James: How Faith Works

James knew that the world detested Christians, but he also knew the Christian faith was an active world-changing faith. It was a faith at work. In other words, faith had fruits of faith (i.e. works). It was a faith that looked like Jesus, talked like Jesus, and served like Jesus. With millions of Christians suffering persecution and isolation worldwide, what letter couldn’t be more applicable or encouraging today?

So what is faith, true faith? James shows us how faith works. He makes it clear that salvation doesn’t come through good works but that true faith produces good works. The journey of faith is like a construction site where one is continually sharpening their skills on the job and among others. Yet in the case of faith the site is the church among one another. It’s not an easy journey, it’s slow, and there are setbacks. The risks are great, but the reward is even greater because we are in Jesus.

Are you ready to grow in your faith? Then let’s go!

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the best investment advice I ever received

Waters cover the eart

“What set you on this course?” This was a question an aunt of mine recently asked. Since she was curious, others might be too. Therefore, I thought I’d share some of what I said to her along with insights from a little known prophet named Habakkuk.

It is an encouragement to get emails from those interested in following our new course direction (or calling). I know there are a few who think we are a little nuts to take our munchkins to a place like Africa, but coming from a family that has traveled as much as ours it shouldn’t be a surprise that the next generations have caught the travel bug too. I have to admit, the slideshows my grandparents would show with unabridged commentary from their trips to Africa, and visits from the Park family, gave me a contagious desire to go to Africa.

So what set us on the course? If you were to ask me 10-15 years ago, I would have never thought this is where I would end up. I wanted to be an artist like my dad, but when I heard you don’t make much money in that type of work I then wanted to be a writer or journalist. That was until, in high school, my church harnessed my gifting. My youth pastor would say, “You can’t take a U-Haul with you to your grave.” He encouraged me to continue my future in college studying Scripture and shepherding (it’s was there I also met Sarah). And immediately after college I took my first voyage to Africa on 9-month apprenticeship to South Africa. It was my first trip to the continent and it wouldn’t be my last.

When I returned to the US, I was called as the assistant pastor of a church in Indiana. For 8-years, the church cultivated my passion for Africa and the local church. It takes a selfless church to consider losing a pastor to the field when calling him.

About 6-years ago, I got an email out of the blue from a former prof at college who went on to be a pastor in inner-city Philly. He hired Sarah to be their children’s ministry director. You might remember, she grew up in the Congo until she was a teen. Africa was in her blood (quite literally). The prof asked, “You remember Sarah? Well, you like Africa and she does too. You love Jesus, and she does too.” Then he gave me her digits and the rest is history. That same prof married us in 2009. Thereafter the itch to go back to Africa was one we wanted to scratch. Our first thought was to go to the Congo near the area Sarah lived and we did training for pastors and youth leaders. It was amazing work with people eager to learn. However, as we left we were moved to go to places more forgotten.

Little known Habakkuk records some very scorching words from God’s, “Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire.” (2:13a) In other words, “God says, all the things men work for (i.e. newer house, bigger car, longer boat, larger flat-screen, fatter paycheck) will one day burn or outdate.” It’s not that they are bad things to have or own, they just aren’t lasting investments.

Then God continues by saying, “nations weary themselves for nothing” (2:13b) We see this, right now, in the political situation in Egypt and Syria or in the economical situation of many places in Africa. The strength, safety, and history of nations can crumble in a moment. In Habakkuk’s day, it was Babylon that was making headline news. They were bringing terror upon God’s people, but God declared they would only be a blimp in history and would soon fade into oblivion.

That didn’t quite calm Habakkuk’s nerves at that moment, however, in the midst of some serious woe’s, God is answering Habakkuk’s question, “Will the sin that I see go unnoticed?” A good question. Especially, when you hear the news about the latest child abuser or murderer near home or the unjust rampage on the other side of the globe. To which each human has a God-given beacon that blares out, “Somebody do something about this!”

God will do something. It might not be immediate, but He will. He makes an “I will statement” in the next verse, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) Do you want to invest in something that will return its yield and that will return on its investment? Trust in, and buy into, the promise that He will fill every nook, cranny, and crevasse of this earth with His glory. If He says it He will do it. History proves it. That is God’s best bit of investment advice.

Most people understand that money doesn’t fix everything and the newest or neediest thing doesn’t satisfy but for a fleeting moment. What people are searching for is a golden ticket, a system that works, a way to peace, or a thing that will fill the empty hole inside them that wonders, “Is what I am doing or living for mattering?” Most things fall short, but God promises that like water He will fills every possible hole with His glory. This can be a hard promise to believe when the glory that man can make for himself is so tangible. Man can build for kingdoms and castles and rule in them proudly. He can build portfolios and resumes that gleam with self-made glory. And God warns against this imitation glory,

“What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it” (2:18-19)

As God closes on his answer to Habakkuk’s question, He declares that a divine role reversal of Creator vs. creation must take place in every humans heart, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (2:20) It’s as if God says to Habakkuk, “Shh. Rest. Lay your life here at My feet. I am in control. Trust Me. I will bring justice. I will restore what is broken. I will right what is wrong. I will judge the living and the dead. I will wipe every tear. I will fill this earth with my glory.”

In fact, God has given us a glimpse of His glory. He sent His beloved Son to walk this planet, who lived a sinless life, received the most unfair trial, suffered under the weight of the worlds sin and the wrath of God upon Himself in His death, murdered like a criminal, but three-days later, rose the grave, defeated death, and made your way to eternal glory possible.

You might wonder what Habakkuk has to do with our course direction. It has everything to do with it. It is the promise that God gives to Habakkuk that gives us reason to go to Africa with our munchkins. It is for fame and glory. Not our own. May He cover this dry land with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

I need a job

Q: My job offers are falling through. So I might have to move my wife and kids in order to get a job. What should I do?

Here is my encouragement to you as the man, husband, and father of your home:

First, lead your family to a season of fasting and prayer. Maybe set aside a meal, a day, a game-time, a TV show or movie, or evening to do nothing but seek God’s face. Preferably together. Nothing pulls a family closer together and close to God than prayer.

God wants you more than He wants you in a career or a better place.

Second, make a career choice and own it. Even if you or your wife do not like it at the moment. Live by the principle: love God and do what you want. [Emphasis is on loving God first. I can explain that in detail more if you would like.] There are probably a half-dozen excellent choices for you to pursue. Pick one and own it. If it’s not working pick something else and own it too.

God wants you serving for His namesake and you can do that anywhere whether plumbing or preaching.

Third, put your marriage and family above personal ambitions. Even when you don’t have a job you got them. They need you. Your kids need a God-fearing dad. And your wife needs a Jesus-styled-husband. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your family at the altar of personal ambitions.

God wants you to pour yourself into your most important job, your woman and your chitlins.

Fourth, when you get a job, praise God and work your keaster off as if God is your boss. In reality, He’s your undercover boss. Thank God for His grace and goodness. Worship Him. He is the giver of all good gifts, even your work. In turn as an act of worship work hard for Him. And know that as you work for Him you will shine.

God wants you not to work to please man, but Himself, which takes a lot of stress out of the job.

parenting is sanctifying

I am only 11-months into being a parent. Already my little girl is teaching me many things about God:

1. Giving up rights of sleep and other freedoms are just temporary sacrifices but big opportunities to invest in a new life.

Parenting is a temporary stewardship, which I think also means a temporary loss of sleep. I remember the first few days when we brought her home from the hospital and she would cry through the night. Sarah and I would take turns rocking her to sleep. In those frustrating moments God would remind me how dependent and needy I was, just like my little balling baby girl.

2. The work does not end when I get home from the office, it just begins.

The most important work is when I get home with my family. I do not have the right to take it easy or have a break. Passive homes lead to passive kids.

3. It is a joy to watch my wife morph into a mom.

She is becoming the most beautiful mom in the world. I love watching her teach, sing, and disciple one daughter, who now thinks she’s cool with her new tooth.

“Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children–how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’” – Deuteronomy 4:9-10

thumb licks [6.23.11]

My Problem with Love

Recently, I read a Christian commentator, who had fallen heads and heels in love, trying to draw a connection between romantic love and divine love. The parallels are tempting to make, but are fundamentally erroneous. The main reason is that the modern/post-modern notion of romantic love as manifested in contemporary western culture is a far cry from the love that Christ taught about and that God has for humanity. Here are a few of the important distinctions.

6 difficulties atheists encounter

Atheists often like to give the impression that they hold the rights to rational living because they reject the existence of God. Don’t be fooled by this. Atheism is an irrational conclusion on many levels. Consider 6 difficulties atheists encounter.

Gospel-Driven Effort

Growing in godliness is a fight of faith–a fight to believe the truth about our justification, our adoption, a fight to believe all that God says about us by virtue of our union with Christ. But growing in godliness is more than trusting; it is also trusting enough to obey. The New Testament gives us commands, and these commands involve more than remembering, revisiting, and rediscovering the reality of our justification. We must also put on, put off, put to death, strive, and make every effort.

Reminders Are More Effective Than Rebukes

Are you tired of being told that if you’re really serious about God, you must be in an “accountability group?” You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you and a small group of “friends” arrange for a time each week to get together and pick each other apart–uncovering layer after layer after layer of sin? The ones where all parties involved believe that the guiltier we feel the more holy we are? The ones where you confess your sin to your friends but it’s never enough? No matter what you unveil, they’re always looking for you to uncover something deeper, darker, and more embarrassing than what you’ve fessed up to. It’s usually done with such persistent invasion that you get the feeling they’re desperately looking for something in you that will make them feel better about themselves.

Great Questions for Married Couples

What are some questions a wife can ask her husband to know how to encourage him?

What questions can a husband ask his wife to encourage needed discussions?

My Favorite Sesame Street Classic!

myths regarding Christians and work

Myths regarding Christians and work:

1. Going to work in a standard job makes you a “missionary.”

2. Being a vocational Christian means you’re in “the center of God’s will” (which also means nothing bad will ever happen to you.)

3. Engaging the culture means opening a fair-trade coffee shop in your city (usually called “Ekklesia”), doing something in the inner city, painting pictures, making short films, or starting a band.

4. Christians always like their jobs and always feel “called to their careers.

Lessons from Christians who do something:

1. God wants you to do something [1 Thessalonians 4:11-12].

2. God sometimes uses your vocations to humble you [Genesis 3:17-18].

3. God wants you to use the talents He gave you [Proverbs 12:14].

4. God wants you to be excellent at what you do [Proverbs 22:29].

Outline taken from chapter 11: “It’s Sometimes a Wonderful Life, Evangelicals and Vocation” by Ted Kluck in Don’t Call It A Comeback. Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 2011. 143-154

concise biblical theology of work

Happy, Monday! Welcome back to work! With the long work week ahead, I felt it necessary to encourage all your labors. God loves work. Did you know God has set in His Word a theology for work?

  1. Working is a good and basic part of being human in God’s world. Ever since the Garden of Eden, mankind has worked [Genesis 1:28-31].
  2. Since, Genesis 3, work is cursed and frustrating, but it still is good, worthwhile and necessary.
  3. Followers of Christ have a strong motivation to work, not only because of the place of work in creation, but also because work [like any field of life] is a theatre for our service of Christ [Colossians 3:17].
  4. At a deep level, when we work at any job, we work for Christ [Colossians 3:23-24].
  5. As Christians, we do not work in order to gain self-fulfillment or fame or personal kudos. We work not for ourselves but for others, to serve them, not to be a burden to them, and to have something to share [Ephesians 4:28; 1 Timothy 5:8].
  6. Secular work is thus very valuable, worthwhile and important. But like any good thing, it can become an idol. We can start to look at our work for significance and value.
  7. We must remember that only Christ’s work redeems humanity. As useful and helpful as secular work is in our world, it will not save us or build Christ’s kingdom. That only happens through Spirit-backed gospel-centered proclamation.
  8. All work, inside or outside the church is sacred. There are not two classes of Christian workers—those who are really working for God and the rest who minister when they can off their 8-5 job.

Expect for point 8, all other points are adapted from The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. Matthias Media, Kingsford, Australia. 2009.137-138.

For more study on redeeming your work check out:

extreme makeover: work edition

The Seven Dwarfs vs. The Office

Millions of viewers enjoy watching the popular television show The Office. Could it be the show is much like a real life office? How does Dunder Mifflin make any money when so many people are not doing any work? The Office is full of characters that do not take their work Monday through Friday seriously. Sadly, TGIF is the norm for many workers who are gravely dissatisfied with work. With hopes of summer vacations, relaxing weekends, 401K’s, and early retirement.

Then there is the American workaholic who thinks their hard work will some how bring them happiness, identity, or merit with God. Like one of the Seven Dwarfs [except Grumpy] whistling joyfully while working, “Hi, ho, hi, ho it’s off to work we go.” The average American works 40 hours a week, which means they will work over 100,000 hours in their lifetime. Work is not a savior, status symbol, or a means to gain acceptance with God. If you stand before God one day He will not let you in because you were on Forbes 500 list, nor will He keep you out of heaven because you lived below the poverty line.

God does care about your work, primarily the way you work and who you work for. In Ephesians 6:5-9, Paul gives our workplace an extreme makeover. He challenges both the employee and the employer [i.e. student and teacher] with a new motivation for our work. God cares about your work and rewards your faithful service. Here is how Jesus can transform the way you work:

Jesus gives your work a greater purpose [Ephesians 6:5-6]

What do these verses have to do with work? A current application of the slave and master relationship is the work environment of worker and boss [or student and teacher]. It is interesting the Bible never denounces slavery, but it does give a new look at the slave and master relationship. According to many estimates over half of the people in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day was a slave. Slavery then was not about cracking whips, trading ships, and inhumane treatment; rather slavery was a means of work to pay off debt and it did not last longer than 7-years. There was a level of respect and care within the relationship of a slave and his master.

How does Christ give you are greater purpose for your work? First, obeying your earthly authorities reflects of upon your obedience of God’s authority. Jesus obeyed His Father because He had a holy sense of awe and respect for His authority. He had fear, not out of potential punishment, but God’s provision. In this passage is a deliberate word plan between master and Lord [Grk: kurios]. Biblically, every man and woman born into the world is a slave [cf. Romans 6]. In Christ, you are a slave to righteousness and a steward of your God-give life.

Second, Jesus helps you to work with wholehearted sincerity, integrity, purity, humility, and loyalty. To be wholehearted means you work well even when your authority is not looking. That is what is meant when Paul goes on to say, “obey your bosses not only to win their favor when their eye is upon you.” What is eye service? It is to fear the opinion of man rather than God. Fearing God is always more important because His authority trumps any man’s authority.

Be careful how you walk around and talk about your boss [or teachers]. I often counsel with parents who have children that do not respect their parent’s authority. I often ask the parents how they talk about their boss, parents, President, and authorities from the dinner table. Often disrespectful parents breed disrespectful children by the way they communicate about their authorities behind their backs.

Third, Jesus encourages you when you are tempted to view your work as futile and meaningless. He gives you the courage to keep on and persevere. Many would rather quit, drop out, or give up. Some think of work as a curse [Genesis 3] and vanity [Ecclesiastes], which is true to some extent, but Christ gives you a greater purposes for your work. Do not get your theology of work from the Fall, rather get it from Creation.

Fourth, Jesus encourages when you are tempted to view work as self-center quest for success rather than a sacrifice or service towards others and God. God gets the glory for any gracious success you happen to accumulate. Treasures of earth are miniscule compared to those of heaven. Seek first the kingdom of God, rather than building your own kingdom or corporate castle.

Jesus gives your work a greater purpose. This is the will of God for your work. You please your boss and God by doing your work and doing it well. A great question to ask when you work is: how would Jesus do your same job?

Commit to work for God as your first boss [Ephesians 6:7]

Work is an act of worship. It is not just a job. The way you work reflects on the one you worship. As you serve your boss you also serve God. How is work an act of worship? If you work with humility and integrity you are reflecting the character of Christ and therefore shining the gospel through the way you serve. Your work is an opportunity to shine the gospel.

How you know if you love your work more than God? Is your work an idol? Do you treasure the Lord more than your money, power or success? Have you lost your passion for work or ministry because you think it is work? People say, “Pastor, it is easy for you to love your work and honor your boss because you work for God. You don’t know my boss. He is not God!” It is as if they think there is a distinction between secular and sacred work. However, there is no separation between secular and sacred work—all work is sacred. All work is for God.

Working for God has great rewards [Ephesians 6:8]

The reward in work is not earning a sweet home with fancy car, summer vacations to the beach, golfing on the weekends, socializing with the big-shots, building a huge pension to retire on, patting the portfolio, living it up with a life of leisure or luxury. If this is the reward you desire for your work you will be sorely dissatisfied.

What is your reward for working with God as your primary authority? The reward has now and later benefits. In the future, your reward is related to your inheritance in Christ according to your faithfulness to Him [cf.5:5-6].[1] Today, your reward is Christlikeness, which blesses those working around you.[2] Both slave and free will face the same strict judgment.[3]

I am certainly grateful that people work to serve others. Think of all the farmers, bakers, deliverer, and retailers that help get your food to your table. Think of all the nurses, doctors, surgeons, and pharmacists who help keep you healthy. Think of all the servicemen, policemen, firemen, judges, attorneys, and government officials who help protect your rights and freedoms. Every person plays a role in serving one another. Your work is a blessing to another person. Work is a fulfillment of Christ command to love your neighbor and love your God with all your heart, soul and mind. Work is a gift from God, and it keeps on giving as you faithful follow Him.

For Bosses: reflect God in the way you care for your workers [Ephesians 6:9]

God is impartial [Romans 2:11; Galatians 3:25], therefore bosses must not be impartial with their employees [James 2:1-13]. What “same things” should masters do for their servants? [All the above] Employees are to be treated with respect and honor because they are servants of God. Bosses are to serve those who serve them for this can influence those they serve them for good—modeling Christlikeness.

In summary, work is a great place to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Jesus wants to redeem your work. Remember your work is an act of worship that shines the glory of God and His gospel through the way you work. Jesus can transform the way you work by giving you a greater purpose. Make God your first boss for the rewards of working for God are great. The way you work reflects upon God. Therefore, don’t waste your work. Instead of feeling guilty that you are not “doing more for God” view all your work, studies, and ministry as a means to do more for God.

For more resources on the gospel and your work:

1. Check out Bill Streger’s blog who gives additional insight from Colossians 3:22-25: The Gospel and your work. Jesus gives our work new expectancy, new passion, and new character.

2. Answer: What two reasons does Proverbs 10:4-5 give for working hard at your job? What does 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 say are the effects of a good work ethic? What does 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 say about doing your work with diligence? What does 1 Timothy 6:1-2 say imply about the relationship between a believing employee and believing employer? What does James 5:1-6 say about the dangers of success?


[1] Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 2:6; Colossians 3:24-25

[2] Cf. Matthew 10:41-42, 16:27; Colossians 3:24; Revelation 22:12

[3] Cf. Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13