As we take a two week break from James for Palm Sunday & Easter Sunday, it gives me an opportunity to make sure that a possible misunderstanding about the content of James is cleared up.
I have loved this series, and based on your feedback, it seems to be connecting with many of you as well.
We work very hard as a church to soak in the gospel. We try our best to not turn our hearts to something else... to something less. We really do believe that "the gospel is the craziest thing we have ever heard and it is true". But James is somewhat unique. He is not as concerned with defining the gospel as he is with putting it on display. He is showing what the gospel looks like in real life and, simultaneously, calling us Christians to live like that. He is primarily concerned with us living "whole" lives. He wants us to live gospel-integrated lives, not the fragmented, compartmentalized lives that are so common in this world.
So, what is the possible misunderstanding? Well, it has to do with me. I stand up there week after week trying to say what James is saying. I am trying to clarify the need for single-mindedness, for joy in trials, for saying no to temptation, for being slow to speak and quick to listen, for having our anger under control, for hearing the Word AND doing the Word, for remembering the Word, for being wise with our words, for loving the disadvantaged, for not playing favorites with people, for loving our neighbor as ourselves, for not playing favorites with God's laws and for showing mercy to all people. And, that is just the first chapter and a half!
Here is the problem: I struggle with many of the things that I just listed. Thankfully as I preach these texts God is humbling me and changing me, but I have a long way to go. It would be both dishonest and a critical failure if I were to intentionally or unintentionally hold myself up as the living example of the life James is talking about.
I am learning with you. My heart is convicted and broken on a weekly basis. I thank God for the evidence of change in me and in you over just these first 11 Sundays in James... but, I have far to go.
I do not preach it because I have mastered it. I preach it, because it is the Word of Life and we all need it so desperately need it.
I am glad the series has been well received but that only reminds me of a poem by the great Wendell Berry titled "A Warning to My Readers". It goes like this:
Do not think me gentle
because I speak in praise
of gentleness, or elegant
because I honor the grace
that keeps this world. I am
a man crude as any,
gross of speech, intolerant,
stubborn, angry, full
of fits and furies. That I
may have spoken well
at times, is not natural.
A wonder is what it is.
-- Wendell Berry