3 Things for a Good Life

NOW ON SALE:  “The Three Things We Need for a Good Life.”

I have always resisted “formulas.” Whether it be for things like exercise and health, or our lives of following Jesus.  I always react with skepticism when I hear a book title like “The 10 Ways to Be Happy,” or “The 5 Things Missing in Your Prayers.”  Yet I read the opening part of James 3:13-14 and it sure seems like a type of formula.  “Three Things for a Good Life.” Read those verses again.  Who is wise? Wisdom is shown by a good life, which is shown by good deeds, which comes from humility, which is born out of wisdom.  Sound a bit circular? When I write it like that, it does.  Perhaps the thought here could be rephrased like this:  Wisdom brings humility, which is our source of good works, which is evidence of a good life. It is interesting to notice that James will not let us get away with a definition of wisdom that doesn’t include action. True wisdom is reflected in how we act toward others.  And, at the heart of our action must be humility.

We first learned of this word humility in James when he was talking about anger (James 1:19-21).  The Greek word for humility is the word praǘtēs. It is defined as:  “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance. praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason… it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich: Greek English Lexicon, 3rd edition).

Here is the twist.  We are all inundated with promises from books, magazines, products, and experiences, promising “the good life.” And we are drawn to them because of our own self-interest.  What Jesus offers, and what James is calling us to, is a good life that doesn’t have our ambition or self-interest at the heart.  It is a great life, but one in which our own self-importance is not king or queen.  It is a life of submitting to God, seeking the best for others.  As I’ve said before, we cannot do this without following Jesus, our model and example.  And we must rely on His Spirit, who corrects, comforts, and calls us to this great life.

Questions for reflection:  Where has your ambition and self-interest led to “disorder” (James 3:16)? Where do you need Jesus to “reorder” your ambitions?

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Wisdom for Tough Times, from an Ancient Book

At our church, we’ve been preaching through the book of James.  I’ve mentioned here how amazing it would be if the news media announced (not fake news…real news), that an archaeological discovery had been made.  That a document written by a relative of Jesus of Nazareth had been found, dated just 10 years or so after Jesus’ death.   Well, that is what we have contained in all our Bibles–whether they be on our bedside tables or on our phones.

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We are nearly halfway through our study. And, my prayer is that this series does not remain on a shelf, along with other books of the Bible we have studied.  Rather, that Jesus will move us to reflect on these words deeply, and listen to where the Lord is calling us to be changed.

 

There are three main themes that James returns to throughout this letter.  Trials, wisdom, and riches and poverty.  These were things that James’ audience was facing, and these are the same things we face.  It is difficult to keep our eyes focused on God when we face trials.  We need wisdom and discernment, as we are faced with hundreds of decisions each day, some of which will chart our course for our lives. We see poverty all around us, and abundant wealth.  How do we use what God has given us, and how are we called to help those in need?  The three themes of James are timeless.

We entitled our series “Unshaken” because it is clear that James is pointing us to a life that is unshaken by things like difficulty, doubt, anger, or appearances.  In addition, James “shakes” us with his bold calls to action.  “Faith without works is dead,” he says.  Words like these force us to examine our individual lives of walking with Jesus, and our corporate lives as a church.  What are we doing to reflect the fact that Christ is alive in us? In Jesus’ words, how are we letting our light so shine before others, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:16).

It is timely that we are studying these words.  We’ve been given an opportunity here in the city of Sacramento to partner with a number of other churches, and the E49 Corporation to help build a “tiny village” of homes for the homeless.  We will be setting aside Sunday, April 30th as a church to help construct these homes, prepare the site with landscaping, and enlist our children and seniors to help make those houses homes.  We are excited about putting our faith into action.  Here is more about the Compassion Village.compassion-village

In the final chapters of the letter, we will find James returning to these themes again.  He will tell us about two different kinds of wisdom, and where wisdom begins.  He will challenge those who seek to use wealth for personal gain.  James will give us a picture of how to endure suffering and trials.  Finally, he calls us all to believe in the power of prayer.

Written a long time ago, with words that still ring true.  May we be shaken by these bold words of James, to live lives unshaken.

Question for reflection: How has the Lord been speaking to you through these words of James?