James: Fire and Water

Up until adulthood, I’ve been good at every stage of my life. Although I don’t recall, evidence suggests that I was good at being a baby because I’m good at whining, crying, fussing, eating, and sleeping. I was good at being a kid because I loved to play and watch TV, and in retrospect, I was pretty selfish and ungrateful as most kids are. When I got to college, I was good at being a college student.  I’d go just about anywhere for free food, and I would prepare myself for studying by napping and procrastinating. Out of everything, I was probably best at being a college student.

But I was also really good at being a teenager. I was awkward and obsessive about certain things. And I could get smart and backtalk with the best of them.

I’ve since honed the qualities that created that in me to now make myself sassy, sarcastic, and funny. Back then, I thought I was funny and so did some of my friends, but mostly, I was sort of mean. The way I talked, I sometimes hurt people, and I could even do so without realizing it. The sad thing is, though, that when I did realize it or had it pointed out to me, I was either apathetic or defensive.

I had a huge problem with my tongue, so you can imagine how much reading James during that time hit home with me.

James 3:2, 5-12 (NRSV) says, “For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle….How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.”

The book of James has a very special place in my heart because it incorporates many things I appreciate – imagery, bluntness, and good content. Not only does James have all of this, but it’s all wove together.

If you’ve never had a big tongue issue, you may think James is being dramatic about the fire and the poison. If you’re like me (and maybe James as well since he’s so familiar with this), you know he’s right.

Even if you haven’t burned others with your tongue, you’ve been burnt. I’m sure that somewhere down the line, someone has been rude or spiteful or unkind to you with his or her words. You may or may not have let on, but it hurt. Whether you are starting fires or trying to put them out, we can all see the tongue’s flame well.

If you know your Bible well or if you’ve really kept up with this blog recently, you’ll know that what James defines as a tongue problem, Jesus defines as a heart problem. In Matthew 15:18 (NLT), Jesus says, “But the words you speak come from the heart – that’s what defiles you.”

That isn’t the only thing about what James is saying that relates back to what Jesus said in the book of Matthew. In the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:24 (NLT), Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other…”

Two things trying to live in one heart like two things coming out of the same mouth. That we speak praises then curses is a sign that our hearts have some bad stuff in them or that our hearts don’t completely belong to God.

I mentioned this in passing last week, but I’d like to speak more on it here – God is always after our hearts. He wants to be the one that holds them, but He also wants them to be in good shape for our own sakes and the sakes of the people around us. He wants to be our source of life and for us to share that life with others. He wants us to be springs of fresh, flowing water that will reach people who desperately need a drink. And that can only happen when our hearts are found in Him.

When James talks about the tongue and how powerful and destructive it is, he is identifying a very real issue. It’s a result of a much larger issue, though, and that issue is the state of the heart.

I challenge you to analyze three things. First is your heart. Who is its master and what is its condition? Is it God’s? Is it joyful or bitter? Second, listen to your words. Are they refreshing or harsh? How would you feel constantly taking them in? And third, look at your actions. Our actions say the most about us, so if they are faulty, it is the ultimate tell that something isn’t right. If one was to watch you, would he or she see a life and love that only come from faith and joy in God? Be honest with yourself. What are you like?

What we are by nature is fire. If left to our own preferences and devices, we want to burn and hurt. What God wants to turn us into is water that will give life to those around us. In a world of salt water, He wants us to be the fresh that quenches everyone’s thirst. That transition can only happen if we give our hearts completely to God and let that heart come through in our words and actions.

By Carrie Prevette

James: Faith Alive

“Am I alive or just breathing?” is a line from one of my favorite songs by a band called TEAM. I find the entire song “Am I Alive” beautiful, but this refrain really strikes me whenever I listen to it. It’s about asking yourself if you’re just going through life in the literal sense and merely surviving or if you’re doing the things you love and really experiencing the world around you. It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 10:10 when He says that he came to give us life more abundantly. And when I thought of this week’s blog, it was the first thing that came to my mind and wouldn’t leave.

James tells us that faith without works isn’t even breathing, it’s dead.

I’ve often said that a relationship with God is like running on a treadmill. You either keep going by moving forward or you stop and get pulled back. In my experiences, you can’t really take a break from God. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to step away for a bit and then come back and pick right up where you left off. Faith is a muscle. It has to be used and worked to stay in the shape it’s in or to grow. If it goes unused, it loses its strength.

Seems pretty simple, right? In order to keep and grow the faith we have, we have to use it, to exercise it. But how?

There’s prayer, for one. Let’s not discount or underrate prayer. It’s our primary form of communication with God, so it’s a very clear way to put faith in Him. By praying, we exercise faith that God is there, that He’s listening, that He cares, and that He can do something about whatever we bring to Him. Prayer is a huge way to exercise faith.

Then, as James points out, there’s works.

James talks about faith and works going hand in hand in 2:14-26. A lot of people misinterpret what James says in 2:14 (NRSV), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?” And in verses 17-18, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith.” And in verse 26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.” Some people take this to mean that works alone without an already existing faith can earn salvation and redemption.

Doesn’t that cheapen God? Honestly, doesn’t it make it sound like God is someone who can be bought and with our ideas of righteousness and goodness at that? God’s not interested in what we have to offer, nor is He surprised by what we bring to the table. He created us and basically gave us all that we’re offering back to Him. If He was after what we can give Him, what we can use to “earn” anything from Him, He would’ve just kept it for Himself.

No, as always, God is after our hearts. And it is the heart we put into our works that show and grow our faith.

Take what James says in verses 15-16. He writes, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” James isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with well-wishes or prayers or encouraging words on their own. He’s saying if we have the means to help someone, to legitimately improve their situation on a real and practical level and choose not to do it, that doesn’t show a heart full of love and faith. It doesn’t show that we have faith that God will use that moment to turn things around for that person. It doesn’t show that we have faith that people will help serve in God’s method to answer the prayers we offer Him for the individual’s case. After all, we could act in a way to help answer such a prayer and we’re not even doing so ourselves.

Alan said Sunday that a faith that works is a faith that transforms. That doesn’t mean that your faith just transforms you and your life. It transforms those you interact with, and it transforms every part of the world that you touch.

Let’s look at faith at two different levels and as two different definitions. The first is belief. To have faith means to believe something or someone. If I say, “I believe in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith in His existence for sure, and maybe depending on how I act or the context of the conversation, it also means that I have faith in His abilities. The funny thing is, even though I’m stating that I believe in God, the sentence somehow says more about me, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s the vagueness of the word “believe.” Or maybe it’s that belief in God is a pretty basic thing. Growing up in the South, almost everyone native believes in God’s existence as much as their own, and we often hear people from various places in the world be sure enough or willing to admit belief in the existence of God. James says in 2:19 (NIV), “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” So faith in the sense of belief, acknowledging existence or power, alone isn’t that impressive.

The second level and definition is confident. To have faith in someone or something means to have confidence in him/her/it to do something. If I say, “I’m confident in God,” that demonstrates that I have faith that He can and will do something. The structure of this sentence is the same as the other; I am the subject and God is the object. The sentence itself doesn’t change the meaning. Yet this second level and second sentence tells more about God because He’s the recipient of my confidence. “Confident” is a more specific word that requires more faith. What is impressive isn’t that I have confidence; it’s who I have confidence in that matters.

Are you stuck somewhere between belief and confidence? Is your faith alive, just breathing, or actually dead? How much work are you doing for God?

Faith produces works because it spills over in our lives so much that it causes us to want to do more. We feel compelled to show people instead of just telling them. And we instinctively want to make our faith and place in the Kingdom of God active. No, works will never earn us salvation, but they are certainly a product of it.

By Carrie Prevette

James: Love, Not Favorites

James 1:18 (NLT) reads, “[God] chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.”

As flawed humans surrounded by other flawed humans, it’s tempting for us to sort of scoff at that. Really, us? Criminals, sinners, selfish and cruel beings. How and why, out of everything, did we become what God loves most?

Puppies exist. They’re cute and loving and loyal. Yes, they’re still learning, but once they learn, it tends to stick. But God doesn’t cherish them like He does us.

What about the stars? They do just as God commands, never wavering or faltering. They’re beautiful and fascinating and a true testament to God’s power and majesty. Why not the stars?

And angels! Angels that serve God and wouldn’t dream of disobeying Him or turning away from Him (the fallen third and Lucifer not withstanding). Pure and selfless, yet they aren’t what God loves most.

Let’s step back for a second and switch perspectives. Let’s not look at mankind through our eyes, the eyes of victims of prejudice or greed or apathy or anything else that corrupts. Let’s try to see humanity through God’s eyes.

Over seven billion people currently exist, and no two people are exactly the same.

Take my best friends Becca and Ayana and me for example. I’ve never met anyone who understands me better than those two. They’ve been through the worst times with me, and we celebrate each other’s victories every chance we get. When we’re together, it’s largely like being around one personality split into three bodies. Over the years, we’ve picked up quirks and habits from each other, and we’ve developed so many inside jokes that, half the time, it’s like we’re speaking in code. But we each still have traits and interests that the others don’t, and we each have experiences and backgrounds that the others will never have. These things shape us into the people we are, making it impossible for us to ever be exactly the same.

None of us are exactly the same, which means that God put time and effort into each individual one of us. There’s no factory or mold that we popped out of. You’re hand-crafted. You’re an original. And there will never be another you.

When painters do a series, no two paintings are the same. If a painter does a series of still-life paintings, which would be paintings of grouped inanimate objects, they may decide to switch around certain parts or paint from a different angle. They could paint in different lightings, styles, or mediums. The paintings would be similar, yes, but not the same.

If a musician or band decides to cover a song, they never do it exactly the same way as the original artist did it. They change the tempo or style or key. They mix it with other music. They sing it with no music or do an instrumental. The drums are louder or the guitar is softer. They do it their own way so that it’s not just a copy.

You are God’s masterpiece, and so is every other person. Humanity is God’s favorite painting, His favorite song, but we’re all done in different ways. There are similarities between us, but we’re not replicas.

But maybe I prefer the colors you’re painted in or the tempo you’re set to.

There’s nothing wrong with that by itself. There are people that I prefer not to be around, and there are people who can’t stand me. It’s nothing that will stop the world from spinning on.

There is something wrong with me letting my preferences and dislikes guide me to a place where I mistreat someone.

We’re told in James 2:1 (NLT), “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” James goes on to give an example of the people giving special attention to the rich even though they oppressed them. Then James writes in 2:8-9, “Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.”

James isn’t saying you have to like and befriend everyone. He’s saying you have to love everyone.

Regardless of how much I may not get along with someone, I can’t treat them like they’re second-rate. They are one of God’s masterpieces, after all. No less of one than I am myself. How dare I think that I can mistreat someone God loves to death and back and it not hurt God Himself.

It’s not just that we break a law, although that is true. It’s not that we’ve committed yet another sin. It’s that we’ve taken a creation of God’s and said that it’s not good enough, that it’s unworthy. It’s that we’ve elevated ourselves and our opinions over God and His opinions.

Imagine what this world would be like if everyone showed love to everyone.

I know that what James has told us can be challenging. It’s not always easy to be an example of God’s love. But I hope that we all see how necessary it is to love others, to love everyone and treat them well. And maybe we can see more and more why we are God’s prized possession.

By Carrie Prevette

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑