Doers Vs. Hearers

A clergy friend shared a screen shot of her church’s FaceBook post announcing a free breakfast at her church. It was a picture of a fried egg sitting on a piece of toast. The invitation to join was prominent in the graphic. Did I mention that this was an invitation to a free breakfast?

The screenshot included the first comment someone made. They offered their version of constructive criticism (I suppose). The comment read, “I do not like that egg.”

Did I mention that this was for a free breakfast?

Why people need to spit in someone’s cornflakes is beyond me. We have all forgotten the advice of our grandmothers, who taught us that if we don’t have something nice to say, perhaps we should simply be quiet.

The world feels entitled to express every kind of opinion right now, and yes, I am aware that what I just wrote is my opinion. So let’s talk about God’s opinion, okay?

Our passage from James this morning pretty much says it all:

James 1 (Common English Bible)

Welcoming and doing the word

19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.

Quick to listen.

Slow to speak.

Slow to grow angry.

We would do well to heed these words, friends. God has planted his word deep inside us. If our speech goes against that word, perhaps we should just keep our opinions to ourselves and hold our tongues.

22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.

That’s quite the assignment, isn’t it? If you have learned that God is love, then you must love ALL his people. If you have learned from his word that everyone has sinned and fallen short of his glory, then you must be patient with others who sin….just as God is patient with your sin. If God’s word instructs us to not judge others, then perhaps we should let God be the judge and leave the condemning words to Jesus.

26 If those who claim devotion to God don’t control what they say, they mislead themselves. Their devotion is worthless.27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.

This is great food for thought for us today. If we claim devotion to God, we MUST control what we say. We need to be doers of the incredible and radical word of God, not just readers/hearers of it. True devotion is proved when we care for the marginalized. True devotion is pure and faultless. True devotion practices what it preaches.True devotion is the alignment of our spoken (and posted) words to the will and purpose of God.

Where is God calling you to do his word today?

Welcome the Word by Michelle Robertson

True Wisdom

What is true wisdom? How is it defined? Is wisdom a matter of Mensa memberships, IQ scores, and success that is determined by wealth, achievement, and status? Or is wisdom something else…perhaps a combination of natural intelligence, the ability to learn, and the capacity to show compassion to others?

In other words, who is wiser…Elon Musk, the creator of Tesla and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, or Mother Teresa, who spent her life in poverty ministering to the sick and poor of Calcutta?

Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as “having the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; having insight and good sense; and having good judgment.” Notice that this definition has nothing to do with IQ scores, economic achievement, or innovation.

The book of James is a fascinating exploration of the subject of wisdom. It becomes clear that God defines wisdom much differently than the world defines it.

James 3:13-18 (Common English Bible)

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 

Immediately we see that worldly wisdom falls short of this standard. James made a deliberate connection between being wise and having a humble lifestyle.

14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic.

That last sentence surely catches our attention. James delineated the difference between wisdom from above and wisdom of the earth, which he called demonic. That’s bold! Perhaps this is a straightforward matter of “considering the source.” Those who live, work, and strive for wealth in a state of separation from God cannot hope to achieve the peaceful, gentle, and genuine wisdom that comes from heaven:

16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 

When we seek wisdom from above, it leads us to places of justice and peace. Those who have employed their intelligence for sheer profit and gain will often sell their soul, or at least their product, to the highest bidder. When wealth is the goal of wisdom, people on the lower economic spectrum are left behind. The poor will never enjoy a Tesla or a ride in space. Those who toil their lives away working for Amazon are underpaid and desperately overworked. But the people who received the wise counsel and ministrations of Mother Teresa, though they were the poorest of the poor, became the richest in the world because she gave them God. Mother Teresa sowed seeds of justice in an unfair world with her acts of humility and goodness. That is true wisdom.

18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.

Are you an example of wisdom that comes from above? How will you pass it along to others? True wisdom, according to James, is revealed in acts of mercy, justice, peace, and fairness. Go and share the wisdom of Mother Teresa with someone today.

Sow Seeds of Peace by Kathy Schumacher

Text Anxiety

Raise your hand if you experience recurrent dreams about taking a test in a class for which you have not prepared. I have both hands raised. My dream involves sitting down to take a college final for a class that I had registered for, but never attended. Somehow I forgot, and now I am staring at the final with no clue about what to write. I hear from my alumni friends that this type of test anxiety dream is common. I’m sorry to tell you that you never stop having test anxiety, even if your last college exam was many (many!) decades ago.

Tests often make us feel unprepared. Even when we did attend class and study hard, the possibility of failure looms large in our minds when we open up the exam and read the first question.

I once completely froze in seminary when my Systematic Theology final included a question that asked “Who is God, and how do you know?” I know the professor expected a lengthy response quoting the various theologians we had studied all semester. We were supposed to defend our thesis with solid theories and attributions. All my brain could conjure up was, “God is love. I know, because the Bible tells me so.” At the end of the hour, it was all I had. Luckily, I had a strong A going into the final and the professor could not argue with my position, so I ended up all right. But even writing about that moment makes my heart flutter!

James 1 (Common English Bible)

My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 

Tests as occasions for joy?? Speaking for myself, that is a big ask! Let’s read on…

After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask. 

This is a beautiful answer to our test anxiety issues. Tests produce endurance and endurance leads us to maturity, completeness, and WISDOM. And isn’t wisdom the goal? James contended that all we need to do is ask for wisdom and God will certainly give it. I should have asked for some when I took that final!

Whoever asks shouldn’t hesitate. They should ask in faith, without doubting. Whoever doubts is like the surf of the sea, tossed and turned by the wind. People like that should never imagine that they will receive anything from the Lord. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways.

We know that doubt is often a gateway to learning, so what James may be suggesting is that we are not supposed to get stuck in our doubts. We should never doubt that God will answer us if we seek him. When our questioning minds lead us to further inquiry and wisdom-seeking, we come through it better prepared to understand. But stubbornly remaining in doubt can result in tossing and turning and never moving forward in our understanding.

Are you caught in a sea of doubt? Are you unsure of your faith? Does the idea of being tested in your relationship with God bring you anxiety? James invites us to persevere in our pursuit of wisdom as we grow in our knowledge of who we are, and Whose we are.

We are the children of God…of that, we can be sure. The rest will sort itself out if we continue to study and learn.

And guess what? You’ve already passed your finals…Jesus took them on your behalf.

Tossed and Turned by the Wind by Michelle Robertson