This passage is the first of a number of “tests” James offers to help us determine the authenticity of our faith in Jesus. James says that our relationship to the poor is one of the primary ways we are to follow Jesus. But he goes much farther than simply commanding Christians to care for the weak and the poor (although he certainly does that). James helps us to understand what needs to happen in our own hearts in order to make us people of true justice and mercy.
The book of James is about how to do life as a follower of Jesus. But following Jesus doesn’t fit into our typical religious categories. Christianity is famously a religion of grace. We are not saved by what we do, but what God has done for us. That means, on the one hand, that Christianity is not primarily a check list of do’s and don’ts. But on the other hand, that grace actually brings an even stronger call to obedience in our lives. How? Join us as we explore this passage.
The book of James is all about how to do life as a follower of Jesus. That makes it one of the most practical books in the Bible. That practicality shows up in the opening passage, which is all about how to get ready for suffering. James (and the whole Bible) is very realistic about life, and especially life as a Christ-follower. He says that if you become a Christian, you should expect your life to get harder in many ways. This passage helps us to get ready for the reality of suffering by giving us a vision for God’s purposes in the midst of it.
Tim Keller (best-selling author and pastor emeritus at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC) has called this psalm “the key to handling life.” In other words, no matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’re experiencing, no matter what you’re facing, this psalm gives you the resources you need to handle it. That’s an impressive claim, and this week, we take a look at how this psalm more than lives up to it.
Petition is a formal way of talking about asking God for our deepest needs. It’s the most basic of prayers, but it’s also fraught with challenges, the biggest one being our fear that God will not give us what we ask, or even worse, that he will ignore us. Many people have had their hearts broken or lost their faith in God precisely because of this. This psalm has much to teach us, not just about how to go about asking God for our needs, but the deeper heart dynamics that must be resolved if we’re truly going to find satisfaction for our desires.
Facing the truth about ourselves only takes us half way in the pursuit of a transformed life. It’s one thing to see what needs to change. It’s another thing to actually experience change. What will accomplish it? In this famous psalm, David talks about the “one thing” he was asking and seeking from God. What is it, and how does it change us? Join us for this week’s sermon in our ongoing series.
Personal transformation is a hot topic in our world. Books, conferences, life coaches, YouTube videos, and many other places offer us counsel on how to live a transformed life. This famous prayer shows us one of the most essential, but also perhaps the most repellant ingredients: repentance. Is it just beating yourself up and feeling bad about yourself, or is it something else, something deeper, and therefore more transformative than we suspect? This psalm gives us the answers.
Psalm 137 is one of the most shocking and controversial Psalms in the whole Bible. It ends with a dark line, “Blessed is the one who dashes your little ones against the rocks.” This Psalm invites us into the frightening emotion of wrath. We are often resistant to feeling wrath. But if we are willing to take the time to listen to this uncomfortable Psalm, we might find that wrath is not always a bad thing.
The Psalms give us a way of working through the various emotions and experiences of our lives that is utterly unique. This is especially true when it comes to our darker, more difficult emotions: fear, anger, guilt, shame, sorrow, grief, etc. Instead of stuffing and denying them (which many traditional and religious approaches advocate), or instead of dumping them and bowing down to them (which secular culture advocates), the psalms tells us: pray your feelings. This psalm is all about tears and sorrow, and if we follow its lead, we can find a way through the most painful experiences in life that leads us to a life of greater joy and fruitfulness.
Fear is one of the first emotions we feel. And it continues throughout our lives to be one of the most basic, primal, and consistent. What do we do with it? Prayer often begins in trouble, but inevitably leads us closer to God himself. But that doesn’t mean we no longer need to bring our troubles to God! On the contrary, the closer we grow to him, the more we can actually bring our greatest troubles to him. This week, we look at how the Psalms train us to bring our fears to God in prayer.
Many people have noticed that the “prayer book of the Bible” does not actually begin with a prayer. Psalm 1 is a meditation on meditation, and it shows us that we need a gateway or bridge to help us detox from our high-stimulus world and enter into prayer. Unless we spend time listening to God through his word before entering into prayer, we run the risk of projecting our “truth” onto God, rather than his Truth penetrating and transforming us. Join us this week as we continue our journey through Psalms: The School of Prayer.
Recent research overwhelmingly indicates that our world is becoming more religious, not less. Even though there are lower reported levels of formal religious participation in our country, human beings are just as spiritually thirsty as they’ve ever been. Spirituality is in vogue (witness the boom in interest in mindfulness meditation), and prayer is one of the main ways spiritual connection has been sought over the centuries. But in order to know what prayer is, and how to do it, you need a teacher. Psalms is the Bible’s Prayer Book. Over the next several weeks we will learn to pray using this ancient resource. This week we begin with some of the basics. Join us as we attend the School of Prayer!
Have you ever felt an emotional low after Easter? Have you ever wondered how we are supposed to live as Christians in a world that has not been finally freed from all sin and death? John addresses these questions in his first letter. He tells us that God has lovingly, and miraculously made us His children. So therefore, we ought not to act like children of the devil, rather we ought to live like children of God.
Of all the questions and objections to faith, perhaps the least common is the question of the resurrection. But it should be the biggest question! If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, none of the other questions matter. But if Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, it is the only question that truly matters. Especially because the resurrection gives us a hope for our lives and the world that nothing else can give us, and nothing else can take away. How? Join us as we conclude this series on “The Questions of God.”
Maybe the biggest objection to belief in God is the problem of evil and suffering. Certainly it is the most personal and visceral. Amazingly, though, the Bible itself doesn’t shy away from this question. In fact, it tackles it head on in numerous places. This passage is one of the most famous stories in the ministry of Jesus, and also one of the best places to look in order to find out how the Bible engages our minds, and impacts our hearts, in this most difficult of questions.
A big objection to Christianity is its exclusivity. People ask, “How can Christians say that Jesus is the only way? That seems like the height of arrogance, intolerance, and narrow-mindedness. Religious truth claims like that inevitably lead to superiority, oppression, division, and violence.” In this passage, Jesus himself deals with this objection, because Jesus himself is the source of the claim. In doing so, he shows how the gospel is the only approach to life that has the ability to work against our innate tendencies towards superiority and hostility toward people who differ from us.
One of the most common objections to Christianity is the behavior of Christians themselves. The record of the church throughout history has been full of hypocrisy, injustice, and oppression. People rightly ask, “How can I put my faith in something that has such a horrible record of injustice?” The first thing we must say to this is, “It’s true.” But is that all there is to say? This passage from the letter of James gives us a fascinating insight not just into the problem of hypocrisy in the church, but it’s counter-intuitive and life-changing solution.
The doctrine of hell is probably the single most repellant and difficult doctrine in Christianity. Many people try to soften it, or get rid of it all together. The problem is that the person who talked more about hell, and gave us more information about hell, is Jesus himself. Apparently, Jesus did not have any problem holding together a God of love with a God of judgment. In fact, when we see what Jesus is really teaching us about hell, we learn that the only way you can have a God of love is if you’re willing to allow that God also to be a God of judgment. How? Join us and find out in this week’s episode.
One of the big questions that comes up when you start talking about Jesus in particular is the question of the Bible. Can you trust it? Is it a reliable source of information?Many people today would say, “No, it’s not reliable.” They would say, “The Bible was written so many years after Jesus lived, and has been translated and re-translated so many times, that there’s no way any of us can know who Jesus really was, or what he really said and did.”
You can see how important this question is. Because the Bible is the foundation for Christian belief and practice. If it’s true and reliable, then we have a trustworthy guide. But if it’s not, if it’s just a bunch of myths and legends, then there’s no way to know the truth about Jesus.
The question of God’s existence is a foundational question, and the way you answer it has profound implications for every other area of your life. One of the problems, however, is that God’s existence is not the kind of thing that can be proven (or disproven) irrefutably. But that doesn’t mean it is an exercise in blind (i.e. irrational) faith. The world is full of clues. In fact, when we look inside our own minds and hearts, we find powerfully compelling evidence for the existence of God. The question is not whether there is evidence. The question is: What explanation makes best sense of the evidence?