James 1:2-11 (Part 1)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 1:2).

Let’s start with prayer:

Most Merciful Father, my soul finds rest and hope in you today. Truly you are my rock, my salvation, and my fortress of strength. I will not be shaken. My salvation and honor are dependent upon you – my mighty rock and refuge – and I will trust in you during good times, as well as uncertain, frightening times. Father, I pray that I may trust in your unfailing love at all times. I pray for others to reach out to you in trust from the very center of their hearts. Father, you are the refuge of all, in all times. Amen. (Based on Ps 62:5-8.)

As you’ve probably already guessed by today’s title, I’ve put together a multi-part discussion of James 1:2-11. While it’s relatively short, James makes several points in this piece of scripture, all of which come together to introduce one of his primary purposes for writing. So it pays to move slowly through the early verses of this first chapter. Today, we’ll begin this study series with verses 2-4. 

James, the brother of Christ, writes to those of the diaspora:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-6)

James begins his letter by addressing what will become a recurring theme throughout:  Christian maturity and completeness. It helps to look at the original Greek in order to see the full extent of how James builds this theme. He begins by telling his audience to consider trials that test their faith as “pure” joy. Joyfulness during hard times is hard enough to come by, but pure joy?

Well, the Greek word James uses (translated here as pure) is pasan, meaning complete, whole, perfect. The choice of this particular word emphasizes the type of joy one should have when placed in a situation that he or she knows will ultimately develop them into that same kind of Christian:  complete, whole, perfect.

To put it another way… The secular world sees heartache, devastation, hard times, and stops there. The Christian, however, sees the same bad news but has faith God will use the situation for good, someway, somehow. The timing of which, we cannot know and may not ever see in its fullness. Yet, we make the choice to persevere. Or, at least to try.

There have been days during the current pandemic when I’ve fallen into the trap of only seeing the bad news. It’s hard not to at times. An overwhelmed unemployment insurance program can’t keep up, and thousands of Kyians are struggling to support their families. Some still didn’t qualify even with expanded coverage and had no way to work when businesses shut down.

Almost 100,000 people have died. 100,000 human lives are gone. 100,000 families have grieved and are still grieving, mostly alone due to social distancing. Many days, I’ve found myself quoting King David from Psalm 13, “How long, Lord?  Will you forget us forever? How long will you hide your face from us? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

I panic. Before I know it, I’m like Peter when Jesus called him out of the boat to walk on the water. Peter was doing it! He was walking on water!… until his focus shifted away from Jesus and toward the strong winds. Peter was afraid. He felt like he was sinking. He was going to drown! “Lord, save me!”

Some days I’m Peter.

But just like David comes around at the end of Psalm 13, I finally… finally… refocus on Jesus and recommit: Lord, my God, I trust in your unfailing love. And, I persevere.


In Part 2, we’ll look at how James says developing perseverance moves us closer to our ultimate goal of being “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” We’ll also explore the writings of John Wesley on this topic, which he referred to as “Christian Perfection,” one of his most misunderstood concepts.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14).  

LTP – Last Chapter

kalasToday marks the end of our study of Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas. I feel very blessed to have been led to this in-depth look at prayer and the psalms while isolated due to COVID-19.  As my emotions have run the gamut during this time of heightened stress and unknowns, I have welcomed the reminder that I can (and should) bring all things — exuberance, gratitude, repentance, helplessness, and yes, even anger — to my Lord in complete candor.

I pray that you’ve been blessed in some way from your reading. I’ll continue sharing quotes, book recommendations, and “odds & ends” on this site. God is good, Jesus is King, and the Holy Spirit is at work — I’m always looking for and will try to share evidence of these truths.

In today’s entry, I’d like to simply list a few quotes from Dr. Kalas’s final chapter on anger. Once again, this was a chapter filled with “one-liners” (so to speak) that stopped me in my tracks. A few of these, I’m still lingering over. Longing to Pray will be a book I return to again and again because it carries a message I often need to hear:  God desires relationship with me, and prayer is the language he and I can use to communicate. It doesn’t need to be lofty, polished, or perfect. It just needs to be.

 

From Chapter 12 of Longing to Pray

(FYI:  I added bold print for emphasis in a few places where I thought to myself… “Wow! That’ll preach!” LOL!)

“Anger – because it is so often misused – has gotten a bad name. But anger is essential to human progress…. True, anger is a dangerous power, but less dangerous than supine acquiescence to evil” (100).

“I admit that sometimes the vigor of the psalmist’s anger is more than I can handle. But I’m not in his shoes, nor am I ‘wired up’ as he was…. So while I may be uneasy with the language the psalmist employs, I will try to give him the kind of latitude I might want in some other circumstance. More than that, I will ask that I come to possess the same commitment to justice and righteousness [that led to his anger]” (101-2).

“As readers [of Psalm 139], we see quickly that David feels he is on the side of God in his hating…. But any of us who observe human nature somewhat critically realize that it’s very easy to baptize our prejudices and judgments…. So while the psalmist prays for the victory of good and the destruction of evil, he never forgets his own capacity for evilSearch me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me” (105).

“You and I are miniature battlefields, microcosms of what is going on in the larger world around us. So how do we fight this evil? … We fight by education, by political action, by economic reform, by petitions, and by marching in the streets. And by prayer” (106).

“Prayer deals with matters of life, death, and eternity; it wrestles with hell. So of course it includes expressions of anger against all that violates the will and purposes of God…. I want a God who is angry with all that hurts and destroys, that cheapens and violates. I want to join with God in this battle. I need prayer to do so: prayer that is powerful enough to attack evil at its most subtle and hidden places, and prayer that is humble and perceptive enough to keep my anger in productive restraint” (107).

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Holy God, you have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son, and to care for those who are our companions, not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love. Seeking to be true friends of all, we offer our prayers on behalf of the church and the world. Guide us in the path of discipleship, so that, as you have blessed us, we may be a blessing for others, bringing the promise of the kingdom near by our words and deeds. Amen. (Revised Common Lectionary)

A Little Poetry

Not long after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s death in 1882, biographer Eric S. Robertson noted, “The ‘Psalm of Life,’ great poem or not, went straight to the hearts of the people, and found an echoing shout in their midst. From the American pulpits, right and left, preachers talked to the people about it, and it came to be sung as a hymn in churches.”

In 1850, Longfellow reportedly wrote in his journal how happy he was to hear that a minister had quoted his poem in a sermon, although he was disappointed that none of the congregants could identify the author!

Let’s read again (or maybe for the first time) this classic Victorian poem. You may even recognize a few of the more famous lines that have been lifted and used elsewhere over the years.

Enjoy.

Saying Sorry

kalasThere’s so much to take away from Chapter 10 of Longing to Pray that I hardly know where to start! I do believe it’s important to take a look at Psalm 51 before we go much further, so maybe it’s best to begin there. Psalm 51, where the psalmist feels every bit of the gulf sin has created between him and God, the yearning he feels to repent, but also the assurance he has that says his relationship with God will only be strengthened by openly admitting his sins. This isn’t a time for hiding in shame.

The notation given with Psalm 51 tells us that it was written by King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. David knew the gravity of what he had done, but more importantly, he knew he must admit this sin to God and ask forgiveness… something we tend not to “know” instinctively anymore in the same way David did.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

As Dr. Kalas writes, “Several qualities are no doubt missing from a good deal of religious experience as it is commonly known in our day, but perhaps nothing is more serious than our failure to see the need for repentance…. We have such a limited theology of sin…. We don’t realize that sin, even as we experience it in its most pedestrian forms, is a violation of the very nature of our universe, a universe whose original core is utterly right because it is of God” (86).

But whatever David’s failures and despite all the wrong he had done, his heart still longed for God. The separation created by his sin was too much to leave untouched; something had to be done to repair his relationship with God. David also knew, deep inside, that he could go to the Father no matter what mistakes he had made. And he had to approach God with everything in plain sight in order to fully repent.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

“David counts on God’s ‘steadfast love’ as his assurance that God will hear his prayer and will accept his repentance” (85). It is so important to speak our sorrow at having done something against God. As a friend, we must speak it and ask for forgiveness. “Unconfessed sin, whatever its form – bitter memories, resentments, thoughtless words, moral and ethical betrayals – will eventually stifle the soul unless it is dealt with” (84). And we know that God – in his steadfast love – will draw us nearer as we say, “I’m so, so, so sorry.”

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

“If one cherishes a friendship ultimately, the need to repent is even greater than the need to be forgiven. Something in the soul says, ‘I want desperately for our relationship to be restored; but above all, I want you to know how sorry I am that I have violated our friendship. To forgive is yours; to repent is mine’” (88).

Psalm 116

A psalm of gratitude and praise.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
    my eyes from tears,
    my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
    in the land of the living.

I trusted in the Lord when I said,
    “I am greatly afflicted”;
in my alarm I said,
    “Everyone is a liar.”

What shall I return to the Lord
    for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.
Truly I am your servant, Lord;
    I serve you just as my mother did;
    you have freed me from my chains.

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
    and call on the name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.