Tag Archives: james 1

Religion/Ritual bad, Relationship good? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 2]

26 Mar

Is religion automatically bad?  Some Christians are very anti-religion because they feel it goes against the concept of relationship.  But does it? 

Read James 1:26-27, and you’ll see James suggest that religion is not only a viable way to view our connection with God, but that God approves of religion that has a heart for social justice and righteousness. 

Before we study this further, it could be helpful to define the term that James uses. What is religion? The word “religion” is defined as:  appropriate beliefs and devout practice of obligations relating to supernatural persons and powers.”[1] That definition is somewhat different from what we normally think of when we view religion negatively. We think of a ritualistic approach to worshiping God, an approach that is called “dead” or “rote” or “empty.”

Have people ever said to you, “you are very religious”?  In our society, the people who say that usually don’t mean “you are practicing empty rituals”.  They usually mean that you are pious, and maybe even that you have a close relationship with God, or that they wish they could live that way, and that is a good thing.

When we hear someone say to us, “you are very religious,” we might inwardly (or also outwardly) bristle at this suggestion because we evangelicals have made such a big deal of emphasizing that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.  We can react quickly back, “I do not have a religion, I have a relationship!”  But I would suggest that we hold our tongue.  The people we are talking to might have very little idea of what we are taking about: a religion vs. relationship.  They almost certainly didn’t mean to suggest that we are practicing an empty, dead ritualistic approach to God. 

Instead they probably observed our relationship with God, assumed that it is religion because that is how they conceive of Christianity, and thus they were actually complementing us.  So a proper response on our part, when someone says, “you are very religious” would be to say, “Thank you.”  That kind of gracious response is much more likely to open the door to a conversation about faith in Christ, than if we were to respond curtly, “UH…NO!  I do not have a religion.  I have a relationship.” 

Instead, allow yourself to live with their viewpoint, and take their words as a complement, say “Thank you,” and pursue a line of discussion that is gracious and generous and kind, talking about how Jesus has been so meaningful and life-changing and that you have a real friendship with him. 

The other side of the coin is that a ritualistic approach to Christianity is not necessarily wrong.  That is what James is referring to back in James 1.  As Christians we actually do have a religion.  A religion is simply a word that refers to the set of practices that we engage in.  Think about what you do when you gather for worship with your church family. You sit in a room, practicing gathered corporate worship together.  Jesus even commissioned his disciples to regularly practice rituals like gathering for prayer, teaching, communion and baptism.

Many people in protestant evangelical churches might respond, “But we are not at all like the liturgical churches and all their rituals.” 

That is the impression that we have of ourselves.  That we are completely different, and we are right, and they are wrong.  I totally disagree.  Let me explain.  Yes, our liturgy is different than their liturgy. 

I remember when I was on sabbatical and went to the Orthodox church, and it felt like I was a on a different Christian planet. Nearly every surfaced is covered with religious art called icons, and their worship service could be described as highly ritualistic.  But you know what?  Every church that I visited on sabbatical had their own liturgy.  We do too. 

Liturgy is a term that pops up in the Bible here and there, and it simply means “the work or service of the people.”  This is why we call our gatherings “services”.  Used in relation to worship services, “liturgy” carries the idea of what Christian people do, the work we do, of worshiping God.  When it comes to liturgy, there is no one right way.  High liturgy, which features lots of rituals, can minister deeply to people, enhancing their relationship to God.  No doubt, Faith Church is much more on the side of what is called low church, involving less ritual.  But we still have plenty of ritual too.  We don’t print it in a bulletin, but when I preached this sermon, I asked everyone present to describe the order of service we typically use, and they were able to list it out. That order describes our liturgy, our ritual.

But here’s the important thing to remember about our ritual, our liturgy: it is designed to enhance relationship with God!  So both are true, Christianity is a religion, and a relationship. 


[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 530.

God won’t give you more than you can handle? [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 1]

11 Mar
Photo by Rohit Guntur on Unsplash

If you’ve ever been going through a really difficulty time, you may have heard one of the following statements:

  • God won’t give you more than you can handle.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God.
  • This, too, shall pass.

We hear them regularly, don’t we?  We interact with people going through hard times, and often we struggle to make sense of it.  Where is God in the midst of my pain?  Will I make it through?  What do we say to people who are struggling?  We want to be there for them, we want to encourage them, but we are concerned that we are going to say the wrong thing.  It’s easy to fall back on sayings that we’ve heard before, maybe that were said to us during our pain, and we hope that we will sound wise and helpful.  In those confusing moments, what often comes out of our mouths?  One of these statements! 

But are they true?  Or are they false?  Let’s fact check them. This post starts the third week in a sermon series I’m preaching at Faith Church on false ideas Christians believe. We’ve covered sin and the Bible, and now we’re fact-checking statements about dealing with difficulty.

First up is “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Are there any Bible verses that might prove or disprove this?  How about 1 Corinthians 10:13?

On the surface, this seems to be a verse that proves the statement definitively.  But a closer look reveals that this verse is not about difficult times, but about temptation. 

But, Paul says here, “There is no temptation so powerful that it has the ability to overpower us to the point where we are incapable of resisting it.  God is faithful.  He will provide a way for us to stand up under it.” 

And yet some of us have faced incredibly difficult temptations that have overwhelmed us. Is the verse wrong? No, the verse is right. God is faithful. When we succumb to temptation, James 1, tells us it is because we choose to indulge the temptation: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

So maybe the phrase is wrong? Let’s examine it. It starts with “God won’t give.” Taken by itself, it describes God as doing the giving.  Is that what God does?  Go around giving people trouble?  Hardship?  Pain? 

I know it says, “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” but that presumes that God does give in the first place, and the context of the phrase is difficulty, so does God give us difficulty? 

The image we get when we use this phrase is of a person walking carefree down the sidewalk, and enjoying a nice sunny spring day, and all of a sudden God pops up and says, “Oh hey, I am giving you this box to carry.”  Could be a box of bad health, or a box of job loss, or a box of broken dishwasher.  You name your pain.  The person holds the box, and it is heavy.  They don’t want to be carrying it.  But God gave it to them.  And then God shows up again and gives them another box.  More pain. More difficulty.  And now they are struggling.   With one box, it was bad, but manageable.  Now with two boxes, whew…it is really taking its toll.  And then God shows up again.  A third box.  The hits just keep on coming.  Now the pain in tripled and overwhelming.  They won’t make it much further.  God shows up again and gives them a fourth box.  They fall down unable to handle it, the boxes of pain crashing over them, doing them in

Is God a giver of pain like that?  No!  We read Jesus saying that God is a giver of good gifts in Matthew 7:9-11, and James says the same thing in James 1:13-17.

So where does all the trouble and difficulty come from?  Many places.  Our own bad choices can result in pain, other people making bad choices affect us, and the broken and fallen world we live in.  There is also a biblical concept that God punishes, or disciplines or corrects those he loves.  Is that how God gives out difficulty to us?  That he is punishing us?  Is all our pain actually punishment?

The phrase came up in our Deuteronomy study in chapter 8.  It is in more than one of the Psalms, and Proverbs 3:12 and which is quoted in Hebrews 12:6.  It’s also mentioned in Revelation. 

These passages describe God’s correction as very different from the many difficulties we face in life.  God is not looking around just randomly punishing people, saying “I love them so much.”  Instead, punishment occurs after a disobedience, and for the most part, that punishment is God lovingly allowing us to face the consequences of our bad choice.  But know this, in our pain, he is right there with us. 

So as we fact-check the first part of that statement, I say it is totally false.  We need to see God as the giver of good gifts, as the parent who loves us, and thus allows us to go through the consequences of our bad choices, but who never leaves us.  Therefore God is not deciding who can handle difficulty and then doling out bad circumstances based on that. Check back in for part 2 where we fact-check the second half of the phrase: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Follow up to Joy & Peace (aka “resting in the liver”)

13 Aug

What an amazing Sunday!  We got to celebrate with seven people as they were baptized, proclaiming their faith in Christ and their desire to be his disciples for life.  That visual image of moving from death (under the water) to life (rising above the water) is so clear.

Through those baptisms on Sunday we saw a bit of what Jesus meant when he said he came to give us abundant life.  We also learn about that life through the Fruit of the Spirit.  On Sunday we took a brief look at Joy and Peace.  Very similar to the difference between “Like and Love”, which is the difference between opinion and conviction, we talked about how we can experience joy and peace despite the circumstances.  James reminds of this when he says “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”. 

Wow.  Read that a couple times reflectively.  James knew what it meant to rest in the liver, which is, by the way, one way some cultures talk about peace.  In our culture, the heart or stomach or mind is the seat of our emotions.  But liver?  Yep, the liver.  We might say “give your liver a rest,” but when we say that, we’re not talking about emotions!  In some cultures they feel emotion is centered in the liver like we say we feel it in our heart.  Just different body parts, that’s all.  Same phenomenon.

The question is how do we properly deal with our emotions.  James is essentially saying “Use your mind (consider) when you are dealing with life’s crap (it) to control your emotions (joy).”  Consider it joy.  Yeah, it’s that simple.

Yeah, right.  Simple?  Try impossible.  Or at least it can seem that way.

So I came across this very helpful article.  Check it out.  Maybe it will help you grow joy and peace in your life.  Another excellent resource about emotions is the book The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allendar and Tremper Longman.  I urge you to begin a study of it.  Have you contacted a friend to help you?  Why not meet with them week by week until you finish studying the book?  We’re growing fruit this month!  Maybe discussing it more here will help too?