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.

James 3

This reading is James 3.

I find it interesting that James warns people about teaching, because those who teach “will be judged more strictly.” Those of us who teach must choose our words very carefully so we don’t distort the Word of God.

James revisits his theme about the power of the tongue. He uses the strongest possible words to warn of the evil our words can contain and the damage they can cause.

James then shifts to wisdom, which always reminds me of Proverbs, which addresses at length the importance of wisdom. He connects wisdom with good deeds and humility. He emphasizes how envy and selfish ambition are of the devil and are associated with disorder and “every evil practice.” When you examine the evil in the world this correlation makes sense to me.

The next reading is James 4.

4Simpsons.com in China?!

china-map.jpg A good friend of mine who is from Taiwan shared my website with some of his friends in China. Since China regulates religion so heavily, I was surprised they could view it. Apparently sites are tagged as religious, commercial, etc. and are permitted or banned based on the classification. My sites must not be tagged as religious.

So if you are reading this in China or other countries where Christians are persecuted, please be encouraged that many Christians pray for you regularly. We admire the strength of your faith and the sacrifices you make because of your love for Jesus. If we don’t meet you in this life, we look for to meeting you in Heaven.

For those of you who like realistic fiction, Safely Home by Randy Alcorn is a compelling account that captures the realities of many Christians in China.

See Voice of the Martyrs for more information on the persecuted church around the world. There are many ways to learn about those who are being persecuted and how you can help them by writing letters, praying or contributing financially. Hebrews 13:3 says: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

Thought for the day (for Christians): If you woke up tomorrow as a citizen in a country where Christians are persecuted, would you still be a Christian?

Zero based budgeting

money2.jpg Yes, I know that is an odd title. But this hasn’t turned into a business blog, so stay with me here.

Zero Based Budgeting is a financial process where instead of tweaking previous budgets (e.g., here’s a 3% increase for this area, and 5% for that area . . .), you start from scratch and re-justify every expenditure. Everything.

This is a healthy exercise for everyone to do – businesses, government, churches, families and individuals. Otherwise, we end up institutionalizing ineffeciencies and ineffective techniques and we becomes slaves to habits. This isn’t just about money, it is about how we spend our time.

Governments at all levels could perform this exercise to shift resources to where they are most needed. They don’t, of course.

With respect to church, we should periodically examine every element of worship, every committee, every ministry, etc. The main standard is, of course, “Is it Biblical?” Then comes the practical considerations of whether things are productive, cost effective, etc. We will always have limited resources, so we need to be good stewards of what we have been given.

This also works on a personal level. Have you thought about where you spend every dollar and whether it reflects your priorities? Also, think about where you spend your time. If you are a Christian who has difficulty finding time to read the Bible and pray, have you done a review of where you do spend your time? For example, until 10 years ago, I thought I didn’t have time to read the Bible. Then I realized that I had no problem making time for other activities – watching TV, reading magazines, reading the newspaper, etc. – and that with a little change in habits I could find all the time I needed.

Give it a try. Be ruthless.

“Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this guy.”

One of my all-time favorite lines from The Simpsons was when Homer complained about how expensive his Bible was. He goes on to say:

And talk about a preachy book! Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this guy.

See the video here!

I know the writers weren’t trying to make a serious theological statement. It was just a funny line unrelated to the plot. Homer’s character is so dumb that he sometimes makes profound statements without knowing it. Upon further review, it accurately summarizes much of the Gospel message.

As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all sinners in the bad things we do, say and think and in the good things we should do but don’t. Romans 6:23 is the ultimate bad news / good news verse: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Death, in this context, means eternal spiritual death. We are spiritually dead until we accept the free gift God has given us and “confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

When Homer refers to “this guy,” he means Jesus, of course. As Homer notes, Jesus committed no sins. He was God in flesh who lived the perfect life in our place and who took the punishment we deserved to reconcile us to Him.

Many believe that “good people” go to Heaven, but the Bible couldn’t be more clear in disagreeing with that. It only took one sin to get Adam and Eve kicked out of the original paradise on earth. And even if being 51% good would cut it with God, we are kidding ourselves to think we are achieving that mark (I know I’m nowhere close to that). If you think you are a good enough person to get into Heaven on your own, try this link.

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.