James is a book that kicks my butt every time I read it. I am no stranger to James – I actually spent a whole semester in college studying the Greek text of James. But whenever I come back to it, there are so many things in this book that cut straight to the heart of what it means to walk by faith; that is, to LIVE OUT the truths of the Bible.

First of all, as this ties in with our previous theme of Relating to a Personal God, the way we approach God is important – are our prayers weak? Are we praying out of a sense of obligation? Or do we really believe God hears and answers?  “When you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the seas that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do” (1:6-8).

I am watching American Idol this season, and Harry Connick Jr. was a a guest mentor this week. James reminds me of Harry Connick Jr.’s mentoring style – he didn’t gloss over anything, he cut to the chase, he was very honest while also being very personable and funny, and he told the contestants to know the song first before trying to personalize it, or it just ends up with silly embellishments that make no sense to the meaning and essence of the song. I think this is the approach James takes. He has some amusing metaphors, but he doesn’t cut any slack, he is direct and honest, and reminds us that Christianity is to be LIVED not just HEARD. If we don’t LIVE it, then we don’t really believe it.

Harry was talking with one contestant about her song choice, and she really had no idea what the song was talking about. This girl has an amazing voice and could hit all the notes, but she didn’t “get” the song. As he explained it to her, what it was about, who wrote the song, what his life was like that probably influenced the song, she began to see. The result was a truly heartfelt performance with amazing depth and emotion to it. It wasn’t just that she hit the notes, she FELT the notes. I loved it.

I think a lot of people get a glimpse of Christianity, find something they like, and decide, “I can sing that.” So they go through life hitting the right notes, but inside, they have no idea why they do what they do, or what the message of Christ is really all about. So the “performance” is less than heartfelt, and comes off a bit empty. Because that is exactly what it is – an empty performance.

Jesus isn’t looking for a technically perfect performance from anyone. Jesus is looking for a heartfelt relationship. If we get down deep into what the Word means, who wrote it, who inspired it, and then sing that song – wow, that is a standing ovation from God. Or even better, that is God running up to give you a hug. Not because of your good performance, but because he sees that you really “get it” – and that rejoices his heart.

There are so many things to touch on here, that James mentions in this first chapter:

> Pray for wisdom. This is a request God will always grant! (1:5-8)

> Sorry, but it is not important to God that you are wealthy (1:9-11). Unless you are going to give all that money away to help care for orphans and widows (1:27), he probably will not give you winning lottery numbers or dump a mysterious inheritance into your lap. Don’t pray for wealth – money fades away “like a flower in the field.” God is more concerned to give you strong, enduring character, which more often comes from adversity and poverty than from wealth (1:2-4, 12).

> Resist temptation! It is not from God. God is not calling you to become an alcoholic or cheat on your spouse/business/kids/you-name-it, so that he can get the glory from your redemption later or so that you can “reach people” who face these things. He might redeem your failure to do that, but the temptation that leads to sin is not from God (1:12-18).

> Impulsive anger is a sin, and so is an uncontrolled tongue (1:19-21, 26). It is part of the “filth and evil” God wants to save us from. Anger rightly controlled can be helpful, but acting out of an angry impulse “can never make things right in God’s sight.” If you can’t control your tongue, “you are just fooling yourself, and your religion [religious practice] is worthless.” Remember these sins the next time you want to speak out in anger against someone involved in things like adultery, murder, abortion, homosexuality, or other sins we sometimes think of as “bigger.” All sin drives a wedge between us and God.

> In dealing with any kind of sin, no matter how big or small we may think it is, remember that we cannot change without the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. No one is going to change because they see an anti-sin picketing group at an event. I suppose that could cause a sort of conviction, but no message of condemnation can ever bring about life. We need to both listen to the word of God, and obey it, and keep looking steadily into it, surrounded by the love and support of other believers. We can change behavior by starting new habits, and the word of God can help with that, but without the Holy Spirit, we are still just seeking technical performance. Only the Holy Spirit teaches us the heart of the song. (1:22-25)

Nothing with God is “automatic” except for the work of salvation he does for us the moment we believe, repent, and receive him in our hearts. Becoming like Christ is a process over time, as we slowly let human nature change to a godly nature. Remember, Jesus did not have an “easy” life, but he did have a life of peace, joy, spiritual power, and favor with God. He heard God, had great influence, and all his needs were met. He was loved by godly people, and evil people were his enemies. If you’d rather have a life of cheap thrills, worry, riches, fear, loneliness, desperation, and of being idolized… don’t follow God.  Just remember, the way that seems right to a man is the way that leads to death (Prov 14:2)…

Great verses to memorize:

“Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” – James 1:2-4

“If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do – ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.” – James 1:5

“Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.” – James 1:27