Be Personal

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Today we are finishing up our five week series titled How to Be the Church. We’v’e been going through the book of James, a chapter each week, and today we will be covering the final chapter, chapter 5.
I must say that if you have actually attended or listened to each of the messages so far in this series and you are still here, then I have great faith that God is going to use you to do some mighty things in this church and this community, because they have not been “pat your ego” messages. James is a heavy hitter, and if you survived so far, that means you are probably of the true faith. And it is my pleasure to serve alongside you.
If you’re just joining us today, then welcome to the party.
As I mentioned, the first four chapters are pretty hard hitting. James is a man of few words but they are deep words full of meaning and conviction. Just as a reminder, the book of James is actually a letter written by the Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, to the Jews who had recently been scattered due to the persecution that arose after the stoning of Stephen. So, his audience is exclusively Jewish (salvation had not been given to the gentiles just yet) and they are for the most part in rather dire circumstances. Many had to leave their homes. Many had friends and relatives imprisoned or killed. They are all hunted for their faith in Jesus.
But instead of writing them a coddling letter of encouragement, James pretty much calls them all to task. He basically says that just because you are in these less than desirable circumstances, you are still followers of Christ and should act like it. Then throughout his letter, he describes what one should expect to see in their own life if they are truly of the faith and not just pretending. 
One major theme throughout is the fact that true believers are DOERS of the Word and not HEARERS only. That FAITH without something to show for it in your life is really no faith at all. It’s not enough just to have a mental acknowledgment kind of belief. Even the demons have that. True faith should result in obedience to God’s Word.
And throughout the letter, James spells out some of those specific actions or attitudes we should have. You can catch all of the messages online if you missed them.
Now, in his last chapter, in his typical style, he kind of jumps around from topic to topic with seemingly no connection between them. At least it seems that way with a surface reading. This chapter more than the others I will need to dive into the greek and the culture to truly understand. Much of what he says in this chapter is difficult to translate into our modern American English-Speaking Western Culture. Which, unfortunately, when we all just read it in English with our own culture as a backdrop, we really miss a lot of what he is saying – and often come away with rather false understandings that get perpetuated all over the place.
I don’t claim to be the only person who can understand God’s Word properly, but today I hope to at least give you something to think about as we look at these passages that I believe have great depth of meaning and are far more encouraging than most of his letter.
So, with that introduction, let’s get into it.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
When I said this chapter is more encouraging, I meant after this first part.
Reading that, you would think that James really hates rich people and that God wants us all to be poor.  Well, neither are true.  God does not want us all poor, but he does want us all to have a proper perspective on money and not serve it more than Him.
James is actually railing against a type of person that was pretty common in that culture, but not so much in America. Our system of justice and such is just not set up to afford some of the actions he is speaking of.
In that culture, there was a huge separation between the rich and the poor. We think there is in America, but not even close to what they had. Their poor literally had nothing and there was no welfare. And as I said in a previous talk, the common understanding was that wealth was a result of something inherently right in the rich person, and poverty was a result of something inherently wrong in the poor person. Thus it was commonly asserted that everyone deserved their station in life and should stay there – no rising through the ranks like we have in America. And so, being sinful people, the rich let it get to their heads. And we all know that having wealth doesn’t satisfy, it only makes us want even more. So, what did they do?
One thing is they hoarded what they had rather than sharing. Wealth back then wasn’t in stocks and bonds and cash. It was mostly in food, clothing, and silver and gold.  James is pointing out in verse 2 that all that hoarding of food and clothing has led to it rotting and being eaten by moths. You were so selfish and had so much that you couldn’t even use it all, and now it is of no use to anyone. Even your silver and gold have corroded (which was likely to it not being pure in those days) – and James says that this corrosion and rot will testify against these selfish and greedy people, even to the point of eating their flesh like fire (where do you think that happens?)
Clearly he is not talking to true believers at this point because true believers would never be like this. Right now he is talking to the pretenders among the believers who are still worshiping their god of money.  One sign that you worship money rather than God is that you hoard it to the point of unreasonable. This is not speaking against saving for retirement and such, but rather pointing out that as believers we are called to help each other, not hoard it all for ourselves.
Another thing these rich people were commonly guilty of was gaining their wealth in unjust ways. By withholding pay from workers. Not only are they not willing to share their hoards, but they won’t even pay people what they’ve earned. I would say in our modern context this would be the employer who is stingy with pay, like Ebineezer Scrooge. I would argue that people should be glad to work for a Christian employer, because a Christian employer should be most generous rather than stingy.
And the last accusation James has against them is that while they are mistreating the poor they spend all their money on luxury and self-indulgence. They’ve been given great wealth and instead of using it to ease the plight of the misfortunate, they use it to make themselves fat and pad their houses with luxuries.
This is not suggesting you can never have nice things. But if you are a true believer and have your life, which includes your money, at the disposal of your King and Savior Jesus Christ, it is unlikely that he will allow you to use all your money for your own pleasure and none of it to help others.

Ok, that’s all I’m going to talk about that section today. I have another big money talk coming sometime this summer for you to look forward to.
After this harsh rebuke against these rather evil rich people, James finally softens up…sort of.
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.
Now he’s talking again to the true believers, many of whom are the victims of these evil rich pretenders. He basically just let them all listen in on that rebuke and promise of retribution, and now he turns his attention to the believers and he tells them to be patient because this won’t last forever. Jesus will come back and make it right!
One interesting note before I continue is that the Greek word translated as “patient” is the same one used in the love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:
μακροθυμέω = literally means long-tempered or long-suffering. It’s a patience specifically dealing with people. It’s not getting easily angered by people who treat you wrong. James is telling them to be patient with these rich people and everyone else persecuting you.
He continues…
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.
 
Think about a farmer. He knows the seasons and cycles. He knows that the harvest will come at the right time. He doesn’t have to worry about if it will ever come, he knows it will. Happens every year. So, this is not a patience without end. It is a patience with a knowing that the hardships are only temporary. Because one of two things is most assuredly going to happen to put a stop to it. Jesus will come back, or you will die. Either way your are with Him in glory.  So, be patient. It has a purpose.
Remember how James begins this letter?
James 1
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
So, our patience/perseverance is not for nothing.
James continues…
 
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
The opposite of patience is grumbling. Remember chapter 4? Quarrels and fights are not the way of Christ. And James is pointing out that being patient is not just a good suggestion, it is a command, because as much as we don’t like to think about it, Jesus is not only the Merciful Savior, he is the Righteous Judge of humanity!
1 Peter 4:5
But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Basically, James is saying that this is not a game and these are not mere suggestions.
He continues…
James 5
10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
James is speaking of the prophets of the Old Testament. For a few thousand years before Jesus came on the scene, God had prophets, men who God specifically used to speak truth to his people, Israel. However, for the most part, the Israelites didn’t want to hear it, so they were often mistreated and many were even killed. Yet, they were patient and persevered in their work because they trusted the God they served.
Then there is Job. Job was a righteous man that God allowed Satan to nearly destroy to test him. He lost everything, his family, is fortune, his health. But through it all, he did not sin, nor did he turn from God. He complained and questioned a little, but he did not sin.  And in the end God restored him and he became wealthier than he was before with an even larger family and great health and long life. He is a great example of patience and perseverance through trials.
What he said and did immediately after losing everything was very telling about the character of the man:
Job 1
20 Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. 21 He said,
“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
    and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
    and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
22 In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.
He also didn’t blame any other people. He simply accepted it and praised God anyway. James is calling all of us to the same kind of behavior in the face of difficulties.
But, as I’ve said before, that kind of character is impossible if you don’t have Christ inside of you. You can’t fake that. You can’t pretend that kind of reaction. Who you really are on the inside will come out when you come under pressure, and if you truly have Jesus as your Lord, Master, King, Leader, and the Holy Spirit is inside you calling the shots, and you have yielded your life to him to the point that you really believe that all you have is from Him and if He were to take it away you’d at least still have Him, then when difficulties arise, God’s great compassion and mercy will be operative inside of you to bring you through.
Interesting note about the Greek here. The Greek word translated as compassion is
πολύσπλαγχνος (polusplagchnos) – which literally means “many-boweled”.  It reflects a Hebrew idiom which spoke of the bowels or the stomach being the seat of emotion. To say that God is “many-boweled” is to affirm that he has an enormous capacity for compassion. I guess, in our culture we would say he has a big heart.
A new topic starts in a minute, so let me summarize. If you are rich, do it right or you will be judged. If you are persecuted, be patient, putting up with people, looking forward to the return of Christ! And while you’re being patient don’t start grumbling among yourselves or you will be judged just like the rich.

Next James says something seemingly from out of left field…
12 Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.
There’s only one more section left, so I guess he’s throwing out some last thoughts as he closes out the letter.   Here, he is repeating something Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 5
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
The people in those days were in the habit of lying most of the time and so they had to use elaborate oaths to suggest that “this time I’m telling the truth.” However, even the oath system had its deceit. If you swore by God, then you absolutely must be telling the truth because God would strike me dead if I wasn’t. But if you swore by heaven or the earth or something other than God himself, then you may still be lying but trying to appear as if you aren’t.
Jesus and James are saying that among the believers you should should just be honest with each other. Just make a habit of telling the truth rather than lies. Again this goes back to how we use our mouths.

Now we get to the end of the letter. This is the part that I see as the most profound of this chapter but also the most misunderstood and misused because the English does not do justice to the Greek. I’m going to attempt to show you what I believe is a beautiful message from God for all of us.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
This passage has routinely been used to promote things like faith healing – the idea that you can basically guarantee healing of a sickness or ailment if you simply have enough faith.
I’ll never forget the time I was in a Starbucks and a guy was standing in line who had what I’ve had recently, a cane and a clearly busted leg. The guy standing next to him asked him how long he had been hurt, and apparently it had been that way for years. Some kind of injury in the past. Then the guy proceeds to ask if he would like to be healed. The guy was a little shocked but said “sure.” The other guy then places his hands on him and starts praying emphatically, casting out demons of sickness and such. When he was done, the other guy looked even more perplexed and obviously nothing had changed in his leg. The healer then asked him if it felt any better, to which the guy nervously responded with a “yea, sure, I guess.” The healer responded with a “you’re welcome” in a rather cocky tone and then handed him his card. Apparently he was a professional healer and would be happy to come to his church for a demonstration as awesome as what he had just done. I often wonder if he is still in business…
While I am not saying that God does not indeed heal our sicknesses, there is nowhere in Scripture that indicates He will do it on demand like a Genie in a bottle. God heals when it will bring HIM the most glory – not some ego-trip healer.  And when it fits into HIS plan, not ours.  
I actually did quite a bit of study on this passage and have come to the personal conclusion that this passage is actually not about healing the sick and diseased at all. But something even more important.  Let me tell you why…
Let’s look at verse 14:
 
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
The Greek word translated as “sick” is ἀσθενέω, which is defined: to be weak, feeble; to be without strength, powerless: sick.
It’s a word that will be translated differently in different contexts. Sometimes as “weak”, such as when Paul says “when I am weak, then I am strong.” And sometimes as sick, like in verse 14.
If you take the whole meaning of the word, you get the sense of someone who is not so much sick with a disease or virus, but someone who is so sapped of their strength and feeble they are to the point of feeling or being sick. 
Listen to what David wrote many years earlier and tell me if you think it carries the same sense:
Psalm 32
When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
This was David after he had been called out for killing Uriah and sleeping with his wife. Here he says that while his sin remained hidden his body wasted away, his strength was zapped, he groaned all day long – sounds like he was weary almost to the point of being sick!
I believe this is what James is talking about, especially if you look in the overall context. What does he say in verse 16?
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. 
Confess your sins to be healed. But healed of what? Why on earth would confessing your sins to each other heal you from cancer? Or strep throat? Or a broken arm?
The Greek here is not definitive. It’s just like our English word “heal” – which can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual healing.
Let’s go back to verse 14. If the back and forth is getting confusing, don’t worry, it will form a bigger picture soon.
14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Since we now know that “sick” is more of a “sick due to fatigue”, what could the sickness be coming from?  Well, probably what he had just been talking about in most of his letter. Remember he’s describing what kind of life a Christian SHOULD be living. But what happens when we DON’T continually do what is right? The same thing that happened to David, especially when we keep it all inside. Unconfessed sin has a way of eating at your soul to the point that you can become physically ill due to the spiritual and emotional strain. 
And James is saying that when that happens, call the elders (that’s the leaders and spiritually mature people) of the church to pray over the sick person and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Praying makes sense, but why the oil?  And what does it mean to anoint with oil? Good questions. I’ll tell you that it is not what you see in modern day American churches, where we take a little oil from a vial and spot it on your forehead. It’s also not what the Catholic church does when they do the same thing except in several places all over your body. I’m not saying that doing that is wrong, but that’s not even close to what James is talking about.
The Greek actually says “pray over them after having rubbed them with oil.” This was a common practice for people who were sick, to literally rub most of their body with olive oil. This is what the Good Samaritan did to the man beaten and dying along the road. It was understood to have some medicinal benefits and would at the very least make someone feel better.
The Greek is further clarifying in that the term James uses in this phrase was a common use term for how to use oil rather than a sacred term. He used a word that meant more like oiling an engine rather than anointing someone.
So, James is not suggesting some kind of sacred anointing but rather a very practical help to someone not feeling very good.
Now let’s look at verse 15.
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 
If you leave off the sin part and just read this in English with no context, can you see how easy it would be to assume God’s word says you can guarantee healing if you just have enough faith? That would be nice, but we all know it’s not true. God does not heal everyone, and I think that suggesting that God’s failure to heal is somehow the fault of the sick person who just doesn’t have enough faith is actually quite cruel and also not in accordance with Scripture.
Scripture is clear that the amount of faith someone has is a gift from God and not something that we can just will into happening.
Romans 12:3
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
That is not to say we have zero control over our own faith. But the way we have more faith is not by just wanting more, it comes as we step out past our faith in obedience, and when God shows He is faithful, your faith grows. It turns head-belief into experiential-belief, so you not only trust God in your head but also in your heart.
And breaking this verse down into the Greek reveals a very different picture than the English and makes that whole point about how much faith you have irrelevant.
First, in the Greek, FAITH has the definite article, meaning it actually says “And the prayer offered in THE faith” and it also doesn’t include the word “offered”, so it literally says “And the prayer of THE faith” – meaning the big picture faith in Jesus Christ and all that that entails, including how Jesus made it clear that praying in His name is not like rubbing a genie lamp, but effectively submitting all requests to the will of God.
It could also be argued, based on the subsequent point about forgiveness of sin that this is a prayer of faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, because Jesus doesn’t just arbitrarily forgive someone’s sin because someone else prayed for them.  I think the Greek backs this up.
Next, where it says “will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.”, the Greek is completely different.
The Greek is: σώσει τὸν κάμνοντα καὶ ἐγερεῖ αὐτὸν ὁ Κύριος
If your eyes are glossing over, hang with me for just a bit longer and this will all come together.  Let’s take each word. You’re getting some serious bible study right now.
σώσει – is a form of σῴζω which is the verb most often translated as “to save” – as in “Confess with your mouth Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved.”
It can also mean restore, rescue, preserve.
τὸν κάμνοντα – τὸν is the definite article and means “the” as opposed to “a”, and κάμνοντα means weary to the point of sickness, exhausted. So, together it could mean the “the exhausted to the point of sickness one.
ἐγερεῖ – is a verb that means to raise up, arouse, awaken – often used in the “raised from the dead” statements.
αὐτὸν – means “him” – they don’t put their words in the same order we do.
ὁ Κύριος – means “the Lord”, meaning Jesus.
So, let’s put it all together…
And the prayer of the faith will save/restore/rescue the exhausted-to-the-point-of-sickness one and the Lord will raise, arouse, awaken him. If he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven. 
What does that really sound like to you? Healing some physical ailment or actually healing the ultimate ailment, the sinful heart after putting your faith in Jesus? It’s really the only way the whole sins forgiven part makes any sense. Because why would your sins be forgiven if you were praying for your broken foot to be healed?
Doesn’t this really echo the spirit of the words of Jesus when he said…
Matthew 11
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I believe James is not talking about physical ailments except those caused by the exhaustion of living with unconfessed sins. He’s talking about the restoration of souls. He’s talking about the rest Jesus is talking about.
Let’s read it again with our new glasses.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble (suffering hardships)? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick from spiritual and emotional exhaustion? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them having rubbed them with oil for refreshing in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of the faith will save/restore/rescue the exhausted-to-the-point-of-sickness one and the Lord will raise, arouse, awaken him. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
 
It’s saying take this broken and downtrodden person and bring them to the healer of their soul, because as John tells us in his first letter – if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
That is the ultimate healing. And I believe this is for both believers who have fallen into sin and non-believers who need the whole package. Either way, sin is ultimately a disease with only one cure: Jesus. If you are suffering under sin, beat down, weary to the point of being ill, then pray with someone spiritually mature and put your faith in Jesus and He will restore you. He will save you, and lift your sins right off of you! That is healing with eternal benefits!
Then James continues with what I believe is more of a directive to those already past this point, already saved and restored.
 
16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
Unconfessed sin will cause a believer to turn out like David. It grieves the Holy Spirit. It can literally make you ill. But in a family of believers we are here to help each other in a very real way, and when you can get into a relationship where you are close enough to confess your sins to each other, and hold each other accountable, then healing of your soul will be the result, and you will find that you can become more and more righteous in your living, meaning you are pleasing God by the way you live.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Because when you reach that level of spiritual maturity, your prayers won’t be guesses. A righteous person’s prayer is powerful and effective not because God listens to HIM/HER more, but because HE/SHE listens to GOD more, and thus knows what to pray.
What this verse does NOT suggest that dead people called saints can pray for you. They are dead. They can’t hear you. That doctrine is completely made up based on this one sentence.
And we don’t need saints because you and I actually CAN be that kind of righteous person, just like Elijah…
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. (meaning just like you and me) He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
It wasn’t like he prayed that on a whim. He sensed in his spirit that God wanted him to do that, and so He did and God answered as expected.
Prayer is not some kind of way to make God do what you want. It’s an act of cooperation with His will. And the closer you personally are to the center of his will by how you live, then it won’t be a mystery and your prayers will be what God wants you to pray, which He will be happy to answer.
Now James closes out his letter with something that I believe is not a new topic but tied directly into what we just talked about.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Talk about a wonderful thing to do for someone. Save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. This is, of course, referring to spiritual death, which is eternal separation from God – hell.
The phrase “wander from the truth” comes from a Greek word that is mostly translated as “be deceived”, so this passage could also be read: If one of you should be deceived away from the truth…if you were there on Wednesday night, this will mean something to you. If you missed it, you can watch/read it online. Look under the message notes for “Do Not Be Deceived”
James is saying that if you know someone who is deceived and wandering away from the truth back out into the world of lies – if you can bring them back, you will save them from eternal death!  You want to be a hero? That’s hero stuff.
But how do you do that?
You have to BE PERSONAL.
You have to get close enough with your brothers and sisters in Christ that you can start confessing your sins to each other and holding each other accountable and actually talking about the important things of faith and truth and life. Because if you are not doing that, then how will you ever know if someone is wandering away? Much less be able to bring them back? 
 
Or what if you are the one that wanders? If no one is close to you, then you may slip away never to return.
It’s called AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY. It’s called DOING LIFE TOGETHER. It’s called GETTING PERSONAL with each other.
We all have a tendency to live at arms length from everyone, even our closest friends. A lot of it comes from the setting we live in. Big city, military town. There’s always the high probability or even the guarantee that whoever you are friends with now will be gone in a few years, or you will. So, we avoid getting close. Because it’s hard to say goodbye. And so we keep everyone at arms length because a handshake is easier to let go of than a hug. And God forbid that you open your heart to someone.
But that’s exactly what James is implying here. Confess your sins to one another that you may be healed. Save a person from wandering from the truth. The only way that can happen is if we let each other in. Recognizing that if and when our paths must part, that our time together was not in vain, and we will again be together in the next life if not sooner.
But guess where that kind of closeness does NOT happen?
Here in the seats listening to me.
In the quick sprint to your cars when I’m done.
Or the duck and cover as you come in late.
It really doesn’t happen here at all.
It can begin in the conversations around the coffee and donuts before service.
And at the lunch table during our potlucks.
That’s still pretty surface, but at least it’s a start.
You know where else true connections with other believers do not happen?
At home in front of your TV.
Or staring at the screen on your phone.
It doesn’t happen in Facebook.
It doesn’t happen at the 15 events you have to shuttle your kids to all week.
It doesn’t happen at your workplace.
It doesn’t happen out of town every other week.
In fact, there are practically infinite places that Authentic Community does NOT happen.
But there is only one place that it does.
In the personal conversations you have with other believers in whatever setting you desire. The difference is the conversation. Instead of it being about earthly things that don’t matter. It’s about spiritual things that matter immensely. It’s where you open up to another human being and trust them with your baggage as they trust you with theirs. It’s where you get serious about your faith and the health of your soul and you trust God as you put down your guard.  Only there can you have this kind of relationship.  That’s why the Life Groups are so important. It’s a perfect place to cultivate a relationship like this. And every single one of us needs this desperately!
Is it hard – yes.  All the other places where you can’t get this are easy. The enemy keeps it that way.
It’s kind of like the wide gate and the narrow gate. Except in this case, the wide gate simply leads to loneliness and isolation. Surrounded by people but not a true friend in the world. The other leads to what God designed us for. True community.
And if there is one place where that kind of community can truly grow and even blossom, it’s in the Life Groups. If you are not in one now, you need to be. You need someone watching your back.
I think it’s a beautiful thing that James closes out his letter effectively urging us to live in such close community that we can actually save each other from straying.

So, here we are, now finally finished with James: How to Be the Church. It’s been a bit grueling I must admit. James is a hard hitting book and I didn’t soften it at all. But there is so much gold in there. I would argue that if you simply made a point of doing everything James says to do and stopping everything he condemns, you would have an amazing life!
But as I pointed out, it is not a checklist to follow. It is a litmus test to see how your faith is stacking up. If you are of the true faith, having made Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior, Master and King. If you have the Holy Spirit inside of you calling the shots then what James talks about should either be the picture of your life or what you are already feeling the need to strive for as the Holy Spirit whispers to you.
However if you find you are antagonistic toward this book and don’t really like me preaching it at you and you have no intention of paying it any heed. Then I would sadly say that despite what you claim, you do not have Christ inside of you. You are not a new creation. Because when Jesus changes you, he turns you into a person who wants to obey Him. If you have no desire to obey Him, then He is not your Lord.
But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Salvation is pretty simple, but it is not just a ticket to heaven. As I’ve explained many times, Salvation is you making Jesus your Lord, meaning you put your life in his hands to do with as He pleases. Which, as I’ve also taught, is a wonderful thing because his ways are way better than yours.
Will everyone pray with me?
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