Saturday, February 29, 2020

Evidence of God's Wisdom


Read James 3


James continues with some Christian forensics.  We can ask God for wisdom and he will give it generously if we do not doubt.  But how do we know that our wisdom is from God?

The proof is in the pudding.  That is, there will be good evidence:  a life lived well, good deeds, and even humility.  You might think if you had wisdom, you wouldn’t be very humble.  If it’s God’s wisdom then humility comes at no extra charge.

But what if there is evidence to the contrary?  What if what we know and what we live involves bitter envy and selfish ambition.  What if I think I have God’s wisdom but still make my life all about me?

The evidence says that you are playing for the wrong team.  The evidence tells us that our practices are of the devil.   If you had your heart set on being the Lord’s disciple and discover this evidence, what should you do?

Repent and do the things that you did at first comes to mind.  Stop, turn around, leave this earthly and unspiritual lifestyle behind and seek the Lord like you did at first.

Don’t get so wrapped up in the mechanics that you lose sight of the path that the Lord has prepared for you. If you are on track with your discipleship, the evidence in the area of wisdom will look like this.

·       Pure
·       Peace-loving
·       Considerate
·       Yielding to the needs of others
·       Full of mercy and producing good fruit
·       Sincere

Such evidence suggests that you are genuinely following your Master and seeking the righteous life that God desires for you. 

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

If you are true to who God called you to be, you will sow into the lives of others with peace.  You will be considerate of and helping to meet their needs, and your mercy and good fruit will be evident.

Notice how this part of the letter follows the section on Taming the Tongue.  Can we ever get to practicing God’s wisdom if we can’t get our tongue to submit to the spirit within us?

It seems that James is like the Proverbs where every few lines reveal a new piece of wisdom; however, the more we study, the more we see how everything he desires to teach us is tied together.

Once you have read and understood this letter, you may start almost anywhere within it and it will lead you to the full context.

Having accepted the challenge to read this scripture daily, you will also discover that no matter how challenging it may seem, it is not biblically unique.  The thoughts presented by James are in concert with those of Jesus and the apostles that he sent into the world.

James does us justice by pulling so many challenges together in one place.
You will be blessed for completing this challenge.

Amen!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Caution to those desiring to be teachers...


Read James 3

Therefore go, make disciples, baptize, and teach; but teachers beware.  Lookout teachers, you will be judged more strictly!

What the heck!  I am commissioned to make disciples, baptize, and teach but I better watch out if I do teach. 

What is the danger in teaching?  Consider the following excerpt from a recent sermon on the gift of teacher.

Consider two words you might want to remember as you study and especially if you feel called to teach—gift or no gift.
The first is exegesis.  That is to extract the intended meaning from a text.  We look at a text—a set of scriptures—and do our best to discern what the original author meant.  We seek to understand the message that God conveys in this part of his word.
The next term is eisegesis.  This is to take what we believe and try and make it fit into the scripture.  We should consider James’s warning when we catch ourselves doing this.  It is easy to do.  We believe something or want to believe something so we make what we believe fit into a scripture in which it doesn’t belong.
Those with the gift of teacher are equipped to produce good fruit.  They hunger to teach so others will hunger to learn, but be warned:  Teachers will be judged more strictly.
So, what are we to do?  Stick to the word of God.  Use your experience to help explain but don’t make your experience superior to the world of God.

Embrace the full biblical witness.  Don’t cherry-pick.  Don’t declare something out of context because it does not fit into your personal context.  Seek and you will find!  God’s word will speak to you.  You don’t need to coach it to say what you want.

Trust in the power of his word.

Now we come to one of the most challenging sections in this book and perhaps the Bible.  The tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person.

So, did God design us with a defective part? 

Think back to the beginning of this letter.  Think of the term double-minded.  Think of being of God and of the world.  Think of asking God for something then doubting he can deliver it.  That dog don’t hunt.

We like to say that we are of God but live in the world, but sometimes the world is living in us.  The litmus test for this is often the tongue.

James describes the tongue like a rudder.  A small rudder turns a big ship.

The tongue is like a spark.  The tongue is not a forest fire, but it can start one.

People have domesticated all sorts of animals but the tongue seems to be a wild beast.  How do we deal with the volatility of our tongue—of what we say?

Let’s try this on for size.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

Earlier, we looked at meeting other’s needs by listening to them first with being slow to speak the concomitant of this leading premise.  Now let’s consider slow to speak on its own merits.

What if being slow to speak gives us a chance to restrain the wild beast that we speak with?  We are counseled to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.  What if between the time that we had the though and the time when we voiced it, there was a deliberate delay?

What if our tongue only praised God because we were very deliberate in what we said?

James used the term double-minded.  Native Americans once used the term forked tongue.  James is challenging us to have no dichotomy in our faith—that includes our speech. 

We believe and our prayer life is evidence of that belief.

We have faith and our actions are evidence of that belief.

We have a heart for God and our words are not in conflict with our hearts.

I have asked that in your personal study and hopefully you have discussed this in your classes, that you consider the power of words.  Think of these areas:

The words spoken over you.

The words spoken by you.

The words spoken by you with God’s Spirit.

The words spoken by you without God’s Spirit.

Don’t you want the words spoken over you to be filled with God’s Spirit?

Don’t you want the words spoken by you to others or over others to be filled with God’s Spirit?

No human can tame the tongue.  We will say something that will get us off course or be the spark that starts a wildfire.

But we are not without hope or without help.  If we will deliberately make time for the Spirit of the Lord to instruct us before we speak, our chances of saying only the things that bring glory to God go up significantly.

Once upon a time I taught cognitive restricting.  That’s programspeak for thinking skills.  One of the programs used a simple mantra:  Stop and think! 

In a community where good thinking skills were in short supply, Stop and think was the exact interjection require to give people a chance to make a good decision.

Let’s apply something similar here when it comes to the tongue:  Stop and Listen!

In this case it’s not listening to the other person to meet their need.  It’s listening to the Holy Spirit before we speak.  It’s our best shot at taming the wild beast we call the tongue.

Amen.

Christian Forensics


Read James 2


Some time ago we learned a verse from Hebrews about faith.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 

Faith is tangible yet intangible.  You can’t see it but we say it has substance.  We talk of evidence of things not seen.

What in the world is evidence of things not seen?  I get a perfect example for about 300 plus days each year from my office.  I look out of the window, that I am thankful we decided to put in what is now my office, and see the American Flag at the post office.  It is not hanging down the pole it is flying full mast with a full-value wind.

I can’t see the wind, but I can see the evidence of the wind.  I have seen the evidence of things not seen.

James says show me your faith by your deeds—by your works.  He gets a little terse here and there.  If you really believe in God then show me your faith by what you do.  That’s a good ole Missouri, Show Me!

You want to say that you believe, but consider the fact that the demons really believe in God.  They don’t have any doubt.  It scares the hell out of them because they know that the one true God is a righteous God and has consigned them to hell. They know with certainty their eternal destination. 


Make no mistake, they believe in God.

So how are we different?  James says, look at the way you live.  Do you live by the law of love or do you just love the fact that God’s grace keeps you from keeping company with the demons?

But I believe that God is real.  By the evidence of creation itself, I know that God has to be real.  I believe that Jesus died for my sins.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is with me now. 

James says, let me introduce you to Forensic Christianity.
If all that you say is true, there will be evidence.  There will be evidence of things not seen.

If you see a person who is hurting—maybe hungry or homeless—and you have the means to help but do nothing, then there is no evidence of this thing called faith.

If a person who does not believe in God helps this pitiful person, there is evidence of a good deed but no profession of faith in God.  You can have good deeds without faith.

Not everyone doing good things has faith in God and not everyone who claims faith in God seems to have evidence to support that claim.

There is a song by Everlast titled What It’s Like.  Most of you my age haven’t heard them and probably wouldn’t like them.  Some folks here don’t need to listen to them.  Their lyrics are very real but just too raw for most people.

We've all seen the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change
the hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked and full of mange
he asks a man for what he could spare with shame in his eyes
get a job you blanking slob is all he replied.

Now the song is about walking in another person’s shoes and it goes into some situations where we could just point fingers of blame and excuse ourselves.  You got your own self into that mess, now deal with it.  That is, unless we were called to live out our faith.

Think to the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead should have known not to travel the road between Jericho and Jerusalem alone.  He was just asking to be robbed. 

But Jesus is answering the question, Who is my neighbor?  He uses this parable.  At the end of the parable, you know how this goes, it is the Samaritan who shows mercy.  It is the Samaritan who loved the man left for dead.  It is the Samaritan whose actions showed him to be a neighbor.

If you have received Jesus as your Lord, I will see your faith.  You will see my faith in acts of mercy.  My mercy does not make me faithful.  My faithfulness makes me merciful.

My acts of goodness do not bring me to salvation but my salvation brings me to acts of goodness and mercy.

I have told this story in different groups from time to time.  Once upon a time I was a newspaper manager for The Oklahoman.  I had a territory that went from Canute to Mangum to Cement/Cyril  and to Hinton.  After a couple years I was promoted and was responsible for things south of I-40 and west of I-35 with a little spillover here and there so a town didn’t get divided in half.

There had been trouble with service in Chickasha right before I was promoted.  It was really bad.  The area had gone through 7 managers over the past year and carriers were quitting every week.  As I interviewed manager prospects, I told them that Chickasha was a hornet’s nest.  Don’t ask for this job unless you are ready to deal with 100 customer complaints on day 1.   I spent most of my first two months putting Chickasha back together while culling through manager prospects.

Sometimes I would overnight there.  Sometimes I would drive back and forth.  I grew tired of Chickasha and the drive to and from this place.  Now, I had the other fourth of the state to take care of as well, but Chickasha was just sucking the life out of me.

One evening, I was ready to head home knowing that I would be back in a few hours.  I had not eaten all day, so I pulled into Arby’s to get the 5 for 5 special.  I don’t like drive-throughs so I went in to get my drink and 4 sandwiches and got in the car to head home.

As I looped around the back of the restaurant, I see a man digging in a dumpster.  I continued and made a left on the road heading west.  I was ready to be home and get my 2 hours sleep.  It was about half a block later that I made a U-turn.  I think it could have qualified as a Bat-Turn. 

My company car was a Dodge Magnum.  It had a long wheel base but I spun that baby around like a pro.  It took under a minute to get back to Arby’s and the dumpster and the guy was gone.  He wasn’t inside or walking anywhere nearby.  He was gone.

I knew that I was supposed to help that guy.  Yeah, I can eat 4 sandwiches.  I hadn’t eaten all day.  I was on the hungry side, but this guy was dumpster diving and I drove by him.

I knew exactly what the Spirit that lives within me was telling me to do.  I knew exactly what my faith was compelling me to do and I had not done it.

I should have taken those sandwiches back and gotten a refund because as I ate them on the drive home, they were the worst tasting sandwiches ever. 

My faith did not manifest itself into works, at least not as it should have.  I should have been so in tune with my faith and the Spirit that lived within me, it would not have taken half a minute to realize what I should have done.

I want you to consider two different and provocative concepts: Worthless faith and faithless works.

James uses the example of Abraham and Isaac and how Abraham demonstrated his faith by offering his son as a sacrifice to God.  No father here ever wants to have their faith tested in that way, but Abraham had faith that God would fulfill his promise that he would be the father of many nations and that promise would come through Isaac.

At the end of this example, James gives us the formula for faith and works.  Neither is a stand-alone entity.  Faith and deeds work together.  Faith is made complete in our works.

There is no such thing as an academic faith.  Faith moves us to action.  Our actions are incomplete without faith. 

But every time that I think of faith and works, I think about being saved by grace not works.  I am saved by grace through faith.  My salvation comes completely from God.

That statement should be rock solid in your foundation of faith.  I am saved by grace through faith!

Saved by grace through faith is absolutely true.  There are no asterisk or caveats.  It’s true.  But is it true for you?  Have you received Jesus not only as Savior but as Lord?

If we have truly professed our faith in the words that we know so well, Jesus is Lord, then we are helpless to do anything but respond to this incredible gift with action.  Sometimes our action is delayed but we are compelled to action nonetheless.

Our salvation comes from God in the blood of Christ Jesus.  Our salvation is completed in our response to his great love.  We could call this the fullness of our salvation.  I most often use the term discipleship.

Jesus said that once we believe in him, we pass from death to life.  Before we received Jesus as Lord, we were under a death sentence.  Our existence without Jesus was death. 

James makes the analogy as the body without spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.

We try to dissect God’s instructions to us.  His instructions to us are less for analysis and division and more for synthesis—receiving the full Biblical witness and unison—living in one accord as the body of Christ.

You can only dissect faith and works in a corpse.  You can’t do this in a living being.  I am going to patent the Faith and Works version of the game Operation.  There’s no bones or hearts or kidneys to remove, just faith and works. 

If you take either one out, that nasty buzzer sound goes off.  Your patient is dead!

Faith and works work together.  They are a package deal. 

Everyone who is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is predisposed to good deeds.  That is your new nature.  To live otherwise is to deny the Spirit of God that lives within you.

So, here are the test answers for those taking the course for credit.
Faith and actions work together.

What you do completes what you believe.

Faith without works is dead.

Amen!

Live by the Royal Law


 Read James 2

We are going to begin with favoritism but get to some meaty theology in this short message.

Don’t play favorites.  It’s easy to do.  We like the people who like us.  We like the people who are like us.  We like the people who like what we like.

It’s sounds like we are a likeable people.  But what about the people who are not like us?  What about the guy who is a victim of years of bad decisions?  What if that guy shows up to one of our worship services?  What if he needs a bath?  What if she is missing most of her front teeth?
We welcome them just as if they were like us.

We are blessed to have homes with heat and air, running water, something to cook on or in.  We are blessed to have a washer and drier, and somebody who will pick up all the clothes from all over to wash and dry them so we may scatter them about again.

We are blessed to have a choice of what to wear on Sunday morning.  It might be a suit or a dress outfit or a tee-shirt, but we have a choice.  Some don’t.

We don’t look down on others.  By the same token, we don’t need to suck up to people of money and privilege.  Just because the guy makes $500,000 a year doesn’t mean he gets the red-carpet treatment.

Just because she is a television celebrity, doesn’t mean we save her the best seat in the house.

Who is honored in this place?  God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The rest of us are here to worship Holy God.  The rest of us are new creations because of the blood of Jesus and we don’t bring who we used to be along with us.

James gives us a little rationale to go with not playing favorites with the upper crust folks.  He tells us that those are oftenthe same people who will take you to court if you owe them $100.

They might want you to wait a couple weeks to get paid for cutting their grass, but will start eviction procedures on you if you are two weeks late on your rent.

What’s James saying?  Often times, the people of status in this world live for this world.  They need the truth about a Savior more than they need the best seat in the house.

Often times, the people that we tend to pay homage to are the very same people blaspheming the name of God.  These folks need truth and ministry not privilege and preference.  The world gives them enough of the latter.
Don’t give in to the patterns of the world.
Not let’s talk about how to live.

James says that if you live by the Royal Law—the law of love.  The law that says love one another.  The law that says all other laws and prophecies hang on two commandments:

Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

If your life is governed by love, then you are fulfilling the law.

But if you chose instead to live by the Law of Moses, which has not been abolished and has not bee set aside, then your batting average had better be 1.000.


So how can we be expected to fulfil the law that no man—even the revered patriarchs-was ever able to fulfill?

With love.  Our lives are guided by, governed by, and blessed by abiding in God’s love.

If we truly love our neighbor, we will not show favoritism in our worship services.

I will differentiate, discern, discriminate—judge if you will—between the guy who can cut my grass the right way and the one just hitting and missing to get a buck

I will discriminate who I hang out with for my social life.  I will connect with anyone and everyone but remember that I am on a mission.  I will remember that Jesus went to meet sinners where they were but he did not adopt their lifestyle.

When I need to relax, I will remember that bad company corrupts good character.  Jesus ate with sinners but he did not adopt their lifestyle.

Understand that there is a difference between discerning good decisions and playing favorites.  If I am going to err in showing favoritism, it will be towards the disadvantaged.  The rich may take a few lumps if they have to.  They have plenty of comforts in the world.

So, I can drive myself crazy trying to live up to 613 commands or directives or instructions—not all pertain to everyone—or I can really lean into the Royal Law—loving one another.

Am I going to bat 1.000 at either?  No, and God will not kick you to the curb.  He is a God of mercy and he calls us to be merciful.  We are all called out of disobedience.

The Law of Moses is still there.  It is valid as the day it was given.  It was given for our own good.   It will not pass away, but Christ gave us another way to fulfill the law.  We are to love one another.

We are to become people of mercy not judgment.

How can love fulfill a law that is so directive and stringent?  Here is a human example.  There are multiple criteria to become a United States citizen.  We are a nation with many immigrants and many have jumped through all of the hoops and become citizens.

Some didn’t have to jump through very many hoops because they served in the United States Armed Forces.  Honorable service fulfilled the requirements.

The requirements did not go away or were they diminished in any way, but honorable service fulfilled the requirements.

Love fulfills the law.  The royal law is the law that must govern us.  Love God and love each other.

When we curry favor with people of money and power, we are not living by the Law of Moses and not living by the law of love.  Either way, it goes in the books as a strikeout.  Strikeouts kill the batting average.

We are to live and act by the law that gives freedom.  What?  We are to live by love as those who have received mercy and now are called to give mercy.

We are people who forgive 7 times 70 because we have been forgiven so much more.  That does not mean there was no offense for surely people have wronged us many times.

It says that we are now people of the royal law.  We live by love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

We see God in every face and long to lead many to the grace that we know and that we live by.

We live by the Royal Law.  We live by love.

Amen.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Listening and Doing


Read James 1


If you have been fully engaged in the Month of the Bible, you already know much of what I will tell you.  James is the Lord’s half-brother.  He might have been skeptical about this whole Messiah business while Jesus walked the earth in the flesh and had to share a bathroom with his brothers, but became a believer. 

He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, but it was time to reach beyond Jerusalem to other Hebrews who had come to know Jesus as Lord.  James wrote to his own people who were seeking to live as disciples of Christ Jesus.

As we discussed earlier, he begins his letter with a provocation:  Consider it pure joy when you face trials of all kinds.  If you keep your faith and persevere, your faith will grow and you will mature.

If you are only existing then every trial becomes a major inconvenience to living a convenient life. 

If you live with purpose—God-given purpose—these trials are just grist for our character mill.  We think to Paul’s words that God will use all things for good for those who are called to his purpose and who love him.

Your trials are so much more than trials.

God wants to give us so much, perhaps chief among his good gifts is wisdom.  We don’t have to deserve it.  In fact, we don’t really deserve it, but he will give it generously without condemning us for our stupidity to date.

But we must not doubt.  We must not be double-minded.  If we doubt, we should not expect anything from God.

If our prayers ask God wondering if he can help, we are seeking the wrong God.  We must know that he can help.  If that’s still a struggle, pray that God help you with your unbelief.  Every good answer and good gift comes from God.

That’s enough for where we have been.  Yes, there is plenty more packed into the first part of James that I hope you dived into in your classes and personal study time, but now we come to one of my favorite memory verses.

My dear brothers take note of this, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger cannot produce the righteous life that God desires.

We learned it a little differently but that’s how I learned it a few decades ago and no matter how many things I will forget on a day-to-day basis, I will always have that counsel engraved within me.

We have been here before.  When we read quick to listen, think first to listen.  Let us seek to listen to the other person first.  We all have a need to be heard and understood.  James tells us, let’s meet that need in others before we meet it in ourselves.

If you want to have a productive conversation, you should agree with another person to listen to each other until each person feels understood.

If you just need to love your neighbor and being heard is not that important to you—at least not right now—then just be the first to listen.  Meet someone’s need to be heard and understood. 

You don’t have to agree with them, but they need to be heard.  That’s their need.

Next, we come to slow to speak.  That doesn’t mean speak slowly as if you were from the deep South.  It means complement being quick to listen by not having to be heard right away.

Let me put this in terms of the fellowship meal.  Don’t go to the head of the line.  Let others go first.  I understand that means you might not get any deviled eggs, but these instructions are for disciples not country club residents.

We are regarding others more highly than ourselves.  We think that James is a challenging book, but he is not the Lone Ranger.  That last counsel came from Paul.

The third component of this counsel is slow to become angry or slow to anger.  Most people get that.  Christians are not supposed to be angry people.  This seems like common sense, except that it goes against our human nature.

We all get angry at some point.  We might manage our anger so we don’t do things that land us in jail or even Facebook Jail.

But James is not giving us the short course on anger management.  He is talking efficacy—the power to effect desired change.

Human anger cannot bring about the righteous life that God desires.  Human anger does not lead to good discipleship.

But sometimes, it just feels right.  It feels good.  Of course, so does heroin to the addict, but it does not produce good fruit.  Human anger is a placebo for discipleship.  We think we are doing the right thing because we are angry at things that we know God doesn’t like, but our anger does not lead to right living.

Discipleship requires action.  It requires putting the words of our Lord into practice.  Anger can feel righteous.  It can make us feel like we are allied with God.  If God has righteous anger, then I should be able to have righteous anger.

Here’s the thing.  You will have righteous anger if you look at how God says to live and you see how the world chooses to live.  You will have righteous anger, but it will not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 

There is no efficacy in anger!

In fact, it works against you.  Your anger makes you feel accomplished without accomplishing anything.  It is a numbing drug.  What’s being numbed?  Your discipleship, that’s what.

We know what God’s word says but we are called to put it into practice in our lives and not to sit on the sidelines with yellow penalty flags.  We are to take the word of God and put it into practice in our own lives.

Just saying the words is not action.  Just getting angry is not action.  Just pointing fingers is not action.

Well, what is action?  Get rid of the moral filth in your own life.

Help those who can’t help themselves—widows and orphans for example.
 
The list goes on but James gives us  a good start.  If we know what the word says and we don’t put it into action—again, getting angry at others getting away with sinning is not action—then we are like the man who looks in the mirror and then moments later forgets what he looks like.

But when we look into the perfect law—the law that gives freedom, the law of love—and then go put it into practice, we will be blessed.

When we remember to meet others needs first, not substitute anger for discipleship, and live by love, then we are growing as his disciple.

That might not be our first nature.  That might be difficult.  That might be more than difficult, it might just be considered a trial.  We have returned to the beginning.

Consider it pure joy when you face trails of all sorts because you are living for your Master, loving the unlovable, and discarding everything that pollutes your life. 

Sometimes, not always, the Hebrew people used a literary structure that the Greeks would later call Chiastic.  That is, the text or the story builds to the middle.

In the middle of the pericope that would be the first chapter of this letter as we label it today, we find these words.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Life is not about surviving the day.  It’s about winning the victory in our day-to-day trials knowing that the battle has been won already.

We are not just existing.  We are on a mission from God and if we trust him and don’t doubt, believe him and do what he says, and live by the perfect law of love, we will be blessed for it now and in eternity.

Amen.