This week’s Shoveletter is a response to the questions below:
hey Jim, why work, enter relationships, invest money, buy things, eat or do anything God wants to make fall apart so you wont rely on those things for life? I heard again that God is gonna try to keep things crumbling in your life so you wont ever be enamored with them…is this the truth? What do you think? Are we then supposed to only think about heaven all day long so that we never rely on anything? Is the only way we grow through constant trial? Should we turn into a scared wreck if you think God will take your job from you? Do you ever worry over these things? Taking your family away or some weird thing? Adam
I remember quite a few sermons and messages playing off the above-mentioned fears. It was all demanded as part of the motivation to serve the Lord. Hey, I remember using some of these same things to motivate the youth in my own group. It makes perfect sense, though, because the only true Christian motivation has been forsaken, which is the reality of Christ as the life within us. In its place we have crafted a belief structure that takes all applicable Biblical motivations into account, both external and internal, so that we may draw upon the ones we suspect will best produce the desired results. Depending on the current philosophy of the pastor, the organization or splinter-group the preferred motivation may range from guilt and fear … to even love. But separated from the miraculous reality of Christ’s life in us even the best motivations turn sour.
Anyhow, regarding things falling apart and crumbling we have fallen into the same self-centered perspectives that have ailed humanity from the beginning. Now, I have no doubts about God’s control over the smallest matters of life, but I reject that ages-old religious mindset of man that consistently manages to superimpose its own confused network of explanations upon what it thinks it sees. Our Christianized version of that mindset uses the Bible as a handbook of legal precedents reinforcing man’s long-standing fear and uncertainty of God’s whim and/or perverse pleasure in inflicting troubles upon us in this world.
The truth is that things fall apart and crumble on a daily basis all around the world, even among those who seem to have it altogether. Why do we think God has to make our little worlds fall apart when they do so all by themselves? Some things may hold together longer than others, or maybe they just APPEAR so, but the world is falling apart simply because it is in a state of constant flux - there is no permanent substance to it. There is no doubt that many of us have been shaken out of our ill-placed reliance upon temporary things when those things crumbled before our eyes, but they have been crumbling long before we were even born and will continue to do so till the world finally collapses.
We have received permanence in Christ, but because we have been left in this world as aliens we merely bang our heads against the wall when try to make ourselves believe we can establish permanence in something we instinctively KNOW is passing away. We have ALREADY received the witness within ourselves that teaches us there is nothing to rely on in this world. But because we have been listening to a law-based Christianity built upon the principles of this world we buy into the lie that suggests God makes the temporary into something permanent … except when He wants to teach us a lesson. We are taught in Christ that nothing in the world is dependable, and in this sense the whole world is a continual lesson to us as its glory keeps being revealed to us as a vapor.
We have not been left in ignorance for Christ has become our wisdom! The world struggles and gropes in search of some permanence in this world, but we know there is none to be had. Why appeal to the world’s wisdom by making God out to be the poltergeist of the universe? Ignorance - not Christ - taught us to think like this. If we are being fooled by the unfolding of circumstances it is only because we have been listening to the preaching of ignorance.
When troubles come upon us we don’t have to try to make up reasons to justify why. Actually, the religious habit of doing so only establishes a superstitious perspective of trying to figure out why GOD is doing this (or allowing it to happen). As long as the superstition of religion determines our outlook we will use everything, including the Bible, to support this insanity of blindness. I mean, in this mindset, we can’t even recognize our own self-defeating habits without turning it into a guilt-trip of Old Testament proportion, complete with support groups, formulas, rituals and/or principles. No wonder we’re confused, we’ve been given wisdom in Christ and yet we keep looking to the wisdom of this world to help us figure it out.
In his letter, James dealt with this same insanity of religious perception regarding permanence in the temporal world. He’s mostly misread because his words have been forced into a how-to set of formulas and principles instead of being seen as written from the perspective of one who shakes his head in unbelief over the acceptance of self-righteous religious hypocrisy among the ranks of those who are despised by the arrogance of those who claim to be spiritually superior. Consider the passage below:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:13-17
Who ARE those who make such arrogant boasts except those who believe they can find certainty and security in this world. James’ comments were not meant as a deterrent to making plans, nor were they meant to provide the proper Biblical way to say it, they were written to reveal the difference between religion and life. The phrase, “Instead, you ought to say” is rhetorical, meaning that James was rebuking the arrogance of the religious impostors who had placed themselves among the believers as superiors who despised those of lesser importance in the world.
In the wisdom God has given, our plans are not secured but are simply pursued knowing that they may happen or they may not. It is only the ignorance of the world that gives the illusion that our plans are guaranteed. We can ignore the religious demands upon both our successes and our failures. A success in this world does not mean success with God, so that if we fail it does not mean that God was against us, nor does a success mean that God was for us. A failure doesn’t imply that God was teaching us a lesson, it just means that it didn’t work out. If our office had been located in the World Trade Center we would have lost everything along with everyone else there, but to suggest that God was trying to teach us a lesson reeks of the same superstition that keeps fortune tellers in business. Maybe we will discover that we have good business sense and maybe we will find we trip ourselves up, and maybe we will learn from our own mistakes or by following some good business practices, but God is FOR us one way or the other.
But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. James 4:16-17
It has been commonly suggested that James promotes the legalistic doing-the-right-thing principle, but I think we need to take another look at that preposterous claim because with these words, James has blown the cover off hypocrisy! Ask yourself, what is the right thing in the context of this whole passage to which James says, “Therefore…”? It is something KNOWN, but NOT DONE that creates an arrogance by which ones boasts anyway. Need a better hint? How about three letters: L-A-W. Those who “know the right thing to do and does not do it” are those who live by the law, for with all their knowledge they are only shown to be sinners by the very thing they use to point the fingers at everyone else. This is exactly what James heard his half-brother, Jesus, demand of the self-righteous religious hypocrites years before.
The message James presented to the believers in making these statements was a blunt assessment of the failure of living by the law. Don’t forget that this is the guy who earlier in the same letter demanded the futility in following the law when breaking one command made you a violator of the whole thing:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. James 2:10
No, James was saying the same as Paul when he reminded the Galatian believers of the facade of being justified by the law, for those who claimed faith through law only revealed their ignorance of the condemnation of living by it.
However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.’ Galatians 3:12
Now, I may have gone down a rabbit trail in following the James’ passage, but I know you would have written and asked me about it. haha! :) It still ties together, though, because the perspective that promotes the kind of fear you’ve described (which I also was groomed in) is based upon a God who can be formulated and a life that can be explained according to knowledge. You see, the same mindset that arrogantly boasts of things it can’t know about also knows how to adjust its terminology to include the proper Biblical phrases such as, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But instead of being a living expression of those who know in their very hearts that there is no certainty in anything but God it has been turned into a harbinger of doom and disaster making us afraid to live as those freed by Christ!
Paul described the new creation as that which has no confidence in the flesh.
…for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:3
This is our heritage in Christ, and yet those who fear this confidence will not be happy unless they pull us into the same frame of mind.
What we receive from God on an ongoing basis is a WITNESS to this confidence of the true circumcision that we are in Christ. We do grow in this confidence, but not in the sense we’ve been taught by the religious mind. For though our confidence may appear to vanish from time to time it is merely being misjudged so. In the same vein, we easily confuse a confident feeling for the true confidence that is intricately connected to the new creation that we are. I don’t say this to disregard all sensations of confidence, but what makes us assume that the feelings we describe as a LACK of confidence may not merely be the resultant feelings of the inward rejection of old fleshly confidences? The wisdom of this world is a lousy judge of reality because its determinations are bound to its own temporary substance. Why do we think it can define who we are?
My response to these questions continues with some of the thoughts Peter described about the trials that test our faith, but this is enough for now.