James 2—1 Peter 1

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Monday, November 3, James Chapter 2

This chapter is a restatement of Matthew 7, with the exception of Matthew 7:7-11.  It is not a copy but has the same ideas.  Does this mean that James had a copy of the Gospel of Matthew?  Not necessarily, in fact, not very likely.  I do not see James doing this if the Gospel was already in circulation.  It is more likely that he just had notes or a copy of the Sermon on the Mount by itself.  Most scholars believe the Synoptic writers used such notes for their own writing.

Stories about Jesus circulated while he was teaching.  Those stories continued to circulate after his resurrection.  As the years wore on, people began to write them down, bits here, bits there.  As Peter and the other Apostles preached, people noted what they had to say about Jesus.  Those were added to the growing collection of stories.

James did not follow Jesus until later and probably did not become a true believer until Jesus appeared to him after his resurrection.  So it is possible he had notes on the Sermon.  Something that is easy to overlook is the fact that James was living in Jerusalem, was the Bishop of all the Followers in and around the city.  Everyone who had seen and heard Jesus would have wanted to tell their story about James’ older brother.

Verses 1-4 are so important for us to take to heart.  We humans prefer people who are like us.  We too easily ignore or even dislike those who are “different.”  We must make a conscious effort to correct that failing.  Everyone is beautiful in God’s eyes.

James is not trying to tell us that there is a special glory in being poor.  He is telling us that there is also no special glory in being rich.  Where ever we are in society, we are all children of God and all equal in his eyes.

It is true that we are free from the Law, but we are also slaves of Jesus.  A slave can only do what his master directs.  Jesus expects every one of us to love without reservation in every situation.

James agrees with Paul that faith is the road to salvation.  We have known that since Abraham.  But if I have faith, I must put it into action or the faith dies.  James states it very clearly:  But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by my actions! CJB

Tuesday, November 4, James Chapter 3

Don’t be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. MSG  James was not talking about simple memory work.  Even teachers often confuse that with teaching.  Teaching the Word of God is not the same as teaching nonlinear partial differential equations, it is much more difficult.  In theory, anyone can learn the fine points of higher level math, given a very long life and real grit.  God is beyond even that remote possibility.

God does not hide from us, but we hide from God.  Think Garden of Eden.  But even though we no longer live in Paradise, God has given us two clear images of Himself:  the Holy Spirit and Jesus.  The Holy Spirit gives us what we need when we need it, we just have to be ready to recognize it and accept it.  God saves us with his power, not our own.  God gives us faith, we do not create it.  God gives us Grace, we do not earn it.

If I turn toward God, even if I cannot see Him, even if I am not sure what I am doing, even if I have doubts, God can do the rest.  That grain of faith can grow even in my rocky soil.  Even if that grain of faith is all I have when I die, it is enough.

Beware of teachers of God, they may have a poison tongue.  Always check what they say with what others say and with what you know already.  If it seems possible, remain skeptical until you can check some more.  God does not want us to follow Jim Jones to Guyana just to drink poison Kool-Aid.  No teacher is right all the time.  Billy Graham could tell you some sad stories about his mis-steps.

The wisdom that comes from God is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy. And the wise are peace-makers who go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness—in other people and in themselves. Phillips

Wednesday, November 5, James Chapter 4

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? RSV  War is the extreme end of hate.  Today is the day after an election in which candidates vilified their opponents.  While few of them would admit to hating their opponents, their language is the language of hate, one step removed from wanting to kill.

We are also marking the thirteenth year of constant war in the Middle East.  This might be a good time to review a sermon by Peter Marshall delivered May 3, 1942, just six months into our part of WWII.  The title is Why Does God Permit War?

Let me say at the outset that neither I nor anyone else can dogmatically answer the question.  We do not know the mind of God….

We must point out that in the Bible this question is neither raised, nor is it considered…. God never promised a war-less world….

Let us make no mistake about it, peace is a product of righteousness and justice and love….

There can be no peace while there is hate….

He quotes Matthew 24:7:  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. NIV

He paraphrases Galatians 6:7:  A nation reaps what it sows. NIV

I dare to ask the question:  what right have we to expect peace?  What did we do with peace when we had it?…

What if war has come because we were not fit for peace?…

We must not permit ourselves to identify the success of the Kingdom of God with the success of the allied nations in this present world conflict.  God will win even if we are defeated.

Verse 4 is a blunt statement, one we cannot squirm out of.  You are like unfaithful wives, flirting with the glamour of this world, and never realising that to be the world’s lover means becoming the enemy of God! Phillips  There is no in between.

Feed the hungry.  With a billion hungry people in the world we must do more to feed them.  Give to Action Against Hunger, Feeding America, Bread for the World Institute, Food Bank for New York City, Freedom from Hunger, the Hunger Project, Heifer International, Meals on Wheels, Share our Strength, or Food for the Hungry (the top ten rated charities for food).

Heal the sick.  Give to Doctors Without Borders, United States Fund for UNICEF, Save the Children, Lutheran World Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, or Oxfam America, all highly rated.

You get the idea.  We who live in wealth need to share that wealth and a highly rated charity is a good way to do it these days.

With verse 14, we return to Peter Marshall.  His son wrote as a preface the following:

There is a story connected to this sermon.  My father preached this message at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor Day.  All during the week preceding this Sunday, and increasingly as he drove over to Annapolis from Washington, D.C. Dad had the peculiar feeling that he was not supposed to preach the sermon he had planned.  Dad ended up preaching … “Rendezvous in Samarra,” a sermon on death and how those who have a personal relationship with Christ need not fear it but can look forward to eternal life.

Even as he preached, the Japanese planes were about to attack.  Word did not reach the East Coast until after one pm.  The sermon included the following:

People whose vision of death is earthbound remind me of the caterpillar crawling along the warm earth, imagining that heaven for him would be endless rows of cabbage! 

Then one day a second caterpillar with a more philosophical turn of mind would say to his friend:  “You know, I have been thinking that some day you and I will no longer have to crawl along the ground, but might even fly over that fence.  And what is more, that then we would not be puncturing cabbage leaves with our neat little holes and stuffing ourselves full of green stuff, but we might be sipping dew and living on honey.”

His friend, an impressive, hairy length of green balloon tires and legs, would fasten on him with incredulous beady eyes, and wonder what could possibly be the matter.  He might say:  “I knew this night life would get you.”  Or, solicitously he might say:  “Poor old chap, you have been working too hard lately.  You are just cracking under the strain.”

And when the time comes for him to “die,” they gather round—his caterpillar friends—and, moaning, extol his virtues.  “He was a connoisseur of cabbage.  He was a good, old caterpillar—now he lies there, and this is the end.”  And he is buried in a shroud—a chrysalis shroud that spins upon the twig, a shriveled, dry grave.

And yet, by and by, on a summer morning, the grave bursts open, the chrysalis breaks, and out of it emerges a moist, trembling, lovely thing that hoists into the fragrant air delicate sails of beauty.  As it dries and gathers strength, the butterfly becomes aware of a new world.  And when the gossamer wings are dry and their colors are fast, the butterfly takes off, and fluttering, sails over the fence to kiss the roses.

In our superior wisdom, we know which caterpillar is right.  We know that he goes to sleep a caterpillar and wakes up a butterfly.

But do we know as much about our own beautiful destinies after the long sleep?

Thursday, November 6, James Chapter 5

According to the Federal Reserve, One percent of the US population owns 35% of the nation’s wealth (not income).  Much of that wealth is tied up in stocks and bonds which may or may not hold its value.  In addition, the next 9% of the population controls another 40% of the wealth.  That means that 90% of Americans have to share just 25% of the nation’s wealth.

Further, the income of the top 1% has increased by 275% since 1979 while that of the middle class has increased by just 40%.

The international picture is even worse.  Americans account for 74% of the world increase in wealth.  (And we think China is getting it.)  Two thirds of adults in the world have assets worth less than $10,000 and together account for just 3 percent of global wealth. One billion people in the world survive on less than $3 per day.

However, on average, the bottom 10% of Americans by wealth are better off than the same group in Switzerland, Britain, Germany, Japan, etc.  (Only the poor in Canada, Sweden and Australia do better than the US poor.)

In a report released today [reported in Forbes], the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that Americans who earned at least $200,000 gave nearly 5% less to charity in 2012 than in 2006.

Higher-income people tend to give proportionately less during tough economic times, says Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“The downturn was a shock to so many of them, and they’ve been nervous and cautious,” she says.

The shift has likely meant less money flowing into universities, hospitals and cultural institutions, which the wealthy tend to patronize. Lower- and middle-income donors often give to social service organizations, Palmer says. In part because these groups have had fewer dollars to give, those organizations have still faced a squeeze.

Unlike their wealthier counterparts, low- and middle-income Americans — those who made less than $100,000 — gave 5% more in 2012 than in 2006, the Chronicle found. The poorest Americans — those who took home $25,000 or less — increased their giving by nearly 17%.

What does James have to say about all this?  And now, you rich people, listen to me! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! GNT

Do not think because you live among the bottom 90% or even among the bottom 20% that James is not speaking to you.  The poor and middle class are just as likely to be misers as the wealthy.

In chapter 4 we looked at war and conflicts between people.  Now James gets at one of the biggest sources of conflict; ‘you have it, I want it’.  Wealth is of this world.  We should not want it.  And it seems that the more we have the more we want.  Evil.

Part of what James is telling us is that this evil does exist; that people will do whatever they can to get what wealth we have.  We must learn to accept that greed exists and struggle to keep it well away from our lives.  Patience.  Stay the course.  Live with what you have in the sure knowledge that Heaven will be your reward.

It is good that James ends his letter with the virtues of prayer.

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Friday, November 7, 1 Peter Chapter 1

Peter has been accepted as the true author of this letter from the First Century on.  There are some dissenters, but not many.  The letter was written sometime between 60 and 68 AD, more likely in the middle of that time period.

We know from both the Gospels and Acts that Peter was called by both his Hebrew Shim’on and his Greek Petros, the Rock.  In this letter he is writing to people all over the Greek world, so uses Petros, Peter in English.

Verse 2 gives us another Trinity style statement and for some, a hint of predestination.  Foreknowledge seems to be the best translation of the Greek.  …who have been chosen in the foresight of God the Father, to be made holy by the Spirit, obedient to Jesus Christ and Sprinkled with his blood. NJB  The concept of the Trinity was not added three centuries later, it was only formalized then.

There is a growing interest in the old idea of predestination that leaves me wondering why?  The Bible makes it clear that while God chooses us, we have the free will to refuse him.  How does that fit predestination?

Anyway, the phrase, Sprinkled with his blood, does not refer to a literal sprinkling but rather to the figurative sprinkling through the Holy Spirit.  It is also part of the symbolism of being sprinkled in baptism, though we have no knowledge of how baptism was done by the 60’s.  The phrase was used in both the Temple and the synagogues to indicate the same idea of being blessed by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 3-12 are believed by many to be a form used by the early church at the baptism of new Christians.  If it was not, it could have been.  Peter explains the basic Good News of Jesus and describes the benefits of the new life in Jesus.  There are three key words:  hope, inheritance and salvation.

Peter then explains that Christians will face many trials and that we must find joy in them, not easy when a loved one has just died.  Our sixth sense must be faith.

Peter next turns to the Old Testament as proof of Jesus, much like the letter of Hebrews.

Therefore, get your minds ready for work. CJB  Being a Christian is not about sitting in the pew, singing and feeling good.  That hour is only about refreshment to prepare us for the work of the week.  Not the work of earning a living, though that too, but the work of spreading the Word of God to those in need; the work of bringing justice into the world.

He had been chosen by God before the creation of the world and was revealed in these last days for your sake. GNT  The early church still expected Jesus at any moment, so they were living in the last days.  We have lost the importance of that way of thinking.  We need to forget 2,000 years and think in terms of yesterday, today, tomorrow.  Jesus came yesterday, I live today for him, he will come tomorrow.  We still need that immediacy.

We now have confidence in God and in that we gain the Truth.

 

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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