J. Gordon Duncan

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Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 4:6-10

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

James 4: 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace.

·    God gives more grace because we keep sinning, how is this an encouragement?
·    How can you describe God because He gives so much grace?

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

·    Why does God oppose the proud and give grace to the humble?
·    Why is it so hard to seek humility?

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

·    How do submitting to God and drawing near to God relate to resisting the devil and the devil fleeing from you?
·    How are the cleansings of hands, and the purifying of hearts acts of repentance?
·    What do those things mean?

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

·    Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?
·    Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

·    Theologians call this the “upside down nature of the Kingdom” – how is God’s plan of exaltation different than ours?
·    Why is humility hard for us to achieve?
·    What do want instead of humility?

Please forgive the typos.

Have you ever thought how incredibly insane this command from Philippians 2 is?

Philippians 2: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

The Bible commands each and every one of us to never have selfish ambition meaning never do anything, work, workout, make money, raise kids, never do those things for selfish reasons.  Instead, do everything in humility.  How does the Bible define humility?  Verse 3 tells us.  Look at every person in the world, every coworker, neighbor, family member, whatever, look at them and truly think and believe, “That person is more significant than I am.”  Insane.  Can’t be done.  Humility also means according to verse 4 that I don’t just look after my own interests but instead I look after your interests as well.  The Bible doesn’t give us the right to make decisions just for ourselves.

And the reason we are supposed to that is because that is exactly how Jesus was.  Philippians tells us this:  Though He (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

Jesus said, “I’m not going to hold onto to being God.  I’m going to be humble, become a servant by becoming a human and I’m going to die.  Jesus considered others more significant than He considered Himself which He proved by dying for us while still hated Him.  So God commands us to be humble just like Jesus was humble.  God loves humility because humility is like Christ and glorifies God.  But we and everyone else hate humility because we don’t want to consider others more significant than ourselves.

I would love regale you guys with some cool or fun story about sometime in my life when I was really humble, but there are two problems with that.  First, there is no way to tell you a story about my being humble without me being prideful.  I would negate all humility by telling you.  I could tell of other people’s humility but not my own.  Here is the second problem with me telling you a story about me being humble.  I don’t have any of those stories.  I don’t think many of us do.

I’ve seen pride.  I’ve seen false humility, you know where we pretend to be humble, but really aren’t, but honest examples of imitating the humble nature of Christ are rare.  What we are going to see this week in the book of James is that he is going to not only command us to be humble, he is going to show us why humility is a better way.  So with that in mind, let’s try to tackle this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

As a quick reminder, let’s refresh our minds to what James has been talking about these past few weeks.  In the last two weeks, we have seen James tell us these things.  He has said, “Listen, Godly wisdom that comes from God and from the scriptures is pure.  And if the facts that you know are going to be considered Godly wisdom, then you will become more peaceable, more reasonable, and more merciful.  If you don’t see those qualities growing in your life, you are not growing in Godly wisdom.  Then last week we heard James tell us that our passions cause us to run after every single thing but God.  We think every single in this world but God will satisfy us.  He then commanded us to find that hope and comfort and joy in God alone.  Thankfully, James reminded us that when we sin, God yearns for us and gives us more and more grace.  That is where we start this week in verse 6.  In light of all of our sin, we read these verses.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

This challenging passage of scripture begins with the rich promise that God gives us more and more grace when we sin.  And we are going to need more and more grace because of the second half of verse 6.  It tells us  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Wow, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  You could take this passage this way.  Those that are forgiven, called the children of God, the church, those called Christians, are such because they are humble and God has given them grace.  Everyone else, God opposes and judges.

Now, this is squirmy language, isn’t it?  I mean which one is it?  Does God give you grace because you are humble or are you humble because you received God’s grace?  The answer to some extent is “yes”

You see, the bible teaches us that every person is prideful apart from God but God gives us grace to make us humble and cry out to Him.  Listen to Gospel from the OT for a minute

Proverbs 16: Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.  6 By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.

These tiny verses from Proverbs teach us so much.  Arrogance is an abomination to the Lord which means that our pride and our arrogance is just that – a vile, shameful act against God.  Our pride says, “I do not need you God.  I’m smart, talented, and strong.  At best, I’ll talk you when I really need something, but otherwise I’m good.”  And this verse in Proverbs promises us that God punishes arrogance and pride.  God’s purity and righteousness necessitates that He will punish any that exalt themselves against Him.  However, God displays a consistent, steadfast love and faithfulness and those actions on God’s behalf through Jesus atone for our sin, and through that we grow in a healthy fear of God.  That humbles us and turn away from our pride and arrogance.

So God humbles and we display humility and God lifts us up – otherwise He opposes us.  Now hearing this, logically you would think that all of us would run around seeking humility and being humbled because what could be better than having God lift us up?  But I’m afraid our pride and arrogance is too strong.  None of us want to be humbled – that’s why humility is a gift from God.  He either gifts it to us or He orders our circumstances so that we grow into it.  Either way, humility is God wrought but it is His gift to us so that ultimately we can be lifted up  and not cast down.  Let’s try something news.  Let’s start making very specific applications each week along the way.  We’ll call them missions.

So today’s Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.

Notice, that is not the same as asking God for your tough situation to go away.  Just ask God to lift you up.  So, okay having said all of those things, James wants to show how we walk in humility and teach us one its practical benefits.  Look at verse 7.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Now these passages go hand in hand:  true humility is submitting to God is resisting the Devil and causes the devil to flee from you.  What’s the connection?  Let me explain it this way.  When you are humble, you are submitting to God and telling Him, “You alone are wise.  Whatever you have planned for me is best, and apart from you, I am a sinner only deserving your grace.”  That posture says, “Sickness or health, poverty or riches, busy or slow, whatever you call me to and command to is not only best, God, but it is what I want.”  Now, I am going to make an audacious statement here and I think it true.”  Submitting to God by saying whatever you call me to do and whatever you command me to do is not some radical form of Christianity.  It is Christianity and anything less is a cheap knockoff form of religion that makes a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Because when we submit ourselves to God in such away, that is in and of itself resisting the Devil.  Submitting to God’s will and God’s command is resisting the devil because you are aligning yourself with God’s character and what God calls good and best.  Anything less is agreeing with Satan.

Hey Gang, I get struggling with difficult circumstances like finances, health, and craziness.  I get it and my life is full of all of that.  So we can humanly struggle with those things because we are weak and flesh.  But as we struggle with difficult circumstances, the posture of faith as a child of God says, “No matter how hard this is, and no matter how hard it is to obey your God and to attempt to be humble, that is what I really want because only you are good and wise.”  That is humility and that is submitting to God and quite frankly that is Christianity.

So, why in the world is submitting to God the same is resisting the devil and why does he flee when you do that?  Simple answer:  the devil flees you when you submit to God because he knows you belong to God, and he can’t mess with you.  You submit to God’s will and God’s commands, and the devil says, “Oh, that one belongs to God, and God won’t let me mess with Him.”

You know these days, the theology surrounding who the devil is is a mess and more shaped by movies like Paranormal Activity and the Exorcist than it is the scriptures.  But I like the ways guys like Luther and the later on the Puritans spoke about Satan.  Luther said “The Devil is God’s Devil” meaning that Satan only is allowed to do and go as far as God allows him to do and go.  God the Father is not some epic battle with Satan.  God is the creator of all, including Satan and the devil only can do and go as far as God allows Him to.

Remember the book of Job?  God picked that fight with Satan, not the other way around.  God said, “Hey Satan, have you considered my servant Job?”  Satan said, “Aaaa, he only loves you because you bless him.  And God said, “Fine, do what you want to do to him, just don’t kill him.”  In the end, Job lost his wife, kids,  and all his money, but ultimately gave God greater glory because He greater experienced the creator of the universe.

Satan only did what God allowed him to do.  As one Puritan writer said, “Satan is God’s lap dog.”  He cannot do a single thing without God allowing it.

So, when you submit to God, when you say, “God in humility whatever you want for me is best,” Satan says, “Oh, that’s one of God’s kids, and I can’t mess with them.”  Jesus purchased them by His blood and took them away from me by His resurrection.

Mission #2 – You submit to God and Satan will run away.

So what we see in verse 8 is a more intimate picture of this humility and submission.  Listen to the promises attached to verse 8.

8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

If you desire intimacy with God, a sense of His closeness and His affection, submitting to Him brings you into the reality that is always there.  Here is what I mean.  I love a good praise song as much as all of you – I better if I’m going to lead all of you in singing them.  I love that rapturous moment where you find your soul lifted it up in praising God.  But we fool ourselves if we think that is the height of experiencing God’s presence.  It is incredibly sweet and one of the aspects that God calls us to as a body of believers.

However, we don’t have to wait for another Sunday to come around to enjoy God’s intimacy.  We don’t have to wait for that one song that we really, really like.  We don’t have to wait from super spiritual moment in the midst of even this sermon.

If you want to enjoy the intimacy of God, draw near to Him by submitting to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.  It is not that God is not drawing Himself to you.  He constantly does Himself to you because He pledged His love to you in Jesus Christ.  We just happened to become aware of God’s drawing Himself to us when we submit to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to God in this way, you happily and willingly obey what James commands in the second half of verse 8.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

If you want to experience God drawing Himself to you, then cleanse your hands.  Cleansing your hands is biblical terminology for confessing your sin and repenting or walking away from your sin.  Listen, if you are a believer, this is clear.  The Holy Spirit residing in your heart is teaching daily areas in which you can confess your sin and repent.  Confess, ask for forgiveness and find your heart being purified to God.

Double-mindedness is that state of saying, “God is my God,” while you sin.  Sinning is declaring, “I am my God.”   So if you want to intimacy with God, here is

Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.

Then, James just gets weird at least to we human spirit triumphs over all Americans.  Listen to what he commands us to do in verse 9.

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?  Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?  Didn’t just tell you that you would experience an intimacy with God like no other if you submitted your will to God and confessed your sins?

Isn’t that supposed to make you happy or something?  Aren’t we looking for comfort from God here?  And the answer is yes, but remember the Kingdom of God is completely upside down compared to the Kingdom of this world.  To experience fully the comforting presence of God, we must align our hearts with His will and His commands.  Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Comfort comes in recovery from something.  We mourn and weep as we find our thoughts, speech, and actions in conflict with God’s will.  Why?  Because if you love God, you want to follow Him in all things and as His child, you take no greater joy than giving Him glory by reflecting His character.

So when you start yelling at your kid and abusing their little hearts or when you secretly lust after another or when you pursue your career more for your ease than serving God, there will come a time where God will call those sins to light.  If you love God, you weep, mourn, and be wretch, as Job repented in ashes, because as a Christian, you have said, “Your will be done.  Not mine.”  The past down is the path up.  As verse 10 says

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Exaltation comes by humiliation.  That may stink to some of you, and you would do well to wrestle with the desires of your heart right now.  Ask yourself, “Have I been asking God for forgiveness just so I skip hell all this time without realizing that what God calls me to do in that is to repent, walk away from my sin and find myself completely dependent upon Him?”  That is what we are called to, gang.  Nothing less.

Our Mission #4 is this:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

You and I are to walk before God and recognize that every good thing is from Him.  We should look at every possession, at every skill, and every day as a gift from Him.  And we should ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to be humble so that we might experience God’s exaltation.

How scared might we all be to pray, “God make me humble so that I might be exalted.”  It is scary to think about that.  We wonder, “Oh no, what might God take away from me?”  If you can answer what you are afraid God might take away, you are this close to seeing what it is that your trust or enjoy more than God.”

And then you might just say, “Hmm, I love God but I don’t those things taken away.”  And I can’t tell you if God is going to take it away or not, but I can tell you that the path to enjoying greater intimacy with God is in humility asking Him to change you so that you trust Him and His word more than anything else.

But the heart of anyone who is a Christian and who has ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins you take joy in God doing whatever it is that is necessary to move us towards intimacy and loving God more.  Let me tell you a story, and then we’ll walk through a summary of what I hope God has taught us in these few verses.  I used to know this guy in college, and to be honest, I didn’t really like him.  He was arrogant and presumptive, and he was this way probably because he was short like me.  But during my time at ECU, I knew he interacted with a few of my female friends from college in ways that you couldn’t exactly call appropriate.  He took advantage of a couple of girls and didn’t really care.  Oh he claimed to be a Christian, but there was a real break between saying he was one and acting like he was one – at least it seemed that way to me.

And I couldn’t stand this guy.  Whenever I thought about him, I just wanted to punch him in the face.  Well, he was older than I was, so he moved away from ECU a couple of years before me and I lost touch with him.  Well, when I graduated, my first job was a teacher in Rocky Mount.  I  moved there not knowing a single person, not one.

So guess who I got a phone call from about a week in?   Yeah, you guessed it, this dude.  He said, “Oh Gordon, great to find you.  I’m a part of this Bible study  in town with 8-109 other folks.  We would love for you to join us.”

My first reaction was, “Dude, there is no way that I would want to spend any time with you.”  But you know what?  I was lonely, and I thought, “Well, there are going to be 8-10 other folks there.”  So I agreed to go to his Bible study despite pretty much detesting that guy.  Well, I went, met an incredible group of folks and believe it or not, that is where I met my beautiful wife Amy.

I have to thank that dude for that, but that is not the point of my story.  About a year in, I was leading that Bible study and I discovered that this guy had interacted with one of the ladies there just like he had with my friends at ECU.  This time, I was ready to fight.  I was fully prepared to go punch this guy in the face.  Well, I told him, “Dude, we need to talk.”  And without me saying a thing, he said, “Gordon, you have every right to just punch me in the face right now.”

And he went on and detailed how he had been less than a gentleman to several of my friend of whom I was very close.  He cried in repentance, spoke about the need to ask them to forgiven him, and he asked me to forgive him.  Again, he ended by saying, “I would totally understand if you just wanted to punch me in the face right now.”  And I wanted to so badly, but how could I?  He demonstrated humility.  He confessed to everything that I was mad with him about.

He talked reconciling his relationship with those girls but even more importantly, reconciling his relationship with God.  Now I have no idea where that dude is now and what the state of his heart is, but in that moment, he demonstrated humility and diffused what was going to be an incredibly tense situation.  He avoided a butt kicking.  Remember I was taller.

He was humble, and the proper response from me was humility as well.  I didn’t have any right to take it out on him.  Humility on his part created humility on my part.

That is exactly what Jesus has done for us.  Remember that verse from Philippians 2 we looked at earlier?  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Jesus’ humility on your behalf earning your salvation is intended to lead you towards humility.  Those things help us to live out our Big Idea and those 4 Missions that I mentioned earlier.

Our Big Idea was this:  Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.  God loves humility because humility causes us to walk away from our self and our sin and lead us to trusting Him more.

As we do that, we can live out these 4 missions.

·    Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.
·    Mission #2:  You submit to God and Satan will run away.
·    Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.
·    Mission #4:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Pride and Humility – 1 Samuel 2:4-8

There is a reason that the Academy Awards are shown on primetime.  And there is a reason the Nobel Peace Prize is announced on the internet or on a blurb on the evening news.  Our society does not celebrate the meek, the weak, or even the peaceful.  Our society triumphs the strong, the victorious, and the glamorous.  Ironically, our society also triumphs the downtrodden, the miserable, and the chronic arrests of many a Hollywood starlet, but the peaceful, the quiet, and the humble do not merit much air time.  There isn’t a TMZ or Access Hollywood for the meek, but there is one for the gorgeous and the trashy.

Because God has been so gracious to us, we are to live humbly, working with all of our might, giving thanks to God.  But we are not to assume anything by our hard work:  not riches, not glory, and not comfort.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

No, we are merely to be servants obeying.  We should not be striving to be secure from needing God.  You see, it is never God’s intention to move you into a place where you are not dependent upon Him.  God always requires you to live by faith because the place of faith is one of humility.  A humble faith recognizes God’s power and glory and our lack thereof.

Yet our hearts cry for self-sufficiency.  Our hearts cry out to need no thing and no one.  Oh, perhaps we understand that we need Jesus for salvation.  But whether we need Jesus to go to work, love our spouses, raise our children, and pay our bills…hmm we don’t so well there.  But this is the place that God calls His children. James 2:6,10

6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble…10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

This week, we are going to continue the song of Hannah.  In it we are going to see God’s opposition of the proud and the pouring out of grace to the humble.  And in it, I think we will much more challenged than you think.  Perhaps even, we will find ourselves at a few crossroads.  So with that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question.

Big Picture Question: What does it mean that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble?

Remember, we are in the midst of listening to the song Hannah sang as she gave her son Samuel away into the ministry.  After years of wanting a child, God finally gave her one, and now she is giving her child away to God.  In singing this song, we are going to see our Big Picture Question answered.  Hannah is going to answer the question of God’s giving grace and opposing the proud by showing us 3 examples of God doing just that:  giving of grace and opposing the proud.  As we look at each one, we should see clearly God’s heart about pride and humility.  And any time we see God’s heart, we should examine our own.  Look at the first example.

Example One:  4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.

We looked at this one briefly last week.  God is not just against people who are strong or people who have perseverance and fortitude.  Plenty of people in the Bible are like that:  Paul endured multiple visits to the prison.  David fought Goliath.  John the Baptist stood up for God and was beheaded.  Deborah, the judge, led Israel‘s army into battle.

All were strong, but they didn’t find themselves under God’s judgment.  What gives?  Well, God doesn’t judge people for being strong.  He judges them for trusting their strength and not His.  God has equipped many people, including some of you, with immense talent, wisdom, and strength.   And some of you guys are incredibly persevering.  If you persevere and do life trusting God and not yourself, then you recognize your weakness, your feebleness and God builds you up.  But if you run your business, go to work, raise your kids, argue on the internet all from your own wisdom, not daily admitting your weakness and need for God, He will ultimately humble you.

Folks, this truth might very well get us.  This is the hardest truth to live out in our culture.

  • Our hearts cry out not to be weak but to be strong.
  • Our hearts cry out for self-sufficiency.
  • Our hearts cry out for independence and freedom.

But there is so much more going on in your day to day other than just your strength and wisdom.  Your work, your taking care of your kids, your going to work and school, they are areas in which you are to trust God’s strength and not your own.  You know how you do that?  Just like a kid:  you ask and you give thanks.  Are you continually asking and begging God for wisdom, strength, and guidance?   If not, you’re the proud and will be opposed.  Do you continually give God thanks for all that you have?  If not, you think all that is yours came by your own hand, and you will be opposed.  Look at God’s heart against those who trust themselves in this way:

Example Two:  5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.

You know when you read this, you probably ask yourself, “Well when is this going to happen?”  When is God to reverse the fortunes of the rich and the hungry?  We ask that because we probably all know people who have no reliance on God, claim absolutely no faith and more than likely appear to be on a path to continue that way for the rest of their lives.  These are folks who are also insanely wealthy and successful and absolutely do not acknowledge God in any of the things they do or have.  Maybe the people you are thinking of aren’t rich, but they just have more than you do and that makes you angry.

So does this verse mean that no matter what, those folks are going to lose all their money and wind up in the unemployment line?  Well first of all, God does do that at times.  God does mete out His punishment on some by taking away the wealth that they depend upon.  We see this in scripture.  God crippled Pharaoh’s work force by rescuing the children of Israel in the book of Exodus.  In Isaiah 39, God promises to take away the riches, the homes, and even the children of King Hezekiah.  And MC Hammer lost all the money he made in the 90’s.  But God promises to humble those who do not trust Him ultimately at the end of all things

James 5:1-5 – Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4 Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

Scary stuff.  Trust yourself, trust your own talents and wisdom, trust your wealth and your possessions, and expect to be opposed by God.  So, does that mean that it is impossible for rich people to serve God?   No of course not, it just makes the life of service to God actually harder than easier.  Matthew 19:23-24 is perhaps the most famous passage that discusses this:  23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

People of wealth in this world have the daunting task of not trusting their finances for their life and future.  Despite having every earthly advantage, a person of wealth has to count those things they have as no advantage at all and cling to God.   Now, there are of course several rich, Godly people in scripture.

  • King David was insanely wealthy and called a man after God’s own heart.
  • Zacchaeus in Luke 19 was a rich tax collector.  Of course, after he professed faith in Christ, he paid back all the people that he robbed.
  • Joseph of Arimathea was rich enough to donate his funeral tomb for Jesus’ body.
  • Joseph called Barnabas in Acts 4 owned a ton of land and sold a good bit of it to further the work of the early church.

So apparently, people can be rich and be believers, but once they see their life as one that is given completely over to the work of the Kingdom, any riches they have are only to advance God’s kingdom.  It is fair to ask also, does this passage teach that the poor will become rich once they know Jesus?  You know I bet a message like that would be pretty popular, and if you watch preachers on TV or look at many of the most popular ministers around our country, that is exactly what they are promising.  You could probably fill a basketball arena with people if that was your message.

To understand riches, even yours, and make no mistake, in this world, most of us are considered insanely wealthy, we need to understand how God defines Godly wealth.  The Bible is very clear that once you have in Christ, you have riches.  In fact, you will be the richest of all people with a portfolio that is not dependent upon the stock market or the nation’s economy.  But Matthew 6 tells us that our striving really should be the striving to do works and actions that please God – these are called treasures in heaven and these treasures cannot be taken away from you.

But who wants that?  Who wants treasures in heaven when there some pretty sweet indulgences here are on earth?  I mean, a remote controlled fireplace just seems like more fun than treasures in heaven.  3 tiered digital cable just seems like so much more fun that eternity worshiping God.  Those things are not inherently wrong.  The question is just what are you pursuing?  The third example of how God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble can be found in the end of verse 5.

Example Three:  The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.

Now, first of all, Hannah didn’t have seven children.  She ultimately had five, so she is not speaking of herself here.  Seven is a number often used in the bible to demonstrate completion.  Hannah is saying God is going to bless the humble barren women and punish the proud woman.  A couple of questions should pop up when we read this verse though.  Does God promise that every barren woman will have children like Hannah?    Is this verse saying that every Peninnah in the world is going to be brought low and humiliated?

What this verse is saying is that God gives satisfaction and contentment to those who are weak and feeble.   That’s what these 2 verses are really emphasizing.  There is an ultimate coming of the kingdom where God makes right all that is wrong.  Those who are weak and humble with faith will be lifted up.  Those who are strong and prideful will be brought down.

You see, what’s going on here with Hannah, Peninnah and Samuel is not just an ancient culture’s catfight between a Godly woman and a shrew where one woman gets what she wants in order to shame another woman.  No, what happens in Peninnah being silenced and Hannah being is blessed is a picture of God’s grace to the weak and God’s opposition to the proud.  “This is no piddly affair – this (story) is a manifestation of the way God rules and will bring his kingdom.  Hannah’s relief is a sample of the way God works and of the way He will work when He brings His kingdom in its fullness.   The saving help God gave Hannah is a foretaste, a scale-model demonstration of how God will do it when He does it in grand style…every time God lifts you out of the miry bog and sets your feet upon a rock is a sample of the coming of the kingdom of God, a down payment of the full deliverance, the macro-salvation, that will be yours at last.”  Dale Davis

So if God is going to pour out grace to the weak and oppose the proud, we should rightly ask, “How does He do it?”   Does God design these things to happen or insure that they will happen?  There really are two ways that you can think about it:  God is either the architect designing the lifting up of one and the bringing down of another or God is a janitor cleaning up the mess on the back end.  You see, when you walk through the various circumstances of your life:  having plenty of money or scrimping by, feeling great or feeling lousy, two cars that work or two that break down all the time, God is either ordaining these things to happen so that He might pour grace out on the humble and oppose the proud or these things happen and God comes along afterwards to make sure that people are either given grace or judgment.  Yours and every other person in this world’s circumstances are sort of like a building.  Either God built the building to pour out grace and judgment or God is the custodian who cleans up the messes to make sure that people get grace and judgment.

And though it is difficult for our finite minds to wrestle with, God is most definitely an architect.  He insures that the weak are given grace and the proud are opposed because He is the one who ordains and decrees the events in your life to make it happen.  Though these raises a great number of questions, listen to Hannah speak of how God does these things.

6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

This kind of language is shocking to see in print, isn’t it?  God kills and God brings to life.  God ultimately sends people to hell and He rescues some to Heaven.  Doesn’t this make God a murderer?  Isn’t God unfair to do this?  You know what?  God would be a murderer and God would be unfair to send some to hell and others to heaven if it were not for one fact.  It is His divine right to do as He will.

Romans 9:20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?  21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the weak, God brings some to life and others He leaves to death, He saves some to heaven and resigns others to hell.  He is not unfair in doing this because you, each and every human on the planet, and all of creation are God’s pottery.  He made you and creation, and therefore has the right to do as He sees fit and wise.  We struggle with these problems because we sometimes see God merely as a parent and this in an incomplete picture.  God’s interaction with us more than our picture of a parent over a child.  Parents are only parents because the process by which God put in place for those things to happen works.  Whatever authority a parent has is only given to them by God.  But God creates out of nothing and therefore claims the sovereign right to do has He will with His creation.  He designs and architects yours and every other person’s life bringing some to life and others to death.  Pouring out grace to some and pouring out judgment on others.

So, how in the world can a person live in light of such truths if God is like that?  Do we become fatalistic and frozen into inaction?   Of course not, God’s sovereignty will cause one of two reactions.  Either you will hear that truth and have the Holy Spirit move you towards humility and your will cry out for grace.  God will meet that cry with grace.  Or you will hear this truth and your heart will be hardened, you will continue to trust in self, and ultimately, you will be opposed by God.  Look at verse 7

7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  8  He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.

God is the architect.  Nothing happens in this world without His divine decree, and as Hebrews 1 tells us, God the Father through Jesus, upholds this entire world, sustaining it by the word of His power.  Right now, if your heart is proud, if you stand wanting to be self-sufficient apart from God, then expect God to oppose you.  If you think God is just here to bless your hard work like He is salt to a bland meal, expect to be opposed.  But if God is your architect, your strength, and your only hope in which to live in this world, expect God to lift you up and strengthen and encourage you.   God takes the needy from the ash heap and sits them with princes and gives them a seat of honor.  And if your heart is still struggling with this truth, you might think, “I’m still not convinced.  What Gives God the Right?”  Well, that question is answered in the end of verse 8.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.

God is the architect.  God is the creator.  He made the earth and all that is in it.  The imagery of the Lord’s pillars upholding the earth is vivid.  The imagery of pillars holding up the earth reinforces the truth that the only way in which the world is sustained and continues is that it is God who sustains it.  All of creation, including you, is completely dependant upon God’s sustaining power.  You will either submit your heart to this truth and cry out for grace, strength, and forgiveness, or your heart will dig in with pride and You.  Will.  Be.  Opposed.

One source of encouragement for you is found at the beginning of the James 2 passage that was used for our time of repentance.  Look at it again.  James 2:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  But God gives more grace.  God gives more grace.  God gives more grace.  Let’s begin to land this plane by asking this question:  Before God, are you the proud or the humble?

If you have a personal relationship with Christ and have by faith have asked Him to forgive you of your sins, that is the posture of humility.  You have ceased your war against God and your ceaseless worship of self.  If that is you, then you are humble and God’s grace and forgiveness are poured out on you.  But if you have never acknowledged Jesus as the perfect son of God who died for your sins, then you are the proud.  And God opposes you.  And if God opposes you, you will be frustrated in your life and ultimately punished for your sins in Hell.

In this moment, I invite you to examine your heart.  I invite you pray for the Holy Spirit to examine your heart praying, “Search me O God.  Try me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there be any hurtful way in me.  Lead me in the way everlasting.”  Psalm 139:23.  Ask the Holy Spirit to press into your life at this moment either confirming you know Jesus as your Savior or gifting you with faith in Him for the very first time.  If you hear this message and disregard it or hear this message and do not find Jesus as your forgiving Savior, you will be opposed by God presently and eternally as remaining faithless and without repentance insures that you are the proud.

But I pray for each and every heart here to cry out to God, “I am weak.  I offer you nothing, God.  Without you, I am completely sinful.  Thank you that Jesus died for my sins and rose again that I might live.  Please forgive me and transform me.  Lift me up and I am weak and helpless.”

Now having said that, I speak now to all that would claim Jesus as their Savior.   Positionally, you may very well be the weak and humble whom God has saved and poured His grace out on.  But in the day to day of your life, do you live out that truth?   Do you see God’s divine hand orchestrating your life so that you might be forever dependant upon Him and you embrace this forever dependence or do you just do what you want and then say catch phrases like “Everything happens for a reason” and think that is going to run and make sense of the mess that you make.

When we think God just makes good out of our messes, we reduce God to serving us.  Commands like, “All things work together for the good of those who are called by the Lord” become just a hope that God will serve us somehow in the midst of chaos.  The problem with that approach to life is that it leaves you wondering and waiting that God will do something good and ignoring or overlooking the good He is doing.  That position is incredibly proud and arrogant because it refuses to see what God is doing until things get better.  And because of that, there are many a Christian walking around today whose face looks like they have been sucking lemons because they are immensely unhappy.

But when you believe that God sovereignly ordains and works in all things, then the posture of the heart is one of humility.  You don’t have to wait for things to get good before you find joy.  The position of humility becomes one where God is pouring out grace and you can trust that when things are difficult God is actively working and making all things occur for His glory and you’re good.  There is no waiting.  There is joy in any circumstance.

Folks, I don’t want to discourage you from praying that God would alleviate your circumstances.  That is exactly what Hannah did.  She prayed and God blessed her.  She prayed humbly recognizing that she was not entitled to get what she wanted and that only God could help her.  And the blessing of Samuel didn’t leave Hannah entitled or proud.  It left her humbled as evidenced by this prayer that highlights that all of these things are within God’s power.

Folks, right now at SK, a lot of families and a lot of people are getting busted up.   We have depression, marital conflict, discontentment, disease, financial woes, and the list goes on and on.  My encouragement to you is this:  God pours out more grace.  Walk in humility before God.  Your circumstances are not an accident – on the contrary, God is purposefully placing these circumstances in your life.  Don’t wait for things to get better to be happy..  Ask God in humility and faith right now, that God would give you joy in the midst of what God has called you to.  Ask that God would pour out His grace and lift you up in that circumstance whether or not it ever changes.    Humility breeds contentment.  Pride breeds discontentment.

Let’s not be the people that think that health, wealth, and wisdom are the only blessings of God because He ordains both the sun and the rain.  Let’s pray that we could repent of our pride and entitlement and find ourselves enjoying God and all that He is doing whether or not our circumstances ever change.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

3 Truths About Yourself – Romans 12:3-8 Part One

The audio for this sermon can be found at http://www.sermoncloud.com/sovereign-king-church/

So often, when it comes to evaluating ourselves, our gifts, our talents, etc, we either think way too much or way too little of ourselves.  We are all either Donald Trump and the kings of self-promotion or we are Eeyore walking around thinking we are not much of a donkey.   People of each extreme are pretty difficult to work with.  The kings of self-promotion always have their best interest at heart, whine the loudest when their ideas aren’t the ones the group go with, and they rarely can offer a sincere apology.  The Eeyores are comfortable in their own worlds that are safe and secure, so they risk very little, always have an excuse for underperforming, and rarely have enthusiasm for anything other than that in which they are comfortable.  At a quick glance, the Donald Trumps and Eeyores of the world are not that much different.

I wish the church was immune from these extremes but sadly, she is not.  Thinking too much of yourself is a direct contradiction of commands like, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,” and “Consider others better than yourself.”   Thinking nothing of yourself spits in the face of your being created in the image of God and denies any power and work of Jesus Christ.  As a result, Kingdom work often is led without faith by people of competing interests.

It is no wonder so many people flee corporate worship every year.  One of the more prevailing trends of American Christianity in the past decade is the attitude that God is completely okay with believers in Jesus living their lives of faith separated from other believers.  The thought of being connected with a body of believers (whether that group meets in a building, a school, or home) seems almost repugnant to many Christians.

My two cents:  Whenever the Gospel takes a back seat to any other effort or personality of the church, people will flee.

No matter the reason, reducing Christianity to “Jesus and Me” minimizes the efforts of Christ in both building His church and making His bride beautiful.  The body of Christ is designed with wonderfully diverse people, gifts, roles, and functions.  Bringing them together requires extra measures of grace (never a bad thing) and requires believers to grow in forgiving and restoring (again, never a bad thing).

Denying the body of Christ access to your unique gifts and talents not only hinders the work of the Kingdom of God, it fails to recognize and glorify God for the grand plan that He has orchestrated.  I Corinthians 12:18,24  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Growing in living with one another and utilizing the gifts of God is the challenge before us.  With that wonderfully big vision of God’s work before us, let’s ask ourselves this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  What fuels and equips the gifts that God uses within the church?

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

As always, we need to remind ourselves of the context of the passage before us.  Last week, we looked at chapter 12:1-2 and in that we saw Paul issue two commands.  Believers in Christ are now to offer themselves physically as living sacrifices to God in a spiritual act of worship.  In giving Jesus Christ as a perfect sacrifice, God has enabled His children by His mercies to live sacrificially.  He has enabled you to die to sin sacrificially.  He has enabled you to serve others sacrificially.  The believer is to live out of these truths today by not conforming to this world.  Doing this causes you to look and act and believe and speak in such a way that your life stands in contrast to every person that you interact with that doesn’t yet know Jesus Christ.

So after speaking about being a living sacrifice in the context of the world, Paul talks about what being a living sacrifice looks like within the context of the church.  Just as we saw last week, it is the grace and mercy of God that fuel this sacrificial living no matter the context

He offers 3 steps to prepare our hearts to live sacrificially within the church.

  • Step One:  Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  • Step Two:  Think with sober judgment.
  • Step Three:  Live by the measure of faith that God has given you.

Step One:  Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.

A good question to ask is how do we know how highly we should think of ourselves?  I would say that question can’t really be answered apart from scripture for these reasons.  Sin always skews our view of ourselves.  Sin makes objectivity a rare gift, so we need a mirror to the human soul to help us and that mirror is the scriptures.  So scripturally, how highly should you think of yourself?

The first place we should look to the declaration that God has created us and designed us in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  What this means is that every human person is created with dignity and worthy of respect as they are to some extent stamped with an indelible impression of God.  Whether or not you like a person, agree with them politically, find them attractive or ugly, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because they, like you, are created in the image of God.  This is actually the highest any of us can think of ourselves.  God valued you to such an extent that He made you like Himself in some way.

The second place we should look in scripture is how sin affects the image of God that we were created with.

First of all if you are not a believer, scripture describes the effects of sin in this way.  I Corinthians 15:22 states that every human being dies physically and spiritually because of Adam.  Romans 5:17 says that because of Adam, sin reigns in the lives of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their savior.  Romans 8 states that those who are unforgiven and spiritually dead cannot please God with their life, actions, or thoughts.

But Romans 7 explains how sin now affects the believer in Christ.  You recognize that the words and laws of God are good.  You recognize you are fleshly and born as a slave to sin.  As a believer you want to obey.  As a believer you hate sin.  As a believer you still very often choose to sin despite wanting to obey.  You recognize that sin still dwells within you.  You thank God that He enables you through God to obey at all.  2 Corinthians 5:21 states that Jesus who had no sin, became sin on behalf of believers so that they could possess the very righteousness of God.

These are the options that each of you have before you right now.  Every single person is either dead in sin, facing the condemnation of God, and are not able to please God in any way.  Or a person can be forgiven by God by faith in Jesus Christ, they will be given a goodness apart from themselves which is Jesus’.  Despite these wonderful truths, there is a continual, ongoing struggle with sin and quite often, the believer still chooses to sin despite knowing the power of sin and devastation it brings.  The takeaway is that believers in Christ should always be humble in their assessment of themselves not thinking highly at all.

So with that in mind, we ask, “What is the second step toward preparing our hearts to live sacrificially within the church.

Step Two:  Think about yourself with sober judgment.

Knowing these truths of step one, each person should look at themselves with sober judgment.  Sober judgment is how a diverse church full of diverse gifts can work together.  What exactly does thinking about yourself with sober judgment mean btw?  Well, sober judgment doesn’t begin by looking to either ourselves or others but looking to Christ.  In looking at Christ, we see ultimate significance and value.

Do you want to have significance? Then embrace Christ as the one who is infinitely significant to you. Do you want to have value? Then embrace Christ as infinitely valuable. Do you want to want to have esteem? Then embrace Christ as worthy of infinite esteem.  Our faith in Christ is the measure of our significance and value and esteem, because faith means looking away from ourselves to Christ and embracing him as the all-satisfying embodiment of all that is significant and valuable and worthy of esteem. The measure of our new self in Christ—the renewed mind—is the degree to which we look away from ourselves to Christ as our truth and treasure.”  John Piper

Sober judgment doesn’t mean that we look to Jesus for OUR value and significance.  It means we look to Christ as valuable and significant.

“If Christ is more to you, you are more. If Christ is less to you, you are less. Your measure rises and falls with your measure of him. Your valuing him is the value that you have. Your esteeming him is the esteem that you have. Your treasuring him is the treasure that you are.”  John Piper

Step Three:  Live by the measure of faith that God has given you.

To truly walk in this humility and sobriety, a person has to walk by faith.  That faith is a gift from God and the amount of faith a person has comes from God.  Faith in God does not originate in and of itself within you.  Faith in God is alien to sinful humans.  Ephesians 2:8, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?

Faith is the gift given to each believer, but apparently some have greater faith in God than others.  In fact, a believer can evidence different amounts of faith at different times in their life.    Scripture presents faith as something that can be growing stronger.  2 Thessalonians 1:3: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”  Scriptures also present faith as something than can be weak.  Romans 14:1, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him.

I think this is an experience in which every Christian can relate.  There are times where you feel like you have great trust in God, His grace, and His plan, and then you live and make decisions based on that faith.  You find yourself living and acting not with great confidence in yourself but with great confidence in God.  And then there are those times when you doubt very much that God can and will do anything.  You cognitively say, “God can do anything,” but you don’t live like it.  You know if your faith in God dips, the only place that faith can go is faith in yourself.  Not trusting God is trusting in your own thoughts, skills, and abilities which is also called idolatry.

So how are humility and sobriety more clear in light of the faith that God assigns you.  God intends each and every one of you to recognize that humility is the posture of the Christian.  God intends for each and every one of you to find value, esteem, and honor only in Jesus Christ and not in yourself or anything conferred upon yourself.  Then God wants you to ask yourself the very sober and humbling question, “How much am I trusting God today?”  Am I trusting my wisdom more than I am trusting God’s  Do I say I believe God can do anything but function like I’m the one who has to do everything?

Asking those questions help you to understand the measure faith that you presently have.  Do you find yourself feeling like your faith is low and ebbing?  Do you wish you had greater faith?  If so, cry out like the Father of the boy with the unclean spirit, “I believe.  Help my unbelief!”  Then, you are ready to live out your living sacrifice among the church.  Look at that description in verses 4-5

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

A Dozen Do-Nots: Humility

i'm-humbleHumility is not something easily attained.  It is also something that no one can ever claim about themselves.  Saying that you are humble makes you proud.  So in an effort to guide us all towards greater humility, a quality long lost in our day and age, I offer a Dozen Do-Nots on being a humble person.

A Dozen Do-Nots:  Humility

  1. Do not take offense if your idea is passed over for someone else’s.
  2. Do not continually refer to your experiences.
  3. Do not think more of yourself than you do of others.
  4. Do not treat others in a way you would not want to be treated.
  5. Do not seek a position of prominence.
  6. Do not determine your identity by what others think of you.
  7. Do not dominate conversations with your stories or opinions.
  8. Do not place your desires before the desires of others.
  9. Do not take offense if people less talented than you succeed.
  10. Do not point out a fault joyously.
  11. Do not begrudge those in need of mercy.
  12. Do not return insult with insult.

A Dozen Do-Nots is part of an on-going series.  You will also find posts about the Dozen from Mike Askew at http://bit.ly/4nnOim.  The idea is to present 12 simple things to avoid in the most practical of areas.

Others in the Series:

Going on a First Date

Meeting Someone for the First Time


Writing a Sermon



Making Your Wife Happy

Marriage Communication

Church Planting

Being Civil to Others

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment