The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Poverty, Widows, and Economics ~ James 1

james-1146986On Sunday we started a brand new series looking at James. We opened up this book by realizing that it is a short, straightforward, and punchy book. James pulls no punches and rattles off challenge after challenge in this book. And it’s a needed book.

Douglas Moo says this about James,

All too easily Scripture becomes a book to be analyzed rather than a message to be obeyed. This message is urgently required. All across the world, people are awakening to biblical Christianity. Third World churches are burgeoning, American ‘evangelicalism continues to attract much attention, and European Christians are seeing renewal and a new evangelistic concern. Yet the personal and social transformation that should accompany such revival are, very often, sadly lacking. Why is this? Surely one of the main reasons is that the simple plea of James – ‘do the word’ – is not being heeded. The bible is being translated, commented on, read, studied, preached and analyzed as never before. But it is questionable whether it is being obeyed to a comparable degree. All this suggests that the message of James is one that we all need to hear – and obey. No profound theologian, James’ genius lies in his profound moral earnestness; in his powerfully simple call for repentance for action, and for a consistent Christian lifestyle.

So we are going to look at one chapter a week, highlighting a key text in that chapter. And while James 1 has lots of great things to look at we focused in on verse 27.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

And this is probably one of the most well known verses in the Bible and in the book of James. But it is also a really challenging verse. James here pushes past what we say we believe, to examine our lives. He pushes past whether or not “you believe” in Jesus and asks, what do your actions say about what you believe. Do you care for the poor? Do you care for the orphans, the widows, the oppressed and vulnerable?

James wants to shift the discussion from beliefs to actions. And this is one that makes us uncomfortable because we can hide behind our beliefs. We can  say we believe the right things, and then not do the right things. James won’t have any of that. So he invites us to examine our lives – are we active in binding ourselves to the poor and oppressed?

But James isn’t done there. He then reminds us not just to actively care for the poor, but to also actively reject systems of oppression. He says, “Don’t let the world corrupt you”. And we hear this and think in terms of morality – like sexual sins or doctrinal deviancy. But that’s not James’ point. James’ point is actually about money, poverty, and economics. James’ point is that we should not let the world corrupt us by joining in a system that exploits the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.

James is an Old Testament prophet and in many senses what mattered was caring for the oppressed (widows, children, etc). And so James says start doing that, and pull out of systems that do not do that. Who cares if the world says it’s okay to live on the backs of the poor – God says it’s evil.

So James calls us to examine not only our actions, but our economic activities to see if there are areas where we are hurting others. And if we live in the West then for sure our economic activity is hurting others. We know this, that things are cheaper here because someone wasn’t paid fairly elsewhere. There are tons of examples of this all over. And James wants to raise it to our eyes and say this needs to change.

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes this,

The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey.

That’s true. So what do we do with all of this?

Well on Sunday I gave the challenge that we need to bind ourselves to the poor. That means both taking positive action of finding ways to supporting and caring, and also “negative” actions. And by that I mean removing things from our lives that hurt the poor, whether that’s supporting companies profiting from war, buying cheap stuff because it’s easier, or whatever else. We are called to actively support the poor, and actively remove things that hurt the poor.

That’s the call of James – it’s clear, and it’s tough for how to live it out. But it’s something worth trying. And that’s the challenge James is calling us to.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Following Jesus means binding your life to the poor and oppressed.

Teaching Points:

  • James is punchy, straightforward, and needed.
  • The true test of any religious profession is not the outward rituals but real actions demonstrated in real lives.
  • James says what matters isn’t doctrine but deeds.
  • We can hide behind our doctrine and our dogma.
  • We want to talk about our beliefs; James wants to examine our lives.
  • If we are to care for the poor we cannot be part of a system that exploits the poor.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? Have you thought about how your actions are your beliefs before? What was most challenging in this sermon for you? Were you aware of how some of our buying habits hurts others? What habits might Jesus be asking you to change?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Take your family to serve widows, orphans, or the poor this week. Pick a date and plan it out. Maybe serve at a soup kitchen, maybe get toys together to give to a shelter, maybe bake cookies for someone who has lost someone. Make it real and practical.

Challenge for the Week: What can you add to your life to bind yourself to the poor, and what can you cut out that oppresses the poor.

The Anger of God and Our Indifference to Injustice

275160_8265Often in the prophets we read of God’s anger and his wrath. I know a lot of people for whom the language of God’s wrath makes them uncomfortable. I know it often makes me uncomfortable sometimes. Sometimes we seek to explain it away, put it into context, or find more gracious interpretations for it. I think that’s all fine and good as far as it goes, but sometimes I think we need to sit with the language and read and understand the depth that God cares about some things.

God’s anger in the prophets is because of the injustice around Israel. God is standing up for the hurting, oppressed, and those seeking hope. I actually think our uncomfort with some of God’s strong language reveals our more passive feelings to injustice around us.

While studying the prophets recently I read this from Abraham Joshua Heschel. I found it brilliant, true…and very convicting. He says this:

The exploitation of the poor is to us a misdemeanor; to God, it is a disaster. Our reaction is disapproval; God’s reaction is something no language can convey. It is a sign of cruelty that God’s anger is aroused when the rights of the poor are violated, when widows and orphans are oppressed? (The Prophets, 65)

His point for us is that we do not take the exploitation of the poor nearly as seriously as God does. Our uncomfort with the strong language of God in the prophets may be an indication of our passive acceptance of the exploitation around us.

So for me what this means is this. Have I become indifferent to the suffering I see around me, and around the world? Am I active in seeking to stand up for those who are hurting, and having the same passion God does about injustice?

I think these are important questions to think about, and even more important questions to act on.

Glocal: Getting involved Locally and Globally

This past week I was in Germany for International Board meetings for cbm Canada ( This is an organization that is absolutely fully committed to breaking the cycle of poverty and disability. They practice deep transparency, inclusion, and fantastic work. I heard stories of people being changed through medical interventions. I heard stories of people receiving sight, of being included where they were ostracized before, of lives and communities being changed through their work. And what I realized was something really beautiful: it’s not just their work, but also my work.

This is something that is powerful about the day and age we live in. My life no longer can just have a local impact, but a global impact. We can spread the Kingdom of God not only here, but also all over the world. The impact and influence of our lives are not confined to our neighborhood, or even nation. Our actions can change our communities here, and in Kuala Lumpur. The point is simple, if we follow Jesus our lives should change people locally and globally. Our lives should change others locally and globally through our service, our advocacy, and our giving.

And so this week as I heard stories, I realized I was a part of those stories.

So my question to you is simple: what stories are you involved in? What stories is your life contributing to? Is your life changing lives not only here but also all over the world? Because we have an amazing gift, and a responsibility to partner with God’s Kingdom change everywhere.

So my challenge to you is this: get involved locally and globally.

If you aren’t consistently and regularly ensuring that your resources, time, and finances are changing lives globally, then I think this is something worth changing. In fact, I know it’s worth changing, because you will be investing in changing lives. So adopt a sponsor child, challenge your friends to join with you, and choose to regularly give. Obviously I’m biased as to what organization you should be involved with, but I’d rather you give anywhere than nowhere. So spend some time, research, and get involved. Because the way you live, can and should change the way others live across the world. This is both our calling and our privilege, and it’s a beautiful thing to be apart of.

Changing the World Locally and Globally

I really believe we are all called to change the world. I believe that often begins by changing the world of those around us. This is a part of our calling as Christians – to be making a difference.

And when I talk about these things I always put it in this language: being locally grounded, and globally focused. Jesus says we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and we are to reach out and love them. There is then this great discussion on who is our neighbour, found in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus essentially ends up teaching that our neighbour is someone that is within our reach to help.

There are many next-door neighbors who need help in all sorts of ways: babysitting, cutting the lawn, a friend, meals, or support. The point is that if we can be part of making their lives better, we should be. That’s the locally grounded piece. But if our focus is purely on those around us but we miss the fact that we can be blessing to the world, I think we’ve also missed the point. God has blessed us in Canada, North America, and Europe I believe we are blessed to bless others.

So for me I consistently ask this question: which neighbor can I bless locally? which neighbor can I bless globally?

I think these are good questions to think about, and even greater questions to take action on. And if today you are wondering who you might be able to bless locally? Here’s a good way to get started, sit on your front porch, pray, and watch. Be open to God leading you, and pay attention and I’m sure you’ll find a way to start to bless and give. And if you’re looking for a way to bless globally, well there are many amazing organizations. For me though I’m really invovled in cbm Canada that does amazing work focusing on breaking the cycle of poverty and disability. And if you’re interested in what they do you can check them out in the video below.

The point is that as Christians we need to be involved with both our global, and local neighbours. We need to know names, and faces. We need to be making a difference because as John 1 puts it, when Jesus moved into the neighborhood he changed everything.

A Challenge from the Past: Giving, Wealth, Hospitality, and John Wesley

My dad was first a pastor in the Free Methodist Church of Canada. Coming from that background I’ve always appreciated the writing and person of John Wesley.

Recently, while reading some of his stuff, I came across a few quotes from him that I found really challenging. So if you don’t feel like being challenged too, maybe just skip the rest of the blog post.

Wesley wrote this:

“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them…The distance that wealthy people are now able to put between them and the poor makes them less likely to appreciate the need for hospitality.”

Wow how true is that? One great reason why those who are rich have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. That just hits home, because I know I am rich. While I’m not rich in North American terms I am incredibly rich in light of the rest of the world. This quote made think about my sympathy for others who are struggling in my neighborhood and in Africa. It made me think about whether or not I’m willing to open my house, my life, and my world to those who need comfort and true welcome. It made me think about whether I am too isolated and insulated from those with true needs. In general, it made me think a lot. But I don’t think that’s the point.

I don’t think Wesley wrote it so I would think deep thoughts. I think he wrote it so I might take action. So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to try to act on my convictions and go from there. Maybe if that quote got you to thinking, you should see if it can’t move you to acting as well…