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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Who do you say that I am?

Who am I? Jesus asks...

Last week Fr. David and I were the spiritual directors for Happening retreat for high school youth. One of the first talks has to do with self identity. "Who am I?" was also a huge question for the youth I worked with thirty years ago. It was a huge issue for me and my peers. Some things have not changed...

The "who am I?" question is particularly relevant to the teen aged transition from childhood to adulthood. It is also a lifelong question for particular types of personality. While some ask "what should I do?" or "how does this work?" or "can we have fun?" -- there is a subset of individuals who are forever haunted by the question, "Who am I?"

"Who am I?"
Personal identity matters. Who I am produces what I do. It shapes my relationships and human interactions. My identity impacts my way of being in the world.

Identity questions are at the heart of several stages of human development. "Who am I?" asks the anxious teen--and for them it is informative for deciding what to do with the future: "What do I want to be when I grow up?" For those of us who have passed through the summer of life and are entering the winter years, (people sixty or above) the same question,"Who am I?" now has a different slant---it is the work of being reconciled with the choices and decisions we have made: that pile of memories which form the story of our lifetime. Many of us are at the point in life when we have to come to grips with the realities which we have made out of all those possibilities which lay before as young people.

God's Wisdom cries out to us, whether we are freshly on the path or tottering towards its end. Wisdom invites us to ask the questions, "Who am I? What will I be? Who am I? What have I done and become?" But Wisdom warns us that our hearts are foolish and our minds unfocused. The silliness of the world and flesh are obstacles to clear, wise thinking. The silliness of Satan's rebellious temptation can seduce and mislead us. Wisdom calls out to us in the streets of our life. Who will leave silliness and folly?

"Who am I?" is a social, political, psychological, economic question. A battery of tests and interviews are helpful in uncovering the answer. However, it is also a deeper question, a theological question.

Who am I in the eyes of God? That is what Jesus was really asking.
Peter correctly answered. You are the Messiah. 
He had knowledge of the truth, but He lacked the fullness of wisdom. He knew Jesus was the Messiah; he did not understand what that title meant.
That's the problem of being smart but not wise! We get the answer right but are still blind to what the answer means...

The Messiah, Jesus said, must suffer greatly then die, then rise again. 
The Messiah, Peter answered, will do nothing of the sort.
And that is the subtle work of Satan, which Jesus unmasks with brutal honesty. Peter, the one who confesses Jesus, is now the one who betrays Jesus. (A role which he will occupy again later in the Gospel.) As we read about him, we do well to ask how the spirit of Peter, the spirit of the satan, is at work in our own relationship with Jesus!

Knowing Who Jesus is and knowing what that means is the first step. As Jesus quickly makes clear: the identity of Jesus is the source of our own identity. 

Who He is makes us who we are. "Follow me" He says. "do what I do....carry a cross. Lose your life in Me so you can save it. Do not listen to the world. They offer you a counterfeit salvation..."

Who am I?
I am Jesus' disciple. 
That is my identity, my relationship to Jesus is more central to answering the question-- "Who am I?" --than any other could be.

"Will I be a good person or a bad person? Will I be faithful?" ask the young people.
"Am I a good man or a bad man? Have I been faithful?" Others of us now wonder.

"Have I lived a life worthy of the Lord?" It is a question to fret about.

Such questions need asking and they need answering. But they are not the central question. The central question of identity, the truest meaning of "who am I?" is found in the relationship I have with Messiah. 

Am I His?
Do I love Jesus?
Do I live my life and see myself in terms of Him?
Have I decreased so He can increase? For that is who I am and that is what I must do---suffer and die my self---to be His.

I pray we each have the courage to embrace our crosses and the endurance to carry that cross across the dry, hot days of our lives.
I pray we will carry them with joy. The joy which flows from peace, a peace we experience because we follow Jesus. I pray for the joy that flows from hope--the hope that crucifixion is not the last word. Resurrection is the last word.
Not hate, but love.
Not darkness, but light
Not death, but life.
Not despair, but hope.

Who Am I?
Who are you?  

You, me----we are His! Who else would we want to be?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Weekly Readings: Philippians

I will always remember that phone conversation. My dad told me he had terminal pancreatic cancer. I knew he had been tired and low on energy; we now understood this was a bigger issue. As we faced his death together I simply told him, "you know I love you and I believe when you die you will be with God." Harsh Reality makes us see what we believe. I think this is what makes Paul's letter to the Philippians so interesting and significant. Paul is imprisoned, probably knowing his future is bleak by human standards. Facing that threat on his life, he is now sharing his beliefs-- not the empty posturing of a safe and secure person nattering about his nominal faith, but the actual confession of a man who is going into the depths of his being to share what is there.

Paul holds back none his raw human emotion. His passion for God and the people of God in that church in Phillipi  pour out. It is tempting to think that Christian love is an emotionless business--like simply doing good, but Paul shares with us that there are strong human connections here. However, the aim is not mutual love alone, it is a love which turns the beloved to Christ. Paul desires that they become more and more knowledgeable and loving of Christ. Paul's other concern is that Jesus be glorified. He writes about that desire--admitting that he would prefer to die to be with Jesus, but duty bound to remain alive to serve the church. Some people say that God does not need us---Paul seems to think that we have an important part to play in salvation. In this real creation, God needs human servants to do the work. Selfless love seeks to serve.

Chapter 2 contains an early hymn about Jesus. It is easy to forget that those middle eastern people living in the first century were just as real as we are. They sang songs. Their hymns were an expression of their faith, and Paul says the hymn is also a measure by which to  live one's life. "Be like Jesus..." he says. Selflessness (expressed in a variety of descriptors) is Christological! The ancient Jews had concepts (from Scripture) which anticipate the belief in the Incarnation. The "word" comes to prophets, "Wisdom" is personalized, "Torah" is too. The "shekinah/glory" of God the "Name" of God also seem to have a personalized existence. In each case, these participate in God--they are manifestations of God (His word. His glory, etc)  which share in His identity. The belief that Jesus (the Man) participated in God's inner life (the Divine) prior to becoming a human is expressed in the hymn as emptying (Greek word is kenosis). The concept of the self emptying God is vital for understanding all of His relationships with us (including creation, providence, redemption). God cannot come to us (recall the recent posts on a sacramental worldview) in His Fullness. It must always be limited by our capacity for reception. "God become Man" means God emptying Himself of His full divinity (whatever that means) through some inner "function" of Himself (Word, Glory, Son; whatever that means) and entering time and space with all its limitations (whatever that means). Love is self-gift. Love is an "I am here for you whatever the cost to me." Love is of God. He shows us first what that means. The limits of human language and human concepts cannot contain or convey this mystery---they can only point in its direction. In seeing the "Divine" empty and embrace the lowliness of human nature, and then empty more into sacrificial death on the cross; Paul implies that we see the template of true human (i.e. Christian life) existence. It is basically what Jesus says ("the one who loses His life for Me and the Gospel will find it" or "pick up your cross and follow me" or "forsake everything and follow me"--all of these are symbolic/literal death). However, the cross is not the last word; resurrection, ascension and enthronement in heaven (God highly exalted Him) are the Ultimate Goal of all God's redemptive work. Jesus is Lord and that gives glory to God the Father. Our connection to Jesus is our pathway to God. There is "no place" where God is without Jesus. They are one...

Paul then turns back to the life of faith--"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"--in language which reminds us that dying to self is a challenging and painful process. Our environment (the "world" in the fallen sense) is dark and corrupt, but we are to "shine like stars." Once again we hear the words of Jesus ("you are the light of the world" "Let your deeds shine before men so that they give glory to God"). If He lives in us then He is manifest in us and we are christopheros phospheros-- Christ bearer and Light bearer. The chapter ends with a touching tribute to Timothy and Epaphroditu; these two men are dear companions of Paul, Timothy is like a son to him. Another reminder that passionate human relationships are part and parcel of the divine economy and the community of faith!

In chapter 3 Paul strongly condemns the practice (a good case can be made it is against Gentile Christians who seek to make Jews of the Gentile converts to Christ). Perhaps these people said circumcision is needed to be a real Christian. Paul lays out his credentials as "a real Jew" but also makes clear that Jesus fulfills the righteousness found in Torah. As I recently read, Torah points to Jesus, the job of Torah is to prepare for Jesus--now that Jesus is here, He is the one who matters. Jesus is the center, not the Torah (and not the Bible, church and sacraments in our time!). All is well if things are in proper places and correct relationship!

So lets go, Paul seems to be saying. Stay the course! Press on to Jesus! Daily life is mundane and repetitive. It is hard to see and feel the sublime overarching purposes of God as we dally with our daily toils. The earthly life can seduce us and we can limit the scope of our imagination to only what is here and now; lacking depth of insight into the deeper and higher meaning of things. God is hidden by the veil of creation, and sometimes we fall in love with the veil. Creation is a window of God but sometimes we do not look past the glass to what is beyond.

Chapter 4 has a rapid fire character. "I love you so stand firm!" ( a chilling reminder that firmness and standing take effort; the world, flesh and devil are aligned against us!). A prayer for two women who have had a rift? Each is faithful and treasured by Paul, but they have problems with each other... Church people have conflicts, even in Bible days! Jesus does not reign yet so we still struggle.

Then a "favorite verse" candidate for many of us: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!" Remember, he is in prison. Remember, this is not happy clappy emotions, this is the fruit of trust and hope and love! Joy is a theological gift. Loving God more than loving myself (self emptying)  means the freedom from circumstances and the openness to that Joy! Circumstances cannot dictate joy (though they affect happiness and moods). Paul says--focus on the most important things. Paul says--the secret is to accept where you are, whether it is in abundance or lack--because where ever you are it is in Jesus' Heart! He concludes with some prayers, one is vital: God provides all our needs. (not our wants but needs). Providence. God cares. Providence. We can trust. Providence. A declaration of faith by a man in prison facing death. A man whose outward circumstances are most unpleasant.  A man whose inner life, in Jesus, experiences life a joy-giving grace.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Talk on Sacraments to Happening Youth Retreat

this is a talk I was privileged to share with a group of high school retreatants on Saturday afternoon. Much of it is similar to what I have spoken about at Sunday Schools recently, perhaps it was unconsciously making itself present even then....

What is a sacrament
The general definition is a visible, outward sign of an invisible, spiritual grace.
So what does that mean?
One day I was headed to lunch. I came to a four way stop and sat there as the cross traffic passed. It was my turn so I started forward when to my surprise a second car followed the first. Then I took my foot off the break and a third car did the same. As the driver looked at me I pointed to the car in front of him and indicated that he was supposed to let me go. His facial expression and the international sign (middle finger) of disdain left me shaken. That was a sacrament. It was a physical sign and it conveyed a spiritual inner reality (though not terribly gracious).
Our world is material and spiritual. There are realities you can see and there are realities which one cannot see. My confusion and his anger were conveyed through physical gestures. Have you ever been angry? Or confused? Can you show me some anger or confusion, or joy or peace, or love or mercy? In this world, no. We can never put a slice of love on a table. We can, however, express love. Love, a spiritual reality, is an invisible reality, which a hug, a kiss, a kind word, a helpful hand, etc. convey. We don’t see love, we see the thing or the action. But in and through those material people, things and events we experience love. Right? Isn’t that how the world works?

God is not material. Material gods are idols. They are false. The real God is bigger than we can ever imagine. He is also not made out of stuff. We can never see Him as He is. Many atheists and agnostics haven’t figured it out though. They believe that they have ideas even when no one has ever seen an actual idea (because ideas are invisible). But they doubt the invisible God exists when they can’t see Him! It is easy to doubt God exists. I have done it many times. But that doubt is, in the end, because I cannot see or touch Someone who is not made of concrete matter. I have never doubted that I have feelings or thoughts, or any number of other invisible things. Apparently, I am inconsistent.
God is invisible, however, He is able to connect with us in and through the material world. The most important sacrament of God is His Word. Jesus Christ is that Word, and He became flesh and blood. We can see God in and through Jesus. It is a sacramental presence. It is the best we can hope to attain in this world. If God is present in Jesus, then He is also present in the church--in and through human beings. This is what “humans are made in the image and likeness of God means.” We are concrete, but He lives in us. So the second most important sacrament is The Church. God is present in us. If you want to see God look at the church. See people and understand, He is coming to you through them.
Here is the problem. People, you and I, are reluctant to let God in us. We are partial sacraments, free to mess up. So God is trying to love and bless, heal and save the world---in and through us--- and we are doing our best to make sure people can’t experience God in us! The church is an imperfect sacrament because people sin. So the limitations of the material world mean God is sometimes hidden away, locked up. WE are potentially His presence in the world, but we can prevent it.
The church also has events which are called the sacraments. Baptism is a bath. It is (re)birth waters, it is cleaning of sin, it is a sign of passing through the exodus waters from death to life. Baptism means you are dead and belong to Jesus. It means you live a new life in Him. Confirmation seals that deal. You are anointed as prophet, priest and royalty. Now those things are true, but the spiritual source of that--the Trinity living in you--comes without any special magic. So most of us, shoot, all of us, who have been baptized and confirmed don’t allow the reality to change us. We act, much of the time, like we are still dead in sin. We are authorized by God in these sacraments to have power in Jesus Name. It’s like we got the driver’s license and the car but we let it sit in the driveway while we walk everywhere….
Jesus spent most of His ministry reconciling sinners to God and setting them free from spiritual demons and physical illness. Healing and exorcising are gifts given to the church. We have power and authority to do amazing things in Jesus Name. Do we do it? The sacraments of Reconciliation and Healing are gifts to us. Most people never, ever, ever confess their sins to the priest. We toss that gift away. We carry the guilt of sin deep inside and say “God forgives” without availing ourselves to the way He is physically available to us. Countless times people who have done terrible things have come to me and confessed. Some confess a sin from ten, twenty, thirty years ago. They weep. They experience eyes contact and a human voice and human hands. There is power in forgiveness.
And we only get anointed if the doctor can’t get us better. I have been very involved with this ministry. I have seen amazing things. Someone had cancer and it disappeared. Someone needed surgery for gall stones and it was cancelled when they disappeared. A lady came and prayed for her son’s alcohol problem. We anointed her and she went home to call him. “Son,” she began, “you need to stop drinking…” but he cut her off. “I know momma,” he said, “I heard Jesus say that half an hour ago. I will never drink again!” These are all true stories. I know the people personally. Healing is not always so dramatic, but it is real.
And we imagine demons are nothing to worry about. Demons are like termites, by the time you figure out that they are around the damage is done. A man in a coma sat up in bed as two Christians prayed prayers of healing and bound up satan. A man whose brain was in a coma, sat up and with a different voice said to the couple, “Oh so you want to play hardball!” They were scared to death but continued praying and soon after they heard the sound of a basketball hitting a window. The next day the man with no hope for life was awake and talking. He had used pornography regularly and his physical illness was connected to a spiritual force. All these stories are just like Jesus’ ministry in the Bible. Jesus is real. Healing, forgiveness and even exorcism is real.
Every time you forgive someone, pray for their health and spiritual freedom in Jesus, you are also living out the sacramental life of the church.
Eucharist, the meal with Jesus, the food is Jesus. This is my body. This is my blood. He is present as a gift. We don’t believe it enough. WE skip church or go through the motions. We say it’s boring. What if we took it seriously? What if eucharist was a deep act of self gift to God and openness to receive Him back? Wake up and understand. The eucharist bonds us to the body of Christ, it is also a pledge that we are involved in His ministry. You eat and drink, you commit!
Orders (deacon, priest and bishop) are leaders set aside for the church. God works in and through these human persons to perform the various ministries. Like lay people, they are called to be the Body of Christ in the world.  Marriage is the first sacrament in history--Adam and Eve. The love is a sign of Christ’s love for the church. The children produced in marriage are a fulfillment of the first commandment God ever gave us: BE fruitful and multiply.
There is so much more to say, but I have already gone over my time.
God is invisible. However, He acts and communicates in and through the visible world. Faith gives us the ability to encounter God in sacraments. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be sacraments and do sacramental ministry. DO NOT WASTE THE GIFT!

Focus: Homily on Mark 7:24-37

Mk 7:24-37
The story of the woman is hard to understand. Jesus seems mean...

When an ambulance driver gets a call, the job is to respond. They do not stop until they arrive at the location and tend the patient. Along the way they may pass any number of problems, but their mission is the call. The same is true for fireman, policemen and soldiers. In fact, anyone with a job or boss learns quickly that if you are asked to do "something" you better not chose to do "something else."

 Missions are clear and precise. They have parameters: goals, objectives, and timelines.

Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. He is the Jewish King sent by God. Ez 34 spells this out. I myself will graze my flock, and I myself will let them lie down--declares the Lord God. I will look for the lost and i will bring back the strayed; I will bandage the injured, and I will sustain the weak... I will appoint a single shepherd over them to tend them--My servant David--shall shepherd them.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise. He is David, He is the shepherd, He is the King. His mission is to the Lost Sheep of Israel, which was probably a couple million people. So it is tempting to say, "What's one more?" However, she was not one more, she was the doorway to millions more Gentiles. Millions looking for healing and free bread. Millions and millions taking every moment of His short time. Gentiles are going to share in the Kingdom, but only after the renewal of Israel! She came too early...

Listen to the reading. Jesus was hiding in Gentile territory. He did not want anyone to know He was there. Miracles tend to draw crowds.

I think it is important that to understand that Christians have a mission. It is more than random acts of kindness which are rarely as nice as we think nor as frequent. A mission has clear goes. What is the church's mission?

Crushing demons and healing the sick is definitely part of it. Unlike Jesus we do not have a limited scope for our work. Our mission is a corporate mission: the whole church shares in it. We are called to announce God's Kingdom in word and deed. St. Andrew's mission statement is very much a summary of what we are to do: Worship, love one another in community, pray, study, do in reach and outreach. As a team we do these things together.

What about your mission? It needs to fit into the church mission, but it needs to flow from your gifts and call. The Lord will tell you, if you ask. Obviously someone who finds kids irritating would be a lousy youth minister, but there are numerous age groups to work with. There are jobs that take talkers and jobs that need the quiet ones. All the work can be mission work. But mission needs to be the focus.

The story today ends well for the woman. The 'unclean' spirit is exorcised. The conversation, between representatives of two cultures at hostile odds, reflects the living situation of the time. She did not come to Jesus as a friendly, she was an outsider looking for a handout. Perhaps her tenacity won the day, or maybe His compassion. What we know is He was pleased with her answer. Did He laugh at her response?

The unclean demon, however, must be seen in context. Just prior Jesus was talking about what makes a person unclean. He said it is not from food but from the human heart. Gentiles were unclean because they did not follow the Jewish Law, including the dietary law. The connection of the stories here is a preview of the day when the division between Jew and Greek is abolished in the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is a foretaste of coming attractions!

I think in our day, the church mission to exorcise and heal may be overlooked. The mission to the lost may be forgotten. We can be satisfied with talking about a world gone to hell and bemoaning the good old days when everyone went to church. However, the mission of the church is not to bemoan. Our world is far less hostile than Jesus' was. No one is executed for the faith around here. But if the world is going to Hell right now the transportation team is Satan and the demonic horde. We are empowered and sent on mission to stop those trucks full of lost humans and kick demons out. CONFRONTATION and spiritual warfare is part of the deal.

I recently told someone that I am amazed at how much more healing is going on lately and how more and more folks are praying in faith! I asked why now when we have taught and preached this a decade and a half. She reminded me that we only recently got serious about the demonic barriers active in the spiritual realm. She is right. We have done that and the fruits are obvious.

The blockage has been removed. That is the mission of Jesus, removing the blockage so God's Shepherd can get to the lost sheep. You and I are sheep. We are also shepherds, each in our own way. When you die you will stand before God and the first question will be, "Mission accomplished?"
Be prepared to give the right answer!

Thursday, September 3, 2015


All week we read from the letter of James. The letter (or sermon) has only two references to Jesus by name (1:1 & 2:1) and reflects the faith of the typical Jewish synagogue at this time. However, the material echoes the Gospels, especially Matthew. Scholarly questions about authorship are generated by the excellent Greek. The name James is associated with the brother of Jesus, but there were also disciples with that name. It is possible that the "writer" (a Scribe) has translated the "author" (James) which accounts for the language and content.

[addendum; As I reflected on James I remembered that the primary question for him is "how shall we live this life of faith in God?" Perhaps more pointedly, how do we live as citizens of God's Kingdom, people whom He loves and cares for?" In many (modern and contemporary) Christian minds the question is "How can I get into heaven?" I think that makes the issues James writes about more difficult to understand. We worry about how possible it is to live up to the demands--or we retreat into the faith works debates. Instead, imagine James believes that God is gracious and saves His people. Imagine James believes that God calls His people into covenant and makes them His own (by grace) and now God is creating His rule in our mind, heart, and body. Imagine James (based on the Bible) is explaining how we are going to live now in preparation for how we are going to live together forever. Imagine life now is at the entry into that Kingdom after death and these things do not earn salvation but transform us into the saved people we already are.]
The letter begins with rapid fire exhortations and wisdom like sayings. For us it provides some key points to build a life around:
Chapter One
1. Struggles are good because they help us grow into maturity (not popular idea today)
2. Pray for wisdom (like Solomon) and God loves to give it--but believing He will is part of the process! Unbelief is a block to God's work.
3. The fleeting nature of wealth--and the certainty of death (vs consumerism)
4. Enduring temptation (variation of opening) is a Beatitude! But he says God does not tempt us, it comes from within (much like Jesus says uncleanness comes from the heart).
5. Again the focus is God's generosity (2) and consistency. NT themes include "birth" by the word and and that believers are "first fruits". Concluding with an exhortation to self control. Listen, do not speak or be angry... Our anger is not godly. The word saves us. Herein lies an important contribution to the Christian way. Listening to the word demands response. (Listen can mean obey in English as well) "Be doers of the word" who encounter truth (about self as well as God) and act accordingly. A second exhortation to watch the mouth and a simple explanation of true religion: be unstained and care for the needy.
Chapter two
6. James returns to theme of rich and poor (3) with a reminder that churches should treat all people with the same respect. Wealth is a temptation to sin, James makes clear, something especially terrifying in middle class churches!
7. In verse 7 there is a shift to the law, with the summary of "Love" (called the basilikos literally the royal law). To love the neighbor is not to be affectionate, it is to be treat them for their good. However, the focus on Torah here is very positive. Not unlike Paul, he points out that breaking one law is to break all the law, and echoing Jesus, he says that the one without mercy will not experience mercy. Then, in a section perhaps intended to counter Paul (or a particular reading of Paul) about faith and works. A full treatment is impossible here, but as I made clear numerous times, I think the Reformation reading on Paul is in error because it comes with different assumptions. Without the theological debate on faith, what we have here is a simple, straightforward, and rather reasonable approach to the Christian life. Words are empty without a life practice to back them. As empty as wishing a needy person 'good luck' while failing to lift a finger to help them. Word and action co-exist in authentic lives. Faith is demonstrated in works. And James goes on to illustrate that "faith" (noun and verb forms of pistis/pisteu) must have real life content. Believing has many facets and connotations: to believe something is true can be a mere intellectual exercise with facts, or it can be believing another person is honest, but one senses the "devil believes in God" example is intended to call one to faith which is self gift as well. It is an "actionable faith", hence, the twist on the Abraham illustration (which Paul uses to demonstrate his point). Yes, James says, Abraham believed, but it was demonstrated with his willingness to offer Isaac. [Personally, I think if James is arguing with Paul, he has the better of the argument at this point.] The example of Rahab works as well. Humans are holistic, body and soul, and that illustrates the relationship of faith and works; the outer reality and the inner reality are intimately intertwined. At any rate, the idea that "believing in Jesus" has added dimensions in this remarkable little description.
Chapter 3
8. A sudden shift and dire warning. This writer quakes at the reminder--don't be a teacher, teachers are held to a higher standard. The idea of a sliding scale in the Divine economy of salvation is probably present in other places as well, Jesus talks about the different judgment for the Jewish and pagan cities, for example.  It is said thoughts produce words, words produce actions, acts produce habits, and habits create character. James reminds us of the importance and difficulty in controlling the mouth. So used to diatribes about lust or greed, this is one of those challenges that the "every day gossip" finds aimed at them. The power of the mouth for good or ill is vibrantly illustrated in the image of rudder or fire. Small things produce large outcomes. The harvest of righteousness and peace is the Shalom of the Kingdom!
Chapter 4
9. Again a reflection on covenant kingdom people. Disputes are from our cravings (we tend to blame others!). Anger and covetousness produce disputes, conflicts even murder. The law of love is broken by such things and the Kingdom of Light is impacted by darkness when this happens. Adultery is an image of fornicating with the world and breaking the bond with God. It is a prophetic image in the Jew's (and first Christian) Bible. We are confronted with an option: the world or God. It is the same in every age--which kingdom? James says Scripture says "God yearns for us God..." not a direct quote but a summary of many verses. Quoting the Septuagint Proverbs 3:34 and Psalm 24:4-5 James exhorts us to be humbled and cleansed, The latter image is very much in line with Second Temple Judaism. In the early church many practicing Jews who believed in Jesus did so with an imagination fueled by their Jewish faith. Conversion and purity, true sorrow for our sins and humility are all part of the life in Christ, Who Himself embraced the ethical dimension of the First Covenant in Moses. The law is directly addressed in the conclusion of this section. Don't speak ill or judge another. The Lord Jesus says the same thing--we are accountable for every word we utter, do not judge and you will not he judged. James and Matthew's Gospel are in sync here... 
10. The last three verses are a condemnation of human arrogance and presumption. We make outr plans, James says, as if we are entitled for all things to go as we want and expect. However, he reminds (the image of mist is stark and startling) that time is out of our control and we are not self sustaining. Mortality is the great truth of our human lives; there is no immortality of the soul reflected in these words, there is a real time limitation (which God addresses through resurrection). We are not "substantial" says James, so rest and trust in God. Know your place, James is telling us. Then, out of nowhere he drops the bomb: if you know the right thing to do  and fail to do it- it is sin! Sin is not simply doing bad, it is also the failure to do good....