Wealth or Suffering... You Choose

The temptation is real, people.

Money, wealth, luxury, self-indulgence – these are the traps of the world. The world looks up to people who seem to have it all, could those people ever truly suffer? They can afford the best medical care, trips around the world, cars that never break down, a mortgage payment the size of our annual income.

We can be tempted to believe they have everything and we have nothing.

Reality check.

James says, “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” (James 5:1)

Those who have material wealth, and not faith, still cannot avoid suffering.

Those who have material wealth, and have not grounded themselves in God’s mercy and goodness, will chase wealth at all costs.

A temporary wealth. An oppressive wealth. A condemning wealth.

But, James is not condemning wealth. James is condemning the heart of those who are not living into God’s will:

  • Moths are eating clothes. Could it be that the clothes were gathering dust in a closet?
  • Gold and silver is corroding. Could it not have been used to feed the hungry?
  • Fields have been harvested by workers who went unpaid. Could they not have received a fair wage and then some?
  • Lives are lived in luxury and self-indulgence, contributing to the suffering and death of innocent people. Could that wealth have been used compassionately to alleviate suffering?

James wealthy exemplars are running from suffering only to have misery catch up with them in the end. Suffering that is a necessary part of living. We live in a fallen world. We cannot escapte that fact. We can try to live in denial. James, though, presents a choice.

Avoid suffering at all costs. James makes it clear that this is a very costly decision.
Patiently enter into suffering, recognizing it as a time of growth and dependence on the Lord.

“Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those that persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy”. James 5:10-11

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Our role is to live expectantly and prayerfully while we wait.

This is not easy. We know it and James knows it. Why else would he write “Don’t grumble against one another” (vs 9) Waiting is hard! Patience wears thin.

It is obvious that James does not believe that one can wait, be patient, and persevere, alone. James addresses the community. James views the solution to individual temptation as participation in a devoted community. A community that:

  • Strives for patience in suffering.
  • Perseveres.
  • Prays for those who are in trouble.
  • Sings with those that are happy.
  • Anoints with oil and prays for those who are sick.
  • Receives the confession of the sinner.
  • Offers forgiveness to those that repent.
  • Watches out for their brothers and sisters in Christ, reaching out when they have sinned, and pulling them back into the community.

Our world glorifies luxury, money, power, and wealth. Turn on the TV, look no further than election year news coverage. But, is that what your soul is longing for? Or, is it longing for something more?

May each of you find a community that will sing when you are happy, pray when you are suffering, is patient with your growth, and will fight to bring you back to a relationship with God when you sin.

Shannon Rains
Children and Family Minister
Kingwood Church of Christ
Humble, TX

Elijah was a Man Just like Us

James writes, “Elijah was a man just like us.” To even the most casual observer, Elijah is a man not like us at all.

Elijah is epic. He is a hero’s hero. Elijah is the Jason Bourne of the Old Testament.

Like Bourne, he fights an evil government, and wreaks havoc on the economy. He goes on the lam under threat of death, barely surviving in a dirty ravine, fed by ravens, no water for his thirst. He flees to a foreign city to hide in plain sight in enemy territory where he lives with a poor, (beautiful, I imagine) single mother. He stretches their meager food supplies diminished by the famine he himself prayed to happen. When her son dies, Elijah revives him.

Elijah turns himself in and scorns the slander and accusation thrown in his face. He issues an impossible challenge. He mocks his sworn enemies with vulgarities in an epic battle for nothing less than full allegiance to the One True God. He is a righteous bad boy who calls down fire and rain. When Elijah prays, God listens. Women swoon and men admire him from afar.

How is it then that “Elijah was a man just like us?”

Perhaps, it was when he felt intense fear. He ached from fatigue. He ran for the hills of Horeb.

Did he begin his mission in his own strength, fueled with righteous indignation? I wonder. Baalism grew like spiritual kudzu threatening to extinguish Yahwism and choke God’s people out of existence. Did Elijah have any idea of the harsh pushback he would encounter? When Jezebel issues a death warrant against him, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” My mighty Jason Bourne ran from a girl and prayed to die. (I Kings 19:3, 4)

What does God do when our man runs for the hills? God makes him take a nap. An angel wakes Elijah and gives him food, water, and encouragement. “Get up and eat for the journey is too much for you.” (vs. 7) This is grace. Few of us call down fire and rain, but we all need God’s grace and affirmation in our journey. All of us suffer trouble, get sick, need to confess our sin, and receive forgiveness. If doing God’s will in power were only for the heroic, not even Elijah would measure up.

“Is anyone of you in trouble? He should pray.”

“Is anyone sick? Let him call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil.”

“Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

All praise and honor to our God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

“The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again, he prayed and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” James 5: 16-18

Ann Bayliss, Minister
The Church at 1548 Heights
Houston, Texas

Be Patient. Who, Me?

How would you respond if a friend told you to “be patient” in the midst of a very trying situation?

That was the message that James sent to some Christians who were being mistreated by the rich (James 5:7-11). The rich were oppressing them. Wages were being withheld, and the text indicates that some were being oppressed to the point of death. Wealth and power are to be used to help others to the glory of God not for evil purposes as these rich men were doing.

By inspiration James writes “be patient” – to endure the trials without grumbling and without comparing their circumstances to those around them, especially their oppressors who seemed to be getting away with their wicked deeds.

To be patient? Are you kidding? Wages are being withheld. There are bills to be paid, and groceries to be bought.

However, James doesn’t just exhort them to be patient or long suffering under their trials. He puts the exhortation in its proper context – be patient until the coming of the LORD; His coming is near. Everything finds its proper context in the LORD. The LORD will take care of the wicked when He comes. The LORD will put everything right at His coming. We do not know when the LORD is coming. His coming is near because it could be any time. It could be today or tomorrow or even in the next moment. We eagerly wait for His coming.

Remember Job whose faith remained strong in His God even during severe trials. Satan had thought Job only served God for the blessings. How wrong he was!

Trials test our faithfulness to God. Are we seeking God or do we seek His gifts only? Yes, God rewards us. God Himself is our great reward. Job sought God. His faith in God was not destroyed when the blessings were taken away.

When Job’s friends came to visit him, they did not even recognize him. How much his appearance must have changed! The boils tormented his flesh and the sorrows marred his countenance! What misery they must have read in every line of his face – what depth of anguish and sorrow must have filled his eyes. They sat in silence for a whole week in the face of such pain and grief.

Job’s trials came to an end, and the LORD blessed him for his endurance. We read,

“So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning...” (Job 42:2)

Job’s life teaches us that in the end all will be made well. God rewards endurance. It may not come in this life. But the reward will come. The curse will be fully removed with Christ’s coming. The latter end will be more glorious! We will gaze upon the King who died for us. All heartaches, all sorrows, and all cares will flee.

Problems come to all people. But Christ gives new purpose to our suffering. He is glorified through us when we endure trials with patience, looking to Him for the strength we need.

When trials come, there will be days we can smile through the pain, and days we are barely hanging on. That is okay. Hang on. Hang on to the One who knows what it means to endure great trials. Christ will never forsake you. In those moments when life pulls you down, look up to Him and look to Tomorrow. Tomorrow is coming – a tomorrow when all is made right.

There is not one sorrow, not one heartache, not one trial that we endure that the LORD doesn’t stand with us and for us. Not one. Burdens are not to be lightly brushed away as if they are nothing. We hurt. We cry out to God. But these trials become light when we use them to His glory and compare them to the eternal weight of glory in Christ that awaits us. The reward far, far, far outweighs the trials we are called to endure (2 Cor. 4:17-18). We must keep Christ before our eyes, and know that all trials here are brief and light compared to eternity with Him.

Whatever the trial, look up. Be patient. Who me? Yes, me! Why? That He may be glorified through my life. Remember – The LORD is coming! All will be made right in the end which is truly The Beginning. I will be with God forever.

Patti Carter
Northside church of Christ
Cordell, OK

"Your Cries Have Reached My Ears"

When I was in kindergarten some of the bigger boys at school took my marbles. (I know I am showing my age here, but I promise carrying marbles to school in your dad’s sock for competitions was once a cool thing to do.) These high school boys told me, a kindergartner, if I told anyone that I would get sent to detention. Wanting to be a “good” kid and not get detention I didn’t ask for help. BUT those were my marbles and I was really upset that I had “lost” them.

Somewhere, somehow, school boys thought it was ok to pick on a small kindergartner. Although stealing marbles is bad, the truth is there are a lot of things that happen in our world that shouldn’t.

The world is a broken place,

"…the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." (Romans 8:22)

In my line of work I have come across SO many broken systems:
• Felons have a hard time getting a job because of their record, but without a job they aren’t able to live self-sufficiently.
• Teachers recognize the system is setup to only provide adequate education for the middle third of the class, and although they would like to make that different, the requirements in place on their time, attention, and resources make it nearly impossible to adequately reach 2/3 of their class.
• In order to get services for the homeless, you must have an ID, but in order to get an ID you must have an address. How can the homeless get these services meant for them?
• A college kid who lives without debt is unable to purchase a house or a car because they have not built up any credit history – so living without debt can hamper their ability to get a good interest rate on a loan.
• Addicts who come into rehab having detoxed without help are ineligible for programs which will help pay for rehab… thus in order to get into rehab some addicts have to go find a high first in order to qualify for the program.
• The mentally ill need a diagnosis to access services, but this same diagnosis will now label them and follow them at everything they attempt.
• Families living in poverty are asked to fill out various legal forms in order to access programs for aid, but of course these forms require a computer, internet access, a printer and the ability to read in English. These are barriers to accessing the programs available that keep out the very people they are meant to help.

The very systems set up to help people escape poverty are failing our society. In fact, even good people, Godly people don’t always realize how they play a part in keeping others from reaching the success we take for granted. We, often without realizing it, have become the rich oppressors to whom James is speaking.

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)

But this passage from James is both convicting and comforting at the same time.

I feel called to make changes in these systems, to help the oppressed get back on their feet, to right the injustice I see in the encounters I have. I don’t want to be a part of the problem, but I want to seek daily solutions for those who need help.

AND … that little kindergartner in me, hears this:

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4)

Do you hear it too?

Our cries, my cries have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. And He cares! He cares about my marbles, or at least about my little hurt heart. He cares about your hurt heart too. He cares about all of the systems which are broken in our world. And HE has sent HIS people to help seek justice in our world, to love mercy and to bring about change because we belong to HIM and HE cares about HIS creation.

Yes, its true we usually read this passage as a warning to those who are behaving badly, and they should be warned. I think James’s purpose was actually to remind the Christians reading this text who certainly would have been oppressed in this time, that the Lord Almighty had heard their prayers.

We serve an amazing God. One who has loved each of us and truly cares about the desires of our heart. Thus, when life seems to be a struggle, when the very systems set in place to help fail, take a minute and remember James’s admonition. Take heart! your cries have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty, and HE has already won the battle.

Jessica Knapp
Youth Minister, Mountain Ave Church of Christ
Tucson, AZ

James, Satirical Cartoonist

My Dad and I were touring the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, and he was especially taken with the museum’s impressive collection of mint-condition cars. When he looked at them, I could see by the way his wrinkle-encased, blue eyes sparkled, that that the cars took him back to his teenage years. And while standing there looking at a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, he said, “Those old words from the Bible are true: Life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. It seems like just yesterday I was a young man, dreaming about a car like that.”

Dad, whose name happens to be James, was quoting a truism from James chapter 4:14. When we hear a truism, we resonate with it because it is obviously true. We affirm in response: That is true.

From Mark Twain, a connoisseur of truism: "It is better to deserve honours and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them." True. And from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Money often costs too much." True.

And this is a truism: You do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist - you are a little puff of smoke - that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James wants us to hear his statement and resonate with it, to acknowledge, as my Dad and I did, that life is fragile and fast.

The days go slow but the years go fast. True.

But ultimately, James, like most employers of truism, wants us to go beyond that initial reaction when we resonate with the truth of his statement. He doesn’t just want us to say – “Yeah, that’s true. Life is a mist” and be done with it.

James is confronting us, if we look at the entire context.
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. So then, if you know the good you ought to do and don't do it, you sin. (James 4:13-17)

Now listen, you - That sets James’ tone, and it’s in the imperative. He continues, You do not even know… and, You boast in your arrogant schemes … I don’t know about you, but when someone uses that tone with me, I’m offended.
I get defensive.

And then James lays it all on the line: You sin.
James and his cute little truism are really not so cute anymore.

That’s when James draws his very confrontational word picture: You arrogant people think you can grasp mist. You think you can hold onto a puff of smoke and boast about how you are holding onto smoke, when your lives are that very puff of smoke.

Imagine trying to hold onto smoke or mist! You can grasp and grasp all you want, but you won’t hold it.

It’s like a satirical cartoon that looks funny on the surface, but it makes a serious point. It’s a vivid picture designed to mock you, to leave your pride wounded when you visualize yourself in it.

In this entire section of his little diatribe, in the wider context surrounding his statement about mist, James condemns arrogance.
And here in 4:13-17, there’s a particular sting for businessmen and women.

It’s not that James is opposed to honest business, but he, and Jesus for that matter, are opposed to people who arrogantly leave God out of their plans, behaving like self-appointed, mini-business-gods themselves.

The person in 4:13 is someone who
and obnoxiously
boasts that he or she is self-made.

But, boasting is not simply obnoxious.
It is sin.

And, most of us, whether we would call ourselves business entrepreneurs or not, have some arrogance issues in relationship to our hard-earned money and self-made status. We likely do not want to see a satirical cartoon that depicts our relationships with
our piggy banks,
or Coach purses,
or Visa bills,
or 401k’s,
or our hard-earned higher education.

So today, we are not supposed to read James, sigh at the speed of life, and comment that life is a mist - transitory and vulnerable.

James is asking us to confess arrogance and live like people who know that God is in control,
to share our money like God is in control,
to use our education like God is in control.

He’s asking us to speak like people who know that God is in control, proclaiming, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.”

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up.
It’s true that human beings cannot grasp or hold onto this misty life.
But God can.

Sara Barton
Chaplain, Pepperdine University

Yielding Our Way

Submit. Does that word have any negative emotions or thoughts for you? The definition of submit is to “choose to yield to another rather than demanding one’s own way.” Choosing to yield our own way can be difficult even under the best of circumstances.

One of the most difficult examples of submission in the Bible is the story of Hagar (Genesis 16). Hagar was Sarah’s maidservant. After many, many frustrating years of infertility Sarah decided to give Hagar to Abraham to have a child. As Sarah explained her idea to Abraham she reasoned, “Perhaps I can build a family through her.” The problems began when Hagar became pregnant. Hagar, the maidservant, found herself in the position where Sarah, had never been - bearing Abraham’s child. After she became pregnant, Hagar “began to despise her mistress,” and Sarah “mistreated Hagar.” What a pleasant household that must have been!

Sarah’s mistreatment of Hagar was so extreme that Hagar ran away. Think about that for a minute. Hagar, pregnant and alone, ran away. Where did she think she was going? How did she think she and her baby would survive? She must have thought anywhere would be better than living in Abraham and Sarah’s house. Hagar ended up in the desert. Pregnant, alone, hungry, desperate, and probably thinking she was going to die, when the angel of the Lord came to her. He asked her two questions, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” Hagar told the angel that she was running away from Sarai. That is all we are told that Hagar said but I wonder if maybe Hagar gave the angels some more details about how Sarai mistreated her. You won’t believe what that woman did to me. You can’t imagine how I was mistreated. That is why I ran away.

The angel then told Hagar to do something that surprises me and may have shocked Hagar. “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” How could she do that? How could she return to the place where she was mistreated? Only because of a miraculous intervention could Hagar return and submit. After the angel told Hagar that she was going to have a son and, by the way, he would be a “wild donkey of a man,” Hagar said, “You are the God who sees me, I have now seen the One who sees me.” Hagar was willing to submit to Sarah, because she had seen the One who sees her. Her encounter with God and his care for her changed everything for Hagar. Hagar submitted because she felt loved by God.

Christians are told to submit to authorities (Romans 13:5) and to elders (Hebrews 13:17). Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21), and wives are told to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22). We are also told by James, the brother of Jesus, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”

Submitting, yielding our own way, to people and authorities can be difficult especially when we are not treated well or we don’t respect them. Submitting to anyone, including God is not always easy. When we choose to yield our way to God’s way we can be assured that God does not mistreat us. He loves us immensely, he cares for us, and he wants the best for us. One reason, I think, that God told Hagar to return to Abraham and Sarah’s home was because it was the best, safest, place for her. Putting our lives under God’s rule, submitting to him, is the best place for us to live.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

Dana Grubb
Northside Church of Christ
San Antonio, TX

God Grant Me The Wisdom To Know The Difference

I taught a women’s class for a year or so. The women had several things in common. Most of the women were Moms. They loved God deeply. They worked hard both in their homes and their places of work. Many of the women admitted to struggling with fear and anxiety. Fear of disease, natural events, car accidents, and wars that threatened to harm their families. Anxiety over political maneuvering that challenged their convictions and way of life. Fear and anxiety is known to take up residence in the nooks and crannies of our hearts.

Frequently, I challenged the women to turn off their televisions and seek God’s peace through prayer and Scripture. Media drives our fears. I am reminded of this challenge often during this political season. I have had to make a choice to turn off the television and read the news less often. Otherwise, I might be lured into fear that God’s Kingdom is at stake through the presidential elections. Talk about anxiety inducing.

The good news is that God’s reign is never at stake. God does not need us or a politician to establish the Kingdom or to make it successful. Jesus had that job and He did it perfectly.

God wants us our partnership. Partnering with God means we must follow in Jesus’ footsteps and join God in the mission of reconciliation of a lost world. It means we give up pride, comfort, social standing, and our “right” to be angry or dismissive.

In The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard says, “To gain deeper understanding of our eternal kind of life in God’s present kingdom, we must be sure to understand what a kingdom is. Every last one of us has a “kingdom”— or a “queendom,” or a “government”— a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. Here is a truth that reaches into the deepest part of what it is to be a person.” Willard further explains that our goal as disciples of Christ is to submit our will to God’s, bringing our kingdom into harmony with God’s kingdom. If all disciples are doing that, imagine the change in our world! Do you wonder what would that look like?

Willard uses the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) to describe this harmony of kingdom – a challenging example.

I tell the children in our children’s ministry that we need to test everything through the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23.

A new favorite is James 3:13-18. In this passage, James describes two kinds of wisdom. Earthly wisdom “harbors bitter envy and selfish ambition” and leads to “disorder and every evil practice”. Heavenly wisdom is “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere”. Heavenly wisdom – Kingdom wisdom.

Are you looking for a mentor in your Christian walks? Does the person exhibit earthly wisdom or Kingdom wisdom?

Don’t know who to vote for? Earthly wisdom or Kingdom wisdom?

Need to make a hard life decision? Earthly wisdom or Kingdom wisdom?

Wisdom is a key trait of discipleship and leadership. James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13) This is a challenge to every disciple of Christ who wants to be in harmony with God’s kingdom.

Shannon Rains
Children and Family Minister
Kingwood Church of Christ
Humble, TX

Tongue Tied

I am currently majoring in Creative Writing and minoring in German. Needless to say, I believe in the power of language, both written and spoken. Words are among the most powerful tools we humans possess. They spur people to action, change lives, inspire entire movements. Perhaps nothing has shaped the course of history more than people’s words. Think of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis or Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The speakers may have died, but their legacy lives on forever. They speak to us in unique and profound ways, touching our hearts and ultimately influencing our behavior. But like most powerful things, they are also dangerous.

Words can build us up or tear us down incredibly quickly. James knew this full well, which is why he dedicates an entire chapter to the tongue. James 3:2-6 says:

“If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check...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.”

A perfect man? A world of evil? Wow, those are some bold statements James! He doesn’t shy away from the subject, because he knows it is something everyone struggles with throughout all time. First, it’s critical to understand that God made us this way on purpose– he designed the tongue to be powerful. And, at the risk of sounding cliché, with great power comes great responsibility. God desires that we use our tongues to edify him and bring glory to his name. But like many things in our Christian walks, taming our tongues is a learning process often fraught with trial and error.

Besides the occasional German/English misunderstandings that usually result in personal embarrassment, I can think of a few times I’ve used my tongue to bring shame to God and pain to others. I remember a specific instance when I was thirteen years old. I was a competitive Irish Dancer (think Riverdance) at the time, traveling to various competitions in the region. My friend and fellow competitor and I had just finished our last dance of the day and were now sitting around waiting for the results. When the time came, they announced that she had placed among the top ten and I had not. She stood to collect her medal up on stage and, in my sadness and frustration, I muttered quietly to myself, “Really? She wasn’t even that good.” Not quietly enough, because a look of pain flashed quickly across her face before she turned away. My verbal arrow had struck deep.

Of course I felt horrible and apologized profusely. And although she forgave me, she can never forget what I said– she can never unhear it. That’s the thing about words: once they’re spoken into existence, nothing can take them back. I had done exactly what James warns about, saying, “With the tongue we praise our lord and father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3:9).

So how do we begin taming out tongues to prevent igniting ‘forest fires’? We don’t want to say empty words just to avoid conflict– no, our words should still carry weight. In truth, this isn’t a mouth issue at all, but rather a deeper heart issue. James is not the only one who acknowledges this, it is David who writes in Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight oh Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”

Begin by monitoring your heart, the source from which all words flow. Are you meditating on positive, life-giving thoughts? Or negative, unhealthy thoughts? If I had been focused on how grateful I was to be able to dance at all instead of the prize I thought I deserved, a harmful remark would not have slipped out of my mouth in that moment. Constantly be in the process of checking your heart.

Easier said than done. A tame tongue develops with maturity over time. The people I look up to most are the ones who have worked to tame their tongues and can discern exactly what to say and when. There have been times when I’ve said things that clearly deserved punishment or scorn, but the person reacted with careful words that soothed the situation rather than exacerbated it and helped me see my own rashness.

Taming the tongue takes a lifetime, and no one can succeed perfectly. It is one of the most challenging things Christians are called to do, but it is also one of the most rewarding. In my three years of studying Creative Writing and German, I have come to know this to be true. Nothing is more important than the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts. The people who strive to master the tongue are the people who go down in history as great. Taming your tongue, and blessings are sure to follow.

Micah Lambert
Student, Pepperdine University
Hilltop Community Church of Christ

Make Me A Servant

Make me a servant Lord, make me like you
For you are a servant, make me one too

The Epistle of James used to make me uncomfortable. I think I felt this way because I grew up in a Christian tradition that tends to associate “works” with personal piety. So when I walked down the aisle to accept Jesus through baptism at 12 years old, I did so because I thought I was going to go to hell for cussing. That may be laughable now, but I was convinced that good “works” meant not cussing, being nice, and avoiding sex before marriage. I thought that the only way someone would know my faith is by how much I prayed and acted like a good Christian girl. The irony is that Jesus rarely spoke about personal piety and instead demonstrated that the gospel is good news for those who society makes the “other.”

To love my brother, to serve like you do
And through my service, I'll be just like you
So make me a servant, make me like you

Through the life of Jesus we are shown how value in a person is not dependent on their gender, ethnicity, or economic status- but because they are simply a beloved child of God. This is why I think the epistle of James is supposed to make us uncomfortable. James challenges us to see how solidarity with the poor and the oppressed should be the response to our faith in the gospel. The fact that there is a “go and make” in our calling may make some uncomfortable; and, I get it. When “works” becomes only about yourself or your reward then it is not truly the works of Christ. Afterall, Christ’s good news radically changed how to see community, love, and self. Through the Holy Spirit we cannot help but act on our faith through works of justice and love.  In some sense, our works do serve as a validation of our faith in the God who liberates the oppressed.

Despite what some may think (I’m looking at you Martin Luther), James was not denying justification by faith but insisted “that faith be made manifest in its complete form, for only then can it be considered truly alive” (Elsa Tamez, The Scandalous Message of James, 67). For Christians, the “complete form” of our faith is when we live out on Earth as it is in Heaven. This requires action not just lip service. This is why James insists that “faith by itself… is dead.” My favorite theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, says that justification “is not a unique event, pin-pointed to a certain moment in time. It is a process which begins in the individual heart through faith, and leads to the just new world. This process begins with the forgiveness of sins and ends with the wiping away of all tears” (Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 183).

Open my hands Lord and teach me to share
Open my heart Lord and teach me to care
For service to others is service to you
Make me a servant, make me like you

So, no, the “works” James speaks about in chapter 2 is probably not about whether or not we should have sex before marriage or drink at that party. It's probably about what happens when we consistently walk past a person, who happens to be homeless, without recognizing their humanity, or when we stand by silently as someone bullies someone about their sexuality, or maybe when we talk behind the eccentric church ladies back- instead of seeing her gifts and calling as valuable and cherished. Forgive us, God. And start with me, please.

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2: 15-17)

Sometimes, discomfort is good. Lean into it.

Jane Adams
MTS Student at Wesley Theological Seminary
Worships with National City Christian Church
Washington DC


She is not always completely with us.

In seasons, Mary* will join our Ugandan church on Sundays with smiles, profuse words and sometimes tears. She sits too near to us on chairs or sometimes sprawls out on the wrap she ceremoniously arranges on the dusty ground beside us. She always wants to hug. Repeatedly. In a sort of hang on and pull you to the ground kind of way.

In worship she vacillates mightily. She either dances exuberant and joyful all around the room or she weeps huddled in her chair mournful and loud.

Many, many times she steps onto the stage to ask for prayers. In the middle of the sermon. Or in the middle of a song. Whenever the mood strikes her. She is definitely not confined by expectations.

Pointing to her heart and head she will testify, “I am not okay. Too much pain.”

“I need Jesus,” she will whisper and sway while we pray on her behalf.

She comes and goes. As a patient at the government hospital’s mental health unit, she has received sparse and sporadic psychiatric care. Yet, somehow, she is making her way through this life. Broken and stumbling and steady on.

There is one Sunday with her that remains my favorite.

My husband and our third born had ridden off on a motorcycle earlier that morning to teach in a nearby village, which left me and the other three kiddos to organize and begin the town church services until Jeff made it to preach.

Most of us were late that morning. As I pulled into our town church land I was relieved to see that the other vehicles hadn’t arrived. I knew I could get organized before the crowd gathered.

I was surprised when Mary met us at the door. Her shoes were lined neatly by the entrance (a common and respectful practice in Uganda) and beside her worn plastic flip flops were the sturdy soled Keens that belonged to someone else.

I quickly took in the assembly space and was surprised to see an American smiling at us from the second row of chairs. The visitor, Kate*, waved at me warmly as Mary hugged me, tugging and pulling me into the tent while her exuberant “Praise God!” shouted repeatedly around us.

I returned Mary’s hugs halfheartedly feeling guilty that we had a visitor (an American) who had arrived to an empty building. And she was now walking barefoot on the concrete ground that had obviously not been swept for weeks. ‘What must she think of us?’ I muttered deep inside.

I smiled at our visitor and told her how welcome she was. I apologized for being late and thanked her for kindly waiting.

She replied, “I stayed because Mary was here and welcomed me with such love. She hasn’t stopped hugging me and made sure I was seated and comfortable. She is a very persuasive church greeter!”

Mary beamed.

I visited with Kate for a moment until it dawned on me that I was in charge. There were exactly six of us present and I felt a bit of pressure to meet some sort of schedule expectation that an American most surely had.

Taking her seat next to Kate, Mary continued grinning at me her face eagerly blissful.

And I stepped onto the stage.

Jeff was delayed in the village longer than expected that day so I continued with prayer, scripture and teaching to our gathering of only a few.

Later as we were saying our goodbyes, Kate expressed generous appreciation for our worship together while Mary wrapped her arms tightly around my waist smiling at me victorious over our obvious Sunday success.

A Sunday gathering in place because Mary was present and available first.

She was really the one who taught us all.

In Christ the upside-down and backwards can offer the most consistent lead.

The early verses of James chapter 2 repeat this most astounding truth.

Mercy triumphs.

We are appraised by a law that GIVES FREEDOM.

Who you see as poor?

Theirs is the kingdom. It belongs to them!

They are chosen and appointed to be rich in faith.

Why do we even honor the other thing? The thing we pretend we have as security but it is in fact fading (James 1:10-11).

The very thing that actually takes from all of us.

Clothes and money are ridiculous guides!

Setting any one person over another makes losers out of all of us.

We all ‘have not’ something and every ‘have not’ is welcomed in Jesus.

Not only that but God is shaping beauty out of the unnoticed and the embarrassing and all the ones who don’t make sense.

What a tremendous relief!

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom…”

In any place we gather--


Each of us swaying to our own particular swirl of madness and confusion we testify:

“I need Jesus…”
“the kingdom is mine…”

Favoritism forbidden.

James tells us that God’s kingdom is in fact a specified and protected space for inadequate, meager and sparse.

A gloriously broken community made up of such as these.

The courage to be so obviously crazy may actually set us free.

Merciful God, let it be so.

*names changed to honor the precious

Cheryl Cash
Fort Portal, Uganda
East Africa

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

Ah Facebook. All social media, but particularly Facebook, has become a treacherous digital ground for me, especially during an election and especially during this election.

Let me back up for a minute. I am a journalist and a journalism professor, so staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the world is important and necessary. Generally, I keep my social media accounts open all day when I am at work and check intermittently when I am at home. I also use social media for more than news—posting pictures of my cute kids and for connecting to professional groups and friends from my past. But in this election cycle Facebook has become a treacherous digital ground fraught with opportunities to offend, jump to conclusions, misunderstand, polarize and (as the research tells us) isolate.

In James 1:19-27 he speaks directly to our behavior and communication. Carefully and concisely James explains that we should listen with intention, act on the Word, and control our tongues. Listening, doing, speaking… wash, rinse, repeat, right? This is a passage that was made for a Sunday school curriculum— James is direct and clear and it might seem simple to hold that triangle of behavior up to our own lives and find certain flaws. And perhaps we’re just a little bit comfortable with those flaws. Of course, we have all failed to listen (or we have heard and then wiped our minds clean); we have all failed to act; we have all spoken out with angry words (or is that just me?). Certainly James is referring to our life as Christians, not as Facebook users, but it’s easy to see connections into specific aspects of our lives.

But James asks a lot of us. Or perhaps more precisely, the book of James asks a lot of me. At the end of that passage (discussing listening, acting, and speaking) James wallops us with a heavy hammer: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This is what our Christianity should look like—caring for the needs of others.

It’s easy to miss—the first time I sat down to read this passage for this piece I didn’t even notice it, but James is steadfast and clear: take care of widows and orphans; take care of the needy.

There are 153 and 170 million orphans worldwide. The range is wide because it’s difficult to get an accurate estimate government agencies around the world track (and define) “orphans” differently. But by either a conservative or liberal estimation the number is large. It’s almost impossible to get a clear estimate on widows for more complicated reasons, one being that numbers of widows are not consistently tracked within communities, much less governments. In James’ world, widows and orphans would have been the most vulnerable. Who are the most vulnerable today?

This passage in James is easy to think of as prescriptive, and it’s easy to use as a magnifying for our own flaws. But James reminds us at the end that the point is to take care of the needy, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27).

Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA

Children of the Light

Just a little over a week ago, I was reminded of the darkness in the world. As a minister, I am exposed to darkness pretty often. In my context, it is usually the darkness of parents divorcing, or of loathing yourself so deeply that you want to hurt yourself, or sometimes a darkness of having nowhere to belong. I have experienced darkness in myself too, and I work hard to keep my darkness personal and hidden. I really like to pretend my life has no darkness whatsoever. But darkness seems to always be present. Just recently I, along with many across the world, have entered into a storm of immense power with the passing of one of my middle school students after a battle with cancer. 

Our whole community and church has really felt this loss. One of the ministers at my church described the feeling he felt as if he was a disciple on the boat during a storm with Jesus, and he is sleeping through it. They shake him awake and say, “Savior, do you not care?” In the middle of this storm, in the darkness with the shifting wind and waves our community cries out to God, do you not care?

I don’t know why God didn’t answer our prayers the way we wanted him to. I don’t know why eleven-year-olds die. Our world can seem so bleak, like maybe there really isn’t any light at all, but James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) God didn’t give us this grief, he doesn’t give children cancer, or make mothers say goodbye to their children. He does give us peace, so the grief doesn’t overcome us. He does give us hope, that this world isn’t meaningless. He gives us comfort, letting us know we are not alone. He never left. He doesn’t shift. He is constant.

I wish there was less darkness in this world. But maybe darkness follows light wherever it goes, and we wouldn’t be able to recognize the light if we had never known darkness. Whatever the reason, I am glad that God is the light, and that he doesn’t change. I am grateful that when darkness threatens to overwhelm me, that God is always there waiting to warm me and rejuvenate me. His light is like a bon fire, keeping me warm. His light is like a lighthouse, guiding my way. His light is like a stovetop, by it I am fed. His light is like the sun, by it I can see. 

May we be children of the light, unafraid of what darkness can do. May we remember that God too thinks that sin and darkness have had control over his world for too long. May we live inside the hope of the resurrection, and that someday light will triumph over death. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)


Holly Racca

Youth Minister

Southern Hills Church of Christ

Abilene, TX.

Consider it Pure Joy

“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.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:2-8

I think we often separate this passage into two separate instructions from James:  be joyful during trials, and ask God for wisdom.  But I don’t think that is what this is.  I think that he addresses a problem: faith testing trials; then offers a solution: wisdom from God. 

“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.”  (vv. 2-4)

If you have been a Christian for a fair amount of time, you probably know this verse very well.  We have sort of turned it into a “fake it till you make it” mantra.  We remember this Scripture when we are in the midst of trials in our life, and remind ourselves that we need to be joyful and happy even though everything that is going on around us is crumbling down.  While I agree, Christians should definitely go through trials differently than the world; First Thessalonians 4:13 tells us “we do not grieve as those who do not have hope,” I don’t think James is saying that we should not feel sorrow or pain when we face faith testing trials.  I am not even sure that is possible. 

I think that sometimes, the joy comes after the trial.  Consider Job, who endured some really difficult trials.  He grieved…big time!  But he never stopped worshipping God and trusting Him. 

So, if you are going through trials in your life and don’t know what to do, here is what you do:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (v. 5)

We would be remiss if we did not pay attention to the warning he offers:

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (vv. 6-8)

During trials, our loyalty can be divided a few ways:

  • Between God and our circumstances:  Consider Peter, who trusted Jesus enough to step out of the boat and walk on water, but sank because he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the wind around him. 
  • Between God and our own wisdom, or the wisdom of the world.  Sometimes, we ask God for wisdom and help, but ignore him when he gives it to us because we don’t like his answer, or it doesn’t make sense to us.

We serve a God who has the power to calm the storms raging around us.

I don’t think this passage is saying that when we face trials we must slap on a happy face and act like it isn’t affecting us.  What I do think James is saying here is this:

We can experience great joy when we rely on the wisdom and strength of our great God to get us through our trials, and in the process, our faith will grow because we have learned to trust God and see His faithfulness in a whole new light.  However, if we do not accept his wisdom, the raging sea that we find ourselves in will continue to rage and we will never find our way out of these trying times and experience His peace and joy.

Consider Jesus as an example.  He knew he was about to be arrested, beaten, and crucified.   He was not happy about what he was about to face, in fact, Scriptures say that he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat was like drops of blood.  Remember when he even asked God if he could find another way to accomplish his will?  Paul said that “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)  He wasn’t joyful during that trial, but he was obedient because he knew great joy was on the other side.  Because he was obedient, not only did He victoriously defeat death, we get to share in that victory as well!

“Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

Karisa Madera Executive Assistant Central Church of Christ Del Rio, TX