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.

OCD: It’s not just a disorder, it’s a lifestyle.

prod_purell_sanitizer_sm.jpgWe started watching Monk (the obsessive-compulsive detective on the USA channel) a couple months ago and have enjoyed catching up on old episodes. I’m not sure why we like it so much. Perhaps because it makes our OCD look less raging. We buy Purell by the half-gallon. Seriously. Hey, my wife teaches 4th grade, an age not known for its proper hygiene.

Click here to see how Monk-like you are. The quiz said I was “a little Monk-ish.” Shocking!

James 2

This reading is James 2.

Greetings! Here are a few thoughts on James 2. Please read along and comment if you like.

The first passage is about not showing favoritism toward the wealthy. I realize that churches are sometimes homogeneous because they simply reflect the economic situation of the surrounding community. But I really appreciate diversity within the church. After all, what we truly have in common is that we are sinners in need of a savior and that we are followers of Christ. The rest of the differences – skin color, age, economic status, clothes, etc. – seem to matter now but won’t in eternity. How can we ensure that we send a truly welcoming message to everyone who walks through our doors – executives, bikers, rich, poor, etc.? I love my church, but I wish we were more diverse.

James says that showing favoritism is a serious sin and reminds us that breaking one of God’s laws is like breaking the whole law. Then he reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment. That is the good news for the day.

The next section is the faith versus works debate, which has generated tons of discussion over the years. At one point in his life, Martin Luther didn’t think the Book of James should even be in the Bible because he thought it said we are saved by works (He later changed his mind). At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, I approach the debate this way: We are saved by grace, through faith, and real faith will produce real works. If we just say we have faith and have no sustained works to back it up, our faith is not real. If I really believe that Jesus is God and I am putting my trust in Him as my savior, then it follows that I would attempt to obey Him. If I am doing good deeds without faith in Jesus, then my motive is probably to make myself look good. Those deeds won’t save anyone; in fact, they expose the sin of pride.

The next reading is James 3.

PG = Pro-God?

pg.jpg

As humor columnist Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. The Motion Picture Association of America gave a PG rating to the movie “Facing the Giants” because it mentions Jesus and has other Christian elements. The MPAA was afraid it would offend non-Christians. Eek.Of course, it is easy to get riled up about such a move by the MPAA considering the offensive things they don’t address in their ratings.Yet this could be a blessing in disguise. Instead of protesting, perhaps Christians should thank the MPAA and let them know they will only attend movies that are rated PG for being Pro-God-of-the-Bible (provided that the movies are of high quality . . . just because they have a Christian message doesn’t mean they are good). After all, why support movies that mock God or pretend He doesn’t exist?

More information here.

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.