ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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TRUE WISDOM IS GENTLE — James 3:17 (continued)

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Are you a “gentle” person?  In our culture and society, that is not a word that is often used to describe people, is it?  The adjective “gentle” is often used in the following phrases:  a gentle breeze, a gentle rain, a gentle animal, a gentle push, a gentle voice, a gentle massage, a gentle grip, a gentle detergent, a gentle reminder, gentle to the skin.  Most of the time we use the word to refer to things rather than people.

I searched the internet for pictures that described or captured the meaning of the word “gentle” and found some precious pictures.  There was the picture of a newborn baby’s tiny hand grasping the thumb of its mother.  There was the picture of a young child hugging a horse’s face. There were pictures of powerful and ferocious animals playing with their young.

The Greek word translated “gentle” is the word epieikes, and it is a different word from the one translated “gentle” in James 3:13.  The term was often used in the ancient world to describe a fine aged wine.  It was not harsh or bitter, but mellow, fragrant, and very pleasing to the taste buds.  The apostle James uses this word here in verse 17 as part of his description of wisdom from above.  In contrast to the harsh, critical, strict, and self-centered wisdom of the world, this wisdom was kind, willing to yield, thoughtful, considerate and patient with others.  The words “chill out” and “mellow out” are ofen said to people who are easily irritated and often judgmental of others.  You would never have a reason to say these words to a gentle person.

The following definition is so true, and always brings a smile to my face:  “Gentleness is the oil that reduces the friction in life”.  Warren Wiersbe said:  “A gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace.”   Carl Sandburg described Abraham Lincoln as a man of “velvet steel”. That’s a good description of gentleness!  In II Corinthians 10:1 the apostle Paul says, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of gentleness.

In the “One Year Book of Hymns” I found the following story:

The story is told of a little girl named Becca who lived in an institution for troubled children.  She had never spoken, and her behavior was quite violent. She terrorized the other children, hitting them and stomping on their toys.

This was in the 1800’s when treatment for emotional problems was still quite primitive. But there was a nurse who showed love to this little girl.  And slowly Becca calmed down.  She began to show affection for the nurse, and she would even sit quietly with the other children as they learned to sing.  Still, she wouldn’t speak.  One summer evening, the nurse put Becca to bed early.  The sun had just gone down, and some birds were singing outside.  Then the nurse heard another voice along with the birds. It was Becca.  Alone in her room she was singing a song she had heard the other children sing:  “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity; suffer me to come to Thee.”

Let me ask the question again:  Are you a gentle person?

Charles Wesley wrote that hymn, and the last stanza goes like this:

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,

In Thy gracious hands I am;

Make me, Savior what Thou art,

Live Thyself within my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

III. HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:17

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There is so much to learn and apply from each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom that James gives in this verse.  I’ve decided to publish them one quality at a time.  I don’t want you to miss anything that I am learning!

Here in verse 17, James lists seven qualities that describe the “wisdom from above”.  We also find these qualities mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12.  He calls those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who possess these qualities,  As we study each of these descriptions, consider how they were evident in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Also consider whether or not they are evident in your life.

These descriptions of the “wisdom from above” are also closely related to the fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, just as the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are closely related to earthly wisdom.  At each moment we are either being controlled by the Spirit of God or by our own sinful flesh.  At each moment we are either exercising godly wisdom or earthly wisdom.  I think that deep down inside we know this to be true.  As we study each of these qualities we will hopefully know more clearly.

  1.  TRUE WISDOM IS PURE (verse 17)

We use the word “pure” in expressions and descriptions quite often.  Let me give you a few examples.  “Pure water” – water that is free from dirt, pollutants, and other unwanted or infectious elements.   There is “pure gold” that is genuine, without flaws, imperfections or other alloys.  We use the term “pure breed” or “pure bred”  to refer to an unmixed ancestry.  A “pure tone” in music has a single frequency and is without discord.  The expressions “pure as a newborn baby” and “pure as the driven snow” imply innocence, faultlessness.  Finally the phrase “pure coincidence” intensifies the word by implying “nothing but” or “nothing else”.

The Greek word translated “pure” carries with it these shades of meaning.  Notice in verse 17 that James writes:  “First pure”.  He obviously wants this quality to be at the top of his list.  Does the previous passage of Scripture dealing with “worldly wisdom” have something to do with it?  I think so.  Wisdom from above, Godly wisdom, comes from a pure heart.  It is free from jealousy and selfish motives.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “The secret of purity is God.  Get a pure heart from God.”  Without a pure devotion to God, none of the other characteristics of Godly wisdom would be possible.

King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 24:3-4 speaks of “clean hands and a pure heart”.  God is not going to empower us and use us if our hearts aren’t cleansed from sin, and our lives aren’t consecrated to Him.

This empowering applies not only to the public part of our lives, but also to our private lives, to the little things, the unseen things, the thoughts and attitudes that we ignore or take for granted.  Like the old Ivory Soap commercial, God doesn’t want us to be “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, but 100 percent pure. The Daily Bread devotional in 2007 contained a reading entitled “Only A Rivet”.  It brings the point across very clearly and powerfully.

Scientists have determined that faulty rivets may have caused the rapid sinking of the “unsinkable” HMS Titanic.  According to researchers who recently examined parts recovered from the wreck, impure rivets made of wrought iron rather than steel caused the ship’s hull to open like a zipper.  The Titanic proves the foolishness of spending resources on fancy equipment and public promotion while neglecting the “ordinary” parts.  Although rivets seem insignificant, they are essential for holding the ship together and keeping it afloat.  So too, we Christians, by the grace of God, must be free from defect even in the “little things” in order to stand firm against the pressures of this world’s selfishness and corruption.

I’m concluding this section with the words of the apostle Peter to Christians scattered because of their committment to Christ.  Peter says in I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy, and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

I hope that you are a true child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that this relationship to Him is evidenced by a love for, and desire for, the pure Word of God as your true source of heavenly wisdom.  I hope that you are also putting aside the wisdom of this world as you grow in the knowledge of Him.  Peter concludes this letter by saying:  “Peace be to you all who are  in Christ”.

With the Lord Jesus as the Master Builder, and the Holy Spirit providing the inspiration, the blueprint and the tools, the work progresses.  Please stop by again.

 

 

 

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.

LOVE – TRUE LOVE

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How is your love-life?  Do you want to be a better lover?  Do you want to show your love in ways that will be more greatly appreciated, and more fulfilling to you as well? Then two words, when correctly understood and properly applied to your relationships, will make all the difference in the world!

The first word is “patience” .  True love isn’t in a hurry.  It doesn’t put the other person on a timetable, but gives the person space to make decisions and adjustments.  True love  lets relationships go at their own pace.  It never gets tired of waiting, and demonstrates this attitude by the absence of griping, complaining, grumbling, or any other outward signs of irritation and impatience.

True love doesn’t lose heart, but perseveres through difficult and troublesome times.  It keeps on hoping and believing.  True love is also forgiving. Remember:  nobody is perfect.  If you’re looking for the perfect person to love, you’re in for a very long wait, and hopefully you’ll learn patience in the process!

A true lover is a good listener, and knows how to ask the right questions to keep the conversation going. A true lover seeks to understand, and shows respect for the loved one’s opinions.  A patient person also excercises self-control and knows how to hold his or her tongue to avoid hurting the other person by a hasty or thoughtless word.  A billboard had these words written on it:  “A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a thousand moments of regret”.  Do you want to be a more patient person?  You will be loved for it, and you won’t regret it.

The other word is “kindness”.  A true lover is kind, and a kind person is a joy to be around because he or she lifts the spirits of others.  A kind person is also merciful, showing kindness even when it isn’t deserved.  A true lover is kind and doesn’t take advantage of others.  A little child was heard saying these words in a prayer:  “God, make all the bad people good, and make all the good people nice”.  This child saw a difference between being “good” and being “nice”.  I think we can notice that difference also.  Kind people don’t look down on others or make fun of others.  True lovers focus on lifting up their loved ones, not bringing them down.

Kindness is something we all long for.  We experience joy when we receive it from others, and even greater joy when we show it to others.  An act of kindness leaves an indelible impression on the receiver and the giver, as well as on all who witness it.  On the New York subway, a young man, his head covered by a hooded sweatshirt, fell asleep on the shoulder of an older passenger.  When someone else offered to wake the young rider, the older man quietly said, “He must have had a long day.  Let him sleep.  We’ve all been there.”

We all need someone to lean on sometimes, don’t we?  Do you want kindness to be more evident in your life?  Do you want your loved ones to experience it more often from you?

These two qualities, patience and kindness, are at the top of the list, and that list is given in the Bible, in I Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,                                   
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.                 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

May our love for one another be characterized by these virtues.

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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GOD BECAME A MAN. Major Ian Thomas, in a message given at a Moody Bible Institute Conference, described Jesus’ coming as a man with these words: “Jesus had to come as He came (born of a virgin) in order to be what He was (a perfect man inhabited by God). He had to be what He was in order to do what He did (die to redeem us). He had to do what He did so that we might have what He has (His life; all that we lost when Adam sinned). We have to have what He has in order to be what He was (a person inhabited by God).”

In John 1:14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by Luke. He “dwelt among us”. The Greek word for “dwelt” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”. “He tabernacled among us” is another way to say it. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen. The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside. There was no beauty in its outward appearance. So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus was a hidden glory. When He came to pitch His tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil his glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place. It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness, and until the temple of Solomon was built. It’s’ interesting that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

The apostle John then says, “we beheld His glory”. Our thoughts may go back to the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness when the pillar of cloud, which guided them by day, came to rest over the tabernacle and then filled the inside of the tabernacle with the glory of God. It was this inner glory that John, the one who knew the Lord so intimately, saw in Jesus Christ. He describes Jesus as being “full of grace and truth”. “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The God who “tabernacled” with the people of Israel for about 35 years, as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who “tabernacled” among us in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth for about 35 years, wants to “tabernacle” in each of us for the rest of our lives, and then face to face for eternity if we have repented of our sins and invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come in and reign as Lord in our Lives. Once again He wants to display His glory to us and to others around us through our actions, words, and attitude. Will you invite Him to do so this Christmas season?

GOD BECAME A MAN. Those words brought a song to my mind that is very appropriate for the Christmas season. Think with me about these lyrics:

Love was when God became a man, locked in time and space without rank or place.
Love was God born of Jewish kin, just a carpenter with some fishermen.
Love was when Jesus walked in history. Lovingly He brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God nailed to bleed and die to reach and love one such as I.

Love was when God became a man, down where I could see; love that reached to me.
Love was God dying for my sin, and so trapped was I, my whole world caved in.
Love was when Jesus rose to walk with me. Lovingly he brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God, only He would try to reach and love one such as I.
(John E. Walvoord/Don Wyrtzen)

For those of you who have never heard this song before, or for those who would like to hear it sung again, you can click this web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK96FOXOclU, or type: John and Trini Pendleton sing “Love Was When” in your web browser. Trini sings and John accompanies her on the guitar. I think it’s a beautiful rendition.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, please remember that Christmas is just the introduction to His story. There are many chapters which follow, covering His life, death, resurrection, appearances, and ascension into heaven. And His story isn’t over yet. Any moment now He will be coming in the clouds to suddenly snatch His children out of this world in an instant. Then, after the seven years of tribulation, Christ will establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. Finally, the Lord Jesus will return to heaven and all believers will enjoy His presence forever. I love happy endings!

That’s a lot to remember this Christmas season! May those memories bring you joy and expectation, and may you know and experience the real joy of Christmas!

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

TRUE FREEDOM – 4th of July message

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Americans celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July as a public holiday with fireworks, barbecues, flags, and expressions of gratitude for the freedom we have as Americans.  Most celebrations of national independence mark the day of “final victory” in the struggle  for freedom.  Perhaps it’s a mark of our American pride and boldness that we celebrate, on July 4th,  the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which occurred   seven years before the final treaty ending the Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783.  That Declaration’s adoption on July 4, 1776 burned the final bridges of England’s authority over America. The signers of this Declaration of Independence recognized that liberty could not be preserved unless this new nation recognized its dependence on God.  The brave men who initiated and signed it realized that genuine freedom comes only through reliance on the Almighty. Do you consider yourself to be truly free?  Whether you live in a free country or not, are you free on the inside?  Are you free from guilt and fears?  Are you free from the fear of death,  and from the eternal consequences of your actions?  Are you free from greed and other “sinful” passions that have become beyond your control? The sad thing is that the world often describes sin as the essence of freedom.  “I can do what I please because it’s my life, and I am the master of my fate.”  This is also what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden when he said, in effect, “Don’t be bound by God’s command!  Be free!  Eat the fruit and become as God, knowing good and evil!”  When Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and also gave some to Adam, and he ate it, what happened?  They died!  They immediately died spiritually because their fellowship with God was broken and they hid from God.  Their personalities also began to decay because they began to lie and shift the blame to one another.  And eventually their bodies died.  They certainly weren’t the masters of their fate, were they? The Bible teaches that true freedom can only be found through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  He set us free at the cost of His own life.

ILLUSTRATIONS:  TWO ACTUAL RESPONSES TO ONE’S FREEDOM

A heathen girl was bought at a slave auction for a large sum of money.  The Christian man who purchased her did so in order to set her free.  When he came to get her the next day, she said simply, “Master, I am ready to serve you.”  He replied, “While it is true that I bought you, I did so only to relieve you of the bonds of slavery.”  Then, with a smile he handed the surprised girl her freedom papers.  She looked at him for a moment in sheer astonishment.  Then, seeing that he meant what he said, she cried out, “Am I truly free?  Am I my own?  May I go where I wish?”  “Yes”, he said.  “That’s why I bought you, so that you could be freed from the restrictions of slavery.  “Sir”, she said as she fell at his feet in heartfelt devotion, “my greatest joy will be to dwell with you and go wherever you direct me.”

I’m closing with another true story that made a tremendous impression on me.  A young convert on the west coast of Africa, who was saved out of the most horrible savagery, came on Christmas Day into the little chapel on the mission compound to offer her sacrifice of praise in the form of a gift of money.  As a rule, the natives in that area were so poor that only a handful of vegetables was considered a generous offering.  Some, in fact, could only bring a  bunch of wild flowers to show their good will.  If anyone ever managed to bring a coin worth a penny or two, it was considered as a tremendous gift.  This girl of sixteen, however, drew from under her tattered outer garments a silver  coin worth about a dollar! The missionary was so amazed at the amount of the offering that he refused, at first, to accept it, for he thought she must have gotten it dishonestly.  In order to avoid confusion and embarrassment, he finally agreed to accept it.   But at the end of the service he called her aside to ask her where she obtained such a fortune.  She explained very simply that, in order to present to the Lord Jesus Christ an offering that satisfied her own heart’s love for Him, she had gone to a neighboring plantation and  sold herself to the plantation owner as a slave to him for the rest of her life!  She had, in effect, brought the whole financial equivalent of her life and laid it down in a single gift at the feet of her Savior and spiritual Liberator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Fourth of July, may we celebrate with joy the freedoms and privileges we possess, both as citizens of this great nation and, hopefully also, as citizens of heaven.  If you are not sure whether or not you are a citizen of heaven, please read the ABOUT PAGE on this blog site, and the section entitled “Question”.  In John’s Gospel, chapter 8,. and verses 31 and 32, Jesus said:  “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”