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Finding Health in an Imperfect World
The Book of James Week 4
James 4:1-10 October 3, 2021
It is so interesting watching our children grow up and mature.
Although Wyatt is only 18-months-old, we can already see on his face the inner conflict playing out in him as he is torn between doing what he knows he’s not supposed to do – like throw his food on the floor – with his impulse to do it because he thinks it is fun.
Of course, it isn’t just kids who struggle.
You have some extra cash, and you’ve said you’d like to help the homeless or invest more for retirement … but you indulge yourself with an impulse purchase.
Or maybe you struggle with not taking a drink, or not scoffing down a donut, or not sharing a juicy bit of gossip.
It is a battle waging in our conscience and in our souls all our lives.
The Apostle Paul wrote,
Romans 7:19-20 (Message) I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It’s as if something is disconnected within us.
Kabbalah is an ancient branch of Judaism devoted to the mystical aspect of the Hebrew faith.
It is a pathway guided by Rabbinic teachings believed to explain the relationship between an eternal Creator and His mortal creation.
Kabbalah challenges its followers to dig into questions like why we wage war instead of peace, why we don’t do the good we know we should, and why we persist in doing harm when it is against our own values.
One of their fundamental teachings is that no one should begin their study of Kabbalah at least until age 40, because it is only from that vantage point that we will have seen that we’ve repeated the errors of our parents and that our children are repeating ours.
The point of this instruction is to recognize that there is something deeply flawed in humankind that we cannot fix on our own.
While Kabbalah ends there, it is the starting point for Christianity.
Good News is that God loves us so much despite our flaws, that God’s own Son traveled the cosmos to live among us and, through his sacrifice, to bear the weight of our sins.
Then he called us into a special kind of community – a community founded on Jesus’ teachings and alive with Christ’s presence.
So that we have a place to worship Christ, and through his teachings and living presence grow beyond our natural human flaws that rob us of joy, limit our potential, and lead to destructive attitudes and actions.
James 4:7-8a 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.
So, a community of Jesus’ followers is a sacred place where we are transformed as we draw closer to God and practice God’s ways, and that is where Jesus’ half-brother James steps in.
Throughout our study of his letter, we’ve seen that James was not interested in Christian dogma, but in how to live as a Christian.
It is like he’s saying, “Okay, you’ve received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you’ve been forgiven your sins and have been promised an eternal life in heaven … now how will this change the way you live?”
A church of Jesus Christ is in the transformation business, and transformation is an inside job.
James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
James was not happy with what he saw going on in the churches.
We can tell by the topics he addressed that there was bickering among members, slandering and gossiping, giving preferential treatment to the wealthy, taking advantage of their servants, and resting on the laurels of what the Savior had done for them.
He repeatedly said we have to make a choice between what he calls the “wisdom of the world” and the “wisdom from above”.
He says “wisdom of the world” is the choice we make when we give in to our flawed nature, and invariably leads to bitter envy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil practice.
Even back then, people wanted to come to church and be all “Hallelujah, Lord. I praise Your name,” in the morning but then in the afternoon step into the street and say, “Did you see the way Joanne wasn’t even talking to Ed today? Well, I told you all along that couple was headed to no good.”
James then says all you have to do is watch someone for a while to see if they are living by what he calls “wisdom from above” because through them you will see a life that is peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit.
He says you can’t have it both ways … you can’t be double-minded and expect to please God.
It’s not easy to live our faith, as all sorts of statistics reveal.
Just one example, white evangelical Christians, the people who are the most vocal about conservative family values, have higher divorce rates than non-Christians or mainline Christians.
See how easy it is to believe but not live out our values?
Throughout James, we hear him warn against being doubleminded, to use his term.
Proclaiming Jesus’ values is a starting point, then comes turning from hurtful habits, and if we do these humbly and sincerely Christ will come alongside us to guide and strengthen us.
James 4:7-10 (Message) So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him make himself scarce. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.
We have learned a lot through the years about being a healthy church … some of it by going through tough times, and some of it from working with some amazing church consultants.
We learned about being a simple church – one that is lean and doesn’t try to do everything but just focus on our mission.
We learned about identifying our spiritual gifts and passions as the way to call people into various teams so they can be creative and energized as they serve the church.
And we learned about covenants where we commit to healthy ways of working together and supporting each other.
As you know, each team develops a covenant and reads that covenant at the beginning of most meetings.
I’ll share that there have been many times that I’ve rushed into a meeting with my agenda of what I want done and then as we’ve read the covenant together I slowed down and became more open to hearing other people’s ideas and concerns.
There have been times when I felt impatient with someone or anxious about meeting with them, but as we’ve read the covenant together, I relaxed and changed my perspective.
There have been times when I came to a meeting entrenched in a position, but through healthy discussion where we all let down our guards and listened to one another, we came up with a far better idea than any one of us started with.
And I know that as I’ve participated in healthy discussions and healthy relationships on our teams, I have carried those healthy habits into all my relationships.
Health in a church or any relationship does not depend on everyone having it all together.
As a matter of fact, it cannot.
Romans 3:23 We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
So, if you’re looking for a church or a relationship where everyone always acts in the best of ways, then you are destined for a lifetime of disappointment.
Health comes from agreeing to healthy processes, then trying to live them, and holding ourselves and others accountable to them.
Nothing has impacted our church more than team covenants.
In last month’s congregational meeting, we experienced a few bumps along the way.
Some feelings were hurt, a lot of people felt frozen in the moment not knowing how to intervene to get us back on track, and we didn’t really make progress in the decision we were facing.
There were no “bad guys” in this situation, but it felt really tough for a few days – but actually, it was a gift from God – and it was God’s perfect timing.
How was that a gift from God?
Well, you’ve heard me say over and over through the years, “God what are you up to in this situation, and how can I get on board with what you are doing?”
What God was doing was reminding us about following the processes and the covenants we have chosen to live by.
Why this reminder now?
Well, because we have some bigger decisions ahead of us and we need to get clear on how to work through them together.
For one, we’ll be calling an interim minister to walk with the congregation for a year or so while we call a permanent pastor – what we call a settled pastor.
That can be a stressful time for a congregation, but it mostly is a wonderful opportunity to enter the next phase of congregational life and spiritual growth with fresh insights and new energy.
So, the difficult meeting last month was a reminder that we have meeting etiquette, for example, that we used to read at the beginning of every congregational meeting, but that we’ve gotten away from.
It is a reminder about how to speak kindly, to take time to listen, and to not assume one another’s motives – as we spell out in our team covenants.
And it is a reminder that most of our team covenants say something like, “I will join in seeking consensus on all Council decisions, but if I do hold a dissenting view, then once we have made a decision, I will stand united with Council in that decision.”
This particular point is a little harder in a congregational meeting than with a team or smaller group.
About ten years ago we had a church that wanted to rent space from us.
I thought it was going to be a slam dunk, but I was caught off guard when two members of our church raised concerns about that particular denomination.
We could have just voted and charged ahead with the rental. We certainly needed the money.
But we didn’t.
Instead, we listened to their concerns and then went back to the other church and asked about what had been said.
Then a group from the other church sat down with a group from our church including those who were concerned.
We actually met a couple of times, and we took about six months to make the decision to go ahead after everyone’s concerns were heard and addressed.
That process was healthy because we all listened to one another and took one another’s concerns seriously.
No one dug into a position – we have to rent, or no way I’ll rent to them.
In the end, we learned about how this particular congregation had worked hard to overcome the very concerns our people were raising.
We actually admired the struggle they had been through, and eventually, everyone was comfortable moving ahead.
We didn’t let the process stop because someone raised a concern, but neither did we plow ahead despite a sincere concern.
Sometimes, though, we just end up with different opinions, and unless there is an ethical issue at stake, then we also commit to participating in our process and then supporting the decision of the group.
If we can’t do that, then we’ll get bogged down in every decision.
Did you know that before I came here that a building committee had approved a plan for building upgrades and maintenance, but that it sat undone for twenty-two years because a handful of people blocked doing it every time it was raised?
That same group blocked many other things as well.
The congregation in those days didn’t know how to manage differences of opinion or conflict, so a few people essentially held the church hostage.
Healthy church starts with imperfect people embracing covenants that are healthy, then holding ourselves and others to living them.
Our decision about how to remodel the back building is far less important than how we go about making that decision, and how we move forward if we hold an opinion with which the majority of the congregation didn’t agree.
Learn at church isn’t just about a bible lesson … it is living together in ways that Honor Christ.
The Kabbala and the Apostle Paul both agree … there seems broken in each one of us. You and me both.
But Christ doesn’t leave us there.
Through his teachings, through his living presence, and through our willing and humble practice of healthy, we are transformed.