How are you planning for the future?

Who holds the future?

MBC, July 29, 2012

What do the following have in common?  IRA’s, taking college courses, insurance.  They all have the future in mind.  How often do you think of the future?  In our passage in James today, we are encouraged not to just think of the future, but to think on HOW we think of the future.

READ James 4:13-17

HOW FAR INTO THE FUTURE HAVE YOU PLANNED YOUR LIFE?

I have always known what I would do; I have a direction in mind, but not the specifics; I have a number of interests, but I want to keep my options open; I don’t have a clue; or somewhere in the middle?

HOW SERIOUSLY DO YOU TEND TO MAKE YOUR OWN PLANS FOR YOUR LIFE?

Not at all – I just make plans so I won’t stagnate; I have a really hard time being flexible; I don’t take no for an answer and push my goals; I don’t make plans – I’d rather just drift; I try to make plans with my heart open to having them changed by God’s leading.

One bitterly cold winter night a young man plodded through knee-high snow to the home of the girl he had been dating regularly. Tonight was the night. He asked her to marry him. Being very practical, the young woman replied, “When you have several thousand dollars, I will seriously consider it.”

   Six months later, the two strolled hand in hand through a park along the river. He stopped to kiss her and asked, “When are we going to get married?”

   She inquired, “Well, you remember my condition. Just how much money have you saved?”

   He responded, “Exactly seventy-five dollars.”

   She sighed and smiled, “Oh well, I guess that’s close enough!”

–James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 208.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE KIND OF PLANNING JAMES TALKS ABOUT IN VERSES 13 AND 14?

Boasting about what will happen in the future is the same as arrogance.  Boasting about the future is arrogant because God is the only one who knows what will happen in the future.  This attitude is the opposite of humility and is a sign of “friendship with the world”.  James is not saying that all planning is bad, only that planning without any reference to God is a demonstration of a lack of a meaningful relationship with God.

All such planning assumes that tomorrow will unfold like any other day, when in fact the future is anything but secure.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IN YOUR LIFE IF YOU MADE NO PLANS AT ALL?

READ Proverbs 29:18 – without vision, the people perish.

Without hearing from the Lord, the people go their own way.  Hearing from God allows us to plan.

At the spiritual level, planning means taking the initiative. It’s not about sitting around until you are absolutely certain God is calling you to a particular task, direction, country, or ministry. Nor is it waiting for the doors to open so you can go there easily. Planning is an act of faith. Jesus never told his disciples to wait for an invitation. He told them to go.

— Brother Andrew in The Calling.  Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 8.

He who aims at nothing is sure to hit it.

Plan ahead–it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark!

Light your lamp before night overtakes you.

— Vern McLellan, The Complete Book of Practical Proverbs and Wacky Wit (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1996).

We need to realize that our security comes from God, not from material possessions or our knowledge of the future.

HOW EASY IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE THE OUTLOOK JAMES CALLS FOR IN VERSE 15?

Charlie Brown is at bat. STRIKE THREE. He has struck out again and slumps over to the bench. “Rats! I’ll never be a big-league player. I just don’t have it! All my life I’ve dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but I know I’ll never make it.”

   Lucy turns to console him. “Charlie Brown, you’re thinking too far ahead. What you need to do is set yourself more immediate goals.”

   He looks up. “Immediate goals?”

   Lucy says, “Yes. Start with this next inning when you go out to pitch. See if you can walk out on the mound without falling down!”

–James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 156.

It is an action verses an attitude.  The uncertainty of the future ought not to be a terror to the Christian.  Instead, it ought to cause an awareness of how dependent a person is on God, and thus move us to planning that involves God.

READ   Proverbs 27:1           Don’t brag about your plans for tomorrow–wait and see what happens.

WHAT IS THE BOASTING JAMES IS REBUKING?

Eliminating any reference to God in our planning for the future is rebuked.  Anytime we claim to have the future under control we have made an empty claim.  God holds the future in His hands, period.

Christianity will go. We’re more popular than Jesus now.

— John Lennon

IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE FALLEN INTO THIS HABIT IN YOUR OWN LIFE?

Homiletics (Jan.-Mar./96) told of a turtle who wanted to spend the winter in Florida, but he knew he could never walk that far. He convinced a couple of geese to help him, each taking one end of a piece of rope, while he clamped his vise-like jaws in the center.

   The flight went fine until someone on the ground looked up in admiration and asked, “Who in the world thought of that?”

   Unable to resist the chance to take credit, the turtle opened his mouth to shout, “I did–“

— Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.

See: Pr 11:2; 16:18; 27:1.

(THOUGHT) TAKE A MOMENT TO REFLECT ON HOW VERSE 17 IS TRUE FOR YOUR LIFE, PARTICULARLY WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR WORK OR CAREER PLANNING.

James is introducing the idea of sins of omission – the sin of not doing what we ought to do.

WHEN HAVE YOU FAILED TO DO THE GOOD THAT YOU COULD HAVE DONE?

Sin is both active and passive. We can do something wrong or we can fail to do something right.  What James is saying to us is not so much the idea of not cheating each other or lying to each other. We know those are wrong.  What he is saying is to take care of the poor and needy.  He says to us not to invest in the world and the world system, but in Heaven and the people God wants to welcome there.

READ Matthew 6:19-21

Presumption in fulfilling God’s will = arrogance

WHAT IS USUALLY THE REASON YOU DON’T DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD?

READ Romans 7:21-25

HOW DO YOU TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO, YOUR OWN NATURAL INCLINATIONS, AND WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK YOU SHOULD DO?

Knowing God’s will – harbor lights.

Bob Mumford, in Take Another Look at Guidance, compares discovering God’s will with a sea captain’s docking procedure:

A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger.

   God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply–the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed.

The three harbor lights of guidance are:

1. The Word of God (objective standard)

 2. The Holy Spirit (subjective witness) 

3. Circumstances (divine providence).

Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along his way.

— Gregory Asimakoupoulos, Concord, California. Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 4.

ILLUSTRATION: Good Samaritan

A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out . . .

~ A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”

~ An objective person walked by and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”

~ A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into pits.”

~ A mathematician calculated how deep the pit was.

~ A news reporter wanted the exclusive story on the pit.

~ An IRS agent asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.

~ A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”

~ A fire-and-brimstone preacher said, “You deserve your pit.”

~ A Christian Scientist observed, “The pit is just in your mind.”

~ A psychologist noted, “Your mother and father are to blame for your being in that pit.”

~ A self-esteem therapist said, “Believe in yourself and you can get out of that pit.”

~ An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”

~ A pessimist claimed, “Things will get worse.”

Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.

(from SermonFodder.com)

Advertisements

Getting along with others – James 4:1-12

WHICH DO YOU FIND PERSONALLY HARDER TO HANDLE – AN UPFRONT NOISY FIGHT, OR SUBTLE CRITICISM?

READ James 4:1-12

WHAT DOES JAMES SAY IS AT THE ROOT OF FIGHTS AND QUARRELS?

The cravings that are at war within us – internal stuff.  It is a fight between the Holy Spirit and the world. These are long term conflicts, not sudden explosions.  We are not talking about good things – like listening to music, enjoying an afternoon nap, or a long bath. These “cravings” are literally pleasures that spring from the wrong source and can enslave a person like an addiction. 

DO YOU SEE THIS TRUE IN YOUR LIFE?

WHAT ARE THE TWO REASONS WE DO NOT HAVE WHAT WE WANT?

We do not ask and we ask with wrong motives.  This can be referred to as desire frustration. The frustration builds up and can lead to disastrous responses – murder, coveting, fighting and war. The motives James refers to are motives that are not in line with God’s plan for our lives.  It is not the trusting child asking for a meal but a greedy child asking for the best piece.

IS THERE AN EXAMPLE OF SOMETHING YOU ASKED FOR WITH WRONG MOTIVES?    Lawn mower for me.

Sometimes we pray “wrongly” as James says, “to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3). We want what we want, not what God wants. Some time ago I ran across a wedding prayer that illustrates how subtly this can be done. This is a girl praying on her wedding day:

   “Dear God. I can hardly believe that this is my wedding day. I know I haven’t been able to spend much time with You lately, with all the rush of getting ready for today, and I’m sorry. I guess, too, that I feel a little guilty when I try to pray about all this, since Larry still isn’t a Christian. But oh, Father, I love him so much, what else can I do? I just couldn’t give him up. Oh, You must save him, some way, somehow.

   You know how much I’ve prayed for him, and the way we’ve discussed the gospel together. I’ve tried not to appear too religious, I know, but that’s because I didn’t want to scare him off. Yet he isn’t antagonistic and I can’t understand why he hasn’t responded. Oh, if he only were a Christian.

   Dear Father, please bless our marriage. I don’t want to disobey You, but I do love him and I want to be his wife, so please be with us and please don’t spoil my wedding day.”

    That sounds like a sincere, earnest prayer, does it not? But if it is stripped of its fine, pious language, it is really saying something like this:

   “Dear Father, I don’t want to disobey You, but I must have my own way at all costs. For I love what You do not love, and I want what You do not want. So please be a good God and deny Yourself, and move off Your throne, and let me take over. If You don’t like this, then all I ask is that You bite Your tongue and say or do nothing that will spoil my plans, but let me enjoy myself.”

There are some things we can always expect God to answer.  What are they?

Wisdom – James 1:5 “if anyone of you lacks wisdom he should ask God…”

Salvation – Romans 10:13 “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”

The key to understanding this is to pray in submission to the will of God.

READ Matthew 26:39

WHAT IS “FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD”?  It is hostility toward God.  To pray with wrong motives in order to fulfill our personal pleasure is a sign of friendship with the world.  James said that Christians who have a friendship with the world have an adulterous relationship with God. This friendship can seen when we adopt the values and desires of secular culture.

HOW ARE YOU MOST LIKELY TO FALL INTO LOYALTY TO THIS “FRIEND”?

Examples – clothing, craving for “new”, etc.

Monkey trappers in North Africa have a clever method of catching their prey. A number of gourds are filled with nuts and firmly fastened to a branch of a tree. Each has a hole just large enough for the unwary monkey to stick his forepaw into it. When the hungry animal discovers this, he quickly grasps a handful of nuts, but the hole is too small for him to withdraw his clenched fist. And he doesn’t have enough sense to open up his hand and let go in order to escape, so he is easily taken captive.

   This is a picture of many Christians. The devil with his crafty devices tried to ensnare them. He appeals to the appetites of the flesh which can lead to their spiritual downfall. As long as they hold on to worldly bait, they cannot escape from Satan’s trap. But he keeps on urging, “Don’t let go! Enjoy the pleasure of your sin just a little bit longer!” So, listening to the tempter’s alluring voice, they continue in their evil way.

HOW DOES ONE SUBMIT TO GOD? Being humble is the first step. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” To receive grace, one must ask for it.  To be able to ask, one must see the need to do so.  The proud person can’t and doesn’t see such a need – only the humble do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Ethics, makes an interesting observation: “The tree of knowledge of Good and Evil produced the ability to choose our own good or our own evil.” Both choices may take us equally distant from God. We have a third alternative, God’s will.” Notice that it takes a choice.

READ Joshua 24:15

WHAT SPECIFIC ACTIONS WOULD YOU TAKE IN ORDER TO SUBMIT YOUR LIFE TO GOD?

Submit – resist – come near – wash – purify – grieve – mourn – wail – change – humble

HOW CAN YOU RESIST THE DEVIL? Refuse to give in to the devil’s enticements – an inner resistance to evil desires. When we overcome these temptations, Satan has no choice but to leave.

Come near – that’s the relationship part!

Wash – get rid of the external signs of sin

Purify – get rid of the internal evidences of sin – inner purity

Grieve – evidence of true repentance

Mourn and wail – evidences of the effects of a sin-shackled life

Change – turning away AND walking away from sin

Humility – completes the cycle (Submit is humility)

It is said that a certain guide lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way. He carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs. When in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air. The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and thus led the guide accurately to his goal. Because of this unique practice he was known as “the dove man.” So, too, the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Dove, is willing and able to direct us in the narrow way that leads to the more abundant life if in humble self-denial we submit to His unerring supervision.

The Christian way is different: harder, and easier. Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

— C. S. Lewis

WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT IF WE HUMBLE OURSELVES AND SUBMIT TO GOD? He will exalt us. We will restore the right relationship with Him we need.

James gives us a process we can understand.  Now he needs to hit us with a specific concern. We all have been criticized and judged by others (whether we knew it or not).  To criticize someone is to speak evil about them in their presence, or more likely, in their absence when they cannot defend themselves.  Criticizing someone else from wrong motives means we are criticizing God.

WHAT CAN YOU DO TO MAKE SURE THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE A CRITICAL SPIRIT TOWARD OTHER PEOPLE?

It’s easy to avoid criticism: all you have to do is say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. — Aristotle

I praise loudly; I blame softly. — Catherine II

It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own. — Cicero

If you feel constrained to look for faults, use a mirror, not a telescope.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, become critics.

Don’t criticize your wife’s judgment; look who she married.

READ Ephesians 4:29

It’s the way we view others and our relationship to God that gives us heavenly glasses.

Wisdom

Wisdom from James

Small Group, Mobberly Baptist Church, July 15, 2012

Hopefully, with age comes wisdom. What do you have more of – common sense or book sense?

With all the problems we face in the world, it’s good to know that at least the criminals aren’t getting any smarter. Witness these items from news reports:

• A man inJohannesburg,South Africa, shot his 49-year-old friend in the face, seriously wounding him, while the two practiced shooting beer cans off each other’s head.

• A convict broke out of jail inWashingtonD.C., then a few days later accompanied his girlfriend to her trial for robbery. At lunch, he went out for a sandwich. She needed to see him, and thus had him paged. Police officers recognized his name and arrested him as he returned to the courthouse in a car he had stolen over the lunch hour.

• When two service station attendants inIonia,Michigan, refused to hand over the cash to an intoxicated robber, the man threatened to call the police. They still refused, so the robber called the police and was arrested.

• ALos   Angelesman who later said he was “tired of walking,” stole a steamroller and led police on a 5 mph chase until an officer stepped aboard and brought the vehicle to a stop.

• A man went into a hardware store inHomosassa,Florida, to apply for a job. After completing his application he then went to the section of the store that sold guns. He asked to see a couple of guns. The attendant left for a moment and the guy stole the guns. Not only was he videotaped, the police used the address on his application to go to his house and arrest him.

WHICH WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE – WORLDLY EXPERIENCE OR GODLY WISDOM?  WHAT ARE SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLY WISDOM?

We will talk about wisdom today.

The past couple of weeks we defined maturity as a function of how and what we say.  This week we will discuss maturity from the concept of wisdom.  Let’s hear what James has to say about it.

READ James 3:13-18

WHEN SOMEONE GIVES YOU ADVICE, HOW DO YOU DETERMINE WHETHER IT IS GOOD OR BAD?  It depends upon who gave it, if it agrees with common sense, if it is unique, if I have heard it before, if it agrees with Scripture, if my best friend likes it, other.

WHAT CHARACTERIZES THE LIFE OF A PERSON WHO HAS GODLY WISDOM?

We might think that those with the best speaking skills might have the most wisdom or understanding.  Many can be swayed by slick words or clever speech, but James says wisdom is demonstrated not by what we say as much as what we do.  In the same way that our faith is shown by our actions, our wisdom is shown by our deeds.

Humility (gentleness) is one demonstration James uses.  Humility was not popular among James’ readers, but that didn’t stop James from stating its importance.  James implies that humble people do not need to make a point of how wise they are, and do not have to defend themselves.  Humility is a powerful evidence of one’s wisdom.

In an interview with the great inventor of the Telegraph, Samuel F.B. Morse, George Hervey inquired, “Professor Morse, when you were making your experiments at the university, did you ever come to a standstill, not knowing what to do next?”

   “Oh, yes, more than once.”  “Then what did you do?”

   “I’ve never discussed this with anyone, so the public knows nothing about it. But now that you ask me, I’ll tell you frankly — I prayed for more light.”

   “And did God give you the wisdom and knowledge you needed?”

   “Yes, He did,” said Morse. “That’s why I never felt I deserved the honors that came to me from America and Europe because of the invention associated with my name. I had made a valuable application of the use of electrical power, but it was all through God’s help. It wasn’t because I was superior to other scientists. When the Lord wanted to bestow this gift on mankind, He had to use someone. I’m just grateful He chose to reveal it to me.”   In view of these facts, it’s not surprising that the inventor’s first message over the telegraph was: “What hath God wrought!”

READ Philippians 1:9-10

WHO HAVE YOU KNOWN THAT SHOWED THESE CHARACTERISTICS IN HIS OR HER LIFE?

A fourth of the Old Testament (almost as large as the entire New Testament) was  all written by one man, Moses. What a man Moses must have been! How intimate with God! What a work he did! What a benefactor to mankind! 40 years in the Palace of Pharaoh, 40 years a refugee in Midian, 40 years leader of Israel in the wilderness. Delivered a nation of some 3,000,000 from servitude; transplanted them from one land to another; organized for them a system of jurisprudence that has been a fountain source of much of the world’s civilization.

WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WISDOM THAT IS “EARTHLY, SENSUAL, DEMONIC” (VS. 15)?

Earthly wisdom arises out of the world.  It is what WE think is right.

Instead of trusting Christ, modern-day thinkers insist on using human wisdom alone for answers to eternal questions.

   The tragedy of this situation was graphically illustrated in a humorous skit performed by Karl Vallentin, a Munich comedian. Walking on a stage where everything was dark except for a small area under a street lamp, he began to look for something on the ground. He told the policeman who came on the scene that he was trying to find a key, whereupon the two continued the search. Finally the officer asked, “Are you sure you lost it here?” “Oh, no,” said Vallentin as he pointed to a corner, “It was over there, but here is where the light is!”

READ Matthew 6:22-23

READ John 3:19-21

Sensual wisdom comes out of our soul – what feels good.  Demonic wisdom is under the control of evil spirits.  If we are not drawing from the well of God’s Holy Wisdom, we may find ourselves drinking the non-potable water of Satan and not knowing the difference.

WHAT IS THE RESULT OF ENVY AND SELFISH AMBITION?

The result is disorder and every kind of evil.  James is referring to an attitude that leads to working only for what one gets out of it.  “What’s in it for me?”  It’s not what God will do for you – it’s what you will do for God. 

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE EFFECTS OF THESE IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

John and Dave were hiking when they spotted a mountain lion staring at them. John froze in his tracks, but Dave sat down on a log, tore off his hiking boots, pulled a pair of running shoes from his backpack and hurriedly began to put them on.

   “For crying out loud, you can’t outrun a mountain lion!” John hissed.

   “I don’t have to,” shrugged Dave. “I just have to outrun you.”

HOW CAN YOU BE SET FREE FROM THESE EFFECTS?

We must draw from God’s well.  We must bathe in His waters.  We must breathe His pure oxygen.

“We cannot possibly flatter the Almighty by hurrying into his presence, flinging a song and prayer at him, and hurrying out of church back into our hassled lifestyles. God is never flattered by our sanctified exhaustion.”

– Calvin Miller in Into the Depths of God (Bethany, 2001)

We must recognize that obtaining wisdom is the ultimate priority.

READ Proverbs 1:1-7

WHAT QUALITIES IN VERSE 17 DO YOU NEED TO DEVELOP IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?

Purity – moral purity

Peace-loving – opposite of envy and ambition, producing right relationships with others

Gentle (or considerate) – being equitable, making allowances rather than insisting

Compliant (or submissive) – willingness to obey God

Full of mercy (compassion) – even to those who caused their own problems

Good fruits – demonstrations in practical ways, not just an emotional response

Without favoritism – undivided, not going back and forth like the waves of the sea

Without hypocrisy – honest and genuine

Automaker Henry Ford asked electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators ground to a halt, and the repairmen couldn’t find the problem. So Ford called Steinmetz who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch. The generators whirred to life — but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz. Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted carmaker inquired why the bill was so high when it took so little time. Steinmetz’s reply: “For tinkering with the generators, $10. For knowing where to tinker, $9,990.” Ford paid the bill.

David Jeremiah observes that, “Obtaining wisdom and godly advice is priceless and hard to find in today’s society. There are plenty of people who want to give their opinion, but the Bible is the ultimate guidebook on wisdom.” (Turning Point Daily Devotional, 10/14/03)

Taming the tongue

Taming the Tongue

Small Group, Mobberly Baptist Church, July 8, 2012

Thinking about the discussion on faith and works from the previous two weeks –

There is an old story about a mother who walks in on her six-year-old son and finds him sobbing.

   “What’s the matter?” she asks.

   “I’ve just figured out how to tie my shoes.”

   “Well, honey, that’s wonderful.”

   Being a wise mother, she recognizes his victory in the Eriksonian struggle of autonomy versus doubt: “You’re growing up, but why are you crying?”

   “Because,” he says, “now I’ll have to do it every day for the rest of my life.”

— John Ortberg, Leadership, Vol. 14, no. 3.

Who was your favorite teacher?  Or What was a favorite expression a teacher used that stuck with you?

READ James 3:1-12

WHY IS IT SUCH A RESPONSIBILITY TO BE A TEACHER, ESPECIALLY A TEACHER OF THE SCRIPTURE?

The Spanish people are always eager to help others, especially foreigners. Tourists are warned that if they ask directions, people will give them even if they don’t know. They’d rather give you wrong information than have to disappoint you by saying they don’t know. Spiritual guides must always give the right directions. That’s why James warns, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers” (James 3:1).

— Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).

In the early church, a person did not become a teacher by going to a seminary or Bible college.  None existed.  Teachers were called and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  In the same way, teachers today should be filled with the Holy Spirit and pray for that filling before every opportunity to come before someone and share the Good News with them.

Being a teacher brought much respect and, in some cases, much pride.  Two problems can arise from being a teacher – (1) a teacher may begin to teach their own opinions instead of God’s truth and (2) they may teach one thing and live another.  Both problems are cause for James’ warning.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

   Henry Gardiner Adams (1812-1881)

We teach what we know; we reproduce what we are.

— Robert Schmidgall,  Leadership, Vol. 6, no. 2.

DOES THE WARNING IN VERSE 1 MAKE YOU THINK TWICE ABOUT OFFERING TO TEACH SOMEONE ELSE?  DOES IT SCARE YOU OFF COMPLETELY?

Becoming an effective teacher is simple.  You just prepare and prepare until drops of blood appear on your forehead. 

— Marlene LeFever, Leadership, Vol. 8, no. 3.

It is important to note that James is not calling on us to be silent.  He his calling on a greater task – control of our tongue.

(WHEN IS A TIME YOU PUT YOUR FOOT IN YOUR MOUTH?  WHEN IS A TIME SOMEONE REALLY ENCOURAGED YOU BY SAYING SOMETHING NICE?)

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF JAMES’ DEFINITION OF MATURITY IN VERSE 2?

Mature = complete and whole.

Spiritual maturity: the quiet confidence that God is in control.

Charles R. Swindoll (1934- )

Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself

John MacNaughton

WHO DO YOU KNOW THAT SEEMS TO BE VERY MATURE IN THIS AREA?

(thought) HOW WELL DO YOU THINK YOU MEASURE UP?

Lettuces, radishes, and such garden crops are soon out of the ground and ready for the table–a month almost suffices to perfect them. But an oak requires long centuries to come to the fullness of its growth.

   Those graces which are most precious and durable will cost us longest to produce. Those good things which spring up hastily may have some transient worth about them, but we cannot look for permanence and value in them. There is no need to deplore the slowness of our spiritual growth, if that which comes of it is of a solid character.

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

WHAT DO THE EXAMPLES OF THE BIT, RUDDER, AND FIRE TEACH US ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF WATCHING WHAT WE SAY?

It was his first day on the job. He was a new clerk in the green goods department of a super market. A lady came up to him and said she wanted to buy half of a head of lettuce. He tried to dissuade her from that goal, but she persisted.

   Finally he said, “I’ll have to go back and talk to the manager.”

   He went to the rear of the store to talk to the manager, not noticing that the woman was walking right behind him. When he got into the back of the store, he said to the manager, “There’s some stupid old bag out there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce. What should I tell her?”

   Seeing the horrified look on the face of the manager, he turned about and, seeing the woman, added, “And this nice lady wants to buy the other half of the head of lettuce. Will it be all right?”

   Considerably relieved, the manager said, “That would be fine.”

   Later in the day, he congratulated the boy on his quick thinking. He then asked, “Where are you from, son?”

   The boy said, “I’m from Toronto, Canada, the home of beautiful hockey players and ugly women.”

   The manager looked at him and said, “My wife is from Toronto.”

   The boy said, “Oh, what team did she play for?”

— Bruce Thielemann, “Because,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 105.

That such a big structure driven by such powerful forces (strong winds) could be controlled by so small a device as a rudder amply illustrates what James wants to say about the tongue.  The person who controls the bit or rudder or tongue has control over the horse or ship or body.

IN WHAT WAY DOES THE TONGUE POLLUTE THE WHOLE BODY AND SET THE COURSE OF LIFE ON FIRE? Negative thoughts lead to a defeated person, when you talk about others, you begin to believe what you say, you can’t take back loose words, you begin to focus on the wrong things, and it is difficult to get back on course, the words seem to slip out before you know it, you can destroy relationships that will lead to further hurt, etc.?

A slip of the foot you may soon recover,  But a slip of the tongue you may never get over.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

In his book with Ken Blanchard, Everyone’s a Coach, Don Shula tells of losing his temper near an open microphone during a televised game with the Los Angeles Rams. Millions of viewers were surprised and shocked by Shula’s explicit profanity. Letters soon arrived from all over the country, voicing the disappointment of many who had respected the coach for his integrity.

   Shula could have given excuses, but he didn’t. Everyone who included a return address received a personal apology. He closed each letter by stating, “I value your respect and will do my best to earn it again.”

   There are two ways to gain respect. One is to act nobly. The other is, when you fail to do so, to make no excuses.

— Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 1.

VERSE 8 SAYS, NO MAN CAN TAME THE TONGUE.  IT IS A RESTLESS EVIL, FULL OF DEADLY POISON.”  IN LIGHT OF THIS, IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR US AS WE SEEK TO CONTROL OUR TONGUES?

An old man once said, “For a long period I puzzled myself about the difficulties of Scripture, until at last I came to the resolution that reading the Bible was like eating fish. When I find a difficulty I lay it aside and call it a bone. Why should I choke on the bone when there is so much nutritious meat for me? Some day, perhaps, I may find that even the bone may afford me nourishment.”

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

WHAT IS JAMES SAYING WITH HIS ILLUSTRATION OF THE SWEET AND BITTER WATER AND THE GRAPEVINES, FIGS, AND OLIVES?

If your mind should go blank, don’t forget to turn off the sound.

–James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 473.

WHAT ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF HARMFUL SPEECH THAT YOU HAVE SEEN IN YOUR LIFE?

(Dobson – Hillary Clinton and the power of a parent’s words)

Think to yourself the answer to question 7 –

IN THIS PAST WEEK, HOW MUCH BITTER WATER DO YOU THINK WAS A PART OF YOUR SPEECH?

IN WHAT WAYS CAN YOU MAKE SURE THAT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS PLEASING TO GOD AND UPLIFTING TO OTHERS?

Faith and Works – July 1, 2012

Faith and Works

Last week James started a conversation with us on favoritism.  He told us how wrong it is to discriminate against the poor or anyone else.  Today, he continues that conversation by telling us the importance of ministering to others.  This discussion sets the stage for our understanding of the relationship of faith and works in the Christian life.

READ James 2:14-17

1. WHEN HAS SOMEONE MINISTERED TO YOU WHEN YOU WEAR IN NEED? WHEN HAVE YOU DONE THE SAME FOR SOMEONE ELSE?  WHAT DID IT MEAN TO YOU?

Even if people reject the gospel, we still must love them. A good example of this was reported by Ralph Neighbour, pastor of Houston’s West Memorial Baptist Church (in Death and the Caring Community, by Larry Richards and Paul Johnson):

   Jack had been president of a large corporation, and when he got cancer, they ruthlessly dumped him. He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left. I visited him with one of my deacons, who said, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left. I wonder if you’ve prepared for your life after death?”

   Jack stood up, livid with rage. “You — —- Christians. All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die. If your God is so great, why doesn’t he do something about the real problems of life?” He went on to tell us he was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college. Then he ordered us out.

   Later my deacon insisted we go back. We did. “Jack, I know I offended you,” he said. “I humbly apologize. But I want you to know I’ve been working since then. Your first problem is where your family will live after you die. A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission. I guarantee you that, if you’ll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold. Then, I’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street. He’s offered your wife a three bedroom apartment plus free utilities and an $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising plumbing and electrical repairs. The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college. I just wanted you to know your family will be cared for.”

   Jack cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter, so wrapped in pain he never accepted Christ. But he experienced God’s love even while rejecting him. And his widow, touched by the caring Christians, responded to the gospel message.

–Van Campbell, Homer,Louisiana. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 1.

See: Ac 20:35; Jas 1:27; Isa 58:7; Lk 10:33-34

2. WHAT KIND OF FAITH IS CONDEMNED IN VERSE 14?

The faith James speaks of is just an intellectual affirmation.  It is a mind-oriented profession only.  These individuals may call themselves Christians, but they do not live any different than the rest of the world.

The faith James wants us to have involves with all of our being: mind, emotions, our behavior, and our spirit.  It is a faith that involves action.

If we refuse to take the risk of being vulnerable, we are already half-dead.  If you are half-dead, you don’t have to starve with the people of Ethiopia.  You don’t have to share the terrible living conditions of old people struggling to exist on dwindling, inadequate social-security payments in our overcrowded, hostile cities.  You don’t have to smell the stench of filth and disease and hunger in the “favelas” and barrios. 

   We are not all called to go to El Salvador, or Moscow, or Calcutta, or even the slums of New York.  But none of us will escape the moment when we have to decide whether to withdraw, to play it safe, or to act on what we prayerfully believe to be right. 

— Madeleine L’Engle in A Stone for a Pillow.  Christianity Today, Vol. 31, no. 2.

IN WHAT WAY IS FAITH WITHOUT WORKS “DEAD”?

It has been said that separating faith and works is like separating the heat and light from a candle. You know both are produced by the candle. You know they are not the same thing. You also know you cannot separate them.

— Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).

That is why James asks if a dead faith can save a person.

WHAT KIND OF WORKS SHOULD FAITH PRODUCE?

For James, works or deeds have to do with proper ethical behavior.  They are natural outgrowths of the faith inside.  If you exercise a muscle, what will happen?  The muscle with grow.  If you stay out in the sun too long, what will happen?  You will get burned.  If you play with fire, you are going to get burned.  These are all natural results.  In the same way, faith produces works as a natural result.  Is our faith producing the natural results?  And what results are we producing?

Here is a good searching question for a man to ask himself as he reviews his past life: Have I written in the snow? Will my life-work endure the lapse of years and the fret of change? Has there been anything immortal in it, which will survive the speedy wreck of all sublunary things? The boys inscribe their names in capitals in the snow, and in the morning’s thaw the writing disappears. Will it be so with my work, or will the characters that I have carved outlast the brazen tablets of history? Have I written in the snow?

— Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)

DO YOU SEE THE WORKS THAT ACCOMPANY FAITH IN YOUR LIFE?

James disagrees that works and faith are unconnected.  Faith is invisible without works.  If faith does not make itself known in our lives, then it does not exist.

Do all the good you can

   By all the means you can

   In all the ways you can

   In all the places you can

   To all the people you can

   As long as ever you can.

— John Wesley’s Rule of Conduct.  Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 14.

READ James 2:18-26

VERSE 19 SAYS THAT BARE BELIEF IS NOT WHAT SAVES – THE DEMONS BELIEVE IN GOD, AND STILL SHUDDER.  WHAT IS JAMES SAYING HERE? IS SALVATION EARNED BY GOOD WORKS, OR ARE WE SAVED BY THE KIND OF FAITH THAT IS ACCOMPANIED BY ACTIONS?

READ Romans 10:5-13

Belief in God does not automatically lead to godly action.  Satan and his fallen angels have belief in God.  Millions of people around our world have a belief in God. Faith alone is not enough without an obedient lifestyle. 

Faith in God is like believing a man can walk over Niagara   Falls on a tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow. Trust in God is like getting into the wheelbarrow! To believe God can do something miraculous is one thing; to risk his willingness to do it in your life is another.

James C. Dobson (1936- )

READ Galatians 3:6 (like James 2:23)

AT FIRST GLANCE, VERSE 21-23 SEEM TO BE A DIRECT CONTRADICTION OF WHAT PAUL SAYS IN GALATIANS 3:6 WHERE HE EMPHASIZES THE FACT THAT ABRAHAM’S FAITH WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.  WHAT IS JAMES TRYING TO SAY HERE?  HOW COULD ABRAHAM HAVE BEEN JUSTIFIED BY BOTH WORKS AND FAITH?

Faith and works must work together in the life of a person who is truly religious.  The works Paul has in mind are acts of ritual law-keeping such as circumcision, food laws, and the like, where James is concerned about giving to the poor (charity), not fulfillment of the law.

IN WHAT WAY IS FAITH PERFECTED BY WORKS (VS. 22)?

Faith is not exactly perfected by works.  Rather, faith is brought to new maturity by such actions.  Abraham believed God and was declared righteous prior to his circumcision or his willingness to offer his son.

HOW SHOULD THE LIFESTYLE OF A CHRISTIAN VERIFY HIS OR HER FAITH?

Faith is an activity; it is something that has to be applied.

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983)

Thought question: WHAT DO YOU NEED TO CHANGE IN YOUR OWN LIFE SO THAT YOU ARE SHOWING YOUR FAITH BY YOUR WORKS?

A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base one December and there meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.

   As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus, again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a smile on his face.

   “Where did you learn that?” the professor asked.

   “What?” Ralph said.

   “Where did you learn to live like that?”

   “Oh,” Ralph said, “during the war, I guess.” He then told the professor about his tour of duty in Vietnam, how it was his job to clear mine fields, how he watched his friends blow up before his eyes, one after another.

   “I learned to live between steps,” he said. “I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I’ve been that way ever since.”

   The abundance of our lives is not determined by how long we live, but by how well we live.

— Barbara Brown Taylor in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

 

The Character of faith – June 24, 2012

The Character of Faith Pt. 1 – James 2:1-13

HAVE YOU EVER FELT OUT OF PLACE AT A CHURCH?

READ James 2:1-13

The heart of the Book of James is “Faith”. It shows that a true believer will be exercising his faith. Chapter two is the heart of this teaching.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

WHY DOES JAMES MAKE SUCH A DOGMATIC STATEMENT AS THIS?

A-God the Father shows no favoritism in regard to social classes

The word implies that someone looks at one person or shows them his face, but turns away from another. It is a picking and choosing who will see one’s face. It is a simple word that James poignantly illustrates.

READ Acts 10:34-35  “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality”

CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE OF JESUS SHOWING FAVORTISM?

B-Jesus shows no favoritism according to social classes. As believers we are to be imitators of our Lord.

READ Mark 12:14  “you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion”

James is telling us that we are to not hold fast to worldly vision and worldly judgments and at the same time while we are not making judgments based on worldly assessments we are to be holding fast in faith to Christ. We are not walking by sight.

Let go of all things that would ensnare your heart and by faith hold fast to Christ. We are to not hold the world and its values and judgments but we are to hold fast to Christ.

A pastor from the 1600′s Thomas Vincent had this to say:

If you ask me what this faith is that gives an interest in Christ, what it is to believe, I answer out of John 1:12 that it is to receive Christ: But to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” Be persuaded, then, to receive Christ, and accept Him upon the terms of the Gospel. Receive and take hold of Christ by the hand of faith and, that you may do this:

(1) You must let go your hold of sin.

(2) You must let go your hold on the world.

(3) You must let go your hold of self.

Vincent’s assessment is an accurate picture of what James is saying.

Any statistician exploring church membership and consequent qualitative change of lifestyle will admit that there a gap between what Christians profess and how they behave. It is not unusual for a person to call himself a Christian, yet give no thought to his moral behavior, the type language he uses, or his testimony in the world. The past century has witnessed the creation of a new category of Christian to explain this, the so-called “carnal Christian.” This is supposedly a person who is truly saved but you cannot tell by the way he lives his life. His ambitions, morals, habits, and practices appear to resemble more of the world than one who has a new nature in Christ. This explanation of “carnal Christians” has been promoted to explain why our church rolls are bloated with people who do not act as though they have been regenerated. It even serves as an excuse for ungodliness.

C- Paul Teaches Us Not to Show Favoritism

READ Romans 12:1-6, 16 “you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” and “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly”

God’s electing grace includes the poor, not that the poor are automatically brought into God’s kingdom as some liberal theologians express it. The fact is, while this so-called brother was rejecting a poor man, he was being totally unlike the Lord who has shown his kindness for the poor by electing many out of their number for his kingdom. So the question is put to the man: why do you reject the very one God has chosen?

Making self asserting judgments based on outward appearances is not living in the realm of faith but it is living with both hands locked tight to the world and its values.

A- There is no Place for Partiality in the Life of the Church (vss. 2-4)

The Holy Spirit working internally within individual believers and with the church will be working toward peace and unity with all that God has sovereignly placed together to make up the local body. No one sitting here today came by accident; God brought you here for His purposes. He is knitting us together as a unique creation. Mobberly Church is a living organism made up of those God chose to save and He is building us as a spiritual building placed in history with the rest of true believers that He has called out. We are being fitted to be placed into the multitude throughout all times that God has redeemed for His Son-The Universal Church.

B- There is no Place for Partiality in the Plan of God (vss. 5-7)

God chooses whom He wants to make up His church. Many times He chooses those who are not the wisest, richest, most talented to make up His special people.

READ 1 Cor. 1:26-31 “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth”

James was neither castigating all the rich nor making saints out of all the poor. But he was speaking with a Hebraism that conveyed the principle at hand: for the most part the early church was made up of peasants, while the rich used their wealth to oppose Christianity. It made no sense to show partiality to the one oppressing the church while ignoring one who was more open to the message of the gospel. Such partiality and preferential treatment betrayed the faith of the person in question.

Partiality comes in different shapes. It might be focused on the color of a person’s skin or the level of his income or his place in society or his country of origin or the type job he holds or his lack of a job or the fact that he owns no country club membership or his lack of education or the location of his dwelling. In all of this we must remember the word Yahweh spoke to Samuel as he investigated the sons of Jesse: “for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (I Sam. 16:7). We do not have the omniscience of the Lord to see the heart of a man, but when we have become new creatures in Christ we have a new capacity to love one another even as Christ has loved us. That is the point James is making: if we call ourselves Christians, then we must love like Christians.

With these truths in mind we can see how great a sin it is to show favoritism. This is truly a sin that has more evil contained within than is seen on the surface. Favoritism is working against the very sovereignty of God. Everyone God sends has a gift to be used and perfected. It may be that very gift that is used to honor Christ in the church, is the same gift that is to be used in the world to come. The Church is the training grounds for the glory to come. When we show favoritism we are placing ourselves in judgment over the very work of God.

C- There is no Place for Partiality in the life of a Believer (vss. 8-13)

To be slack in this area of favoritism is to be guilty be a transgressor of the whole law of God.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,”

On one occasion, Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment. His reply sets forth the essence of the entire Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). The first of these commandments relates directly to the first four commandments. The second commandment relates to the remaining six commandments. Are these just arbitrary demands that God has made upon man? Rather these commandments in relationship to man demonstrate the divine character in our lives toward others. They are defined by “love,” not as an emotion, but in terms of caring for others [cf. Alec Motyer, The Message of James, 97].

James calls this “the royal law.” It is royal because of who gave the law, our Lord. It is royal because of who is identified by the law, those who belong to the King. We do well if we obey the royal law; that is, we demonstrate the reality of our faith in Christ. Motyer write, “The essence of the royal law is that wherever there is need there is an obligation to extend the sort of love we lavish on ourselves; the essence of partiality is to select the recipients of our care on some ground other than that they are in need” [97]. The faith that can overlook the royal law is a blind faith and in need of Christ.

WHY DOES JAMES SAY THAT IF WE BREAK ONE PART WE ARE GUILTY OF ALL?

We are accountable to all of it because we haven’t only sinned against the poor person we have judged but in fact we have passed judgment on the One who made the Law and called that very person out from among sinners, namely God. It’s not so much the specific evil deed but it’s the rebellion against God’s authority.

As we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that in many ways we fail the Lord; often we are disobedient. But what is “the tilt of your soul”? Do you seek to treat others with compassion and care? Do you seek to follow after what God has commanded? It involves the direction and passion of our lives. True faith shows concern for obedience.

The problem he exposes in verses 9-11 involves the sin of partial obedience. As Curtis Vaughan expressed it, “Partial obedience is actual disobedience” . James uses rather exaggerated language, showing someone who claims to be satisfied because he has not committed adultery, yet he has murdered someone. He reminds his audience, that partial obedience leaves a person as “a transgressor of the law.” The implication is that he need not think that such a life pleases God.

Like a King Saul, he is satisfied because he has done some of the things God has commanded, mainly those things that he found convenient or conducive to impressing others. But the rest he was satisfied to neglect. Saul did not see himself as having obligation to be passionately obedient. He lived with partial obedience and never knew the Lord. So there is both a warning and an encouragement. The warning is that something is wrong with our faith if we can be satisfied with partial obedience. The encouragement is found, “you are doing well,” in affirming the passionate obedience demonstrated in concern for others.

There is absolutely no place for that type of thinking in the life of a true believer. If it continues, you may be showing that you are not a believer at all. That’s James’ whole point. Our faith will guide our actions. Where there is true understanding there can be true faith. Where faith is lacking our Christ like behavior will be lacking in proportion.

In verses 12-13 James says our attitude should not be that of the judge but one who is about to be judged. We cannot pass judgment based on external appearances. When we do we’re setting ourselves up for a guilty verdict.

“For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” He is not advocating gaining merit through acts of mercy. Rather as believers we are to show the same kind of mercy to others that the Lord has shown to us. To fail to show mercy to others is to prove ourselves spiritually bankrupt. God’s children are to act and speak like God’s children. “They bear His image; they copy His example,” wrote Curtis Vaughan. “It is therefore impossible for them to fail to share in His compassion, to fail to reflect His spirit of mercy. If one does not show mercy, he thereby shows that he has no vital connection with God”.

Conclusion

True Christian character is evident in the way we treat other people. This is a reinforcement that we do not live in a vacuum as Christians. We are to live unto the Lord in relationship to those about us. The sins of partiality and partial obedience, particularly regarding relationships, raises questions about the reality of our faith.

Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has a new passion of obedience. One’s character is affected by the reality of a new nature in Christ. That shows up best in our relationships.

As we begin to trust God’s choices and His sovereignty we are beginning to be more and more conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ.