What shall we boast about?

James 1:9-12

Last week Heather and I visited St David’s cathedral in Pembrokeshire. The cathedral, by cathedral standards, was fairly small and simple. There were some shadows on the walls and pillars where once in medieval times it had been a brightly painted place but these were now barely visible. Although now a focal point for Welsh culture, it was an understated building with a feeling of humility. Immediately next to the Cathedral were the remains of a building that by its size far outstripped the cathedral. The palace was built by Bishop Henry De Gower as his personal home, a vastly rich man, chancellor for the kingdom. The Bishops of St David’s were Lord Marchers. “Lord Marchers were trusted allies of the English monarch and in return for their military role they were given extraordinary powers in their regions, acting as de-facto rulers. The Bishop had the right to hold weekly markets and annual fairs on his estates. Tolls from these markets and fairs were a major source of income.” (Britain Express) It reminded me of King Solomon who built the first temple at Jerusalem but built himself a far bigger palace.

As one walked around the cathedral there were ornate tombs, most seemed to be the burial place for a past bishop. But on one wall there was a plaque to commemorate the faithful life and service of a vast number of unnamed priests many not recorded and forgotten. I found no commemoration of the thousands who have worshiped and served in humbler roles over the centuries like the man I saw outside, on his knees clearing soil and grass from plaques laid in the grass while the rain poured down around him.

James brings a sharper reality to all Christians’ common status in Christ. First, we should hold a humble view of ourselves regarding who we are and our importance considered in the light of God’s future, even if we live to an old age, have great wealth and are honoured by the world around. Our life will still be as short lived as a day lily. v10 If we as a Christian are regarded as powerless and impoverished by society we will be raised up by Christ. James makes clear that the person who perseveres will be given the crown of life by Jesus who loves him or her.

This passage is a challenge to us to see each other as Christ sees us. To value what Christ values and to not waste our time, effort and desires on those things that fade and die. It is a very clear statement of each Christian’s equality in the sight of God. Why then do we so often fall into the trap of valuing as the world values rather than valuing people for what they are in Christ?

Peter picks up the same theme, ‘Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.’ 1 Peter 5-6

Have we asked Christ to align our hearts and values with his?

Do we value each brother and sister in Christ alike?

Are we tempted to consider ourselves as of less or more value to God than another brother or sister in Christ?

Are we looking forward to the crown of life the Lord has promised those who love him?

Crown of life – Rev Milton Brunson Community Singers

Pure Joy

James 1:2-4,1:12

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mathew 5:11-12

It is unlikely that most of us immediately consider difficulties in Christian life as something that brings us personal joy. It is hard to fail to see beyond the immediate problem that faces us. Why then does James urge the scattered Christians who have fled persecution to consider the trials of life something they should attach joy to? It has to do with how being in Christ resets our long term perspective. The trials of many kinds v2 include persecution but it is a term used to mean all kinds of difficulties that beset us over a lifetime. James’ initial audience were people who no longer lived in their home country which sets up many challenges. Now they followed Christ their value system differed from the culture they lived in. They would have often been treated with suspicion. Such trials can also include financial hardship, ill health and discrimination.

There can be a temptation to give up on one’s faith when hardship comes, especially if the hardship is directly connected to being a follower of Jesus. James though sees these things as an opportunity for Christian growth as did Jesus in Mathew 5:11-12. Perseverance in the faith and in the process to grow more like Jesus is a quality the Holy Spirit develops within us. It cannot be developed without trials and so some of the joy stems from God working within us. As followers of Jesus we cannot expect to be privileged more than Jesus and he faced many trials on our behalf up to and including his trial and death. By going through trials with the Holy Spirit within us he is maturing us as Christians, v4 equipping us for ministry to others and creating in us opportunities for worship.

Joy comes when our goal in life has been changed. If we cannot see beyond our trials we will not find the joy both Jesus and James were speaking of. If our goal is to live for Christ now in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, to become more like Jesus and serve him today with a view to being with him forever then we will find joy in this life and in eternity with him. We have not been called to live in a protected bubble where all hardships are deflected. We are called to go through all life brings with our eyes fixed firmly on him. If we avoid all trials we will not grow in Christ. Perseverance is an important Christian virtue and quality frequently mentioned by Jesus (Luke 8:15;21:19, Mathew 10:22) and perfectly exhibited by Jesus himself.

When Paul and Silas were beaten, put in prison with their feet in stocks they sang hymns and prayed loudly. In their trials they still found joy in their salvation and that they should be considered worthy to suffer for Christ and for the sake of the gospel. We should be careful that any suffering we experience does not arise from sin and disobeying the gospel.

Can you look back on trials in your life and see how Christ developed perseverance within you?

Are you able to keep your eyes on Jesus in the midst of trials?

Bless the Lord O my soul – Matt Redman

A letter to alien life.

James 1:1

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.”

The letter of James is a letter for modern times. It is a letter addressed to migrants across national borders, in particular migrants who have fled persecution and conflict. 2019 figures showed that globally around 71 million of the 272 million (3.5% of the global population) migrants who had crossed international borders are those who have fled violence of one form or another. Many more have migrated within their national borders. When numbers are this great it impacts, even if it is indirectly, on all societies.

However, James is not only relevant to displaced persons as all Christians are in a crucial sense foreigners and aliens called to be distinctive and showing the light of the gospel within whatever culture we reside. ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ 1 Peter 1.9 James terms such a life as keeping the Royal law, ‘Love your neigbour as yourself.’ James 2.8

James is a highly practical letter describing how to be Christ’s community in a world that does not worship God or follow in Jesus’ way. It recognizes that to follow Jesus will involve trials of many forms. James is a pastor’s letter to a flock he can no longer meet with personally as persecution has spread his people out across the world he knows of. It is the letter of a servant leader, a servant of Jesus Christ and a servant of his people.

James was a brother of Jesus. Mathew 13.55 He did not follow Jesus during his ministry John 7.5 and only became a believer after Jesus’ death. It is likely he was converted when Jesus appeared to James following his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15.7 James became leader of the Jerusalem church and became widely acknowledged as a wise and good man earning him the title “James the Just” in the Jewish population as well as among Christians according to both Jewish and Christians traditions.

James wrote his letter to the dispersed Christians following the rise in persecution after the killing of Stephen and so it was addressed to Jewish Christians. However, in the New Testament, ‘the twelve tribes scattered among the nations’ v1 is also used to refer to the people of God of the last days, Jews and Gentiles alike. 1 Peter 1.1 It is therefore also a letter for all who believe and trust in Jesus for their forgiveness, eternal life and resurrection. It is a letter to teach, encourage and warn the people of God in their trials and exhort them to live faithful Christian lives whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

If we are a Christian with responsibility do we consider ourselves simply a servant or do we give ourselves greater status than that?

When experiencing trials do we first of all turn to the bible for guidance, encouragement and warning?

Do we live according to the Royal law, loving our neighbour as much as ourselves?

Build your kingdom here – Rend Collective

Disturbed in the mind.

Mark 6:26

Mark inserts his account of John the Baptist’s killing as a back flash between Jesus sending out his inner twelve disciples throughout Galilee to preach and heal and their return to Jesus for a debriefing. Herod as king of Galilee was getting reports regarding Jesus as to how his ministry was stirring the people up throughout Herod’s region. The reports were not necessarily accurate and were laden with various interpretations. ‘Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Others said, “He is Elijah.” And still others claimed, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.” v15 All the reports inferred that God was actively at work through Jesus, Elijah appearing again was associated with Israel’s end times.

The reports of Jesus deeply concerned Herod because he was carrying a burden of guilt for killing John who he knew to be a holy man sent from God. Herod had originally protected John from his wife’s plots to have John killed. Herod feared John because he knew him to be righteous and holy. v19 Now along came Jesus doing even greater things, speaking more truth and Herod jumped to the conclusion John had been raised from the dead even though he witnessed for himself that John’s head had been separated from his body. v16

Herod was trapped in his own spiral of sin. He had married Herodias against God’s law. John had condemned him for that. He was fascinated by John and what he had to say about the kingdom of God and the coming Messiah but he could not get beyond being fascinated. In one sense Herod was an enquirer and fascinated by things of God. That though is not sufficient. Interest alone doesn’t cut it. He was still trapped in his sin and refused to repent no matter how many times he heard the good news of the kingdom of heaven. What trapped him was a combination of things. His wife did everything she could to stop his interest up to and including murder. He was not prepared to lose face and admit he was wrong in front of others. His pride was for him an obstacle that prevented him from knowing God and receiving eternal life. v26 He was more controlled by sexual desire v22 than his knowledge of what was righteous and holy.

In the end he was such a slave to his sin that he preferred the friendship of a local Roman governor (Pilate) to justice for the Son of God.

Herod had a sense of guilt, he experienced inner turmoil but that counted for nothing because he refused to repent of his sin. A sense of guilt is not the same as repentance. Repentance would have meant he would have refused Herodias’ daughter her evil request. Repentance would have meant he would have judged righteously in Jesus’ trial. Repentance would have meant he would have undergone a major lifestyle change as Zacchaeus did when he met Jesus and gave back the money he stole with interest. There is no eternal life without repentance.

Are you stuck at the fascinated stage?

Are you too proud to confess your need of forgiveness?

Are you carrying an inner guilt that prevents you turning to Jesus?

Are you listening to the voices of others who prevent you from doing what you know is right?

And can it be that I should gain – Charles Wesley

Is that Herod Antipas I see in the mirror?

Mark 6:14-29

How independent in our decision making do we think we are?
How different are we able to be from either our immediate contacts or the general prevailing culture? Who controls our sense of right and wrong? Have you ever behaved in a way you consider shameful or wrong through the influence of external factors? Have you ever experienced a sense of remorse even while you repeat a behaviour you already feel bad about? Do you blame external factors for bad decisions even though at the time you had a nagging feeling it was not right? Have you buried regrets by pursuing friendships that confirm your bad decisions?

If you feel that the questions above are hinting at addictive behaviour then you are correct. However not necessarily addictions as we commonly mean, such as gambling, drink, drugs or excessive shopping. The questions also apply to a much more generalized addiction to sin. Sometimes sin in our minds seems to focus on one particular thing, such as demeaning speech, because our conscience is sensitive to that, but it is all those things that are offensive to God. Additionally, we can attempt to offload our responsibility for our own sin pointing to external influences. Jesus does not accept that it is possible to bypass personal responsibility in that way. Although he was speaking about whether failing to abide by cleansing rituals before eating or consuming certain foods can corrupt people, Jesus was clear. Sin comes from the heart of the person, ‘For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.’ Mark 7:21-23

When we read Mark’s account of Herod’s treatment and murder of John the Baptist we find a man internally conflicted, entwined in a set of circumstances of his own making, indecisive and eventually weak willed. He finally covers his conscience by befriending people of power who are like minded.

Is there any aspect of Herod’s character that we consider is like ourselves?

Whose friendship and affirmation do we value the most?

Tasha Cobbs – Break Every Chain