Tuesday, September 11, 2012

One foot here, one foot there...

       A lot of people can sit on the same pew, read the same Bible, and quote the same Scripture.  But that doesn't mean they are all on the same page.
      So how do you know which is which?
      I think the answer is in James and while it may not be definitive (there are a lot of other books in the Bible that can elaborate on this topic, I'm sure), it's pretty startling.

      Person A, according to James, knows the right words  to say - he can sound good -  but inside he's a mess, his passions battling for supremacy and sometimes spilling over into open conflicts within the church itself.   His doctrinal points are right on target but he has no works to back up what he professes to believe.  When he's tempted, he tends to blame God.  When his faith is being tested, he may not  persevere.  When he's angry, he deludes himself into thinking that his temper fit is achieving the righteousness of God. 
     When he is confronted with poverty and need, he pontificates beautifully but does nothing to help them.  In fact, he does the opposite by currying favor with the rich and influential while dissing the poor.  (God doesn't like that, by the way...)  In fact, he may even exploit the poor as he pursues earthly wealth. And in point of fact, he may boast about what he's going to do on down the road, having the mistaken impression that his earthly props (money, prestige, his own ability) which hold him up today will continue to hold him up tomorrow.
     James admonishes this man not to be arrogant and so lie against the truth. The text implies that this guy is actually bragging that his wisdom comes from God when in reality it comes from within  or even worse, from down below.  The bottom line is that even though he may look good on the outside, he is driven by his inner passions of envy, lust, and selfish ambition.  When these driving forces occasionally  break through to the surface,  all heck can break lose wherever his influence is felt, even in the church.
    Basically, according to James, this man has tried to enter into a covenant with God but is cheating on Him.  For that reason, he shouldn't expect anything from God other than  to not be surprised when he realizes that the Lord of Hosts is set up in battle array against him while withholding his divine grace from him. (James 4:6 Wuest translation).
   Wow. Not a good picture!
  Moving right along... !
   Person B, also knows Scripture and at the same time, he also battles the passions that plague Person A.   But as he has walked with God, he has learned to rely  on the Spirit that God has placed within him, a permanent resident in every Christian heart, a divine presence who jealously desires to reclaim the areas that sin has taken over.
   In other words, this man knows how  to curb his passions as well as his tongue by relying on God.  
   He also not only hears the Word as Person A does,  but he also obeys it.  From the Word, he understands that God absolutely  loves the poor, the orphan, and the widow and so he loves them as well, not by giving lip service but by visiting them, feeding them, and clothing them.
   When he is tempted and tested, he doesn't blame God but perseveres, knowing that a crown of life waits for those who are approved by God.  When he asks God for wisdom, he receives it because his asking isn't just going through the motions - he knows that God can and will give it.  His faith is stable and his security rests not on what he can do or what he has amassed but on what God can do and what He has amassed.
   Because he hears and practices the teachings of God,  he is not easily deceived. He knows where lust leads and he doesn't want to go there.  Instead, he desires the best gifts in life and knows they come only from God's hand.
   In regard to his mouth, he's quick to hear, slow to speak, and definitely slow to anger.  He doesn't want to come unglued all over his neighbor, who may be vastly different from himself and aggravating into the bargain, but instead, he wants to fulfill God's law by loving his neighbor in the same way he loves himself.
   But perhaps even more telling, his life is marked by God's wisdom and not his own.  
   And here's where a valuable check list comes in.  James lists the facets of God's wisdom, maybe so that Person A, Person B and others (like myself...) can go down that list and do a spiritual self inventory.
   So here's the list of what God's wisdom looks like:
   It is pure.
   It is peaceable.
   It is gentle.
   And able to be reasoned with.
   It is full of mercy.
   And good fruit.
   It is unwavering (steadfast).
   And without hypocrisy.

  I figure that most Christ followers, myself included, are somewhere in between Person A and Person B, having both feet firmly planted in His kingdom on some days and one foot sort of  planted in the world on others.  
   I think the book of James is meant to encourage us, to challenge us to plant both feet firmly in His kingdom and to walk steadily on that side of the fence, regardless of what comes our way.
   At the same time, I think it's a good explanation for those times (which hopefully will be rare) when we find ourselves scratching our heads and saying, "But he talks all the time about being a follower of Christ so how could he do that??!!!?"
   The answer to this question and others is found in the book of James, a good little treatise that can keep us from being blind-sided and/or sidelined along the way to meeting God.


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