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The Book of James Week 2
A Life of Integrity, Wisdom, and Joy
James 1:5-8; 3:13-18
September 5, 2021
A lot of Californians have looked at moving to more affordable areas but many of those places come with bitter winters.
If you’ve ever lived in a winter climate you’ve probably done some “peephole driving.”
Peephole driving starts when you’re in a hurry to get to work, but when you walk outside you find your car encased in a layer of snow and ice from an overnight storm.
You start the car and turn up the heater and defroster, and then get out your scraper to chip away until you’ve cleared a little space on your windshield.
After maybe five minutes you have an opening the size of a pepperoni pizza.
Shivering with cold you begin your morning commute but you can hardly see where you are going.
You compensate by leaning close to the windshield, but as you squint your way down the road when it hits you that other drivers are also peering out their own little peepholes!
Peephole driving is an invitation to disaster, but according to the Letter of James, that is how most people go through life.
We’re in week 2 of a walk through the Letter of James.
These are some of the first words put into writing by the earliest Christian communities – years before the gospels were written.
That means that they were written while memories of Jesus were still fresh.
This letter was widely circulated because it was most likely written by James, the brother of our Lord.
Now let that sink in for a minute.
Reading this letter is like having lunch at Panera’s with someone who was raised with Jesus from the time they were children … we don’t have anything else like it in scripture.
And this letter is very practical and down-to-earth: It is a “how to” guide to the alternative lifestyle of being a Christian.
You’ll notice that James doesn’t sugarcoat his message – he is blunt and in-your-face.
Last week we explored how to live when challenged by trials and temptations.
If you missed last week’s message, remember that you can see all our previous messages on Facebook and their written text on our church website.
This week we are looking at James’ promise that God’s wisdom is available to us.
James 1:5 (Amplified) If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of the giving God [Who gives] to everyone liberally and ungrudgingly, without reproaching or faultfinding, and it will be given you.
God doesn’t give grudgingly.
God doesn’t give just to those He deems holy.
God doesn’t bring up past times when you messed up.
God doesn’t say, “Oh, George. Finally, I hear from you, now that you’re in trouble. But where were you last week?”
As this scripture makes a point of saying, God is accessible to all and not to just a privileged few.
Why? Because that is God’s very nature.
James 1:17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.
Martin Luther helped us grasp this concept of the “priesthood of all believers” – all of us have a direct line to God.
That’s an amazing promise – you and I can tap into the wisdom of the Creator of the Universe.
So, what does James mean by “wisdom”.
Is someone wise because they have a lot of facts and trivia at their fingertips?
No … wisdom is more than knowledge.
Or, is wisdom being able to see into the future?
No, wisdom is not just knowledge and it is not fortune telling … it is more like understanding how things work.
That means that a wise person can step back and see the probable consequences of their attitudes and actions … so taking time to tap into God’s wisdom can save you from a lot of heartaches and lead you to a lot of opportunities.
How can we test if it is God’s voice we are hearing, or just our own desires, or maybe even the whisper of the devil?
Here’s the test: James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
So, if the words you are about to utter or the course of action you’re about to embark on don’t align with those characteristics, they are not likely from God.
Wisdom of the world is about getting ahead or getting even.
The wisdom of the world fuels envy, selfish ambition and conflict – and James makes a special point to say that the Devil stokes those kinds of attitudes because the Devil is committed to undoing the blessings that God wants to give us all.
James 3:15-16 Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish plotting. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
So, if you are confronted with a situation where you feel you can one-up someone, a situation where you can put someone in their place, a situation that will boost your pride, you can be sure that is worldly wisdom, not wisdom from above.
The wisdom we pray for is being able to see how God is at work bringing reconciliation, peace, joy, healing … the presence of Love.
Right now, we so need to discern God’s voice because we are surrounded by anger, confusion and fear the likes of which we have not seen in our lifetimes.
From COVID to incessant fires, floods and hurricanes, to Afghanistan, the sudden rise of the militant right … the anxiety and confusion is contagious and we can easily bring it into our own lives and families.
Our gut reaction might be fight, flight or fear.
Maybe we lash out at others because we feel we’ve lost control.
Maybe we run away from the challenge – isolating ourselves or through drinking or whatever.
But James says there’s another way because we aren’t alone – turn to God right away.
Be honest with God and speak with the emotion you feel.
Did you know that God is emotional?
We see that in scripture, and we know it because we have emotions and we were created in God’s image.
So, share your emotions, open your heart – it’s the best way to connect to God.
“God, I’ve lost my job. I am scared … where are you?”
“God, my friend has betrayed me. I’m so hurt. Help me and show me what I need to learn from this.”
“God, I blew it again and I’m really depressed by what I just did, please God lead me out of this and teach me a better way.”
Romans 8:27-28 (Message) He knows us far better than we know ourselves… that’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
James doesn’t stop here, however, and this is essential to understanding James.
God doesn’t just give insight; He expects us to act on it.
James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Is it just me, or have you sometimes gotten a life lesson – thought, “Now I get it” – but didn’t act on your insight?
Let me tell you what will happen.
God will give you the lesson again … and again if necessary.
Imagine driving around the block and hitting a pothole.
Shame on the City for poor street maintenance.
But imagine getting in your car, driving around the block again and hitting that same pothole?
Shame on you … and in life, God may have you go around and around the block until you finally learn to avoid the pothole.
Maybe that’s a tough lesson, but God is more interested in your growth than your comfort.
Action without turning first to God is not wisdom, and insight from God without action isn’t wisdom either.
It’s not enough to say, “Now I understand how I hurt Mary.”
James says, “Now you’ve got to go and restore relationship.”
It isn’t enough to recognize poverty, elder abuse, child neglect or whatever … now we are to be agents of change.
James 1:25 But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
The problem with peephole driving is that you may not notice cross-traffic or that SUV about to pull out in front of you.
Spiritual peephole driving leaves us unaware of life’s dangers, miss life opportunities … and not notice how we can be better and do better.
About a decade ago, two Northwest Airlines pilots flying from San Diego to Minneapolis became so absorbed in their laptop computer games that they muted their radios and maintained long radio silence with air traffic control, only becoming aware that they’d passed over their destination 22-minutes earlier when an anxious stewardess asked them for an update on their estimated time of arrival.
In suspending the licenses of these two experienced pilots whose combined flying time was over 30,000 hours, the FAA wrote,
“You were disengaged and impervious to the serious threat to your own safety, as well as the safety of people for whom you are responsible. This is a total dereliction and disregard for your duties.”
Listen to that line again: “You were disengaged and impervious to the serious threat to your own safety.”
Most of us are fortunate enough to spend most of our life in a pretty good place.
By all means, appreciate the peaceful times, but don’t become disengaged and impervious to the hurt, injustice and spiritual forces around you.
Don’t get lulled into just cruising along not paying attention to what’s happening around you.
Evil is real, and while we don’t want to become paranoid and imagine a demon behind every bush, we all are vulnerable all the time to temptations and attacks that can damage us and our relationships.
Praying for wisdom is getting God’s lay of the land that we might be oblivious to.
And, doesn’t it make sense to check in with God who knows what opportunities you may be missing?
Hearing God’s wisdom takes practice.
Prayer improves with experience.
My friend Darleen was well into her sixties when she first went parachuting.
Now, she didn’t just climb into a plane one day and jump out.
No, she had some training.
She got some instruction and some experience so that she was well prepared before she stepped into 14,000 feet of empty space.
Prayer takes some practice too, so doesn’t it make more sense to be practicing prayer before you are in a life-or-death crisis?
The very nature of God is that He is generous … He loves to give.
Right now, He must be grieving the state of our world, but He promises something better for you … to share in the Kingdom of God rather than the discord of the Kingdom of the World.