We Wish You a “Mary” Christmas

It’s that time of the year again when the list of things to be done grows by the minute, plans are changed again and again until the last-minute, and stress over finances, family, and friends is at an all time high.  There is too much to do, too much to see, too many places to be, and far too many expectations to be met.  The demands of work, family, friends, and even church push us to a panic frenzy to meet and exceed those demands but at what expense?

When did this season, the season of joy, the season of celebration, the season of giving and the season of bonding become the season of anxiety over unmet expectations and financial pressure, the season of depression over the loss of loved ones, and the season of trampling over others to make a purchase?  “Merry Christmas” is not so merry anymore.  Rather than trying to put the “Merry” back into Christmas, I would propose a different type of “Mary”.  Jesus refers to Mary in Luke 10:38-42 when he informs Martha that she is worried and upset over the details of preparing a meal while her sister Mary sits a listens to Him talk.  She has chosen the better path, one of quiet listening instead of hurrying around.

 Has anyone seen my calendar?  Take a moment to glance over your calendar right now and see just how full it is with events, parties, and special gatherings.  If it is like mine, it is frightening and double booked for several nights and events.  With all of this running around there is not much time to sit and reflect on the true purpose of Christmas and even less time devoted to spending with just your immediate family.  But you can choose the Mary way instead of the Martha way by adjusting your calendar to spend more time with the most important people in your life.

Can you ever have enough Christmas decorations?  Yes Christmas decorations are fun and do help to put you in the mood for Christmas but when you find yourself angry at your spouse for not helping with the outside lights, frustrated at the kids for breaking a favorite ornament, or annoyed at the cat for destroying the bottom of yet another tree, they are adding to your stress level.  Decorations are meant to be fun but if they are not, then don’t add them.  Martha would be decorating and redecorating, Mary would not.

Of course we are doing another family picture with Santa!  Family pictures are frequently exchanged this time of year and they are always full of smiles and happy faces but life is rarely full of smiles and happy faces.  In fact, I have yet to know of a family who does not go through some struggle in any given year yet we pretend that everything is fine.  This is most hurtful to those who have lost a loved one in the last year and are still struggling with grief.  Martha tried to live up to everyone else’s expectations by preparing a great meal, but Mary chose to focus on the one person that mattered most, Jesus.

This year, take some time to evaluate your traditions and expectations.  Read the section in Luke about Mary and Martha and ask yourself, are you more like Mary or Martha?  Then make the better choice.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.

A Different Look at the Book of James

Writers, who write best, write from their perspective on life.  If you have experienced something traumatic such as the death of a child, been involved in a war or survived a natural disaster and you write about it, then chances are your writing will reflect the deeper and often mixed feelings of the event.  You readers are then more drawn into your writing because you wrote from what you knew.  Equally significant is taking some time to understand the background of an author before you read their work so the intended meaning becomes clearer.

One such author is the James, the writer of the Book of James in the New Testament.  So before you sit down to read this very practical and short Book on Christian living, consider the following information.

  1. James (James 1:1) identifies himself as a slave of both God and Jesus Christ acknowledging both belief and devotion to Jesus.
  2. James along with his other brothers Joseph, Judas and Simon are identified as Jesus half brothers (Mark 6:3 and Gal. 1:19).  Jude (Judas) verifies that his is both the brother of James and the half-brother of Jesus in his Book of Jude (Jude 1:1).
  3. The townspeople of Nazareth further verify the relationship between Jesus and his half brothers when they minimize and question His wisdom and power (Matt. 13:53-57).  Jesus replies that a prophet has no respect in his hometown or family (Matt. 13:57) indicating that his brothers were not yet believers.
  4. James the half-brother of Jesus is not the same person as James the brother of John, sons of Zebedee (Matt. 26:37) who was one of the twelve disciples (Matt. 10:2) , nicknamed by Jesus as “Sons of Thunder”  (Mark 3:17),  and later martyred for his faith (Acts 12:2).  Nor is he the other disciple named James, son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3) for whom nothing more is recorded.
  5. Jesus knew the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill him so he avoided Judea where His brothers urged him to go (John 7:1-4).  Then John comments that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him and their motive may not have been in Jesus’ best interest anyway (John 7:5-9).
  6. At the cross, Jesus tells John, one of his disciples, to care for his mother Mary and tells Mary that John is now responsible for her (John 19:25-27).  Normally, the responsibility for a widowed mother would rest on the eldest son first and then if he is deceased the second eldest.  Jesus instead departed from this tradition asking John to care for her possibly because his half brothers did not believe yet and would not have empathy for what their mother was experiencing.
  7. Paul recalls that Jesus appeared to James (1 Cor. 15:7) after He was resurrected.  Paul mentions prior that Jesus appeared to the disciples first which would have included the disciple also named James but then lists James’ name later and by itself before mentioning the apostles and finally Paul, himself.  While the details of this encounter are not recorded, given James’ past lack of belief and his later belief and leadership in the Jerusalem church, this moment could have been when he finally believed that Jesus was his Messiah.
  8. After the ascension of Jesus, the apostles when to Jerusalem to an upstairs room and were in prayer along with Mary (mother of Jesus) and Jesus’ brothers (Acts 1:12-14).  At this point, James is not mentioned by name indicating that he had not yet developed any leadership amongst the group.  In fact, his name was not even discussed as a possible disciple replacement for Judas (Acts 1:23) most likely because he had just become a believer.
  9. Paul after becoming a believer, met with Peter first and then James (Gal. 1:18-19) before meeting with the elders of the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:15-18).  This implies that James now had an important role and likely was already the leader of the Jerusalem church.
  10. James was the leader of the Jerusalem church and as such demonstrated authority in directing the church (Acts 15:13-21).  Peter and the others listen to his words and then follow his instruction again signifying the important role James is now playing in the church.
  11. Paul recounts a dispute between him and Peter (Gal. 1:11-12) in which he confronts Peter’s fear of James’ friend’s opinion further indicating James’ prominence in the early church.  Paul goes on to say that James, Peter and John were known as pillars of the early church (Gal. 2:9).
  12. Peter after being rescued by an angel from prison requests at Mary’s (mother of John Mark) house for others to go and tell James of his escape from Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:6-18).
  13. Paul visits with James and the elders of the church when he arrives in Jerusalem giving them a report on his ministry with the Gentiles (Acts 21:17-19).
  14. This is the last mention of James in the New Testament.  The Book of James was one of the first New Testament books written sometime around 49 A.D. just a year before the Jerusalem council occurred (Acts 15:13-21) (see number 10).

So after reading the summary, the bottom line is that James grew up with Jesus but did not believe Jesus was his Savior until after He was resurrected from the dead.  James’ ministry began at the same time as the early church and he eventually became the respected leader of the Jerusalem church.  James wrote the Book of James as a believer but was doing it with the perspective that he had at one time rejected his half-brother Jesus.  Can you imagine the things he said in his youth that he later regretted as a Christian leader?

The Book of James tells a much richer story of how a person can be so physically near to Christ in his youth and yet so far from the reality of who Jesus was.  Greater yet, it tells a story of how a person can go from spiritual death to life though faith strengthened by works in Jesus Christ.  Now, read the Book of James remembering the story of the author and allowing it to speak to you at a deeper and practical level.

Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding relationships takes time, energy and effort.  If you find yourself needing more help during this process, please call our offices at 407-647-7005 to schedule an appointment.  Or you can send me a quick email at chammond@lifeworksgroup.org.