In his letter written to Jewish Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire, James, the half-brother of Jesus, issues the call for a life of following Jesus that is “wholly holy.” In other words, our aim is a life with integrity that allows God to close the gap on the holes, blind spots and inconsistencies that we often ignore. Trials and temptations. Hearing and not doing. Taming our tongues. Riches and Poverty. Favoritism. Worldliness. The work of Jesus is so rich and profound that it addresses all of life, not merely getting our souls to heaven when we die. Drawing upon the Sermon on the Mount and the ancient wisdom tradition, James fires off short thematic teachings that reveal the way that God intends to put our whole lives back together again: from “holey” to “wholly, holy.”
The next theme that James tackles in terms of wisdom and everyday transformation is our tongue. Following the wisdom of Proverbs, James underscores just how much our words bring life and death. Borrowing from a variety of metaphors (a bit, a rudder, a fire), James points out just how central our tongue is to the life of one following Jesus. By His grace, God intends to make our words wholly holy too.
Moving into chapter 2, James focuses on the theme of favoritism in the Christian community. Literally, the word favoritism means to "receive the face" or to judge people based on what you see. And without a doubt, James is emphatic that faith and favoritism cannot be held in the same hand. As a trusted voice of leadership and care, James exposes the way that favoritism violates several key components of the way of Jesus and exhorts us all to be a mercy loving people in practical ways.
This week we continue in James’ letter to the early church and consider what it means follow Jesus in a broken world. Where does the brokenness come from? What does it mean for us to not only hear the truth but live the truth? What should our religion, our faith, our worship be marked by? How does the life and teachings of Jesus inform all of this?
Within the opening lines of his letter, James introduces the reader to the three main themes that get addressed on loop in the chapters to come. As a loving and trusted voice, James powerfully reminds us that we don't always see clearly and that so much of our spiritual journey is marked with false assumptions and unhelpful instincts. One by one, James reshapes our vision around trials, wisdom and wealth and invites us to walk in line with Jesus and the Kingdom of God.
Our summer in the book of James kicks off this week with an introduction to the man behind the letter. As the half-brother of Jesus, James falls in the category of one of the least likely people to ever come to faith. However, after his initial unbelief and skepticism, James became a pillar of the early church in Jerusalem and names himself as a "servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" (James 1:1). Such a radical change is rooted in resurrection faith and explains the force and vigor underneath this punchy epistle. Faith in the resurrected Jesus is so potent that we should expect transformational change and be willing to boldly challenge one another. Anything less doesn't resemble real faith.
Busy. Frantic. Frenzied. Non-stop connectivity. Without margin.
And so it goes for so many in normal, 21st century American life. Those who are following Jesus and those who are not surprisingly look and sound the same. We work hard, play hard, and do our best to squeeze all of life out of every hour, every day, and every week. And the end result of our break-neck pace is exhaustion. So many people are physically tired and soul weary.
Ironically, Christians passionately seek to uphold nine of the ten commandments. And while there is definitely not perfection around those nine, most if not all would agree that we should at least seek to obey them. Prohibitions around idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, and the like have lasted the test of time. And yet, one commandment, the one about the sabbath is left behind. While we at Reality Church are definitely not advocating for a return to legalistic rigidity, we are stopping to wonder if we have missed a precious gift that God has built into His world- a divine rhythm of work and rest.
On Saturday, June 2nd, we enjoyed a day of dialogue, teaching and practical discussion around the idea of sabbath. We were joined by A.J. Swaboda, who is a pastor, author and professor from the Portland area who has recently written a book titled Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest in a Nonstop World.
Our hope and prayer is to continue to press into a life-giving, Jesus-focused practice of sabbath that will result in a culture of rest for our lives and church family.
Author AW Tozer captured it well when he said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.” Theology is not just for dry, boring banter among stuffy scholars in ivory towers. Rather, every human being is a theologian with distinct beliefs about God that drive our everyday decisions of life. Regardless of religion or creed, everyone is a theologian and everyone worships. Everyone has doctrine that feeds personal devotion- and so does a local church.
At the beginning of each new year, we typically go back to the basics and re-center ourselves on the root of life and faith. This year, the elders are excited to commit the bulk of our 2018 preaching schedule to clarifying how what we believe shapes the way we live our everyday lives. We stand convinced that what has been handed down to us (2 Timothy 1:13-14) is worth preserving, prizing, and passing on to the next generation. This includes discussion on Scripture, the nature of God, the Gospel, Gender, Sexuality, the Church, and more. Our aim is to think more deeply so that we may worship more fully.
As the last sermon in this series, we are going to bring the topic of human flourishing to a clear conclusion. Having analyzed the various components of gender, sexuality and gender roles in the church, we are seeking to ground it all in a clear biblical vision. What is the good life? What does it actually mean for humanity to flourish with a sense of peace, wholeness, and shalom? As the opening psalms in the Psalter, Psalm 1 and 2 provide a lens for all humanity to see how it can and should all fit together. The psalmist uses powerful imagery to paint a clear and distinct picture of both the source and goal of our flourishing.
Having tackled a lot in the past month regarding the transgendered community, broken sexuality and homosexuality, we have one more topic to address among this vein of gender and human flourishing. Today, we want to bring our discussion specifically into the realm of the church by asking this question: “How do gender roles intersect the life and leadership of a church?” Immediately more questions start flying- Gender roles: do they exist? Should they exist? How do men and women play out their part of bearing the image of God within the home and the family of God? This week will will lovingly articulate what we believe about this issue, what we reject about this issue, and explain how God is calling us to grow. Our hope is that, working together, redeemed men and women can embrace their respective responsibilities to allow the Kingdom life to flourish on earth as it is in heaven.
Over the past month, we have spent significant time around the idea of human flourishing: Image of God, a vision for biblical sexuality, and broken sexuality. We have worked hard to seek God's ideal for humanity without falling into the trap of elevating certain types of sin while hypocritically ignoring others. Yet after a month of holding tension and trying to see things in broader terms than normal, there have continued to be many questions and e-mails specifically about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. So, in the name of loving clarity, we are going to spend this week taking a look at this issue. We will tackle 5 main biblical passages, 5 common objections, and look at 5 frequently asked questions. Hopefully, in humility and love, we can let Scripture and the example of Jesus lead us forward.
Having unpacked a vision for biblical sexuality, most everyone instantly feels just how short we fall. Both in Adam & Eve and in our own choices, we all experience some form of broken sexuality. So what does Jesus say? How does Jesus respond? We will take a look at beautiful encounter between Jesus and a woman in Luke 7 to find our bearings. For within this provocative scene, Jesus further reveals his perspective on shame, desire, distance and sin. Unfortunately, our preconceived notions and instincts are just as broken and backwards in light of God's grace.
Another facet of human flourishing is an expression of healthy human sexuality. While one could easily camp out on listing off all that is wrong in the world, this week is more about capturing a compelling vision for true biblical sexuality. What does God say that governs our lives and our bodies? More than a list of sexual "do's and don'ts," we need a picture that can capture our minds, hearts, and bodies. As we explore Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 6, we find that our sexuality goes much higher, deeper, and closer than most imagine. This week we will explore seven pieces that we need more of to reclaim a biblical vision of sexuality.
Having talked about the Bible, God, the Trinity, and the Gospel, we now get to move on to "human flourishing." God's heartbeat for shalom in the world includes whole life, whole person success for all humanity. This week, we move a step closer into this discussion by talking about the controversial topic of gender. While there is no chapter or verse in the Bible that explicitly tackles transgender or gender fluidity issues, Matthew 19 is a passage that helps address the tensions we all feel. In His teaching that is technically on divorce, Jesus calls us to the Scriptures to embrace His creation design while also lovingly acknowledging the deviations that surround us. In sorting out our gender and biology, we look to the words of Jesus, the body of Jesus, and the table of Jesus. Human flourishing can only happen as we follow His lead.