Words & Rudders & Bridles

Words & Rudders & Bridles

James 3:1-12 I love words. My days revolve around words. When I wake up, I read the Word and then journal some of my own words in response. Then I spend much of my day using words to talk to people, and when there aren’t any people around, I’m prone to talk to myself. I have fun playing with word choice when I write sermons and blogs and articles. I’m even using words right now! I love words! And boy – do I hate words. Maybe “hate” is too strong – but words are dangerous, aren’t they? They fly out of our mouths with far too little regulation. They show our hands, betray our poker faces. They get misinterpreted. We go to bed at night or wake up in the morning thinking, “Why did I say that?” Words: So good; so harmful. James knows that the danger is real. He says it like this: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (James 3:5-6). And if that doesn’t convince you of the imminent danger, listen to Smokey Bear. There’s a reason Smokey wants us to be so concerned about just a little spark: it can turn into an out-of-control blaze. Only YOU can prevent wildfires; only YOU can prevent gossip or slander or a betrayed confidence. We have to be constantly vigilant, dousing our campfires and holding our tongues. But that’s not all. A “wildfire” implies damage done out there – outside of ourselves. But words do inward damage, too. What we say shapes who we are and how we...
Faith and Works

Faith and Works

James 2:14-26 If you grow up in church – like I did – you develop a kind of second-sense for answering church questions.  When the Sunday School teacher asks about how to treat people, go to the greatest commandment – “treat others as you’d want to be treated.”  When the pastor asks a question during the children’s sermon, the answer is probably, “Jesus.”  But no matter how much time we’ve spent listening to sermons or Sunday School lessons, some questions still stump us.  Questions like: “Can faith save you?” (James 2:14). Even with all my church experience, this one leaves me raising an eyebrow.  The answer seems like it should be “Yes.”  Many of Paul’s letters are spent arguing for the power of faith.  Take Ephesians 2:8-9, for example:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Can faith save you?  “Yes!” …Right? The way James is asking it, I’m not so sure “Yes” is the answer he’s looking for. This deserves a closer look. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say that you have faith but do not have works?  Can faith save you?” (James 2:14). Before he gives us a chance to answer these questions, James tells a short story.  Here in Cherokee County it might go like this:  It’s the dead of winter and a student at Andrews Middle is without a coat.  He comes to class in short sleeves, his bare arms red from the wind.  To...
Trials and Perseverance

Trials and Perseverance

James 1:2-8 If you’ve ever gone through a hard time (and who hasn’t), then you’ve probably heard one or more of the following: “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” “Rain on your wedding day is good luck.” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “When one door closes, another opens.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” We have dozens of sayings like this, all designed to find the positive in a negative situation.  Some of them are silly (Why would a rainy wedding be good luck?).  Some of them are inspiring (Keep running, team – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!).  A few are built on shaky theology (If everything happens for a reason, does that imply that God is responsible for evil?  And if God doesn’t give you more than you can handle, well, it seems I can handle a whole lot more than I want to). These expressions have their place.  It helps to have a good pep talk when we’re down.  But when a really serious challenge comes up, these same phrases can turn to bitter medicine.  When my “cloud” is a category five hurricane, it doesn’t help to know that there’s a silver lining out there somewhere.  When I’m buried under a crushing pile of “lemons,” don’t talk to me about lemonade. For that reason, I have mixed feelings about these expressions.  They’re nice and all… but when things are really bad, I need something more. I need James 1:2-3. James 1:2-3 has long been one of my...