Journey Through James 1:16-17 – So Good!

Only two verses again today. I thought we’d get to three, but there is just so much to learn.

Verse 16: Don’t be deceived/misled/fooled about what? Is it about the former truth that God does not tempt or about what follows in the next verse? What if it’s both?

When we are in tests/trials/temptations, I have heard and even said things like, “This is God’s plan” or “God is maturing me/you”. Given verses 13-15, God does not cause the testing. That comes from our sinful desires only. So, I need to make sure that I am not being misled into thinking or teaching otherwise.

Verse 17: Everything good comes from God, and they are good and perfect gifts.

The literal translation is “every act of giving good and every gift perfect from above”. The Greek word used here is translated “every act of giving”. This is interesting. To me this implies not just God’s act of giving good to us, but also His acts of giving good through us.  It’s not a new truth that all the good given us and the good we do come from God. But, sometimes I want to pat myself on the back particularly when I do something good during a trying time. This is a good reminder to not be misled into taking the credit for the good I do.

Perfect in Greek means complete/having reached its end. One of the commentaries I read suggested that perfected good leads to life, which James may be using as a contrast or parallel to verse 15, where completed sin leads to death.

Therefore, all good, from us and to us, in the present and when life here is complete, is from God. And this won’t ever change, because God never changes. He created all light, the light that causes shifting shadows. But He doesn’t shift or change. He is always the same.

So, if God never changes, what do I do when God reveals something to me about Himself that doesn’t fit with what I know of Him? There have been times I’ve decided I just can’t understand God and just won’t try. Other times I’ve ignored new revelations about God and His character. But what I am learning to do instead is ask for wisdom to see the errors of my perception of God and for Him to change my understanding, rather than keeping God in the box I have created for Him. It’s certainly easier to put Him in a box. But no box is big enough to hold all knowledge and understanding of Him, so I need to allow Him to change and transform me and how I live as my understanding of Him grows. Not easy!

So, given these two verses, two things are made clear to me. God does not cause trying times, and all good that occurs during and as a result of those trying times are from God. And because of Romans 8:28,” And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”, God will bring about good somehow even in trials. Praise God!

Advertisements

Journey Through James 1:15 – DANGER

Okay, verse 15, here we go!

Here we have a progression of where evil desires, which come from within us (see verse 14), can lead. It is the evil/sinful desires/weaknesses within us that are the temptation. This then leads to a chain of desire being conceived, leading to sin, which leads to death when full grown. Let’s unpack this a bit.

Where do these desires, lusts and weaknesses come from? Numbers 11:4, Habbakuk 2:5, Mark 4:19 and 1 John 2:16 indicate that they come from not being satisfied with our situation and what God provides, but instead wanting a different situation and wanting more than we’ve been given. Ouch! I certainly can relate. Does anyone not feel this way sometimes?

What does “after desire has conceived” mean? I know I often have quick thoughts on something I desire or wish I had which I know isn’t in God’s plan or will. These quick “desires” don’t lead to sin. So, it can’t just mean the thoughts lead to sin. Therefore, this conceiving of the desire must be significant.

The Greek word for “conceived” is defined as “seize, apprehend, assist, conceive, become pregnant”. Strong’s Concordance says that by implication it means “to take part with”. This fits with the end of verse 14 which says that our own evil desires drag us away (from God) and entice us. This conception of desire doesn’t occur as a fleeting thought but is something that is grabbed onto and allowed to grow. It turn us away from God and towards it. We choose to “take part with” it. It makes sense that we can’t stay focused on God and the un-Godly desires at the same time.

So, how do we prevent these sinful desires from growing?  James 4:2 and 1 John 2:16 indicate that this wouldn’t happen if we ask God. Maybe this asking is taking these desires, dissatisfaction, and weak areas to God and asking Him about them; seeking His wisdom. Galations 5:16 and Romans 8:6 tell us that we should, instead, let the Spirit control us. 2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to flee these desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace alongside others who truly seek God. (Please look up these verses to see if you agree with my understanding.)

When is sin full-grown? According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used here means “bring to an end, complete”. I believe this is referring to a life lived here on earth without the Sprit, without a pursuit of God, but instead lived to satisfy our sinful desires. That’s when sin is “full-grown” and leads to death. As for the sins we commit as we seek to live for God, we claim 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

To avoid the enticement of sinful desires and the resulting sin requires a full-time pursuit of God, so that we are controlled by the Holy Spirit and focus on seeking only God. AND, we can’t do this alone. We need each other in this pursuit.

I’d challenge each of us to be vulnerable, honest, and open with at least one other Christ-follower about the desires that tempt us; the areas we find hard to allow the Spirit to control. The few times I’ve done this, I feel such support, acceptance, and freedom. Plus, God has used these amazing people to speak to me and share His wisdom. And it encourages me to persevere (the theme here) in fleeing those desires. I pray you find the same as you accept this challenge.

If you’d like to talk, call me at 206-228-8405 to meet up or talk on the phone.

Journey to Grace

I have to be honest with you. I mean, my blog is titled “therealcath” for a reason, so here’s the truth. I have struggled my whole life with being critical, in my thoughts, if not out loud – of myself, others, and particularly my immediate family. If you’ve ever found yourself being hard on your spouse or kids, “judging” the way someone else does something, looks, or makes choices, maybe sharing my journey in this area will help.
Over and over in the New Testament we see Jesus accepting people despite their weaknesses, failings, idiosyncrasies (I’m thinking of Peter’s impulsiveness) and sin. Why is it so hard for me to just accept and love people as they are while still desiring more of what God has for them? This has been a struggle for me always. And most of what I’ve learned so far has been over many years and in bits and pieces along the way. But here are the main things I’ve figured out up to this point.
I have found that one of the reasons I’m particularly hard on my own immediate family is that I’m very hard on myself. I struggled for years (and still do to a lesser extent) accepting certain choices in the lives of my family. God finally showed me that I needed to accept and be comfortable with myself (at least moving in that direction), before I’ll really be able to completely accept those around me, especially my family members who are a reflection of me to some extent. (There is so much to unpack in the end of the last sentence, but not for now.) Part of accepting myself included several important realizations.
First, I need to “be” and not focus on “do”. When I focus on being, particularly “being” in a relationship with God right in this moment, not the future or the past, then the doing comes from that and expresses who God made me to be (there’s that “be” again). Doing requires planning and over-thinking and not being present. And if I do need to use my gifts of organization and planning details, then as I’m focused on God in the present, He will direct the proper timing, thinking, and carrying out of those gifts, rather than my usual at-all-times-overthinking default mode.
Secondly, I don’t need to know who God created me to be specifically and in detail. If I did or think I do, then I would just work to be that, or what I think that looks like, leaving God behind. So as His child, committed to living for Him, being in constant touch with Him is the only way to know I’m letting Him work in me to be what He intended. It’s so nebulous and hard to wrap my mind around, but when I can do it, I feel such peace and acceptance of myself.
Thirdly, God chooses to work in us despite our sin and weaknesses. As a matter of fact, “His power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). So rather than beat myself up about my weaknesses and sin and faults and failings and mistakes, I’m trying hard to let God make me thankful that when those failings are evident, He’s working in me anyway. And He’ll let me know when it’s time to correct those. A long time ago, I found myself overwhelmed with how much work I needed to become perfect. God told me that was Satan discouraging me, and that He would never overwhelm me, but in His time, He’ll work on turning those to strengths. I don’t need to fix them. That isn’t my job.
So, as I learn these things and begin to accept who I am, then I can accept others as well. Then I can recognize that God can work through others’ weaknesses just like He does mine. Then I can begin to accept everyone right where they are just as God accepts me right where I am, because:
1. It isn’t my responsibility to make my family members or any one else strong, better, grow, mature, face truths, etc., it’s God’s responsibility.
2. It’s not my responsibility to decide how they should grow, mature, get stronger and better. Most likely I’m completely wrong in my assessment of what “should” change.
3. God doesn’t need me to be on the alert and try and discern how to “fix” others.
4. God can “fix” whatever He wants even without me.
5. God does want me to love, which includes acceptance, forgiveness, grace and mercy, even when I’m sure family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and even strangers can do “better”.
6. God does want me to keep my focus on Him and allow Him to transform my perspective to align with His.
7. God does want me to give grace to myself, so I can extend it to others. This is the toughest one for me.
​Ultimately, God wants me to accept myself and my marriage, family, friends, etc. as they are, with all of our faults and weaknesses and weirdness and imperfections.​ Not accept in the “leave it the way it is” sense, but acceptance as “I surrender it and knowing what it should look like, but trusting You to use it and take it where You want it”. Actually, now that I write it, I think that last statement works for almost everything.
But it’s hard! I’m still very much in process on all of this. But it is getting easier, most of the time. Living present in each moment with God is the place He’s working on me the most right now. I’ve got a long way to go, but God is stronger than my weakness, and that’s why I’ll make progress.

Journey Through James 1:13-14 – Temptation

Why does James go from “trials of many kinds” in verse 2 to being tempted in verse 13 while seemingly still on the same topic? Are all trials brought on by temptation or is temptation one of the “trials of many kinds”? Let’s go back and look at what “trials of many kinds” might be.

According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word for trial is peirasmos which can have three similar meanings: a) trial, probation, testing, being tried b) temptation c) calamity, affliction. Since they are trials of “many kinds”, is it safe to say that maybe all these definitions can apply? Given the context of what James has said before, I think it’s safe to say that anything that requires us to live by faith and persevere fits under this umbrella. These can be things that occur outside of our control, because of an accident, due to temptation, and as a result of sin, our own or someone else’s. So, I think in verse 13, James is specifically addressing the trials that come when we are tempted. Possibly, there were people who blamed God for tempting them and, thereby, causing their trial. Have you ever done that? I certainly have.

So, let’s get in to verse 13. Why can’t God tempt? Wasn’t the tree in the middle of the garden a temptation that He put there? But if the Bible says God can’t tempt, then that can’t be the case. James says in verse 14 that temptation comes from our own evil desires. This makes sense when I remember that not everyone has the same things or situations that tempt them. For example, I’m not tempted to gamble excessively, but others are tempted by this. And it does appear in Genesis 3:1-7 that the tree in the garden only became a temptation when Satan told Eve lies about it to encourage her desire for it. So why did God put something in the garden that would become a temptation? Since God is only good and He called all His creation “good”, then at least that tree and all God-created objects are good. So then is it our desires, fueled by Satan, that leads them to becoming used in sin?

If so, this then takes the responsibility for being tempted, not just giving in to temptation, back to us. We, meaning humans, invited sin into our lives by giving into that original temptation from Satan. Somehow that means we all have sin and “evil desires” that reside in us. We’re not going to explore the issue of sin, its origins and Satan’s role right now. I think that veers too far from the point James is making. James’ point is for us to quit blaming God for trials that come because we are tempted to sin. That’s on us.

So, with that in mind, how does that change our perspective on trials? Do I explore if my sinful desires have led to the trial I’m in? I think that’s a wise choice. Then I can acknowledge my weakness and ask for God’s wisdom to overcome it. Also, I can recognize my responsibility for the situation I’m in rather than blaming God or anyone else. And I can praise God (count it all joy) that because of His grace and mercy, He will still give me wisdom and power and strength and a way to stay faithful throughout. If He will do that in trials that I’ve brought on myself, there should be no doubt He’ll do it during trials that are not a direct result of my own sinful desires.

What do you think? Can you think of any else in the Bible that speaks to these ideas? What experiences do you have in this area?

Next time we’ll look at the path temptation takes if we don’t persevere in our faith in God.

Journey Through James 1:12 – You Win!

Just a short and sweet blog today on one verse.

After giving some specific examples of trials, James returns to his original assurance that there is a “prize” for those who stand up in the faith during trials. However, while in verse 4 he emphasizes the result of persevering as maturing in the faith, which is here on earth, in verse 12 James points out the eternal benefit of persevering – a “crown of life”. What is this crown?

Strong’s concordance gives the definition of the Greek word used here for crown (stephanos) as “a crown, garland, glory, honor”. Crown, particularly the garland type, was given to someone who completed a race well. This is clearly meant in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 when Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Other uses stephanos are found in the New Testament. 1 Peter 5:4 refers to is as “a crown of glory that will never fade away”. 1 Corinthians 9:25 calls it “a crown that will last forever.”

So, the crown is a symbol of an accomplishment. In verse 12, the accomplishment of persevering through trials by remaining faithful to God throughout our life here on earth. But this crown is not made of something imperishable, like leaves or flowers. It is a crown of life. What life? Just existence as we know it? Or eternal life fully experienced in God’s presence? I don’t believe it’s referring to more life as we know it, since the crown is only received at the end of the race – the end of our life here on earth. So, it must be referring to eternal life which we can only begin to imagine in our limited understanding of life.

This is the ultimate reward for persevering in faith through all our trials. A cause for joy indeed!

The next section is going to be much more involved again. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts and insights.

Journey Through James 1:9-11 – For Richer or Poorer

James now gives two examples of trials. The first is a “brother in humble circumstances” or a “lowly brother” depending on the translation. The New Living Translation says, “believers who are poor”. I have little experience with truly being poor. Mike has been laid off many times, a few times for about a year. So, I do have some experience with money being short. But it’s never where we’ve lived for long. In the Jewish mindset at this time, your circumstances were considered an indicator of how righteous or sinful you were. So, the poor Christians at this time who were Jews might consider it a punishment from God, not being good enough in God’s eyes, as opposed to an opportunity to persevere and grow through. You know, I think we still look down on those who are financially poor, especially in the US. I know I struggle in some cases with letting go of wondering if it might be due to their own poor choices. But none of that matters, because verse 9 makes it clear that circumstances are not a reflection of standing with God. The poor believers have a high position as God’s children, saved, redeemed, and heirs, no matter why they are in their financial state. And they can “glory” or “take pride” in this fact. How encouraging to those struggling to make ends meet or not being able to make them meet. Their value is huge and equal to every other believer’s value, no matter their financial situation.

The second example is of “one who is rich”. Their circumstances are to lead to being humbled. What does this mean? Here are a few verses that speak to riches or those who are rich which might provide some help:

Matthew 19:23-24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Proverbs 23:5, “Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.”

Proverbs 11:28, “Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”

1 Tim 6:17, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Being rich doesn’t exempt anyone from trials and persecution. Their circumstances can change drastically very quickly and easily without any warning. The rich shouldn’t feel secure in their circumstances.  This is certainly something I don’t consider in those moments I think about what it would be like to be wealthy. I think these verses are pointing out that being rich is a trial. Persevering in faith in God and not in riches is very tough for someone who can basically have anything they want, which Jesus confirms in Matthew 19:23-24. James is giving the rich Christians a warning against complacency and misplaced confidence.

I wonder if James also wrote these words for the rich Christians to remember the high position and value of the poor believers, and for the poor believers to realize how hard faith in God and not riches is to maintain for the rich believers?

So, what can we learn today from these words from James? Whether rich or poor or in between, we all have the same high value to God.  Being rich or poor is a trial that can be endured and lead to becoming mature and complete. Whatever financial circumstance I’m in now is an opportunity to grow in maturity and faith.

What did you learn from these verses?

Journey through James 1:5-8 – Wise Up!

Verses 5-8 of Chapter One seem to be a part of the previous section on persevering through trials. Verse 4 ends with, “so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). The interesting thing is that in the Greek verse 5 should start with “but” – “But if any of you lack wisdom.” Which would definitely tie these sections together. Some translations include this word, and some do not. I’d like to explore tying this section to the previous section.

First, we need to understand what is meant by “wisdom”. The word translated wisdom in the Greek is Sophia (as transliterated).  It is the root of the English words sophistication (literally the art of using wisdom) and philosophy (literally affection for wisdom).  HELPS Word Study defines wisdom as “clarity”. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that the use of wisdom here in James 1:5 based on context is “the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living”.

So, applied to the context of verses 2-4, this wisdom that is lacking seems to be that of how to go about persevering through trials. It gives us a way to persevere when we haven’t yet become “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (NIV). All we have to do is ask God. Once again God’s grace is displayed by providing a way in our weakness to live the way He desires and created us to live.

God through James gives us two promises if we ask for wisdom. First, He will give it generously without finding fault. No matter what we’ve done or will do, it won’t change His response. He won’t reject us, judge us, belittle us, or be disappointed in us. And His response will be generous. The second promise is that it will be given to us. Another commentary I read pointed out that a prayer for wisdom will ALWAYS be answered with a “yes”, because giving us wisdom is always in God’s will for us. Other things we ask may or may not be in His best plan for us, so we might not receive the answer we want. But a request for wisdom will always be granted. However, there is a requirement listed in verses 6-8.

What brings doubt? For me it’s usually my emotions. They can be all over the place. And emotions are not always based on truth or fact. They’re based on circumstances, how I physically feel today, whether I got enough sleep, how someone treated me or … on and on. And they can change so swiftly for seemingly no reason. And while emotions are God-given and not to be stuffed or ignored, they don’t determine truth.

What causes you to doubt?

No matter the cause of the doubt, verses 7 clearly says that someone who doubts and lacks faith “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” I find it interesting that none of the translations say they will not be given anything from the Lord, but that they can’t expect to receive. I don’t know if this is particularly significant, but receiving is an action on the receiver’s side, not the giver’s. Even if God were to give wisdom to someone who doubts and wavers in belief, they wouldn’t recognize it. But the net result is the same, they can’t expect an answer.

Uh-oh! Sometimes I doubt. Now what? Verse 8 clarifies that this isn’t the momentary doubt that we all sometimes experience, which can have many causes. It’s the kind of doubt that leads to a double-minded attitude and instability in all they do. Not just how they approach God, but in all of life they are inconsistent and unpredictable, because they don’t adhere or commit to any one belief.

The other good news is that we can pray for help in our unbelief, and God will answer that one as well.

What are your thoughts as you pray and study this section?

Let’s go forward boldly and confidently asking God for wisdom!