Category Archives: Preaching

4 Insights from Lloyd-Jones on Preaching

preachinglloydjonesIt took me a while to read because I read it in stages, but nonetheless today I finished Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ classic book on preaching.  Lloyd-Jones died in 1981 but continues to influence a new generation of preachers who are looking for wise counsel on how to handle the Bible in the pulpit and speak effectively to a new generation of listeners.  This book contains a series of lectures that Lloyd-Jones delivered in 1969 at Westminster Seminary toward the end of his career.  He doesn’t pull any punches in this work, telling you exactly what he things about every aspect of preaching ministry in the local church.  Some of his opinions are based on his strong personal preferences (as he readily admits) while others are based on a lifetime of local church ministry and biblical reflection.  Here are four insights that will stay with me from Lloyd-Jones:

1- Be honest with the biblical text in preparing to preach.  This resonates with me because I feel this tension every week that I preach.  Am I going to force the Scripture to support the point that I want to make OR am I going to allow the main thrust of the text I’m preaching to shape the sermon I’m going to preach?  Every preacher faces this fundamental decision every week – sometimes multiple times a week – will we deal honestly with the Bible?  I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have thought that I knew what I was going to preach from a text only to have the main idea change after a careful study of the Scripture.  I so appreciated Lloyd-Jones’ passionate defense of exegetical preaching and the importance of giving time to make sure we know what the Bible is saying before we stand in the pulpit to preach it.

2- Allow freedom for the Holy Spirit to move.  Tim Keller says the difference between a bad preacher and a good preacher is hard work, but that the difference between a good preacher and a greater preacher is the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  Lloyd-Jones would undoubtedly agree with this statement.  He goes to great lengths to emphasize the all-important role of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of preaching.  While some of his recommendations are strange, the heart behind all of them is the same: make sure you are filled with the Spirit, guided by the Spirit, and moved by the Spirit when you preach.  The last chapter of the book is his discussion on “unction,” an old word that means the anointing of the Spirit.  I think it is the best chapter of the whole book.  Lloyd-Jones believed that there was no substitute for the power of the Spirit in the life of the preacher.

3- Know and communicate with your audience.  Lloyd-Jones rightly critiques preachers who argue with commentators in the pulpit, saying that they don’t know their own audience.  I think his concern is that so much that passes as preaching is addressing the wrong audience.  Instead of preaching to the actual people in front of him, the pastor can preach to his peers or professors or authors he reads.  Lloyd-Jones says this may make him sound educated and well-read, but it doesn’t actually help the people he is ministering to.  This is one reason that pulpit ministry must be connected to the life of the congregation and the life of the community.  If we are disconnected from people, we will answer questions they aren’t asking and ignore issues that weigh them down.

4- Be yourself when you preach.  I’ve heard many other preachers make this point, but none as strongly or clearly as Lloyd-Jones.  He says that one of the greatest errors that young preachers make is trying to sound like, act like, move like, and preach like other preachers that they admire.   Throughout the book, he comes back to this theme again and again.  It impacts the way we study, the material we read, the style of our preaching, and the rhetoric we use.  His advise: know thyself and be honest with yourself about your own style, your own preparation rhythms, your own season of life.  I believe that every preacher needs to be reminded of this truth: God made you to be you, not someone else.

If you have read Lloyd-Jones on preaching, which of his words of advice most helped you?

Five Lessons Learned From Preaching on Race

Preaching on race in our church over the last five weeks has been one of the most formative experiences of my ministry.  I have grown in my understanding of racialization in our society today, and I have grown in love for my neighbor.  I am so thankful to have walked through this journey with our congregation at Cityview Bible Church in Round Rock, TX.  Their faithful feedback, honest reflection, and personal obedience has shaped the way I think about race today.  Here are five lessons we learned as a community of faith as we explored what the Bible teaches about race in light of the grace of the gospel:

  1. We are often blind to our own prejudices (whether they are toward those of another race or a subgroup inside our own race) because they are rooted in pride. We need the truth of the Bible and the power of the Spirit to open our eyes to our own racial stereotypes.  We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we are personally beyond all racial biases.  We are not, and we need to own that race matters, even today in 2015.
  2. People want to talk about race in a constructive way, but are not sure how or where to have the conversation. I was amazed at the participation in our small group each week during this series and the feedback from the elders, staff, and congregation.  Not everyone agreed with everything I had to say on the subject, but everyone was thankful that I had broached the subject.
  3. White evangelicals tend to over-individualize racial problems today and fail to see systemic injustices in the culture at large. As long as racial problems today are seen as the result of individual racists, then we can let ourselves off the hook personally if we don’t see ourselves as racist.  We fail to see that we live in a culture with systems that can also be racially unjust and treat groups of people differently.
  4. Racially isolated people can more easily create stereotypes of other races than those who are genuinely connected to people from other races. This is another reason that diverse congregations and schools and civic organizations are so important.  It is too easy to unfairly categorize people that you have never taken the time to know.  And because we are naturally drawn to those who are most like us (the homogeneous unit principle), we are always in danger in moving toward racial isolation.
  5. In order to build a unified, diverse, multi-ethnic congregation, individual congregants must make the decision to value diversity more than their own cultural preferences. If we believe the Bible mandates the local church be both unified and diverse, then each one of us must make the choice to lay down our personal preferences for the sake of the whole.  The goal of building a healthy multi-ethnic church is one where our personal consumerism directly conflicts with the Kingdom of Jesus.

I hope these lessons will help you to take a next step in building bridges of love and peace between people of different races.  For in the end, if we believe the first chapter of the Bible is true, then there is really only one race – the human race, created in God’s image to worship and serve Him forever.

Clarity, Not Simplicity

open bible

One of the greatest challenges in teaching and preaching the Bible is balancing faithfulness to the text with good communication skills.  In other words, a preacher can teach every detail he has found in the text, but if he doesn’t know the basics of communication theory (know your audience, make it memorable, be clear), no one in the audience will remember anything he said.  A good Bible-teacher always has more material from his study of the Word than he can possibly put into a helpful sermon.  This requires him to set aside many important insights for the sake of communication.

However, I want to sound a warning against seeking too much simplicity in our communication.  While clarity is essential, the desire for simplicity may actually lead us to distort what the Word says in order to make the Word memorable to our listeners.  What I have noticed over my years of study and preaching is that the Bible is not always simple.  If we seek to make it simple, we will undoubtedly distort what God is saying.  Let me be clear: there is no value is making something complex that is simple in the Bible.  Many teachers are guilty of adding layers of meaning and application to a simple truth.  However, I am concerned that too many preachers today are taking complex truths in the Word and trying to make them simple for the sake of communication.  Let’s not just seek simplicity – let’s seek clarity.

For example, think about what the Bible teaches on money.  To say that the Bible only teaches three things about money is to over-simplify the complex teaching of the Bible on money.  The Scripture has a ton to say about money (its importance, how to manage it wisely, the danger of worshipping it, how and why to give it away).  If you try to simplify the Bible’s teaching on money down to a few words (for the sake of being memorable in your teaching), you will absolutely distort what the Bible says about our relationship to money.

The preacher will obviously respond with this objection: how can I say everything the Bible says about any one topic in one sermon? This is a great question.  My answer?  You don’t have to say everything in every sermon, but you do need to say everything at some point in your teaching ministry.  Again, our goal as Bible-teachers is not only to be practical or memorable (though those values are so important), but to be faithful to the whole counsel of God.  When we simplify the Biblical complexity for the sake of communication, we can be guilty of reductionism – leaving out parts of God’s Word in order to be good communicators.

I guess my main point is this: if God has revealed to us in His Word that something is complex (like His nature), let’s not be smarter than God in seeking to make it simple.  What are some other examples of our tendency to reduce complex truths for the sake of communication?  I hope to post a few in the days ahead.

Marriage Books

For the Hope for Marriage series, I read several new books and reread several old books on marriage.  Here are short, few sentence reviews on each book to help you as you look for additional resources:

sacredmarriage Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas.  Sacred Marriage is a book about how marriage helps us grow spiritually – closer to God and more into the image of Jesus Christ.  Thomas’ main point is that God designed marriage not so much to make us happy as He did to make us holy.  Along those lines, the book discusses different elements in marriage from the perspective of spiritual formation.  The book is very pastoral and insightful.  I appreciated Thomas’ unique point of view.  He is not trying to coach us on how to have a better marriage, but on how to become a better person in our marriage.  I highly recommend this book if you are seeking to learn what God plans to do in your heart and character and life through marriage.

realmarriage

Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll.  Driscoll’s book on marriage is edgier and more explicit that the other books I read on marriage (at least from a Christian perspective).  Part of this is the fruit of Driscoll’s context, part the fruit of his personality.  The unique contributions of the Driscolls’ book on marriage are the focuses on friendship, sexual abuse and activity, and their personal testimony.  As he has in his other books, Mark is not afraid to put his struggles and opinions front and center in his writing.  This is both a blessing and a curse in his writing.  It makes for an interesting narrative, but can also create confusion when wondering if he thinks his experiences should be normative for others.  Overall, I really appreciated his teaching on friendship in marriage, and his honest look at how sexual abuse impacts the marriage relationship.  The section in the book that gets him in the most trouble, called “Can we _____?” is about what is appropriate and inappropriate in marriage.  I didn’t find this section offensive.  I agree with Mark – that we need to address openly and honestly what people are asking for help with.  When it comes to sexual questions, however, I wouldn’t send people to this book.  I would encourage them to pick up a copy of Sheet Music by Kevin Leman.

meaningofmarriageThe Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller.  Keller’s book on marriage is my favorite on this whole list.  But many may not find Keller’s work as accessible as some of the others.  Because Keller so often wants to go for the heart issues (and not just the practical issues in life), his writing can take a little more work to get through.  However, if you will read what he says and meditate on the truths he presents, you will find it worth the reward.  Timothy and his wife, Kathy, have written a book that shows how the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts every part of marriage, from communication to commitment to sex.  In doing so, they interact with contemporary culture at every turn.  I always benefit from Keller’s writings (as a pastor) because of his extensive footnotes.  I can’t tell you how many articles and books I’ve read because of first hearing about them in Keller’s works.  This is true of The Meaning of Marriage as well.  If I was going to encourage couples to read one book on marriage, it would be this one.

themarriagegoround

One of the most helpful scholarly books that I read in preparation for teaching on marriage was The Marriage Go-Round by Andrew Cherlin.  Cherlin’s book is an analysis of marriage in America over the last fifty years.  This book is sobering to read.  Cherlin documents the amazingly high rates of both marriage and divorce in America, making the strong case that this shows a high view of marriage in our country (people want to get married) and a low view of commitment (people want a way out if their marriage doesn’t go well).  According to Cherlin, more Americans marry (and marry earlier) than in any other Western nation, and yet, more Americans divorce than in any other Western nation.  This cycle of marriage and divorce has devastating consequences on adults and children, and must be confronted.  But Cherlin helps us to understand that the solution is not just to teach on the value of marriage, but to confront the limits of individualism.  His insights (and data) are worth the price of this book.  I would encourage anyone who is preaching or teaching on marriage to read this book.

loveandrespect

Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.  I have given out many copies of this wonderful book over the years.  Dr. Eggerichs’ model of marriage is built on Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:33 that a “husband should love his wife and a wife should respect her husband.”  From this passage and his personal pastoral and counseling ministry, Eggerichs has built a model of marriage that is intended to help spouses understand and appreciate the differences of the opposite sex.  His book is immensely practical and helpful.  He discuss the downward spiral that most couples are on (with an unloving husband and disrespectful wife) and how those couples can get on an energizing cycle.  His teaching is not just theory, however.  He has six chapters for wives (on how they can practically respect their husbands) and six chapters for husbands (on how they can practically love their wives).  I have benefited personally from this book, and have seen the impact on numerous marriages when the couples decided to live according to these principles.  I highly recommend this one!

godmarriageandfamily

God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger.  If you are looking for something a little more comprehensive on what the whole Bible teaches in the area of marriage and family, this is the book for you.  This book reads like a seminary text-book, giving the student an overview of what the different sections of the Bible teach.  You have chapters like “the OT on marriage” and “Jesus on children” or “the NT on gender roles.”  Kostenberger does his best to move through the whole teaching of the Bible.  At times, this approach is helpful (in reminding you how many different passages you need to look up).  At other times, this approach is unhelpful.  It keeps him from really explaining significant chunks of Scripture (like Song of Songs).  When you try to cover everything, you end up cover some things in depth and other things in passing.  This is understandable, but also frustrating, as the editorial choices of the author reveal his bias and perspective.  Overall, however, this book reminds us to read the whole Bible on marriage and family issues, and not just the ones that we like.

gettingawaytogetittogether

Getting Away to Get It Together by Bill & Carolyn Wellons.  If you have been around my family very long, you have most likely heard me talk about a yearly tradition that Barie and I keep: we drop the kids off with the grandparents for two nights and spend time talking about our priorities for the coming year.  This idea – a fun, working retreat – comes from this book by Bill and Carolyn Wellons.  The main idea is simple: so many people have planning retreats for their jobs, but hardly anyone has one for their family.  Bill and Carolyn set out to change that culture in American families.  Their encouragement is for couples to spend time working ON their family, not just working IN their family.  So much of what we do as spouses and parents is reactive, but we can be much more productive if we plan ahead.  And remember, one retreat every ten years is not enough.  You need time every year to plan, dream, pray, and think.  Why?  Because you change, your kids change, and you need to regroup.  This resource is a wonderful blessing to couples who will take time to actually get away with their spouse and plan for the future.

These seven books have helped my marriage, and equipped me to better preach on marriage.  I hope they are a blessing to you!

The Acts of the Apostles Major Themes

This Sunday, I pick up in chapter 13 of the book of Acts.  We preached through the first twelve chapters in Acts last fall, and after a seven week break to teach on marriage, we jump back into the narrative.  As I have been reading back through Acts this week (in order to regain my bearings), I have been reminded how much I love this book and how much we have learned already.  Here are a few of the major themes we’ve already seen developed in the book of Acts:

1- Jesus, who was crucified, is alive.  When the gospel is preached in the book of Acts, the resurrection is emphasized as much as the crucifixion.  The apostles were obviously in awe of Jesus’ death for sin, but they were even more in awe of the fact that they had seen Him alive after they had seen Him die.  The resurrection proved that everything Jesus said and did had greater meaning.  He wasn’t just another teacher who lived a good life and died unjustly.  He was (and is) the Son of God, risen from the dead.

2- Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, the fulfillment of the prophecy and promises of the Old Testament.  As Gentiles, we can be tempted to study the life of Jesus apart from the Old Testament narrative, but the book of Acts won’t allow us to do this.  The apostles understood the life and ministry of Jesus in the context of the story of Israel.  They use Jewish titles for Jesus (Messiah, Lord, Savior, Lamb of God, Son of David, etc.) and show us how He fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.

3- The apostles boldly proclaim the truth about Jesus to all regardless of consequences.  The final command from Jesus was to be witnesses to His life, death, and resurrection.  The apostles obviously believed that they could not be witnesses without opening their mouth and talking about Jesus.  Yes, they cared for those in need, but always in the context of boldly preaching the message of Christ.  And they spoke despite the risks to their safety and security.

4- The Holy Spirit does the miraculous as the message of Jesus goes forward.  The narrative of Acts makes the case that both the witness of the church and the miraculous power of the Spirit are required for gospel to spread.  The Spirit doesn’t act arbitrarily.  He acts to support the spread of the gospel, to build up the church in its mission of taking the name of Jesus to the nations.  The movement formula in the book of Acts seems to be simple – preach Jesus and ask the Spirit to do the supernatural to confirm your message.

5- Gospel ministry and persecution go together.  We don’t like to talk about this much in the American church (because we like to be comfortable), but the book of Acts shows us what Christians around the world know to be true.  When we boldly proclaim Jesus as Lord and Messiah, we will face opposition.  In fact, a lack of difficulty and opposition may shows that we are not following in the footsteps of the early church.

6- God can convert anyone, regardless of their past opposition to Him.  The gospel is the power of God to change lives.  And it really changes people.  The story of Acts is not just that godly people added Jesus to their moral lives.  The story of Acts is that those who were living opposed to God were radically transformed by the gospel of grace.  Even those who had been working to kill the church can be changed by God to those He uses to build His church.

7- The gospel is for all people in all places, regardless of ethnicity, religious background, or past moral performance.  I love this part of our story.  The message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is for all people.  Peter says it best in 11:34, “now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism.”  This is incredibly challenging to our prejudices and hope-inspiring for our ministry.  God’s message of grace is for everyone.

8- God will build His church through His people.  The story of Acts is one of hope – that the power of God’s Spirit working through God’s people with God’s message will really change lives.  As we follow Jesus day by day, we can sometimes lose hope, especially in the face of darkness and opposition.  But we are reminded by this awesome book that God will build His church.  He has been victorious over the grave, and nothing will ultimately stand in His way.

5 Lessons Learned From Preaching on Marriage

Today marked the last day of our Hope for Marriage series at church.  Over the last seven weeks, I’ve preached on a wide range of issues related to marriage.  In addition, I’ve led discussion in our elder-board, staff-meetings, and small group on marriage.  Finally, I’ve counseled many couples who needed help with their marriage.  During the last seven weeks, here are five lessons I’ve learned…

1) God’s ways are wise and timeless.  Having read many books and articles on marriage over the last several years (from a variety of worldviews), I am more confident than ever in the wisdom of God’s Word.  Another way to say this: God’s ways are best.  He knows what He is talking about when He commands us to do life a certain way.  He is not against our joy.  He is for our joy.  And His Word is not outdated.  It contains the untold riches of divine wisdom, which when they are applied to marriage actually work.  New marriage fads will come and go, but the wisdom of God will remain.

2) Marriage struggles are never just about marriage.  Horizontal relationship challenges are almost always an indicator of a vertical relationship problem.  Most spouses believe that their marriage would be better if their spouse would start doing something differently.  While our spouses can always improve, they are not the ultimate source of our fear and anger and insecurity.  They are simply the object of our internal struggles, the easiest target for our immaturity.  Our greatest need is always for spiritual maturity (a vertical reality) which will change the nature of our marriage.  If we fix our marriage mechanics but fail to grow in our relationship with God, our struggles will continue.

3) A healthy marriage takes work.  Most people get married with at least two wrong expectations: first, they think that their romantic feelings will continue at the same level throughout their marriage, and second, they think that their marriage will be easy.  Both of these are completely wrong (and ultimately destructive to lifelong marriage).  When spouses experience a change in their emotions (which will come), they think they must be married to the wrong person.  Couples are unprepared for the challenges that come with lifelong faithful marriages.  A healthy, strong marriage takes effort – meaning we can’t sit back and expect marriage to be easy.  We must be proactive.

4) The greatest enemy to marriage is selfishness.  This is a corollary of lesson #2, but important enough to state on its own.  If our relationship with God is weak, the by-product will always be selfishness.  And selfishness is detrimental to true love.  Love is always about choosing the other, laying down your life for your spouse, and giving up your rights for the sake of your spouse.  Therefore, it is impossible to love my spouse and be selfish at the same time.  This is why spiritual maturity (a.k.a. growth in humility) is so important to a healthy marriage.

5) God can restore any marriage.  I am always in awe of God’s work in the lives of those around us, but I have been especially overwhelmed to witness His power at work in restoring marriages that were on life-support.  I have always believed theologically that God can save and restore any marriage, but in the last seven weeks, I have actually seen it happen.  I am encouraged by the power of the Spirit to restore trust and heal broken relationships.

If you would like to listen to any part of this series, you can download the audio and study guides for all seven sermons at our church’s website: http://www.hillcountrybible.org/resources/sermons/messages/series/hope-for-marriage

This is what I have learned through this series.  What has God taught you?

Hope for Marriage

I’m starting a new sermon series this morning called Hope for Marriage.  Here’s where we’re going:

Americans in the 21st century have conflicted emotions when it comes to marriage.  On the one hand, we believe that marriage is the best way to live one’s family life.  Over 90% of Americans will marry at one point in their lives.  On the other hand, we are nervous about making lifelong commitments that might not work out.  Over 50% of first-time marriages fail within 20 years.  But our emotions are not based on statistics.  They are based on experiences.

We have seen marriages fail in spectacular fashion all around us.  For some of us, we witnessed the fallout from our parents’ divorce firsthand.  For others, we’ve seen the marriages of our close friends start and end too quickly.  For some, we’ve been through divorce ourselves.  In all these situations, we know the real pain caused when marriages don’t work out.

Something must be wrong with our expectations for marriage and our understanding of how marriage works.  Thankfully, the Bible gives us insights and wisdom gathered over thousands of years.  We don’t have to live with a defeatist attitude when it comes to marriage.  Even if our marriage is currently struggling, there is hope.  God speaks into our lives with powerful truth and practical wisdom.  Join us during the next seven weeks as we learn together how to find hope for marriage:

Jan 6: Fault Lines in the Foundation
Jan 13: Looking for The One
Jan 20: The Enemy Within
Jan 27: Wounded Lovers
Feb 3: Selfless Sex
Feb 10: The War of Words
Feb 17: Finding Our Roles

If you live in the Round Rock area, come join the conversation!

Homosexuality Resources

As I wrapped up our series “Him & Her” yesterday (where we explored the Bible’s teaching on gender over the last six weeks), I addressed what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.  My goal was to be compassionate and clear at a time in history where the church has struggled to be either.  You will have to be the judge if I succeeded in accomplishing this goal.  My prayer is that the sermon was God-honoring and helpful to those who listened.  I’m including some other links to resources that I found helpful in preparing my sermon.

Sermon Audio from June 17, 2012
Sermon Manuscript

Additional Resources:

Tim Hawks’ Sermon on Homosexuality (audio)
Matt Chandler’s Teaching on Homosexuality (video)
Exodus International (website)
Living Hope Ministries
 (website)
A Christian Response to Homosexuality (article)
A Christian Perspective on Homosexuality (article)
Desiring God Resources on Homosexuality (various)

 

Discrimination is Sin

Over the last four weeks, I have been preaching through the book of James at my church.  Yesterday’s sermon was from James 2:1-13 where James addresses the issues of “favoritism.”  The Greek word for showing favoritism is prosopolempsia, which literally means to “receive the face of someone.”  Different English translations attempt to capture the idea with phrases like “partiality” or “respect of persons” or “public opinion.”  But I think the word that best captures the idea is discrimination – treating people differently based on their external appearance rather than the content of their character.

James gives an example of the big idea – describing how we can treat wealthy people one way and poor people a different way (based on their appearance) when they come into our Christian gatherings.  James is strong on this point in 2:9 – when we discriminate based on external appearance, we sin.  In other words, devaluing people based on their race, gender, age, nationality, income level, clothing choices, or any other external observation is an offense not primarily against that individual, but against God in heaven.  This is striking, is it not?  We are offending our Maker (and their Maker) when we decide that someone else is not worthy of our love and respect because they look different than we do.  We are betraying the fact that we don’t really believe in the imago dei – that every person is made in the image of God.

I am thankful for God confronting us on this issue in the book of James because this is not a sin-issue that we typically address.  For any number of reasons, we fail to confess our words, attitudes, and actions that demean people from different tribes.  May God help us repent of this practice and love all people the same.

You can listen to the full sermon here.
You can download the manuscript here.

A Preview of the Book of James

Tomorrow morning I am starting a new series in the book of James, one of the most practical and helpful books in the New Testament.  As our elders lead our congregation through a year-long journey of the Bible (we are 1/3 of the way through at this point), we feel like it is important to remember our ultimate goal is not simply information mastery, but connection with God and obedience to His Word.  As James so clearly states it, “be doers of the word and not hearers only.”  One temptation Christian face who have experienced the gospel of grace is to think that because Jesus did all the work for us, we are off the hook when it comes to obedience.  But this is a wrong view of the Christian gospel.  As we learned when we studied the book of Galatians last spring, the gospel frees us to obey God, not to ignore God.  The grace of the gospel, rightly understood, changes the motivations of our hearts so that we want to live for God every day and no longer live for ourselves.

But what does this look like on a daily basis?  This is the question that the book of James seeks to answer.  The author of the letter is the half-brother of Jesus, James the Just (see Matthew 13:55).  He earned the name “James the Just” from church tradition based on his reputation of being an advocate for the oppressed and passionate about righteousness.  The Bible teaches us that James originally doubted the claims of Jesus (see John 7:3-5) to be the Messiah, but was later converted after a post-resurrection encounter with the Risen Lord (see 1 Corinthians 15:7).  Later, James becomes a major leader in the early church in Jerusalem (see Acts 12 and Acts 15).  Paul even mentions James by name as one of the pillars of the early church that he visited in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:9,12).  When the Jerusalem council met to decide one of the early controversies in the life of the church (did Gentile converts to Christ have to follow the Law to become Christians?), James was the leader who spoke on behalf the apostles (see Acts 15:13).  James had obviously come a long way from his days of doubt to now calling himself a “slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (James 1:1)

The best way to read the book of James is to understand that this is a letter from a pastor to his people.  James is a spiritual shepherd, writing to his sheep.  The letter is addressed to “the 12 tribes in Dispersion,” meaning the Jewish believers who had been spread throughout the region because of growing persecution (see Acts 8:1).  Imagine a pastor writing a letter to his congregation after they had been separated by force and his people relocated over a large geographic area.  This gives you some sense of the heart of this letter – a pastor concerned for the integrity, holiness, maturity, and heart of his people.  As James addresses the needs of his people, he gives them immensely practical advice.  This book is not void of theology, but is most focused on the right application of that theology.  How do followers of Jesus live out their faith in this world on a daily basis?  The practice of Christianity, James reminds us, is not only about gathering together with other believers to worship the Risen Christ.  It is also about living out a vibrant faith between Sundays.  If what we sing and preach on Sunday morning doesn’t match the way we live on Monday morning, then we need to grow up and mature in our faith.

For the book of James says it best, “faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead.” (2:17)