Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Faith and Wisdom

In James 3:13-18, an important question is asked: Who is wise and understanding among you? Continuing with the theme of the book, James answers that it is not the person who claims to be wise that is wise! Rather, it is the one whose life is marked by actions motivated by humble service to Jesus Christ. Our culture - including the evangelical subculture - is filled with fact, blogs like this contribute to it. Words that often scream for attention and demand to be heard. Yet, there is no wisdom in simply claiming to be wise. Again, James says that godly wisdom is demonstrated in actions that are rooted in humility.

Churches are a microcosm of this very human experience of the contrast between godly wisdom and the lack of wisdom. Some commentators are convinced that James was seeking to address folks within the congregation who were seeking leadership authority, but did not have the godly wisdom needed for such leadership. For the message on Sunday, I sought to point out that modern church disagreements often result from a lack of godly wisdom. The modern church is not the first church to experience such things. The first century church was filled with difficulties and disagreements. I think of the debate over salvation that resulted in the Jerusalem council of Acts 15; I think of the church in Corinth, that was so immature and fractured Paul wrote them pleading with them to mature in the faith; I think of Euodia and Syntche in Phil 4, with whom Paul pleads for agreement.

Based on James 3:13-18, we can observe that those functioning without godly wisdom are driven by envy and selfish ambition. And, the result is disorder (anarchy) and "every evil practice." In short, when we are driven by our own selfish concerns, we reject the leaders God has placed over us and become an authority unto ourselves.

Godly wisdom, however, is from God (it is pure) and leads to peace. It is gentle and open to reason; that is, it is willing to listen and be persuaded. It is full of mercy and fruitful; that is it acts mercifully on behalf of others and bears fruit for the Kingdom. It is impartial and sincere; that is it does not function with known biases and is genuine and authentic.
At the end of the day, godly wisdom is known by its humility in action. As I said Sunday, "it may be hard to describe, but you know it when you see it!"

What kind of people have you known who exhibited Godly wisdom? What kind of impact did they have on your life?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Power of Words

On Sunday, October 19, we looked at James 3:1-12 as we talked about the power of words. In that section of Scripture, James says much about what comes out of our mouths! From the passage, we noted the following:
Words have Power. James likened them to rudders on ships or bits in the mouths of horses. In both cases, we see the power of words to control direction. Our words function very similary. They set the course of our lives. James also said they are like a spark that begins a huge forest fire. In that way, the power of our words to be destructive is highlighted.
Proverbs 18:21 says that "the tongue has the power of life and death." I was greatly helped by Paul Tripp to see that all words are moving toward life or toward death; that there is no neutrality to our words ( So, where do these words come from?

Words reveal the Heart. James says that blessings and cursings should not come from the same mouth. In proving his point he says that salt water and fresh water do not come from the same spring. James is tapping into the same thing Jesus pointed out in Matt 15:18-19 where he taught that it is not outward religious rituals that make us unclean, but the things in our heart that are expressed in words. Jesus bluntly states that the things that come out of the mouth are from the heart. So, the biggest part of our problem with our speech is our heart. Which points out the third thing I see in this passage.

Words Drive us to Grace. James says that the man who is "never at fault" in his speech is perfect. Wow. What a standard. Never at fault in speech. James' goal is not to drive us to despair or frustration or to try harder...his goal is to drive us to grace. I cannot say it better than Tripp: "There is no greater argument for your need of grace than what comes out of your mouth."

All of us who claim to follow Christ need to ask: does what I say reflect a heart that has been changed by God's grace?

If you have yet to commit to Christ, let me encourage you that God is not interested in you cleaning up your act before you do. He will transform you from the inside out. He will replace the "salty" spring with a fresh water one!

So...what do your words say about your relationship with Christ?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Does God Care If I Vote?

The following article (will) appear in the October 15 issue of the Nashville News (Nashville, IL).

With national and local elections just weeks away, the question being addressed this month is “Does God care if I vote?” In response to this question, I’d like to make three observations.

First, Christians maintain dual citizenship. We are citizens of God’s kingdom, which is a spiritual citizenship, but we are also national citizens (1 Peter 2:9-16). As national citizens, it is completely appropriate for Christians to participate in the political process. In fact, Paul worked within the political system of his day when he was arrested by Jewish religious leaders and beaten. He insisted that his rights as a Roman citizen be acknowledged and eventually appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 21:7-25:12). So it is fair to say that we have at least one solid biblical example of a Christian knowing, understanding, and utilizing the political system of his day. So, it is not unchristian to participate in elections or to cast votes.

In the United States, Christians are free to cast their vote without compulsion from anything other than the Holy Spirit. The prophet Micah reminds us that God expects his people to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with Him (Micah 6:8). Jesus build upon this Old Testament ideal in reminding us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). While there is certainly a spiritual emphasis to these comments, one cannot miss the element of social justice that is included. My second observation, then, is that in exercising our right to vote we ought to love our neighbor by seeking to extend justice and mercy and peace through the political process.

My final observation is this: Not only do I believe God cares if we vote, but I believe God cares how we vote. If we are to pursue issues of justice and mercy, if we are to advocate for widows and orphans (James 1:27), then the way we vote surely matters to God. While no other human being has the right to look over our shoulder as we vote, we live our lives coram Deo – in the gaze of God. That means God looks over my shoulder and I cannot vote for candidates, policies, or parties that dishonor God in the most fundamental ways.
Hear the wisdom of Mother Teresa, who said in her 1994 address to the National Prayer Breakfast, “the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is war against the child.” While other issues may be important, the view a candidate or a party holds regarding the weakest and most vulnerable among us – and unborn children certainly fit that category – is a simple criterion for determining if a vote will honor God.

If someone could show me how voting for a candidate who believes it is acceptable to kill unborn children is consistent with “loving your neighbor,” I welcome you to do so. Until then, I do not believe it is possible to vote for any pro-choice candidate and honor God with that vote.

Monday, October 6, 2008

On Faith and Works

The text for this past Sunday's message was taken from James 2:14-26. Few texts create as much "controversy" among Protestants as this one...primarily due to the emphasis upon works. What I sought to show in the message was that James is not arguing against salvation by faith alone, he is arguing against a faith that is put it another way...the passage teaches that our salvation is found...

Not Faith AND Works - as if we could contribute something to our salvation,

Not Faith OR Works - as if the two are mutually exclusive,

But a Faith THAT Works - a faith that shows itself in serving and working for others as a result of having been changed by Christ.

According to James, it is works that make faith alive, visible, useful, and complete.

Dealing with this passage creates problems when we try to directly compare James' comments to those of Paul...yet, in all truth, the two are arguing for different things. Paul is discussing how a person ATTAINS salvation, while James is talking about how a person DEMONSTRATES salvation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

On Vice Presidential Debates

I watched the Vice Presidential debate from Washington University with great interest. On the one hand, I watched it like "amateurs" watch Nascar races - to see if there would be any big wrecks. On the other hand, I wanted to see if Sen. Biden and Gov. Palin could articulate their positions, draw distinctions between their respective tickets, and generally represent themselves well.

Well...there were no big wrecks...I guess you will have to tune in for the Sprint Cup race from Talladega this weekend for that! And, overall, both candidates articulated their positions, etc with relatively few gaffes. That said, here are my observations...

1. Who voted for what?
I am really tired of hearing politicians of all stripes talk about who voted for this bill or voted against that bill...when Congress ceases to load bills with pork barrel projects and/or the President is able to use a line item veto, I'll listen. Until then, a politician may vote "against" a "good bill" because it is laden with junk. By so doing, it may force the bill to be reworked so there is less junk in it. Currently a bill is before Congress to "rescue" or "bail out" Wall Street...yet, it is so filled with pork that I hear it oinking all the way from D.C. I would vote against such a bill BECAUSE it is filled with pork. But, that is another story...

2. Is the Constitution "flexible?"
I was fascinated by the exchange regarding Gwen Ifil's question about the role of the vice president, in light of VP Dick Cheney's view that the role has executive and legislative standing. (This position surfaced in connection with Executive Order 12958 requiring reporting of the handling of classified and declassified documents.) What fascinated me about the exchange was that it was Biden who took a "strict constructionist" position on the role of the VP - despite the fact that on nearly every other issue Biden would disparage strict constructionists (like Robert Bork, etc). More fascinating was that Palin adopted a "doctrinalist" / "developmentalist" approach in arguing for "flexibility." Yet, on nearly every other issue, Palin's views reveal a "strict constructionalist" approach to the Constitution (i.e. Roe v. Wade). What does this mean? In my view it reveals that, on this issue at least, neither candidate...neither candidate....provided a consistent, legal argument...rather, both candidates simply attacked (Biden) or defended (Palin) the current administration (Cheney). This was very disheartening.

3. The Spin
The news media began its spin on the debate immediately. I was fascinated to hear this morning that a CBS poll reports Biden won the debate by a "2-to-1" margin...that's interesting...especially since FOX NEWS had a group of what looked to be about 50 undecided voters, even split between Democrats and Republicans, who watched the debate from A-B headquarters in STL overwhelmingly state Palin won the debate. It was nice to actually hear from citizens who will vote rather than a media-reported survey...

Overall, the debate did not change my vote. It did, however, reassure me that both candidates have a good grasp of the main issues our nation is facing: the economy, jobs, war on terror, etc.