Power of the Word

James 1: 21-22

E. Shuyler English in The Net 153 Christian Magazine tells this story about the power of the Word:  “Michael Billester once gave a Bible to a humble villager in eastern Poland. Returning a few years later, he learned that 200 people had become believers through the use of that one Bible. When this group of believers gathered to hear him preach, he suggested that before he spoke he would like each person to quote some verses of Scripture. One man rose and said, “Perhaps, Brother, we’ve misunderstood you. Did you mean verses or chapters?” Billester was astonished. “Are you saying there are people here who could recite complete chapters of the Bible?” That was precisely the case. In fact, 13 of them knew half of Genesis and the books of Matthew and Luke. Another had committed all of the Psalms to memory. Combined, these 200 people knew virtually the entire Bible by memory.”

Do we really know what we possess in the pages of Scripture?  The beauty, the majesty and life changing power of God’s Word?  If we did would we not devour it like these young believers in Poland?  James says “…humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  The word is powerful… if it is planted in us… and if we do what it says.

Take the words of A. W. Tozer:  

“If you would follow on to know the Lord, come at once to the open Bible expecting it to speak to you.  Do not come with the notion that it is a thing which you may push around at your convenience.  It is more than a thing, it is a voice, a word, the very Word of the Living God.” (The Pursuit of God, p. 82.)

Tackling the Other Green Monster

James 1:19-20

Remember the intro to the Incredible Hulk TV Show back in the 70’s?  “Dr. David Banner: physician; scientist. Searching for a way to tap into the hidden strengths that all humans have. Then an accidental overdose of gamma radiation alters his body chemistry. And now when David Banner grows angry or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by rage and pursued by an investigative reporter. (Bixby: “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”–a clip from the first pilot) The creature is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit. David Banner is believed to be dead, and he must let the world think that he is dead, until he can find a way to control the raging spirit that dwells within him.”

How many of us find when we are “angry or outraged” that a “startling metamorphosis occurs?”  We can go from “happy go lucky” to “mean and green” in no time flat.  Rage – a monsterous hulk – controls us.

James offers a formula help us slow down the transformation process.  “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires.” 

We all get angry.  Sometimes it is right to become angry… against an injustice for instance.  But we must remember… ultimately it will not be our anger that will accomplish the righteousness of God.  It is best to take James’ approach:  Slow down, listen more, speak slower and diffuse your anger.

So heed my advice, today!  Get rid of your rage!  Do it!  Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!

Don’t Eat the Soy Doughnuts!

James 1:13-18

A friend of mine from California had a penchant for practical jokes.  Not your garden variety jokes either.  He liked to pull off ones that took weeks of planning.  One day he just casually mentioned to his wife and some of her lady friends that he had heard of a store in the town where he worked that made soy doughnuts.  Just a mention and nothing more.  A few weeks passed and he told them he had located the store and indeed there were soy doughnuts there.  They asked him to pick up some.  He said he would, if he remembered.  A couple of days later he came home with a box.

Now it was actually a box of old fastion style doughnuts.  He had a friend at work make up a phoney label:  SOY DOUGHNUTS!  And he removed the ingredient sticker and swapped it with one from a carton of soy milk.  He brought them into the house and they were a hit!  It was only after they were on their third doughnut each that someone got suspicuous.  Why was the first ingredient listed, water?  What kind of sweetener was used?  Finally after a bit of laughter, he escaped with his life.

James says:  A good way to begin a diet free from sin is to admit that sin is alluring.  “But each one is tempted when he is carried away by his own lust.”  Author Julius Lester once shared why he rejected Christianity:  “God made sense to me, but the figure of Jesus and the centrality of sin and Jesus dying to save me from my sins didn’t work for me.  I liked a lot of my sins.  I didn’t want to be saved from my sins.  I’ll take responsibility for my sins.  I don’t want anybody taking them away.”

At least he is more honest than we are sometimes.  Many of us would say, “Sin? Heavens no.”  But we watch right through a sexually explicit scene in a movie or TV show because we feel we are mature enough to handle it.  We spend too much time with a certain member of the opposite sex because we just know our marriage is secure .  We hang out at a wild party, because it’s not like we are going to drink or anything.

And then… suddenly… we are surprised by the fact that sin doesn’t taste as bad as we thought it would.  These soy doughnuts are delicious as a matter of fact!  But sin doesn’t label its products with integrity.  That juicy fruit before your eyes might just be rotten to the core.

The Greed Bug

James 1:9-11

John D. Rockefeller once said that there were three simple rules for anyone who wanted to be rich:  1.  Go to work early.  2.  Stay at work late.  3.  Find oil.

Many of us find wealth just as ellusive as Mr. Rockefeller points out.  We may even be  praying for a gusher to hit in the backyard.   But what does God really think about how much we make any way?  Could it be that He is less interested in how much we earn… and more interested in how much we honor Him with what we have been given.

James says that “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.”  How he reach such a lofty height?  The mere fact that he has less possessions makes him less likely (though not immune) to picking up the Greed Bug.  Eugene Peterson writes of this particular ailment in Tell it Slant

Greed is a nearly invisible sin, a tiny parasite that makes its home in the intestines of wealth.  … The Christian who learns to enjoy all the goods of this earth as gifts of God is no less vulnerable than the person who assumes that he deserves everything he has because of his hard work.  We are rich.  We have more than we need.  The moment we are wealthy, …We are liable to greed. …       We quit thinking of wealth as love to be shared and begin calculating it as power to be used.  We reinterpret our wealth and position as something we are in charge of and others as the poor that we must organize and direct and guide.  …  Our neighbors admire us (but not usually our families).  We get promotions.  And nobody notices that we are sick, sick with the covet parasite.  (Tell it Slant, pp. 62-63.)

Small paycheck?  You may be more wealthy… and healthy… than you knew!

No Doubt About It

James 1:6-8

C.S. Lewis had an interesting definition of faith.  He wrote:  “Now faith… is the art of holding on to things your reason once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian, I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable, but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue:  unless you teach your moods “where to get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependant on the weather and the state of its digestion.”

James would support this definition.  He says that if we lack wisdom we are to ask of God… but to ask in faith without doubting.  His word for doubting literally means vacillating… to dispute with oneself.   It is the same Greek word used by Paul to describe the faith of Abraham in Romans 4:20.  “…with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith.”  Now we know that this did not mean that Abraham never doubted.  He went to Egypt to escape a famine.  He took another woman to try to fulfill God’s promise of an heir.  He doubted at times, but he never wavered in unbelief.  His die was cast.  He was going to follow the Lord to the end and receive what God had promised him.

Like Abraham we may experience doubt from time to time in our weak state, that is understandable, but James wants us to understand that we must have a basic consistency in our purpose and direction.  To ask God for wisdom, and to do so without faith… is like imitating drift wood in the Atlantic… akin to living like a double agent deep in one’s soul, like becoming as Lewis described: “a creature dithering to and fro.”  That person will not, James asserts, receive anything from the Lord.

The Question Box

James 1:5

The wonders of technology are beginning to reach even the remotest parts of the world.  I recently learned about Question Box – a project of Open Mind (a nonprofit group) to aid those in poorer countries that don’t have  internet access.  So, for instance, remote farmers in Uganda can now call the cell phones of Question Box operators from around their country… and ask them questions and have those queries then researched and answered.  They mainly ask questions about farming… but can ask anything.

In India, villagers use an actual metal Question Box with an intercom like speaker.  Their questions are likewise answered by an operator in a distant city.

Boy, I could use one of those Question Boxes!  Make mine come with a heavenly internet connection, please!  I’m sure there are those of you, like me, that are facing problems that need solutions, situations that require wisdom, and questions which beg for answers. 

James insists that you and I have something far better than a Question Box. We have a personal God who generously provides wisdom to anyone who asks Him for it!  Wisdom… not mere answers.  Answers satisfy curiosity, wisdom gives us skills to cope.  And what a vast data base we draw from.  The Apostle Paul informs us that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3) 

Got a question you need fielding?  Remember we have:  Wisdom… Available to us 24/7.  But operators are not standing by.  There’s no need.  God is on the line.  Fire away.  He’s listening.