But if she learned her church family runs to the rescue and we can talk about hard messy things then I’d still call VBS a win. I felt fine during VBS but woke up Saturday morning and promptly moved into the bathroom. In my fever and bathroom obsessed brain I keep thinking about the bathroom mirror. And those lovely and challenging verses in James.
These ones get me too.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but decides his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure an 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
My mouth can get me in trouble. James knows this.
I remember one time. I was going into the bank to do a wire transfer from our fundraising account to our friends in Rwanda. The funds were to be used to pay school fees so the kids could attend. Time was sensitive. I squish non profit volunteer work into my regular life. Like most people its too full. So I was harassed. Hit the bank and stood in line. Turned out the branch manager who had to do the international wire transfers was out of the office. If you wire money to Africa and you mess it up you don’t get the funds back. SO I crabbed at the bank teller. Scowled. Said something slightly snarky. I don’t remember the words but I do remember the tellers’ face.
There I showed her!
Drove off to the other branch and sent our hard earned funds off to the needy children overseas. Seriously crushing the helping widows and orphans bit of the Bible!
And then it hit me.
I had cranked and verbally harassed a totally innocent bank teller – while processing Jesus’ money – on an account with my church’s name on it.
I’m a total jerk.
The tongue is a nasty beast.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. And the tongue is a fire a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. Fore ever kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. James 3: 6-8
I hauled my unwilling body back to the first branch, hung my head and apologized.
Honesty about my flaws and forcing myself to apologize is one of the best ways to teach my heart to grow. James knows this too.
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one and another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5: 13-16
When I got a message at VBS that my child needed me - I dropped everything and when and found her. I thanked the volunteers who had come to our help. I loved my kid, stepped into the mess, cleaned her up. Threw out the clothes. We didn't need that reminder.
This is the exact same thing Jesus does for us.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you .Cleans your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4: 7-8
When we take the faith seriously and draw near to God - He draws near to us. Cleans up the mess. Throws out the clothes. We are a new creation and if we are reminded of our sin and shame its not Jesus doing the talking.
The flu is no fun. Neither Is apologizing. But both memories moved my soul. And I'm better for it.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 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 nothing. James 1:2-4
And perhaps that’s the point of James. James wants believers to be obedient to Jesus' teachings. DO what it says. Embrace the actions of the faith. Even in the mess of life.
Here is your link to The Bible Project's talk about the book of James. Watch it. Really - they know their stuff.
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
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