Are you ready to go?
This Sunday we will start our Spiritual Adventure - a journey through the book of James that will take us up to Easter. We are doing something different this year . . . instead of reading, we are writing. Yes, we will all share in the same experience of writing our own personal copy of the book of James. Penmanship doesn’t matter.
Why would we do that?
When Moses gave the Old Testament Law to ancient Israel, he included some instructions for future kings. Israel had been warned about wanting a human king - God was their King - but when God gave the Law to Moses, He obviously knew, in time, there would be a human king over Israel. The first one was Saul. In anticipation of this reality, the Law stated: “When he [the king] takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests.” (Deut. 17:18 NIV) One of the first duties of each of Israel’s kings was to write out the Law, all of it (Genesis to Deuteronomy), so they would have an intimate, first-hand knowledge of what God had taught Moses.
This illustrates an important point: writing something out is very different than just hearing it or reading it. Educational studies have demonstrated the value of writing by hand (not just typing). In fact, the National Institute of Learning Development uses a variety of writing techniques to help students who struggle with a variety of learning issues. Writing does more than give our hand cramps; our brain receives, processes, and stores that information in a way unique from reading or hearing.
So why not write out a book of the Bible? It can seem daunting. James is a book that isn’t too long (not like Jeremiah) and has straightforward teaching (not like Leviticus). All of Scripture is useful when we need to be rebuked or corrected and guides us in learning what it means to live righteously (2 Tim. 3:16). Peter tells us the Word of God contains everything we need to know to live godly lives (2 Pet. 1:3). Some sections, though, are easier to understand than others.
Another benefit of writing out the entire book is we see it as a whole, not just as individual verses. It is easy to cherry-pick a few lines from this ancient text, ignoring the historical context and author’s intended meaning, and impose upon it what we want it to say. The remedy for this is simple: read (and in this case write) whole books, not just verses.
Words Matter: The Word of God.
This is the Word of God. We are convinced that it is the highest authority on matters of faith and life and when the originals were written, even the very words each author used were exactly the ones God wanted them to use. We believe the original copies were written without error or mistake and did not teach any error. The theological-speak we use to describe this is known as “inspiration,” “inerrancy,” and “infallibility.” All three concepts are critical to the integrity of our faith.
God reveals Himself through the written word of the human authors of each book of the Bible so we could know Him, be reconciled to Him, and embrace the purposes for which He created us as His image-bearers. This is not a sacred text only the elite can understand. It is not a weapon by which we can control or manipulate others. It is the record of God’s engagement in the time and space He created, His relationship with all He has created, and His offer of redemption and forgiveness for those receive His gift of salvation by grace through faith.
Since it is rooted in time and space, in human history, it is not just a collection of fairy tales and myths. It is not a code that needs to be deciphered. It is God making Himself known through the course of human history. Our shared history. And this means we need to understand that history as best we can - who wrote these words, to whom, and why? What was their culture like? What threats or crisis did they face? What do we have in common with them? What is unique? Obviously, the Apostle Paul never experienced losing a WiFi connection.
So this book James, written by the half-brother of Jesus, pastor to the first church that was founded in Jerusalem, speaks to issues with which we continue to struggle. Intimidation and fear because of our faith, controlling our tongue, hypocrisy, social and racial discrimination, personal moral purity . . . it is all there.
Join me in writing and learning this. James sets the bar high. But he also reminds us: “He gives us more grace” (4:6). Thankfully. Together we are going to refresh ourselves about the depth of the truth #GraceTrumpsGuilt. And together we are going to learn how to engage our faith in life.
One final note. You may wonder why we are using the New English Translation (NET) for this Spiritual Adventure. It is the only modern translation of the Bible with the copyright flexibility to allow us to copy and reprint the whole book of James in its entirety. It is a fresh translation and well done. You can find out more about it at netbible.org. If you prefer to write out James in the King James Version, the New International Version, or some other translation, please feel free to do that!