As we wrap up the month of September we have a video lesson series walking through the book of James, one chapter at a time. The final video will post next week and will be added to this article at that time. We hope and pray this material blesses your life and enriches your faith!
James 5 coming next week! Sorry I didn’t get it done before the month was over! Thanks for watching!
This summer the university announced that internationally renowned archaeology scholars Steven Ortiz and Tom Davis founded the Lanier Center for Archaeology at Lipscomb University. The center will offer academic programs and field research projects as well as bring extensive resources and artifacts to Lipscomb University.
Housed in Lipscomb’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the Lanier Center for Archaeology is made possible through the generosity of Becky and Mark Lanier, J.D. Mark Lanier is a member of the Lipscomb Board of Trustees and a 1981 Lipscomb graduate. The Laniers are known for their passion for theology and archaeology, and are ardent supporters of this work. They also founded the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas.
The virtual reception, hosted by Scott Sager, vice president for church services, will include interviews with Ortiz, Davis and Lanier along with conversation about the center’s academic programs and its current active projects.
The Lanier Center for Archaeology plans to offer a Doctor of Philosophy in Archaeology of the Ancient Near East and a Master of Arts in Archaeology and Biblical Studies beginning in January 2021, pending accreditation approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASCOC). In addition, the center will feature archaeological research libraries, an extensive artifact study collection and a ceramic restoration lab.
The mission of the Lanier Center for Archaeology is to conduct archaeological research. The focus of this research is primarily archaeology of the biblical world. Naturally, this expands to focus on the archaeology of the Ancient Near East and the eastern Mediterranean world of the first millennium AD. To carry out its mission, the center will engage in field research projects, including four active projects: Tel Gezer excavation and publication project in Israel, Kourion Urban Space project in Cyprus, Karnak epigraphic survey in Egypt and the Tel Burna excavation project in Israel.
Ortiz is a professor of archaeology and director of the Lanier Center. He was formerly director of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he was professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds. He received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Arizona. He is the principal investigator and co-director of the Tel Gezer Excavation Project and is now a senior staff member at Tel Burna. He has been a senior staff member at Tel Zeitah, Ekron, Jerusalem-Ketef Hinnom, Tell el-Hamma and Lachish. Ortiz’s research and publications focus on the archaeology of David and Solomon, Iron Age I and II transition, and the border relations between Judah and Philistia.
Davis is associate director of the center. He has 40 years of experience as an archaeologist, working extensively in Cyprus, the Near East, Egypt, Central Asia and the United States. He has held positions across the spectrum of archaeology. He has been a professor of archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; an assistant vice president of a professional archaeology company in the U.S., and most significantly, the director of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) in Nicosia, Cyprus, one of the premier archaeological research centers in the Eastern Mediterranean. Davis currently directs the Kourion Urban Space Project (KUSP) at the early Christian site of Kourion, Cyprus. He also serves as project co-director and field director of the Ilyn Balik Expedition, Kazakhstan; and as project coordinator for the Recordation Project of the West Wall of the Cour de la Cachette in the Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt.
If there was ever a time of people fighting and quarreling it is today – mostly online, far less in person. It is so tempting to think that the fights we engage in with people are the other person’s fault – or they made us angry…if only they hadn’t said that…but what about the fact that the fight or argument intrigues us enough to dive in and get in the mud with the other person? What does that say about our own inner intentions, thoughts, and appetites? I think it says a lot and that often goes unchecked.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
We need to own our own desires. No one makes you angry. You allow their emotions to bleed over into yours. That’s called enmeshment. It is emotional immaturity to be enmeshed with strangers…to desire approval or agreement from people you don’t even know, so much so you go out of control. No one forces you into an online or in person disagreement. There is something intriguing about a train wreck that is hard to look away from. We must keep our own evil impulses in check.
Why do people argue online? What is it they want? Or as Doctor Phil used to ask, “What’s in it for you?” Behavior is typically functional. It isn’t random. It has a purpose and on some level, even the craziest behavior “works” for people. Maybe you have a deep desire to want to be proven right and anyone who disagrees proven wrong. Is it possible to covet correctness? I believe it is possible…not only possible…prevalent.
Instead of going to war over something with strangers, why not ask God to fill us? Why not ask God to take those empty places in our life and fill them with goodness – maybe it is an approval gap – ask God to help us find our approval need met only by Him! Maybe it is the deep need to be correct because we battle with insecurity and having our position challenged only makes us feel less than – pray and ask God to be sufficient for you. Maybe then we can understand our role in the system that is the online argument. They don’t happen in a vacuum and no, it isn’t always the other person whose intentions are impure. We must own that part that is ours to own. Only then can we find a path to wholeness. Only then can we see a train wreck of a conversation and freely move on without a hint of anxiety over what we missed or that they might think less of you.
Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Mark 8:36-37, NIV). I like the way Bob Dylan paraphrased it in his song Masters of War: “And I think you will find when your death takes its toll, that all the money you made will never buy back your soul.” There is nothing we can exchange for our souls. No amount of goods, power, services, or money can secure them. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can.
Yet here we find ourselves in the year 2020. As a people, the Church is scrambling for relevancy in post-Christian America. We are jockeying for power to maintain a kind of Christian status quo in the United States. We are shouting to still be heard over all the noise in our nation.
I certainly understand it. We’ve held a sort of “special” place in the United States. Just a few decades ago almost everyone went to church. We were a “Christian” nation if you will. I think collectively, we are grieving our loss of privilege and have begun to draw lines in the sand. We are now the minority, and in an effort to be in control, we are squandering the very thing that matters in pursuit of power: our soul.
Let me be candid. We have been duped. We believed that good people who professed to be Christian should be put into power to preserve our way of life. We believed that those people really did believe in Christ and let Him transform their hearts. Some genuinely did. We believed that those people were pro-life. Some were. We believed these people of power cared about us and our faith. Maybe some still do. But our faith has been hijacked.
Our faith has been commandeered by people that hold up Bibles in front of recently tear-gassed churches for a photo op. They scream against abortion while dropping bombs on innocent civilians on the other side of the planet. They create a system in which the poor stay poor while the rich get richer. They perpetuate a justice system that sides with the person with the most money or the right color skin. In the wealthiest country in the world, people are starving.
Are we siding with people who under the guise of “fairness” would take what another has earned and forcibly give it to another? Are we siding with people who believe it is okay to take the life of a baby in utero under the charade of “choice?” Has life really become all about convenience? Are we part of the cancel culture that indiscriminately obliterates anything contrary to popular opinion?
Are we siding with people who routinely marginalize women, shut out minorities, are blatantly racist, and who are rotten from the inside out? Scripture says they “are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain” (Is. 56:11, NIV).
If we find ourselves siding with any one of those things, then my brothers and sisters, we are in trouble. We say things like, “I don’t agree with everything that person stands for, but they are the lesser of two evils.” I disagree. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Of two evils, choose neither.” Evil is still evil. There is no “lesser evil.”
So, what are we to do? Throw up our hands and walk away? Stop voting? Step out of politics? No. However, I think a deep look into our priorities and whom we support is in order. We just might find we have been worshiping on the altar of nationalism. In creating a dynamic where we are dividing churches over political parties, we have effectively begun to kill the witness of the American church. Worst of all, we’re hurting each other.
My brothers and sisters, we have gone the way of ancient Israel, demanding an earthly ruler who will save us. Instead of the Good Shepherd leading us to pasture, we’d rather be corralled by a human authority. Rather than be led by the Spirit, we’d rather play games with the “principalities and powers of this dark world” so long as we can remain comfortable and “at ease in Zion.”
Instead of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God we have turned to partisan politics to feel validated and safe from the encroaching “liberals, socialists, right-wingers, and communists.” We “went a whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them” (Judges 2:17, KJV). Those gods are the gods “Republican” and “Democrat.”
What’s worse is that a watching world sees us biting and devouring each other on social media about these things. We have turned into an “Us vs. Them” culture and church. We must change. We must repent. We must turn back to God! Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).
The world will not know you’re a Christian by your political affiliation. They will not know you’re a Christian by where you live. They will not know you’re a Christian by how loud you are about your opinions. They will only know that we Christ-followers by how we love.
I’m tired of politicians abusing my faith to get votes. I’m weary of a system that tells me what I want to hear and then does the exact opposite. No, Washington, D.C., you may not use my faith to further your agenda anymore. I’m a Christian. I follow Jesus. I am not of this world. I will non-violently resist when you conflict with my God. Do what you will, but I will not bow down any longer.
I understand the repercussions of making such statements. I’ve thought long and hard about it – believe me. We must wake up, brothers and sisters. We are heading down a dreadful path. We are about to lose our collective souls.
Jesus stood face-to-face with the Empire and declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36, NIV). Kings and rulers will all die. Nations will fall. But the Kingdom of God reigns forever. Stop playing the games of this world and its authorities. You are subject to a higher law – the law of Christ. Let us not gain the whole world and lose our souls.
One of the most radical texts in the Bible is one we Christians seemingly do not really believe. This text is not in Paul though it is as radical as anything he ever wrote. The text has a two fold thrust and both tend to not be believed.
Believing, our author insists, something is not determined by whether we claim to believe it or have an intellectual idea of it. Believing something is determined by how we live it.
The text is actually in the Epistle of James, that little Epistle by our Lord’s brother. Most Protestants know it for one, half understood, text in chapter 2, that says something about faith and works and the like. But right smack in the middle of that very context is our revolutionary text. The first part of the text says,
“For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy …” (James 2.13)
Of course, James is channeling his big brother on this point. Jesus did say judgment without mercy will be directed towards those who do not “dish out mercy.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5.7)
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6.14-15)
“For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Mt 7.2; see the Parable of the Wicked Servant, Mt 18.21-35).
Mercy and Judgment, Judgment and Mercy are intimately connected. Those who dish out judgment James – and Jesus – says will reap judgment.
Where is it?
From the way a lot of us live, it is clearly evident we do not believe this text. Christians are known for many things in our world, but a reputation for dishing out mercy is not one of them. But we do seem to have a reputation for dishing out judgment.
Are we merciful toward the divorced? A preacher friend of mine once said it is easier to commit murder, be thrown in jail, come out with a “testimony” and be received by the brotherhood than get a divorce! … was he wrong?
Are we merciful to gays? Based on what we see we have to confess that “merciful” is not the first word that comes to mind.
Are we merciful to the those “out there?” Are our sins safer sins than theirs?
Are we merciful to the homeless?
Are we merciful to Aliens?
Are we merciful to Muslims?
Are we merciful to those created in the image of God?
Are we merciful to each other?
Do we not routinely “tar and feather” one another? Do we not suddenly divorce the elders or the preacher or the family of God because some one did not jump when we demanded they do so? Would anyone reading most of our online conversations come away and say “Wow, what beautiful mercy can be found here?”
Perhaps we are like Commodus in the classic movie Gladiator. After destroying a human, but leaving a pulse, we get in their face and scream, “Am I not merciful!!!”
Triumph over Judgment
The first line in James’s inspired word, is a nuclear bomb. Mercy is not an idea. Mercy is not a notion. Mercy is not simply one more doctrine to assent to. Mercy is not reduced to hymnody.
Mercy is an action that we live. Mercy is done. Mercy is a weightier matter of the Torah of God. When we come to mercy we have reached the true depths of God’s torah. There is heaviness when it comes to mercy. On at least two occasions James’s brother scolded those who thought they had mastered the depth of God’s Word with the words
“Go learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9.13)
“If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would have not condemned the guiltless” (Mt 12.7)
The reason that mercy is the heaviness of the Torah, the reason that mercy is the weighty part of the Torah, is because the whole point of the Torah is mercy! Not condemnation. Hosea (6.6) understood this. Jesus understood this. James, as Jesus said to do, went and learned it. Thus he writes,
“Mercy TRIUMPHS over judgment.”
James makes this statement based on the character of God, not nature of humanity. Nothing in Paul is more radical than this. Over and over in the Hebrew Bible, the Creator God subverts the adage of “you reap what you sow!” Our self-inflicted death is not the end of the story. MERCY triumphs over judgment at every point in the Hebrew Bible. Each word merits prayerful meditation.
Mercy Triumphs OVER Judgement
Perhaps, no one understood the existential need for mercy over of judgment more than James, the brother of Jesus. James grew up in the same home as Jesus. He rubbed shoulders with Jesus, ate with Jesus, played with Jesus … and he did not believe in Jesus.
The Gospel of John records explicitly that Jesus’s immediate family did not believe in him. His brothers, perhaps with a nod to the Joseph story in Genesis, even mock Jesus. The brothers mock Jesus, telling him he needed to be at the Festival of Booths so he could display his works, “for anyone who wants to be well known does not act in secret” (John 7.4). Then the Gospel writer declares forthrightly, “For even his brothers did not believe in him” (John 7.5).
James needed mercy. He received it!
We have received mercy. We have received everything. We practice mercy because we receive mercy.
James, it seems to me, is making a statement regarding how we treat one another. In the context we are all transgressors (2.8-12). How do we treat other transgressors? Does it reflect how God has treated us who are also transgressors? So James states,
“So speak and ACT as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty” (2.12)
What law is that? Love your neighbor as yourself (James cites the Torah of God in Leviticus 19.18 referring to it in 2.8 and 1.25). If we speak and act according to this law then we will be merciful. We break the law of God when we fail to dish out mercy.
Do we believe James 2.13? If we did then how we often treat people, both Christians and non-Christians, would change drastically.
Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment. Let’s start extravagantly dishing it out.
If a title like that, about a subject fraught with angst, anger, heartache, frustration, and loss doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.
Years ago, in what seems another lifetime, I worked under an elder who was a highly trained and successful psychologist. In meetings and conversations, he occasionally referred to a medical condition called JPN.
Truthfully, I was often intimidated by this man and prone to nod and smile as if I knew exactly what he was talking about. Meanwhile, I ginned up a fierce search of what this particular malady was with absolutely no luck in the answers department.
Eventually, in a moment of confusion, I managed to work up the nerve to ask exactly what JPN was. To my humiliation, the room erupted in laughter…
JPN? Just Plain Nuts!
If I were you and had no clue what could possibly be meant by suggesting or questioning the idea of pandemics are wonderful, I’d be inclined to pass on an official diagnosis: Just Plain Nuts!
But if you can get past your predisposition to consider me JPN, I’d like you to think about it.
I recognize that people we love and care for have been gravely ill and some have died from this terrible scourge. Please don’t hear me talking about this pandemic in a way that lightens or somehow lessens your grief and agony. In fact, as I write about this, it’s from a different place that looks at the disruptions we have faced and how we have dealt with them.
Like many others, I have tried to take this pandemic very seriously:
Wearing a mask
Being considerate of those at a higher risk
Not judging those who are legitimately fearful of this disease and its consequences
Not judging those who see it as far less serious
And grieving with those whose lives have been altered forever by death and other consequences.
Not knowing the future and what this pandemic yet has in store is difficult. And as much as I’d like to know what lies ahead, I am reminded anew of James’ words in 4:13-17…
“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So, it is sin to know the good and yet not do it.” (CSB17)
Personally, I need to be reminded that I’m not in control of what life brings. And, I need to be reminded that I am prone to an arrogance that says I can control my life and the lives of others.
So, what do we do with a time such as this? Beyond learning how to control our actions and reactions, what more do we need to see?
Over the years, I have had a love/ hate relationship with Paul’s words in Romans 8:28…
“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (CSB17)
After the events of almost nine years ago—the murder of a wife and son—I hated this verse. I hated it because so many well-intentioned friends and acquaintances tried to convince me that in some weird convoluted way, the horrific loss my family suffered was somehow good.
I rejected that then; I reject that now. As I have written elsewhere, you can never tell a kid that the loss of his mother and brother is good. Not going to happen.
In the same way, if you are experiencing great loss as a result of this pandemic, I am not doing to you what was done to me. You can’t make the losses we experience good.
However, I’ve come to love this verse because I have a much greater appreciation, love for, and understanding of our great Redeemer—Restorer—Reconciler God who can take the worst of situations and use them in some way, some fashion for good.
In the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, we know that he experienced a lot of hardship as a result of his brothers selling him into slavery. We also know that God used Joseph in a mighty way to save lives and further his redemptive plan. Hopefully you’ll remember what Joseph ultimately told his brothers when they reconnected many, many years later…
“…Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (CSB17)
I particularly like how Max Lucado said it: “One of the most potentially frightening aspects of being a Christian is knowing that when you put your trust in Jesus, all of Hell takes arms against you intending evil upon your life. And, yet what trumps that fear and evil is knowing that, no matter what comes, God is the Master Weaver. He takes what was intended for evil and reweaves it for good.” https://tinyurl.com/y524nd7q
All of that to get back to my premise: can we somehow see the good in this pandemic time?
Admittedly, this current situation we are all living in has been a huge disruption. As a preaching minister, I had a whole year of theme related stuff planned out for our church. And even as we shifted away from that, my work has changed dramatically—particularly in learning a whole new skillset (yes, old dogs can learn new tricks).
In spite of that, I see some wonderful things in these trying times. For instance, a lot of people have realized how badly they want to worship together. Some have come to see a greater value in Bible classes. A lot of us have realized just how much we depend on each other and the fellowship we share. Some of us have truly recognized that the church is not held hostage to a building.
That is wonderful to see—God does reweave our circumstances.
But even better, many of us have been awakened spiritually to our need/ desire/ purpose/ reason for dwelling in Jesus—and in that dwelling, to trust Him!
To see opportunities to be His hands and feet
To recognize that the church is bigger than our narrow inward focus
To better understand how we can be a light in our own immediate communities.
From that perspective, pandemics can be wonderful opportunities to count our blessings, to realize the true source of our hope, and to really be the church—maybe for the very first time.
I wish no one would suffer as a result of this pandemic. I pray peace and blessings upon those who have.
And, I pray that together we grow in love and maturity—to move beyond our building-oriented issues and lives—to really shine like Jesus!
If we can do that, then we can say yes, God can do wonderful things even in the midst of a trying pandemic time!
May Paul’s words be true of us…
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in Christ’s triumphal procession and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (CSB17)
The book of James is the proverbs of the New Testament. Chock-full of wisdom. Echoes of his half-brother Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount…it is one of the most practical books of the Bible for daily living.
James and John are two books I regularly refer new believers to. The insights are simple and practical.
James is also a book I keep going back to for study and reflection because James will straight up spiritual sucker punch you and get your heart in check.
We are studying James this month and I pray the articles are a blessing to you!