Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Do We Have Any Volunteers In the House? James 2:14-17

"14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary fortheir body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead,being by itself" James 2:14-17

I peeled my eyes opened. Eight a.m. on a Saturday. Forget the fact that my weeks have six Saturdays and one Sunday, my brain had been trained and  Saturday is sleep-in, lazy sacrosanct. However every Saturday we members of North Country Habitat for Humanity banded together to work on the restoration of a house for a needy and deserving family.

      I didn't want to go. Jimminy Crickets, it was Saturday. But James 2:14-17 might as well be engraved on my forehead. "Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? ... Isn't it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?"(from THE MESSAGE)

     So I rose and within the hour I shined. Once again I discovered joy in giving. I hammered nails, chatted with friends, learned skills, watched our family work for the home they'd soon inhabit and ate a fabulous lunch prepared by Joanna, a dear friend on our local board. I couldn't imagine any greater way to spend a Saturday.

     And I learned some valuable lessons to boot:

  1. toenailing has nothing to do with a pedicure
  2. shank isn't something prisoners use nor something you braise in an oven
  3. a stud is not a virile man
  4. strapping is not used in S & M
  5. dike is not a gay woman nor something that holds back water
     So tell me what you think these mean? 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Joseph: Christmas's Exemplar of Faith--James 2:20

 "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless" James 2:20? 

English: The Nativity of Christ
I love Christmas carols. In them we celebrate Jesus and Mary and angels and shepherds.  We exalt stars and lambs and little drummer boys. Magi, Eastern astrologers, even make the list.However, I'm hard pressed to think of one carol that mentions Joseph except for the "Cherry Tree". This song ridicules him for not giving the virgin a cherry.

However, when I think of Joseph, even though he's not mentioned in Hebrews 11, the "Faith Hall of Fame", I think of a man who exemplifies James 2:14-26. He was a man of faith who demonstrated that faith through his works.

As a teenager, Joseph was betrothed to Mary who found herself pregnant. She gave him a hair-brained story that she was still a virgin and would birth the Son of God.

Being an honorable man, Joseph thought to divorce her quietly. In those days, engagements could only be terminated by divorce.

Philippe de Champaigne's The Dream of Saint Jo...
Philippe de Champaigne's
The Dream of Saint Joseph
painted around 1636
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
As he slept, he dreamt. In this dream, an angel appeared to him and said, "'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'" Matthew 1:20.

He believed. Because he had true faith, he acted on it. The Gospel of Matthew goes on to say, Joseph took Mary home to be his wife.

And to make the tale wilder, he did not consummate his marriage until Jesus had been born--no small feat for a teenaged boy.

This Christmas season, remember your faith and let Joseph be one of its models.

Merry Christmas, and be strong in your faith.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Quality of Mercy: James 2:13

"For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment "James 2:13.

"Henry" grew up in a home parented by an alcoholic father and a distant mother. With no familial example, he turned to drugs by the time he was thirteen. By his mid-twenties, he'd been twice married, twice divorced. He lost his children, ended up in jail.

He should have known better having seen his parents' life. He should be punished for his robberies, drug dealing, inept parenting. He should have...

True. Though, we need to remember we all have sinned in some fashion, and in breaking one part of God's commandments, we've broken them all. Thankfully, Henry's story didn't end with a life of incarceration.

With the new drug laws for non-violent offenders, Henry was offered drug court in lieu of a continued sentence. This procedure is essentially a civil action that depends on the will-power of the addict to stay clean and to be accountable. It's a step toward mercy.

Better for Henry, he found himself in a residential, God-centered rehabilitation program. Here, with a close reading of Scriptures, a program much like AA's Twelve Step program AND social and emotional support, he's been clean for close to a year.

His sister had been granted custody of his children. Prior to his joining the drug program, she refused all contact with her brother. Now, given his progress, he's established visitation again.

Relationships are being restored. Henry's beginning to give back to the society he robbed, and a life is redeemed.

"For judgment will be merciless
to one who has shown no mercy;
mercy triumphs over judgment "James 2:13.
He's not an isolated case. I work with CR (Celebrate Recovery), a Christian-based course that builds its precepts on the Beatitudes. It consists of worship, testimony, study, small group, accountability partners and sponsors. If a person struggling with addictive behaviors or co-dependency so wishes, he/she can take an intensive six-month study.

This community redeems the lost. Not every individual shown mercy here does turn her life around. However, many dear friends, people I've quickly formed close alliances with, had been former addicts, and some had been rightly imprisoned for their actions.

It's a network of beautiful lives restored because of mercy.

Mercy must be extended through all facets of our society, not just to addicts. Black lives, just as police lives, matter. Let's understand and work for mercy. Poverty is sometimes self-inflicted, other times it's a matter of circumstances. How can mercy not help? Christians are mocked, just as Muslims are discriminated against. Can we reach a Muslim with the truth of Jesus without mercy? Can we allow the Holocaust to resurrect because of another religious intolerance?

If one person out of ten is pulled out of the fire by mercy, we've achieved much.

Shakespeare said in The Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes...
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation...

And aren't the last two lines so true? Who here would have salvation without God's mercy? In James 2:13, we receive a chilling warning if we have not mercy...our own judgment will be merciless.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Are You a Respecter of Persons? James 2: 1 & 8

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism" James 2:1.
If, however, you are fulfilling the [i]royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well" James 2:8.

I attended a church which hired an interim pastor from a successful congregation in a neighboring village. This man could preach a great sermon, and his church prospered. In many ways, was a good Christian leader. However, in my life, he did more to stall my Christian growth than grow it.

The prelude to his sermons or the illustrations in it always contained ungodly boasting. "We have doctors in our church. Lawyers." He would straighten his posture. His stance would widen to better awe us with the prominence of these people.

Our little flock boasted a few teachers. The rest of the members worked in delis or as laborers or farmers. No one to boast about. 

Over time, this man blustered about his boat, his home, his swimming pool, his daughters and his son, I felt smaller and smaller. His good sermons became tainted, and to this day, twenty years later, I have no respect for him or his accomplishments.

Attitudes like his are infectious. Throughout his tenure, our congregations mingled. Never did his church make me feel at home, except for one time. 

My daughter and I attended their New Year's Eve party. We worshiped, heard a good message and then adjoined to the fellowship hall. With plates full of goodies, we found two seats at the end of crowded table. We assumed we'd chat between ourselves, enjoy our meal and leave.

Suddenly, the lady next to me started a conversation. Another person chimed in. A third woman asked about our lives. For some reason, the cool, as in indifferent, congregation accepted us.

Then I discovered the reason. Three seats down, sat the braggadocious pastor. These congregants who never knew we existed had no choice but to note our presence, to acknowledge us.

As an outsider, I can tell you, Christians like these do more harm to the gospel than help. I liked my own little church, loved the dear friends there, so fortunately this interim group did nothing to shake my faith. It did, however, create a distaste for this man's teaching, and an unease in attending church and an aversion to ever recommend the interim pastor's home church--even now, long after he moved on to better things. MUCH better things.

Today I belong to a congregation filled with multifarious individuals--those with cognitive disabilities, prison records, drug addictions. We have engineers, school teachers, legislators, professors and grocery clerks. Doctors and lawyers and dentists and rich and poor all populate the group. 

As a newcomer to the community, I never know with whom I'm speaking. Because of the pastor's wholehearted acceptance of everyone and consequently my church family's love for all, my life is enriched in too many ways to share.

The end effect is a tremendous growth in my faith, my love of Jesus and my desire to share the gospel with others.

Do you envy those who prosper? Do you try to climb the social ladder? Read James 2. It can change your life.