Self-Reliance, Materialism, and James

Be forewarned — today’s post is a rather gloomy post. Lately, I have been thinking a bit about the book of James. Famously, Martin Luther was not a big fan of the book; he thought it failed to mention Christ and the gospel enough times. Well, I think a more charitable read of James is that it presupposes the gospel. Hence, James is writing to those who already considered themselves Christians.

Given that James is writing to Christians, it is interesting to see how much they struggle with worldliness, so for the rest of this post, I want to reflect a bit about two manifestations of worldliness that our current culture especially demonstrates. The first kind of worldliness is what I’ll call self-reliance. Consider the following passage from James 4:13-17.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

Now, we might ask, “What’s so bad about having plans for our futures? After all, isn’t that wise stewardship?” The problem, I think, is the underlying attitude. James is writing against an attitude that focuses on our plans and purposes, rather than on God’s plan. This attitude is arrogant because it assumes that we have the ultimate say over our own lives. However, as James says, we do not know what tomorrow will bring. We cannot control reality. The fault is not in having plans for the future, but in having a belief that we are our own masters.

The second kind of worldliness relates to material possessions. It is discussed in James 5:1-6.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

This is a thorny passage, but I just want to point out two things. First, James emphasizes the temporary nature of material possessions, as if there were some who had an undue attachment to money. Second, he condemns the “rich” for the lack of justice in withholding wages from their workers. In our day, it has become popular to demonize the “1-percent” or the wealthy. But before we attempt to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, let us see if we have a log in our own eye. Do we, as Christians, have an excessive attachment to possessions? To worldly success? Is there justice in the way that we use and share our resources?

Self-reliance and materialism are, I think, two of the most prominent forms of worldliness among Christians today. We need look no further than within our youth groups. I see kids who are pushed to academic success, which is certainly a good thing, but when it comes to the Bible, they are functionally illiterate. I see parents who are more concerned about the worldly success of their child than they are about their child coming to the knowledge of the living God. We are blessed with so many things, yet I wonder if that has not trained us to be the most materialistic generation the world has seen. We make idols out of our smartphones, but justify it by downloading Bible apps.

Even if you don’t agree with what I’ve said, here’s one thing that we may agree on: my generation of young men and women must learn humility. For some reason, we think we are the latest and the greatest. This is even reflected in the church. Young Christians like me (especially those in high-school and college *ahem*) seem to think that we do the Christianity thing better than our parents, our churches…better than all those Christians in two-thousand years of church history. They are traditional, outmoded, and ignorant, but we are progressive, urbane, and enlightened.

Well, I am guilty of all that as well. I, too, am self-reliant, materialistic, and proud. What are we to do? Here is James’s advice to us; let us attend carefully to it:

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. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:7-10 ESV)

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How did you?

You may be wondering why I am posting again so soon, but it is because I have an exciting personal story to share with you! But before I share this story, I want to ask you a simple question… for some of you, this may be many years ago, but for others, it may be recent… how did you come to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  How did God first start to reach out to you in your former life… in the midst of the darkness… how did you come to see the light?  How did the unsearchable riches of Christ become revealed to you?

Paul shared these poignant words in Romans 10:14-15:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

So that’s my question because my story starts with that question how that led me on an adventure that came to a beautiful conclusion.  You see, a few years ago, I felt led to search up all those brothers and sisters in my life that had been a part of introducing me to Christ.  Those that helped me to come to know Christ through sharing/witnessing/evangelizing/preaching… those that God used to witness to me about His incredible story.  My story began than with quite a few different individuals including my real younger brother, a high school friend, a few brothers from UCSB AACF and a random co-worker.

For this story, I want to focus on that random co-worker because I was able to thank and even meet up with all those others in my past that had a part to play to my knowing Jesus.  Yet my co-worker, I could not find after we parted ways about 10 years ago.  I just remembered that this co-worker, a Westmont grad… started working with me… and started to ask me questions about my faith then (Buddhism), and hung out.  We played baseball on the beach during lunch, ate together, chatted, and he simply asked me about my faith and shared a bit about his faith in Jesus.  Such a small thing, but it was his courage to talk to me, to love me and befriend me… despite my ignorance … that started the ball rolling to my own searching for an answer.  Nobody knows this, but his humble, simple witness was what started that insatiable curiosity for an answer that I could not find anywhere… was finally found at the feet of the cross of my murdered Savior, who died and rose again for my sake.

I won’t share his name via text, but you’ll see it in the picture that follows soon.  A few reasons… first of all, I think it’s best to not just list it, but also because ultimately, it is God who is moving and working these incredible things; not man, but God alone that deserves the true credit.

But as I am writing, my co-worker after a few months moved away from Santa Barbara!  Before he left, I am sure he left me his contact information, and I believe it was for medical school that he left.  You see, his dream was to be a doctor and to serve others and help others.  I remembered that, but like everything then, I lost the information or failed to keep in touch.  As time passed… I came to know Christ, but our friendship/story was lost into the obscurity of history.  Yet it was in the asking of the question of how did I… that I tried seeking out this co-worker. Google and Facebook were utilized, and though he did not have a facebook, Google showed that he was doing his residency in Fresno/Bakersfield!  There was no contact information so I set this aside and continued to pursue other things, and once again it was lost into the fog of history.

Well fast forward to Nov. 2012, and now, I am a Pastor in Santa Barbara serving at CEFCSB.  One of the members of our church family, an elderly sister in Christ was in the hospital with a foot infection, and I went to visit her there. During my hospital visit, I wanted to save up her contact phone number so I took a picture of the white board that is in every patient’s room at the hospital.  This was what I saw:

What I saw: my co-worker’s name!

The physician’s last name matched my random co-worker’s!  I thought … this couldn’t be the same person could it be? But it was such a unique last name, I figured I’d ask the nurse.  She mentioned that he was a doctor that just moved here, and so when I went to the website to look it up, it was him!!!!  I was so ecstatic, and left him a message with my number to call me so we can catch up.  Though he has yet to respond (only been a few days), I heard that he rejoiced to hear about me, and I hope that we’ll get time to sit down and talk and to fellowship once again.

Isn’t that wonderful?  Isn’t that praise worthy? Consider the words of Paul in Romans 10, how are people to call on Jesus for whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  How are they to hear without someone preaching? How are they to preach unless they’ve been sent?  How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

You see, my doctor/co-worker’s friendship and willingness to talk about Jesus with me seemed so unspectacular at first glance. Very little impact and very little power, and yet God used this to save me… to change my heart… and now, I have been called to a place of serving others as well. Paul writing to us in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, wrote these words as a reminder:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

So as I leave you today, I want to give you an encouragement… How did you come to know and hear the good news of Jesus Christ?  Perhaps you are the random co-worker in another’s life!  My prayer is that you may be the random co-worker in many other people’s lives as well!  For truly, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

A Wholesome Holiness

Seeking silence & reflection @ Lake Tahoe

I was deeply encouraged by the feedback and encouragement from others for my last post on October 17, 2012 titled “ALL things work together for good”. Thank you for your love, prayer and support through this transition period!

I actually typed a few pages for this blog, but decided to simplify this to a simple thought on the topic of holiness.  If you want to explore the topic of holiness with me, you can listen to my sermon at Living Stones Christian Church, my former church’s website, and look for “Hope & Holiness” on 9/9/2012.

During my own times of study and prayer, I came across an entry in the Charles Ringma book titled, “Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton.”   It was regarding holiness.  Essentially what Ringma points out is that people tend to be people at extremes in their pursuit of a holy life. These extremes can be seen as those that are very “holy” but not very outward focused in their love, to the very outward focused in their love, but that have very little inward focus towards their Savior.  Then there are other textures such as those that are greedy, or falsely spiritual, to those that are empty shells merely teaching theological truths but that feel no passion for what they teach. Ultimately, we are creatures of extremes and it is often assumed that a life of holiness is a life that is either bound in intimacy with God and for others tied to their spiritual ministry.

“Does holiness equate to intimacy with God or with spiritual ministry? Can one be a businessperson or a politician and still be holy? Is one holy because one is a priest or monk? Has holiness to do with one’s being or one’s actions or both?”

What Merton says about holiness is this:

“sanctity is not a matter of being less human, but more human… this implies a greater capacity for concern, for suffering, for understanding…and also for humor, for joy” (Ringma, 23).

Holiness is this then:  

“God’s grace operating in our lives” (Ringma, 23).

It draw us closer to God and turns our attention to the world. Holiness then is living the will of God by the power and grace of God.  This life is not one of prideful, self-holiness awareness, but one of great humility and enjoyment of life as much as it is a life that seeks to be holy.  It truly does reflect this focus on God and yet this connection to the world; a balance of being and doing. I find this balance then to be a better and healthier picture of holiness in Christ lived out by the saints, and seems to be confirmed in how Christ lived out his life too.  My hope and blessing is that you may continue to grow and model your life towards this wholesome holiness in Christ as well!

Let your worship be your witness

Let Your Worship Be Your Witness

In a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, one of our application points was:

let your worship be your witness.

We didn’t have time to unpack this so in the next few paragraphs we’ll make an attempt at scratching a little deeper. If you want to catch the entire message for context we were studying was Acts 3:1-10. Throughout the morning, we asked ourselves the question: “do you see the lame beggar“? You can catch the recorded podcast on iTunes, or stream it from the CCCTO website, where the PowerPoint is also available for download.

Nowadays it seems that the Christian faith has been reduced to “right living”. We spend so much time talking about what you should do so that people will see God through you. After all, that is what it means to be “kingdom minded” right? Live according to the Bible, and other people will see Jesus. May I propose that that statement is not incorrect, but rather that it is incomplete. If we are to be kingdom minded, we must see Jesus first.

How does this relate to the story of the lame beggar in Acts? Starting in Acts 3:2 we see the beginning of the incredible transformation of a man who was lame from birth. This man had never walked a day in his life. However after the miracle performed through the hands of Peter, the man regained strength in his feet and ankles. He is transformed from being lame from birth to having the strength to stand for the very first time. But did this man only stand? In Acts 3:8 we see that he leaps up, begins to walk, and then enters the temple with Peter and John, “walking and leaping and praising God.” Realizing the incredible gift he has received, not only does he stand, but he walks and leaps to the praise and glory of God, the giver of the gift.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have received a gift that is incomparable to anything else. Remember that you were just like the lame beggar, lame from birth. It is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins that you could be reconciled to God.

The encouragement is simple.

Christian, if you have been saved, live like it.

Live like it in community with the local church, just as the lame beggar entered the temple gates with Peter and John (Acts 3:8). Live like it individually, just as the lame beggar leapt and danced.

And what is the result? As we continue on into verses 9 and 10 we see that, “all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” The lame beggar understood the depth of what had happened, and his joy was apparent to those around him. His worship was his witness. He did not just stand there.

Where every person is along that progression is different. Some may still be like the lame beggar sitting at the gate. Others may have received the gift at one time, but are simply standing. And others may be leaping and dancing.

We all were crippled by sin from birth, helpless to save ourselves from the penalty of sin, but God has shown us grace and mercy by sending His son to die on the cross as a substitutionary atonement. When we understand this and respond in faith, we will worship (we will leap and jump) and the world will see and come to know Jesus Christ is Lord.