Tuesday, December 30, 2008

James - Day 4

And so we leave v. 4 of James with rather happy thoughts... Perhaps, "Hooray! We will be lacking in nothing! How wonderful!"

V. 5 then tells us: "BUT, if you are lacking in something..." Figures.

James then takes a step aside to focus in on something. Not to say that he's really getting off topic or anything, but he wants to specifically hit on something before he keeps moving forward with his previous thought. He touches on wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God...

I did some research: the Greek word for this wisdom is sophia, which specifically refers to "knowledge of how to regulate one's relationship with God, related to goodness." (That's how my Bible puts it anyway.) So we're not just talking about helping people or algebra wisdom, we're talking about the interactions we have with God wisdom.

It then makes sense that we would ask God for this wisdom (I mean, who else would have the answer?).

... who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

If we ask God for this wisdom, we will be given it. Now a quick word: the word "ask" is actually more like "beg," so we really have to want this wisdom. It's not just something we throw into the end of our prayers - "Oh, and some wisdom too, God. Amen."

I've been reading on this topic recently in Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. In the chapter "The Community of Prayerful Love" he has a section on "the request." Essentially, he makes a point that if we're authentically asking God to give us something that both He wants and that we want, why in the world would He not give it to us? Makes sense. So if we ask for this wisdom, God is probably going to give it to us.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Here, the word doubting refers to division. Specifically, in the mind. In other words, someone who doubts would be someone who is not really sure about what they are asking for. They don't really want it wholeheartedly (or, rather, wholemindedly).

And then the simile. The simile makes sense if we remember what we realized last time. One of the things that defines wisdom is the fact that its nature doesn't change. If something is true, it doesn't become untrue later. So if someone doubts and their mind is thrown around like a wave in the sea, well then they really have some work to do before they start getting close to this wisdom thing. If they can't even be sure about asking for wisdom, then they will never really get wisdom. It's a sort of catch 22.

This naturally leads to...

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

So it's not that we should believe that we will get wisdom from God if we ask for it, but we shouldn't expect to get it - that's what I would have thought before. Instead, if we sincerely ask for this wisdom and really want it, God will give it to us. But if we're not sure about asking, we certainly won't get it, because that just goes to show that we don't want it.

If this is at all interesting, I highly advise the book by Willard. You can also read Matthew 7: 7-11.

We're starting to see James come out of his shell. And he'll unravel more of this later. But this passage was kind of a tangent in a way. In v. 9, he continues from what he was saying in v. 4.

Friday, December 26, 2008

James - Day 3

And the journey continues...

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

We read the first verse in James and learn that the author (James) is fully devoted to God. And in the next verse, he'll say "brothers," which means he is writing to an audience that has a similar background as he does (Jewish Christians).

This is where we start.

Count it all joy, my brothers...

The first thing to notice is "all joy." My ESV and NASB translations both say it this way. James is talking about something that when we look back on things and really put them in perspective, when we "count" them so to speak, we realize that that something gave birth to nothing but joy.

... when you meet trials of various kinds...

Oh. Something = Bad times. Keep reading.

... for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)

For starters, I prefer the word endurance to steadfastness. It's more understandable to us today. And one of the first observations I made when I read through this passage the first time was that this endurance sort of takes care of itself. All we have to do is step aside and let it run its course.

Now James sort of gives away what the human goal is right here in the beginning: to be perfect and complete. (Naturally, if we are complete, we're not lacking anything either.) So that's what we're aiming for. With that in mind, let's go back to the beginning of that verse.

When James talks about the testing of our faith, he's referring to something mental. From what I can tell, the Greek word used there suggests persuasion and knowledge. So what he's saying is that when our minds and thoughts are challenged, we start to develop this sort of endurance.

So here's where I would make a point:

One could say that developing this mental endurance (or steadfastness) allows us to firmly and entirely hold on to truth without swaying. In other words, allowing us to gain perfect wisdom (not lacking anything) and never losing it.

This is how we start off the letter. With mentioning what the goal is, and a way in which it is attained.

But we have more questions: Is that the only way we can be perfect? Why should we be perfect? What happens to us then? What if we don't have these trials that you speak of?

Luckily, the letter keeps going. And maybe we will see some of these questions answered...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

James - Day 2

So we move forward in our study of James.

I just did some basic background research on what we know about the author, his reason for writing, and the historical situation. And obviously, there may be some disagreements, but I will simply do my best as I am forced to depend on the few written resources that I have.

The author of the book is probably James, and most believe this James to be the older brother of Jesus. He is believed to have written this sometime between 40 A.D. and 60 A.D, after a number of years of church leadership in Jerusalem.

At this point in history, an oppressive Roman government had a reputation of persecuting Christians because of their "disloyalty" to the Roman government. And James was without a doubt writing to Christians affected by this.

More specifically, James was probably writing to Jews who had converted to Christianity. And this explains most of the topics he covers. Those Christians in particular had a reputation for trying to get by with simply "intellectual agreement" being the same as faith. In his writing, as we have already seen, James stresses action. More than just belief.

Some believe also that James wrote after seeing some of Paul's letters in order to sort of offset Paul's emphasis on faith, in a sense. Not to contradict him (or maybe he was trying to; I don't know), but to show people that just staying at home and believing certain facts to be true was not enough. (Interesting... that sounds familiar.)

The only observation I made on my own without outside help was simply that James was really old when he wrote this. I am lead to believe even that he wrote this with a thought that his death was coming soon. He was probably close to 50 years old. It's almost as if he wanted to get this message out before it was too late.

As we can see, these few observations already connect with some of the thoughts I had on day 1. Also, we can see that American Christians today have something to learn from James: knowing nice things about Jesus doesn't cut it. That's probably why we like Paul so much. He's nicer about that kind of stuff when we don't look into it too much.

A Christmas Paradox

Wes had some thoughts on Christmas. See?

He writes of hope and power that we can find in the Christmas story. The joy of knowing what God has done for us.

And I can't disagree. The thing that Christmas represents is really something quite amazing. I mean, think about it: God of everything, Creator of the Universe, Designer of blue skies, Architect of the Grand Canyon... chose to be surrounded in our crazy, selfish, sinful lives.

But there is something else. Often we think of the joy of Christmas, but don't truly acknowledge the pain that a Father must have felt that first Christmas morning (probably in March).

There is an enormous amount of sacrifice and pain and anguish that must have been felt. I mean really. Seeing Your son and knowing that he's going to die a miserable death at the hands of misguided government officials. And just giving him up? There must have been suffering and pain there.

But obviously there was joy. There was a bigger picture. And so despite the tears and anguish, there was utter relief in knowing that His children would finally be able to see life. Real life. An eternal life beginning here on earth. And that is the joy of Christmas.

I cannot think of a stronger paradox. Ultimate suffering allowing for everlasting joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Jon Foreman Is Up To

As if he wasn't doing enough before, Jon Foreman's got a new project.

Fiction Family - When She's Near from ATO Records on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2008

James - Day 1

As I mentioned before, I'm going through a book about how to study the Bible. So as an exercise, our whole group is reading and studying through the book of James to see how much we learn. So yesterday I began by just reading through the whole book in one sitting. Here's a couple things I noticed (and for the record, so far, this is without any outside reference):

The book is split into several sections. The first verse is obviously the introduction.

Then from 1:2 to 2:26, James covers actions. He starts with trials, then talks about doing v. hearing, and finally how we behave.

The next section is kind of 3:1 to 4:10. Here, James discusses words, wisdom, and then how we behave again.

And before the conclusion, James advises us how to act from 4:11 to 5:6.

Then the conclusion takes place from 5:7 to 5:20 in which James talks about patience, words, and closes with the importance of prayer.

Now, granted, these may not be the best choices for sections, or even the topics covered in each of my sections. But that wasn't my goal when I set out to create them.

What I wanted to do was pick up on themes or reoccurring topics in the book. I wrote this down in my notes, and I think it sums up what I did pretty well:

This book is largely about what we do. There is a big difference between our faith and our actions. And what we say is a major part of our actions, as is wisdom seeing as how it determines them. Also, one of the most important actions we can actually do is pray.

We shall soon see (hopefully) that with these thoughts James wrote his letter.

Viva La Vida

So I finally listened to Coldplay's new album last night from start to finish. And it was good, but I did feel like it was hyped up just a little bit too much. I mean, I'd buy it, and even listen to it, but it's not the most spectacular piece of metal I've uploaded to iTunes my entire life. I guess I'm just not really sure what everyone likes so much about it that sets it apart. I mean, it's definitely better than Coldplay's other stuff...

Help me out...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Other Mark

I've been reading again. This time from Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks. I'm reading it with a men's group from church, and it's been very insightful and has helped me enormously with picking out observations in the text.

This morning I read a section called "Getting the Big Picture" and worked with chapters 4 & 5 of Mark (the gospel - not me). At the beginning of Hendrick's book we'd look at just one verse, then we did just a paragraph, and now we're here.

So I whipped out my hip Extreme Teen Bible (NCV) since it was the first thing I found after moving back home for Christmas. I opened to Mark 4 and read the two chapters straight through.

Verses 1-34 of chapter 4 cover Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God. And from what I can tell, this is really the only part of Mark that really hammers out kingdom teaching. The topic comes up again, but not this extensively.

Then the end of ch. 4 and all of 5 cover 4 miracles: the calming of the storm, the man with demons, the bleeding woman, and Jairus' daughter.

After my brief read-through, I decided to get some background, so I went back to Mark 1 and sort of skimmed through to gain some context. I made some interesting finds.

Mark seems to write in a very specific way. He moves forward chronologically, but covers only one particular aspect of Jesus' life at a time. He starts with Jesus preparing for ministry from the call of John the Baptist, through the baptism, and then to the desert with fasting and temptation. Mark spends hardly any time on these details which would lead the reader to believe that this is not what he wants to talk about.

Then Jesus picks some followers.

Then he begins healing people.

Now both the followers and the healings are reoccurring events in this gospel. Over and over, Mark will describe how Jesus separates his followers from the crowds that follow him around (4:11). The followers were told that they could "know the secret about the kingdom of God." Mark also makes a distinction between Jesus' first few followers and when he officially picks his twelve apostles (3:14). I think this attention to Jesus' disciples is very important. But I want to focus more on what happens at the healings. Or the first several at least.

Before even the first chapter is finished, Mark records Jesus forcing out an evil spirit. The text says that the spirit knows who Jesus is - "God's Holy One." Jesus immediately responds, "Be quiet!"

The next subheading in my Bible is "Jesus Heals Many People." And 1:34 says Jesus "would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was." And the next morning when Jesus finds out people are looking for him, he tells his disciples that they should go to other towns.

Verse 44: "Don't tell anyone about this," Jesus says after healing a sick man.

Then Mark moves his focus to people criticizing Jesus and his followers, the section which will end with the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus for the first time.

Like you probably are beginning to notice, I observed that Jesus was developing a habit of telling people to keep quiet about what he was doing.

Why in the world would Jesus do this? I feel like this was a question raised in Sunday School a couple times. We'd read just the one little passage ending with this statement, and then were asked why Jesus would do this. But I've never noticed before that Jesus did this all the time.

Could it be because once the wrong people caught wind of this, Jesus knew he was going to be in trouble? Possibly. Could it simply be because Jesus was humble? Possibly.

Maybe Jesus was just worried that these people just would not understand. After all he told his followers that if they couldn't even understand the parable stories, then how could they understand the actual kingdom of God?

Fast forward to the demoniac. He was crazy with a lot of demons (5,000 if his name was literal). Jesus healed him, and then told him, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you." The text says people were amazed at the story.

So why was Jesus not okay with people talking about his healings, but then it was okay for this guy?

To be honest, I don't know. Maybe an in-depth study on Mark as a whole would help us find out.

In the very next story, Jesus tells Jairus not to tell anyone about him bringing his daughter back to life.

It makes sense that Jesus did not want to be killed yet. It makes sense that he still had work to do. But why is it ok to just give one guy permission?

Maybe it was just geography. Maybe the place this guy was from (Decapolis) had no other way of hearing or witnessing news like this.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that Jesus kept his work a secret. And it's important that we find out why. If we don't, then our evangelizing might be all wrong. What if our perspective is skewed and we're not doing it right?

The life of Jesus is fascinating. But it is a model that we are supposed to use in our own lives. And if we choose to just shrug something like this off, I think we've missed why Jesus even came here in the first place (Christmas reference).

I encourage you to look into this. And I will too. Chances are there will be another blog about it soon.