God is in the Finances of Families

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Description – The second of a four part series on family life.

It is a scenario common to the college years. It involves discouragement, pain, social issues, and the very nature of existence itself. Played out in a letter, phone call, or e-mail, the voice, whether printed, audio, or electronic, is the same: panicked and discouraged.

Both sexes are not exempt from this gripping issue. However, a legendary illustration highlights this issue and it comes from the pens of a young man and his father.

‘Dear Dad, No mon. No fun. Your son.’

‘Dear Son, Too bad. So sad. Your dad.’

There is discouragement involved in this situation due to the lack of ‘mon’ or ‘money.’ The young man is discouraged that he does not have enough money to do something other than eat and buy necessities. This involves some deep personal pain… of the social kind.

No money? No social life. No social life? No girls. No potential places to go to meet girls. Nada, zilch, zip.

Moreover, since the social life has tanked, the very existence of human nature and life is called into question, especially as it relates to the reasons for higher education in the first place.

Money is an issue that does not go away in life, no matter how young or old you are. It is always a part of our human experience. It is a part of family life.

Where is God in your family finances? His involvement helps us in this important area of life.

This is the second part of a four part series entitled, ‘God is in the Small Stuff for Families.’ Last week, we began this series with a reminder that ‘God is in the Memories of Families’ as we remembered those who had sacrificed for our nation as well as for our faith and our families as well.

The purpose of this series, as I noted last week, ‘is designed to help us see things from God’s perspective and invite Him in to the small stuff, the details, of life.’

God needs to be in our memories and we need to, at certain times, give our family memories to God and ask for His grace and help as we process them. We also need to invite God into our family finances so that we can honor God with them.

Our text for this morning contains some important imagery that I think is important for us to deal with as it relates to finances. As we reflect on the sowing image of our passage, I want to ask you to reflect seriously and prayerfully on the following questions:

1. What is our family sowing through its financial resources?

2.  How is God honored in our finances?

Many people have said that when you look at a person’s checkbook, you get a very good idea of what is important to that person. Jesus made that clear when He said, “For where your treasure is there is your heart also.”

In our main text, our values are linked to the quality and quantity of what we sow which is, in turn, linked to the outcomes of our sowing. Paul plainly says it, “if you plant small, you will have a small crop. But if you plant generously you will have a generous crop.”

Now, this passage can be interpreted in some broad ways, without going way beyond the intended and original meaning. It can speak to us about how we sow our time and abilities. Both are important commodities in our day and age. However, we cannot get away from this passage speaking directly to the financial affairs of life because all of chapter 9 deals with the importance of giving and giving well.

When we give on Sunday morning, what is it that we give to?

The first response is usually, “We give to a budget that says that what we give, we be used in certain ways.”

Another response, I heard a year or so ago, is “We give to the preacher who gets the money.” Well, I get a portion but it does not all go to me. (I am grateful for the good salary.)

Let me suggest that we give on Sunday mornings as primarily, an act of worship. Repeatedly after the offering, I have acknowledged in prayer our giving as an act of worship.

As we give, we give to God and worship Him through our giving. Why? Because as we do this, we acknowledge God as the giver of our financial resources we need to live on and that our financial resources are used by God to do His good work in our lives.

We also give to a vision we have of the church. This evening we are going to gather together to give thanks to God for our church and remember the gifts that we have been given through the giving of many people’s time, abilities, and yes money over the years.

What is your vision for our church in the next five years? 2010 is only 5 years away. If you could share your vision of our church in 2010, what would it be?

Let me share with you some things that I want to see occur by 2010:

At least 150 in morning worship services

A praise band (with another keyboardist)

A new facility that allows us to have groups and classes throughout the week

A network of support groups with trained leaders that allow us to serve our community in Jesus’ name through helping people with important issues in their lives.

Small groups that meet in homes or various places throughout the week to help us another grow in our relationship with Christ.

More important than what I think is what the Lord wants us to do in the next five years. However, we are sowing the seeds for 2010…now. The question becomes, are they the right seeds and are we sowing them generously?

I believe that one of the best investments that a family can make is the investment of their money and their time to the church. I believe that as we sow generously in this important area, we demonstrate to our children, and one another’s children, that church matters and ultimately, God matters in our lives.

Paul also says something else that is very important for us to remember in the matter of finances and faith: attitude. He says in verse 7, “You must each make up your own mind as to how much you should give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves the person who gives cheerfully.”

As we pay bills, as we write the check or set aside the cash that we put in the offering envelope on Sunday, what kind of an attitude do our children observe in us?  Do they see financial integrity in operation?

An attitude of gratitude is very important in giving of not just our money but our time and abilities. The best giving comes from a heart of gratitude.

As each of us reflects on our finances, how well do we honor God in them? Are we giving to God with integrity, joy and gratitude?

Finally, I want us to reflect on how we use our money for our families. I know that we are at various places in the family life cycle and so it will be different for each of us.

I like what Bruce Bikel and Stan Jantz say about this important issue, “It is better to spend your money on experiences for your family than on things for them.” I like that statement. It says something important.

Yet it also challenges me to rethink how I spend my money and…how I spend my time. As you are aware, Corey and I have spent the past six weeks coaching a rag ball team.

I was not sure if I really had the time to coach it. However, I made the time to coach those kids. I have valued it and I have grown by it.

One of those kids is Daniel. (He is already asking if I would coach his soccer team in the fall!) Because I took the time to coach his team, I have made an investment in an experience that I hope both of us will look back on later in life and thank God for.

As followers of Jesus Christ we have a constant choice when it comes to our families, (and because through Christ we are able to become a part of the family of God, the church, to other people), we have the choice to invest in them, financially and in other ways. I say ‘choice’ because no matter what our level of income is; we have the means to invest in them. Let us invest generously, willingly, and with gratitude, our money, time, and abilities so that our children and grandchildren will follow the Lord.

As we enter our time for communion, I would have us earnestly reflect on God’s investment in us through His Son Jesus Christ. It cost Him dearly, but it was worth it because we are worth everything to the Lord!

Isn’t that worth giving to? Amen.

Sources: God is in the Small Stuff for you Family by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz. © 1999 Promise Press.

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God is in the Conflict of Families

James 4:1-3

Description – The third of a four part series on family life.

In her book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, Sharon Parks quotes from a Scott Russell Sanders story about a tense conversation that took place between Sanders and his son following a quarrel on what was supposed to be a father and son hike.

“So what are my hang-ups?… How do I ruin everything?”

“You don’t want to know,” he said.

“I want to know….”

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Try me.”

He cut a look at me, shrugged, then stared back through the windshield. “You’re just so out of touch.”

“With what?”

“With my whole world. You hate everything that’s fun. You hate television and movies and video games. You hate my music.”

“I like some of your music. I just don’t like it loud.”

“You hate advertising,” he said quickly rolling now. “You hate billboards and lotteries and developers and logging companies and big corporations. You hate snowmobiles and jet skis. You hate malls and fashions and cars.”

“You’re still on my case because I won’t buy a Jeep?” I said, harking back to another old argument.

“Forget Jeeps. You look at any car and all you think is pollution, traffic, roadside crap. You say fast-food’s poisoning our bodies and TV’s poisoning our minds. You think the Internet is just another scam for selling stuff. You think business is a conspiracy to rape the earth.”

“None of that bothers you?”

“Of course it does. But that’s the world. That’s where we’ve got to live. It’s not going to go away just because you don’t approve. What’s the good of spitting on it?”

“I don’t spit on it. I grieve over it.”

He was still for a moment, then resumed quietly. “What the good of grieving if you can’t change anything?”

“Who says you can’t change anything?”

You do. Maybe not with your mouth, but with your eyes… Your view of things is totally dark. It bums me out. You make me feel the planet’s dying and people are to blame and nothing can be done about it. There’s no room for hope. Maybe you can get by without hope, but I can’t. I’ve got a lot of living still to do. I have to believe there’s a way we can get of this mess. Otherwise what’s the point? Why study, why work-why do anything if it’s all going to [pot]?”

Whoa! There is a lot of conflict going on in Sander son’s head! There is disagreement between a father and a son over some very deep and basic views and values. There is conflict present.

Conflict is one of those things that most of us would rather do without in life. Granted there are some people who thrive on conflict and there are some who create conflict because there is a need to prove themselves or to be (or stay) in control.

I have been reading a book by James McGregor Burns entitled Leadership in which he makes a very interesting point about conflict. “The potential for conflict,” he wrote “permeates the relations of humankind, and that potential is a force for health and growth as well as for destruction and barbarism.”

Sanders and his son might agree with Burns. I believe what Burns says is true. Conflict does have the potential for health and growth. However, maybe what we fear is our fear of conflict, our concern about how we may or may not handle ourselves in the midst of conflict, and, quite honestly, whether or not we win in the conflict.

Conflict is a part of family life. We have conflict over values and beliefs, over the way we squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube, over the way that we dress ourselves (You’re not wearing that are you?), and where we are going to eat out:

‘Where do you want to eat?’

‘I don’t know. Where do you want to eat?’

‘You choose, I chose last time.’

‘Okay, how about Arby’s?’

‘ARBY’S! You chose that last time!’

‘You said to choose a place and I choose Arby’s!’

‘Again? I get tired of Arby’s and the kids get tired of Arby’s.’

‘Well, what do you want to do? You choose!’

‘I don’t want to choose, I chose last time. I’m too tired to think… You choose!’

‘Okay, Wendy’s.’

‘WENDY’S, again?!’

‘What do you mean ‘again?’?” We haven’t eaten there in a while.’

‘I know…but can’t you pick something else?’

‘NO, YOU PICK!’

Therefore, we have an evening meal at Burger King and nobody is happy!

What’s going on here? What is the source of conflict? (I’m making some assumptions, by the way.)

How about over extension? Too much on the calendar? One more decision to make brings stress.

How about personal choices being violated? One fast food place is unacceptable and the other is too blah. Besides, I don’t want to agree with this choice because I don’t like the choice!

Maybe there is a dance between two people that is being played out about power and control and it needs to stop. Or maybe we are just too tired to eat right now.

There are conflicts that are more serious in families than just where to eat. There are serious conflicts in families because of differences in values, in lifestyle issues, in expectations, and other such areas as we have just heard.

We create conflict when conflicting desires, goals, and priorities run into one another. Turning to our main text this morning, we are given a behind the scenes look at conflict and it is not a pleasant sight. It is uuuugly! And it is the truth!

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”

We all have desires. We have the desire to eat. We have the desire to sleep. We have the desire to love. We have the desire to have sex.

They are God given desires but they are warped by our sin and the choices that we have made because of our sin.

Sin makes them evil because sin distorts our desires and turns them into a possessiveness that creates conflict. Now what drives that possessiveness is the sin of selfishness, “I want what I want when I want it and don’t get in my way.” Or as we read from James, “You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them.”

Conflict is a part of family life and learning to resolve successfully conflict is a skill and ability and an attitude that can be learned. Conflict resolution requires patience, stamina (emotional, spiritual, and physical), and the grace of God. But, if we are worn down or worn out or both, we often respond on the fly to statements and the conflict gets more intense because we do not have the inner reserves to adequately deal with conflict.

There are also some other things that we need to do and verses 7 – 10 of James 4 gives us an important checklist:

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.

Humility works wonders! We humble ourselves before the Lord when we slow down and our inner vision becomes clearer and that allows for the rest of what is said in this passage to take place.

Humility, which defuses conflict, comes to us in greater way as we actively resist the Devil who tempts us to get angry, revengeful, and even, more convinced that we are right!

And we resist the Devil as we draw closer to God who will cleanse us as we allow Him to cleanse us. Such a cleansing will wash away the actions (represented by hands) and motives and attitudes (represented by heart) that create conflict.

Humility also opens the door to real repentance. True grief and sorrow over sin is a cleansing thing. It opens up the soul to God at a greater level because God better exists in a heart and soul that is repentant and cleansed.

Humility then defuses the selfishness and pain caused by conflict as the Lord lifts us up to Him and releases that within us that causes conflict. We are then able to better deal with conflict because the Lord has worked within us to remove the root causes of conflict.

The question then is, “Are we willing to allow this to happen?” It may take time. It may require some very hard decisions to go to family members and say something like, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz say it very well, “God knows about your conflicts, and He cares about them.” Can you believe that? God cares about your conflicts, all of them!

As followers of Jesus Christ we need to invite the Lord into our conflicts and we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work within us to make us able to deal Biblically and honestly with our conflicts. Are you open to that today?

Yesterday, as I read the story that I opened the sermon with, it struck me at several different levels. The thing that touched me the most however, was the son’s strong sense of hope.

I believe that hope of the world is Jesus Christ. I believe that when we confess our sin to Christ, ask Him to forgive us of our sin, and we tell God, “I’m sorry for all that I have said and done that has offended you and others and I am willing to make it right,” there is a great hope that is released in our hearts.

I believe that Jesus Christ came to liberate us from the serious conflict of sin that binds our hearts and damages our relationship with God and others. I also believe that as we allow the power of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us it will enable us to resolve successfully many conflicts that we face in our lives. I say “many” because some conflict resolution in our lives is also dependent upon the efforts and willingness of others to do their part in resolving the issues.

Finally, I believe that as we live for the Lord in this world, with all of its pain and sorrow, we give a clear hope to those who need to see individuals, families and The Family, the church resolve conflicts in an effective and honest way. Can we do that? Yes we can!

Will we do that? We have to, we have to. Amen.

Sources:

Scott Russell Sanders, Hunting for Hope: A Father’s Story as told in Sharon Daloz Park’s Big Questions, Worthy Dreams © 2000, Jossey Bass.

Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz God is in the Small Stuff for your Family, © 1999 Promise Press.

God is in the Fathering of Families

Psalm 61:5

Luke 11:11-13

Description – The fourth of a four part series on family life.

Today marks five years since we first met. I am still glad to be your pastor and I look forward to more years together.

Last year I shared three top ten father’s lists from fathers.com. Does anyone remember what they were? One list was “Top Ten Dinner Dishes When Mom’s Away and Dad’s “Cooking,” the second one was “The Top Ten Things You Won’t Hear a Father Say” and the final one was “The Top Ten Father’s New Year’s Resolution.”

Well, here is another Top Ten list for dads on this Father’s Day 2005. It is entitled “Top Ten Things a Teenage Daughter Doesn’t Want To Hear from Her Dad.”

10. “Let me explain what ‘deductible’ means on car insurance.”
9. “Your mom’s almost ready. Where are we going on our double date?”
8. “Seems to me last year’s prom dress still has some life in it.”
7. “I signed us up for the pairs karaoke contest this Friday night.”
6. “We ate possum toes like popcorn when I was a kid.”
5. “Let’s get ice cream, my treat! Just let me grab my jar of coins.”
4. “I am proud that you decided to keep the family unibrow.”
3. “You don’t need to go shopping after all. I picked out a purse for you on my way home.”
2. “I ran into Bobby at the grocery store. I told him that you’re really hoping he’ll ask you to the dance.”
1. “By the way, I had to borrow your deodorant yesterday.”

We conclude our series, “God is in the Small Stuff for Families” with the thought that “God is in the fathering of families.” In July, I will begin a series through the New Testament book of James that will take us through the rest of the summer.

There are many dimensions to fathering and they are all important but the following story illustrates the one that I focus on this morning. It is entitled “The Coolest Dad in The Universe” written by  Angie K. Kucer-Ward.

“He was 50 years old when I was born, and a “Mr. Mom” long before anyone had a name for it. I didn’t know why he was home instead of Mom, but I was young and the only one of my friends who had their dad around. I considered myself very lucky.

Dad did so many things for me during my grade-school years. He convinced the school bus driver to pick me up at my house instead of the usual bus stop that was six blocks away. He always had my lunch ready for me when I came home – usually a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was shaped for the season. My favorite was at Christmas. The sandwiches would be sprinkled with green sugar and cut in the shape of a tree.

As I got a little older and tried to gain my independence, I wanted to move away from those “childish” signs of his love. But he wasn’t going to give up. In high school and no longer able to go home for lunch, I began taking my own. Dad would get up a little early and make it for me. I never knew what to expect. The outside of the sack might be covered with his rendering of a mountain scene (it became his trademark) or a heart inscribed with “Dad-n-Angie K.K.” in its center. Inside there would be a napkin with that same heart or an “I love you.” Many times, he would write a joke or a riddle, such as “Why don’t they ever call it a momsicle instead of a popsicle?” He always had some silly saying to make me smile and let me know that he loved me.

I used to hide my lunch so no one would see the bag or read the napkin, but that didn’t last long. One of my friends saw the napkin one day, grabbed it, and passed it around the lunchroom. My face burned with embarrassment. To my astonishment, the next day all my friends were waiting to see the napkin. From the way they acted, I think they all wished they had someone who showed them that kind of love. I was so proud to have him as my father. Throughout the rest of my high school years, I received those napkins, and still have a majority of them.

And still it didn’t end. When I left home for college (the last one to leave), I thought the messages would stop. But my friends and I were glad that his gestures continued.

I missed seeing my dad every day after school and so I called him a lot. My phone bills got to be pretty high. It didn’t matter what we said; I just wanted to hear his voice. We started a ritual during that first year that stayed with us. After I said goodbye he always said, “Angie?”  “Yes, Dad?” I’d reply.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Dad.”

I began getting letters almost every Friday. The front-desk staff always knew who the letters were from – the return address said “The Hunk.” Many times the envelopes were addressed in crayon and along with the enclosed letters were usually drawings of our cat and dog, stick figures of him and Mom, and if I had been home the weekend before, of me racing around town with friends and using the house as a pit stop. He also had his mountain scene and the heart-encased inscription, Dad-n-Angie K.K.

The mail was delivered every day right before lunch, so I’d have his letters with me when I went to the cafeteria. I realized it was useless to hide them because my roommate was a high school friend who knew about his napkins. Soon it became a Friday afternoon ritual. I would read the letters, and the drawing and envelope would be passed around.

It was during this time that Dad became stricken with cancer. When the letters didn’t come on Friday, I knew that he had been sick and wasn’t able to write. He used to get up at 4:00 a.m. so he could sit in the quiet house and do his letters. If he missed his Friday delivery, the letters would usually come a day or two later. But they always came. My friends used to call him “Coolest Dad in the Universe.” And one day they sent him a card bestowing that title, signed by all of them. I believe he taught all of us about a father’s love. I wouldn’t be surprised if my friends started sending napkins to their children. He left an impression that would stay with them and inspire them to give their own children their expression of their love.

Throughout my four years of college, the letters and phone calls came at regular intervals. But then the time came when I decided to come home and be with him because he was growing sicker, and I knew that our time together was limited. Those were the hardest days to go through to watch this man, who always acted so young, age past his years. In the end, he didn’t recognize who I was and would call me the name of a relative he hadn’t seen in many years. Even though I knew it was due to his illness, it still hurt that he couldn’t remember my name.  I was alone with him in his hospital room a couple of days before he died. We held hands and watched TV. As I was getting ready to leave, he said, “Angie?” “Yes, Dad?”  “I love you.”  “I love you, too, Dad.”

What Angie received from her father was a heritage of love and support because her dad consciously chose to invest in her for the right reasons. Men, what kind of a heritage are we creating for our kids? God is in the fathering of families and when fathers create a heritage of Godliness and love, good things can happen as a result.

The greatest heritage that we can give children is the heritage of faith and trust in Christ. There are other things that we need to give them, but the greatest is the heritage of faith.

In our main text for this morning, the Psalmist points out the inheritance that comes from the Lord and it is made clearer in a couple of verses prior to out main text: For you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.

This heritage of which the Psalmist speaks is grounded in the character and promises of God. I suggest this morning that the promises that God made to ancient Israel through the Old Covenant and to all of humanity through the New Covenant made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are promises that fathers can make to their children.

They are promises of character as evidenced by the requirements of the Ten Commandments that well summarize the Covenant or agreement made between God and ancient Israel. They are promises of love as spoken of in the Great Commandment to love God with all of our being and our neighbor as ourselves as the ultimate fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz share three important things that a leaving a Godly heritage can do for others. Such a heritage provides:

… A sense of stability and tranquility that transcends the fluctuations of the stock market

… A moral and charitable spirit that can discern how to share an inheritance with those less fortunate

… A sense of priorities that gives meaning to life, whether the inheritance is large or small

In Luke 11:11-13 Jesus asked some questions long this line. “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead? Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

When God gave the church the gift of the Holy Spirit, He gave the church the power to create a heritage of faithfulness, love, forgiveness, and hope. The Holy Spirit also is given to us as followers of Christ to help us live a heritage of faithfulness, love, forgiveness, and hope especially in our homes.

These comments from Jesus occur in the context of a passage on prayer that features a common theme – persistence. In verses 5 through 8, the persistence of a neighbor for three loaves of bread at the very inconvenient hour of midnight is rewarded because of his persistence.

Then in verses nine through ten, we are given the well-known encouragement to ‘keep on asking, keep on looking, and keeping on knocking” in prayer. Persistence is a necessary ingredient in giving our family a Godly heritage because raising a family is hard work and is a work in progress over many years. It requires the persistence of asking, looking, and knocking in prayer for the help of God.

I want my boys to walk with God. But, I must walk with God myself in a credible way.

I want my boys to respect and honor women. But, I must demonstrate that respect by the way I treat their mother.

I want my boys to serve the church well and support her through thick and thin. But, I must demonstrate that kind of attitude as I serve the church.

I want my boys to serve their community and others. But, I must show them how to serve by my willing example.

I want my boys to act with integrity and honesty in their school work and in their occupation. But, I must demonstrate that through integrity and honesty in my work ethic.

Men, what are you wanting of your children? They look at our actions and not our words.

As followers of Jesus Christ we need to leave a heritage of faithfulness and obedience to Christ that will serve as an example to those who come after us. With the help of God, that is possible! Let’s do men, let’s do it! Amen.

Sources: God is in the Small Stuff for Your Family by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz © 1999 Promise Press.

‘The Coolest Dad in the World.” © 1999 Angie K. Kucer-Ward. (Available on numerous websites. Do a search by author or title.)

Top Ten List is from www.fathers.com and is under ‘dad’s humor’ segment.

Show Me What You Got!

James 2:14

Description – An introduction to the book of James

“Show me what you got!” is a phrase that we often hear in both fun and all seriousness when a challenge is laid down by one person or group to another person or group to back up their claims of some kind of prowess or ability with action. A well-known church version of “show me what you got” is “walk the walk don’t just talk the talk.”

The book of James in the New Testament is a book about “showing me what you got” when it comes to “walking the Christian walk and not just talking the Christian talk.” We are going to spend four of the next of eight Sundays walking through this important book.

We begin this morning with an overview of the book as well as a study of our main text.

One of the ways that scholars have helped us to better study the Bible is by classifying the books into literary categories. For example, there are the historical books of the Old Testament such as 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles. The Psalms are classified as poetry. In the New Testament, Acts is considered an historical book and Romans as a doctrinal book. What kind of a book is James?

James has traditionally been placed in the category of “general epistle.” Another name for ‘epistle’ is letter. ‘General’ refers to the fact that the audience to whom the book is written is a wider and more ‘general’ audience that compared to the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, and such that were written to specific audiences (namely, the churches in the cities from which the books got their name.)

It is also interesting to note that Martin Luther felt that the book of James along with the books of Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation lacked what has been called ‘apostolic authority’ and were doctrinally of “secondary value.” Luther placed these four books at the end of his Bible in 1522 “to form,” wrote RVG Tasker, “a kind of supplement” to the rest of his version. However, later versions of the Bible placed James within the ‘canon’ or ‘accepted books’ of scripture and placed it as it appears in our Bibles today. (Luther did not forbid the reading of the book and said, “There is many a good saying in it.”)

Now the reason that Luther, and others, struggled with the ‘canonicity’ of James was due to what our main text speaks of: the relationship of works and faith. Luther felt that it went against the Biblical truth of ‘justification’ (or being made right with God) by faith’ and instead promoted ‘justification by works.’ Given Luther’s views that led him to start what we now call the Protestant Reformation this concern is understandable because the Reformation focused on being made right with God by faith in Christ alone and anything or anyone that said or spoke of the need for ‘good works’ was viewed with suspicion.

One of the things about James you notice as you read is that it jumps around from topic to topic, which can make reading it a challenge. It is a practical book and it forces the reader to reflect on whether or not one’s faith is being expressed in some important and practical ways.

In the introduction to his commentary on James, Tasker recalled a sermon with James 1:27 as the text and a memorable line that he never forgot, “The Epistle (or letter),” said the preacher, “of James is a collection of sermon notes.”  I think seeing this Epistle, as a ‘collection of sermon notes’ is a great way to navigate this book in a meaningful way. For example, in any given week, a pastor (yours truly included) will deal with a variety of issues and situations that people bring via the phone, e-mail, or through face-to-face conversations.

They are situations in which a large theological discourse will not necessarily help the situation. What is called for is a practical application of the faith.

This book has that practical application. It cuts through the ‘red tape’ and ‘churchy words’ and gets to the heart of ‘showing what you’ve got’ that our text illustrates.

There are also other important questions to ask when we study scripture that will help us to understand better what is said. One question, that is important but can be overemphasized is, ‘Who is the author of the book?’

Again, there has been much discussion over the centuries about who ‘James’ is. Common consensus indicates that it was the half-brother of Christ.

In his sermon “Jet Tour Through James,” Pastor Travis Moore points out some important facts about James. (OVERHEAD 1)

He was…
1. The oldest of Jesus’ brothers. (Mark 6:3)
2. An unbeliever prior to the resurrection. (John 7:3-10)
3. Among those Jesus appeared to after the resurrection, resulting in his conversion. (1 Cor 15:7)

(OVERHEAD 2)
4. With the disciples in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. (Acts 1:14)
5. The 1st pastor of the Jerusalem Church. (Acts 12:17, 15:13, 19; Gal 2:1, 9, 10, 12)

(OVERHEAD 3)

6. Married. (1 Cor 9:5)
7. Humble; referring to himself not as “brother” of Jesus, but rather as a “servant” of Jesus. (Jas 1:1)

8. Traditionally regarded as an “unusually good man”.
9. Given the nickname “the Just”.
10. Said to have had calluses on his knees from spending so much time in prayer.

(No wonder Tasker’s preacher called the book a ‘collection of sermon notes!’)

Another thing that Biblical scholars try to determine (which also can be overemphasized) is when the book was written. The date of around 60 AD (or 1,945 years ago) is the commonly accepted date of composition.

Now some of you might be thinking, ‘Jim, why is all of this important? Let’s cut to the chase and look at the book itself!’

Let me share with you what was going on in 60 AD. Paul was in Rome, as a prisoner awaiting trial. His missionary journeys were done. He was facing death.

By mid 62 AD, James dies for his faith. The church would begin to face greater challenges to its beliefs from both within the church and outside from society. Christianity would begin to be mocked and ridiculed in an even greater way that would include public displays of persecution.

Important questions are asked in such times, ‘How do we stand strong? How do we follow Jesus and let people know that we follow Jesus? How is, to quote our closing hymn, ‘the beauty of Jesus’ seen in we who say we are Christian’ by some very practical ways that some times challenge our customs and practices?’

Let’s put ourselves in James’ shoes for a moment. He has been a follower of Jesus for nearly 30 years. He has watched the faith spread outward from Jerusalem to ‘Judea, Samaria, and the outward parts of the world.’ He has heard Paul’s reports of conversions, baptisms, and the establishment of sister congregations throughout the world of that day.

He has experienced and seen persecution take place. People that he has loved and pastored have been perhaps killed or at the least mocked, ridiculed, and imprisoned for their faith. He has seen some walk away from their faith commitment.

He has experienced the highs and the lows that come through caring for souls as a pastor. He is concerned about the state of the church and the state of the faith. He puts quill to paper and begins to write, ‘Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions?’

Moore’s outline of James reminds us of the importance of ‘show me your faith’ (OVERHEAD 4)
A. By the way you react to trials (1:1-12)
B. By the way you handle temptation (1:13-18)
C. By doing, not merely hearing, the Word (1:19-25)
D. By how you care for the destitute (1:26-27)

(OVERHEAD 5)
E. By not showing favoritism (2:1-13)
F. By letting your faith work (2:14-26)
G. By controlling your tongue (3:1-12)
H. By exhibiting godly wisdom (3:13-18)
I. By submitting to God (4:1-12)

(OVERHEAD 6)
J. By living one day at a time (4:13-17)
K. By developing a proper attitude toward wealth (5:1-6)
L. By suffering patiently (5:7-12)
M. By fervent prayer (5:13-18)
N. By converting sinners (5:19-20)

(How do you, how do we measure up?)

Our main text for this morning is like a central distribution terminal for Wal-Mart. (We have one over in Garrett. It is big and it serves a very important purpose.)

Trucks bring in products from suppliers and businesses into the terminal to be shipped by other trucks to the various Wal-Mart stores that are served by the Garrett facility.

Though this verse appears in the second chapter, it is a flow-through verse because it takes James’ words of encouragement and challenge in the opening verses of chapter 1 and sends them through the terminal of 2:14 for the purpose of sending them out into the minds and hearts of other believers so that they will practice what they have proclaimed and taught.

I believe that a case can be made that verses 14 through 26 serve as bridge from the pastoral encouragement and challenge of 1:1 through 2:13 to the practical application of 3:1 through the rest of the book. In a nutshell, this is what Pastor James is saying, ‘Be encouraged and watch what is going on inside of you so that you will grow strong in your faith. Support and respect one another especially those who have the greatest needs. Watch what you say to one another. Back up your claims with your actions. By the way, here are some things to prove your faith….’

Dr. Thom Rainier and a team of researchers spent two years asking unchurched men and women numerous questions. A key issue in their research was the level of receptivity to the gospel. They developed a classification system U1 through U5. U1’s were unchurched but determined to be highly receptive to the Christian faith. U5’s were considered highly unreceptive to the faith.

The article I read on their research, entitled, ‘Examining the Unchurched: The World of the U4’s,’ contained excerpts from several individuals in this category. It was interesting to note that all of those whose comments are printed have had church attendance in their background. Some have gone from Christianity to Buddhism to Agnosticism. A common thread emerged from their comments: They bristled when asked about Jesus being the only way of salvation. Words like ‘intolerance,’ ‘narrow mindedness,’ and others were used.

I thought about that article as I reflected on the passages and phrases used by James and I wondered what part such behavior had to play in the attitudes and feelings of Rainier’s subjects about the Christian faith and the church.

What is the source of quarrels and fights among you?

The tongue is a small thing but what enormous damage it can do…

Don’t speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters…

James, however, also has some good things to say that we can put into practice and that can make a difference in our relationships with one another and with others and make Christ more credible to our community:

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry…

If you need wisdom- if you want to know what God wants you to do- ask him, and he will gladly tell you…

Humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.

Any among you suffering? They should keep on praying about it.

Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church…

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other….

I am not sure how the Lord will lead me in preparing the messages for this sermon, but I will be handing out a part of the overview that Travis Moore developed and encourage you to use it as personal study guide during our series. I will be using it to give shape to my four messages.

Our concluding hymn this morning is a hymn I think is important for us to think about as we sing. Is the ‘beauty of Jesus’ seen in our lives day in and day out? As followers of Jesus Christ, let’s show the world, “what we got!” Amen.

Sources:

RVG Tasker, Commentary on the Epistle of James. Part of the Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series © Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Travis Moore, A Jet Tour Through James, www.sermoncentral.com

‘Examining the Unchurched: The World of the U4’s,’ by Dr. Thom S. Rainier. Located at www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/missions/articles/052505.html

Show me your commitment … through trials and temptations

James 1:1-18

Description – The second of a series through the book of James

Soon after we returned from vacation last Sunday the boys were on the computer playing baseball. (The game was a father’s day gift to me and they let me play occasionally.)

One of the things that I have heard over the years about good pitching and good pitchers is that they have a variety of pitches and they learn how to move the ball around the strike zone.  However, a good pitcher also learns how to mix up his pitches so that the hitter is kept off balance with the hope and the goal that the batter strikes out.

There are several kinds of pitches used in baseball. There are two kinds of fastballs, called the two-seam and four-seam because the pitcher holds the stitched seams in his fingers two different ways. Another pitch is a called a change-up because it changes speed as it approaches the batter. A good change up will have the batter swinging well before the ball gets to the plate because it dramatically slows down.

Finally, there is a curve ball. A good curve ball ‘curves’ suddenly when you least expect it. And, like the changeup, will have you swinging through the air and hitting perhaps nothing.

As I watched the boys play (I also served as umpire when they started getting upset with one another), I noticed that one of the computer pitchers had a mean curveball and the one who controlled that pitcher had the hitter at his mercy. The pitch was used on a regular basis.

Has life thrown you a curve ball lately? If it has, you are not alone! But as followers of Jesus Christ, as we allow the Lord to strengthen and mature our faith through difficult and challenging circumstances and to help us stay away from the temptations that arise from within, we show the world our faith, hope, and commitment in Jesus Christ!

In a recent article from Christianity Today.com songwriter and author, Michael Card reminds us of the four ‘successive curve balls’ that Job had thrown his way. There were the three ‘curve balls’ of financial destruction as Job’s wealth was taken away in a string of attacks on his property and possessions. Then a final ‘curve ball’ of tremendous pain came through the tragic death of every one of his children.

Card notes, “Everything a person could imagine losing, Job lost. He was the target of practically every sort of pain and loss a human being can know. He was the successful businessman who experienced sudden and total financial ruin. He was the AIDS patient, hopeless and beyond all cures, full of sores, abandoned by his friends. He was the victim of a senseless terrorist attack. He was the parent who lost not one but all of his children in one unthinkable catastrophe.”

But Card goes on to point out that while Job “made the motions of entering into mourning” he did something unexpected, “he fell to the ground in worship.” Here is what is said in Job 1 verses 20 through 22:

“Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground before God. He said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,

and I will be stripped of everything when I die.

The Lord gave me everything I had,

and the Lord has taken it away.

Praise the name of the Lord!”

In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God.

Why did Job worship God in the midst of all the pain and grief? Why didn’t he, as his wife suggested, ‘curse God and die?’

He worshipped God in the midst of great loss because he was a man of great faith and confidence in the Lord. I believe that we can say with a good deal of confidence that ‘Job showed what he had’ during the deep trial of loss and the refusal to turn away from a quiet confidence in God and toward the great temptation to ‘curse God and die.’

Job illustrates the opening of the book of James. He shows what he had within himself when faced with terrible tragedy and loss – a strong faith and ability to grow in the midst of terrible pain.

We need to first look at verse 5 and following because it forms a foundation, upon which the ability to preserve, as Job demonstrates and how that assurance and confidence is described in verses 2 through 4, is built.

Two weeks ago I shared with you a bit of the controversy regarding the book of James that took place in early church history. I noted that Martin Luther had trouble with the book because of the very open link between faith and works that concerned Luther because of his fear of ‘salvation by works’ instead of ‘salvation by faith’ as the way to a right relationship with God through Christ.

However, the book of James did become an accepted part of the ‘canon’ or ‘authorized books’ of scripture prior to Luther’s views. James is a practical book written by the half-brother of Jesus who became the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem.

And the very practical ness of James is seen in these opening verses when there are moments we need to be reminded of some plain truths about life and God and sin and suffering. They are concerns that people bring to pastors, both in those days and in these days, on a regular basis.

Faith is a critical element to our life and relationship with God and much is said about faith in the Bible especially in Hebrews 11:

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see.

It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.

…It is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

But what kind of faith does James write of in his book? A faith in action. A faith of action. A faith that is told in the stories of those written of in Hebrews 11.

Now, verses 5 through 8 do not directly speak of faith, but they strongly imply faith. Wisdom that the Bible teaches is about the ability to make the right decision at the right time with God’s help and according to God’s will.

And verse 5 makes clear that God wants to give us wisdom; He wants to tell us what He wants us to do. However, such wisdom requires a faith that believes God no matter what, no matter when, no matter how.

Faith is what calms the soul storms spoken of in verse 6: “But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” But what kind of faith makes this possible?

Well verses 2 through 4 tell us:

‘Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.’

Now it may seem at first glance that James is nuts! ‘How can anybody be joyful when trouble comes?’ ‘Why is it important for us to develop endurance?’

Let me suggest an answer this morning: Our relationship with the Lord is more like a 26-mile marathon than a 100-meter dash. (I just wonder sometimes if the reason people drop out of not just the church but the faith has to do with a failure to help people learn to think and act like a distance runner and not a sprinter and develop the spiritual endurance and stamina needed to keep going forward. Some might call it spiritual burnout.)

The endurance of which James speaks is an endurance that comes from letting God help us grow up in our faith because our spiritual endurance is essential for the kind of faith that asks and believes when God speaks! Therefore, to answer the question “What kind of faith is necessary to navigate the soul storms of life and have the steady assurance to clearly hear God’s voice?” the answer is a healthy and maturing faith.

Now you might be thinking, “Jim, I don’t have this kind of faith, I would like to have it, but I don’t have it. I have the kind of faith that screams, “Run Forest, run!” when difficult times come after me.”

I have two responses to that statement. First, look at the wording of verses 2 through 4. The language used is a language of process, journey, and action. Yes, a level of stability and growth is implied but a total 100% completeness is not.

In other words, James, who is a believer of many, many years when he wrote this letter as well as a pastor who had practically heard and seen it all, knew that nobody had arrived to the place called perfection. He knew that those, to whom he wrote, were still learning how to deal with difficulties and uncertainties in life. But he also knew that God wanted to bring them into a greater faith, a greater life, and a greater future in the Lord!

My second response is this: the choice between growing in our faith and life in Christ or not continues to be a choice throughout our lives. Every time a trial or testing comes our way, we have a choice of how we are going to respond.

And the choice is between two courses of action: Choice number 1. Ask God to help you get through it, learn from it, and grow by it. Choice number 2. ‘Run from it!”

The consequence of choice number one is victory and maturity. The consequence of choice number two is defeat and misery. Which do you want? More important, what does the Lord want for you? There are implications to both choices.

I think that Job knew the implications of both choices and he made the choice to remain faithful to the Lord. But that decision came (and this is part of my second response) because down through the years Job kept making many little decisions to let God help him grow and learn through other difficulties. That is probably why God spoke so highly of him to Satan in the opening chapters of Job.

Job was a wise and aware person. We read of this wisdom and awareness throughout the book of Job as he refused to accept his friends’ views that he had done something wrong to deserve his losses.

I started this morning talking about pitching but now I want to us to focus our attention on the batter. He stands in the box and he has to figure out what the pitcher is going to throw to him.

He probably has the benefit of a scouting report that has told him and his teammates a great deal about how the pitcher operates. However, at this particular moment, the pitcher is in control for one very good reason, he has the ball.

A lot goes through a hitter’s mind when he stands there looking at a ball that sometimes comes at him at 95 miles per hour. Not a lot of time to decide what to do. What kind of a pitch is it? Fastball, slider, or curve ball? A split second decision is made by the batter in the box.

Batters have a lot to deal with, just as pitchers do. They have the pressure to perform, they have several thousand people suggesting to them they could do better from the stands than the batter’s box, and they have their successes and failures going around in their heads.

It is interesting to note that there are batters that can hit against an All-star, Hall of Fame pitcher year after year with no problem, but whiff right and left to a rookie during an entire course of one season. Or vice versa.

Which leads me to the latter half of James 1 in which James writes about the inner ‘curve balls’ that are thrown our way on a regular basis. They are the curve balls of warped and sinful desires; of temptation; of sin itself that comes out of nowhere within the desires deep within us. And they are as devastating as external tragedy itself.

Job, I believe, was aware of this. And because of the choices, large and small, over the years that he made which kept him walking closely with the Lord, he had learned how the ‘inner man’ worked.

I believe that it is safe to say that Job never felt the pressure of temptation to give up and ‘curse God’ as much as he did when the news of his kids’ tragic death hit his soul. I also think that Job resisted the temptation to blame God for the tragedy when voices all around him gave credence to that very possibility.

Let’s hear from the middle of verse 13 to verse 15 again: “no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death.”

Please hear the Lord plainly this morning: “I don’t tempt you. Satan does that. I test you but I don’t tempt you.”

God created us with many legitimate needs that He wants to fulfill in the right ways. Satan knows what those needs are and he comes along and tempts us to fulfill those needs in a different way.  Hence, the inner battle that rages within us between right and wrong.

James has more to say about this battle of desires a few chapters away and we will look at that in a few weeks, but for now, we need to understand that Satan and his forces will throw things into our minds or use circumstances to tempt us away from the Lord. This is one reason why Paul wrote what he did in Romans 12:2 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (Ties in perfectly with verses 2 through 4 doesn’t it?)

So, the batter has two kinds of curveballs to think about during the game: The outer physical curveball coming at him at around 80 to 85 miles per hour and the inner curve ball coming at him from within that attempts to get him to doubt and swing recklessly.

Can you relate to that picture? I can. Really, we all can.

How do we then successfully connect?

  1. By making a choice to trust and obey the Lord. Such a choice will help us to tap into the power of the Spirit who will make very clear to us the will of the Lord and provide us with the power to walk through the challenges that life and Satan throw at us.
  2. To ask God to help us recognize our weak spots, our weak moments, and our weak emotions.

All of us have ‘hot buttons’ that when pushed create turbulence within us and can lead us to doubt and give into temptation. What are your hot buttons? You need to know them.

There are also ‘weak moments’ that come at certain times during the day or month or year. Certain dates or holidays that have events attached to them that allow doubt, anger, fear, or other emotions to engulf us and challenge our faith and confidence in the Lord. When are your weak moments? You need to identify them.

Finally, there are certain emotions that cause us problems. Some of us are tripped up by fear that comes out of nowhere as we encounter a situation or person that we don’t know how to handle. Anger causes some of us to lash out when we are threatened or don’t get our way. Depression sets in when a sudden change of events happens and we are rendered helpless. What are those emotions? You need to acknowledge them.

God wants us to live victoriously! He wants us to live in the power and joy and peace of His spirit. He wants us to grow and mature and be strong in Him.

As followers of Jesus Christ, as we allow the Lord to strengthen and mature our faith through difficult and challenging circumstances and to help us resist the temptations that arise from within, we show the world our faith, hope, and commitment in Jesus Christ!

My hope and prayer this day is that it will be true of all of us. Amen.

Source: Michael Card The (Broken) Heart of Worship located at www.christianitytoday.com/tc/2005/004/5.28.html

Our Strength… His Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Description – Communion meditation for August 7, 2005

This past Monday night I served as chairperson of the evening service at Yellow Creek Lake camp. Norm Patton was the speaker for the week and he preached from our main text.

Norm began by talking about power and how much we value power and seek power. As he continued to preach and moved his focus to verse 7 in which Paul speaks of being ‘given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud,’ I remembered thinking, “This passage depresses me!  I really do not like to admit that I am weak. I really do not want to admit that I have problems that I am trying to solve either by ignoring them or trying to do something about it without God’s help or that I have baggage which Satan throws at me every once in a while with the goal of getting me to doubt God’s grace and power to help me live for Him through His grace.”

But once I admitted that, I began to dialogue with the Lord in silent prayer as I listed to the rest of the sermon. I listed to what the Spirit said through Norm. I listed for what He [that is the Lord] wanted to say to me about the situations that get me down and frustrate me and make me want to give up and do something else. “Lord, what is my thorn in the flesh?”

This phrase, ‘thorn in the flesh’ has evoked much debate and discussion over what it was. Some say that Paul’s ‘thorn’ was a physical ailment like poor eyesight. Others say that it was an inner issue like pride or perhaps depression.

We do not know what it was but we do know why he was given it. (By the way, I was reminded Monday night that the original New Testament word for ‘thorn’ was not a rose thorn but a stake that you drive into the ground).

Why was Paul given this ‘affliction?’ Lets go back to verse 6, “I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message, even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.”

This thorn, this big fat pointed stake, this ‘messenger from Satan,’ was given to Paul to keep him humble. Why? Why would God allow this to happen?

Previous to our main text, in fact starting at 11:16, Paul recites the litany of hardships that he has endured for his faith and commitment to the Lord. He does so not to brag but to remind his audience in the earlier part of chapter 11 that his ministry was above board and one of integrity and an honest proclamation of the faith.

Then in 12:1 and following he speaks about a profound spiritual experience that he had ‘fourteen years earlier’ according to verse 2 that took him ‘into the third heaven.’ But as we continue to read Paul makes it clear that he is not going to boost about his spiritual experiences but, as we read in verse 5 I am going to boast only about my weaknesses.’

So, if we keep this progress of thought in mind as we come to our main text, I think that we can safely say that the ‘thorn’ came so that Paul would keep boasting about Jesus Christ and not his ‘spiritual experiences and trials.’ But it was something that troubled Paul and caused him to three times ask God to remove it.

Maybe it was the continuing opposition to his ministry and message. Maybe it was as one Bible scholar put it, “blasphemous thoughts from the devil,’ or doubts and discouragement.

But whatever it was the Lord said to him, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.”

Now we must also note that this ‘thorn’ was not a moral issue. Paul did not have some secret sin or moral failure that, had it been made public, would possibly have disqualified him from his ministry.

Temptation, as we have heard from our study of James this past month, comes from the Devil and not from the Lord, although Paul reminds in 1 Corinthians 10:13, But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.’ But I do not think that this thorn was of a moral nature.

Yet, in the face of this limiting situation God tells Paul not to ‘lose heart’ and give up because God’s grace is at its best moment when Paul was at his worst moment. Paul then had to learn to deal with this ‘thorn;’ this situation, this problem, this ailment, whatever it was by letting God’s grace be all that he needed.

Is God’s grace all we truly need? Think about it for a moment. Is God’s grace all we need? YES IT IS!

Is God’s grace, God’s favor, weak and limited? NO!

Is God’s grace, God’s favor only for a select group of people? NO!

Communion reminds us of God’s great grace. It reminds us, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”

God’s grace is what we need, every moment of every day of our lives. God’s grace, and the love that comes through that grace, is what gives us power, courage, hope, and faith to keep moving forward in the face of our ‘thorn.’

Norm Patton also said something else last Monday night that really spoke to me. He said when it comes to the ‘mountains’ (our situations and problems that sometimes loom large) in our lives there are four possible ways God helps us with our mountains. The first way is to take it away and He sometimes does that for us. He simply moves the mountain.

The second way that He tells us that we are going to have to go is through the mountain. The third way is around the mountain and the fourth way is over the mountain.

Are you facing a mountain this morning? Are you at a point in your life where you have encountered a new mountain that bears down upon you and challenges you to ‘take your best shot?’

Jesus understood that the night that He was betrayed and crucified. He wrestled with the mountain called ‘death’ and He asked the Father to remove it, if it was His will.

But it was not God’s will to remove that mountain. It was God’s will to conquer that mountain and ultimately, ultimately the mountain of eternal death and damnation was forever removed! AMEN!

As we prepare for communion, let us do so with grateful hearts and praise to God for His great love for us and let us recommit ourselves to His plan and purpose for us as we partake of communion together.  Let’s grab hold of His grace that want to grab hold of us. Amen.

Show me your care for others… by how you relate to others

James 3:13

Description – The fourth in a series through the book of James

We have spent three of the past five Sundays walking through the book of James. The first Sunday we focused on James 2:14, (Overhead 1)

Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.’ We were given a snapshot from a nameless preacher that ‘the Epistle of James is a collection of sermon notes.’ And so I challenged us to look at the book from the eyes of a pastor, the half-brother of Jesus, who is considered to be the first pastor of the Jerusalem church. We were challenged to ‘show me your faith.’

The next sermon (Overhead 2) challenged us to ‘show me your commitment through how you respond to trials and temptation,’ as we looked at verses such as James 1:13 and 14. ‘And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires.’

We were given a picture of a curve ball and the challenges that hitters face from a curveball and that we are thrown curveballs throughout life from both external factors or life situations that we can honestly call trials (as well as temptations) as well as the inner curve balls that come from our warped desires.

In the third sermon (Overhead 3) we were challenged to ‘show me your character…through everyday living’ as we examined verses such as James 1:19–21, Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls.’ Five additional character issues were studied as well; cleaning up our inner self, letting your faith work, the use of your tongue, the treatment of others, and living like we believe.

This morning our walk takes us through the latter half of chapter 3, beginning with verse 13 through the end of chapter 4. It is a segment that, like other parts of the book, jumps around but there are two verses that act like bookends that give us perspective on what is said between them.

The first bookend is our main text this morning, James 3:13 ‘If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise!’ The other bookend is James 4:14 For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.’

The phrase ‘live a life of steady goodness’ is a phrase that I want each of us to really think about this morning and keep in mind as we examine the passages in between these two verses. It is a good description of ‘showing what we got by how we relate to others.’

As followers of Jesus Christ, we demonstrate our faith in how we relate to others, as we, in the words of Pastor Travis Moore, exhibit godly wisdom, submit to (or obey) God, and live one day at a time.

(Overhead 4)

What does Godly wisdom look like? Let’s look at James 3:17 and notice the following phrases:

… the wisdom that comes from heaven is:  pure

peace loving

gentle at all times

willing to yield to others

full of mercy and good deeds

shows no partiality and is always sincere.

Wise people are sought out because they are wise and because they illustrate the best in our passage. Now they are not pushovers, they don’t always say, “Well, live and let live.”

Wise people have an internal strength and resolve that sometimes makes us sit up and take notice. Wise people challenge us to move to a higher level of life.

Now this internal strength comes in two ways. First, it comes in the choice to live a life of steady goodness as we allow the Holy Spirit to change us day-by-day. Second, it comes in the letting go of those things that are described in verses 14 through 16: the jealousy and envy.

Wise people also know how to deal with jealousy and envy. They see the warning signs, and learn how to deal with them before they grab hold of their heart. And as we move on to the next segment of the chapter we have a very clear statement on how to deal with the jealousy, envy, and the other things that poison our souls and relationships.

Let’s first stop at verse 7. So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.’

That word ‘so’ is important here. It is a word that makes the speaker take a breath and then say, ‘such and so.’ It is the end of what has just been said and then the beginning of a solution or course of action about what has just been said.

“So, in conclusion, therefore…” says James, “if you are going to live a life of ‘steady goodness’ then you must humble yourselves before God and resist the Devil.” Why?

Steady goodness has no place for jealousy or selfish quarrels. A steady goodness does not include fights and backstabbing and gossip. There is no place for it.

James goes right to the heart of the matter in verse 1 ‘What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you?’

The reason there are problems in the church (and James is speaking to the church) is that the Devil likes to get into it like a fox in the chicken coop and have at it! He likes for us to whine and complain and get mad and leave mad. Because if he can get the people in the church mad and out of sorts, the ministry of church diminishes. And a diminished church is a wounded church, that if it doesn’t get well and really, really deal with the conflicts and the residue of the conflicts, it becomes a dead church and the Lord has one less group of people to use on the mission field of humanity. How do we deal with this demon in our midst? How do we ‘resist the devil’ and ‘humble ourselves’ before the Lord.

Let’s read verses 5 through 8 ‘What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful ? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.’

When you confess your sins and ask the Lord to forgive you of those sins, the Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins to change our behavior, our values, our priorities, and everything else about us. However, the more we resist the Holy Spirit the more difficult it becomes to live victoriously with and for the Lord.

And one of the ways that we resist and hold back the work of the Spirit in our lives is when we live in disobedience and that includes allowing jealousy and envy to take root in our heart and soul which displaces the power and effectiveness of the Spirit to help us live for God. In other words, we begin to live faithlessly and it is very important for us to live faithfully because as we do so, we are able to overcome temptations such as jealousy and envy.

How do we deal with jealousy and envy and their results? 1. We humble ourselves through sincere confession and repentance to God and also, if necessary, to the person or persons that we have done battle with. 2. We choose, each and every day, to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us grow stronger in our ability and desire to be more faithful to God. 3. We actively resist the Devil when we run to God and say “Help me Father!”

And these are all choices that we must make each and every day to grow up and become that wise person that God wants each of us to be. In showing our faith, it is not enough to just say that we are Christians but show that we are Christians, as we must deal with the war within us. And the first step is to be humble enough to admit that we have a problem and that we need to ask God for help and then begin to change.

But there’s more… ‘Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.’

I ask a wild question this morning, “Have we ever been truly sorry for our sins?” That is what this passage is talking about, true repentance. Not some emotional frenzy, but an honest and heartfelt sorrow at our sins followed by a change of heart and mind that leads oneself to, or back to, God.

James is talking about radical surgery here. It is not a mere ‘sorry’ but a genuine, cut to the heart, sorrow over what we have said and done. It is a humbling attitude that literally puts us on our knees as we seek God and His forgiveness.

Pastor Marilyn Murphree tells the story of a bishop who was invited to Sunday dinner. “During the meal,” she said, ‘he was astonished to hear the younger daughter state that a person must be very brave to go to church these days. “Why do you say that?” asked the bishop.”

“Because,” she answered, “I heard Dad tell Mom last Sunday that there was a big shot in the pulpit, the canon was in the vestry, the choir murdered the anthem, and the organist drowned everybody!”

Drawing close to God with the very evident result of a life of ‘steady goodness’ is, however, only one aspect of ‘showing what we’ve got by showing that we care for others by how we treat them.’ Our next stop is one that is always comes up when we deal with conflicts between people – the issue of a ‘critical spirit’ or as we read in verses 11 and 12, ‘judging.’

Let me state two equally important and true things about human beings and this issue of ‘judging.’ First, no one likes to be judged. Second, we all judge.

We hear, and say, ‘I’m not the one to judge but God is.’ And that is true. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged.” What does He mean? Does He mean, ‘Live and let live?’ ‘You do your thing and I do mine?’ Where has that attitude has gotten us today? It is un-Biblical attitude.

In one of the commentaries that I looked at it said this about Jesus’ words, ‘Jesus’ statement, “Stop judging,” is against the kind of hypocritical, judgmental attitude that tears others down in order to build oneself up. It is not a blanket statement to overlook wrong behavior of others but a call to be discerning rather than negative. Jesus said to expose false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23), and Paul taught that we should exercise church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2) and trust God to be the final Judge (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).’

James is saying the same thing. Yes he does say, ‘You are not a judge and God alone has the power to save or to destroy.’ But, what is James doing? Is he judging those who judge others?

He is holding the people, fellow Christians, accountable for their actions and attitudes and that is not being judgmental but being a good pastor. The Holy Spirit holds us accountable for our actions and we feel it in the conviction that we experience when we know in our hearts that something is not right.

These are hard things to talk about but important things to talk about if we are going to ‘live a life of steady goodness.’ Now we come to our second bookend that should give us some perspective on all of this.

For a moment, I want each of us to imagine our funeral. Think about seeing yourself in the casket. Assume that you have attended church regularly up to that point in your life and that you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.

What kind of a Christian do you think you would be called? (Overhead 5)

Would you be called what L. Durham calls a QUESTION MARK Christian, a PERIOD Christian, a HYPHENATED Christian, a COMMA Christian, or an EXCLAMATION POINT Christian?

List to what Durham says about each of these ‘Christians:’

Regarding the ‘question mark’ Christian we read, ‘When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Does your lack of commitment leave a lot of unanswered questions about your Christianity? Does your attitude toward Church worship services and programs cause people to wonder if you are really converted? Does your irregular attendance signify to the other believers that you really don’t like being in the company of other believers?’

Then there is the ‘period’ Christian of which Durham says, ‘A Period Christian is one who already knows all there is to know
about the Lord. Their minds are closed to new ideas, new ministries and new methods. You might as well place a period after their name, because as far as their concerned, they’ve gone as far as they are willing to go in this life. It doesn’t matter how many training courses or
institutes or workshops you sponsor, they won’t come, PERIOD.’
(By they way, Durham recognizes that this kind of Christian has nothing to do with age, but with attitude.)

The HYPHENATED Christian is the member who suffers from Spiritual Schizophrenia. They have a SPLIT PERSONALITY. You have to hyphenate their two separate lives, kind of like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Sunday is Dr.
Jekyl’s day, but Monday, Mr. Hyde returns. No single definition describes their personality.

They’re subject to acts of Sainthood as
well as acts of SIN. They shout on Sunday and Pout on Monday. On Sunday they’ll hug you, and on Monday they’ll mug you. In church
their angels; at home their devils. On Sunday they sing Hallelujah; during the week they try to “Sock it to Ya”.

No simple definition can
describe their erratic and unpredictable behavior. They are Saint-Sinners, Sincere-Hypocrites, and Witness-Gossipers.’

Then there is the ‘comma’ Christian about which Durham says, ‘A comma is a small punctuation mark, which separates words, phrases or clauses. A comma is NEVER used at the end of a sentence. Whenever you see
a comma, you know that there is more to come. That’s what a comma does; it warns you that after a short pause, more will follow.’

Durham continues, ‘They’re first in line to
volunteer, despite their already busy schedule. Yes, nothing they do earns them a period, just a COMMA, until they serve once again. A COMMA Christian has a long list of activities on their schedules. No time for question marks, periods or hyphenated lifestyles!’

Finally there is the ‘exclamation point’ Christian. ‘There is nothing greater,’ writes Durham ‘than being called an EXCLAMATION POINT Christian!’

The Exclamation point is a vertical line underscored by a dot. It signifies some dynamic, powerful and enthusiastic interjection.
Exclamation Points are reserved for life’s strong points and profound accomplishments that excite the spirit and set our hearts on
fire.

Now that’s how Christians ought to be! There ought to be some excitement in our service. No ordinary life gets an exclamation point. No sad-sack Christian. No complaining Christian, no crybaby Christian, no “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” Christian.

The Exclamation Point Christian has something to shout about. They make a
joyful noise to our God who made this world and everything in it.

They’re spirits are overflowing with Hallelujah’s for the Savior who died on Calvary to save them from eternal death. Jesus deserves an EXCLAMATION POINT response. No other punctuation mark will do. No time for Question Marks, Periods, or Hyphenated lifestyles.
They have a life to live… EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have work to be done….. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a victory to achieve…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a devil to defeat…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a storm to face…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a prayer to pray…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a promise to claim… EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a hunger to be satisfied…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a thirst to be quenched…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
A cross to be carried,
A Book to be studied,
A habit to conquer,
A temptation to overcome,
An enemy to love,
A burden to lift,
A command to obey,
A friend to help,
A job to be accomplished,
A course to be completed
A fight to be fought,
A race to be won, EXCLAMATION POINT!

‘For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone,’ says James. And when it goes, do all the arguments, and petty issues, really matter?

Do all things that we think are important in this life and the here and now, are they going to be important then?

I think that I have said all that I need to say this morning. I am going to let the Holy Spirit do the talking now.

The altar is open do what you have got to do, here (point to the altar), here, (point to the heart), here (point to the congregation), and there (point to the windows.) Obey the Spirit and run to the Father. Amen.

Sources: ‘Sermon note’ illustration is found in the introduction to RVG Tasker’s commentary on James.

Bishop story is from Marilyn Murphee’s sermon at www.sermoncentral.com

Comment on Matthew 7:1 is from the ‘Quick Verse Life Application’ on CD.

L. Durham’s sermon, ‘What punctuation mark best describes your life?’ is found at www.sermoncentral.com