Category Archives: Religion

23rd Psalm


23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


Mother’s Day

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The Virtues of a Woman/Mother

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.

She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 

She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. 

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens. 

She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 

She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. 

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 

She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 

She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. 

She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. 

She makes bed coverings for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 

Her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land. 

She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers sashes to the merchant. 

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. 

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. 

Proverbs 31: 10-31

I hope that we all think of our mothers today. I love my mama, but like all mothers, she drives me crazy sometimes. She has been in a long period of depression since she found out I was gay, but that was relieved somewhat by the birth of my niece, so she now has the grand-baby she always wanted. She is still convinced I am going to hell, but she doesn’t say it as much anymore. As long as it is a “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t discuss” situation, we get along great.

So even if your mother drives you crazy, I hope that you still have a good relationship with her and tell her how much you love her today.

I love you, Mama.


(She would surely die if she ever saw this blog, but I did choose a picture of sunflowers because they are her favorite.)


Quotes for the Day

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
1 John 3:18

Save those who persevere and do good works. For them is forgiveness and a great reward.
Qur’an 11:11

Turn yourself not away from three best things: Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds.
Zoroaster

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?
Hillel the Elder, Pirke Avot 1:14

These four passages speak volumes. Let’s look at each one. In 1 John, we are told not to love only throughout words, but to love truly and in what we do. So many people claim to love their fellow man, but they don’t do anything about it. They don’t show their love and it is not a love in truth. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” God loved the world and he did something about it, he brought us a Savior to wash away our sins and to make us one with God. If we are to emulate God, then we must show our love in deed and truth in the same way he showed us. Sometimes that means we must sacrifice something of ourselves to make the world a better more loving place.

Likewise, the Qur’an says that if we persevere and do good works, then we shall have great rewards. That reward is forgiveness; forgiveness of our sins, because we need God’s forgiveness to have eternal life. Remember, God gave his only Son so that we may have that eternal life so forgiveness is the greatest gift he can give us. It is why I begin all prayers with “Lord, forgive me of my sins and help me to be a better person.” It should be first and foremost in our thoughts and deeds. Not only should we ask God for forgiveness but we should also forgive our fellow man for his transgressions. We must show forgiveness in order to attain forgiveness.

Zoroastrianism can be summed up in this phrase, “Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.” God tells us if we think of a sin, seriously contemplate it, then it is just as sinful as doing it. We must have good thoughts, not only for ourselves but for other. We must speak good words for if we are truthful in our speech then we can make a difference if we only speak good words. And of course, none of this is worth anything if we don’t also do good deeds to back up our good thoughts and good words.

The last quote if from the Pirke Avot translates to English as Chapters of the Fathers. It is a compilation of the ethical teaching and maxims of the first period of Rabbinic writings. It says that we must be our own advocates because you cannot count on others to advocate for you. In turn, you cannot only advocate for yourself but for others as well, because if you do not advocate for others then you will lose who you are. In the last part of this quote, it tells us we must do this now, for if not now when will we have the chance.

These four scriptures/quotes tell us that we must love truthfully and with all our heart, not just showing that in words but also in deeds. They tell us if we do this and do good works then our reward is forgiveness and eternal life. The best things in life are good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Also, we must not only advocate for ourselves but for others as well. These four quotes came from a book I am reading about a woman who worked to get an Iranian woman off death row for stabbing a man who tried to rape her. Her actions are summed up in these four quotes as she was an advocate for others, and showed love in truth and deed through good works. Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.


Warning to the Wealthy

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

James 5:1-6
The greatest commands are to Love God and love your neighbor.  These cannot be separated; they go together and impact each other.  Whatever God blesses us with, He intends for us to share it with others.  If we are blessed with wealth, it is for the purpose of blessing others with our resources.  If we are blessed with talent, we should use that talent to benefit others, If we chose to hoard our wealth or other blessings from God, then God becomes very displeased.
James has already chastised the “rich” of looking down on the poor, and he had rebuked them for the arrogance of making plans without considering what God wants them to do.  James attacks this issue from two different angles at once.  first, the issue of hoarding, which means that we are not sharing God’s blessing with others who need it much more than we do, and second, on the Day of Judgment, all things with be made right, justice will be done regarding all inequities.  By not sharing God’s blessings, this is interpreted as pure defiance towards God.
To me this is saying that those that do not help others, that always worry about themselves, making sure they are taken care of and treating the ones that are ‘below them’ with hatred, harshness, callousness, and like they are trash.  They try there best to cheat people so they won’t have to pay the full price for what they truly deserve.  Like they are nothing and not worth the time.  They hired them so they should pay them fully.  They are defying God’s wishes. 
James is not just speaking of monetary wealth but also the wealth of God’s blessing.  There are also those Christians who look down on LGBT Christians, not making sure that LGBT Christians are met with loving embrace within the church and instead treating   LGBT Christians like they are ‘below them’ with hatred, harshness, callousness, and like we are trash, undeserving of God’s love because we love someone of the same sex.  Christians who reject other Christians for whatever reason believe themselves to be rich in God’s love, but they are hoarding God’s love all for themselves.
Christians should stop hoarding God’s blessings and start giving it to some that need it, such as charities, children’s hospitals, etc.  When we die, none of this will go with us, and we will be judged on the things we did, or did not do, while on this earth.  Only God’s record of our good works and faith in his love will follow us to the afterlife.

Boasting About Tomorrow

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”-yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
James 4:13-17
 
There is so much depth to these five verses. In the big picture, do we include God in all of our plans? Do we include him in our career or educational plans? Do we pray about the path He wants us to take?  When we make plans and exclude God, no matter what the plans are, it is as if we are boasting in our own abilities.
 
Verses 13 and 14 refer to making future plans for prosperity without consulting God. Even if the plans are honorable and righteous, God may have other ideas. Our lives are but a blink of God’s eye, “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” God wants us to consult with Him for all plans.
 
I plan ahead.  If I do not have the next step or two thought out before I get to them, I feel behind and unorganized.  However, God does not work this way.  Ever since I gave Him full rights to my life, I cannot seem to plan anything too far in advance.  He is the ultimate schedule shifter.  James notes, “you do not know what tomorrow will bring.”  I have to remind myself of this.  Life throws sudden changes at you.  Yes, I still plan ahead to the best of my ability, but I now make flexible plans instead of rigid ones.  This is one way I submit my life to God, by giving Him free reign to jumble my schedule.  In the end, I trust God has a better idea of what I should do with my life than I do since He sees the entire picture.
 
I remind myself that God has a plan for me in my prayers.  I begin by asking God to forgive me of my sins, then I ask Him to guide me down the path He has chosen for me before asking Him to bless my family and friends.  I pray for guidance down the path God has chosen for me, because I know it is not an easy path.  In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
 
I’ve learned to use verse 15 in all planning. “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” There is so much each of us wants to do with what time we have left in our lives, right? Personally, I would love to travel to Europe again, write a book, get in better shape, and be healthier. With each thing I want do to, I pray about it and say, “Lord, if it is Your will that I do this, then I will do it.”
 
Psalm 37:4 states: Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. This is a Scripture of hope.  We think, “I love the Lord and so He will give me whatever my heart desires.” That sounds great and all, but what about this:  if we love the Lord and become very close and intimate with Him, very soon His desires become the desire of our hearts. Ask the Lord if your desire is His will and you may find that His will truly becomes your desire.
 
Verses 16-17 remind us that boasting in our arrogance is evil, and goes on to say that if we know the right thing to do and fail to do it, we are sinning.  If the Lord places something upon your heart, and you do something else instead, verse 17 tells us that it is sin.  In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul writes, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
 
Boast in the Lord and proclaim to everyone: “My God has blessed me abundantly, and He directs my path.”  In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” There is satisfaction in doing God’s will. To actually do good is filling food. The more we eat the keener our appetite becomes. Dissatisfaction is a sure sign that we are not eagerly doing the will of God. It is a symptom of spiritual immaturity. The only way to discover the point of Christ’s teaching is to practice it. The only way to godly contentment is to hunger and thirst after righteousness.

He’s Alive


The gates and doors were barred
And all the windows fastened down
I spent the night in sleeplessness
And rose at every sound
Half in hope of sorrow
And half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breakin’ through
To drag us all away

And just before the sunrise
I heard something at the wall
The gate began to rattle
And a voice began to call
I hurried to the window
Looked down into the street
Expecting swords and torches
And the sound of soldiers’ feet

But there was no one there but Mary
So I went down to let her in
John stood there beside me
As she told me where she’d been
She said they’ve moved Him in the night
And none of us know where
The stone’s been rolled away
And now His body isn’t there

We both ran towards the garden
Then John ran on ahead
We found the stone and empty tomb
Just the way that Mary said
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in
Was just an empty shell
And how or where they’d taken Him
Was more than I could tell

Oh something strange had happened there
Just what I did not know
John believed a miracle
But I just turned to go
Circumstance and speculation
Couldn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify Him
Then I saw Him die

Back inside the house again
The guilt and anguish came
Everything I’d promised Him
Just added to my shame
When at last it came to choices
I denied I knew His name
And even if He was alive
It wouldn’t be the same

But suddenly the air was filled
With a strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere
Drove shadows from the room
And Jesus stood before me
With His arms held open wide
And I fell down on my knees
And I just clung to Him and cried

Then He raised me to my feet
And as I looked into His eyes
The love was shining out from Him
Like sunlight from the skies
Guilt in my confusion
Disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I ever had
Just melted into peace

He’s alive yes He’s alive
Yes He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive yes He’s alive
Oh He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive He’s alive
Hallelujah He’s alive
He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are open wide
He’s alive He’s alive He’s alive
I believe it He’s alive
Sweet Jesus

 
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.
     But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”-and that he had said these things to her.
John 20:1-18


 
The song above is one of the most powerful Easter songs I know.  It never fails to bring tears to my eyes. It’s a Dolly Parton song, and it’s one of her most beautiful.  As you listen or read the words to the song, you can almost put yourself in the position that the disciples of Christ found themselves. Not only was there great sadness in the death of their savior but also there was fear of what the authorities would do to them. It must have been agonizing for them. Then He appears to them and: 

He’s alive and I’m forgiven 

Heaven’s gates are open wide

 
For Jesus’ mother, his disciples and his followers, Jesus’ death was a tragedy. You can imagine that all hope was naturally gone. We today can face the same feeling. Many times in life, with homophobic politicians, the increasing rise of anti-gay homophobic groups, and everything that is going on in the world — war, famine, disease, natural disasters, discrimination, and hate — there can be a loss of hope and faith. Yet the resurrection gives us hope that no matter what has happened in our lives, no matter how much faith and hope we have lost, we can experience hope, we can overcome and regain whatever we have lost in our lives.
 
Our hope includes the knowledge that evil does not win. – Sometimes today, it seems that the bad guy often wins. Sometimes it seems that the one who cheats, the one who lies, the one who steps on others to get ahead, is the one who prospers. Far too often, I read of this person cheating or that one (or catching a student cheating) or another kid, gay or otherwise, who has been bullied, lost hope, and committed suicide. How often do we read of politicians cheating, or working to make sure their businesses get the good contract? It seems there is no hope for the little guy, the one who lives right, to ever get ahead.
 
With a positive attitude that through God we can accomplish anything, we truly can make the world a better place. With hope that springs eternal, just as the flowers in spring show the rebirth of the earth, we can be assured that God’s promises will deliver a better day, a rebirth our faith. The promise that Jesus would rise from the grave on the third day is remembered every Easter Sunday, it is the greatest sacrifice God could give for our sins. When we are baptized, it is done in symbolic reverence as our old body dies in its watery grave to be reborn and rise from the dead as Christ did for our sins.
 
 Easter has always been the major religious holiday at my old church in Alabama.  It is a day which has a date for us to celebrate, and it has the most meaning for Christians.  It is the day when the Old Testament prophesies of the Messiah were ultimately fulfilled.  It is the day that Christ rose from the dead.  The resurrection is the most important of the miracles.  When I was a child, our church had dinner on the grounds, and everyone brought a dish and the kids had an Easter egg hunt.  It was always a wonderful day of fellowship.  We no longer have dinner on the grounds because we once had a preacher (he didn’t last long with us) who was extremely hardcore and did not believe in having dinner on the grounds.  I think he believed the only meal that should be taken at church was communion.  Though he is long gone, we never revived the tradition of dinner on the grounds.  I find it quite sad, since early Christian services were often centered around the dinner table where fellowship, worship, and food were part of the gathering.  

I hope that all of you have a wonderful Easter.   I, also, hope that each of you feels the hope of the rebirth that Easter brings to us today. May God’s love eternally bless you.

Warning Against Worldliness

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
 
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
 
James 4:1-12
 
When was the last time you heard a sermon warning against worldliness? I suspect for most believers it would have been a very long time indeed. There are several reasons for this. Likely it is because we are in fact very worldly, and we don’t like to speak to our particular sins, so we just drift along. Also, you are particularly unlikely to hear a sermon, or in this case read a Bible study, about worldliness and gay Christians.  First of all, most of us would start squirming in our chairs.  My first thought would be, “This can’t be good.”  The reason for this is that as gay Christians most of our naysayers consider homosexuality to be a sin of worldliness.  That as gay Christians, we want to sin, be a part of this hedonistic culture, and call ourselves Christians.  But I hope that if you are one of those who regularly follow my Sunday posts, then you will know that is not the message I will deliver here.  I write these posts as both Bible studies and as a way to deliver the truth.  Therefore, I want to study this passage in a way that brings to light the kind of worldliness that applies to LGBT Christians.
 
There is also another reason Christians don’t tend to dwell on worldliness. We have tended to misunderstand what the warnings against worldliness actually mean, and/or have quite distorted the actual biblical teaching on this. That is, we have often thought that worldliness means having nothing to do with this material world altogether.  Or, as LGBT Christians we have been branded as worldly people because too many people believe that homosexuality is a choice.  The truth is, as I believe it (and I do believe that God helped me understand this after much prayer and meditation), God created us to be gay.  He had a purpose for us.  Whatever, that purpose is, we cannot deny God for creating us or leading us down this path.  We are all God’s children and have his undying and eternal love.
 
James is not the only one to warn about worldliness.
John: 1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
 
Paul: Ephesians 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
In the text from James above, these verses make me think of the person who tries to live in both the world and in the kingdom. It can’t be done. Living in the kingdom means the Spirit dwells within us, and God reigns over us. It must be all or nothing. In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”  Therefor, ask yourself to describe you in one word.  What would you say?  If you are worldly, then your answer might be your profession or an adjective describing how you feel or act, but truthfully, the answer should be very simple: Christian.  Whatever else you are, however else you might describe yourself, it is being a Christian that should come first.
 
James finishes this section of scripture we are examining with a warning about verbally attacking or slandering our brother. When we do this, we are not only attacking, but judging his character. In doing so, we are speaking out against and judging the law. Think about it. We are to love our Lord God with all of our heart, soul, strength and might; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we speak against our brother, we are not loving our neighbor as ourselves, and might as well throw the whole commandment out the window.

…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God…. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Romans 12:2, 9

As believers, we are not of the world. Worldliness is not a kingdom attribute.
 
If you’re wondering if a behavior or activity is worldly, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does this activity, thing, pursuit take my heart away from God?
  • Does it sabotage my communion with God and my walk in the Spirit?
  • Does it undermine or seek to displace my relationship to Christ as the power of my life?
  • Does it attempt (is it designed) to do so?
  • Does it feed the self-centered, appetite-driven, God-hating part of me called the flesh?
  • Does it inflame my desire to disobey God’s commands?
  • Does it produce pride, contention, immorality, or any other behavior contrary to the love of God and the love of others?
  • Does it lure me into obsession with what is earthbound and temporal versus what is heavenly and eternal?
In John 18, Jesus answers Pilate by repeating this phrase twice:  My kingdom is not of this world.
 
If you follow Jesus, then your kingdom is the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is not of this world.
 

 


Taming the Tongue

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. 
 
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
James 3:1-12
What James has to say here in the third chapter is very true, practical teaching. This is lesson number one on how to be a good disciple. James says it very plainly in verse 2. “For we all stumble in many ways.” No question there. “And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.” He’s not saying anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect in speaking, but is perfect, period. Because if we can get hold of what comes out of our mouth, it will keep everything else we do in check. It’s the same thing that psychologists have been telling us, that Jesus told us long ago — what comes out of the mouth reflects what’s in the heart, and it’s what’s in the heart that makes us do the things that we do. Sin begins first in our heart. We get the next indication of it as it comes out of our lips. Then finally, as we have felt it inside, as we have spoken it aloud, we create it.
 
We often don’t pay much attention to sins of the tongue—gossip, slander, lying, exaggeration. Perhaps it’s because we so mindlessly commit these “respectable sins” that we don’t regard them as seriously as we do sins such as hate or adultery.
 
Also, let’s admit that bridling the tongue is tough.  All of my life, my father told me that “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Nevertheless, I grew up speaking “rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Proverbs 12:18). As I matured as a Christian, I tried to follow the advice of my father by cutting back on my cutting words—behavior modification. But I discovered I was focusing on the wrong organ.
 
I got help from the New Testament writer James, who calls the tongue a fire, a world of iniquity, a restless evil full of deadly poison (James 3:6, 8). That’s serious!  James continues, saying that although many birds and reptiles have been tamed, “no human can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). And James leaves it at that—without a how-to formula!
 
Then James seems to switch subjects. In 3:13-18, he says that evil behavior comes from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart. This heart-mouth connection sounds like the teaching of his half-brother, Jesus: “For his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).
 
Our words create and they endure, and James tell us we have got to watch what we say. The very first step in Christian discipleship is being able to keep track of what comes out of our mouths, and to guide and shape that to make sure that the words are good, kind, loving, and truthful. It’s the most basic form of self-control. As James says, if we get that right we’re likely to get everything else right as well. The basic rule for Christian speech happens to be the basic rule for all the rest of Christian action — do it in love. If you can’t do it in love, don’t do it. Whether it’s speech or action, love is the guiding principle that underlies every law in scripture, that underlies everything God wants from us. We need to think about that.
 
So I encourage you to look at the things you say. How much of it is criticism? How much of it is loving? How do those weigh out in the balance? If you put them on a scale, do the loving words weigh heavier than the critical ones?  The most important thing is that you say what you say with love in your heart. Remember that who you’re talking to is someone made in the image of God, and a person for whom Christ died. They may be driving you crazy, but say that to yourself again and again until you can speak as if you were speaking to Jesus. Then, nine times out of ten, whatever you say is going to be all right.

Faith Without Works Is Dead

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
 
But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-and shudder!  Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.  You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
James 2:14-26
 
Faith without works is dead faith because the lack of works reveals an unchanged life or a spiritually dead heart. There are many Scriptures that make it very clear that true saving faith will result in a transformed life which is demonstrated by the “works” we do. How we live reveals what we believe and whether the faith we profess to have is a living faith.
 
Many profess to be Christians, but their lives and their priorities indicate otherwise.  James is simply saying that if you ‘say’ you are a Christian, then there had better be some appropriate works manifested or your faith is false. This sentiment is echoed in 1 John 2:4 which says, “If you say you have come to know Him, yet you do not keep His commandments, then the truth is not in you and you are a liar.”
 
Apparently, there were people who were saying they were Christians, but were not manifesting any of the fruit of Christianity.  Those people exist even to this day, especially those who espouse hatred toward the GLBT community.  Can this faith justify? Can the dead ‘faith’ that someone has which produces no change in a person and no good works before men and God be a faith that justifies? Absolutely not.  It is not merely enough to say you believe in Jesus.  You must actually believe and trust in Him.  If you actually do, then you will demonstrate that faith by a changed and godly life.  If not, then your profession is of no more value than the same profession of demons: “We believe Jesus lived.”
 
Obedience to God is the mark of true saving faith. James uses the example of Abraham and Rahab as the type of works that demonstrate salvation, and both of those examples are of people who obeyed God in faith. Saying we believe in Jesus does not save us, nor does religious service. What saves us is a life of faith demonstrated by ongoing obedience to God.
 
Faith without works is dead because it reveals a heart that has not been transformed by God. When we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and experienced the “washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit,” our lives will demonstrate that by the way we live and our works of obedience to God. It will be evident by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) in our lives and a desire to obey God and live a life that glorifies Him. Christians belong to Christ and as His sheep they hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26-30).
 
True saving faith is always manifested by good works and a life that desires to live in obedience to God. Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it very clear that works do not save us but that we are saved “for good works which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.” When we are truly born again you will have hearts that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit where God’s law is written so that we might walk in His statutes and judgments. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
 
I challenge you this week to help someone out, to do some godly work.  

The Sin of Partiality

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?  Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
 
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.  For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
James 2:1-13
As GLBT Christians, James gives a very poignant message.  We are often rejected by churches, yet James discusses the seriousness of the sin of partiality.  He says that the members of the church should not look down on someone or treat someone as having less value.  This is the first sin in James in a list of sins that the first chapter tells us to “put away” (James 1:21) and ways in which we must be “doers and not just hearers,” (James 1:22) which we discussed last week.  For some reason partiality was a sin that was a higher priority for James to address than the dangerous tongue which he discusses in depth in the next chapter.
 
James takes partiality much more seriously than probably most Christians today take it.  If most of us were making a list of sins, partiality probably would not make it on the list, but as GLBT Christians, it should. In James 2:4, he says the person who does it “judges with evil thoughts” and in verse 6 he describes the partial person as “dishonoring the poor man.”
 
In our view of sin that includes “white lies” and “the seven deadly sins,” one would think showing partiality would barely make it to the status of a white lie.  However, in verses 8-11 James equates partiality with adultery or murder.
 
Why does James emphasize the seriousness of partiality?  At a fundamental level, partiality denies the power of Jesus on the cross.  The sacrifice Christ made in the crucifixion is the great leveler of humanity.  Without it we are all sinners, regardless of what we have done.  Only because of it are any of us redeemed.  Partiality is a way for humans to make themselves elevate themselves or others.  It does it by allowing us to create tiers of people who are holier than others, and tiers of people who are worse sinners than others.  When I claim to be more holy or righteous because of externalities than another believer, I am denying that it is only Jesus on the cross that accomplishes this.  When I claim someone is a worse sinner for whatever reasons, I deny that God has saved me from the exact same place through the death of His son.  When we see each other for who we are in light of Christ’s sacrifices, partiality becomes quite petty.
 
C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory made a powerful and poignant quote about who we are in light of eternity.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…  It is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

If we truly see each other in this light, how can we show partiality to each other?
 
Closely related to this is that very simply, we have no justification for partiality.  We had nothing in us that warranted our salvation, yet Christ saved us.  Whatever we can think to hold against someone, God can hold much more against us.  He chooses continually not to.
 
The Bible shows us two types of partiality we should watch out for:  partiality based on appearance or titles and partiality based on sin.  Partiality based on appearance or titles is the partiality specifically addressed in this passage. In a social setting, a school setting, or any other setting we should not show partiality based on the many socioeconomic reasons we contrive to divide ourselves.  Race, fashionable clothes, income, education, etc.  Just because you may be more inclined to be friends with people you are more similar to, there is no justification or reason to look down on someone for these kind of external reasons.
 
Tragically this occurs far too often in many churches.  How often have you seen someone get weird looks because they did not dress well enough for that churches standards, or when was the last time you saw someone being kept at a distance or avoided because they did not meet that churches standard of modesty?  We may not show partiality by bringing the person with the good clothes to the front of the room, but how often do our churches exclude whether directly or indirectly because someone isn’t dressed well enough?  With my particular church we don’t judge people by appearance, but I have seen it many times in other churches.
 
The other partiality mentioned in the Bible is partiality based on sin or perceived sin, which is the most important lesson for us.  Jesus regularly interacted with tax collectors and sinners.  Tax collectors were the worst form of the greedy bureaucrat.  They were known as thieves and extortionists, and they were viewed as traitors who were agents of Rome’s effort to subjugate the Jews.  The word “sinners” is largely a euphemism for prostitute.  It could also refer to people who lived such generally evil lives that they were known by all to be living lives of sin.
 
Matthew 9:10-13 describes the conversion of Matthew/Levi and his subsequent eating and drinking with Matthew’s friends who are described as “tax collectors and sinners.”  This story is told in both Luke and Mark as well.  In Matthew 11:19 it appears that Jesus was known by the people at large as “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”  In Luke 15:1 Jesus tells the parables of the Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Prodigal Son after “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”
 
These were the people who were attracted to Jesus and who he came to preach to.  Much like the pharisees did, it is far too easy for us to look down on and disassociate ourselves from someone because they are a “worse sinner” than we are.  Jesus would have none of that.  If a pastor spent his time with and ministering to cheats and sexually immoral people, would we be able to view him as following the pattern of Christ, or would we criticize him for “putting himself in the way of temptation” or for “not having enough hedges in place to guard against temptation?”  Should churches accept GLBT Christians, or do we know they will be looked down on and judged instead of loved?  Jesus rebuked those who looked down on others as being worse sinners than ourselves.  I believe that many modern Christians need to be similarly rebuked for looking down on GLBT Christians and rejecting them.
 
Everyone who is in the church is a brother—everyone stands on an equal footing before  Jesus Christ.   Wealth, status, social standing, position, appearance—none of these matter except all men should come to Jesus Christ and worship Him.  Everyone who has faith in Jesus Christ bows before Him as Lord.  The charge is clear: believers, those who truly believe in Jesus Christ, are not to show partiality or favoritism. It is strictly forbidden.  Leviticus 19:15 says, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” Job 13:10 says “He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. “

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