Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

James 1:26-27

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Would you PLEASE turn down the light, God?!

The trouble with mirrors is they amplify light. The Palace of Versailles has a room called The Hall of Mirrors. The idea of such a room to be a place where the king could host a brilliant party illuminated by only a few candles. Every mirror that caught a candle's flame duplicated the light from that candle and made it brighter to the human eye.

Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!"

Dickens' Scrooge finds this same problem to be his undoing when he meets the first of the three Ghosts:

"It was a strange figure -- like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Perhaps, Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

"What!" exclaimed the Ghost, "Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow!"

And when the light of Truth -- note the capital "T". For it is eternal truth both specific and general, revealed and hid from view. God's Truth is embedded deep in his character and written in His Word. It shines from the Lamb (not a typo...) burning within my heart and yet my own dark heart shines out darkness and death. I cringe and try to hide my face from this mirror and the next and the next. Where am I to hide?! (Psalm 139) I am in the Hall of Mirrors and everywhere I turn I meet myself. And because it is Christ who is in me, I meet Him.

I have been quite a talker in my life. Pastors usually are. But I have not been much of a doer. I told you. I'm lazy. Just by the standard of this verse I have failed to live a "religion that is pure". And the things I have invested in? Well... invested wouldn't probably be the right word. My obsessions; my idols; my vanities -- these have threatened to rob me of the Light of Christ altogether and leave me here in this Hall of Mirrors such complete darkness I fear I will run into mirror after mirror in such a way that the glass will shatter and fall to the ground and my spirit will die there among the shards of what should have been life and light to me. And yet, the standard by which pure faith is judged is so much more than just visiting orphans and widows and remaining unstained by the world (though now to think of it that last sentence covers a LOT of ground).

I think that lighting the room with the pure light of Christ may take a lot of work. Or maybe, because his face is the one I see in all the mirrors, all it will take is to light one candle.

Jon

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

James 1:25

"But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing."

Albert Einstein spent most of his productive career looking for a "unified field theory" -- one grand expression that would explain all matter. E=MC2 only explained the relationship of matter to other matter. While that's about all I know on the subject. And if anyone is reading this I'm sure I'll get all kinds of greater explanations from more learned minds. I have been engaged in a similar theological pursuit: To find the one thing that explains all of life and eternity in one simple statement. Here, James comes pretty darned close.

We need to remember at the outset that James is the close relative of Jesus; possibly his brother. We need to do what the disciples did on the day of Jesus' Resurrection. We need to run to the tomb with Peter and John. It is odd that James (not the James who wrote this letter -- called James the Less -- but James, the brother of John) is never mentioned in John's Gospel. I'll make a gross assumption for a moment. Since he's never mentioned in the gospel but appears almost exclusively WITH Peter and John at all the big moments of Jesus life, why not now? I think John omits his name for the same reason he calls himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved". I think John is trying to take as much of the emphasis off him and his brother as possible. Probably the whole business with their mother.

So here we are at the tomb. Peter, John, and possibly James have run there in great expectation. John does something curious. He stoops down and peers into the tomb (John 20:5a). This is the SAME word James uses in James 1:25! The tomb was not much more than a small cave in the ground, hewn out of the rocks and just large enough for a body or two. The stone that had covered the entrance was rolled (dropped) from above to seal the entrance. One would have to bend down just to look into the now opened cave. What was John hoping to see there? James (the brother of Jesus) tells us: the perfect (teleo) law, the law of liberty.

You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free (liberty).
I am the way and the truth and the life.

And the word "perfect" here is again from the root teleo -- complete. Christ is the LAW, which is our taskmaster MADE LIBERTY, our freedom. And wouldn't that be the most complete or perfect kind of law? One that sets people free? THIS would be THE great unified field theory, or should I say unified field LAW: one that sets all things at liberty. But the ONLY way we will experience what James and John did is to stoop, to kneel, to bow low before the tomb. Something in us has to die before it can be raised again. All my "liberties" that have become "laws" as I have sought to have life on my own terms, to bend God to be what I want him to be, must die before the open tomb.

If I never kneel, I'll never see what ISN'T there. I am expecting to see a lifeless corpse wound with spices and linen -- a Jesus who can do nothing more for me than be the symbol of a failed revolt. But if I will forsake my pride, my lust, my laziness, my loneliness, my rejection, my demand that Jesus come forth to me like Lazarus out of his tomb; if I will but bend my knee and look intently into the perfect law, the law of liberty, I will suddenly have become a doer who acts. And I thought Christ was going to demand that I do some impossible thing for him. All he ever wanted was for me to come to him and kneel.

Jon

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

James 1:24

"for he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like."

I don't know about you, but I've never really liked my looks that much. I think there are a lot of people who feel that way. I could stand in front of the mirror all day and I'd never be quite convinced THAT is something handsome. I suppose that's what they call "self-image". The fact is that the more and longer I stand in front of the mirror, the more I DON'T like what I see. And the more deeply I don't like it. Oh, it isn't just the visage I'm taking in. It is the accumulation of moments and days and choices and experiences that I see when I gaze at this particular face. I just don't like being confronted by it.

So I turn my face away as quickly as I can after brushing my teeth, and I "forget" what I've seen. It isn't actually true that I forget. It is more like I choose to forget because looking at all those choices and actions and decisions begins to be like looking into the face of God. The ancients believed that if you did meet God face to face you would die because Sin cannot live in the presence of a holy God.

But I WILL look at one or the other. The more I look at my face (ie: the more I focus on myself and my troubles), the more awful I will feel about what I'm seeing. The more I look at the face of Christ, the more awe-struck I will become in his presence.

"It is a serious thing, to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."

--C. S. Lewis, From The Weight of Glory.

I need to conform myself to being one of those everlasting splendors. And the only way I can is by looking intently into the mirror and not walking away, lest I forget.

Jon

Monday, February 25, 2008

James 1:23

"For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror."

This is a hard verse for me. I don't like being told what to do. I guess no one does, really. But in my case it is kind of extreme. Even when no one is actually telling me. I started tearing wallpaper off the bathroom off our den about 3 weeks ago. Jama wanted me to do it, that's true. But I consented gladly enough. The problem came in when I realized this wasn't going to be an easy job. I want all jobs to be easy. I don't want to have to work for things. My new ministry is one where I have to raise the money myself in order to be employed. A lot of church positions work like this. It is called "missionary" staffing. The only problem is I don't want to have to do the work to get the word out. I'd much rather have the money just come to me. I don't want to work in relationships. If the person is just there, great. That's why I'm virtually addicted to Instant Messenger. I don't want to have to go GET the person. And on and on it goes.

I love the Word of God. I love reading it. I love listening to it. I love preaching it (as long as I don't have to put any work in to preparing for preaching). I love memorizing it (as long as I get it memorized by osmosis and not by actually working for it). But if you tell me I have to do the Word I'll rebel every time. That sounds too much like work.

Just to prove a point, I'm sitting here in this diner I frequent. About 10 minutes ago someone I said something unkind to about six months ago walked in and sat down across the room from me. They were cordial enough and smiled at me and said hello. But I know I still need to apologize. That, of course, would mean killing my pride (for the moment -- pride is like the Phoenix of old). It also means throwing my reputation off a cliff. I'll have to admit that I blew it in that last conversation.

And here I sit looking into the mirror of God's Word. Yep.

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." -- Ephesians 4:32

"“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." -- Matthew 7:12

Shut UP, God! The wallpaper can fall off the damned crapper before I'll open my mouth and embarrass myself like this! Besides, it is too much like work. Relationships should be easy and clean. I think I'll just step away from this mirror. The light is bothering my eyes.

Jon

PS... I think I'll leave you wondering what I actually did. That's between me and God.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

James 1:22

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

Working on the theory that James is talking about his near relative or possibly half-brother puts a whole different spin on this verse as well. The church is fond of talking about "following Jesus" in some vague way as though there were a set of precepts written down somewhere; that if we would only follow them, we would achieve whatever it was that Jesus wanted of us.

But being a "doer" of the implanted word? This is much more "soulish" stuff. This is listening to something deep in your heart and doing what it tells you. Now before we go off in a flight of self-awareness and end up in post-modernism again, let's understand that the Spirit of God won't say anything in your heart that He wouldn't have said in Scripture. I've had people tell me the Spirit within them was telling them to do all kinds of things that were "good for their growth" or "just feel right" that God clearly speaks against in the Word.

If I want to drink to excess, for instance, it may be something I feel I "just need to get out of my system", but let's be honest: God isn't prodding me to do it. Conversely, I don't think it takes Satan or even one of his junior tempters to make me overly curious about what the people in my life are doing. That's one of my sins. I used to think I was being faithful to Christ on this one. After all, how was I to offer correction and help them grow if I didn't know what they were really up to? This kind of advanced paranoia most certainly is not "doing" the logos of God. It also isn't something conjured up as a temptation from some little smoldering fellow sitting on my shoulder. My own black heart is perfectly capable to this without any help at all.

In order for me to become a doer of the implanted word I have to know him at the deepest level. I can't know or even hope to recover "Jesus" -- the man who walked the earth 2000 years ago -- any more than I can know or recover George Washington. The human being who lived among us is lost to history. THIS is not the logos. Jesus was an expression of the logos of God in the fullness of being and time. And for us it must be enough that we believe that he was "the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father." We give ascent to the Creed because the reality is lost to us as he himself promised. He has indeed gone away and has left us another Comforter.

Now the Holy Spirit informs my black heart. He speaks truth -- inconvenient, upsetting, I-want-to-shut-it-out TRUTH to my inmost being because that is where he IS. He also speaks comfort, grace, beauty, love, and all the highest and best that God has to offer. I can't have one without the other.

And so I am left devastated before a God who has spoken truly to my heart. My personality is very slow to get up off the couch and actually do something. I'm basically lazy. But the Voice of God is persistent, thank God. And he continues to speak until the doing of his word is satisfied in my actions.

Jon

Thursday, February 21, 2008

James 1:21

"Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."

It is so easy to focus on the first clause of this sentence. I actually wrote a whole long discussion about what the clause means. The problem with doing that is that if I focus on the thing I need to "put away" I'll never put it away. I'll never get to thinking about the implanted word of God.

James is thinking about Christ here when he speaks of the implanted logos. He knows both Paul and John, and this usage is distinct: a fusion of Paul's argument that God put Jesus forth as a "propitiation to be received by faith" (see also 2 Cor. 5:17 and Gal. 2:20) and John's argument about the logos in John 1. He could have told us to simply "apply the teachings of Christ" or "follow Jesus" or some such thing. But he doesn't. In discussing putting away filth from us he talks about something very personal -- the implanted word. The "filth" always conjures up pictures of ancient menstrual rags that had to be disposed of because they were ceremonially unclean in judaism. The Implanted Logos is that super-clean One who has come to invade our soul. HE is implanted -- not "it" is implanted.

James is unable to talk academically about Christ. In fact, one of the arguments against including the Epistle of James in the New Testament was that it never mentions Christ by name. I would argue that it doesn't quite BECAUSE James was the brother or perhaps cousin of Jesus and to him the logos was a living being he grew up with, not a concept or set of principles. And James knew that the salvation of his soul didn't have to do with a list of dos and don'ts. It had to do with what Paul calls "putting on" Christ.

Jon

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

James 1:20

"for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires."

I totally get that anger doesn't produce anything positive. I've been in enough angry conversations with people over the years to know that for sure. Ephesians tells us "be angry, but do not sin." It is when my anger is expressed in over-the-top ways that I am in trouble. That is the kind of unbridled anger I think James is talking about here. It is an unproductive anger. There is a productive anger too: when we look at a social injustice and it makes us angry. Certainly Jesus was angry when he turned over the money-changers' tables in the Temple or when he called the pharisees a "brood of vipers". This was productive anger because it addressed a serious problem. Certainly husbands and wives need at times to do creative argument.

The part that I don't get is what the righteousness IS that God requires. Are we returning to the law? Is there a list somewhere I can follow so I can check off what I MUST do in order to achieve the righteousness God requires? I certainly don't want to get this wrong. But isn't that just the problem living under the covenant of grace? If my anger is an individual thing, then so is my righteousness. There IS no "one size fits all" and I simply have to be in such intimate contact with God and with my own inner emotions that I begin to know when I'm off base. It is just like breathing. If I sit and listen carefully I can hear myself breathing. I can be conscious of what my body is doing. Just so, if I listen carefully I can hear what God is doing. Not totally and not at all times, but I can tell you this... when I'm angry the noise of my own emotional state blocks out the righteousness God is trying to establish.

Jon

Friday, February 15, 2008

James 1:19

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;”

Sometimes the small things mean so much. This little set of proverbs begins with the word “hoste”, which really doesn’t mean anything like “know this”. I’m not really sure what the logic was that the ESV editors used to insert this word here. Words like “just so” or “therefore” or the KJV “wherefore” are much more appropriate.

As a good little evangelical boy of the Western Church in the 20th century I learned that anytime you find a “therefore” in one of the epistles you need to ask what the therefore is there for. Up to this point James has been talking about the person upon whom the blessing of God rests and finally focused all of that down onto those who are born anew (vs 18). James then calls the recipients of the letter his “beloved brothers,” and by this I think he is specifically speaking to the leadership of whatever church or churches he’s talking to. He clearly is talking to both men and women in the church, no matter how patriarchal the leadership was. He says, "Let all men (adelphoi)..." meaning all people. Here the ESV got it right and the KJV is a product of its times.

Enough with the text criticism. Here's the point: in view of those of us in the New Community being born anew, how should we behave toward one another? We are to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. What a great proverb for the church!

Jon

Thursday, February 14, 2008

James 1:18

"Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."

This verse really doesn't seem to fit in context with the rest of James 1 unless what James is saying is that this bringing forth is one of the "good and perfect gifts" that come down from the Father of Lights. And so it is! In the previous verses James is demonstrating to us the outcome of sin in our life. In the following verses he demonstrates the effect of righteousness. And so 1:18 is a pivotal verse that we need to look at very carefully.

HIS OWN WILL (the Agent). All good theology begins with God. This is axiomatic. But LIVING theology also begins with God. The word "brought us forth" is the word to "beget" or to birth. This reminds me of John 1 where God calls us children "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." In our human relations it is the "will" of husband and wife (in the first century it was considered entirely the husband's will, but studies have proved that a woman CAN sometimes 'shut up her womb' while still having sex because she does not want to love a child into being). And that procreative will -- that incarnational will -- is a very powerful thing. When biology is working correctly, the deep love between husband and wife that draws them into a place of intimacy far greater than just the sex act CREATES. And there is no better home than the womb of a mother who loves the child and has a husband who stands by loving the child they created together. How much more the FORCE of will that brings a soul to life as Christ is formed in the child of the New Birth?

BROUGHT US FORTH (the Action). I was fortunate enough to be present at the birth of both of my children. I can't explain what I mean by what I'm about to say, but I KNEW them from the womb. I knew what they looked like as surely before they were born as after. The only difference in my mind is that after the birth, they were physically present. Before the birth they were already 'born' in my mind and heart. This is the begetting of election from the Father. It is only from our limited perspective that we wait and watch as Christ is formed in a child of God. From God's view the task is already accomplished in eternity. Psalm 139 testifies to this.

THE WORD OF TRUTH (the Apparatus). The Word, the logos that God spoke is the machinery he uses to bring forth the new birth in us. In the evangelical church of the 20th century we have liked to flatter ourselves with the idea that a person could find Christ totally in the absense of a single verse of Scripture. Surely we have fallen into the trap of Humanism, if not the following and more insidious trap of Postmodernism. The Humanist said that REASON would answer any question of life. We, by our great and evolving reason would be able to find God. And so Scripture was of only limited value. And the Postmodernist tells us even our reason has no value. Only what we feel inside has any meaning, if that. But even if the actual verses of Scripture aren't used, no person has ever found the living Christ absent the truth of who He is. In this Lewis was wrong: someone who loved Tash did not also love or know Aslan by a different name.

FIRST FRUITS (the Appearance). There is a moment in any birth when the child first appears in bodily form. The minor Jewish Feast of First Fruits was celebrated to recognize the first appearance of harvest after the winter. I say "appearance" of harvest because the whole harvest has yet to follow and this was a celebration in advance. It was a recognition that God was going to bring about a full harvest based on the first appearances of the things to be harvested. So it is with us. Not sequentially, but rather visibly, we believers are the FIRST of our kind. There will be many, many more, but we're the first ones.

The overview of all this is important: the Agent of his own will causes the Action of the new birth in each believer through the Apparatus of his preached (gk: evangelion) Word in the Appearance (the first fruits of Incarnation) in those who believe. This is a somewhat mystical approach to this text, and yet I think it points out very well that there is no program we can point to that if you fill in these particular blanks in your workbook and do this or that you will be saved. Rather it is the working of Almighty God upon the individual that accomplishes all this. Thank God he did not leave it up to us!

Jon

Monday, February 11, 2008

James 1:17

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Literally, "Every good gift and every perfect (or complete) bestowment is from above"...

Here's the problem with this passage. The idea of something "coming down" here means in the sense of coming down a heirarchy. If the Spiritual world was a pyramid, with the Father at the top, that's what "coming down" means. Passed down from on high? Coming down from the father of lights. Some good gifts have to be handed on. They aren't things we can just appropriate ourselves. They literally come down to us through inheritance. I'm thinking here of a spiritual inhertance rather than a physical one. In a grand way we are inheritors this way of the whole apostolic line from Peter on down. But in another way we are inheritors of the spiritual inheritance of the saints who passed the faith on to us and especially of those we have known as mentors. They are the ones who have shown us the Father. We know Christ in the most immediate way because of THEM, not because of Peter and Paul and James. If I had never known a word of Scripture, I might still have learned Christ from those who knew him before I did.

So, to Chris and Jim, Dick and Carol, to Mort and Jenny and Ted, to Dennis and Judy and to all those who came after those initial days when I was struggling to understand the core of the faith, thanks. You were there to portray Christ to me and to show me that every good and perfect gift indeed descends from one rung further up on the ladder; from one saint further back toward the First.

Jon

Friday, February 8, 2008

James 1:16

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers."

My study of the greek presents a really interesting alternative in terms of how to translate this one brief sentence:

"Don't ERR, dearly loved friends"

This carries with it more of the idea of making a mistake. Don't make a mistake! And the "dearly loved" part is that inconvenient word "agape" again. There is a difficult juxtaposition happening here. James warns us not to make a mistake, which has to do with behavior and/or doctrine. But the word for love here is that kind of love which has nothing to do with the actions of the beloved. God loves us not because of any deeds we've done, but because of "his own mercy" (Titus 3:5)

And so I am stuck with this horrible problem: I am called to love the brothers (the word includes female "bretheren") without regard to their actions, and yet James is warning them ABOUT their actions. It is a paradox! And both sides of the paradox MUST stand or the gospel isn't realized in my life. I MUST love the brothers (I John 3:14) without regard to their actions AND I MUST warn the brothers (Colossians 1:28) at every turn to be careful not to be deceived!

This is an uncomfortable position to be in, for sure. I don't want to risk upsetting or alienating another believer because I dearly love them. And yet, I don't want to risk their eternal security -- I don't want them to fall into deception, arrogance, or pride (to make a mistake) also because I dearly love them.

I have no choice. I MUST love them without condition. When a brother or sister comes to me with a sin in their life I MUST welcome the sinner without regard to his/her repentance over that sin. They are welcome in my world whether they have come to restoration in their faith or not ("...just as in Christ, God forgave you...") And yet I also must find a way to make sure they know what they are doing is sin toward God. This is an awesome responsibilty and perhaps the highest call of the believer.

Jon

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

James 1:15

"Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death."

This is a really tough passage for anyone to exegete today because our post-modernist culture isn't comfortable using the language of the passage. The metaphor James is using brings to mind the picture of a love affair outside of a godly marriage. I'm not at all suggesting that a child conceived "out of wedlock" is sin. I'm just saying that the picture it conjurs up for me is this. The words "desire" and "conceived" are separated in our English. In Greek they aren't. They are right next to one another. So it is literally the "lust that siezes or captures" as opposed to a love that brings forth fruit. Anyone who has gotten caught up in physical desire outside of marriage knows what I'm talking about. You more and more "want" the other person and you more and more get caught up in taking what you want. And the taking more and more excludes God (and generally others as well) from the world you are building. Some people can pull this off as marriage approaches and it seems like there isn't a problem. But in terms of what this text is saying, there always is, because the lust that siezes you becomes master over you. The love that is fruitful is one over which God is the master. Regrettably, we are never able to handle "being our own person."

The other important word in the sentence is "death". When you enter into your sin, when you give yourself to it the "product of conception", if you will, is death IN YOUR LIFE. Christ says he came "that they might have life, and that in abundance." The more I have to justify what I'm doing; the more I have to hide it away in a dark corner; the more I isolate it from my friends and family -- even when I am justifying my action by saying I am somehow growing from what I'm doing, the product is a dying away of my fellowship with Christ and with God. And the WORST thing really would be to be an alcoholic (or an adulterer or a liar or a gossip, etc.) who compensates for what is drawing him/her away from God by attending every Bible study and church service he/she can find. It is so easy in that framework to convince yourself that all is well.

How can we know when we're in trouble? James will have an answer for us later on and I don't want to discuss this verse in detail, but suffice it to say "the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17) The minute you find yourself in a defensive posture when a brother or sister challenges your actions, it is probably time to re-evaluate, pray and think deeply and long, gather as much insight from others as you can, and ONLY then try to decide whether what you've been doing is godly or not.

Jon

Saturday, February 2, 2008

James 1:14

"But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire."

There are two words in this loaded little sentence that I think are really important. The first is "lured", and it carries with it the idea of someone being dragged away. Now that seems to be contradictory to the point of the sentence itself. How can one be dragged away by his own desire? It is like the old statement from Pogo, "We has met the enemy and they is us!" The caveman, in an effort to conquer the woman takes his club and knocks himself over the head and drags himself into the cave and has his way with himself, pardon whatever thoughts THAT might bring to mind. The con-artist cons himself out of millions of dollars. But if we consider the new man we are in Christ it begins to makes sense. Our old nature, as Paul says, is warring with our new nature. The ungodly in us wants to drag our us away body and mind to the discipline of the world's character; Christ in you, the hope of glory will stand for the character of God already forming in you against all that.

The other word is translated "enticed" and has, I think, been diluted a bit by our english language. In the original it means more "entrapped" or deluded. Jama and I have been watching HGTV recently (don't you DARE laugh), and they've been advertising this lighted paper cutter that you can ONLY get by calling a certain telephone number. I really believe this paper cutter will deliver something my scissors can't, that my conventional paper cutter will never do. I want those elegant, clean lines. I want to use the optional "stamp" cut and the paper scoring blade so I can fold my paper straight and true. And the best part of all is it is only $19.95! I'm being enticed to buy the thing. The claims made aren't REALLY falsehoods. They are in that category of thing that SORT of delivers on what it promises. Is there a better way to cut paper? Sure. Do I really need this thing? Nope. But I can certainly be enticed into buying it because I will come to believe that the old-fashioned way of cutting paper simply doesn't work. And oh, have I told you about my George Forman sandwich maker? You REALLY need that one.

Again, the key to understanding and perhaps escaping these enticements and entrapments is that they come from the old nature within us. It doesn't take Satan or even his own devils to "make us do" these things. We do it to ourselves. Only as I cling to Christ and walk more and more closely with him will I be freed to know and to do what brings real life, real fulfillment.

Jon

Friday, February 1, 2008

James 1:13

"Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one."

There are words that simply don't apply to situations. When you're drunk you can't use the word "godly" any more than someone living in Cuba can use the word "democratic". The word just doesn't apply in the context. And so the word "tempt" has nothing to do with God. He is not our tempter. You see, to tempt someone is to draw them away from something else. Young people take note: that is why the guy or girl you're dating presents a certain danger, and it isn't a physical danger. The church has far too long hung the whole matter on "what you are DOING". The danger is spiritual. The danger is always spiritual. The "other" you are interested in is a temptation quite simply because they draw you away from your first love for Christ. And oh... we want to find a mate. It is in our DNA. To love and be loved, to give and receive sex in a secure way... to delight in the garden of fruit that is available is one of our deepest needs. Ah yes! But what if that is also the means of drawing us away from the one our soul was made for?

I have often found myself justifying my more ungodly actions by trying to frame them as in fact godly. And so I make statements like "I denied myself that pleasure for so long. And has God ever really said it was wrong?" That's the same statement the serpent made in the garden. I think every uptight puritan (by the way, the puritans weren't puritanical) who gets drunk on occasion has appropriated Martin Luther's famous line, "If you must sin, sin boldly" as some kind of pro-drinking statement. We can find examples in history to make almost anything sound godly.

The real problem is that in order to do those things we have to import language into a situation where it doesn't belong. So while you're getting naked with someone you're not married to, don't say this is the relationship God wants you in for now. While you're having the fourth drink at a party don't say you were there as a witness to your faith. While you're gossiping don't try to convince everyone you're really doing ministry. And those are just the showy sins of our lives. While you are buying a friend a meal in an expensive restaurant don't make yourself feel godly because they have less than you. Where is the destitute person who has nothing? Why aren't THEY in the restaurant with you? While you enjoy your Super Bowl party this Sunday, where is the person who has no chili, no TV, no family to share with? Don't tell God you're enjoying koinonia with your church friends because the very WORD doesn't fit the situation. We will call these things what they are tomorrow. For now, I leave it to you to come up with meaningful terms to apply.

Jon