PRAYING LIKE ELIJAH – A True Story in Africa in the 20th Century

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John C. Wengatz was a pioneer missionary to Africa for 42 years, serving in Liberia, Angola, and the Congo during the early to mid-1900’s.  In his book, Miracles in Black, Dr. Wengatz tells of an African convert who was left at a new mission station to carry on the Lord’s work with a cannibal tribe.  It was the dry season when Joao Mbaxi took over, but soon the tropical rains would be coming.  Month after month went by, however, without a cloud appearing in the sky.  Then came the time for the normal dry period.  By now everyone was suffering, and many were on the brink of starvation.  In all the years they had worshiped their ancient gods, the rains had never failed them, and so Joao was told that he must leave the country and take “the white man’s God” with him.  The courageous Christian refused to go.  Then, flushed with anger, the chief sullenly warned, “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?  If it doesn’t rain by sunrise tomorrow, we will drink your blood and eat your flesh!”  Recalling the biblical account of Elijah, Joao went to his hut and prayed for divine help with the same urgency as that ancient prophet.  Meanwhile the members of the tribe waited for the dawn when the Christian leader would become the victim of their horrible feast.  Just before daylight, thunder was heard in the distance, lightning flashed across the sky, and abundant rain refreshed the entire region!  As a result, the believer was able to continue his work for Christ.

GOD’S REPEAT PERFORMANCE OF I KINGS 17:42-45 IN ANSWER TO BELIEVING PRAYER.

God glorified Himself in answer to prayer and answered their challenge:  “If your God is as good as you say and so powerful that he rules the sky, why doesn’t He send us the needed showers?”  Are you faced with a seemingly-impossible challenge in your life today?  God would like to hear from you about it.

As the prophet Jeremiah said to the Lord God, “Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain?  Or can the heavens grant showers?  Is it not Thou, O Lord our God?  Therefore we hope in Thee, for Thou art the one who hast done all these things.”  (Jeremiah 14:22)

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).

 

 

 

 

 

IT’S A NEW YEAR!

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Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?  One dictionary defines a resolution as “a firm decision to do or not to do something”.  Another dictionary says:  “a serious decision to do something.”  From those definitions I get the impression that resolutions are choices that we commit ourselves to do. What are you looking forward to in this new year?  What are you dreading?   What do you hope to find?  What choices did you make year?  Are you satisfied with those choices? The search engine Google put a short film on U-Tube entitled “What Did The World Search For This Year.”  It focused on personal and world events that made life worth living in 2013.  At the end of the film are written these words:  “Search On“. I hope that you have come to this site to gain an eternal perspective on life, and to seek God’s  wisdom to guide you on your continuing search for answers and meaning to life.   The Bible tells us that there are only two things in this world that are going to last forever:  God’s Word and people.  In Matthew 24:35 the Lord Jesus told the parable of the fig tree, and said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.”  In I Peter 1:24-25 the apostle Peter quotes from Isaiah 40 when he says:  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord abides forever.” The other entity that lasts forever is people.  They will live forever in one of two places:  heaven or hell.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My words, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life.  He will not come to judgement, but has passed from death to life.”  By contrast, the apostle John records in Revelation 20 what he saw in a vision:  “And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it. . . . And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. . . . And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” The wonderful and exciting thing about heaven is that it lasts forever.  The terrible and terrifying thing about hell is that it lasts forever.  Each year brings you closer to death, and also to eternity.   May you choose to have a joyful eternity by receiving the Lord Jesus Christ into your life as your personal Savior and Lord.  Then every day and every year until eternity will be filled with joy, inner peace, and unfading hope.

Thank you for visiting, and a happy New Year to you!

A LESSON ON COMPASSION (Part I) – Jonah. chapters 1 and 2

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This is a message I have preached many times, especially when I was a college campus minister in Southern California.  Since I will be quoting several passages from this book, the message is much longer, so I will be sharing it with you in two parts.  I hope this amazing and entertaining book of the Bible will also have many lessons for you, and draw your heart closer to God.

INTRODUCTION:

I’d like you to think for a moment of a person   .  .  .  a person in your neighborhood, or where your work, or where you go to school, or where you do business.  Someone that you come in contact with often.  Someone you don’t like being around!  Is someone coming to mind?  Either because of this person’s nationality, or personality, or the way he or she looks, or acts, or treats you, or for whatever reason, this person causes in you feelings of anger or dislike.  Question:  Do you and I, as Christians, have a responsibility even to such a person?

THE BOOK OF JONAH

The book of Jonah, in the Old Testament, deals with this very issue.  How many of you have ever been fishing, or have friends or family members who like to fish?  Then you’ve probably heard some “fish stories”, like the story about “the one that got away”.  Have you noticed that the more often that story is told, the bigger that fish gets!

There are many people today who think of the book of Jonah as just another “big fish story”.  But the book of Jonah is God’s Word, and it has a message for us today.  ILLUSTRATION:  One day a young man travelling on a train began to discuss the Bible with a Christian seated next to him.  “If you can prove to me that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, I’ll believe all the rest of the Bible”, he said.  “What do you think of Jesus Christ?” asked his companion.  Surprised by the strange response, the first man answered, “That’s beside the point!”  “Oh no, it’s not”, replied the Christian.  “Tell me, do you think that Jesus Christ was wise?”  “Yes”, he said, “I think He was the wisest man who ever lived.” ” Well He believed what you call a ‘fish story’,  for see what He said in Matthew 12:40.”  The unbeliever was amazed to find that the passage of Scripture read, “for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  “You see”, said the Christian, “Jesus believed the account of Jonah!”  “Thanks mister”, was his reply, “That’s proof enough for me!”

To doubt the story of Jonah and the fish is to doubt the authority and deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for He considered this event in Jonah’s life to be a fact.  And the book of Jonah has an important message for us today

THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK

The writer of the book of Jonah had two main purposes for writing this book under the inspiration of God.  The first purpose was to show us Jonah’s motivation for the things he did, and for his attitude.  Secondly, the writer wanted to show us something about God’s character, what God is like.  Let’s look at the first two chapters of the book of Jonah and see what we can learn from them today.

I.  JONAH’S DISOBEDIENCE AND PUNISHMENT (1:1-16)

Jonah 1:1-3 says, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh the great city, and cry out against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.’  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.  So he went down to Joppa, found a ship that was going to Tarshish,  paid the fare,  and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.”  Nineveh was east of Israel, and Jonah went west, in the opposite direction.  He went to Joppa and boarded a ship headed for Tarshish, which is modern-day Spain.  Jonah wanted to get as far away from God and God’s plan for him as he possibly could.  Is it possible to escape from the presence of the Lord?  God is all-present, isn’t He.  Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.”  How do we behave when no one is looking but God?  Let’s test ourselves this week.

What was Jonah’s motivation for fleeing?  Was it cowardice?  Was he afraid to go to Nineveh?  Well he had good reason to be afraid.  Nineveh was probably the largest and one of the most wicked cities in the world at that time.  Chapter 4, verse 11 says there were “more than 120,000 people who did not know the difference between their right and left hand.”  If God is speaking in a physical sense, this could be referring to children under the age of five, because it’s often hard to tell whether a child that age is right or left handed.  If God is speaking in a physical sense here, the total population of Nineveh could have been over 600,000 people, which is a large city even by today’s standards.

So, was Jonah a coward?  No.  Let me read for you 1:11-12:  “So they said to him. ‘What should we do to you that the sea may become calm for us’ – for the sea was becoming increasingly stormy.  And he said to them, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  Jonah was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of the sailors when God brought the great wind and storm in verses 4-14.  When the sailors cast lots in verse 7 to learn who caused this storm to come upon them, the lot fell to Jonah.  When they asked him for information about himself, he told them that he was a Hebrew, and when he told them about his God, the men knew he was fleeing from the Lord.

It’s interesting that they give Jonah an option when they asked him in verse 11, “What shall we do to you that the sea may become calm for us?”  Jonah replied in verse 12, “pick me up and throw me into the sea.”  But the crew was unwilling to do it, and kept on rowing, and finally prayed to Jonah’s God and asked for forgiveness for what they were going to do.  Then in verse 15 they “picked up Jonah and cast him into the sea, and the sea stopped raging” just like Jonah said it would.  This caused the sailors to show reverence to Jonah’s God, and they offered a sacrifice to Him in verse 17 and made vows to God.  Jonah’s courage and the fulfillment of his words caused them to believe in his God.

II.  JONAH’S DELIVERANCE (1:17 – 2:10)

But this isn’t the end of the story.  Jonah did not drown.  Verse 17 says, “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah.  ILLUSTRATION:  Some people say there isn’t a creature in the sea that is capable of performing such a feat.  But scientists know better.  For instance, in 1912 Captain Charles Thompson harpooned a huge mammal off the coast of Florida which, when it was brought to land, was found to contain another 1500-pound fish that it had swallowed whole!  Those who examined Thompson’s catch said it could have swallowed 20 average-size men!  A Baptist minister who came on the scene stood in the creature’s mouth, holding his hands above his head, and still found that he was too short to reach the top of the fish’s mouth!  And we must not forget that the creature referred to in Jonah 1:17 was especially “prepared” for its unique assignment by the Lord Himself.

Jonah was in the stomach of that fish three days and three nights.  God not only spared Jonah’s life, He gave Him some time to think about what he had done.  I’m sure that being inside that fish was by no means an enjoyable experience.  ILLUSTRATION:  A wealthy lady had a very spoiled and strong-willed youngster.  One day, when a wasp flew in the window, the boy, seeing its brilliant colors, began crying for it.  At last the mother called to the servant who was taking care of the child, “What is that boy crying for?  Will you please let him have it?”  A few minutes later she was startled by a loud scream.  “What’s’ the matter?” asked the mother.  “He got what he wanted” was the servant’s reply.  Sometimes in God’s great wisdom He allows us to feel the sting and misery of our own selfish, disobedient ways, that we might learn through our pain and humiliation that the Lord knows what is best.

We find in chapter 2 that Jonah prays to God from the stomach of the fish.  If you were in the belly of a fish for three days and three nights, what kind of a prayer would you pray?  I know what I would say:  “Help, Lord; please get me out of here!”  But in chapter 2 Jonah prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing his life.  And at the end of his prayer Jonah says what God wants to hear.  In chapter 2, verse 9, Jonah says:  “That which I have vowed I will pay.”  After that promise by Jonah, verse 10 says, “Then the Lord  commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.”  And what are God’s first words to Jonah?  Does He say, “Jonah, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you smell like a fish.  Why don’t you go home and get some rest!”  No.  God’s first words to Jonah in Chapter 3 are:  “Go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.”  God is going to have His way in Jonah’s life, and He brings Jonah back to His original command to Him.

So far we’ve learned that disobedience to God has its consequences.  We’ve learned that the book of Jonah is factual and should be treated that way.  We’ve seen some amazing things that God has done, and it’s going to get even more amazing in the rest of this book.  I hope to have chapters 3 and 4 finished next week and posted for you to read.  Don’t miss the exciting conclusion, and don’t forget that God is always watching you and wants you to enjoy His presence.

REJOICING IN TROUBLES – James 1:1-4

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INTRODUCTION:

Did you know that in the early days of baseball, the batter signaled the pitcher where to throw the ball?  That’s right, he actually told him where he wanted it! He held out his bat  and showed him.  As the sport of baseball progressed, however, the batter had more and more obstacles to overcome – for example, the curve ball!  As pitching the ball became more complicated, hitting the ball became more difficult.  This illustration points us to a modern-day problem. Many people believe that they can determine what they want life to give them. But the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who expects his or her Christian life to be easy is in for a shock!

I.  THE GREETING (verse 1)

James addresses his letter to the Jews who are living outside the Promised Land because of the persecution of Christians.  He was writing to Christian Jews.  The word “scattered” in verse l is the Greek word “diaspora”, and it carries the idea of “scattering seed”.  When the Jewish believers were scattered at the beginning of the persecution, it was really the sowing of seed in many places;  and much of that seed bore fruit as many gentiles heard the Gospel message and received the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.

II.  A JOYFUL ATTITUDE (verse 2)

James tells us in verse 2 to expect trials.  He does not say, “if you fall into various trials”, but “when you encounter various trials”.  We can’t always expect everything to go our way.  Some trials come simply because we are human. For example, sickness, accidents, disappointments, even tragedies are the lot of the human race.  Other trials come because we are Christians.  Satan fights against us and the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battles.  The trials of life are not all alike.  They are like the multicolored yarn that a weaver uses to make a beautiful oriental rug.  God arranges the colors and experiences of life. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory.  Have you ever looked at the underside of an oriental rug?  The patterns are unclear and there are loose ends of yarn dangling.  We are looking at the wrong side of life!  Only God sees the finished pattern!  Let’s not judge God or His work based on what we see today.  His work isn’t finished yet!

We are to “consider it all joy”, knowing that God is doing what is best for us. Just before the Second World War, two refugees from Germany had just arrived in the United States by ship.  Though they were  Christians by faith, they were Jewish by birth.  They arrived  here without friends, without money, and without the youth and the strength to start a new life.  One of them said to an American pastor, “We sometimes think we ought to thank God for Hitler.” “Why?”, the pastor asked in amazement.  And the answer came:  “Because he has taught us that we need nothing but God.  Hitler has taken from us everything else, and now we know that God is enough.”  In the Old Testament scriptures, Job demonstrated his confidence in God when he said in Job 23:10, “But He knoweth the way that I take;  when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”.

A lady named Ida Clark was overcome with grief as she approached the church on the Sunday morning after her mother had died.  Just outside the church a 7-year-old boy met her.  He stopped, planted his feet solidly on the path in front of her, and with tearful eyes looked up at her.  “I prayed for your mother”, he said, “but she died.”  For a moment the  sorrowing woman wanted to scoop him up in her arms and cry with him, but she could see he was seriously disturbed because he thought his prayers had not been answered.  So she quickly and quietly lifted her heart to God in a silent prayer.  “O Lord, give me the right answer!”  Then she said to the boy very solemnly, “You wanted God to do His best for my mother, didn’t you?”  He nodded slowly.  “Son, He answered your prayer.  His best for her was to take her home to live with Him.”  The lad’s eyes lighted up as he replied, “That’s right, He did.”  Then off he ran to meet his friends, content that God had taken her to heaven.

Do the events in your life go against everything you think is good?  Is it hard to understand why circumstances haven’t fallen into place like you prayed they would?  Don’t be dismayed.  Trust God and ask Him to help you learn the difficult but rewarding lesson of being satisfied with His best.  There is a poem that goes like this:

He knows why we must suffer;
He knows why we must grieve;
He knows why days are lonely;
He says only “Believe!
Believe that I your Father
Send each and every test;
Dear child, there is a reason,
For I know what is best.”

III.  AN UNDERSTANDING MIND (verse 3)

What is it that Christians know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?  They know that God always tests us to bring out the best in us. Peter says in I Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.

A gold prospector brings his ore sample into the inspector’s office to be tested. The sample itself may not be worth more than a few dollars, but the approval, the official statement about the ore, may be worth millions!  It assures the prospector that he has a gold mine.  God’s approval of our faith is also precious because it assures us that our faith is genuine.

Verse 3 tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance or patience. God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The person who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. We live in an “instant society” today.  We have instant cash, instant food and drink.  We have the ten-minute oil change, one-hour photo processing, and same-day dry cleaning.  You would think that waiting must be one of life’s most trying experiences.  We’ve created for ourselves instant lifestyles.  If things don’t happen right now, we tend to explode inside ourselves, and often we explode on the outside also.  As Christians we tend to direct our impatience toward God, especially when we are undergoing a trial.  If God can create something out of nothing in an instant, why doesn’t He act?  Yet He seems to take His time. Look how long He delayed before sending Jesus into the world.  Yet in Galatians 4:4 it says, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son.”  And there is a “right time” for God to bring us to maturity and a strong faith.

When the believer in Jesus Christ learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him or her.  Immature people are always impatient;  mature people are patient and persistent.  A nurse in a servicemen’s hospital complained to the chaplain that she had been rudely treated by some of the patients.  He answered, “Thank God for that!”  “What do you mean”, she asked in astonishment.  “Well”, he explained, “if you are holding a glass and someone knocks against you, you can only spill out what is inside!”  When people misjudge and persecute us, we soon reveal what is in our hearts.  If we are Christ-filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will manifest the gentleness and patience of our Savior.  In fact, God often allows us to be pushed around and mistreated so that unsaved men and women around us might be amazed by God’s grace as we overflow with love and patience.  People who have studied the life of John Bunyan, the author of the book, “Pilgrim’s Progress”, tell us that he was such a devoted Christian that he actually asked the Lord to send severe trials into his life so that he might have new occasions to show his love for Jesus.

The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials.  Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully.  We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know that the end result will bring glory to God.  Just like the athlete disciplines himself, and goes through the agony of training, in order to win.

IV.  THE RESULT (verse 4)

The result, in verse 4, is “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  In this age of “instant lifestyles”, we need to continually remind ourselves that God has a right time for everything.  Dr. Niles tells about a service being held in a cathedral in Norway.  Worshipers had noticed that the ceiling was low in proportion to the rest of the building.  During the sermon, Bishop Bergraav told the congregation that the ceiling which they see was not the true ceiling.  It was a working floor built for the artists who were painting the life of our Lord on the true ceiling.  Some day the working floor would be taken down, and they would see what the artists had been doing.

As we look up and try to see what God is doing in the world, we are tempted to feel disappointed.  We are looking for soaring arches and a high ceiling that reminds us of infinity and of heaven.  But one day our working floor will be taken away, and then we will see what the Great Artist has been doing in our lives.

How are you handling your difficulties?  Self-pity, murmuring, and rebellion will hinder your growth; but praise, submission to God and a deep faith in God’s loving purpose will produce in you a growing likeness to Jesus Christ.  God is never in a hurry.  Are we?

SURVEY OF THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

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INTRODUCTION:

If we were asked the question, “Which book of the New Testament was written first”, I imagine that many of us might guess that it was one of the gospels since they talk about the birth, life, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I was personally surprised when I learned that the first book of the New Testament was the epistle of James, in all probability.  It was written possibly as early as 45 A.D., and as late as 50 A.D.  That’s approximately fifteen to twenty years after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is important to realize that the arrangement of the books in the New Testament is a topical arrangement rather than a chronological one.  If the books were arranged chronologically by the dates that they were written, James would probably appear first.  It’s interesting that, in the book of James, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ only appears twice.  His cross is never mentioned, nor is His resurrection.  The Holy Spirit is not mentioned either.  James is not a doctrinal book but a practical book, encouraging us to live our Christian faith.

I.  THE AUTHOR

Who was the author of the book of James?  Obviously it was James, but which James?  There are five men in the New Testament who are called by that name:  James, the father of the apostle Judas;  James, the son of Zebedee;  James, the son of Cleophas;  James the Less;  and James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ and the son of Mary and Joseph.  It is generally agreed that James, the brother of the Lord Jesus, was the author of the book.

The Scriptures tell us that during the time Jesus was growing up to adulthood, and even during His earthly ministry, His brothers did not believe that He was the Messiah.  In fact, Jesus experienced opposition from them at times.  And yet we find that James was a leader in the church in Jerusalem after the Lord’s ascension into heaven.  We are left to conclude that it was after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that James came to the realization that Jesus was the true Messiah.  After Jesus Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to various groups.  I Corinthians 15:7 states, “after that, He appeared to James;  then to all the apostles.”  It was probably after Jesus appearance to James after His resurrection that James placed his faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord.

Since James was not a believer in Jesus as the Christ during His earthly ministry, James was not one of the twelve apostles.  But after he became a Christian, James became one of the leaders in the church at Jerusalem.  He is mentioned as one of the speakers at the council in Jerusalem in Acts 15, and his suggestion was accepted by the whole assembly.

III.  THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

The epistle of James has been called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because James goes from one topic to another.  The epistle is also very practical, and very convicting.  In the 108 verses of this short letter, there are 54 commands.  That means that half the verses are commands.  Someone has described James’ style as “a string of pearls”.  In a string of pearls there is a basic relationship of one pearl to the other, and yet each pearl is unique and different.

While James was still an unbeliever, he must have paid attention to what Jesus taught because his letter is very much like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  We’ll see this comparison more clearly as we study the book of James in detail over the next several months.

The book of James has been misunderstood and condemned by many because of its emphasis on good works.  Martin Luther called the epistle of James an “epistle of straw” that ought to be burned.  He and several other leaders of the Protestant Reformation felt that the Epistle of James should be removed from the Bible because of its emphasis on good works.  But they misunderstood  its meaning.  The epistle of James is saying that “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  Or, to put it another way, “the person who has genuinely found the Way, walks in it”.

The problems that James discusses have a common cause:  spiritual immaturity.  The Christians mentioned in his epistle were not growing spiritually.  Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in our churches today.  The five chapters of James suggest five marks of a mature Christian.  In chapter one, a mature Christian is patient in trials and temptations.  In chapter two, a mature Christian practices the truth.  In chapter three, a mature Christian has power over his tongue.  And in chapter four, a mature Christian is prayerful in the midst of troubles.

Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly.  So, don’t give up, because mature Christians are happy, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage and build up others.  As we study this epistle of James together, with God’s enabling we will learn together and mature together, and our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will become even more evident to those around us.

THE SECRET OF CONTENTMENT – Philippians 4:10-23

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INTRODUCTION:

A deacon in a church once said to his pastor:  “We Christians are either thermometers or thermostats”.  A thermometer doesn’t change anything around it.  It just tells the temperature.  It’s always going up and down.  But  a thermostat regulates the room or building it is in.  When you turn up the thermostat, the heater comes on and the room gets warmer.

The apostle Paul was a thermostat.   Instead of having spiritual ups and downs as his situation changed, Paul went right on, doing his work and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippians 4:10-23, Paul gives the reasons for his contentment, and gives the glory to God.

I.  PAUL’S CONTENTMENT (verses 10-13)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul rejoices that the church at Philippi had become concerned about his needs.  He had been praying for them.  Now Paul rejoices at the way God had answered his prayers and provided an opportunity for them to be of service to him while he was in prison at Rome.  Then Paul says in verse 11, “For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “learned” means “learned by experience”  Paul had to go through many difficult experiences in life in order to learn how to be content.  When Paul wrote these words, he was deprived of almost everything – except contentment.

I may have shared this illustration with you before , but it’s so appropriate for this verse.  Leaning on his fence one day, a devout Quaker, who believed in simplicity of life, was watching a new neighbor move in next door.  After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, and plush furnishings had been carried into the house, the Quaker called over to his new neighbor and said, “If you are lacking anything, neighbor, let  me know, and I’ll show you how to live  without it.”  That Quaker and the apostle Paul had at least one thing in common – they had learned the secret of contentment.  We may not always be able to choose our circumstances in life, but we can choose our attitude toward them.

The opposite of contentment is dissatisfaction or greed.  I’m sure we’ve all met greedy people, but people aren’t the only ones who are greedy.  An animal that is almost impossible to capture is the ring-tailed monkey of Africa.  But the Zulu people have a method that’s both simple and effective.  It’s based on this little creature’s love for a particular melon that grows on a vine.  The seeds are its favorite food.  Knowing this, the Zulus cut a small hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to put his hand inside to get the delicious morsels.  The little fellow reaches through the hole and grabs as many seeds as he can.  But pulling his clenched fist out of the melon is impossible because now it is larger than the hole.  He will pull and tug and scream and struggle to get free, but it’s no use.  As long as he holds on to his prized seeds, he is trapped by the melon – and the Zulus have captured one more ring-tailed monkey.

All too often we also become the victims of our own selfishness and greed.  Lured by the  attractiveness of material things, we strive to get more and more.  Then one day we realize  that what we have been living for is the cause of our frustration and unhappiness.  Our hand is in the “hole” and we can’t seem to get it out because we won’t let go!

Happy is the person, whether wealthy or poor, whose greatest satisfaction is in the Lord Jesus Christ!  That person can say with the apostle Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

Paul’s motto is found in verse 13:  “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  A father found his little boy one day trying to lift a heavy stone.  The youngster pushed, pulled, and struggled to get the boulder to move.  Then, as he was just about to give up, his dad said, “Son, are you using all your strength?”  “Sure am”, he answered.  “No, you aren’t”, the father responded.  “I’ve been standing here all the time and you haven’t asked me for help!”  How often have we tried to do things without relying on God’s strength?  We use up all our energies, and then, because the task seems impossible, we’re tempted to throw up our hands and give up.  Remember, we are not using all our strength unless we are drawing upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in us.

II.  PAUL’S GRATITUDE (verses 14-18)

In verses 10-13, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Philippi for their many gifts, especially for their most recent gift.  In verse 15, Paul says “No church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”  They showed their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for the apostle Paul, by giving sacrificially to Paul.  Let me share with you another example of sacrificial giving.  In about 1490, two friends, Albrecht Durer and Franz Knigstein were struggling to become artists.  They were very poor and a lot of training was involved.  So they decided that one would work and support both while the other pursued art classes.  They cast lots and Durer won.  Before leaving, he assured Franz that he would return and help him so that he could develop his talent.  He did come back to keep his promise, but to his surprise, he discovered the enormous price his friend paid.  Hard labor had caused his slender, sensitive fingers to become stiff and twisted.  They would never be able to perform the delicate brush strokes necessary in fine painting.  On one occasion Durer found Franz kneeling, his gnarled hands folded as he prayed for his companion.  Quickly the great artist sketched that scene, and from it he produced his masterpiece, “The Praying Hands”.  The world is richer because of Albrecht Durer, but much credit must also go to his faithful friend.

In verse 18, the apostle Paul thanks the Philippian church for their most recent gift.  He calls it “a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”  Thank you notes give us the opportunity to make permanent our feelings of gratitude for our friends or loved ones.  Paul sent a thank you note to the Christians at Philippi.  They were the only church that had supported him financially on his missionary journey, and Paul did more than just say thanks.  He told them specifically what good they had done by helping him.  Thank you notes work both ways.  They help the sender to express appreciation, and they help the receiver to know what he had done to assist.  Does someone you know deserve a note of thanks?

III.  PRAISE TO GOD (verses 19-20)

In verses 19 and 20, Paul gives praise and glory to God, and says, “You met my need, and God is going to meet your every need.”  A needy widow in Chicago lived by the motto:  “The Lord will provide.”  Even when severely tested, Mrs. Hokanson never lost her smile and her deep faith.  Casting all her cares on God, she found that He always took the burden and supplied the needs.

Mrs. Hokanson was the sole support for her mentally retarded son.  Eventually, chronic arthritis confined her to bed.  When a church  youth group went over to Mrs. Hokanson’s house to cheer her up,, they were amazed to discover that she was not depressed.  When she was asked, “What will you and Arthur do?” She gave her usual quiet, confident response, “The Lord will provide.”  When Mrs. Hokanson died, many people wondered what would happen to her son.  But when friends and neighbors went home with Arthur after the funeral, he proudly showed them his collection of stamps.  Instead of tearing the stamps off the envelopes, he had taken and kept over a hundred letters intended for his mother and left them unopened.  Many contained substantial gifts – enough to care for the boy for the rest of his life.

When we cast all our cares on the Lord, we’ll be amazed at the wondrous way He provides! Our needs can never exhaust God’s supply.

God’s promise to provide for our needs covers the little things as well as the big ones.  The same God who helped Elisha retrieve the borrowed axe head in II Kings 6, and who supplied flour and oil for a faithful widow in I Kings 17, will meet all our needs as well, not only the physical needs, but also the emotional, social, and spiritual needs.  We worship a God who is greater than any of our problems.

Have you learned the secret of contentment in your life?  If you are still searching and want answers, please go to my ABOUT PAGE, especially to the section entitled QUESTION.  If you have more questions or want to know more about a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, please leave a comment and I’ll respond to you.  Thank you for your attention, and may God give you the joy and contentment you desire as you respond to Him.

DEALING WITH WORRY – Philippians 4:1-7

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If anybody had an excuse for worrying, it was the apostle Paul. He had friends in Philippi who were disagreeing with each other, and he couldn’t be there to help them. There were also problems at the church in Rome. Paul also faced the possibility of his own death. Paul had many reasons to worry, but he did not! Instead, he takes time in his letter to explain the ways to have victory over worry. What is worry? The Greek word translated “anxious” or “careful” in verse 6 means “to be pulled in different directions”. Our hopes pull us in one direction; our fears pull us in the opposite direction; and we are being pulled apart! Worry can give us headaches, neck pain, ulcers, even back pain. It can affect our thinking about circumstances, people, and things. It is the greatest thief of joy. Telling others to quit worrying doesn’t work, does it? In the passage of Scripture we’re studying today, Philippians 4:1-7, the apostle Paul gives us part of the solution to worry.

I. AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE AND CONCERN (verse 1)

First of all, in verse l Paul lets the members of the church at Philippi know how special they are to him, and how concerned he is about their spiritual growth and victory in their daily lives.

II. THE IMPORTANCE OF HARMONY (verses 2-3)

Then in verse 2 Paul challenges two specific women to live in harmony. Euodia and Syntyche were not on speaking terms. They were both believers and members of the Philippian church, but they had a difference of opinion and the quarrel between them had become so serious that it reached the ears of Paul in his prison quarters in Rome. It grieved Paul greatly, and he pleads with them to resolve their differences and get along as Christians. If you have something against another Christian, you cannot solve it by not speaking to him or her. The very opposite is true. You should go to that other person and seek to get back into fellowship. If you refuse to speak, you injure yourself more than anyone else. This reminds me of a story of a certain farmer who lived on one side of a mountain, and he went to see his neighbor who lived on the other side of the mountain. Leaning on a rail fence, he watched his friend plowing with a mule. Finally he said, “I don’t want to butt in, but you could save yourself a lot of work by saying “gee” and “haw” instead of jerking on those lines to guide your mule.” The old timer mopped his brow with his red handkerchief and replied, “Yep, I know that; but this here mule kicked me six years ago and I ain’t spoken to him since!” This may sound foolish but the kick in the pants by a mule is no more foolish than many of our “spats” over little things. If you are not speaking to another brother or sister in Christ, what are you gaining by continuing to feud? Start with a smile, and follow it up with a gentle, kind remark, and then, forgetting your hurt feelings, be friends again!

In verse 3 Paul must be speaking to Epaphroditus, the man who brought Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. Paul asks him as well as Clement and the other church leaders to help these women resolve their differences. Instead of worrying, Paul went to work and did something about it, delegating the responsibility for meeting this need to others he trusted and respected.

III. THE IMPORTANCE OF REJOICING (verses 4 and 5)

Verses 4 and 5 focus on the importance of rejoicing. The apostle Paul says in verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Always? But if you only knew what I am facing!” Yes, but what about the apostle Paul? He had been beaten repeatedly, stoned once, shipwrecked three times, and was often falsely accused by his enemies. But he didn’t complain or give up. He knew the secret of joy, and without boasting he could point to himself as an example for believers to follow.

We may not always feel like rejoicing, but we can and we must choose to rejoice. Even though circumstances may change, we have an unchanging God, and in Him we can always find cause for rejoicing. In verse 5 Paul says that we are to have a “forbearing spirit”. This means being satisfied with less than we feel we deserve in this life. Our joy is based on what God has for us in heaven, not on what we can get out of this life.

IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER (verses 6 and 7 )

In verse 6 Paul is saying, “Don’t worry about anything but pray about everything”. The word “prayer” is a general word for making requests known to the Lord. It has the idea of adoration, devotion, and worship. Think about the goodness and majesty of God! We need time to remind ourselves in prayer that God is big enough to solve our problems. Too often we rush into God’s presence and hastily tell Him our needs, when we ought to approach His throne calmly and with deepest reverence and adoration.

The second form of prayer mentioned in verse 6 is supplication – sharing with God our needs and our problems, and confessing our sins to Him. Nothing is too small to bring before the Father’s throne. What a difference it would make in our day if we talked to God about every problem and concern. As the hymn writer said:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

The last form of prayer mentioned here is thanksgiving. It’s not easy to have a thankful heart in every circumstance in life, is it? Yet the Scriptures say in I Thessalonians 5:18 and in other passages that we should give thanks in everything. There was a godly old preacher whose pastoral prayer was a source of great inspiration to the members of his congregation. Sunday after Sunday he would begin his prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God. Downhearted worshipers were often lifted by his positive spirit. One Lord’s Day, however, it seemed as if there was nothing that anyone could be happy about. The weather was cold and damp, only a few church members came to the service, and gloom was everywhere. The few who did show up that morning wondered what can the pastor be grateful for on a day like this? At the beginning of the service the pastor stood up and folded his hands in his usual manner. Then he began, “Thank you, Father, that every Lord’s Day morning is not like this one!”

Even if we can’t be grateful for what we receive, be grateful for what we escape. Yes, in everything God wants to hear us say, “Thank you, Father!”

The result is that the “peace of God” guards our hearts and our minds. This peace does not mean that the trials of life are gone, but it does mean that we have a confidence within us, regardless of circumstances, people, and things.

Daniel gives us a wonderful illustration of peace through prayer. When the king announced that none of his subjects was to pray to anyone except the king, Daniel “went to his room, opened his windows, and prayed as before”. You will find this story in Daniel 6:1-10. Note how Daniel prayed. He “prayed, and gave thanks” before his God in verse 10, and he made supplication in verse 11. Prayer – Supplication – thanksgiving. And the result was perfect peace in the midst of his difficulty. Daniel was able to spend the night with the lions in perfect peace, while the king in his palace could not sleep! We find this in verse 18.

Those who place themselves in the care of God experience the peace of God. Instead of being anxious about everything, you could be anxious about nothing. Instead of praying about little or nothing, you could be praying about everything. And, through prayer, your heavy load of worry would become God’s, and His gift of peace would become yours. You won’t find a better bargain than that in your Christian life!

If your life is filled with worry, and you have no peace with God and no evidence of lasting joy in your life, apply these principles of prayer to your life. Declare to God in prayer that He is a holy and righteous God who sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for your sin. Acknowledge your own sinfulness; confess your sins to Him and ask for His forgiveness. Invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and be your Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-13, 27-30). Thank Him for His presence and His power in your life. Spend time daily in the Bible and in prayer. Get involved in a Bible-teaching church, receiving encouragement from other Christians and serving your loving Lord with all your heart. And don’t forget to tell others about what Jesus Christ has done for you.