James on participating in the divine nature

I’m going to start leading our small group Bible study through a series on the Letter of James tonight. The thing I am most excited about is that this small group has become increasingly open to dig deeply into the Scriptures and into the dark places of our souls. We seem more willing to share with one another about the things we are struggling with and to keep one another accountable in our walk of faith. That’s what James is all about.

Since we didn’t decide until yesterday that we would be doing this study, I gave them a quick reading assignment to prepare: James 1:1-2 and 5:19-20. James is written to the twelve tribes living in the Diaspora. The people of God who have been scattered. By the end of the letter it is clear that this is no mere geographical designation. It is written to brothers and sisters who have wandered off the path of truth. And it is written to brothers and sisters who are in such a relationship with God that they can be His instruments to steer their wayward family members back onto the path of life.

Peter talks about participating in the divine nature through the promises of God (2 Peter 1:4), and James has his own message along these lines. In the beginning of the letter, James lays out a contrast between our own evil desires that lead to death (James 1:14-15) and the desire of our heavenly Father to give us new birth through his word of truth (James 1:17-18). This divine word is the only thing that can truly inspire us with godly wisdom, save us from the filth around us, and give abundant life to our mortal souls.

By the end of the letter, James presents a picture of the church accomplishing through prayer what only God can do: healing the sick, forgiveness of sins, stopping the rain and making it rain again (James 5:15-18). When we come alongside a wandering brother or sister in Christ and turn them back to God, we participate in the nature of God by saving others from death and covering over a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20). Surely, the prayer of a righteous person is very powerful since it is God who makes it effective (James 5:16).

May we each not forsake our first love (Revelation 2:4). May the love of God well up within us and overflow to all those around us.

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Church: can’t live with her, can’t live without her

On his Monday Morning Devotional Blog, a Wesleyan pastor and good friend of mine, Lenny Luchetti, has posed the question in regards to the church, “Why bother?” What are the reasons you feel you can’t live with the church, and what are the reasons you can’t live without the church? I gave him this response…

Why I sometimes feel like I CAN’T LIVE WITH the church:

Because people in the church can sometimes be the most judgmental, uncaring people in the world.

Why I feel like I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT the church:

Because the relationships that God has given us in the church are the testing grounds where God allows his Holy Spirit to mold us into the people he wants us to be. In other words, God intends the saving and renewing relationship that he has with us to be experienced in the midst of other really crummy people who are at various stages of experiencing the benefits of relationship with God. If I can’t humble myself and love my brothers and sisters in the face of judgmental attitudes within the church, how can I follow Christ’s command to love my enemies who are outside the church?

I often reflect on marriage in the same way. The marriage bond is the closest of human relationships, and it is the place where the furnace can burn hottest to destroy the impurities in our own hearts, but it is also the place where we receive the greatest support and encouragement to go on. And that’s what the church is, the bride of Christ. And it’s within the community called ‘church’ where the Spirit of Christ purifies us like fire, but also motivates, equips, and encourages us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Those two greatest of commands are inseparable. We can’t love God if we aren’t loving our brothers and sisters in the church. And a sign that we are loving God is that we are putting the needs of our brothers and sisters before our own.

So the church–as ugly as it can sometimes appear with all it’s fallen sinful humanity–is beautiful in God’s sight because Jesus is redeeming his people for himself. I could despise the church for all the ugliness of sinful humanity that is still present within her, but to do so would be to ignore my own faults and need for a Savior. Thus, to reject the church is to reject the only One who is able to save that church and me.

So what would you say?