Summer Thoughts on James

by Sam Regonini

During the Spring of  2016, the crew of Vital at Texas State read through the Letter of James over 5 weeks. We read, asked questions, shared stories, and let the Spirit do its work. This blog series will cover some highlights of our study. Enjoy!

Following Jesus is simple. You love Him, listen to Him, and then do what He says. That’s all there is to it. Right?

I have definitely (don’t fight me on this one) never met a Christian that would describe their experience following Jesus as simple. Maybe joyful, hopeful, life-giving, trying, complicated, difficult, frustrating, stupid; but never simple. That’s mostly because Jesus calls us to do hard things. To be self-sacrificial and forgiving, often when we just sat down or want to hold that grudge another day (or year). To give up our money, time, stuff, safety, or pride. To love some pretty unlovable people (especially that one guy). None of those are easy. Simply hearing Jesus can be tough enough amongst our pointless Facebook debates, Netflix binges, the Snapchat stories we need to chat up on, reality show-worthy news coverage, the new Beyonce album, our teachers that want us to put more into class, our preachers that want to give longer sermons; our friends with their unending issues, and our family that wants to spend more time with us. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of any kind, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” One of our favorite sayings as Christians is “Jesus never said it would be easy,” and He was right.

But as we read through James 1, it became apparent that something else might be going on that makes following Jesus far from simple. By our count, James says deceive and doubt three times each in this one chapter*. James seems to think (and seems to be right) that we make following Jesus more complicated ourselves. We sort of believe that asking God in prayer makes a difference, but not really. We create excuses for our temptations and sins rather than acknowledging that they separate us from Jesus. We talk about wanting the kingdom of God, but we would rather have someone else do the work of blessing and forgiving. We desire to help the poor, but worry about the bad decisions they might make with our generosity so we hold back. We know not to say hurtful things, but when it’s the truth, it’s okay. Then we wonder why prayer is so hard, why our world is still so broken, how we can help the needy, or why loving that sinful jerk across the hall is near impossible.

I’m not sure why as Christians we make following Jesus so complicated (an Avril Lavigne song comes to mind). Maybe we are holding back on our belief in God so we don’t look foolish if it isn’t all true. Maybe we are hoping for a way to make the truly difficult things Jesus calls us to a little easier. Maybe we know Jesus is calling us to make a big change and we just don’t want to do it. At least those have been my reasons for making Jesus more complicated. I think this Wendell Berry Poem is onto something:

An Embarrassment

“Do you want to ask
the blessing?”

“No. If you do,
go ahead.”

He went ahead:
his prayers dressed up

in Sunday clothes
rose a few feet

and dropped with a soft

If a lonely soul
did ever cry out

in company its true
outcry to God,

it would be as though
at a sedate party

a man suddenly
removed his clothes

and took his wife
passionately into his arms.

Questions of deception and doubt are truly difficult to grapple with because they force us to admit not only that we were tricked, duped, and deceived, but that we also did the tricking, duping, and deceiving (a double whammy if I ever heard one). Not only that, but we also have to honestly address the issue that lead to doubt and deception in the first place (a triple whammy!). But, as much as I don’t want to admit it, dealing with doubt and deception is paramount in following Jesus. The more we push back doubt, the more we see the beauty of God and the Holy Spirit working right in front of us. As we rid our hearts of deceit and lies, the simpler following Jesus honestly becomes and the nearer God’s kingdom comes.

Unfortunately, none of the Vital at Texas State crew has any advice to offer on the topic. We are struggling with it ourselves. But we know that recognizing and naming doubt and deceit in our walk with Christ is a good place to start (also always a good bible study answer). Read James along with these posts, he is great at naming lies and hypocrisies with which we deceive ourselves.

Time to go ride a bike. Praise the Lord!

*-“Ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way. Must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” James 1:6-8;
-“No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived my beloved.” James 1:13-16;
-“But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” James1:22;
-“If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.” James 1:26