Looking in the mirror.
Jason Brown played center and guard in the NFL from 2007-2014. For five of those years, he was the highest-paid center in the NFL with a 5-year contract of $37 million (of which $20 million was guaranteed). After playing for 7 years in the NFL and reaching the prime years for an offensive lineman, Jason walked away from football because he felt God was calling him to a different direction in his life. Jason felt God was calling him to be a farmer who would give away the first fruits of the crops he grew. The challenge was that Jason had never farmed one day in his life.
Jason said he came to his conclusion about God’s calling upon his life on his 27th birthday. He reports that it happened while he was standing in front of a mirror in his 12,000-square foot mansion, and he could not stand to look at himself. Remembering his brother who had been killed in the Iraq War in 2003, Jason said his brother’s death was a daily reminder of how easily blessings can be lost. Reflecting on his own life, Jason said, “I asked Jesus with all of the gifts, all of the talents, all of the blessings he had given me, what can I do to make a difference. And his response was to feed his people.”
Jason responded to this calling by purchasing a thousand-acre farm in Louisburg, North Caroline which he named “First Fruits Farm.” The purpose of his farming was to give away the first fruits of the vegetables he grew to local food pantries. His wife thought he had lost his mind when he told her about his calling by God, but she was willing to walk with him in faith to see what would happen. Having watched YouTube videos on farming while he was still playing football and receiving advice from fellow farmers, Jason planted sweet potatoes and cucumbers in 2014.
In his book Centered: Trading Your Plans for a Life That Matters, Jason tells of how he followed God’s calling to give away the entire first harvest of 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and cucumbers. Since that first harvest, over one million pounds of vegetables have been harvested and given away to food pantries by First Fruits Farm.
In a November 14, 2014, On the Road interview, Jason described the ministry of First Fruits Farm and his decision to walk away from the NFL by stating that his calling was “not in man’s standards but in God’s eyes.” The reporter conducting the interview half-jokingly responded by stating, “But God cares about the NFL. I see people praying to him on the field all the time.” Jason responded by laughing and saying, “Yeah, there’s a lot of people praying out there, but when I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service. Love is the most wonderful kind of currency that you can give anyone.”
Following an interview with Jason in which Jason shared his story about answering God’s call, an NBC Today Show reporter said, “People talk about their faith, and then there are people who live their faith.”
The Letter of James describes the contrast between people who talk about their faith and people who live their faith with these words: “But be doers of the word and not merely hearers only who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.”
To appreciate James’ contrast between the doers of the word and hearers who only deceive themselves, it is important to understand the context in which The Letter of James was written. James was written to Jewish believers in Jesus. James Wood defines these Jewish believers in Jesus as being part of “an unlikely cult, formed around the death and resurrection of an ascetic lyrical revolutionary.”
“The Radical Origins of Christianity,” The New Yorker, July 3, 2017, James Wood
What defined this unlikely Jewish cult and set it apart in Judaism, and eventually apart from Judaism, was what James wrote about – Jewish followers of Jesus who:
- were doers of the word of Jesus and not just hearers only
- remembered their faith in Jesus when they looked at themselves in a mirror
- remembered their faith in Jesus when there were no mirrors around
James was written to encourage people whose identity had been defined by obedience to the Torah (the Law of Israel) to live into a new identity defined by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (God’s only Son). It was a radical reshaping of identity as they transitioned from the understanding that they were children of Abraham who kept the Torah to understanding they were children of Abraham who kept the word of Jesus. It was this new understanding that transformed their identity from “I keep the Torah, therefore I am a child of Abraham” to “I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, therefore I am a child of Abraham.”
This was a huge step of faith for the Jewish followers of Jesus. This is the reason James writes about remembering their identity as disciples of Jesus when they looked in a mirror and their identity as disciples of Jesus when there was no mirror around.
To fully appreciate the intent of James’ letter and his encouragement for Jewish Christians to be doers of the word and not hearers only, it is important to understand how essential the Shema was to the identity of the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. Shema, the Hebrew word for hear, was the word that began the morning prayers and concluded the evening prayers for the people of Israel. Every day, faithful Jews would recite Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41 as an act of faithfully remembering the identity of the people of Israel. Every day would begin and end with “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Every day would begin and end with a call for Israel to be doers and not hearers only. Every day would begin and end with a call to remember the identity of God’s chosen people.
James was encouraging the Jewish Christians to whom his letter was written to do the same – to be doers of the word and not hearers only as their identity was defined by their faith in Jesus. James was encouraging them to remember who God was calling them to be when they looked at themselves in a mirror and remembered who God was calling them to be as well as remembering who God was calling them to be when there are no mirrors around.
The Letter of James was one of the favorite books of the Bible of Søren Kierkegaard, a 19th-century Danish philosopher, theologian, and author who believed that Christianity was not a doctrine to be taught, but rather a life to be lived. In teaching about The Letter of James. he advised disciples of Jesus to “Look at yourself in the mirror, not at the mirror.”
Looking in the mirror
Jason Brown came to a deeper understanding of faith in Jesus as he looked in the mirror and became a doer of the word.
When was the last time you looked in the mirror?
Looking in the Mirror
by Pastor Marc Brown
August 29, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: James 1:17-27
(full online service video below)