MATH Advice (James 1)

Brotherly Advice:  A Study Through the Book of James

There are times in life when we could all use a little advice.  I pray that you have people in your life that you can go to for wise, godly counsel when your way seems uncertain.  Many times we have a brother or sister, whether biological or spiritual, that has already been down the road we’re travelling and is equipped to help us along our journey.

For me, the book of James is one of those methods God uses to pass along some brotherly advice.  Most scholars seem to be in agreement that the person writing down the words in the book of James is James, the brother of Jesus.  Here’s a guy that grew up around Jesus yet did not believe through most, if not all, of the life of Jesus on earth.  Yet eventually James came around and believed that Jesus was more than a brother, He was the Son of God! 

What do you do when life doesn’t seem to add up?  Who do you turn to?  James is a great place to turn for some brotherly advice in those circumstances.  In the first chapter, we find what I will call some MATH Advice to be used when life doesn’t add up for you.  Let’s take a look at the four elements of this advice. 

  • Maturity Advice:  When life doesn’t add up and we turn to God for some MATH Advice, we often need a good dose of Maturity advice to begin with!  James opens with this incredible equation that at first glance may not make much sense.  He says we ought to consider trials of many kinds to equal pure joy.  The laws of mathematics state that what is on one side of the equation has to equal what is on the other side for the statement to be true.  While this one may seem difficult at first, it is a fun “proof problem”  to go through the steps God shows us are necessary for this equation to be true.  The end result of the trials of many kinds is maturity that makes us complete and equipped with everything we need.  When life doesn’t add up, it is important to hear the brotherly advice passed along by James that God wants to use everything to bring you to a greater maturity.  He also want to use the trials and hardships of life that you go through to help others reach a greater maturity as well.  Your story of faithfulness can be a great encouragement to others if you are willing to share it.  As God moves you along in your journey with Him, take time to listen to some MATH Advice and consider the greater Maturity He is calling you to. 
  • Attitude Advice:  As we continue to look to our brother James for some MATH Advice when life doesn’t add up, he turns to giving us some Attitude advice.  Sometimes life doesn’t seem to add up for us because we need a serious look at our attitude.  James addresses two extremes that we tend to gravitate toward and they both need corrected.  He says the person in humble circumstances needs to take pride in our high position while the one in rich circumstances should take pride in their low position.  While that may sound like some upside down math advice, it is just the advice we need when our attitude seems to be upside down.  When our attitude is down in the dumps and we begin to believe we can’t be useful to God, James would give us some brotherly advice to look up and recognize the value we have in God’s sight.  As much as that attitude advice is needed, many times we have problems with the other side of thinking too highly of ourself.  It is in those circumstances that James passes long some brotherly advice to remember where we came from and that without Jesus we are hopelessly lost.  We are able to grow in the MATH Advice that James wants us to learn when we allow God to examine, and adjust, our Attitude.
  • Temptation Advice: One of the reasons that life doesn’t seem to add up for us is because we need to spend more time listening to the MATH Advice that James gives us in the area of Temptation.  James begins this advice with a reminder that God is not the author of temptation.  While we would rarely claim that God tempted us, many times we live as though we believe just that!  James makes it clear that it is our lusts and desires that carries us down the path of giving in to temptation.  When we excuse our behavior and act like God doesn’t care, or we even blame God for putting us in a position where we feel we have not choice, we live as if God has tempted us.  James tells us how the seeds of temptation are planted through desire and we allow it to grow by keeping it fed and watered rather than rejecting it completely.  The advice James gives us in dealing with temptation is to always remember that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.  God does not tempt us, He has promised to provide a way of escape — a way to overcome the temptation — if we look to Him and trust His Word.  As we live life that doesn’t seem to add up, let’s take some MATH Advice from James and learn how to recognize and deal with Temptation.
  • Hearing Advice:  James closes out his MATH Advice in chapter one with some much-needed Hearing advice.  Sometimes life seems to not add up because we are in the midst of learning a lesson that brings us to a greater maturity.  Sometimes it is because God is adjusting our attitude.  Other times we are in need of greater strength in rejecting temptation.  Many times though, our life seems upside down because we are not doing what God’s Word says!  We attend church, we may even read the Bible and pray, but if the Word isn’t getting into our actions then we really do need some hearing advice from James.  Our time with God ought to call us to action.  If we are really hearing the Word of God, people ought to notice it coming out in our lives.  And in case you’re wondering what that means or looks like, James gives a very clear picture in his hearing advice — look after orphans and widows and keep yourself from being polluted.  If you are in fact taking in the Word of God, how is it being displayed in your life?  In what ways do you care for those that are helpless or without care?  How diligent are you in keeping your mind, body, and spirit free from the pollution of the world?  If you are not sure how to answer those questions, then perhaps it is time to sit at the feet of James for some brotherly advice!    As we grow in the MATH Advice James gives us, it is important to understand that real Hearing involves real doing.

So, how are you doing with the brotherly MATH Advice that James would pass along?  As you move from where you are to where God wants you to be, do you listen to the Maturity Advice?  Are you open to recognizing, and responding to, the Attitude Advice that God would give?  Are you living your life in such a way that you have taken the Temptation Advice and set your path far from evil?  Are you spending regular time with God to understand that His Hearing Advice is as much about the rest of your body as it is your ears?  I pray that you will pay close attention to the brotherly advice James wants you to hear so that when life doesn’t seem to add up, you can turn to his MATH Advice to have a better understanding of God’s perspective!

Finding The Perfect Gift

Here in the United States, the Christmas shopping season has arrived.  Yesterday, “black Friday”, was the unofficial start — a day when multitudes of people stand in lines at stores through the night for the chance to find the “perfect gift” at the “perfect price”.  Many times, the rudeness level of America skyrockets on this day as patience grows thin and tempers flare among people striving to obtain satisfaction by finding the ultimate bargain before someone else beats them to it.

I think it would be amazing to follow the life of a few of these perfect gifts over the next year.  I wonder how many of them will bring the life-changing satisfaction that the purchaser anticipates?  How long the joy will remain in the life of the gift recipient?  Will the excitement of something new outlast the credit card debt required to obtain it?  How many lives will be truly transformed because of the perfect gift found for them on “black Friday”? 

I didn’t participate in the shopping frenzy yesterday.  I did make it to the local Menard’s to look at bathroom medicine cabinets, but there wasn’t anything I needed badly enough to make me wait among the crowd of people lined up to check out.  No, my day was spent at home with family — my immediate family and members of the extended family that stopped by throughout the day.  It was a joy to see the little ones playing with a box of old toys.  Nothing fancy in it; just a few cars, a truck, tractor, some blocks, and other “old-fashioned” toys.  Yet even those “simple” toys weren’t necessary as the play turned to the box itself and then to some plastic containers from the cupboard. 

The perfect gift?  It was here!  The peace, joy, and contentment found among family who love one another and have no need to “one-up” anyone.  The pleasure of sharing a meal and the simplicity of spending time together with this family will not lose its luster like the expensive gifts being bought and sold in the stores.  The work that it takes to maintain the relationships is worth the value of the gift that it is. 

As you think about the gifts you want to give and the gifts you want to receive this Christmas, meditate on these words from James 1:16-18:

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting  shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

This Christmas season, don’t be deceived by the glitter and sparkle of the advertising industry.  Don’t expect to find the perfect gift on the shelf of any store — it won’t be there.  You may find some nice things, but they won’t be the “good and perfect gifts” that the Father really wants for you to have.  The things you give and receive may complement the true gift, but they will never match it.  It is so easy to be deceived about what we need, what we have to have, what we must give, that we miss the gift of Jesus.  The Father’s choosing to give us birth through the word of truth — through Jesus — is the greatest gift of all

May you and I recognize the truth that “every good and perfect gift is from above”.  May we do more than recognize that truth, may we reflect it in the things we do and say.  May we constantly thank God for the good and perfect gifts that only He can provide.  May we keep the things of this world in proper perspective as we acknowledge God’s gift this Christmas season and each day that we live.