||the book ofjames
The book of James and the gospel of Matthew are the two most Jewish books of the New Testament. Many scholars believe evidence suggests there were actually written versions of these book in either Hebrew or Aramaic that were later translated into Greek. They were certainly written to Jews who shared the same worldview and language of the author. If that's true, then these books give a uniquely clear view into the teachings of Jesus as his first hearers would have understood them. But we'll onlly see through this window clearly if we look with Hebrew eyes. Here's a look at James through Hebrew eyes, and for a look at Matthew, see the Sermon on the Mount series above.
just crazy enough
dave brisbin | 12.04.11
First message in a series on the book of James. One of my favorite, and I believe most important, books of the New Testament is the book of James. Along with Matthew, it is the most Jewish book of the NT, and along with the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, forms the crux of all of Jesus' teaching. If you know well the Sermon and James, you've got the essence--the rest is commentary--good commentary, of course... So this message is the first in a series to cover the book of James from a Hebrew point of view. Who was James? Why should we listen carefully to what he has to say? When he opens this letter telling us to count it all joy when we are faced with difficulties and hardships in life, what is he trying to tell us? You'd have to be crazy to actually take pleasure in the painful circumstance in your life, wouldn't you? James, as a good Jew, is fully involved in the herenow of this life and our faith as a practical function of this herenow life. As Scott Peck has written, "Life is difficult"...but once we accept that fact, it is no longer difficult. James is telling us that coming to terms with reality and life as they are and not as we wish them to be is where the joy begins. A new study has shown that certain mental illnesses, especially mania and depression, can actually prepare people for intensely creative pursuits and for leadership in time of crisis. The flood of pure ideas, the compassion, empathy, and realism that these conditions present create abilities not found in "normal" people. In dealing with the difficulties life poses, an unexpectedly positive result occurs, which can always be counted as joy. We don't have to be crazy to become complete and mature, we just have to be crazy enough to see the process for what it is.
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endurance and effect
dave brisbin | 12.11.11
Second message in the James series, we're still in the first verses of the first chapter. You may have heard the axiom that in trying to get a message across to people, you first tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That first section, giving the overview and most importantly, the concrete benefits of the material to follow is an effective way to lengthen attention spans as the message unfolds. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does exactly this: with the Beatitudes and the passage on salt and light that follows, he gives us a picture of the finished product--what the life of a person living in Kingdom looks like from the inside out. The first verses of James essentially do the same. Beginning with the overall theme of endurance, not merely persevering through life's difficulties, not merely accepting their inevitability, but actually befriending them--counting them as joy--is our goal, because they are the very means of the effect of Kingdom on our lives. Grateful acceptance produces endurance which produces wisdom, freedom from doubt and temptation, and the reward of the awareness of true Presence in our herenow moments. But even these effects need to be viewed through the lens of the Hebrew mindset to fully understand what it is our endurance is producing--and continue to count it all joy.
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gardeners and shepherds
dave brisbin | 1.1.12
Third message in the James series: on New Year's Day, coming to the completion of our annual cycle of months, we look at James' ongoing theme of endurance through life's challenges. James piles on the imagery as he says we are blessed when we persevere under trial--there are crowns of life to be won...and we in our legal, western minds imagine some sort of cosmic athletic event where we run the race gritting our teeth and fighting our way to the reward beyond the finish line. Then James tells us to patiently endure as the gardener, the farmer, nurtures and waits on soil and seed, for the early and late Judean rains to do their seasonal work. And we get a very different picture. Rather than the athlete or the warrior grinding through the contest, there is the image of the gardener patiently preparing soil, planting, and tending--always with an eye toward sky and coming weather. It's not a battle, contest, or even an event, but a cyclical process always leaning toward God's wisdom and unity and only fulfilled in its due course. Jesus tells us in John 10 there is no other way, no shortcuts no workarounds, portraying himself as the door to the sheepfold--the only way to pasture and fulfillment. Jesus is the door and the way, but Door and Way are a person and a relationship. Not a contest or battle. And to travel Jesus' Way is to live right past life's contests and battles in the ongoing, patient endurance of gardeners and shepherds.
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dave brisbin | 1.15.12
Fourth message in the James series: just as Jesus does in Matthew 7 toward the end of Sermon on the Mount , James launches us into a discussion of judging others. Avoiding judging others based on appearance is James' particular spin, but in the backstory is Jesus reminding us that to judge another is to submit to the same form of judgment ourselves. Not that God will someday judge us by such standards, but that our standards have already created a mindset, a worldview, in which we must live herenow--one that sees others as different, less than, separate from ourselves. Once we have permitted ourselves to be separated: to feel the condescension, contempt, disgust, or simple indifference to another--that is the quality of life and relationship we must endure. James sounds harsh in his depiction of our responsibility to fulfill the law, but only because we rarely understand the full implications of the law of liberty to which he refers. The Law was never intended to be a burden, a crushing obligation to obey, but a warm guidance to freedom from all the neurosis to which we are prone. God doesn't judge as we judge--according to sets of rules and standards. There is a merciful impartiality to God's judgment that admits no favorites even while discerning quality of character for better or worse. To begin to practice such merciful impartiality with each other herenow gives us the only glimpse of God's standards of judging and loving that we'll ever get.
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word, works, faith, freedom
dave brisbin | 1.22.12
Fifth message in the James series: James is talking about being doers of the Word and not merely hearers--that to hear only and not do is like a man who sees his reflection in a mirror then walks off and forgets what he looks like. He then goes on talking about a perfect Law of Liberty, that faith without works is dead, that we can only say that faith exists at all in the presence of works--and we hear with our Western ears a whole lot more things we need to do and obey and strive to accomplish...exhausting. But the Word of God--ha-davar in Hebrew--is not a rule or set of commandments, but like God's will, name, and kingdom, is a reflection of all God is: his essence, character, desire, deepest purpose. Doing God's Word is not obedience as we think of that term, but a becoming one with God's desire and delight, a vibrating at God's frequency from inside out. James can talk of a Law of Liberty only because he has experienced the freedom of graduating from mere obedience to actually desiring what God also desires so deeply that he can't help but act as God acts. God's spirit is always described in motion, as breath and wind: to have faith in God, to be one with him, is to be in motion as well. James is trying to tell us that we don't do works to prove faith, but when our wagon is hitched to God, we are the works themselves just as God is the Word. Law is liberty and not obedience at just the moment we become so completely filled with the Law that we forget the rules.
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choosing as if
dave brisbin | 1.29.12
Sixth message in the James series: now James begins talking about the tongue with some brilliant and colorful metaphors to bring his point home. Just as the bit in the horse's mouth can turn the whole animal, as the tiny rudder of a great ship turns the ship, as a single spark can ignite a wildfire, the tongue exerts an influence for better or worse completely disproportionate to its small size. If we're not careful, we'll start hearing rules again--things we need to say or refrain from saying in order to be good followers of Jesus' Way. But Jesus tells us that it's not what goes into the mouth that defiles us, it's what comes out, and we are reminded that our tongue, the words we use, reveal what is already there in our heart of hearts. But what if that is exactly what we want to change? When James tells us that fig trees won't produce olives and salt water won't produce fresh, and that the seeds of unity are sown in peace by those who make peace--he's telling us that the means we use must have the same quality as the ends we seek. We can't work for unity with out first being unified. We can't work for peace in a frantic, obsessive, or even violent flurry of activity. We can't use fear to drive us into the arms of God's love. Like breeds like. Fear breeds more fear and never love. Is this a catch 22? How do we work for any change before it exists in our hearts? By acting as if...choosing as if it already does. A friend of mine is not a dog person and resents the big dog that came with her new husband. One day she decides to simply bath the dog in the shower, getting in and getting wet with it and feeling its pleasure in the suds. The dog follows her everywhere now, and her resentment subsides in budding new relationship. Speaking as if, choosing as if, living as if are the first steps to making it so.
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falling in kingdom
dave brisbin | 2.5.12
Seventh in the James series: James now gets to his famous line, you have not because you ask not. For us, images form of a formula for answered prayer, of reliably getting the things we need simply by asking in the proper manner--with proper motives. Once again, it's so easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that such things are governed by formulas or rules at all: that we can tack in Jesus' name at the end of a prayer and think that fulfills the requirement for effective petition. The word name in Hebrew is shem, which really means character, reputation, essence. To pray in Jesus' shem is to literally pray in his character and essence. That's proper motive... To pray as Jesus would pray, by extension as the Father would pray is the definition of answered prayer. And what is that character and essence? James tells us: submit to God, resist evil, draw near to God, cleanse hands, purify heart, mourn--identify with the pain of others, humble yourselves. It's a list that mirrors the attributes of a person living in Kingdom that Jesus lays out in the Beatitudes (Mt 5). Another list of rules to follow? That would completely miss the point. Living in Kingdom is like falling in love--you can't strive to do it, you just fall into it, uncontrollably at times. We have not because we ask not--but the asking is not a sweaty petition, but a falling into the character and essence, the shem of Kingdom. When we can see Kingdom as a lover to embrace rather than a Law to obey, we'll begin to ask with right motive.
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dave brisbin | 2.19.12
Eighth and final message in the James series: extending our falling metaphor, James warns us again that judging our brothers and sisters violates the law precisely because judging others is really a judging of the Law itself and ultimately the Lawgiver himself as being inadequate--that we must intervene in God's work. Only pride assumes such a position and violation, and James reminds us that God resists the proud. We imagine God withholding himself from a prideful person, but that is not God's shem--his essence and character. God never withholds himself--never...but a person's pride will also never allow him or her to fall into the presence of God that is never withheld, so the result is the same. James goes further saying that we arrogantly state our intentions in life: that tomorrow we will go to such and such town and do such and such business and make our profit--all while missing our own shem--that we are all desperately dependent and have no idea whether our very lives will extend even as far as tomorrow. James' way mirrors Jesus' Way of course and begins with the humble acceptance of life on its own terms. When we accept our vulnerability and dependence, the foundation has been laid for real change--to be born again. This Way is literally the inversion of all basic human drives: we experience pleasure by giving pleasure to others; we realize power by humbly submitting and empowering others, we find meaning only in losing our sense of self in deep connection with others. James and Jesus are telling us that life is like freefall. Since the moment of our birth, we've been freefalling toward the ground of our death. We're going to hit the ground one way or another, and our only choice in the matter is not whether to jump, but whether to enjoy the ride. Knowing the God into whose embrace we're falling makes all the difference.
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