James 5

This reading is James 5.

The opening passage should challenge almost anyone living in the U.S. Even if you don’t consider yourself “rich,” you are probably in the top 1-2% of the wealthiest people on the planet, and certainly in the top 1-2% of people who ever lived. Just glance back out how touch life was 100 years ago for most Americans. This isn’t to say that money is all bad. The thrust of the passage is about justice and fairness. While saving for retirement, emergencies and such is prudent, have we hoarded wealth, or shared it?

As an aside, note how Job is referred to in verse 11. I find it interesting that many people assume that Adam & Eve, Noah, Job, Jonah and other Old Testament figures were fictional, but when they are referred to by Jesus, James and others it is always in the context of them being real people.

Verse 16 commands us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for each other. Note that we don’t necessarily have to confess to a priest, but we are to confess to others in addition to God. There is something spiritually healing about it.

I thought the closing of James was interesting. No long good-byes, just an encouragement to point people to the truth:

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Thanks for reading along with the study of James!

The next reading is the book of Ruth. It is a short book – only 4 chapters. I recommend reading the whole book in one sitting, then going back through in a little more detail. I think I’ll break this into three lessons – an overview, chapters 1-2 and chapters 3-4. Ruth is a great love story with a lot of lessons for us all.

I’m not sure where we’ll go after Ruth, but I’m open to suggestions. My family started doing a weekly study a couple months ago and I have been following what we’ve been reading together.

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National Council of (liberal) Churches

According to this article entitled Exploiting Fallen Soldiers, the National Council of Churches (NCC) has organized a campaign so that “This weekend, leftist churches are expected to ring their bells to note the 2,500th U.S. military death in Iraq.” As the article notes, this is basically a political exercise.

If they really care about unjust deaths, they should have these left-wing churches ring their bells for the 3,000+ humans killed each day via abortion – a procedure the NCC fully supports.

Veggie Boy

I’ve been making health shakes for 30 years and have now achieved the state of the art. Here is the used-to-be secret recipe for my un-patented Veggie Boy protein shake. (For you Cheers fans, you’ll remember this is the name of the health drink Woody was hypnotized into liking. “You can really taste the kale!”)

  • Milk (preferably whole milk, though not much chance of that unless I’m doing the shopping)
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Any other fruit we’ve got. I’m not picky.
  • Whey protein powder (The Vitamin Shoppe has good deals. GNC is more expensive)

You need a pretty powerful blender to chop up the carrots. I got a 2 HP Waring blender with a 64 oz. jar so I can make big batches to last a couple days.

The good news: It is really, really healthy. Vitamins, protein, fiber, low fat, etc. A couple glasses for breakfast and you can eat Snickers the rest of the day.

The bad news: It is green, or possibly brown, depending on how the ratio of the ingredients and the flavor of the whey powder. I’m used to it.

Don’t tell CPS, but when Daughter #1 was young I told her one Halloween that she could eat all the candy she wanted if she had a small glass of Veggie Boy first. I thought she actually liked it (it is rather sweet tasting), but I learned years later that she choked it down. I would have let her eat as much candy as she wanted anyway. Fortunately, she is the forgiving type.

P.S. I never understood the juicer concept. Seems like you are throwing out all the good stuff.

James 4

This reading is James 4.

This short chapter is chock-full of important teachings. Some of the verses are so short it is easy to gloss over them.

We fight and quarrel because of our wrong desires. Verse 3 helps explain why some prayers are not answered: We ask with the wrong motives.

“Friendship with the world is hatred towards God” speaks volumes. The Bible uses “world” in three senses – the planet, the people in the world (as in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . .”) and the system and practices of the world. This verse uses the last meaning. This is a strong call for us to be different from the world. How tragic that according to many surveys, the average “Christian” doesn’t give much more than non-Christians, the divorce rate isn’t much different, etc. We aren’t supposed to be “holier than thou” different, but authentically different.

“God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v. 6) is a quote from Proverbs 3:34 and is also quoted in 1 Peter 5:5. Every verse matters, of course, but if something is repeated three times perhaps we should heed it!

Verse 8 contains a great promise – “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” As Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

Verse 10 promises that if we humble ourselves before the Lord, He will lift us up. Humility is often mentioned in the Bible, but it is nearly always in the context of humbling ourselves. It doesn’t say, “Be humble.” It is not our natural state, so it takes effort to be humble.

Verses 13-16 remind us that we should thank God for every day and every breath. We may live fifty more minutes or fifty more years – it is all up to Him.

We tend to think of sins as things we do that we shouldn’t have done (the sin of commission), but James closes this section by teaching that not doing the good we know we should do is also a sin (the sin of omission).

The next reading is James 5.

Hot topics

The issue of gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender “rights” is ever present in our societies and in church, so I plan to write on it from time to time. But I want to say a few things up front. First, I completely agree with and support the United Methodist position as documented in our Book of Discipline:

Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

I must admit that I was predisposed to hope that the Bible would not state the homosexual behavior was sinful. However, after careful study of the Bible, there is no way to come to that conclusion. 100% of the verses mentioning homosexual behavior label it as sin in the strongest possible terms. 100% of the verses referring to God’s ideal for marriage and sexuality refer to a one man / one woman covenant marriage. And 0% of verses refer to homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way. Biblically speaking, this is not the grey area some want to make it out to be.

But that doesn’t mean we should treat gay people unkindly. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. When I meet someone who is gay, I don’t try to change them. I just try to build a relationship with them the same way I would with anyone else. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to share the Gospel with them if they haven’t heard it yet. If they ask me what the Bible says about it, I tell them the truth. But I don’t grandstand on it.

Note: The acronym GLBT stands for Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender. I sometimes add an “X” and refer to it as GLBTX because it is just a matter of time before something new is added. My guess is “P” for polygamy in 2008.

New US church leader says homosexual behavior is not sinful

Ironically, it appears that she was selected as the leader of a large denomination not because she knows how to interpret the Bible, but because she doesn’t know how to.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, newly elected leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church, says that homosexuality is not a sin and that homosexuals “come into the world” with affections toward others of the same sex. More here.

Asked how she reconciled her position on homosexuality with specific passages in the Bible declaring sexual relations between men an abomination, Jefferts Schori said the Bible was written in a very different historical context by people asking different questions.

“The Bible has a great deal to teach us about how to live as human beings. The Bible does not have so much to teach us about what sorts of food to eat, what sorts of clothes to wear — there are rules in the Bible about those that we don’t observe today,” she said.

The verse she was referring to appears to be Leviticus 18:22 – “‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” That seems pretty straight forward, but not to Ms. Schori.

The book of Leviticus does contain some “ceremonial” laws that were just for the Israelites. God wanted to set them apart from other peoples, so He gave them some special laws regarding clothes, food, worship, etc. Ms. Schori was implying that the verses in the Bible regarding homosexuality fall into this category.

Here’s why her interpretation is incorrect. First, there are passages in the New Testament (especially Romans 1) labeling homosexual behavior as a sin that have nothing to do with ceremonial laws.

Second, when you read the passages surrounding Leviticus 18:22 it is obvious that it is not a ceremonial law. One of the most important guidelines to understanding the Bible is to read verses in context (What is the nature of the whole passage? Who is writing? To whom are they writing?)

Leviticus 18 contains many moral laws, and they are sandwiched by strong statements that the Israelites are not to behave like the pagan Canaanites did (the Israelites are about to displace them and take over the land). God did not expect the Canaanites to follow the ceremonial laws, but He did expect them to follow the moral laws written on our hearts. The Canaanites had committed the offenses noted in Leviticus 18 for hundreds of years, so God was judging them.

Why is Ms. Schori so sure this is a ceremonial law? Does she think the verse before or the verse after are ceremonial laws? (Leviticus 18:21 says, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” and Leviticus 18:23 says, “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.”)

Read Leviticus 18 yourself and ask if Leviticus 18:22 sounds like a ceremonial law (such as what food to eat and what clothes to wear) or a moral law. If you can see that this is obviously a moral law, then congratulations! You have better Bible reading skills than the leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Third, she ignores that 100% of the Bible verses referencing God’s ideal for marriage involve one man and one woman.

She is also incorrect with respect to people being “born that way.” There are no credible studies proving that, and even if there were, what is natural isn’t necessarily moral.  We do all sorts of things that come naturally to us that are still sinful. 

The best reference on this debate I have seen is Responding to Pro-Gay Theology by Joe Dallas. I highly recommend it.

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.