GCI Equipper

Called for Relationship, Not Religion

May we never grow weary sharing that God is a Father we can always run to.

“Religious people drive me nuts, always putting others down and spouting off about their beliefs.” I was talking to a landscaper who was helping me with a lawn project when he shared an argument he had overheard between two churchgoers about a doctrine their particular denominations had different views on. I responded by saying, “That’s OK, Jesus didn’t think too highly of the religious people in his time.”

About this time the landscaper remembered that he had previously asked what I did for a living, and I answered that I wrote for a Christian denomination and I was a supervisor/resource consultant for about 50 pastors. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I don’t normally like religious people, but you seem easy to talk to and you aren’t trying to change my way of thinking.” I laughed and told him I wasn’t very religious, and in fact I try to avoid religion. “But you are a minister,” he said in surprise. “Yes, I am, but I’m not very religious. Then I shared with him a quote I had recently read.

Religion tells us: I messed up. My Dad is gonna kill me.

Gospel tells us: I messed up. I need to call my Dad.

I explained that religion was following a set of rules and trying to please God through obedience, whereas the gospel was about relationship and seeing God as the Father (Abba, Papa, Dad) he is. He said he liked the difference between the two, and then proceeded to change the topic. It was clear he was concerned he had offended me and was getting uncomfortable. We talked about other things, but I couldn’t get the conversation off my mind.

His reaction to religion is one many of us frequently encounter. And I’m not surprised. Please allow me to explain. I spent a good portion of my life being religious. I can’t speak for you, but for me, this meant I spent most of my life in the first statement above. I was afraid of God’s reaction to my sins, my lack of zeal, my selfishness, my unreligious behavior. I followed the rules (for the most part), but I believed that wasn’t enough. I was supposed to love the law and have full buy-in to all that I believed was required of me. And I was afraid of failure. Every time I sinned (either by commission or by omission) I wanted to hide in the garden like Adam and Eve. Except there was no garden and I knew I couldn’t hide from God. I was leery of being in relationship with God because that meant I had to be more open and honest with him—which was tough because I knew he could read my thoughts and I knew that he knew I had questions, doubts, fears, and shame. In other words, he could clearly see I wasn’t the religious person I wanted others to believe I was.

Most of my prayer life was focused on me—constantly asking for forgiveness, pleading with God to give me a better heart for him, asking him to help me deal with my constant fear, doubt and shame. I spent a lot of time worrying. Worrying that I would “not make it to the kingdom of God”, worrying that I would sin just before death and miss out, and hoping that when God looked at my life the good would outweigh the bad and he would give me a chance. It was all about me, me, me. Praise be to God, who helped me understand grace, and understand that grace is a person, Jesus, who took care of my sin. He came to release me from the law of sin and death, which includes fear, doubt, guilt and shame. I finally came to join Paul in saying, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ or Lord!”

Why is this important?

This is important because many people we encounter are still living under misguided and misinformed views of God, religiosity and legalistic expressions of Christianity. Many still believe the lies that they aren’t good enough, they aren’t loved because of…, their sins are too big or too many for forgiveness, they aren’t included. Just like my landscaper friend, many equate Christianity with religion and believe it is a burden too big for them to deal with. Following is a short list of things we will encounter as we share God’s love and life with others.

  • Seeing God as a (good) Father is difficult for many to comprehend.

I grew up in an abusive home; many people do. When we refer to God as Father, many don’t see that as a loving intimate relationship. They equate “Father” with fear, anger and animosity. They grew up trying to gain their dad’s approval, or spent their time trying to stay out of their dad’s way to avoid wrath and punishment. This misguided view of God can be read in many Old Testament stories that seem to support their view of God. Recall the Ethiopian who was reading the Old Testament and said to Philip, “How can I understand unless someone teaches me?” (Acts 8:31). How can we teach unless we understand and know who God is? The story of the good Father in the parable of the prodigal son is a good place to start.

  • Seeing yourself as a child of a Father who adores you for the unique person you are goes against many false beliefs about God.

Many believe God won’t love them until they conform to his teaching and perform accordingly. They learn this from home, from school, from coaches and other leaders who seem to focus more on the negative than the positive. They may want to believe John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” but they believe the “world” must refer to someone else—particularly to believers. Many don’t read John 3:17, which reminds us Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save. Further, they find difficulty in believing Jesus’ words, “Father forgive them…” relates to most, when so many who follow Christ seem more inclined to condemn and judge than forgive.

  • Believing God is for you goes against much of what people are taught in their religious institutions.

Many are taught God is only for you when you are for him. It’s more of a contract than a relationship. The idea that we love because he first loved us is a challenge to accept when they see Christians being judgmental and identifying people more because of their lifestyle than who they are in Christ.

  • Seeing the difference between the fear of God and being afraid of God is tough for many to grasp.

It took me a long time to realize that fear doesn’t always mean being afraid. Fear is also a sense of awe, a deep reverence, honor and respect. When we understand who God is and that he is for us with a perfect love, then we can understand the biblical statement, Perfect love casts out fear.

  • Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship—a way of life.

Religion tells us we must obey in order to be in relationship. The gospel tells us we are in relationship and because of that truth we desire to obey. The gospel reveals a Father I can run to when I mess up. And he doesn’t lay guilt on me – he shows me forgiveness and a better way, which leads to peace. He holds out his arms and invites me to come in and lay my burdens on him. This is a difficult truth to get across to people who have been taught that God has a long list of do’s and don’ts that we must follow in order to be in his good graces.

  • Understanding and admitting you don’t have to have all the answers is freeing.

There are many “Yeah, but…” statements and questions that cannot be answered in a few sentences. “Yeah but, why did your God of love destroy all but one family in the flood?” “Yeah, but your God seemed to kill anyone not in agreement with him throughout Israel’s pilgrimage through the desert.” “Yeah, but you guys seem incapable of loving and accepting people who don’t believe the way you do.” We can’t answer these and many other questions with a short two to three sentences. It’s OK to say, “You know, I have questions as well, and I probably always will. I’m happy to discuss this further with you, but realize a couple things: One, I can’t answer every question that you might have. Two, I look at the Bible as God’s story of restoring all humanity through Jesus. It’s been a journey of learning for me, and I’ll never have all the answers, but let me tell you what God has done in my life that has led me to trust him—even when I can’t understand every part of the whole story.”

The bottom line

  • People need Jesus, and we are called to share Jesus with them. This is faith going forward. This is sharing his love and life with others. This is making disciples.
  • It takes time—sometimes lots of time. But God is patient, and he encourages us to be patient.
  • We may never see the end result. We trust God in the process. He is the savior, the forgiver, the redeemer, the restorer, the reconciler. But he invites us to participate in the process.

We are called to love others as Jesus loves them. This is the new commandment. We are called to make disciples in participation with the one who has been given all authority over heaven and earth, and who promises to always be with us. The world is full of people who are hurting,

who need a relationship with God, and who need to know they are loved. May we never grow weary as we share that the gospel is about a Father we

can always run to.

Still running to God,

Rick Shallenberger

The Greatest of Forces

Christ’s love for us compels us to share our faith in him in our love for one another.

By Rod Matthews, retired Mission Developer

Your husband is in the hospital in critical condition after an accident at work. Will he survive? You have to get there fast. You jump in the car and take off, completely oblivious to the speed limit signs on the highway. Your mind, your concern, your love is focused on the man you love in a hospital bed. It’s the flashing blue lights behind you that bring you back to reality. You pull over, anxious, upset, annoyed, kicking and excusing yourself, in a state of near panic. The friendly policeman ambles up and asks why you were speeding. The reason pours out, with tears, angst, urgency, apologies and desperation. Gratefully, he understands. “Follow me”, he says sprinting back to his car. With lights flashing, siren wailing….and weaving through the traffic, he delivers you to the hospital in record time. You don’t know his name, but you love him for his compassion, for using his authority to serve you. Your gratitude is boundless. You can hold your husband’s hand in this crisis.

The love you had for your spouse compelled you to get to him fast. The compassion and understanding of the officer of the law compelled him to help in your time of desperation.

In times of desperation, the treasure of the relationships we have comes to the fore. Life really is all about lasting connections, associations, links and loyalties.

In this scenario, no one died. And only rarely will anyone be willing to give up their life for another person. But in war, in disasters, in moments of outstanding courage, we do sometimes read of people making the ultimate sacrifice for others – and they go down in history for doing so.

One such man was Rick Rescorla, a former British military officer who served as head of security for Morgan Stanley in their offices occupying 20 floors of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The 1993 terrorist attack on the complex had left a big impression on Rick as he had already highlighted the security weaknesses prior to the 1993 bombing.

He was so sure that the World Trade Center would experience something similar in the future, that Rescorla regularly made employees at the bank practice escape drills. On 9/11, Rescorla led people down the stairs to safety while singing Cornish songs from his homeland to boost morale.

Observers reported that he then returned to the 10th floor of the South Tower to help others evacuate the building. The tower collapsed and he was never seen again, amongst the more than 2,600 who died. It is estimated that his courage, duty and bravery saved the lives of more than 2,500 employees. The many who owe their lives to him will never forget him. His memory is preserved on the New York monument and in his homeland by an intercity train named after him, which, on a daily basis, serves thousands.

As the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” To actually go to be executed undeservedly, so that others who do not yet have any idea what is happening might, one day, have their hearts touched by what he did and honor and respond to that supreme act of martyrdom, is indeed the greatest of sacrifices. And what motivated that act? A supreme love that knows no bounds, that does not rely on our response first, that is innate and irrepressible. Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” And what did Jesus command?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

The love of Jesus, who was willing to die an excruciating and degrading death for all of us while we were still sinning remorselessly, was the supreme act of sacrifice of our God who had come into our world as one of us. Hence Paul writes to believers in Corinth:

Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them, and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

This is the Faith Avenue in action. His love compels us to share him with others. It’s not about our work or our faith – it’s about his work and his faith. When Paul wrote this, he wasn’t focused on his own works—which included supporting the martyrdom of Stephen, tracking down accused Christians, informing on and betraying them to the authorities, and trying to expunge the fledgling church—he focused on Jesus, who died for Paul…and all of us. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, Paul said, was of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

He did not just die for us, but was raised from the dead for us through the supreme power of God, who always ruled over death. Now in Jesus, death had been conquered for all of us, too. If we are joined to Christ, he is in us and we are in him, and so we go where he goes. That includes a resurrection from the dead and ascension to the presence of God. That is the sure promise for Rick Rescorla (whether or not he knew it when he died).

The love of Christ for all of humanity, regardless of when they learn about what he has already done for them, compels us all to turn to him in humility and gratitude because we have life through his death and resurrection. Further, it compels us to share the truth of Jesus with others.

Those saved physically by Rick Rescorla will forever be grateful to him in this temporary physical life. That compels them to honor his life and memory. But he cannot raise them from the dead when that physical life ends. We have a Savior whose love-driven work is permanent and forever and complete. It compels us to let our gratitude flow on to others so that we who are disciples may reflect Christ’s love in the world as we were commissioned to do.

Congregations: Mission Outposts or Banks

Churches are channels through which resources flow from Jesus to others via mission.

By Randy Bloom, Board of Directors Vice Chair

In Matthew 6:21, Jesus made the statement: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”

I’d like to juxtapose this passage with a parable in Matthew 25:14-20 where we are told: “He who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.” Jesus continued to explain the end result (“reward”) of the actions of the servant in question.

A reasonable conclusion we can draw is that the servant’s heart was not where it should have been. He was fearful and faithless, so he buried his treasure. This was an indication his heart was not set on “higher” things (i.e., Jesus and his kingdom). He was not being a faithful steward of what his master had given him. He didn’t seem to know and trust his master, so he didn’t put the treasure he had been given to good use. We could say he sat on it.

We have all been given great treasures: life, talents (abilities), opportunities and financial resources. These vary from person to person, and from congregation to congregation.  This is how I want us to examine and apply these passages: to our congregational life.

All of Jesus’s congregations have been given “talents” and in this context I’d like to focus on financial resources. Some have more than others, but all have them. An important question for us to ask is: “What are we doing with them?” Many are actively using financial resources to participate in Jesus’s mission in various ways, depending on local context, opportunities and needs. Other congregations are not able to be as active in Jesus’s mission in their community, and for legitimate reasons. Age, health, distances, etc., make it difficult for people to get together and engage in community service, outreach and disciple-making. But they are faithful in mission through their prayers and generosity in supporting GCI ministry initiatives that extend around the globe. And for this we are grateful. Their prayers and donations help spread the gospel and change lives.

What is interesting is that many of these congregations also have large financial reserves held in bank accounts. These reserves are the result of years of generosity and following sound financial accounting procedures. We applaud such generosity, and we thank pastors, treasurers and financial teams for their faithful stewardship in these areas. Congregations should maintain 3 to 6 months of operating reserves to cover unexpected events, loss of a facility, loss of a major donor, etc. and they should budget for pastoral transitions, training and other operating needs that support the gospel in the congregation.

But what I’d like to ask such congregations to do is to consider whether or not allowing these reserves to continue to lie idle in bank accounts is the best use of them. Why are they being held onto? Fear? Fear of what? Insecurity? (Do you think a large bank account is security?) Jesus has placed our congregations in the Father’s hands and he will never let them go. Fear and insecurity are not signs of a healthy church. So can those funds be “dug up,” in faith and hope, and put to good use for the sake of the kingdom?

Some congregations have discovered they can “unearth” a sizeable portion of their reserves to invest in GCI ministry initiatives (GCNext ministries, the Ministry Training Center being developed near Oklahoma City, regional projects and support etc.) and they still survive. In fact, they flourish (experience greater health) because they know the joy of participating in Jesus’s mission by supporting something that is bigger than they are, and which is an investment in the future. They are enlivened by knowing they are creating a legacy for their congregation through their generosity.

Nothing we have belongs to us. Everything we have belongs to and comes from Jesus. Financial reserves are a gift from Jesus for us to be able to participate in what he is doing. They are not to hold on to. Churches are channels through which resources flow from Jesus to others via mission. As such, congregations are missional outposts for meeting missional needs, not banks for preserving money.

It’s important to be good stewards by saving, budgeting and managing local church financial needs. We applaud following legal accounting procedures and completing timely and accurate financial reports. These are important. But there is more to faithful stewardship.

To return to the key issues introduced at the beginning of this article, let’s remember: where our treasure is, our heart will be. When we place our treasure first (give), our hearts will follow. Jesus said this and he knows what he is talking about. So we can trust this process works. But if our treasure is in the ground (in a bank)….

Giving is an act of faith, hope and love—all focused on Jesus, who provides our needs, and the needs of his mission. Can we let loose of a generous portion of our reserves? Can we do so and trust Jesus to provide our needs? Can we do so in order to invest in Jesus’s mission, future leadership for GCI and new churches? We certainly can, because we have been summoned to serve and live for the Lord of all things in whom and by whom our needs are met. Please talk with your financial and leadership teams, pray about it and contact your regional director to find out how your congregation can make a major donation to support GCI ministry initiatives. Thank you and God bless you for your faithfulness and generosity.

Emergent Generation Investment

A key characteristic of the Faith Avenue is cross-generational care. Within your church community you may be having conversations about investing in or pouring into young people. What do we mean by investing?

By Cara Garrity, Development Coordinator

When considering cross-generational care, it is important to first ask what good care looks like. It is consistent across all generations that wholeness is found only in Christ, so care is intimately linked to our lifelong journey of becoming in Christ—our pathway of discipleship. Good care, then, looks like discipleship. A fundamental question we must ask is “how will we be a community of discipleship for this generation?” I believe that this is the foundation of healthy expressions of cross-generational care, and that it can shape how we invest in our emergent generations.

If investment in young people is shaped by care as discipleship, it will prioritize the journey of the disciple. What difference does this make? Our motivation for investment informs the ways in which we invest and the “return” we expect to see. We do not invest in emergent generations out of utilitarian motives to increase leadership and ministry capacity. We do not invest as a transaction contingent upon what we can get out of someone. Nor do we invest in emergent generations out of irreverent notions that “newer is always better.” We invest in young people because Jesus continues to be alive and active in raising up generation after generation, and he invites us to participate alongside him. We invest out of the abundance that we have received from God. We invest because we are called to be disciples who make disciples and deep discipleship requires deep investment. While we need not discount business models or tools of people investment and development, we are called to more than that as members of the living body of Christ. The “return” on this kind of investment is not self-serving – it is for the edification of the disciple and church to the glory of God.

A discipleship approach to investment in young adults will be relational, personal, formational, holistic, relevant, and responsive to discernment. It is deeply transformational for all involved. The persons investing in the discipleship of young adults are also transformed as they participate in Jesus’ ministry and respond to their own calling to be disciples who make disciples.

Investment of this sort plants a seed that the Spirit matures into healthy leaders and healthy churches. It emphasizes the development of a person as a disciple first and a Christian leader only secondarily in response to discernment of calling within community. In contrast, a utilitarian or transactional investment risks force-fitting people into leadership positions that are out of alignment with their calling, developing good leaders who are not mature disciples, overlooking some people because they do not fit a preconceived mold, or developing leaders who rely on human understanding and effort over the work of the Spirit. Through a discipleship approach to investment, leaders emerge in response to calling and gifting rather than simple need, aspiration, or misplaced expectation. When people are liberated to be the part of the body God has created them to be, the whole body is healthier.

I am convinced that embracing this kind of investment in young people will plant seeds that the Spirit will grow into dynamic intergenerational church communities of discipleship that incubate generations of mature Jesus followers and Christian leaders who participate in the work of Christ for their time.

In next month’s Equipper I will discuss some practical considerations to invest in young adults and emergent leaders in your church and community. For now, I invite you to reflect on the why and the impact of emergent generation investment. In what ways are your ideas about investment in emergent generations challenged or invigorated? What could it look like for your church to approach investing in emergent generations in this way?

What Do You Believe?

When I was young, I was told the story of “The Little Engine that Could.” There are several variations of the story, but in essence a small engine had to pull a long train over a mountain. The train’s original engine broke down, and all the other engines, for one reason or another, refused to help. Despite its size, the little engine stepped up to save the day. As the little engine was pulling the massive train, it began to struggle. In those tough times, the engine kept repeating the mantra “I think I can, I think I can” and eventually brought the train over the mountain. The story is meant to convey the power of hard work and belief in oneself. I always thought about how terrified I would be to be riding on that train! For my younger self, the moral of the story was to always travel by plane.

All kidding aside, the story of the little engine contains a lot of truth. Belief is powerful. Jesus said that “everything is possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23). Belief or faith, by the Holy Spirit, enables us to experience Christ’s saving work (Ephesians 2:8-9). Belief also opens the door to a transformational relationship with God (1 John 5:1-5). Our beliefs shape our reality and how we interact with our world. If we believe in a God who is completely good and unconditionally for us, we will find joy in the most heartbreaking situations. If we believe in a god who is uncaring, angry, and retributive, even the most beautiful moments would be tarnished.

With regard to the discipleship of children and youth, what do we believe? What do we believe about children and youth? What do we believe about our role in their lives? More importantly, what do we believe God is doing in their lives? John Hattie is the Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute at the University of Melbourne in Australia. He has received international attention for his groundbreaking research on what matters most in education. Hattie found that one of the most important factors in student achievement is the teacher’s expectations. In other words, what a teacher believes has a profound impact on whether or not a student learns. The same is true for those entrusted by God to disciple children. What we believe about young people matters.

Whether you are a parent, Sunday school teacher, neighborhood camp staff, etc., I encourage you to write down your core beliefs about young people and their discipleship. Then, take a look at how you are discipling them to see if your actions line up with your beliefs. For instance, if you believe children are our future, are you giving them opportunities to lead and have influence now? If you believe that children have much to teach us, are you intentionally creating situations where adults can learn from young people? Whether consciously or unconsciously, our actions broadcast our beliefs, and we would be wise to consider the messages we are giving our children.

We can follow the example of Jesus. While we were mired in our sins, Jesus believed we were worth saving. In the midst of our rebellion, Jesus believed we could be redeemed. Even when we did not believe in him, he believed in us. We have been transformed by Christ’s belief. Therefore, let us strive to be a conduit of Jesus’ belief so our young people can be made new in him.

Dishon Mills
Generations Ministry US

The Role of the Faith Avenue Champion w/ David Borum

In this episode, Anthony Mullins interviews David Borum – pastor of the GCI congregation in Kenmore, Washington. Together they discuss the role of the Faith Avenue Champion – the role David had as an Elder in Eugene, Oregon before accepting an offer to become the Lead Pastor in Kenmore.

“If your experience, in your Christian life begins and ends on a Sunday morning, then you really, really are missing out on the depth we are meant to have in our Christian life with our brothers and sisters.”
-David Borum, GCI Pastor

 

Main Points:

  • How do you see the role of the Faith Avenue Champion fitting into the Healthy Church vision? (7:21)
  • When you served as a Faith Avenue Champion, what was your “ministry/job description” and the focus of your work? (6:30)
  • What steps did you take to develop a Faith Avenue team? (10:06)
  • What impact does a healthy Faith Avenue have in the congregation and surrounding neighborhood? (23:29)
  • As you look back on your time as a Faith Avenue Champion, what encourages you the most about how you saw the Lord at work in the discipleship flow of the church? (29:31)

 

Resources:

Gospel Reverb – Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Lance McKinnon, unpack these lectionary passages: 

September 5 – Proper 18
James 2:1-17 (NRSV) “Faith Without Works”
(5:52)

September 12 – Proper 19
James 3:1-12 (NRSV) “Taming the Tongue”
(20:45)

September 19 – Proper 20
James 3:13-4:3-8 (NRSV) “All the More”
(41:47)

September 26 – Proper 21
James 5:13-20 (NRSV) “The Prayer of Faith”
(51:56)

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Sermon for September 5, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3041 | Jesus Interrupted

We’ve all experienced interruptions to our best-laid plans. But what if what we perceive as interruptions are really invitations from God to participate in shining his light and sharing his love with our world? Life does not have to go perfectly for Christ’s perfect love to be the main idea of our stories.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3041 | Jesus Interrupted Greg Williams  Have you ever been interrupted? We all have! Kids especially have a gift for knowing the worst time to burst in the door and throw off the whole trajectory. Every one of us has some story of the kid who yelled at church or loudly announced his bathroom needs during a quiet moment. Mark 7 records one of the oddest interactions Jesus has—and it’s the story of an interruption. Jesus had just had a fiery confrontation with the Pharisees not long after John the Baptist was executed. He was also strategizing his mission and going through Israel and from there out to the world. At this point, he was laying low for a little while, as Mark says: “And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mark 7:24). Even before he can enter a time of privacy, a worried mom interrupts Jesus. A Syro-Phoenecian woman begs him to heal her daughter—right at that moment when he’s trying to not draw attention to himself. He enters into a verbal sparring match with her that may leave us scratching our heads:  And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” Mark 7:27-28 (ESV) Huh?! On the surface it looks like Jesus is insulting this woman, even calling her “dog”—a common slur for Gentile people. It would be reasonable if he were upset by her interruption during this strategic moment. But look closer. The word he uses is actually a term of affection like “puppy.” He’s hinting toward a change, a softening of the division between people. Look again and you can see, by her witty response that she’s engaging with Jesus, almost joking with him. True, he is strategically laying low right now. True, he is called to Israel first to fulfill the narrative of the gospel. But he can’t help himself—this determined, headstrong woman captured his heart at that moment. And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” Mark 7:29 (ESV) This is Jesus, interrupted. We will see later in the chapter—as Jesus fulfills a prophecy of Isaiah—that Jesus moves very carefully within his bigger story. His life and actions tie together the story of Israel and redemption. But the greater theme of this particular story of interruption is generosity—God’s overflowing love that doesn’t always go “according to plan.” Determined and worried parents, overly active children, and faith-challenged disciples become part of the epic story. The interruptions drive the plot. How are we being interrupted today? Are the kids ruining our concentration? Is a difficult person calling us outside “office hours”? These moments are often uncomfortable and never predictable, but they are grace moments and Jesus is there in them. Perhaps they are part of the plot of your life with him. This is Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 125:1-5 • Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 • James 2:1-17 • Mark 7:24-37

Our theme this week is the God of mercy and strength. The call to worship Psalm shows us the mountain-like strength of those who trust God. Proverbs 22 commends us to show God’s mercy to the poor and afflicted who can’t defend themselves. Mark 7 shows us the overflowing mercy of Christ who heals the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman who presses her way into his story. Our sermon is from James 2, which gives us James’ antidote to favoritism—showing mercy to those whom God shows mercy to.

The Shabby Clothes of Christ

James 2:1-17 ESV

Read or have someone read James 2:1-17 ESV

“All the crème de la crème watching us watching them.” This is the crowning line of the song “Masquerade” in the musical Phantom of the Opera. The song appears when the arrogant aristocrats throw a masked ball to show off their wealth and indulgence with no idea how tragically their story will end.

James talks with us today about favoritism: “All the crème de la crème watching us watching them.” Why is showing favoritism such a universal urge? Why do we immediately resonate with James’ words? There are parts of James’ letter that are difficult to understand, but this hypothetical scenario hits home to all of us. We’ve all been there.

So what’s the cure to this sickness of favoritism that squanders our energy and poisons our relationships?

The antidote to favoritism, as James lays out for us, is a matter of:

  • Insight
  • Implementation
  • Integration

First we must have insight.

It’s easy to be less than sympathetic to the ancient audience this letter was first sent to. We wag our fingers and judge them as ignorant, immature communities of a darker age. Favoritism?! Surely we’ve evolved beyond that!

But let’s pause for a minute and look at this audience sympathetically. Favoritism in their age wasn’t just bad manners, it could be a matter of survival.

Life in the ancient world was, as Thomas Hobbes described, “nasty, brutish and short.” Poverty was rampant, leaders were corrupt, and a common cold could kill you.

Favoritism toward the wealthy was a way to get a better job and socially promote yourself and your family. Picking the “right” people could be the difference between making a living and going hungry.

It was more complicated than: “All the crème de la crème watching us watching them.”

“Favoritism” to them wasn’t simply the self-focused rudeness we might think of when we hear the word today. Yet even in these desperate circumstances, James tells them that kingdom people don’t practice favoritism. He calls them to the ongoing everyday revolution of bringing God’s kingdom into the world.

Even in our “sophisticated” age, favoritism is still a real thing. When you’re young, you’re vying for popularity; when you’re an adult, you’re networking. We’re making those connections whether you’re hoping for a good seat in the cafeteria or a corner office.

Perhaps these maneuvers aren’t a matter of physical survival, but they can become just as vicious and hurtful. Ask the teenage girl who is banished by her friends because she puts on weight. Ask the low-level worker who can’t afford to go to the golf outing and rub the right elbows.

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. (James 2:1 ESV)

The Greek term for “show no partiality” comes from two words—“face” and “to be seized by.” The connotation here is that we’re seized by the face of things—we’re enthralled with the surface.

James describes the surface details in this passage, contrasting “…a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing and a poor man in shabby clothing.” These are the appearances that “seize” us and where we need to pray for insight to see through them.

James calls us to see others beyond what others can do for us. He precedes this passage with defining “true religion,” part of which is looking after orphans and widows (1:27). These are two people groups, especially in those days, who can do nothing for you. These are the most disenfranchised people in that society—they thoroughly “don’t matter.”

But they matter to God, and we need insight to see that. We need insight to see that our identities are much higher and deeper than just these surface details that seize us so easily.

So the first anti-venom for favoritism is insight.

The second component James recommends is implementation.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1:22 ESV)

This is another important point about the context of James. In ancient times, your moral and ethical life was a matter of philosophy and tradition. The people in society who talked about character were similar to Oprah and Dr. Phil today.

Religion in the Greco-Roman world was not connected to morality. The gods didn’t particularly care how you treated your fellow humans – they just wanted sacrifices and might give you a plentiful harvest or healthy children if you sacrificed enough.

One of the issues in the early church was implementation—understanding that Jesus didn’t just call you to change your beliefs, but to transform your whole life. Jesus was not another god to be added to your shelf of gods at home in hopes that he might bless you. The message of the gospel was to clear that shelf and replace it with Jesus alone—the Lord of heaven who is also the Lord of your everyday life.

So James confronts us with the everyday revolution of the gospel:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17 ESV)

Jesus is not just another vestige of belief, he is the Lord who wants our heart not our lip service.

Again, we can find ourselves judging the ancient world. How could they think of faith and ethics as two different categories? It might seem primitive to us. But don’t we see this disconnect in our modern world as well? Church might be a social hour we are comfortable in, but outside these walls are we unkind, clique-ish and judgmental—especially to those outside our church circle?

Or do we simply catch the moral code going on in the culture? Cohabitating, premarital sex, pornography use are considered completely acceptable in many cultures today. But these things get in the way of being a light in the world and they tell lies about God’s focus on relationship and loving others as he loves us.

If the world doesn’t see you exemplifying Christ Monday through Friday, they won’t care what you do with your Sunday mornings. In this passage on favoritism and in other places, James takes aim at acceptable, “everybody-does-it” sins and calls us to implementation.

There was a practice in the early church we could learn from today. When a church member arrived at worship, they were shown to their seat by the usher. But when a stranger arrived, particularly a poor stranger, the bishop himself left his chair and welcomed the newcomer.

When the stranger arrived—especially the poor stranger who could give nothing in return, they were welcomed by the highest “ranking” person there. Do we implement the gospel this way?

So the anti-venom for favoritism also involves implementation.

Finally, we must practice integration.

One of the striking aspects of the scenario that James presents us here is its intimacy. The rich man and the contrasting poor man are “coming into your assembly.” These people are right there at your elbow, standing next to you at coffee hour.

This is not just James telling us to avoid judging people we see on the street or through a television set. These are people who are right there, breathing our air and shaking our hand. To love people in the abstract is far different than the hard work of welcoming them. The “obnoxious kid” jockeying for your attention, the dementia patient telling you the same story yet again—these are the “shabby clothes” Christ arrives in.

To show this kind of radical welcome, we need to experience integration. This is a strong theme for James:

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)

This word for “perfect” —telios in Greek—shows up seven times in James’ letter. It’s not talking about moral perfection as much as it is referring to “wholeness”—an integrated person whose actions reflect the values and morals of Jesus they claim to believe in.

The integrated, whole person is someone whose identity is completely reflected in their actions. James knows that most people don’t live what would be called “evil” lives, but fragmented lives.

We might aspire to the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, maybe even read a book about it, but still only fellowship with those who look and act like we do. We might be deeply moved as we think about ethical excellence in all we do but still close shady deals or hide commissions when it comes to “real life.” On Sunday morning we hear a sermon about love and Sunday night we treat a homeless person like he’s invisible because he should just “go get a job.”

We live so much of our life fragmented – believing one thing and showing another by our actions—sometimes without even being aware of it.

Do we live our lives as loved people, who don’t need the validation of the “rich man with the gold ring”? Do we live out our belief that God loves and speaks through all people when the “poor man with shabby clothes” shows up? Do we trust that when we welcome those Christ welcomes that he will take care of us? That no time is “wasted” when we walk as he walks and welcome who he welcomes?

The integrated, whole person sees no disconnect between their beliefs and their attitudes and actions.

“All the crème de la crème watching us watching them” — it sounds exhausting. Trying to keep up appearances when your looks are fading, trying to exude confidence when you’re scared to death—this is the vicious trap of the fragmented life.

James gives us the antidote to the relational poison of favoritism.

Insight—Looking beyond the surface of things to the greater kingdom realities at stake.

Implementation—Putting actions to our words and beliefs—letting your Monday through Saturday look like your Sunday morning.

Integration—Whole, loved and trusting people who welcome anyone with the strength Christ gives them, eager for God’s new adventure with every relationship.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said it well: “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” We never know when he’ll arrive or what shabby clothes he might be wearing. Open the door.

Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon
September 5 – Proper 18
James 2:1-17 (NRSV) “Faith Without Works”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: The Shabby Clothes of Christ
  • Have you seen or been the victim of favoritism in your life? What was that like?
  • Why do you think James takes aim at favoritism? Why does the gospel call us away from it?
  • How can we practice the hospitality of Christ? Is that important?
  • Have you ever been surprised by a “shabby clothes” person who you judged when you first saw?
Questions for Speaking of Life: Jesus, Interrupted
  • Church is a great place for funny interruptions, especially from kids. Have you ever experienced this? Share stories.
  • In Mark 7:27, Jesus seems to insult the woman, but is probably engaging her in sarcastic banter, which she jumps right into. Is it uncomfortable thinking of Jesus communicating like this? What does it tell us about him?
  • Are you generous like Christ when you’re interrupted? Has God ever spoken to you or nudged you through an interruption?
Quote to ponder: Whenever I meet someone in need, it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.      Jesus in the child abandoned by the road. Jesus in the beggar hoping for a meal. Jesus in the leper whose limbs have turned to dust. It’s him I help—him alone.—Mother Theresa

Sermon for September 12, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3042 | Who do You Say I Am?

Our perception of who God is shaping the way we see the world and the way we move in it. It is easy to picture God as the self-serving changer of our circumstances, but the reality of who Jesus isour sacrificial rescuer, transforms not just our environment but the very core of who we are.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3042 | Who do You Say I Am? Jeff Broadnax What comes to mind when you imagine God? Perhaps you think about his nature: his love, mercy, and grace. You may see God in creation—in the beautiful harmony of the universe. Maybe you see God in the ways he works through other people. We see God in a smile, an act of kindness, and in tearful forgiveness. All of these are faithful ways to imagine God. However, at one time or another, we all have ideas about God that are motivated by our own desires. It is often tempting to imagine God in ways that are self-serving. The Bible reveals that God made humanity in his own image, however, since the Fall, humanity has been trying to recreate God into our image. Sometimes, we put our values, opinions, and beliefs on him so that we can do and think the things that seem right to us. Unfortunately, this never works because we were created to follow him, not the other way around. This is why one of the most important questions for any person to answer is, “Who is God?” The answer to this question affects everything else in our lives. During the incarnation, Jesus declared an understanding of who God is beyond the disciples’ human expectations: a full and Spirit-filled revelation. In Mark 8:27-38, we read: Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Messiah." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns." Mark 8:27-33 By asking his disciples, “Who do you say I am,” Jesus was teaching them the importance of identifying the Son of God accurately. Peter accurately confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, but then he wanted to define the kind of Messiah Jesus was. In the verses that follow, Christ used the opportunity to discuss self-denial, which includes the denial of our own self-serving ideas about God. We have to look to Jesus to define God for us and resist the temptation to view God through the lens of our own biases. In our relationship with God, we do not change God to fit our preferences. Rather, as we devote ourselves to God, we change and become who he has created us to be. Jesus refused to be defined on our terms. However, when we accept God as our God, he shows himself to be more glorious than we could possibly imagine. I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 19:1-14 • Proverbs 1:20-33 • James 3:1-12 • Mark 8:27-38

The theme this week is wisdom comes from the Lord. In our call to worship Psalm, the psalmist states that the law of the Lord is more precious than gold. Proverbs 1 speaks about the wisdom of God crying out in the streets, but not everyone listens. James speaks about the wisdom of seeking the Lord to control the tongue. In Mark 8, Jesus explains the wisdom of sacrificing all to follow him.

Taming the Tongue

James 3:1-12

We recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of 9/11, a tragic day for America and the world. The hijacking of four passenger planes by terrorists on September 11, 2001, resulted in the deaths of 2,977 people, 6,000 injuries, $700M of damage to the Pentagon, and the loss of the Twin Towers. We should remember to continue our prayers for those who lost loved ones in the attack and the nearly 43,000 people still dealing with a 9/11-related health condition.

9/11 changed us for better and for worse. After 9/11, people came together to care for the victims and help New York City heal. Church attendance increased and people spent more time with their families. On the other hand, 9/11 tarnished the sense of invincibility held by many Americans. It made us feel vulnerable and naturally brought up strong emotions. Even today, 9/11 kindles anger, conjures fear, and sinks many of us into sadness.

For Christians, a tragedy like 9/11 tests our faith. It challenges us to live out our beliefs under the most difficult circumstances. In our anger it is easy to dehumanize those who harm us. It is easy to label our attackers as “animals”—something less than human. While understandable, Jesus commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This does not mean we should not condemn monstrous acts; however, we have to be careful not to dehumanize those made in the image of God.

Let’s look at our text in James:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:1-12)

If you are anything like me, there are some things that James wrote that make you squirm in your seat. The brother of Jesus writes a challenging book, skipping the soaring theological language and, in often blunt terms, calls on Christians to look and act like Christians. James pushes us to put our faith into action, which forces us to take a hard look at ourselves to see if we are living out our belief in Jesus. That kind of introspection is often uncomfortable, making James a book that is seldom the first choice for sermons. Martin Luther even referred to James as an “epistle of straw” because he felt it opened the door for a salvation-by-works mindset. However, some Bible scholars have wondered if Luther’s assessment of James was influenced by his own frequent use of unfiltered, colorful language. Perhaps James’ admonitions about the tongue hit a little too close to home for Luther.

What about us? Do James’ words hit close to home for us? Chances are, you felt some contrition when you heard the passage. I did. Every day is a struggle to control my words, and I do not always win the struggle. I speak words in anger. I harshly criticize those with whom I disagree. I do not always tell the truth. Sometimes I speak empty words, without much thought or intention behind them. It is for this reason that we should take time to consider what James says about the tongue.

He describes it as powerful, evil, and untamable because the tongue gives voice to the darkness in our hearts. Since the fall, when Adam and Eve sinned, humanity has been oriented away from God. We seek after our own selfish desires and create idols to take God’s place. Sin is not just something we do – rather, it is something that has corrupted our nature. Sin goes all the way down to the cellular level. This is why we cannot tame our tongue on our own. We cannot change our own nature in our own strength. This is also why James exhorts us to pay attention to the words coming out of our mouths. Are our words mostly life-giving, or are our words mostly empty and meaningless, or worse, coarse and destructive? Whatever the case, our tongues indicate the condition of our hearts.

Our only hope is in Jesus. In his broken body and spilled blood, Christ forged a new humanity for us. One day we will no longer be corrupted by sin and our tongues will only speak life. In the meantime, Christians have the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit who worked in Jesus—as a guarantee that we will one day be redeemed. The Spirit empowers us by bringing everything Jesus is into us. By the Spirit, we can better control our tongues and receive conviction when we say harmful things.

We can also look at the life of Jesus recorded in Scripture. Christ was perfect in word and in action. By looking at how Jesus tamed his tongue, we can learn from his example. While our only hope for gaining any control over our tongue is in Jesus, we can participate in the work he is doing to redeem us, including our tongues.

In order to learn how to best participate, we will look to a special tree.

In October 2001, a month after the Twin Towers were reduced to rubble, the workers at Ground Zero found a tree that was somehow still clinging to life. The Callery pear tree’s branches were broken and burned. It had snapped roots and looked like all the other dead trees found in the rubble, except that it was alive. For the workers, who had only seen death and destruction for a month, the previously ordinary Callery pear tree became a symbol of something deeper.

The workers were determined that some life would come from Ground Zero, so a tremendous effort was made to save what is now known as the Survivor Tree. They did not know if they would be successful, but they felt they had to try. The Survivor Tree was gently dug up and transported to a tree nursery. It was painstakingly cared for. Its burns were treated. Its broken limbs were pruned. Its roots were planted in rich soil.

For nine years, the Survivor Tree was nursed back to health. By 2010, the Survivor Tree had completely recovered. The thriving tree was returned to Ground Zero, now a memorial to the 9/11 tragedy. You can go and visit the Survivor Tree and find shade under its strong branches.

The story of the Survivor Tree is inspiring and can help us develop tongues that speak life. In particular, we can see the Survivor Tree had to be removed from dead and destroyed things; it needed to be immersed in life-giving things; and it had to return to bring life to what was once dead.

Removing the dead and destroyed

If we want to participate in the work to tame our tongue, the first step is to remove ourselves from dead and destroyed things. This process begins with prayer, earnestly asking God to give us clean hearts. It is through prayer that God will show us the things that hinder our relationship with him.

Once God shows us those things that do not promote life, we have to take the bold step of taking a break (possibly a permanent break) from them. It could be the shows we watch or the music we listen to that put things in our hearts that are not life-giving. It may be that some people could have a negative impact on us. Perhaps it is the news that we watch or the podcasts to which we listen that are the problem. We are taking a break from the things that are bad for us and our relationship with God. We are taking a hard look at the things that have the most influence over our tongue and we are being discerning about the things we allow to influence us.

Immersing ourselves in what gives life

Following the example of the Survivor Tree, we then want to immerse ourselves in life-giving things. The way our minds work, we cannot stop doing something by focusing on it. For example, whatever you do, do not think of an elephant. Do not think about its big floppy ears. Free your mind from its long bendy snout. Do not think of an elephant’s thick wrinkly skin. Please, whatever you do, do not think of an elephant! Unless you have superhuman concentration, you probably were thinking about an elephant. Similarly, we are unlikely to stop negative behaviors by concentrating on them. In order to stop doing and saying bad things, we have to surround ourselves with better things. Therefore, to have the words of life on our tongues, we should listen to sermons and praise and worship music. Talk to people who are positive and full of life. Read books that help us understand God better. Spend time in the word looking at Jesus. As we immerse ourselves in life, there is less and less room for death.

Bring to life that which was near death

The last thing we can learn from the Survivor Tree about participating in the taming of our tongue is to realize that by doing so, God can bring to life what was almost dead. The tree that was almost dead returned to Ground Zero to be a source of inspiration. Similarly, God will cause us to shine in front of others as evidence of a life-giving God. Christians were not called to be hermits hiding away from the world. The reason we withdraw to immerse ourselves in life-giving things is not solely for ourselves. We withdraw in order to be fortified enough to bring life to the places experiencing death. We are to use our tongue to be a blessing to others. This does not mean we put ourselves back into situations that are dangerous or abusive. Rather, we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and allow him to make our tongue a life-giving spring.

It is important that we not only say we are Christians, but that we sound like we are Christians. We should take the power of our words seriously. We should look at ourselves to see if our tongue speaks words of life or death. None of us have a tamed tongue, and we cannot tame our tongues in our own strength. However, we have hope in Jesus Christ. In him, we can overcome. In him, we can be redeemed. In him, we can become who the Lord made us to be. In Christ, God can help us control our tongue. As we immerse ourselves in Christ, our tongue of death will be transformed into a source of life-giving water. Like the Survivor Tree, God will make us a model of how he can bring life out of death.

Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon
September 12 – Proper 19
James 3:1-12 (NRSV) “Taming the Tongue”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What comes to mind when you imagine God?
  • What are some ways we try to re-create God in our image?
  • Do you find the passage in James challenging? Why or why not?
  • Do you have a hard time taming your tongue? In what way?
  • Is there a way in which Jesus has helped you tame your tongue a bit?

Sermon for September 19, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3043 | An Unlikely Object Lesson

Jesus wholly welcomes us as we are. He accepts the beautiful, messy, and brutal parts of us. He takes it all, heals us, and makes us holy.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3043 | An Unlikely Object Lesson Greg Williams I imagine that we have all witnessed the wonder, honesty, and even humor in kids as they grow and develop. When my son Glenn was three years old, he somehow got away from the family and initially, it caused great fright and concern, but within moments we found him nestled in a corner of the lady's cosmetic section and he was painting his face with bright red lipstick. When my mother heard this story, she reminded me that when I was the same age, she temporarily lost me in the grocery store. She discovered me in the canned vegetable aisle, and I was fixated on a can of Green Giant corn and I was mimicking the giant by repeating the advertisement jingle, “HO, HO, HO Green Giant.” What can I say? Kids have a way of making every room—pretty much the whole world—their own.       Have you ever tried to “kind of” welcome a child? There are no half-measures when it comes to kids. Once they arrive on the scene, they own it. The whole dynamic changes. Adults might slip in and out of the room, but kids never do. We see one of Jesus’ interactions with children in Mark 9. The disciples have just finished arguing about who is the greatest, and Jesus gives them an unlikely object lesson: And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” Mark 9:35-37 (ESV) In the honor/shame culture of the ancient world, hosting a respectful person at your home brought you honor, which brought status and connections. Children weren’t worth much on the honor spectrum. Better to spend your energy and time on having a great rabbi like Jesus or a rich man to your house. And here, right in the middle of an argument about honor, Jesus plops a child down in front of them. Runny nose, sticky fingers, constant demands—a child. And he says when you welcome this person—this person who is the least of these, whose only gift is their need—then you welcome him. When you welcome the inconsequential that’s when you meet Jesus. Because the presence of Christ can be a bit like that child— occasionally overturning tables, always full of wonder and forgiveness. Jesus changes the dynamic. His values change the gravity. This is what it means to welcome Jesus. He doesn’t play by our rules, he doesn’t follow our plan, but to welcome him is to welcome life. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of that Life.

Psalm 1:1-6 • Proverbs 31:10-31 • James 3:13-4:3, 4:7-8 • Mark 9:30-37

The theme this week is living in God’s world by God’s wisdom. Our call to worship Psalm tells of the growing, bountiful life of the wise person. Proverbs 31 tells the story of the exemplary wife who lives in wisdom, giving joy to her family and living a fulfilled life. In Mark, Jesus shares God’s wisdom with the disciples—approach like a child, don’t argue about who’s the greatest. Our sermon is from James 3 and 4, and looks at the telltale marks of godly wisdom.

Wisdom from the Brother of Jesus

James 3 & 4

Read James 3:13-18; 4:3, 7-8 ESV.

You wonder if the sight was familiar to him. Maybe he’d once watched his brother up there on that pinnacle—hesitating, talking to someone. Now he was there himself.

This was the end of life for the apostle James. He was led here by an angry mob—to the same pinnacle of the temple where Jesus was led by Satan years before.

James was forced to the temple spire and told to tell the people to stop believing in Jesus. He, of course, used this as opportunity to preach the gospel loudly to the crowd.

The mob pushed him from the tower, and he crashed to the ground. He didn’t die. They started to stone him. He still didn’t die. He rose to his knees, praying for Jesus to forgive his attackers. Someone hit him with a club, and then he died and was buried right there at the steps of the temple.

This is the tradition of the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus. Traditions aren’t nearly as reliable as Scripture, so we don’t know the exact details, but we know most of the apostles faced similar deaths, and the idea of James, the brother of Jesus, enduring to the end and praying for the forgiveness of his attackers fits what we know of James and the other apostles.

James was in charge of the Jerusalem church, which was one of the epicenters of the early church but also the most embattled and troubled. Despite their initial reluctance to welcome Gentile believers, the Jerusalem church was eventually supported financially by Gentile communities (see Romans 15 and other letters of Paul). They had some acute needs and were often in tension with their Jewish neighbors.

As the details of this martyrdom story show, James was tough, focused and Christ centered. If Paul was your philosophy professor, and Peter was your hothead friend always getting in trouble, James was your football coach. The wisdom of connecting true faith and actions is his theme, and he rings it throughout his short letter.

He starts with two topics we can all relate to: the danger of showing favoritism and the taming of the tongue. It’s interesting that he starts with universal and “acceptable” sins. He doesn’t jump straight to murder or fornication. James’ target audience is everyday people struggling with everyday sins. In a word: us.

In chapters 3 and 4, he digs into this wisdom theme, seeing godly wisdom as the place that right action grows from. He compares heavenly wisdom with its cheap, earthly copy. For James, wisdom means living life the way God made it—living according to the grain of reality.

Let’s look at three things James teaches us about wisdom. Wisdom from above:

  • Comes from peace
  • Arrives with gentleness
  • Brings wholeness

Comes from peace

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18 ESV)

It’s no secret that we live in noisy times—from the alarm that wakes us up to the manufactured white noise we need to sleep. More than any other era in history, our center of peace is crowded with sound.

An observation from a recent article on the noise of our modern age says the following:

Scientists define “noise” as unwanted sound, and the level of background din from human activities has been doubling roughly every three decades, beating population growth. Road traffic in the United States has tripled over the last 30 years.

It’s often hard to find a center of peace, yet James encourages us to be the center of peace for others. James’ point speaks to us, telling us that righteous action and the results of it comes from that center of peace. That may run against instinct for a lot of us. When we think about faith and faith instruction, we might automatically think of busyness and work—changing our habits, watching our interactions, serving difficult people. We may also think of the hard work it takes to go against the flow of culture and stand up for righteousness.

James doesn’t disagree with that—he is clear that the evidence of faith is action. But he says the beginning of it is peace. That peace is behind it all, and that’s where the power of living the Christian life comes from.

In our noisy, over-busy world, this kind of inner peace is the exception, even in the church. The word James uses for peace means that things are the way God made them and working together the way God made them. It corresponds to the Hebrew word “shalom.” Jewish and Muslim people greet each other with this word “shalom” (“salaam” in Arabic), wishing integration and rest to the person they meet.

Do we act out of this center of shalom?

Shalom is the state of people who know who they are in Christ and have hope and trust that God will take care of them. Shalom is this state of clear-headed quiet within this noisy world—the place where the true strength comes from.

You might be familiar with the third step in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

The operative word hiding in here is “care.” The antidote to addiction is believing that God will take care of you—that you don’t have to self-care through addiction anymore.

We can learn from this as Christ followers—this kind of centered peace comes from believing that Christ will take care of us. We don’t have to protect ourselves with scorching cynicism; we don’t have to live in constant distraction by devices and entertainment—God will take care of us. We don’t have to steal the spotlight and live in the constant hunger for attention—God loves us, we are his royal children.

It is out of this peace that we sow the seed whose “fruit is righteousness” (verse 18). Think of the firebrand pastor who delights in scolding his congregation and decrying the evil of “the world.” He doesn’t come from peace, and he rarely sees a harvest of righteousness.

Think of how we might abstain from certain behaviors or conversations because of our commitment to Christ. Do we do so with an air of judgment? Or with the fanfare of showing off our righteousness? Or do we do so out of shalom?

The brother of Jesus shows us that the wisdom from heaven begins and ends in peace.

Arrives with gentleness

Truly strong people freely share their strength, but they don’t waste time showing it off.

If you’ve ever had the privilege to spend time with some great saints of the faith, you may be surprised by how gentle and humble they are in their interactions. They are not announcing their strength and their credentials every time they enter a room – they let their manner and actions speak for themselves. People who “announce their strength” constantly are usually tiring company.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17 ESV)

Wisdom from heaven arrives with gentleness. This word James uses translates as “equitable, fair, gentle, reasonable.” Do we arrive with gentleness? Has anyone complained recently that Christians are “too reasonable” when we arrive on the scene?

An accomplished professional journalist and marketing executive tells a story of going to see Billy Graham speak at a rally as a young college student. She was positive she was called to the missionary field and could barely sit still through her college years so she could get out to the jungle to serve. There were thousands of people at the conference, and Billy gave his typical downhome style of preaching, ending with an altar call for those who felt moved by God to go to the mission field.

This young woman stayed rooted to her seat as all her friends went forward. She had no idea what kept her there.

As the crowd filtered out, Graham himself waved at her and asked her to come closer and talk with him. Baffled by the invitation, she went up to talk with him. He said he was sure she’d be the first one up to the front for the altar call. He said he’d been watching her while he preached—to thousands of people by the way—and thought she’d jump forward to make her call to the missionary field known.

She said she had no idea what kept her seated, and then Graham chatted with her for a solid ten minutes like they’d known each other for years. Hundreds of other people vied for the preacher’s attention, but he talked with a lost college student for one suspended moment, listening to her concerns.

He encouraged her, “You know, you don’t have to go to a foreign country to make a difference. I can tell by talking to you that you will touch lives in your community and in your work life.”

As they parted ways, he took her hand in his and winked, “Now go and do great things.”

This was in 1976, after Graham had traveled the world many times, written best-selling books and advised presidents and royalty. This was not Billy just starting his career. The gentleness of this moment is shocking—Graham taking time to talk with and listen to a confused college student—there are no shortage of these examples in his life and in the life of other godly people!

But the gentleness with which he moved in the world shows someone who, despite incredible busyness and pressure, was present and available to someone in need of his attention. Instead of the seriousness and severity we might think we should be known for, James calls us to be warm, kind, and real in our interactions.

Philip Neri, a 16th century priest and missionary to the poor in Rome, was known for many great spiritual accomplishments, not the least of which was a great sense of humor. He knew how to welcome because he’d been welcomed by Christ. Heavenly wisdom, then, comes from peace and arrives with gentleness.

Brings wholeness

Let me go back to the beginning of James’ letter for a moment.

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)

The word that James uses for “perfect” describes a fullness or completeness, a person that is fully integrated with their faith, values, and actions, not someone who never makes mistakes.

This is that state of heavenly wisdom—fully integrated with yourself, knowing yourself and having a keen ear for God’s direction. Most of us live in such a fragmented state that we don’t even know it. We say we believe God will take care of us, and then we try to control every situation. We say we want God’s peace on our lives, but we fill our days with noise and entertainment. We say we trust God’s provision, but we work constantly to the detriment of our relationships and worry about money compulsively.

We are out of harmony.

James describes this lack of harmony:

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (James 3:14-15 ESV)

James describes the noisy, fragmented life we live without wisdom. Driven by lack, self-addicted and exhausted, he calls us to relief from this, refocusing on the life of wholeness God gives us.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:7-8 ESV)

Submit yourself to God. Let him take care of you rather than trying to rule your life yourself. Where there is wholeness and integration, where there is peace, there God is.

The wisdom of heaven….

Comes from peace—Peace is the starting point and the energy of heavenly wisdom.

Arrives with gentleness—Like the story of Billy Graham, truly powerful saints are known for their gentleness.

Brings wholeness—Jesus takes us from a fragmented state to a true state where we are in harmony with ourselves and others.

James, even in his final moments, showed this centered wisdom. He was tough, strong and faithful while showing his peace, and praying for forgiveness for his killers as he passed from this life.

May God allow us to be instruments of his peace to all he places in our path.

Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon W3

Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon
September 19 – Proper 20
James 3:13-4:3-8 (NRSV) “All the More”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “Wisdom from the Brother of Jesus”
  • Why do you think heavenly wisdom is marked by peace?
  • How is God’s peace different than the world’s peace?
  • The sermon talks about wholeness and wisdom. What does it mean to live with these things?
  • What did you think of the story of Billy Graham and the college student? Is it surprising that he would express this gentleness?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “An Unlikely Object Lesson”
  • Have you ever experienced a child disrupting a situation? (We all have! Share stories)
  • Have you ever felt like Jesus “disrupted” your life? Called you to something outside your comfort zone? Put you in situations that were surprising?
  • Why do you think Jesus meets us when we meet with those who seem unimportant or inconsequential?
Quote to ponder: “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” ~GK Chesterton

Sermon for September 26, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3044 | How Enemies Become Friends

United in Christ, we all reflect who God is. Whether it is evident to us or not, each of us is a conduit of grace with the ability to share God’s love and kindness with one another.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3044 | How Enemies Become Friends Cara Garrity If you’re an animated movie fan, and I say, “To infinity and beyond!” you probably will immediately think of Buzz Lightyear from the movie Toy Story! In the movie, Buzz Lightyear was an astronaut toy character who was voiced by actor Tim Allen. If you remember the very first Toy Story, Buzz was the new toy that captured the boy Andy’s attention, leaving his old favorite, Woody the Cowboy, cast aside. Woody was understandably jealous, so at the beginning of the movie, Woody and Buzz were rivals. But it’s when they’re kidnapped by the nasty boy Sid that they realized they didn’t have to be enemies. Buzz and Woody needed to work together to escape Sid and get back to Andy. Their common goal fostered empathy and respect between the two. The gospel of Mark reports a similar type of story where the apostles saw others outside their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and they might have been a little jealous. Let’s read what happened: John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward. Mark 9:38-41 (NRSV) Jesus points out an important lesson, not just for the disciples but for us, too. Love and kindness have their roots in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so when they’re expressed—even by those who don’t hold similar beliefs—they’re furthering the good news of God’s love for all humanity. In this context, Jesus is addressing those who were doing good works in his name.  We might think of the many different Christian denominations who often may disagree about some theological doctrines but who still love and serve the same God. Buzz Lightyear and Woody were united, at least at first, in their desire to get back to Andy, and as they worked together on that goal, they developed a relationship based on respect, empathy, and even love. Though some would like to restrict good works to their own understanding we’re encouraged to recognize how the Father, Son and Spirit infiltrate all aspects of creation. When we see love and kindness at work, we can rejoice because we know God is meeting the world’s needs and affirming humanity’s value, no matter who is doing the loving or showing the kindness. May you recognize God’s love and kindness in the world today, and may you pass it along. I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 124:1-8 • Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 • James 5:13-20 • Mark 9:38-50

The theme this week is what God’s grace looks like in our world. American author and theologian Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) says that grace is like God saying to us, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” Psalm 124, our call to worship, reminds us that even when difficulties arise, we can be brave because God is supporting us. An example of this is found in Esther’s intervention on behalf of her people, as discussed in Esther 7 and 9, which was possible because she was willing to risk everything and do what needed to be done. Mark 9 reveals Jesus speaking strongly about our responsibility not to discourage one another, but rather, to support one another as we participate in showing loving kindness to others. Our sermon text, James 5, emphasizes the value of community, especially in response to suffering (our own and others’). James helps us understand the role of prayer in a world where beautiful and terrible things can and do happen, as well as the importance of leaving judgmental attitudes behind.

Beautiful and Terrible Things

James 5:13-20 (NRSV)

You probably are familiar with the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4:30 where Jesus compared the kingdom of God and the way the gospel spreads to a mustard seed. You might not know that there is a Buddhist parable also called the parable of the mustard seed, and it goes like this:

There was a young mother who had a son, her only child, and the toddler was the light of her life. The boy became ill and died, and the young mother was so distraught that she clasped the child’s body to her chest and refused to bury him. Though many tried to console her, she insisted that there had to be a cure for death, and that requiring a mother to give up her only child was too much to ask. Someone suggested that maybe the philosopher Buddha might know of a special herb that could restore life, so the grieving mother went to see him.

“Please tell me, dear teacher, how I might cure my grief and raise my boy to life,” she begged.

“I can make a tea for that,” he told her, “but it requires a very special ingredient.”

“Tell me, dear sir, and I will get it for you,” she pleaded.

“I must have a few mustard seeds,” he said, “but they have to come from a home that has never known loss or suffering.”

“I’ll find them!” she said, and she began to visit each home in all the nearby villages to find one that had never known loss or suffering and obtain a few mustard seeds to make the special tea. At each home she visited, she asked about their difficulties and sorrows. One home had lost a beloved spouse and another a parent. The next homes had lost grandparents, favorite aunts and uncles, even pets. They had suffered crippling disease, loss of crops, and hunger. The grieving young mother sat with each one and listened to their stories, sometimes sharing her own story of losing her son. After she had visited each home, she found that there was no one who was unaffected by suffering. The mother buried her son in the forest and went back to see the philosopher.

“Do you have the mustard seeds?” he asked her.

“I visited every home to see if there were any mustard seeds in those homes untouched by suffering,” she said. “I found plenty of mustard seeds, but there were no homes that were without suffering and loss. What I found in the midst of their suffering was comfort for my own grief as well as comfort I could offer them because I had suffered, too.”

In this case, the mustard seed was an excuse to get the grieving mother to talk to others and understand that suffering and loss are a part of living in this world. As the American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner (pronounced BEEK-ner) says in his definition of what God’s grace looks like in the world, “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

As Christians, we wonder about our role in being “with” people as God’s hands and feet. Our scripture reading from James 5:13-20 helps us understand our role as participants in extending God’s grace and comfort to ourselves and others.

Read James 5:13-20

What can we notice about this passage?

  • The context of the book of James: This passage falls near the end of a book written to encourage God’s people to live together in peace, supporting each other and refraining from the usual worldly attempts at domination, including favoritism and lying. This last section offers practical ideas for how we can live together and support each other in a world that is often filled with difficulties.
  • 13-14: We can see that suffering is a part of life in the first part of v. 13. The emotional intent of the word translated suffering (kakos) refers not just to the persecution the early church endured, but also negative life events in general. The question “Are any among you suffering?” does not label those who are suffering as “bad” or “deserving” of their difficulty. The verse simply goes on to suggest that prayer, as a communal exercise, can be an encouragement during tough times. The wording translated “cheerful” refers to an inner self that is doing well and is at ease. When things are “cheerful” or going well, we offer praise by telling someone about God’s love for them, acknowledging God’s grace in the beauty and blessings that are often ours without any intervention from us.

Verse 14 recommends asking for prayer if one is sick, including being anointed with oil. Once again, prayer and especially prayer for healing is not a one-person, solitary activity. An interesting point is that olive oil was not always available to the poorest of Christians, and so James may be emphasizing the need for wealthier Christians to make oil (known for its healthful properties) available to those who could not afford it.

  • 15-16: The first part of verse 15, if misread, sounds like it is our faith through prayer that saves the sick. However, we all can think of at least one time when we prayed for someone to be healed, and they weren’t. Our experience in this world of “beautiful and terrible things” is that sometimes healing happens and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no “formula” that offers a guarantee. And this is part of the mystery of the way God moves in our world. It’s as if James and other biblical writers wanted to emphasize that the process was more important than the outcome. Praying for one another, comforting one another, and offering support are what we can do. They are how we participate in God’s grace as it is expressed here on earth. Rather than thinking “what’s the use?” when praying for healing or deliverance from difficulty, we see ourselves as the hands and feet of Jesus as we minister to those who are hurting. Whether or not healing comes, the person who is prayed for feels loved and supported. The mystery of healing is not ours to control, but building loving relationships falls within our domain and responsibilities.

The last part of v. 15 can also be confusing, making it sound as if sin and illness are connected. If we stop to think about it, we can all think of instances where illness just happens, and assigning blame is never productive or helpful, especially to the person who is suffering. The second part of v. 15 can make it sound as if we are the ones to forgive to sins. This part is closely tied to v. 16 in that James encourages us to “confess [our] sins to one another.” The idea of prayer and confession being closely linked is not a new one. How can you pray for someone if they are not being honest and authentic about their struggles? However, one must use discretion and approach the practice of confession with caution, as not every Christian is able to shoulder another person’s struggles. We all at times have more to bear than we have capacity for, and it is not fair to ask someone who is already weighed down to support our struggle, too. Consulting with a church pastor, a licensed counselor, or therapist are all appropriate steps to take, depending on the issue.

At the end of v. 16, James is acknowledging the power of communal prayer while emphasizing that our own personal relationship with God must not be neglected. Unless we are centered and clear about who we are in Christ, we lack the depth of connection we need to effectively intercede on behalf of others.

  • 17-18: The example of Elijah is provided as an example of asked and answered prayer. While it seems straightforward, it can make us feel hopeless and discouraged when our own prayers are not answered in the way that we had hoped. When we remember that our perspective is very limited, it helps us to see that the “no” answers or the seemingly unanswered prayers often end up holding a greater meaning than we knew at the time.

Sheri Salata has written a book called The Beautiful No: And Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation, and in it, she writes about her life in hindsight, noting how closed doors often led her to another path, ultimately leading her to become the producer of the Oprah TV show. If we think about it, we’ve all had our own “beautiful no’s” when a closed door seemed life-shattering but eventually turned out. Sometimes “beautiful no’s” won’t make sense during our lifetime, and it’s there that we trust in God’s goodness and love, knowing we are treasured and held in his everlasting arms.

  • 19-20: James’s encouragement to “bring back a sinner from wandering” can be easily misconstrued. “Wandering” is often subjective, so caution must be exercised, and a nonjudgmental attitude should be present at all times. Due to human nature’s temptation to compare oneself with others, we have a proclivity to minimize our own flaws when considering others’ choices and struggles.

James is reminding us to love and support each other. Loving and listening to a sinner is often the thing that brings them back. We can stand by and support the person without supporting the behavior or attitude. We can offer advice when it is asked. The best advice is that which is asked for (not simply offered) and spoken with a humble and caring attitude. Most of us want to be the “savior” or the person who brings the wanderer back, but few realize that we all wander more than we are willing to admit. Sometimes sharing our own wandering helps. Even as the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, so sometimes our faith journeys take a more circuitous than direct path. Being transparent with each other helps everyone grow together. Our own journey allows us to share that God is faithful as our faith evolves and grows.

Application:

  • See prayer as a way to build community, not just a solitary activity. James encourages us to pray for one another and be available to offer support as we are able. Building relationships is the goal, and prayer is one avenue Christians can use to meet one another in the midst of suffering to offer support.
  • See prayers for healing as an important part of the process of expressing God’s grace on earth, regardless of outcome. We don’t understand why some are healed and some aren’t. What we do understand is that a) every person is precious and loved by God, b) there is nothing we go through that the Father, Son, and Spirit do not endure with us, c) prayer allows us to express love and care for one another. By valuing the process more than the outcome, we can support one another through difficulties.
  • Maintain a humble, vulnerable, and authentic attitude to ensure effective prayers on behalf of others. Recognizing how far short we fall while still knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved helps us keep an open and aware perspective. It makes us open and honest about our struggles in an appropriate manner to engage and support one another.

Even as the grieving mother in the Buddhist mustard seed parable learned that suffering and loss are best handled in community, so our scripture passage in James emphasizes the importance of prayer as a means of building strong relationships and expressing God’s grace in this world where “beautiful and terrible things” happen. While we can’t always explain why terrible losses and suffering occur, we recognize our limited human perspective and trust in God’s continuous presence and goodness, knowing we’re supported by our community of faith.

For Reference:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbuddhist/2016/11/the-buddhist-parable-of-the-mustard-seed-grief-loss-and-heartbreak.html

Taming the Tongue w/ Lance McKinnon
September 26 – Proper 21
James 5:13-20 (NRSV) “The Prayer of Faith”

CLICK HERE to listen to the whole podcast.

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Have you ever had an experience where an “enemy” or someone you were at odds with eventually became a friend or ally? What ended up helping you see that you had something in common with this person?
  • As Christians, we can be tempted to think that our religious community is the only one doing good works and showing God’s love in the world. Can you think of examples where other religious figures or faiths have exhibited God’s loving kindness to hurting people?
From the sermon
  • How does changing the focus on prayer as a solitary activity to a community-building activity change your expectations about it?
  • How does shifting the focus from the outcome to the process of prayer change your thoughts about participating in it?
  • When prayers seem to be unanswered, we often seek to find meaning to reconcile what we wanted with what actually happened. Can you share an experience where a prayer was not answered as you wanted and how you dealt with that “beautiful no,” ultimately finding meaning in that experience?