Read almost any newspaper or magazine and you will regularly find articles giving lifestyle advice. You name it and at some point you will find guidance about almost every imaginable lifestyle choice: diet and fitness, health and medicine, personal image, clothing, finance, relationships, family life, the list goes on.
Much of the advice is good, based upon sound observations and good logic. Yet, no matter how expert the advisors are, it is impossible to escape the underlying worldview behind what is offered; a worldview that ignores God and considers only the time frame of the present, rather than taking an eternal perspective.
If we wish to live as genuine followers of Jesus we need guidance on how to live as Christians. The book of James is a great starting point for anyone looking for Christian lifestyle advice. Unlike most of the other letters James is short on doctrinal teaching, but is packed with down to earth practical instructions on how to behave. Martin Luther famously dismissed the book as ‘an epistle of straw’ because it lacks the magnificent descriptions of grace, and salvation by faith found in books like Romans and Ephesians. Yet James is not a legalistic book of rules, rather it is a description of what people gripped by grace and living by faith look like. It provides us with a yardstick by which we can evaluate whether our lifestyle is truly Christian or has been hijacked by worldly values.
Some see a similarity between James and the Old Testament book of Proverbs. When we recall that the author of James was almost certainly one of Jesus’ brothers, a better comparison might be with Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.
Over the summer months we shall be looking at James in our Sunday meetings in a series called A Toolkit for Christian Living. My prayer is that you will be encouraged and challenged as we read together the direct and practical teaching of the Apostle James who helped shape the early church.
This blog post featured in the May 2014 edition of Lifelines
In March 2003 the Burpo family were looking forward to a refreshing vacation after seven gruelling months of back to back injury and illness. The previous summer, Todd had broken his leg and ankle whilst playing softball; this was quickly followed in October by kidney stones. Then in November, while he was still hobbling around on crutches, he was diagnosed with breast cancer requiring a mastectomy. Now at last, as spring dawned, he was able to enjoy some relaxation along with his wife Sonja and their children Cassie (6) and Colton (3 yrs 10 mths).
Nothing could have prepared them for what happened next as Colton developed a severe stomach ache. His condition rapidly deteriorated, and after several doctors, various tests and scans he was finally diagnosed with a burst appendix requiring emergency surgery. With Colton’s young life ebbing away he was wheeled into theatre where he had an out of body experience. He later describes being able to look down on the surgeon operating on his own frail body; simultaneously he saw his father praying in the adjacent waiting room.
Over the months that followed Colton recounts to his parents further details of his experience, describing a visit to heaven where he met his miscarried sister and his great-grandfather who had died 30 years earlier, neither of whom he knew about previously. He provides details about each that convince his parents of the reality of what he had seen. Colton also reveals other aspects of his heavenly encounter including descriptions of Jesus riding a great horse and God seated on his throne. Todd recognises the similarity between what his son saw and the vision of heaven portrayed in the bible; yet at not quite 4 years old Colton has neither been taught let alone read these details for himself.
Reports of near-death-experiences are not uncommon, however the extraordinary details recalled by Colton, which were completely outside his previous knowledge are astonishing. So too are the parallels between what Colton saw and the descriptions we find in the bible. When Colton was asked what message he wanted people to take from his experience his answer was “Heaven is for Real!”
This extraordinary story became a New York Times number 1 best seller when it was published in 2010 and has now been adapted as a movie by Sony Pictures (UK cinema release 9th May 2014). I invite you to check out the story by reading the book, watching the movie and then examining what the Bible has to say about heaven for yourself.
This blog post featured in the May 2014 edition of Hook Focus