J. Gordon Duncan

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Psalm 1 Sermon Notes and Study Guide

Big Idea:  God’s word gives fruit, prosperity, and rest.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

  • What is a pathway of blessing before God in this passage?
  • What does that person do regularly?

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.

  • How does God bless the person who loves the Bible?
  • How does the Bible define prosperity?

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

  • What happens to those who do not study and apply the truth of the scriptures?
  • What comfort is there in God knowing you?

I don’t know anyone who loves music as much as I do.  When I’m in the car, I’m listening to music.  When I’m running I’m listening to music.  When I’m writing sermons, I’m listening to music.  Songs, melodies, and rhythms are constantly in my ear.

In fact, I like music so much, I have to discipline myself sometimes to turn it off. I need to make sure that I’m not crowding out time of prayer, thinking, or just waiting on God.  And to be honest, it is not always easy for me to sit in silence.

Fortunately, and by God’s grace, one of the ordained means by which we praise Him and He is glorified is by our singing.  When we put the words of scripture to song, or when we take the truths of scripture and write music to them, God receives those efforts with glory.  No matter what the words are, our singing, our praising of God in song, must be related to the scriptures.  They must be scripturally true and be representative of what God has told us to or representative of who God is.

So as we begin our study of the Psalms, let’s keep a few things in mind.  These are God-ordained songs that give Him glory.  And they are the word of God which is intended to teach us and transform us.

Intrinsically, every person who claims faith in Jesus Christ should be able to state that they know that there is immense benefit in studying the bible and that we know that God has command it, yet we just do not find the time for it.  So, as we study the Book of Psalms, let’s take the words to heart.  The Psalms were both individual expressions of worship and they were songs that were used to lead the people in worship.  Some of the topics are the bible, others are the people of God, some speak of the character of God, tons of things.  As we spend the next few weeks looking them, let’s pursue God within them, and pursue whatever it is they recommend for us to grow closer to God.  This week, that 4recomeantion is the bible.  So towards that end, let’s pursue this week’s Big Idea:  God’s word gives fruit, prosperity, and rest.  Appropriately so, we are going to look at Psalm 1 this week, so let me read the entire song to you.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.  3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Now before we jump into this word for word, let me set the table for this particular Psalm.  Remember, each one is part of a larger group but each still tells its own story.  The first Psalm really sets a few principles before us that we need to understand.  Each Psalm speaks specifically about a certain characteristic and character of God Himself.  And the Psalm have tendency, despite the scriptures saying that no one is righteous, they speak what life is like for the righteous and what life is like for the unrighteous or wicked.  Some Psalms are pleading to God to act on behalf of the righteous and others plea that God would pour out judgment on the unrighteous.

Psalm 1 is very much like that.  Now, we do not know exactly who wrote this Psalm.  Many people attribute it to King Solomon, the incredibly wise son of King David, but nobody knows for sure.  And as your study Bible may tell you, the Psalm sort of serves a pattern for the rest of the Psalm.  So with that in mind, let’s look at this one verse by verse.

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

The Psalm begins with letting us know specifically that there are blessings from God and there are warnings and disciplines from God.  Let’s start with what God promises to bless.  The Psalmist says that you will be blessed by God if you delight in God’s law and if you mediate on God’s law day and night.

God promises very specific blessings when we study the scriptures.  In fact, those promises are so specific, it is amazing how much we neglect them.I mean, a cursory glance shows us how much God values our study of the Bible.

Let me give you an example.  Here are some of the Bible promises about the bible.

·    2 Timothy 2: Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
·    Psalm 119: How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.
·    Psalm 119: My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
·    Deuteronomy 6: And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

And a plethora of other verses.  God commands us to study the Bible and promises to bless us as we study and put God’s promises into place.  And our generation has access to the Bible in an unprecedented manner.  We have Bibles stacked on our shelves and can find any version we want online.

Yet, we might be the most illiterate group of Christians that have walked the earth.  We know most of what we know because folks have told it to us and not because we have personally studied it ourselves.  Maybe it is because when we hear that God is going to bless us for studying the scriptures we don’t know what that means.

So, let’s take a look at what specific blessings are promised from studying the scriptures.  Really, I wish there were some other motivation, like I don’t know a love of Jesus, but we just need to know, why should we study the Bible day and night like this passage says.  And then, we’ll hear what it says and have to wrestle with whether that is what we really want or not.

Listen to these promises:

·    Studying the Bible causes us to hunger more for God:  1 Peter 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation
·    We grow in the fullness of God:  Paul prays that we would be Ephesians 3: know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God
·    Studying causes us to walk in the freedom that is ours in Jesus:  John 8:32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
·    Think about that:  Studying the Bible gives you a hunger for God, we enjoy God’s fullness, and we walk in freedom.

You might privately say, “Gordon, is that it?”  Fullness of God, really?  And I will say, ‘I’m not going sucker you in with a bunch of promises.”   You study the scriptures because you desire to know God and know His son Jesus more fully.  Do that, and be blessed as God calls blessed.
If I offer anything else, you will be disappointed.  You see when the scriptures say, “Blessed is the man who does not…” it is saying that God is going to bless one thing and judge or discipline the opposite.  So if God is going to bless the person who delights in the law of God then He is going to judge or discipline those that who do the opposite.
What is the opposite of delighting in the law of God or meditating on the law of God?  Specifically the Psalmist describes that in 3 ways.

·    Walking in the counsel of the wicked
·    Standing in the way of sinners
·    Sitting in the seat of scoffers

Psalm 1 does not care who you are, how long you have been a Christian, or how many good things you have done in your life.  If you are not regularly studying your Bible, if you are not meditating on it regularly, if you are not delighting in the words of God, then you are walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the pathway of sinners, and sitting in the seat of scoffers.

Mission #1:  Studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to receiving God’s blessings.
Mission #2:  Not studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to being deceived by others.

Now, again you might say, “Gordon, I’m not deceived and neither is my family.  My kids go to church, play upward basketball, homeschool, only have Christian friends, only listen to Christian music and basically my kids only interact with stuff that has Christian on it.”  I only listen to Christian music, I read Christian novels, and I watch Fox News.  How can you say I sit in the counsel of the wicked?

And the Psalms says, “Unless regular bible study is part of your regular life, it doesn’t matter whether everything in your house was purchased at Lifeway Bookstore, you are sitting under the counsel of the wicked.”  And you might ask, “Well how do I know if I’m sitting under the influence of wicked people?”  And Psalm 1 will tell you, “If you want that kind of discernment and wisdom then you have to study your Bible regularly.”

Regularly studying your bible and the words of God is described in this hopeful way for you in verse 3.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.

You will be like a plant that is regularly fed by streams of water.  And because you get the nourishing water that you need, you, that tree, will produce the fruit when the time is right.  Your leaves won’t be scorched by sun.  Instead, that tree will be lush, beautiful, and bountiful.

What in the world does it mean for a person to be like a tree, well-nourished that does not fade and produces fruit.  Well, fortunately this one of those pictures in scripture that the scriptures explain pretty well for us. A tree planted by a stream of water is well nourished.  Making connection to scripture looks like this.

Jesus is found in the scriptures.  He said so Himself:  John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.  And what happens when we find Jesus in the scriptures?  John 4:13 Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Clearly, studying the scriptures teaches you of Jesus and knowing Jesus refreshes your soul like a tree by the water.

What does it mean then to yield fruit in its season?  The scriptures always use the picture of bearing fruit as a picture of developing obedience in your heart.  Paul described it in this way when he prayed for the church of Colossae

Colossians 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

When you are filled with the knowledge of God’s will which is found in the scriptures you will bear fruit.  Fruit that is described as Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.  Seek the Lord in the scriptures, and they will enable you to bear the fruit of:  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

And finally, what does it mean for your leaves not to whither?  This is the language of perseverance under trial.  A tree’s leaves whither when they are exposed to the sun and do not have enough water.  So the believer who maintains the refreshing work of the scriptures in their lives is going to be able to endure the sun’s heat and not wither.

The bible gives us this example from scripture.  Jesus was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4.  Satan tempted Him in 3 ways:

·    Jesus was hungry and Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread.
·    Satan tempted Jesus to cast Himself off of a cliff and have the angels catch Him.
·    And Satan offered to give Jesus every kingdom in the world if Jesus would worship Satan.

Satan tempted Jesus’ physical needs, tempted His trust in God’s care, and tempted Him with power and prestige.  That is where we struggle with perseverance isn’t it?  We struggle to believe that God is going to care for us physically so we slave away at work instead working to honor God.  We struggle to believe that God will protect us so we live recklessly.  We struggle and desire power and prestige and money.

How do we persevere in such trials and be the tree that is not scorched?  We respond as Jesus did.  Jesus responded by quoting the scriptures tucked away in His heart.  In light of the temptation of turning the stones to bread, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8 and said “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  In light of the temptation to cast Himself off the cliff for the angels to bear Him up, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6 and said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”     And in light of the temptation to have all the kingdoms bow to Jesus in exchange for worshiping Satan Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6 again and said, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

Psalm 1 calls this prospering.  In all that he does, he prospers.  Not money, not wealth, not prestige.  No.  Prosperity is a refreshed soul that obeys and withstands temptation.  Promising everyone that they are going to have Bentleys and straight teeth if they believe enough is such shortsighted picture of prosperity.  The health and wealth proponents completely miss out on what real prosperity is.  Defining God’s prosperity in the same way the world defines prosperity is foolish.\

Mission #3 Enjoy the Prosperity of God by hiding scriptures in your heart so that you might persevere and not whither during difficult and tempting times.

And as the scriptures so often do, they show us what happens when we walk away from the truths of scripture.  Listen to verse 4

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

So, how does Psalm 1 describe people who do not live a life meditating on and enjoying the scriptures?  Psalm 1 calls them wicked.  Now you might say, “Gordon all that everyone was wicked.  Doesn’t Romans 3:10 say, “There are none that are righteous; no not one.”?  Doesn’t Romans 3:23 say, “For all have fallen short of the glory of God?”

You are exactly right.  However, when you place your faith in God, and now on this side of the cross, when you place your faith in Jesus, you want to know happens?  You are called righteous because you have Jesus’ righteousness.  Romans 3:22 tells us that God gives us the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  Through faith in Jesus, His children are called righteous and can do righteous things.  Those that do not have that faith are described in Psalm 1:4.  They are wicked.

And every blessing that you have as a child of God with faith in Jesus who studies the scripture, the opposite is true of every wicked person who does not have that faith and does not trust the scriptures.  Instead of persevering in the sun and being refreshed by the water with leaves that do not wither, those that do not trust God and do not trust the scriptures are like chaff, useless, dried up chaff that blows away when there is wind gust.  And ultimately, that lack of trust in God, that lack of trusting and bathing in the truths of scriptures, will keep the wicked from standing before God.

Psalm 1:5 says that when God ultimately brings judgment as Christ returns, those that do not trust God and do not have faith in Jesus and do not have hope in the scriptures will not be able to withstand God’s judgment.   They will wither.  They will suffer judgment as sinners and will not be able to stand among the congregation that God calls the righteous.

But those that God knows.  Those that have faith in Jesus who have been transformed to trust in and bathe in the words of God, those folks are described this way in verse 6.

6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

God knows the way of His righteous children.  This is not a knowing like knowing a fact.  This like knowing as in a husband knows his wife.  It is an intimate knowing.  God knows, is tightly bound to, is in an intimate relationship with His children who He has called righteous though none of us deserve that title.  The wicked, those that don’t know God, don’t have faith in Jesus, do not find wisdom in the scriptures, they will perish in judgment.

Mission #4:  Let God’s intimate knowing of you motivate you to know Him better in His scriptures.

Gang, with any idea to inspire us or encourage us to study the scriptures more, it is so hard to find a way to do it without guilting one another.  Well, of course that happened.   Did you read your Bible today?  Well, you can tell me anything.  When was the last time you read your Bible.  And there are a host of self-righteous, sanctimonious approaches to the Bible.  Let me encourage us in this way.

·    John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
·    John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

When you open your Bible, or I guess this day, when you log on to your Bible, you are not just opening up some ancient document from a time long ago.  You are interacting with Christ Himself.  The very words of life, the water you need for refreshment is Jesus, and He is found in the scriptures.  The very obedience that God calls you to is enabled as you trust in Jesus and He is found in the scriptures.  And when you are tempted by everything this world offers, God will prosper you and protect you as you learn more about and take in Jesus who is found in the scriptures.

So with that, let’s remind ourselves us these 4 takeaway Missions:

·    Mission #1:  Studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to receiving God’s blessings.
·    Mission #2:  Not studying the Scriptures is a direct avenue to being deceived by others.
·    Mission #3 Enjoy the Prosperity of God by hiding scriptures in your heart so that you might persevere and not whither during difficult and tempting times.
·    Mission #4:  Let God’s intimate knowing of you motivate you to know Him better in His scriptures.

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July 31, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for Palm Sunday 2012

Big Picture Question:  What would it look like for you, your family, this church, and this city to unreservedly serve and glorify Jesus Christ?

John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

  • How did Mary serve Jesus?
  • What was Judas’ problem with Mary’s act of service?
  • Why does Jesus receive Mary’s gift?

 9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

  • Why were the crowds looking for Jesus?
  • Why did the Chief Priests want to put Jesus to death?

 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

  • How did the people worship Jesus?
  • How did this moment fulfill a promise of scripture?
  • What do the crowds and Mary have in common?

 16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

  • Why did the people glorify Jesus?
  • How did the Pharisees react?
  • How do these verses demonstrate the deferent responses people have to Jesus?
  • Have you ever worshiped Jesus?  If so, why and how?

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

 

Palm Sunday is celebrated each year one week before we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We don’t have too much of a religious calendar here in America, but we do have a few tried and true celebrations.  I mean, we know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, but we take that time each year to celebrate Jesus’ birth.  We know Jesus wasn’t resurrected on April 8th, but we take that time each year, somewhere around there to celebrate the resurrection.  Some churches celebrate Palm Sunday and others don’t.  We do and for this reason.  Palm Sunday gives us a chance to see one of the few times that Jesus was glorified and praised here on earth.  You see Jesus spent most of His ministry being rejected, lied about, and even spat upon.

Palm Sunday shows Jesus being glorified – not just by His disciples but by an entire city.  And if we pay attention, we will see a call to our hearts to glorify Jesus and we will also see a vision that our entire city might do the same.  So this is not going to be a typical sermon with 5 verses and then an explanation.  I want to walk us through an entire chapter of the book of John so that we can see both the context of Palm Sunday and the application of Palm Sunday.  Towards that end, let’s shoot for this

Big Picture Question:  What would it look like for you, your family, this church, and this city to unreservedly serve and glorify Jesus Christ?

To understand what happens in John that would move an entire city to stop and give praise to Jesus while He rode into town on a donkey, we have to see what happened just prior to all of that.  At the beginning of John 12, Jesus came to a town called Bethany.  That was the city where Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, so Jesus is famous there.  The city knows that He performs miracles.  They were at Lazarus’ funeral and were at His tomb.  Lazarus was smelly and dead.  His friends still mourned but the city had moved on, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

So Jesus returns to that city, and of course has a meal with His friends.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus provide an oasis for Jesus in the midst of world where people are either violent hostile to Him or violently curious about Him.  While Jesus is chilling at their table, something interesting happens.  Listen to this:

John 12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

What we see here is an act of mercy, service, and glory to Jesus.  Mary shows mercy to Jesus by anointing His hard, dirty, tired feet.  Remember, Jesus travels with no luxuries.  We get mad if the AC breaks.  Jesus had nothing, so Mary anointing His feet is an act of mercy.  Washing Jesus’ feet is an act of stark, honest worship.  Women didn’t unbind their hair public and they certainly didn’t give away expensive perfume, but Mary reserves nothing in her worship.  She will give everything away to worship Jesus:  her dignity, her appearance, and her money.It is an act of service because there are so few who appear to want to serve Jesus.  Everyone wants something from Jesus.  Mary wants to give to Jesus.  And it is also an act of giving Jesus glory.  He alone is worthy of praise, and Mary demonstrates that by worshiping Jesus in the humble act.

This is a supreme example of our Big Picture Question.  How do we give glory to Jesus?  We serve Him.  He is our master.  We are His servants.  We submit ourselves to Him.  We offer praise and glory to Him alone.  Now, you would think that Jesus disciples and followers would like what’s going on here.  But another lesson to be learned is that anytime you boldly serve Jesus, someone is going to be boldy offended.  This time, it is from one of Jesus’ disciples.

4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

Judas doesn’t see what Mary is doing as worship.  He doesn’t see the reckless abandoning heart cry that is Mary’s anointing of Jesus.  No, he sees fiscal responsibility.  He says, “Are you kidding me?  That perfume is worth 300 denarii, that’s a year’s worth of money.”  What would Dave Ramsey say about that?  Then he gets pious probably when he realizes that he should have kept his mouth shut.

He says, “I mean you could have fed the poor with that money.”  But the real reason for his anger was that Judas was a thief.  He used to steal money from the disciples money bag and had he known that Mary had that kind of money, he may very well have tried to steal that too.  Jesus’ response is this:  He says, “Let her worship me and you don’t bother her.   There is going to be plenty of time to do the work of the kingdom which is caring for the poor.  Now is the time to worship me because I am about to leave.”

We should notice a couple of things from the examples of Mary and Judas.  The simplest of which is worship Jesus and not money, right?  But that is not how I want to challenge us today.  As desperately as we need to talk about that as a congregation, I’m not going to do that.  Jesus calls you and me for unreserved, abandoning worship and adoration of Him.  There will always be things that will call our attention away.  Some of those things will be good and will be our responsibility like caring for the poor.  Some of the things that will call our attention away will be sinful like the useless things we do to fill our time.  But in that moment and in that very hour, and in this moment and in this very hour, we are called to worship Jesus.

Let’s follow Mary’s example and abandon all reserve and worship Jesus.  Now right after this, people begin to show up.  Remember Jesus is famous in this city so when they hear that He is near, they show up.  The think, “The Circus is in town.”

9 When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.

So everyone is running and flocking to Jesus.  The Jews want to see and touch Him and ask questions of Him.  I’m sure some who have heard of this story want also to see and hear Lazarus and make sure that the rumors they have heard are true.  The Chief Priest doesn’t really like it though.  They were the religious leaders of the Jews and they don’t want the Jews running to anybody but them.  They offered a shell of worship, a mockery of what true adoration of God looked like.

All they want to do is re-secure their power base.  So the chief priests plan to kill Jesus AND Lazarus because so many people are leaving them and following Jesus.  How in the world could anyone think this is Godly?  The chief priests are plotting murder.  Gang, one lesson to be learned here is this:  Cold, dead, lifeless religion that doesn’t change the heart will ultimately move to hatred of Jesus Christ.   Oh the form of religion may use His name, but if your worship isn’t like Mary’s abandoning of the soul, you will eventually hate Jesus and anyone else who loves Him.  The Town of Garner littered with the casualties of such hollow worship.

The Chief Priests hated Jesus so much that they were willing to kill Him and willing to kill His living example of power, Lazarus.  On side note:  Have you ever considered how ridiculous their plan was to kill Jesus?   I mean if He can raise the dead…I mean, what do they hope to accomplish?  If Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, why do they think killing him would help?

You see again, in our understanding of what whole-hearted, unreserved worship of Jesus looks like, we need to learn from opposite example.  No, I don’t think any of you conspired to kill Jesus this week, but the question is, “Was your heart drawn to Him as the wellspring of life?”  “Did you see Jesus and Jesus alone as the sole hope for joy or do you see it coming by your own hand, your own efforts, or your own accomplishments?”  Is where Jesus takes you the only place you want to go whether or not you know or even like where He leads you?

Well, let’s found out again what worship should look like.  Jesus leaves Bethany and heads to Jerusalem.  Jesus isn’t running away from His enemies.  Jesus knew all along that Jerusalem was where He was going and this is where He would ultimately be tried and crucified.  So, look at verse 12.

John 12:12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

What we are seeing here on Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem is a picture of the work of the church.  We are to worship Jesus.  And we are to play a part in bringing our city to worship Jesus.

Look at how Jesus is worshipped here – Jesus is so rarely worshipped.  This picture is so refreshing.  Here, finally in this moment, Jesus is proclaimed as King and Savior.  The waving of palm branches in that day was a royal coronation that declared Jesus as King.  The crowd is yelling “Hosanna” which is a word that we can so easily know and sing and say but easily miss the emphasis of.

Hosanna is a proclamation of the heart that declares that God has done something.   The opportunities for Hosanna in your life are countless and endless.  You might have to look for them sometimes, but the work of God is at least displayed in the heavens.  It is displayed whenever you sit and eat.  It is displayed right now and you hear the words of grace preached.

For Jerusalem that day?   God was worthy of a Hosanna because He has brought the King of His people, the God of this World, the Savior of sinners and wrapped Him in the humility of a man riding on a donkey.  And not one ounce of beauty, deity, or power has been lost.  We are to say, Hosanna Jesus has come in the name of the Lord.

Now, there is another way that this Triumphal Entry is a picture of the church.  The church proclaims Jesus as the Savior riding on a Donkey.   The church is to draw in people to worship Jesus.  We are to play a part in gathering in this city, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces to do the same.

And just like in that day, I’m sure some are going to proclaim Jesus as King because He is the answer to their heart’s cry.  Others are going to gather to see the show.  Yet, either way, we are to proclaim Jesus.

In this moment, you should consider ways in which the Kingdom might be advanced by your living out a life of crying “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel”  Renew your heart now.   Remind and rehearse how great God.  Command your heart to praise Jesus and declare Hosannas.  Ask God to give you an infectious desire to praise God that catches with every single person you bump into so that others in this city might do the same.

Now in this moment, this incredible mind-blowing example of an entire city coming out to worship Jesus, you know who doesn’t get it?   The very people who should have gotten it:  the disciples.  Look at verse 16

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

What the disciples don’t understand here is Jesus being praised for being King.  Oh, they want Him to be king alright.  They still have desires of Jesus being a political king that will overthrow the pagan Roman government that is occupying Israel.

The book of John, being the last Gospel written, explains though that once Jesus died, rose again, and showed Himself glorified, they understand the true nature of Jesus’ kingship.  But at that moment, they didn’t understand the palm waving.  What’s going on here in this passage is larger and greater than any human inauguration the world has ever seen.  The King of Sinners has arrived.  Praise Him.  Overthrowing hostile Romans is too small of a picture for this king.  He is going to overthrow sin and death.

Now verse 17 tells us that the crowd with Jesus and His disciples have been with Him since He raised Lazarus from the dead, and they continue to tell everyone what Jesus has done.  What might they be saying?  Is this the one who was promised?  We know he has the power over death.  Guys, this has got to be the one who we have waited for for so long.  He is the cry of our hearts.

And their testimony is effective.  People are flocking to hear this message.  Gang, what would it look like if your heart valued and treasured Jesus like this?  What if you thought of Jesus as the hope of your heart?  What if you couldn’t help but speak of His majesty and beauty?  I can tell you what would happen and what might happen.  What would happen would be Jesus lifted up, glorified and God praise.  What would happen is that you would have more peace than you could ever imagine.  What might happen would be your home, this church, and this city might just be transformed.

And as always, when Jesus is praised, opposition arises.  So many people are responding that the Pharisees are losing hope.  They say to one another, “Great.  We’ve been fighting this guy for 3 years, and we’ve gained nothing.  It looks like whole world has gone after Him.  You see what is effective here?  People aren’t running around speaking about their subjective experiences that can be argued and disputed.  Though there is a time and place for those types of testimonies, the people of Jesus’ day keep it simple.  They speak about who Jesus Christ is.  They are speaking about what He has done.

They don’t let the conversation change subjects because the subject is Jesus.  They don’t get caught up in political discussion.  They speak about Jesus.  This is powerful testimony.

Gang, if you have wondered why more people don’t come to know Jesus around you.  If you have ever wondered why people disregard your testimony.  If you have ever wondered why you love drama and have to create crisis to feel important.  If you have wondered why you love your sin so much.  If you have ever wondered why this church doesn’t grow faster, I can tell you in least in part.

In the part, the answer is that we aren’t talking about Jesus enough.  Jesus is always the main thing, and we must keep the main thing the main thing.

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Obviously, all of this talk about Jesus is attracting attention, and not just from curious Jews looking for a King or Messiah.  The Greeks with their entire pantheon of gods have heard of Jesus.  Even, they want to know who He is.  So they ask Philip, and Philip gets Andrew and they went to tell Jesus that I guess the Pharisees were right.  Maybe the whole world is asking about Jesus because even those pagan Greeks are here.

But Jesus, as always, surprises.  He doesn’t run to tell all the Greeks about Himself.   No, He makes a declaration:  He says, “It is time.  Now is the hour for the Son of man to be glorified.  Jesus uses the title “Son of Man’ here to identify Himself with us.   The Redeemer of fallen men and women, His time has now come to be glorified.

Now, when we hear that, perhaps we think, ‘No longer will Jesus be humiliated or rejected,” but that is exactly the means by which He will be glorified.  To explain that Jesus casts a powerful image.  I can imagine Jesus looking out at a wheat field.  He says, “The only way you get that kind of harvest is if the grain seed falls to the ground…and dies.”

Now before we go any further, Jesus uses the very workings of nature to illustrate that if He is going to truly reign as King, then He must die.  For Jesus ultimately to be glorified, He must die.  But I don’t think Jesus’ point is merely to illustrate the nature of His Rule.  It is also to point out the nature of  how YOU should live.

I mean Jesus tells us that we must pick up our cross and follow Him doesn’t He?  According to Jesus, if you love your life here in this earth?  Then you are going to have to lose it.  But if you hate your life here on this earth?  Then you will have eternal life.

Jesus’ point is so radical I dare say I don’t know very many human beings who come close to living it out.  Your desire to follow Jesus, your affection for Him should be so great, that it should be the central interest of your life.  And the degree to which you follow Him should make it look like you don’t give a damn about your own personal life.

Does that mean you don’t care for yourself or raise your children?  Of course not.  Does that mean you don’t care for yourself?  Of course not.  The thing is, you care for yourself, you raise your children, you do all of these things, but you don’t do those things for personal, selfish reason.  But we aren’t slaves to raising our children, we aren’t slaves to our body…we aren’t slaves to anything or anyone but Jesus.  You raise your kids, take care of yourself, etc, you do those things because you are hopelessly attracted to, devoted to, and in love with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.

The central frustration of many of your lives though is that God has not made your life what you want it to be.  You want easier, simpler, healthier, richer, and on and on.  That is not what we are called to.  We are called to follow Jesus to such an extent that those worries don’t measure up to the concern we have for proclaiming and giving affection to Jesus Christ.  It should look like we hate this life because we love the next.  It should look like we have died and been reborn.

Have you ever seen the movie “The Shawshank Redemption”?   In that move, the main character Andy Dufrense offers this wise advice to us:  “Either get busy living or get busy dying.”  If you want to follow and serve Jesus, if you want your family and this church to follow and serve Jesus, if you want this city to follow and serve Jesus, then you have to follow and serve His example:  You have to crucify your life for the Glory of God.

Where Jesus would have you go with the message of the Gospel, that is where you go to the sacrifice of every other personal desire.  Home, school, work, neighborhood, city, church.  You say, “Gordon, that is too hard.  Jesus demands too much.”  And sympathetically but honestly I’ll tell you, “Since when did you think that Jesus demanded less, that He didn’t demand everything?”

Here is what I think is going on here at SK right now.  I think most of us are going through the very painful process of our lives falling to the ground and we are painfully watching ourselves die.  Some of you have dreams of greater work and employment.  Some of you have dreams a healthier life.  Some of you have dreams of more children.  Some of you have dreams of a better lifestyle.

And you know what, those dreams are not inherently bad.  In fact, they can be pretty nice.  But here is the thing.  Do you want Jesus more than all of them?  Are you satisfied with Jesus alone?  If you never get a better job, if your health never improves, if you never get married, or never have kids, or your lifestyle never improves, is Jesus alone enough?  If the answer is, “No, He is not enough,” then I imagine you are going through the very painful process of watching those dreams die.

So, you might ask, “Well, what then?  What is the solution?”  I will make very clear for you.  Take every desire you have in this world, good bad or indifferent.  Lay them at the feet of Jesus Christ.  And pray you can say this, “Jesus you are enough for me.  I love you so much that if I never get desire one in this world, I resolve to live happily because I have Jesus Christ as my Savior.  If you bless me with even one of these desires, I’ll say thanks, but if you bless me with none, my heart is satisfied in you.”

Until your heart can pray that prayer, your effectiveness as a child of God in terms of loving Jesus, proclaiming Jesus, and serving in the name of Jesus is going to be diminished.  In fact, I’ll will say until Jesus is ALL you want, you will not be effective.  The beautiful thing is this:  we aren’t giving up anything if we give our earthly desires to Jesus.  He is more than our souls could ever dream of and more beautiful and gracious and wonderful than our hearts desires.  The way up this Palm Sunday is the way down.  The way to life this Palm Sunday is death.  The way to know joy and happiness is to kill the competing idols in your heart that would take Jesus’ place on the throne.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:19ff

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

  •  Foolish is a word we don’t use very often.  The Bible uses it to make very strong points.  Why does James think it is foolish for a person to have faith in Jesus but not have obedience (works) as well?

 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

  • Read Genesis 22 together as a family.
  • What was Abraham commanded to do?   Think of all the reasons it was hard for him to obey.
  • How did his obedience demonstrate his faith?

 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.

  • How do works complete faith?
  • What does God count as righteousness?
  • How does verse 23 show us we are saved by faith alone?

 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

  • Justified means “proven to be true” in this case.  How is a person justified by works?

 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

  • Read Joshua 2, 6 to understand the story of Rahab.  How was her faith made clear by works?

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

  • Can a body live without the spirit?  Can a faith live without works?
  • How connected are faith and works in your life?

In a marriage, or really any other relationship, you move ahead on faith and trust.  You find yourself, at some point and time, just saying, “I think I know these things to be true.  I think he loves me or I think she loves me.  I think I can trust my thoughts, feelings, and time with this person.  But when it comes down to it, you really have to faith that they will care for you and that they love you.  That step of faith is one of the reasons people refuse to commit to a marriage and one of the reasons why people hop out of marriages when they are hurt.  Once trust is trust is broken, it is hard to reestablish.

But everyone now and then you have the opportunity to witness some incredibly selfless act by that person and you know they truly do love you.  Maybe they forgive you when you really don’t deserve it.  Maybe they make some great sacrifice for your good.  Maybe they put up with your stupid junk over and over again so that you can go to work or to go school or meet some other commitment.  When folks do that, when they selflessly love you, it is like that moment completes and confirms the faith you have in them.  In the best of situations, it should move you to want to love and serve that person in return.  Why are those things true?  Simply, they pattern the Gospel.

2 Corinthians 4: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Jesus faithfully obeyed to the point of death.  Now we faithfully obey to the point of death if necessary.  That obedience completes our faith, brings it to its fullest and most sincere sense.  Let’s see if we can understand more deeply as we approach the Book of James this week with this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  Obedience completes faith?

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?  21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.  24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

As always, let’s try to set these things into their proper context.  James is making the point to everyone person who claims faith in Jesus that true faith in Him will result in obedience.  Faith in Jesus is such a powerful thing that you have no choice but to obey.  Your faith in Jesus is a result of God transforming your heart from death to life.  You are gifted with a love of Jesus and a desire to serve Him and obey Him.  James has made the point in the past few weeks that if you don’t find a desire to serve and obey Jesus going on, then you should check and make sure that you have a genuine faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus is not just “save me” but also “change me.”  Any person who claims faith in Jesus but does not find their heart changed is told by James, that faith is dead; its non-existent.

So we ended last week trying to present a glorious picture of Jesus knowing that the great saints of the scripture were transformed by that glory, that cried out in faith and God enabled them to obey.  Moses saw the glory of God and was transformed from murderer to the leader of the people of God.  Isaiah saw the glory of God and cried out “Here I am, send me.”  Peter saw the glory of God and went from a denier of Christ to the preacher whose sermon led thousands of people to Christ.  So now, we return to James who continues to give even more examples of what it looks like to be transformed by faith.

James 2:20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

James is using some pretty harsh language here.  Language that would merit some form of discipline in my house.  I mean if James said that at my house, he would lose polly pockets or lose computer time or something.  Why does James get to use such harsh language as calling someone foolish?  Well, James is very much a NT prophet calling people to faith and repentance, which is always really the same thing.  He is asking this question:  Do you really want to find out if you can have faith in Jesus without obedience?  Because if you think that you have faith in Jesus and you don’t see Jesus transforming you, then you are a fool.  Faith in Jesus is that powerful and that transformative.

Trusting your own way, your own works, your own life thinking that faith in Jesus doesn’t transform is foolish.  Proverbs 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  James doesn’t want you, me, or anyone else to think that they can have faith in Jesus and not be changed to grow in obedience and gradually become more like Jesus.  So with that in mind, James declares one of the most controversial passages in all of the scriptures in verse 21.

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?

James declares that Abraham was justified by works.  What in the world?  Well, let’s understand the example so that we can understand the application.  In Genesis 12, God made a bunch of promises to Abraham.  You see, Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and had apparently given up any hopes of having kids.  God promised not only to give them a child but to make an entire nation of people to worship God out of the child they would have.

An amazing promise:  to an old, infertile couple, God promises not only a child but to do great things through that child.  Well through a series of twists and turns and even a few gross acts of disobedience, God gives them that child, and his name was Isaac.  And then God really decides to test Abraham’s faith.

In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham in this way.  “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”
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Abraham obeyed, and just before he sacrificed Isaac, God spared Isaac and even provided a sacrifice in Isaac’s place.  Abraham proved his faith in God by obeying, especially when he no idea what God was going to do.  James say that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up Isaac.  So what does that mean?  And doesn’t Paul say that Abraham was NOT justified by his works.  I mean listen to Romans 4

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

So Paul says that Abraham was not justified by his works and James says he was.  What are we going to do?  Doesn’t this contradiction pull apart so much of the truth of scripture and if it a contradiction, shouldn’t we all just go home here because we are wasting our time?  Fortunately, James explains what he means by saying Abraham was justified by his works.  Listen to verse 22.

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;

James is not using the word “justified” in the same sense that Paul talks about being justified.  Paul is talking about the legal justification of Abraham’s faith and relationship before God and James is talking about the outworking justification of Abraham’s life and faith before men.  Paul is saying, “Faith in Jesus alone assures justification or the repair of relationship between God and Abraham.  James is saying the justification or the proof that those things have happened comes by the evidence of Abraham’s works and obedience before the rest of the world.

That is why in verse 22, James tells us that Abraham’s faith was active along with his works.  His obedience completed his works.  Gang, a ton of people profess faith in Jesus.  A ton of people have had “experiences” or walked an aisle or raised their hand with their eyes closed and they are counting on those moments of faith to save them or forgive them.  James is trying to make the point that you don’t count on that moment.  If you want to be sure, then look at your life and examine to see elements of an active faith like Abraham’s.

Do you see your faith actively moving you to obey?  Do you see your faith completed by your works?  Do you see your faith justified by a real transformation that is taking place?  None of those these replace the fact that you are forgiven and justified by God by faith in Jesus alone.  Obedience just shows that a real faith in present.  That is why James goes on to say in verse 23

23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”-and he was called a friend of God.

You see, James is making it clear.  God counts our faith as righteousness.  He gifts it to us, and Abraham’s declaration of faith in God and our declaration of faith in Jesus is counted as righteous by God.  By faith, we become the friends of God, not by anything we do but by the outward declaration of faith that God gifts us with.  And as soon we start to get it, then James goes schizophrenic on us in vs 24

24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

Okay, James, which one is it?  How are you using the word justified and what are you trying to tell us?  Well, remember, James is explaining to us that our works complete our faith.  Another way of saying that is that our works bring our faith to maturity.  Our obedience is the outward justification of our inward faith.

Oh, you are justified before God by faith alone.  James just said that when he quoted and said “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.  So you are justified or made right before God by faith.  Your faith is justified by obedience in the here and now.  Do you have saving faith?  Then James says and has said, “Prove it.”  Love others.  Show mercy.  Demonstrate you know mercy by showing it to others.

Follow the pattern of Abraham.  Trust God in what He commands even when you don’t understand how or what God has called you to do in obedience.  Right now, I know several folks who are in situations that are completely contrary to what scripture has commanded.  They know this.  They admit this to me.  The reason they don’t obey?  Obedience would be hard.  It would be hard financially to obey.  It would be hard relationally to obey.  James would say, “Hey demonstrate you know transformative faith by obeying.”  Your faith justifies you before God.  Your obedience justified you before man.  To help us understand that, James gives another example and this one is much more radical than the example of Abraham.  James gives us the example of a prostitute and how her faith was made evident by her obedience.  How’s that for an example?  Listen to verse 25.

25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

You guys familiar with this story?  If not let me give you a refresher.  Joshua 2 tells the story of Rahab.  Here’s the skinny.  God is about to send the people of God into the land that He promised them way back to Abraham in Genesis.  Joshua, the leader who took over after Moses died, sends a few spies into the land to see what it is like.  Well, obviously if you are spy looking at a land occupied by other people, you can’t just show up and say, “Hey God gave me this land, can you guys pack up and head out?”  You are going to need a place to stay, and what better place to hide out in than, oh I don’t know, a whorehouse?  When soldiers come looking for the spies, Rahab hides them on her roof and thus saves their lives.  The next thing we know, Rahab is completely pagan and from a foreign land begins to speak of Yahweh and faith in Yahweh.  In Joshua 2, she tells the spies this:

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

Rahab’s professesion of faith has some very key elements.  She recognizes God’s sovereign right to do as He will (vs 9)  She admits submitting to God (vs 11)  She asks for mercy (vss 12-13)

She then shows great faith and care in these spies entrusting not only her life to them but the life of her family.  She then enables the spies to flee and she sets up a scarlet cord that hangs from her window.  When the raid on the land happens, that cord will be sign of her faith and she and her household will be saved.

Rahab’s faith was made complete by her actions.  Of course she didn’t want her home raided and her family put to death.  It would have been easy for her to say “Oh yeah, I believe in Yahweh.”  But she evidenced that she had faith.  Her actions of care for the spies and the risk she put her family through to spare them justified her declared faith.  Her faith in God was thorough and had thorough, complete, and sufficient actions to show that she truly believed in God.  And James says, “Yep, her works showed that she had faith.  So once again, James wants to tell us that very same thing in verse 26:

26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

James makes one more analogy to help us understand his point.  And I want us to get this well because next week, James going to us in a brand new direction.  It is like the end of chapter 2 here is the end of complete thought:  one that we at least need mentally master before going forward.  James says, Look at the body.   What makes the body alive is the spirit of a person.   When a person a dies, the spirit departs – the body is just empty flesh.  Unfortunately, and as popular as they are right now – there are no zombies.

There are not inhabited bodies walking around with no spirit.  So just as that is true, so if you claim to have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, and you don’t see God transforming you and making you more like Jesus through obedience, then you faith is dead.  Its non-existent.  This is explained for us really well in Romans 6, so let’s pull up a chair and spend the rest of our time there.  You see what James is telling us about the surety of obedience, Paul explains for us in Romans 6.  Paul explains the engine that makes your transformation in obedience sure.

Romans 6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Theologically, this teaching is called our “Union with Christ” and it is the engine by which every promise of God comes to you.  Verse 5:  when Jesus died as a penalty for disobedience and sin, you die.  Your payment for sin is paid by faith.  When Jesus was resurrected and brought back to life, your life with God was promised; you have gone from death to life.  But the promise of transformation continues.  Look at verse 6  Not only is your payment for sin completed in Jesus’ death, your old self, the one that was a slave to sin before Jesus, that old self dies as well.  Through Jesus’ work and your faith in Him, you have a new nature.  You are no longer a slave to sin; you are slave to righteousness.  Your faith in Jesus guarantees that you will obey.

So verse 9 explains to us that Jesus’ death for sin is sufficient for everything you need.  Jesus will never die again and you will never have to die for sin again.  Your faith in Jesus insures that you will never ever have to pay the penalty of your sin because Jesus sufficiently paid for it.  As a result, when you think about sin, disobedience, and temptation, tell yourself verse 11:  I am dead to sin.  I am alive to God.  I am in Jesus Christ.  These are hopes, these are more than promises, they are assurances.  They are true of every believer in Jesus.

You can see why James is adamant.  If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, you will have no choice, you can have great hope, you will obey and be like Jesus.  Dead to sin.  Alive to God.  Look at verse 12

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13  Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Paul makes this command to us.   When you see sin in your life, don’t let it reign, don’t let it run rampant.  Don’t obey the temptation that come with your passion.  Verse 13 reiterates that thought.  It tells us, now that you are “in Christ Jesus” now that your penalty for sin is His and His goodness is yours, don’t present your self to sin anymore.  Present yourself to God.   Walk before God has one who has been brought through death and now walks in life.  Present your body as an instrument – a tool – to be used for righteousness – a means by which God will show forth His glory to you and to the world.

Literally, spend your moments presenting yourself, in every moment of every day, as instrument of righteousness.  When you wake up and get in the shower, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you take your kids to school or get your gets ready for school, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you walk into work, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.  When you do laundry, go for a run, check your email, get a cup of coffee, present your body as an instrument of righteousness.

According to this passage, sin isn’t supposed to reign, righteousness is.  You are no longer helpless.  God can enable you to obey.  You will obey.  So wake up each day and present yourself in each of your circumstances as instrument of righteousness to be used by God.  No agenda other than God’s.  Gang, this is a concluding point in the book of James.  Chapter 3 isn’t disconnected but it is a new point, so let’s take a second to recapture what James has emphasized to us.  So much of Christianity has gotten these verses wrong for so long.  I’m not saying we are the ones who get it right.  I’m saying we are the ones who have the opportunity to get it right.  Not because we are special but because we are sitting here right now looking at the truths of scripture that can and will transform us.

Galatians 3: It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4  Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

March 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:14-17

Big Idea:  Faith without works is Dead

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

  • Should someone be concerned if they say they have faith in Jesus but they don’t have any desire to evidence of obeying?
  • How does Romans 6:17-18 encourage us to obedience?
  • Give an example of a place where you desire to obey and a place where you have seen God help you obey?

 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 

  •  Why do you think James uses the example of showing mercy as evidence of having a saving faith?
  • Why is just wishing people well not an act of genuine faith?
  • How did Jesus do more for us than just wish us well?

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

  •  Pray with your parents for an assurance of faith and the opportunity to demonstrate to others in need.

This week, the Book of James is so blunt, it is scary.  He is so straightforward and his clarity is meant to cause each and every one of us to examine our hearts.  James is going to tell you and me that the faith we have in Jesus Christ is a guarantee that we will be changed.  Having faith in Jesus is so life-changing that you will be completely different after professing faith in Him.  You will become more Godly if you have faith in Jesus, and if you do not see that change in your life, you have a real reason to examine your heart to see if you actually have a life changing faith or not.

Now this kind of conversation is incredibly dangerous while simultaneously being incredibly true.  Let me explain the dangerous part.  Christians loves to beat up other Christians and we like to use language like, “Don’t be a fake Christian” or “Be the same Christian out that you are at home”.  And though I do encourage us all to be the same person out and about that we are at home, often that kind language is used by scared parents to control their kids or it used by the  self-righteous to make other people feel bad.  Instead, the truth that real faith causes real change should be a cause for hope.

Biblically, we see tons of examples of that change.  Moses from murderer to leader.  Paul from murderer to missionary.  Peter from arrogance to preacher.  And there are tons of other examples both biblically and there should be those around us in the day to day as well.

Your faith in Jesus’ goodness is a promise that He will gradually and continually conform your life to look like His.  That’s what salvation is.  It is not just, “forgive me.”  It is “change me.”  If we are struggling with a temptation or a sin, don’t think, “Oh no.  I’m not a Christian.”  Instead think, “There is a real, promised hope from God that I am going to grow in trusting Jesus and overcome this sin.  I have a real and lasting hope.”  Getting to that point though is hard.  And not struggling with or abusing people with self-righteousness ain’t easy either, so let’s walk gently, but trust God in great faith.  Towards that end, we are going to pursue this Big Idea this week.  Big Idea:  Faith without works is Dead

James 1:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

As always, we need to be reminded of where these verses fall in the overall context of James teaching.  Last week, we looked at two commands that were circling around the idea of what pure, undefiled religion and worship look like.  James has been telling us that the religion that God accepts is demonstrating mercy in the midst of a sinful world and doing it without compromising Biblical convictions.

James reiterates the teaching of Jesus in that and tells us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And if we respond with a host of reasons why we don’t do that, reasons like, “I’m not a gifted evangelist” or “I’m an introvert” or “I’m focusing on my kids right now” or “I’ve pulled my time already”   James tells us this:  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Mercy triumphed over judgment when you were forgiven and you should get over yourself and all the rationalizations that you give for not obeying God and show mercy to the people that you otherwise are judging with your silence and inactivity.  So that brings us to verse 14.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

Well, what good is it?  Is your “faith” any good at all if you aren’t activiely transformed and obeying God?  James says, “Nope, it’s no good at all”.  You see, this is the point and the conversation that I have had a million times and I’m going to have it a million more in the town of Garner.  The scriptures tell us that apart from faith in Jesus Christ, we are dead in sin and a slave to to sin.

This is vividly demonstrated for us in the book of Romans:  Romans 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

The promise of scripture of the life that has faith in Jesus is that before faith, you and I were a slave to sin.  Our will was given over to our self and our desires and our desires were sinful.  But now through Jesus Christ, we serve in the power of the Spirit and are a slave to goodness, rightreousness and obddience.  Our will is to do the will of our father in heaven.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, your will is to do the will of your father in heaven and a promised transformation is to take pace.  The Holy Spirit indwells, transforms, and enables the followers of Christ to obey.  If YOU have faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells, transforms, and enables the followers of Christ to obey.  If that work is not taking place, then the Holy Spirit is not indwelling, is not transforming, and not enabling you to obey.

This is both a proof and a promise.  Let me explain.  The promised trasnformation of faith is proof that you are saved and it is a promise that God is going to work in your life to make your more like Jesus.  Notice what James asks, “Can a faith that doesn’t show evidence of change in a person’s life actually be a real, genuine faith?”  Rhetorically, the answer is, “No it can’t”.  Now, I’m going to be really, really carefully here because this has been one of the most messed up, mis-abused passages in all of the Bible.  Before we move into applying this passage in our own lives, I want us to be careful to understand how not to use.

So when I say that James declaration that proof of faith is works, here is what this passage is not saying.  James is not saying that you and I are supposed to walk around trying to decide who is and who is not a Christian by people’s works.  We are not the judges of the human heart.  God alone is.  The absolutely wrong thing for you and me to do here is to take this verse and say, “Well, they aren’t obeying enough or they aren’t Godly enough or they aren’t generous enough, so they aren’t Christians.”

Or more specifically, you hear about someone doing something and then you make your judgment.  So and so moved in with his boyfriend?  I always knew he wasn’t a Christian.  He got drunk?  Yep, I always knew.  You voted for Obama?  Oh, now everything makes sense.

The only thing that is proved when you have thoughts like that is that you are incredibly good at being judgmental.  This is going to be one of the things that we get right at SK.  We are not going to be the church on the corner that owns the moral microscope and uses it to burn the immoral ants that we deem as being unworthy of God’s grace.

When we read a passage like this one that says that a genuine faith in Jesus Christ must evidence itself in faithful works, the only inspection that is going to take place is introspection.  No judgment, no trolling, no gossip, no, “Did you hear?”  When we say that this passage shows us proof of salvation, we look into our own heart because that is the only one that you can assuredly know anything about.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you can look into your heart and see whether Jesus Christ is there making any difference or not.  Why can we do this?  Because 2 Corinthians 5:17 echoes this verse in James.  It says:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

With Jesus, the old you is gone and the new you is present.  Let me give you a few examples or evidences that you can look for in your life, and though there are literally dozens of passages that will speak to how you will see change in your life when you have faith in Jesus, let me just focus on what is called the Fruit of the Sprit.  The Fruit of the Spirit is the promised work of what will happen in your heart when you have faith in Jesus and are empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 6:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Ask yourself these questions about this promise made in scripture:  Do you evidence the fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God from Galatians?  Do you see in a way that was not evident before you became a Christian, genuine displays of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  Do you see those qualities not only present where they once weren’t before knowing Christ but do you also see them gradually growing in your life?  According to James, do you see mercy and a desire to help others in need as a reflection of gentleness and love?  Do you see that your life is a movement towards making peace and not conflict?  Are you becoming more kind or more judgmental?  Do you see your heart turning more and more away from selfish desires and becoming more faithful the work of God’s kingdom?  When you see people in need, do you help, do you walk away, or do you flippantly say, “Go in peace and filled; I’ll pray for you”?

If you don’t see those qualities glaringly or you know God is working but you are wanting to see them grow, don’t worry, Philippians 1 tells us this:  6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This is one of those verses that we got to go into a bit more depth in at Sunday School and if you are attending SS, I’m telling you that you are missing out on a real opportunity to grow together as a church family and to grow closer to your Savior.  But the point James and Paul and Jesus all make is this:  if you have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, you will be changed.  It might be slow.  It might be gradual.  But you will be growing in Christ-likeness.

Now this teaching of James is also a promise in addition to a proof.  If you are struggling with a sin, let’s say its masturbation or gossip or laziness or being judgmental or whatever your struggle with sin is, the promised work here is that God is going to work in you to help you grow in obedience.  We see this promise made vividly for us in 2 Thessalonians 2

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word

God has chosen you to be saved, has promised to sanctify you, which means God will make you more like Jesus, and those promises are intended to comfort your heart and establish you in every good work that God commanded.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all play a part in making sure that God’s children are transformed and enabled to obey.

That means when you begin to lose hope that you are ever going to change or when you lose hope that someone you love is ever going to change, the hope you have is only this:  Jesus in your promises to change you.  I would love for us to grow as a community in sharing this hope with others.  I would love for people we work with or our neighbors or anyone that we have contact with to think, “You know, I don’t have my questions answered about this whole Jesus think, but I see real change, a real difference in _______ and I want to know more about it.  In that, you are not offering self-righteousness or your goodness or your witness, none of that junk.  You are offering the hope that comes from knowing Jesus.  You can say, “I was this and now I’m that.  I was harsh judgmental B but I confess my sins to Jesus and he softened me.  I was an arrogant SOB, and Jesus is humbling me.  I had no hope but now I have hope.

As we move back to the text in James, he also gives us an example to what that promised transformation should look like.

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Now, there are a hosts of evidences to show that the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of a believer.  I mean, James could talk about how you now obey scripture in a host of ways now that you know Jesus Christ.  He could tell us how you quit getting drunk every weekend.  He could tell us how you quit looking at porn.  He could tell us how you quit gossiping.  He could tell us how you now read your Bible, pray, and teach your children about your faith.  And all of those would be good proofs to show that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart and changing you and transforming you.

But that is not the evidence that James uses.  As has been his theme for the past few verses, James uses mercy as proof that the Holy Spirit is working in your life.  And if you wonder why, like I do that James chose this example, I can only speculate but here is my two cents.  Showing mercy is harder than stopping gossip, quitting porn, and quitting getting drunk.

If God can change you to actually love others, then God can do anything and that is exactly what God has promised to do in you.  He says, Listen, if you know of a brother or sister in need and you just wish them well but don’t actually do anything to help them, what good is that?  Now notice, he says “Poorly clothed and lacking food” – if they don’t have a coat for the winter or their kids don’t have the clothes they need or if they are hurting trying to feed everyone.  If you just wish them well, what good is your faith?   Will that faith save?  Nope.

You see, James just got done telling us that it is a sin if we show favoritism or partiality to the wealthy.  Ignoring the physical needs of others is by default showing favoritism to the wealthy.  Ignoring the physical needs of others is by default saying to the needy “buck up little camper improve your lot in life and be like me or be like them”

And what James really can’t stand is superficial Christian responses to those in need.  Oh go and be well or in our vernacular “Ok I’ll be praying for you”  Forgive my cynicism but I bet more words are uttered in promising to pray than actual words of prayer are offered to God.  What James is telling us is this:  If you know Jesus, if you have faith in Jesus, you are going to move that faith into action to those in need.

This kind of teaching typically illicits a couple of responses and what I mean is this:  when a person hears this kind of teaching, one of two things typically happens.  You can either go to a church where nothing like this is demanded of you.  Actively caring for those in need is only talked about but not really expected.  And there a million churches just like that on pretty much every corner of Garner and the world.  That is not nor will it be this church btw.  The scriptures command that our faith be expressed in obedience, specifically in areas of showing mercy to those in need and that has been the expectation here, it is now, and it is going to be going forward.  Another response is you can just check out and say “I don’t want anything to do with that at all.”  If that is what expected of me, forget it.  I work hard for my money, I’ve made good decisions, and I’m not going to go munk in the life of people who are a mess.  Make better decisions like I did.   And to be honest, that response, checking out, shows more integrity than just pretending to be Godly while not being merciful.

What we pray for is that when we hear James telling us that genuine faith must result in obedience, specifically to those in need, we pray that God would help us respond with hearts that know mercy and grace and therefore want to show mercy and grace.  You know why?  You know why we pray for the response of mercy and grace?  Verse 17 tells us

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James is telling you that you are saved by faith alone but that faith will never be alone.  Your faith in Jesus will transform you and as a result you will obey and do good works.  Remember, faith in Jesus is not just crying “Forgive me.”  Faith in Jesus is crying out, “Change me.”  “Get in the middle of life, messed it up and make it what you will.”  And one of the things that God promises to do is to move you towards good works that are beyond self-serving and are an extending of grace and mercy to those in need just like when grace and mercy were extended to you when you were in need.

Gang, when confess faith in Christ, some things become instantly clear.  We are convicted of sin like we have never been before.   We begin to see that our lying and our gossiping and our lusting are wrong.

By God’s grace and his indwelling Spirit, God is going to make us like Jesus.  He might do it through a wonderful succession of what looks like worldly blessings but more than likely the process by which we walk away from our sin and move towards obedience is going to be painful.  I mean think about it.  If you are going to start helping folks as they walk through poverty and need, and you are not just handing out a dollar to make yourself feel good but you are actually trying to help people get jobs, take care of their family and basically re-orient themselves towards a life that is full of work and family and worship and service, you are going to find yourself inconvenienced.

You are going to give people access to your time, your money, your talents, and your wisdom.  And for some of us, that will be the tearing away of what is probably the biggest idol in all of our lives:  comfort and ease.  And you might say, “Gordon, that sounds awful.  I just want to go to work and raise my family in Godliness or I just want to go home and chill.”  And I would say, “That is not a Biblical life; not according to James it’s not.”

Living out these commands, really doing this, is about simplicity and recognizing our continual need on Jesus.  The simplicity portion is this:  Mercy shown is evidence of mercy known.  If you know God’s mercy then you are going to show God’s mercy.  The extent to which you outwardly and purposefully show mercy is in direct proportion to how your understanding of how God outwardly and purposefully showed mercy to you.

And this is the promise of James:  you don’t have a choice in the matter.  If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you will evidence obedience and you will grow in obedience, and specifically one of the areas in which you will show that obedience is you will show mercy to other folks in need.  Now, listen, it is not salvation by faith alone plus showing mercy to others, however it is if you have salvation by faith alone you will be changed to such an extent that you show mercy to others.  You and I have to wrestle with the depth and nature of the forgiveness that we have received if we are ever going to be merciful to others.  In fact, in manner of obedience as James put forward here finds its motivation and depths in understanding the nature of our forgiveness.

Let me shape this story for you in a way that I hope will bring these things home for us.  I was talking to a local pastor the other day.  He was telling me that he had to preach a sermon on forgiveness.  So I asked him how he was going to approach it.  He said that in his sermon, he was planning on walking the congregation through three stages:  forgiving people who have offended them, asking for forgiveness from people they have offended, and then he said came the hard part:  forgiving self.   Now I don’t tell this story to demean this pastor or to speak ill of his church.  I tell it because it is going to demonstrate a few things for us.

My pastor friends point in walking his congregation through this sermon is that the hardest forgiveness is forgiving self.  He was saying that we really don’t move forward in love and service until we forgive ourselves.  And I won’t argue that it is difficult to walk away from guilt and condemnation that we heap upon ourselves for things that we have done or should have done.  But that is not the point of the gospel.  The problem with my friend’s exercise is that Christ wasn’t necessary for anything that he asked congregation to do.  It might as well have been a self-help seminary or the counsel of a local psychiatrist.

James is offering this to us.  There is not forgiveness for your sin apart from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on your behalf.  The nature of our sin is not a mixup in our character or a slip up in our self-discipline.  It is foolish, rebellion that desires our will to be God and desire God to step down from His throne.

And as we see how deep and nasty and pervasive our sin is and how rich and beautiful and thorough the love of God is in forgiving us, we become mesmerized, awed by the grace of God and we reflect that in obedience to God.  We are so awed by the mercy of God that we then have no choice but to desire to show God’s mercy to others so that they might know it as well.  It is not that we just need to muster up forgiveness of our selves so we can forgive and love others, it is that God Himself has forgiveness us and shown us mercy and we just don’t have any choice but to do the same.  Let me demonstrate this biblically.

Titus 3: 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

What were we before we came to know Jesus Christ according to Titus?  Foolish, disobedient, led astray, we were a slave to our sin, and spent our days in malice, envious of others, and hating God and hating others.  But look what happened?  The goodness and loving kindness of Jesus, our God and Savior appeared.  Jesus saved us, not because you did anything good or righteous.  He saved us simply because He wanted to show us His mercy.  He did it by regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.  That means it was all God.  Regeneration is making something alive that was once dead.  We can’t do that.  Dead people don’t regenerate themselves.  But God being rich in mercy wanted to show His mercy by forgiving and transforming you.

Now, as you are made alive and profess faith in Jesus you are justified or made right by God by one reason:  the grace of God.   You go from rebellions sinner to an heir with Jesus inheriting all the glories of heaven because of Jesus alone.  Okay, that is the Gospel.  Now what happens in light of all of God doing all of that?  Listen to verse 8 of Titus 3.

8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

The work that God has saved you, forgiven you, made you alive and gifted you with heaven is trustworthy.  You can count on it.  And light of those things you can now devote yourself to obedience and good work.  Mercy known becomes mercy shown.   And demonstrating that mercy is excellent and profitable for you.  The greater degree to which you embrace the depths of forgiveness and transformation that God has done on your part, the greater degree you will show mercy to others.  You will be willing to endure people’s ridiculous stupid decisions, their judgmentalism, their poor financial situations, even their judgment, because you know that Christ forgave you of those very things.  And when you start showing mercy to people and you find it really, really hard to keep going because they frustrate you so badly, you’re probably getting pretty close to understanding the depths of your sin and you’ll be thankful and obedient.

Now, as I close up here, some of you might start to get worried.  You might start thinking, “I believe in Jesus but I’m not where near obedient as I should be and I don’t really want to get out of my house and show mercy to folks.  Am I really a believer?  And I would offer this hope to you.

When you say, “Yes I believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins and I want to obey, I really do,” I would offer that is the cry of a Christian.   People who don’t know Christ don’t have pricked consciences about obeying and glorifying Jesus.  If you have that conscience, then that is an evidence of faith.  But let me end with this verse to give you hope.  This is what God promises to His children when they fail:

2 Timothy 2:13:“If we are faithless, he remains faithful- for he cannot deny himself.”

March 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:1-6

Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

·    Partiality is when you like one person more than another person for reasons like their appearance or how many things they own.  Why do you think James does not want us to show partiality?
·    If Jesus is the Lord of Glory, He is the only one who should be glorified.  How does showing partiality give someone else glory?

2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

·    Why are we tempted to show favoritism to people who are dressed nicely?
·    Why would that be a sin?
·    What might this sin look like in our church today?

5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

·    If God has chosen the poor in Spirit to receive the kingdom, how should we reflect that in dealing with people who are poor in wealth?
·    How can Sovereign King obey this verse?

We have all done it.  We have stopped at the stop light and right outside of our window is guy asking for money.  If we didn’t lock the doors already, we stealthfully locked them and then either judge the dude or assume he is making more money begging than we are working.  Let me move away from the stereotypical example.  You have been at work, at school, at dance class, at soccer, somewhere, maybe even right here at church, and you hear about someone in need.  Their life is mess.  They are making every bad decision in the world and are suffering from it.  You politely decline in your heart to get involved.

But maybe you meet someone who looks like you.  You’re white and they are white.  You’re whatever and they are whatever.  You like computers or sports and they do to.  Basically, they are bright shiny people just like all of us.  And you find out that they are in need.  In fact, a couple of bad things have happened, but it is not too messy, so you decide to get involved.  You offer them advice, maybe offer to meet their family, maybe you invite them to worship at SK.

You know what happened in both examples?  Your heart was revealed.  Showing mercy is a test of your heart, not anyone else’s.  When you see need, need that you by God’s grace and gifting you can help with, what  you do in response, says more about you than it does about the other person.  If you are more inclined to help your suburban neighbor than you are the guy on the street, you learned more about yourself didn’t you?  God, I’ll take some risks, but let’s make it safe why don’t we?

Well, last week, we heard James describe what the worship of God should look like.  Surprisingly, it didn’t involve many of the things that are traditionally considered religious like how much you study or how much you pray or what your Sabbath looks like.  No, James described showing mercy to those in need and doing in the midst of a sinful world.  Extending mercy without comprising Biblical convictions.  So this week, James continues to explain to us what our religion should like.  So let’s pursue this Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

James doesn’t pull any punches does he?  Let’s take this verse by verse and see what we can find.  Verse 1 makes an interesting connection.  James says

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

The way in which we hold to our faith, the way in which we persevere in giving glory to Jesus is by not showing partiality.  Now partiality can also be translated “favoritism” and the word literally means “to receive one’s face” which gives the idea of making judgments about people based on appearances.  James is saying we aren’t to show partiality or favoritism and the reason for this is demonstrated for us in the titles that James gives to Jesus.

He calls Jesus three different things.  He calls Jesus, his half-brother btw:  Lord, Christ, and Lord of Glory.  Jesus as Lord has every right to demand of us how to live and what to do.  He is Lord in title and Lord in practice.  Believers in Jesus submit to His Lordship.  His command is our will and our desire.  It is intended to be, and if it is not, then we are to repent of our will and of our desire to submit to His.

In addition, Jesus is Christ or another way of saying that is Jesus is Messiah.  Since every human being fails sinfully at following Jesus’ lordship, we stand in need of a Savior.  Jesus is Messiah in that He is the God-appointed, God-sent, obedient son who offers Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, and His resurrection assures new life and forgiveness and goodness for all who have faith in Him.

And this Lord Christ is also the Lord of Glory.  Now in the Greek there is some debate as to whether this should be translated “Lord Jesus Christ the Glory” or “Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory”  Either way, each puts forth the same idea.  The Greek word for “Glory” means weight, substance, maybe even gravitas.

Jesus deserves the weight of glory and that is the same as the glory of God the Father.  John 1: And (Jesus) the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  Jesus took on human flesh yet retained all the glory of God.  One theologian (RC Sproul) described it in this way.  He said that God’s glory is the manifestation of all His holiness, beauty, and goodness.  So, “As we think on the Lord’s glory, let us be concerned to reflect His beauty and goodness in all that we do and say.”

So only Jesus is to receive glory.  When we show partiality, we are giving someone other than Jesus glory.  So Jesus as Lord, as Savior, and as the manifestation of God’s glory, commands us to show no partiality as we hold to our faith in Him.  Now, why?  Haven’t we said the commands of God reflect the character of God?  And if they do, how does this command reflect God’s character?   Romans 2 explains that for us.

Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

God approaches each human being in light of the fact that we are sinners.  Our sin is rebellion against the nature and character of God, so God doesn’t see anyone as better than another because everyone has sinned against the law of God.  Everyone.  So God is not impressed with anyone’s supposed obedience.  So when God shows mercy, He is doing it not impressed with some who think they have obeyed well and not more upset with others.  All of us have sinned all the time against an all-knowing God.  That is who we are when God pours out His mercy.

What James is recommending to us here is that we should approach everyone without partiality.  God didn’t forgive us because we were obedient and good.  God poured His mercy out on no matter our status.  That is the way we are to approach others – we should pour our mercy out on everyone and not be impressed by anything.  Now, you might say, “Gordon, no one impresses me.  I would never do that.  What is James talking about?”  Fortunately, he tells us in verse 2.

2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5

James presents a scenario where a church is gathering for worship just like this one and two men show up as visitors.  One of them is dressed nicely and has expensive jewelry.  The other is a poor man dressed in shabby clothes.  Now, what happens next is folks are quick to greet the well-dressed man.  You give the tour of the place.  Show him where the bulletins and the good and the restrooms are.  You welcome him to find a nice sit.  But to the poor man, notice what it says.  “If you pay attention to him.”  A lot of folks won’t.  He smells.  Who is that guy, you ask.  But if you do speak to him, you don’t even give him a seat.

James say you have made a distinctions based on worldly things.  Your thoughts are worldly.  You are a judge with an evil thought.  Essentially, James is saying that this is a real temptation and therefore a real threat to the worship of God and the exercising of your faith.

Each and everyone one of you, myself included, is going to be tempted show partiality to the wealthy and to judge the poor.  Even if we just think more of the folks that are in similar socio-economic levels as ourselves and thus judge those below us we fall into this sin.  In light of our politics, our views on welfare, our views on taxing, in light of those political convictions, we often get our biblical convictions mashed up and confused.  James isn’t concerned at all about your view of welfare and taxes.  Here, he doesn’t care who you voted for and he is definitely not impressed with how hard you work or how you can take great joy in earning your income.  James just hates bigotry and can’t stand judgmental, self-righteousness.

James just calls it a sin whenever you make distinctions between yourself and others and between the rich and the poor.  Your favoritism of anyone because of their status or what they have earned belies a misunderstanding of the Gospel.  If you favor bright shiny people over dirty, shabby people, then you have forgotten that God poured His grace out on you while you were yet a shabby sinner.

The two thoughts, how you see yourself receiving God’s grace and how you perceive others are inextricably related.  The Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t impressed with anyone and neither should you be.  As you hold onto faith in Him, reflect His character and show mercy and grace without favoritism or partiality.  Tim Keller, perhaps the wisest voice in our day on this subject speaks well of this in his book “Generous Justice” – he says.

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us.

We show mercy as a response to the mercy we have received in Jesus Christ.  Even if the people that we bump into are dirty and broken and at fault for their condition, we show mercy to them.  Why?  Because we were dirty and broken and at fault for our condition before God.  And God lavished His love on us.

You will be merciful to those in need to the extent that you understand how in need you were when Jesus was merciful to you.  A full understanding of those two things:  our desperate need and God’s incredible grace will compel us to be merciful to even the most faulty, needy person.  Not demonstrating mercy demonstrates that we do not fully grasp God’s grace.

We come to a transition in this section of James though.  Tell me this.  Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, and they responded to your words by saying, “Now listen”?  How does that normally go for you?  Makes you angry doesn’t it?  I think the reason it makes us angry is that we feel like we are being corrected or that the other person doesn’t respect our viewpoint.  Well, James is correcting us and he doesn’t respect your viewpoint.  He says

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

What kind of poor man are we talking about here?  Spiritually poor or earthly poor?   The answer is “yes” or “both”  God has elected that the poor in spirit in this world will be rich in faith and an heir of His kingdom which he promised to those who love Him.  This of course echoes Jesus’ comment, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

God chose people who have absolutely nothing by which to recommend themselves.  There weren’t any really good folks, and there weren’t any folks who were rich in good works.  God chose His children out of those who had nothing, had not hope to be loved or forgiven or transformed.

Now, we are to take that spiritual reality and reflect in an earthly reality.  The living out of our faith, the pure undefiled religion that God accepts is this.  Do not dishonor those who are poor and honor the rich.  It is not poor people who oppress you; it is the rich.  They have the power to take you into court and to sue you.  They blaspheme the name of Jesus as they trust in themselves and not God.

Now, you might hear this and begin to feel uncomfortable.  If you weren’t with us a few weeks ago, remember rich is only rich by comparison.  A family of four in America at what is considered the poverty line is still richer than 98% of the rest of the world.  It is probably wise for us to consider ourselves rich here.

You might ask, “Isn’t it better to be rich than to be poor?”  Well, remember, no one recommends themselves to God and God shows no partiality.   But wealth is an idol in and of itself.  Like Jesus said in Matthew 19:23 “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.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

No, James is saying, “Listen, apart from the grace of God, the rich are going to oppress and the poor are going to be oppressed.”  Yes, maybe the rich man was smarter and yes, maybe the poor man was irresponsible, but that doesn’t matter because you are not to show favoritism, even if people make good, smart decisions.  View every single person as one made in the image and likeness of God just as James commands us in chapter 3.  Any inherent worth that a human being has does not come from their wealth or their accomplishments or their beauty of their appearance.  It comes from the fact that they are created in the image of God.   That image is marred by sin, but in the likeness of God nonetheless.

James is imploring the church and therefore imploring us to care for the poor.  And if we aren’t actively seeking out and showing mercy to those in need, we are therefore inherently showing favoritism to those whose needs are as apparent, or the rich as he calls them.  I have told this story before, so if you have heard it, please bear with me as it bears telling again.

When I quit my job at the eye doctors office to go to seminary full-time and prepare for ministry, my family endured a lot of changes.  We went from 2 cares to 1.  We went from $50,000 a year to less than $20,000.  We went from great insurance to really, barely pay anything insurance.  Then we discovered that Amy was pregnant with Landry.  Then Amy’s sister had to move in to help us pay the bills.

And Christmas rolled around.   In fact, it was mid December, and we had an artificial Christmas tree but we didn’t have any presents.  And then came a knock at our door.  Standing there was my buddy Trevor who worked with the Marines.  He had three giant bags of toys and he said he was there representing toys with tots.  I said, “Cool, who in the neighborhood are you giving them to?”  And his answer to my surprise was, “You.”  My heart of hearts wanted to fight it, but the reality was, we were poor.  We were poor as dirt and the only way we would give our kids presents was by these guys grace.

Their mercy demonstrated to us the great mercy of Jesus, and that moment we will never forget.  But James is going even further in his commands.  Yes, we should be meeting the needs of those in our community, both SK and surrounding.  Yes, we should be finding out who is in need and meet that need.

But we should do more as well.  We should be seeking justice in the lives of those who are poor and oppressed by the rich.  Let me help reset this for us.  Last week, James asked, “What is pure and undefiled religion that God accepts?”  His answer was to show mercy to show mercy to widows and orphans and keep yourself unblemished in a sinful world.  Essentially, we are to show extend mercy to those in need and to those who oppressed and take advantage of because of their poverty.  We then looked at Isaiah 1 when this truth was demonstrated.

When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts  my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers,     I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

The people of Isaiah’s day were just like us right now.  They were coming to worship God in their assemblies just like we are right now.  They were observing the Sabbath just like many of you are observing the Lord’s Day today.  They were praying just like we have been praying.

And God detested their worship.  Why?  Because their’s was restricted to their community and themselves.  Their worship hemmed in in every area by the size of their own life.  It was personal, family, community worship, and God rejected it because their worship did not extend to showing mercy to those in need.  They were looking to do justice in the lives of the needy.

That my friends means they were showing partiality to the wealthy, those without need, to those who were doing just fine.  Neglect of caring for those in need is partiality and favoritism to the beauty and the wealthy and it is a continuation of the injustice and neglect that those in need suffer from.  So God didn’t bless the worship of the people in Isaiah, even though they were obedient to the Sabbath and the festivals and the offerings.  Why?  Because their worship was determined by the sphere of their life and not by extension of worship in service to those in need.

Can we be guilty of that same sin?  I don’t how to make it any more clear than by saying, “Yes.”  Again, Keller helps in this understanding.

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

If this community doesn’t actively meet the needs of the poor and actively seek to make their lives better from the injustices of those who oppress them, not only do we not understand our great need and how it was met by God’s grace, then we may very well be offering worship to God that is unacceptable.

We can observe the Sabbath without fail.  We can have the most orthodox theology the world has ever known.  We can offer sweet prayers and have incredible Bible studies.  The question is, “Can our worship of God be described as showing mercy and doing justice to those in need?”

If not, we are called to the exact same repentance that the people of Isaiah were called to in.

Isaiah 1:16  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case.

Repent and cease to do evil.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice for those who are being taken advantage of.  Correct oppression when you see it.  Bring justice to millions of kids today that grow up without fathers.  Plead the case of the woman whose husband has died and how she can’t pay the bills.

You say, “Gordon, I don’t know any of those folks,” and I will say that precisely the point.  We must quit favoring the rich and only associating ourselves with our tight knit group of friends who look like us, make money like us, believe like us, quit showing favoritism.  I’m asking, no the passage is exhorting, you and I in this way.  Quit being oppressive by ignoring those who are being oppressed.  Quit isolating yourself into wonderful Christian safe environments that look Godly in religious observance but lack the depth of religious worship that is extending mercy to those in need.

Again, this is not the SK plan to grow.  Actively seeking out mercy to meet, to be extended, seeking out oppression to be lifted is worship.  It is the necessary other portion of what we do here, and our worship we only be as rich and as deep as can be when we do both things:  worship here and worship out there.

Micah 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

How shall we worship our God?  Big huge acts of praise and incredibly acts of discipline?

8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Gang, I’m for Bible Instruction.  I’m for prayer.  I’m for Lord’s Day Observance and family devotions.  I’m completely for our church’s doctrine and form of government.  But what if demonstrated we knew the Gospel first by acts of mercy instead of acts of personal piety?  What if we showed our children the essence of the gospel by serving those in need?  What if the burden that we had for each other was not how many people we could serve in corporate worship but how many we could serve in our community?

February 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:26-27

Big Picture Question:  What is True Religion?

Big Idea:  Worship is never about just you and God

James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

  • Not matter what we think, Christianity is a religion.  Do you consider yourself religious?  If so, how and why?
  • What does James say must happen if you consider yourself religious?
  • Why is the bridling of the tongue necessary for being religious?
  • Why does the lack of bridling the tongue make one’s religion worthless?

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

 What is the pure and undefiled religion that God accepts?

  • Why would God value visiting orphans and widows?
  • What do those acts of mercy have to do with keeping oneself unstained from the world?
  • Are there people in great need like orphans and widows that you know that you could specifically serve?
  • If you did, how would you have to keep yourself unstained from the world?

There is almost no more offensive word in the English language than religion.  Even among Christian circles, you’ll hear people avoid the word or distancing themselves from it.  They’ll say, “I have a relationship, not a religion.”  One of the reasons the word religion is hated is because it brings to mind either terrible images of misuse and abuse or it brings to mind dead, stoic worship.  Religion brings to mind things like terrorism, the Crusades, and concentration camps.  While at the same time causing many of us to think about things like cold, damp cathedrals full of statues and dudes in dresses.  At what I think is the absolute worst, the word religion brings to mind memories of harsh judgementalism and even abuse at the hand of supposed Godly men and women.

As Tim Keller wisely says in his book “The Reason for God” – “So many people’s problem with Christianity has far more to do with the church than with Jesus.”  But make no mistake; every single human being is religious in some way.  In some way, most people are living out a life that says, “God, help me find you.”   The difference in faith in Jesus as opposed to every other faith, we can cry, “God, come find me,” and have a hope that God will do just that.

So this week, we are going to look at what James calls “true religion” and I bet many of us are going to be surprised by the answer – even if we have heard it before.  So towards that end, let me offer this idea and this question to guide our way.  Big Picture Question:  What is True Religion?  Coupled with this Big Idea:  Worship is never about just you and God

James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

As always, we need to place the commands of James within its proper context.   Last week, we saw James make things incredibly plain for all of us who claim to be Christians.  He said, “Don’t be deceived:  Be a doer of God’s word and not a hearer only.  James goes on to explain that when we look into the scriptures what we see is our true self.  We understand our need because of sin.  We understand how our need is met through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  We understand how to be forgiven.  And we understand how to live in light of all of those things.

But if we read the scriptures and don’t put all of those into practice through obedience then what we are really doing is looking into a mirror, seeing ourselves, and then walking away and forgetting what we looked like.  We concluded last week by talking about how the Spirit of God enables His children to obey.  Romans 8 explains that the very Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead enables us now to obey.  And Ephesians 4 explains that what the Sprit does is He enables us to put off our old self of sin, put on the new self of Jesus and to display our renewed self to the world by telling our neighbor about these truths.

So with all of that, James moves into some pretty heavy, weighty, and controversial areas.  If we are going to obey the scriptures, what is that going to look like?  What is the religion of following Jesus, called Christianity, going to look like?  We begin to see that in verse 26.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

James is going to explain to us what it looks like to be a Christian.  Remember, he is not explaining what you do to become a Christian.  He is explaining what it looks like once you become a Christian.  And he swings for the fences.  One of the evidences to your heart and the world that you have faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins is that you know how to bridle your tongue.  If you don’t bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless and you are deceived.   So, if this is going to be this important, then we need to know what it means to bridle our tongue.

Well a bridle guides the animal, restrains the animal, and controls the animal.  Part of the bridle is the bit.  The bit goes into the horse’s mouth, and interestingly enough, the bit always sits on top of the tongue.  From my reading this week and according to some horse enthusiasts here, a bit under the tongue does no good at all.  You have to control the tongue to control the horse.  A gentle nudge to the left, and the horse goes left.  A gentle nudge to the right, and the horse goes right.  Pull back and the horse pulls up.

That is exactly the type of control you and I as professed followers of Jesus Christ are supposed to have on our tongue.  And if you are a non-believer sitting in the crowd and you hear this and think, “Christians don’t control their tongue,” I would say, “Yep, you’re right.  We rarely do.  If we don’t control our tongue, according to James, then we are deceived and our religious expression of worship of Jesus is worthless.  Oh, boy we are in trouble, aren’t’ we?

You are to exert the same manner of self-control over your tongue that a bridle and rider exerts over a horse.  Why?  Why is the tongue that important?   Why should the exercise of that be so important?  Well James answers that for us.  Later on in the book of James, he will tell us this:

James 3: 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James says that whatever is in your heart is what is going to come out.  Guys, I once worked a Christian bookstore.  It made me pretty jaded about the entire “Christian” industry.  Putting “Jesus loves you” stickers on yo-yos will do that for you.  I guess those yo-yo’s were more safe for kids to play with since they proclaimed Jesus – insert sarcasm here.  But what really was a struggle for me at the Christian bookstore was the temper and anger and language of my boss.  If I made a mistake, he would yell at me.  He would call me stupid.  His mother worked at store as the bookkeeper and he would yell at her and call her names that I cannot and will not repeat here.  One day, he got so mad, that while he was yelling at all of us, he put his fist through a class display case, shattering it to a million pieces.  As a young Christian, I thought, “Is this what we are called to?”

But fortunately, I also had the privilege of working with a staff worker at Intervarsity at ECU who was a very calm and Godly man.  And even though he and I disagreed a lot, he measured his words carefully, even when he was frustrated with me.  If I walked away mad, it wasn’t because of hurtful or guilt-inducing words.  I didn’t always like what he had to say but I wasn’t mad at the way he said it.  And notice, this passage is not say don’t speak.  Not speaking is a type of Godly self-control, but it is not the end game of controlling your speech.  This is speaking of a God given control of one’s speech where we do speak but we do with words of wisdom and grace.

Right now, we all need to reckon our words well because according to his passage, out of all of the communities in which we are involved, this group here at SK, should have the greatest amount of speech self-control.  And if we don’t we are deceived and our religion is worthless.  Honestly, take a look at your habits of speech right now.  Parents, children, siblings, coworkers, Christians.  Your words should be truthful, sprinkled with grace, devoid of anger, devoid of selfishness.  And as we saw a few weeks ago, our interactions with others should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  And for some you, the problem is you don’t speak.  You don’t say anything.

You think Grandma’s advice is biblical, “Well if you can’t say something nice then don’t say nothing at all.”  That’s not biblical.  That is not a bridled tongue.  That horse is still in the barn.  Just being quiet instead of speaking with a gracious controlled tongue is uncaring and displays a lack of faith.  Some of us need to speak less and a bunch of us need to speak more.  Either way, how you speak is evidence of whether your religion is worthless or not.

Now, what I hope is that we hear this and because we know Christ as our Savior, we respond with a desire not for a worthless religion but an exercise of faith that has great value, worth something.  And thankfully, James tells us.  He doesn’t just say, not bridling the tongue makes your faith worthless, he displays for us what a faith looks like that is not worthless.  And if you thought bridling the tongue was hard, wait till you get a look at what he says in verse 27.

27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

A pure reflection of heart worship to God is described by James in 3 ways:  Visiting orphans Visiting widows in their affliction And keeping oneself unstained from the world.  What?  Why these three?  I bet you could come up with at least 2 that are different than these?  Right?

What would the Presbyterian list look like?  My guess would be Subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Have family devotions every night, Don’t go out to eat on Sunday

What would the Baptist list look like?  Only baptisms after profession of faith.  Immersion only, baptize means immerse.

The hymn lovers would be Hymns only, no guitars, no drums.

The public school proponents would be Love your neighbor in the school system.

The homeschoolers list would be “Don’t send your kid to public school.”

The teetotalers would be “Never drink alcohol, never, ever.

The drinkers would be “Never drink bad alcohol, never, ever.

And you know?  For the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the hymn lovers, the public school proponents, the homeschoolers, the teetotalers, the drinkers, all of those convictions are fine and good.  But the authoritative James command says, “Pure, undefiled religion, the one that God accepts is visiting orphans, widows in their affliction, and keeping oneself unstained from the world.”  Let’s dig into that and make sure we understand it because apparently whether or not we obey this verse is going to demonstrate whether we are living out a life of faith that is acceptable to God or not.

Why do you think James mentions caring for orphans and widows while keeping oneself unstained from the world?  And I guess secondly, we should ask, “If I don’t know any widows and orphans, what should I do then?”  Essentially, James is telling us that a religion that is pure and undefiled before God is one where you actively live out a life of mercy to those in need, doing it in the context of a sinful world, and doing it without compromising Biblical convictions and commandments.  You see, visiting orphans and caring for widows was a commandment of the law and served as a euphemism for meeting the needs of anyone who was oppressed and standing in need.  This extension of mercy to those in need in the midst of a sinful world reflected the character of the heart of God.

Deuteronomy 10:17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him.

In Deuteronomy, we find God re-presenting the Law to the people of God.  In that, God is describing His character.  He executes justice for the fatherless, the widow, and the alien sojourner.  And as a direct consequence, God’s people were to reflect the character of God by caring for those in need in the exact same way.  In Jeremiah 7, we see God speaking of mercy to widows and orphans as an expression of His character and as something the people were to do as worship and honoring to that character.

Jeremiah 7:4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ 5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm,

God was saying, “Don’t call this place a temple of worship just because you show up and offer sacrifices here.  This is a place of worship acceptable to God if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, the widow, do not shed innocent blood, and don’t worship other Gods.  You see, the heart of God, there is a direct connection between what happens in these moments of worship here and what we do when we are not in these moments here.  Our worship of God is acceptable and pure here if we are actively caring for those who are oppressed and in need out there, all the while doing it without compromising Biblical convictions.

Let me show this one more time and this from the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 1:12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me;    I am weary of bearing them.

Now, hear what is going on in Isaiah.  The people are obeying in their acts of worship.  They are bringing offerings to God.  They are burning incense in their prayers.  They are observing both the New Moon festivals and resting on the Sabbath.  This is good biblical worship.  This is like us getting together and singing and praying and preaching and giving, doing the things that we see as Biblically instructed worship.  And then God says, “I can’t stand any of that stuff.”

In fact, the language of Isaiah from God is this.  You are trampling my courts.  Your offerings are in vain.  Your incense is an abomination which is the same word that God used when someone offered their child in sacrifice to some pagan deity.  God, “I hate your assemblies.”  I hate it when you guys get together and “worship”  God says His very soul hates their observing of their festivals and their feasts.  In fact, God says that their prayers are burdensome to Him.  “Those people, again?”  And God goes on in verse 15 to tell them what He was going to do in responses.

15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen;

As a result of God hating the worship that they were offering, God promised to hide his eyes from them.  God was not going to listen to the prayers they offered.  God tells them that they will do all the Biblical commands of worship, and when they get done, God will reject their worship and not hear their prayers.  Why?  Why is it that God hated it when His people were doing what God had commanded them to do?  Verses 15-17 tell us.

Your hands are full of blood.  16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless,  plead the widow’s cause.

God accuses the people of God of having bloody hands that need cleaning.  Were the people actively killing others and then coming to worship like they were not sinning?  No, their hands were full of blood because they didn’t seek justice and correct oppression by showing mercy to the fatherless and the widow.

Essentially, not being merciful to those in need, in God’s economy, is the same as the shedding of blood and that leads to unacceptable worship.  Not being merciful to those in need is oppressive and because they were not doing works of mercy and justice, God didn’t accept their worship.  Their worship was defiled, impure, and unacceptable before God.  In verse 18, we see God call them to repentance.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.  19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel,    you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God says, “Listen, these sins of oppression and neglect are red before me.”  But in verse 18, we see that God Himself is going to make their sins white as snow and white as wool.  If the people repented and demonstrated the fruits of repentance by caring for those in need, then God was going to bless them.  If they refused to repent and refused to care for those in need around them, then God was going to punishment them.

These truths are the basis for James telling you and me that true worship that God accepts is caring for widows and orphans and doing it in such a way so as not to be stained by the sins of this world.  Now, you might hear this and think, “But Gordon, Isaiah and Jeremiah were OT.  I mean James is saying we should do acts of mercy, but that OT stuff is kind of harsh isn’t it?  Doesn’t Jesus change all of that?  Well let’s see.

Matthew 25: 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Okay we will start here.  When Jesus returns in His glory, He will sit on His glorious throne and every nation will be gathered before Him.  And He will divide every nation onto either onto His left and onto His right.  The left will be the goats, and the right will be the sheep.  To the sheep on the right, Jesus will say, “Come into the kingdom that God the Father has prepared for you from the very foundation of the world.”  And what characterizes these sheep who get to enter into the kingdom of God?  They served the king.  They served Jesus.  When Jesus was hungry, they gave Him food.  When Jesus was thirsty, they gave Him water.  When Jesus was a stranger they welcomed Him.  When Jesus was sick and in prison, they visited Him.  The sheep on the right wondered, “When did we do that?”  And the King responds with, “Whenever you served the least in this world, you served me.”  Whenever the sheep showed mercy in the midst of this sinful world, Jesus counted it as worship of Jesus.  You serve them, you are serving me, Jesus says.  To the goats on the left, the exact opposite happened.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus throws the goats on the left into eternal fire because Jesus was hungry and thirsty and a stranger and sick and in prison and they did not serve Him.  And just like the sheep, they ask, “When did all of this happen?  When did we neglect you?”  And Jesus responds, when you didn’t show mercy to those in need, you didn’t worship me.  Go to hell.  Pure undefiled religion that God accepts is caring for widows and orphans and doing it without being stained from this world.  Unfortunately, so much of the church today wants to hide from active involvement in the world so as to be unstained but they do it the neglect of showing mercy to those in need.  If we ask ourselves how we are doing here at SK, we might make the mistake of patting ourselves on the back.

I am thankful that any time we have thrown out the option to serve the EMS, the Police, and Hayes Place, you guys have responded.  But I don’t think we live these verses out every day as we should.  Yes, as a collective, we have been blessed with the privilege of serving those families in need, but are you actively going into this world, and serving those in need?  If not, your worship may very well be defiled and impure.

But ask yourself, “When was the last time you actively loved and served someone who could never repay the favor as an act of worship to God?”  How is that 100 yards from this building is an apartment complex where children are left alone, kids need tutoring, parents neglect their kids, folks are hungry, people can’t pay their bills, and we are not an active part of that mercy yet?  We should walk incredibly humbly before God right now.  We should think long and hard about what we are doing right now if we are given over to going into this world, protecting our hearts and yet serving those in need.

I don’t know, I’m no prophet, but maybe we haven’t grown as a church, maybe we haven’t seen God’s blessing in terms of new people coming to know Christ and being  able to pay our bills and other areas because our religion hasn’t been pure and undefiled.  I don’t know the mind of God in that area, but I do know that we should hear these verses from James and beg that God would make them true at SK.  True not only corporately when we undertake efforts of mercy but true for each and every one of you.  That attitude of worship is detailed for us in 2 Corinthians 1
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

God shows us mercy through Jesus Christ when we get this horribly wrong.  Without God’s mercy, we have no hope whatsoever to even attempt worship or mercy.  But we go to God in our need and God meets our need with His comfort.  And as we struggle and are afflicted in every single way, God comforts us then too.

But that comfort is not intended to stop merely in the meeting of your need.  Verse 4 tells us then that the redeemable purpose of your affliction, whatever it may be, is that you then take the comfort that you have received from God and offer it to others who are in need.  You worship God by extended mercy and comfort to others in this sinful world and you can do that because God has extended mercy and comfort to you in the midst of this sinful and hurtful world.

Some of you may wonder, “God, when is this miserable life of mine going to change,” and the answer might very well be, “You’ll see your life differently when you go begin to comfort others who are in need just like you.”

February 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:19-21

Big Idea:  The Word of God has real power for real change in your life.

James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;

  • How do these characteristics show another person that you care for them?
  • Can you think of examples of when Jesus’ demonstrated these characteristics?
  • Are there certain people that when you are with them you find it difficult to obey these verses?
  • Are there people that you need to ask to forgive you because you have not obeyed these verses?

20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

  • Jesus was angry in the Bible.  How was it that Jesus could be angry and not sin?
  • If your anger produces sin, ask yourself, “When am I sinfully angry?
  • Are there people that I need to ask to forgive me because of these verses?

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

  • What has God given us to help us repent of sin and grow in obedience?
  • Can you think of specific examples when you were trying to overcome sin and you sought out help from the Bible?

Some of you are incredibly disciplined, self-controlled folks.  You might say, “Gordon I’m not disciplined in anything.  I just sit around and watch TV or play on the computer all the time,” and I would say, “Yep there is your discipline.”  But, some of you have homes that are almost always clean.  Or you leave for work at the exact same time every day.  Maybe you read your bible every single day.  Some of you always have your kids’ home school lessons ready every week.  I love to go running 4-5 days a week.  We all have some measure of discipline and self-control.

But there is a temptation within discipline and self-control.  Even though self-control is a promised work of the Spirit in your life, there still remains a temptation.  No matter how great and Godly your discipline and self-control are, they are not the power of change in your life.  Just exerting will power in your life will not change you.  God can use your will power but your will power has no power in and of itself.

Let me give you an example.  Maybe you are faithful in your bible study.  You hit it every morning before you begin your day.  You have learned much and have grown much through that discipline of studying the word.  This is an awesome, beneficial, and Godly discipline.   But your discipline will not change you.

The word of God is what has great power to change you.  1 Thessalonians 2: 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus.  The word of God when accepted with a God-gifted faith found in you and me is at work for real change in your life.  Its work enables you to see real change and cause you to become imitator of Godliness that Jesus gifts His church.  Let’s see that played out in this week’s passage in James with this Big Idea.

Big Idea:  The Word of God has real power for real change.

James 1:19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Now before we jump in, let me make an honest confession as your pastor.  In my preaching, I am always given to protect my heart and your heart from legalism.   Legalism is the sickness of the human condition.  Legalism is attempting to earn your way before God.  Ever since the day Adam chose to earn his way before God instead of leaving in the light of God’s love, every human being feels the need to earn and work and strive to prove themselves.  We are legalistic when thinking about ourselves, we are legalistic when it comes to our relationships with others, and we are legalistic when it comes to our relationship with God.  We feel like others have to earn their value, and we think we have to earn our value.

Now, earning your way is consistent with the nature of sin but it is contrary to the nature of grace.  Because of our sin, we can’t earn anything before God.  But grace is God loving us like we have never sinned.  As the lyrics of one great song said, “It falls down on me, it falls down on you: grace falls free, the proud feel the need to work the loom, yet grace falls free.” LSU  So because of that, I always want to present the commands of scripture as the very words of God to apply to our lies but always highlighted with, tinged with, colored in, and bathed with the Gospel that says, “Follow this command out of love and out of fidelity but don’t do it to earn anything.  The love that God has for you, His affection for you is not dependent upon how good you are.  Praise Jesus.”

So the confession on my part is that sometimes it is hard for me teach the straightforward commands of God.  Sometimes the Bible just says, “Do or don’t do,” and I have a hard time figuring out how to preach it in light of the Gospel.  But then I must remind my heart and yours that obedience to the commands of God are intended to be warm acts of affection from you to God.  So, this is one of those weeks.  These commands are straightforward and simple and Godly.

So here is how I want us to approach this scripture today.  I want us to desperately approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life, and I’ll tell you why that is not legalism.  (John Piper)  When you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…You are pleading as a helpless child for the desire you long to have. Legalists don’t cry like that. They strut.  When you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…You are reading out of desperation for the effects of this heavenly medicine. Bible-reading is not a cure for a bad conscience; it’s chemo for your cancer. Legalists feel better because the box is checked. Saints feel better when their blindness lifts, and they see Jesus in the word. Let’s get real. We are desperately sick with worldliness, and only the Holy Spirit, by the word of God, can cure this terminal disease.  And finally when you approach the scriptures looking for the very words of life…It is not legalism because only justified people can see the preciousness and power of the Word of God. Legalists trudge with their Bibles on the path toward justification. Saints sit down in the shade of the cross and plead for the blood-bought pleasures.  John Piper.

So having said that, let’s jump into this week’s passage.  Any time a verse begins with the words “Know this,” we can imply two things.  Something has come before to help build this thought.  And something directly applicable is going to follow.

Last week, we saw James emphasize to us that every good and perfect gift that we have comes down from the Father of lights.  Part of the intention in that passage was to either establish or re-establish in our hearts and minds that whatever we are presently enduring is intended to be used by God for good in our lives.  Top of the world or struggling to survive, if you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins then every single thing that God is ordaining for you to go through is for your good because the purpose of those things is to equip and to make you more like Christ.  James then reminded us that God’s character as the Father of Lights is unchanging and as we learn to trust that unchanging nature, we are not consumed my our circumstances.  Ultimately, out of that, we are God’s firstfruits where He calls us His own and we are the first of a great harvest where God promises to use us to bring many people to come know Him.

So with that, we move into the most practical, almost proverb-like, teaching in the book of James.  He tells us 3 things:  He tells us as beloved brothers that we should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.  These are 3 separate commands but they are connected in a way that should never be separated.  Essentially, this is the 3 legged stool that we sit on in our relationships.  James wants us to know how to listen to others, how to speak to others, and how to control our temper.  Again, all three of these go together, but for our sake and to understand them completely, we need to look at them one at a time.  So, having said that, what does it mean to be quick to hear or as some translations have it, quick to listen.  Well, our best understanding of obedience is always found in Jesus.

If we want to understand how to listen, let’s see how Jesus demonstrated and valued listening.  We see his example when He listened to the woman at the well in John 4.  She was so shocked that Jesus would even speak to her much less listen to her.  He listened to the Rich Young Ruler and his arrogance in Mark 10.  He listened to the Pharisee when the Pharisee rebuked Jesus in John 10.  Despite being omniscient and all-knowing, Jesus took time to listen to people when He interacted with them.

But Jesus also valued listening by command.  He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” when teaching about John the Baptist – Mt 11:15.  He said the same thing around the parable of the sower – Mt 13:9  And around the explanation of the parable of the tares – Mt 13:43  The commands around the churches in Revelation from Jesus in chapter 2 all say, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear.”

Having taken in Jesus’ example and command, what does it mean to be quick to listen?   Essentially, it means that we first seek people out in order to understand what they think and feel.  A lot of times in the Christian world, we don’t even seek out people with whom we disagree because we don’t care to know what they think.  We think we know it already, so why listen to them again.  We do this with issues of religion, politics, sexuality, basically any other area in which we feel smug.  We are guilt of just not listening to folks.  Secondly, it means patiently listening to folks while they speak.  Not dying for a break in the action so that you can tell them why they are wrong.  Not ignoring what they have to say because your opinion has been formed prior to or apart from their conversation.  No, patiently listening to what folks have to say.  Not quick to speak but quick to listen.

This is the basis of so many fights in marriages and other relationships.  One party is talking and the other party is off doing something completely other in their head.   You know this moment; it’s when one person says to the other, “You can’t tell me what I just said, can you?”  And the other says, “Yeah, I can,” and then they fumble through some mishmash of words that they barely heard, or after hearing a list you can only recall the first thing your spouse said.  And then the fight breaks out.

But the bottom line is that listening is caring.  Listening is loving.  Even if you know what the person is going to say word for word, listening to them is caring for them.  Jesus knew what people were going to say before they said it, yet He listened.  He even knew what people were thinking before they said it:  Matthew 9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? Jesus knew what people were really thinking in their hearts.  You don’t.

Quite simply, SK, stop playing God and listen to people.  Ask them what they think and ask them what they care about.  Ask them to clarify when you don’t understand.  Tell people, “Hey I want to make sure I heard you,” and then tell them back what they said.  Let’s reflect that we have been heard by God and be a people that hears and listens.

Be quick to listen.  And if you are quick to listen then you are going to be slow to speak.  These two things go together.  Proverbs 17:27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.  28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;    when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Honestly, being slow to speak is not a valued characteristic:  not in the world and not in the church.  But according to the scriptures, the restraint of words is the evidence of knowledge.  This doesn’t mean that you get to be purposefully quiet to keep people in the dark.  It means listening well in order to respond well.  Heck, Proverbs even says that restraining the words gives you a cool spirit.  If I could learn to restrain my words it would be the first time I would have been cool in my entire life.

But verse 28 is the kicker.  Even fools appear wise and intelligent when they are silent.  Gang, I have rarely been in these circles.  When I was a teacher, it was how smart you were or how well you could influence people.  When I was in sales, it was definitely about being deft with words.  As a manager, I never could figure out how to manage quietly, but that was the first time I learned to listen to people.  Seminary is the place where they teach you to speak and only encourage you to listen.  As a pastor, I used to jump into every theological battle out there leaving friends and family as wreckage along the way.

Now, when I read these verses, and I’m told to be quick to listen and slow to speak.  I so desperately want to see that grow in me and grow in this church.  What a great testimony SK would have if in our neighborhoods and community we weren’t known as the church that constantly picks a fight, but the one that listens and is wise in response.  Now, before we move on to being slow in anger, let me offer this one caveat.   You might say that you rarely get into fights over Christianity and that you are slow to speak, so what’s the big deal?  Great, let me ask one question:  Do you even care enough to be involved in the lives of others?

Because you and I need to know that indifference towards others is not being quick to listen and slow to speech.  Judging others silently is not being quick to listen and slow to speech.  Not caring whether someone in this church is hurting or not isn’t those things.  Not caring whether someone is growing in Christ in this church is not those things.  Not caring whether someone knows Jesus Christ is not those things.

And you know why we just don’t care sometimes?   Some one or some thing has disappointed us, and we are angry and that anger has become indifference.  That’s why James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  If you are caringly listening to people, being wise in how you respond with your words, then you will be less likely to get angry.  But, if you are angry, you will be tempted to just not interact with folks whether in the church or out.  Ever written someone off?  If so, that is not wisdom.  It’s anger.  The recipe for depth and communicating love in a relationship is being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

Gang, the reason the commands to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger aren’t merely legalistic commands is because when we obey these verses we are being compassionate and imitating Christ.  We are imitating Christ.  We are imitating His incarnation.  Let me explain that.  Incarnating or the incarnation was Jesus taking on human flesh sympathetically to endure what we grow through so He secure righteousness and salvation for us.  When you are quick to listen, you are incarnating; you are trying to understand the other person.  When you are slow to speak, you are incarnating; you are making sure that you give the other person time to express themselves.  When you are slow to anger, you are incarnating; you are making sure that the other person feels safe around you to be honest without being attacked.

Now, you might say, Gordon, I just don’t know if I can do that.  The people who make me angry, I just avoid them.  Isn’t that better?  It might be better for you, but it doesn’t demonstrate the Gospel, it doesn’t reflect Christ, and it is not obedient.  In effect you are saying, “I don’t want to be like Jesus.  I don’t mind being like Jesus to that person, but I don’t want to be like Jesus in response to that person.”  This verse doesn’t prohibit you from talking or even being angry.  It tells you to be quick and first and slow the second.  Here is why.  Verse 20 tells us for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  If your anger doesn’t produce righteousness then what it produces is sin.  Now when you hear that, don’t you want to justify your anger just a bit?

Don’t you want to tell me that Jesus got angry that one time and flipped over all the tables of the merchants who were hawking their goods at the temple?  And I say, “Yes, Jesus did get angry.  But His anger was a Godly, righteous anger.  His anger was described a zeal for the house of God.  Jesus didn’t sin in His anger.

That is not our anger.  The anger described as sin here is the anger of man, and the anger of man does not produce righteousness.  Folks, let me bottom line it for you.  Our sinful nature wants us to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger.  We do this because our sinful tells us that we are right, others are wrong, and no one can convince us otherwise.  We need an infusion of what is true from God and we need the Holy Spirit to mend those truths into our heart so that we can begin to think, act, interact, and even worship rightly.

I remember getting all of this completely wrong when I was in seminary.  I was arguing theology with a good friend over instant messenger, so you can already see how this was a bad idea.  My friend was working on his doctorate and I was working on my theology, and we were at two completely opposite sides on an issue.  I arrogantly made a joke over instant messenger and it hurt our friendship.  I couldn’t understand how my friend came to the conclusion that he had so I quoted Seinfeld and said, “Daniel, my friend, you are an enigma wrapped in a twinkie.”

I wasn’t being quick to listen, slow to speak, or slow to anger.  It two years to repair that friendship.  My interaction with my friend was arrogant, prideful, and wicked.  When we don’t listen carefully and are given to anger, we are walking in arrogance, pride, and wickedness.  Instead, we need to walk and talk meekly.  We need to listen, speak slowly and control our anger.  Fortunately, verse 21 tells us how we can do that.

21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  Failure to be quick to listen, failure to be slow to speak, failure to be slow to anger is described in verse 21 as filthiness and rampant wickedness.  We will be filthy and angry and sinful unless we walk before the scriptures in humility and meekness.  I read a great quote this week from a pastor buddy of mine.  He say, “The patience of God means He has power over His own wrath; He is able to righteously restrain His anger.”  So the God ordained means by which you can gain such control and power over your listening, speaking, and your anger is to bathe your heart and mind in the scriptures and when we do that God promises interact with you by the power of His Holy Spirit.  The hope we have is for the word of God to be implanted in your heart so that you will be meek and your soul be saved.

Let’s take those things one at a time.  First, receiving the implanted word with meekness.  You want to know why most Christians struggle with reading their bible regularly?  Because most of us think we don’t need it.  We think the Holy Spirit is like a Genie in the Bottle and is going to just tell us whatever we need to know.  And no doubt, the Spirit can do whatever the Spirit wants, but that’s just it.  The Holy does as the Spirit will.  And the command and promise of God is that the Holy Spirit is going to work in conjunction with the Bible to help you put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.  Romans 8 explains the interaction between you, the word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:10 If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Holy Spirit is in you as you have faith in Jesus.  The Spirit gives you a life that enables you to obey.  The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead will give you this new life of obedience.  I Corinthians 2 explains how that works.

1 Corinthians 2: 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual

The Spirit of God enables you to understand the scriptures.  And the scriptures are the word of God and they enable you to live out that which God has commanded.  Gang, do not neglect this incredibly great gift.  It is life for your bones and energy for your heart.  Second, how does the word of God save your soul?

Romans 10: 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, if you have called out to him for forgiveness and salvation, it is because you know and believe the Jesus that is presented in the scriptures.  You couldn’t have called out unless you believe, you couldn’t have believed unless you heard the truths of scriptures, and you couldn’t have heard those scriptures unless someone proclaimed them to you, and someone sent that person to tell you the truths of scriptures.  Your faith in Jesus came from hearing the word of God and the word of God came from Jesus Christ.

Gang, the church here is not just a civic organization or something that you go to once a week or a couple of times a month.  This worship service, the existence of SK is part of God’s designed plan to bring people to know Jesus and then see those people grow and change in real Godliness.  You know that pattern that we just read:  faith in Jesus, believing the scriptures, hearing the Bible, preaching the scriptures sending the preacher?  Let’s take that in reverse and make it SK’s story and the make it your story.

Redeemer Church and Eastern Caroline Presbytery sent me to Garner to Plant Sovereign King.  So Amy and I move here in 2005.  By God’s grace, we gather some folks in and I start preaching.  Folks, hear the preach word and are changed.  Some come to faith for the first time while others grows in their knowledge of the scriptures and the bible.  That faith grow into belief and that belief grows into obedience.

That is what is going on here and each of you play a part.  You don’t have to be an ordained preacher to play a part in this.  You hear these words, grow in belief and faith, God changes you, and then God intends for you to share the truths of scriptures with others.  SK sends you out.  This is your commissioning.  Go, play a part in what God has designed.  Proclaim Jesus and the truths of scripture to those who need to heart it, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, and then trust the Spirit’s work in their lives just as you trust it in yours.

And when you do that, God will enable you to obey these verses.  You can proclaim Jesus to me and the rest world and do it while being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.  Real change folks, real promises of God, real glory to Jesus, God really using you and SK Church

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes from James 1:16-18

James 1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Big Idea:  Anything good that you have in your life is there by God’s grace.

 

James 1: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,

·    How can we be deceived according to James?
·    What does God gift?
·    How do we know how to define “good and perfect gift”?  See Eccl 7:14, Rom 8:28
·    How should this verse help us understand the things that happen in our life?

coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

·    How is it comforting that God does not change?
·    What does Malachi 3:6 tell us about God’s unchanging nature?

18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth,

·    What is the word of truth?
·    What does it mean that God brought us forth by the word of truth?
·    What else did God bring about by His word of truth?
·    How should this help you worship God more greatly and deeply?

that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

·    What is a firstfruit?
·    What does it mean that we can be a firstfruit of God’s creatures?
·    How can does your understanding of God enable you to be a firstfruit?

 

When you have a job, you work a certain number of hours and you expect to get paid in a manner worth your effort.  My first job was barning tobacco which is nasty, sweaty, back-breaking work.  My pay for a 4 hour slot was a mountain dew, a pack of nabs, and $12 – which was a king’s ransom at age 14.

I remember graduating from ECU and getting my first teaching job.  Four and half years of college, $7,000 in college loans, and my first year’s pay was $17,000.  That was really the first time in my life that I thought:  Wait a minute.  17 grand for this job?  I loved teaching, but really?

Since we have the privilege of living in a society where you can work where you want and there are laws surrounding things like fair pay and minimum wage, we are all hard wired with the kind of thinking that says, “I deserve this for that.”  It not unique to being American by any means, but we are wired with the thought that we deserve a certain amount of money and a certain amount of privilege for our efforts.  If we work hard, give us more.  Even if we don’t work hard, we still expect to get paid.  We just own our rights really, really deeply.

Now, this kind of drive can start businesses, build buildings, and even change the world.   But this kind of thinking is poison when it comes to one’s relationship with God.   The temptation of every person’s heart is to think, “Well, I’m not perfect, but I try really hard and I am better (or work harder) than at least that person, so in the end God is going to like me, love me, and let me into heaven.”

This kind of thinking goes absolutely contrary to verses like Romans 3:10, “There are none that are righteous (or good); no not one.”  Because of this many folks never recognize their need for forgiveness or their need of Jesus Christ.

Now you may hear that and say, “Well, we don’t have that problem here SK.  We talk about sin, and forgiveness and grace and the Gospel.”  And I will say, “Yes, I am thankful that God has engendered into the DNA of Sovereign King that we are in desperate need of a Savior and that we can do nothing to recommend ourselves to God.  We desperately need and depend up on Jesus for our salvation.”

But that wonderful reality here at SK, does not mean that we are completely immune to some other areas in which we think where God owes us something.  BTW, it is not just us.  No one is immune to this condition.  Let me give you an example, take your lifestyle, how comfortably you want to live.  We are all tempted to struggle.  Ask yourself, is your money yours?  A quick measure to find out.  How much of your money goes to your house, your home, your debts, your…you?  98%?  I mean you earned it right.  You worked hard.  You are not mooching off anybody.   That money is yours right?  Your home is yours, and oh yeah, your time is yours too, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Gang, this passage in James is going to be revolutionary.  Let’s see if God will meet us well and help us tackle this Big Idea:  Anything good that you have in your life is there by God’s grace.

James 1: 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Now, before we jump into these passages, verse by verse, let’s make sure we approach it in the manner that James intended.   If we don’t get this verse, meaning if we don’t believe, become convicted by it, and then apply it, James is telling us that we are deceived.  No one wants to be deceived, and it is hard to admit when you are deceived.  When you are deceived, you have been duped.  Someone or something has convinced you of something that is not true.  And it is so very hard to admit that we have been deceived because we are admitting a weakness.   We are saying, “I just wasn’t smart enough to see it coming,” and really, often we are too proud to actually say something like that.

I’ve been deceived before, all of us have, but it is hard for us to admit.   I remember when I was in sales.  Things were going well, but when you are in sales, there is a tendency to always be looking for the next thing, at least I was.  So as I was walking out of an office one day, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys that I had seen there before.  He asked me about the nature of my sales work and then told me about a business that he was starting.  He told me the vaguest of details, but enough for me to be interested.  We set up a lunch appointment to talk about in a few days.  In my mind, I was excited about getting started on the ground with this company that would make me a lot of money and feed my greedy soul.  When we met, I discovered that it was nice little pyramid scam or a triangle or a delta scheme, whatever you wanted to call it.  I knew I wanted nothing to do with it, but I was deceived to begin with.  I thought it was thing and discovered it was completely something else.  My desires caused to believe this guy was offering one thing when I should have known better.

Well, the deception that James is speaking about here is like that but worse.  James is warning us of the thinking that what we have from God, the good and wonderful blessings in our life, James wants to warn us into thinking that we got them in any other way than God’s grace.  We didn’t get them because we were so good that God was impressed with us.  We didn’t get them because we were better than the people we know who are doing as well as us.  We just receive our good gifts because of God’s grace.

And notice, the kind of thinking that thinks we have earned all of these blessings is called a deception – believing and acting on something that is not true.  And James uses the most affectionate of terms.  Beloved brothers, don’t be deceived.   Every good and perfect gift is from above.

These good and perfect gifts come from nowhere else.  They don’t come from the sweat of your brow.  They don’t come from your hard work.  You don’t make your own destiny.  Good and perfect gifts come from above.

Now, to understand this fully, we have to ask, “What is a good and perfect gift?”  First thought seems to be all those things that we want, right?  Love, comfort, warmth, a nice house, puppies, or cats for you cat lovers.  For me, it would be time with Amy and the girls, a good long run on a Saturday morning, a good cup of coffee.   Maybe you define good and perfect gifts spiritually.  A church growing in their understanding of Jesus and His grace.  People coming to a relationship with Christ for the first time.  Joyful worship.

Those things may be seen as good gifts, but in the context of what we have seen from James, we have to broaden our definition a bit.  Quite simply and honestly, a good and perfect gift is unequivocally, anything, and I mean anything, that God has put in your life.  That’s why James says to take joy in trials, God placed those trials in your life to grow you and equip you and make you more like Jesus.  Poor?  James says take joy.  Rich?  James says take joy.

For every single person who has faith in Jesus, we should know these things.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.  And how can the day of adversity be considered good?  Romans 8:28 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.   So right now, if you are going through something that seems awful, painful, maybe even excruciating, if you are going through difficult financial, physical, or relational troubles, God intends for you to see those things as good and perfect gifts.  Why?  Because God is doing good in your life.  And again, just to make sure, how do we define good gifts?  Ephesians 4 tells us.

Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,    “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

The good gifts that God gives here are completely contrary to what the world calls good.  The good gifts that God gives are:  humility, patience, bearing each other’s burdens in love, the gifts of faith that we share, and all of these things are secured for us and given to us by Jesus Christ.  So if you are going through a tough time or a great time, it is a good and perfect gift from God because He intends to create in you those characteristics I just mentioned.  God wants humility, patience, and the bearing of burdens for you much more than all the other junk the world promises like wealth, beauty, and money.  Gang, I’m so tired of churches telling people junk that sound Godly but isn’t”

·    Well, wait on your miracle.
·    God is going to bless you in ways that you can’t imagine.
·    And when you do everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do.
·    Stop talking to God about how big your mountains are, and start talking to your mountains about how big your God is!”

All of those examples are garbage and far from what James says is good.  And all the while what they really mean is that God is going to bless you with what this world calls good: health, money, power, and position.  You may gain those things in this world by God’s providence and design, but they are not promised to every believer. Remember, James is writing to a persecuted church that has nothing and can count on nothing but the mercy of God.  Many of the folks who read James letter when it was originally written died soon after reading it.  James is not promising them or us anything except that where you are right now is God’s good and perfect gift.  Pray for change as you will and then trust God to design and implement a life that He calls good and perfect.

James makes these promises telling us that God the Father who does all of these things is in vs 17 “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”  What does it mean for God to be the Father of Lights who does not change?  Well James wants to make a contrast between the changing nature of…nature and the unchanging character of God.

“As the earth, sun, moon, and stars move in their ordained courses, we observe the interplay of light and darkness, day and night, the longest and shortest day of the year, the waning and waxing of the moon, eclipses, and the movement of the planets.  Nature is subject to variation and change.  Not so with God!  He is the Father of the heavenly lights, who is always light and does not change.  He has an abiding interest in His children.”  Simon Kistemaker

If God’s character is unchangeable, we need to understand that character well so that we might worship God rightly.  If we don’t understand the character of God rightly, we are going to be disappointed, disillusioned and perhaps even walk away.  I had a conversation just the other day with a young man.  He asked me, “God is good, right?”  And I of course said, “Yes, God is good.”  He asked, “Well if God is good, why am I miserable?  Shouldn’t He make me happy?  And then he went on to explain some horribly painful and difficult things in his life.  Now I do not want to diminish the pain that this young man is going through or diminish any of the pain that many of you are going through.  I understand pain and have my own share.   In that we are all a fellowship.  Nobody lives a pain free life; not in this world.  But this young man’s question was tinged with an assumption:  if God is good and I am supposed to believe in Him, then God better do some work.  He better take away what hurts in my life.  He better make my life easy.  And if He doesn’t do that, then I’m not going to believe in Him or worship Him.

You and I are not immune from this type of thinking.  Much of our disappointment with God comes about because God hasn’t met our expectations.  And those expectations are based upon what we think the character of God is and not the character of God in scripture.

What we are seeing from James is that God’s character never changes.  He ordains what we call the good and what we call the bad.  He does those things so that we might be equipped to what He has commanded to do and He does that for His glory.  The good in your life that God is working is just that:  for His glory, your becoming more like Jesus Christ.

Practically, that unchanging nature of God does this for us.  Malachi 3.6 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.  God’s unchanging nature, His steadfastness in who He is, is intended to keep you from being consumed.  So as God ordains for you to endure and persevere through difficult times, the unchanging nature of God will protect you from being overwhelmed in the midst of trials and pain.

You might say, “Gordon, this sure doesn’t sound like a very attractive description of God or the Christian life.”  And if you say that, I have probably come pretty close to getting it right.  I am not promising anyone that hard times are going way, no matter how much faith you have and no matter how much every other short pastor in the country promises it to you.

I will promise you this from verse 18 in James. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  In light of James calling God the Father of lights, it makes sense that He carries that picture further to explain to the idea of giving birth.  The language of bringing us forth can also be translated, “He gave us birth”  James is speaking specifically to Christians here.  He is saying, “Listen if you have faith in Jesus,
God brought you forth by the word of truth.”

Now the word of truth is the way in which God creates.  He brought forth creation from nothing by the word of truth.  And God brought forth your faith from nothing by the word of His truth.  Before we had faith in Jesus, our hearts were hostile towards God, and according to Ephesians 2.8-9 that faith was a gift from God.  He spoke life into you where only death exited prior.  You heard the word of truth, the gospel, the declaration of sweet forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ and God used that word just He did in creation to bring forth life in you where death only presided before.  And the full intention of His speaking life into you by the word of His truth is to make all of His children the firstfruits of His creatures.  What does that mean?  Well the firstfruits were an OT concept.  Exodus 23, Exodus 34, Leviticus 19, and other places commanded the people in their giving to God to give of the firstfruits.

What that meant was when they had a harvest, you took the very first of it and offered to God in worship and sacrifice.  In fact, God said, “Those firstfruits are holy and they belong to me.  You don’t have the freedom to do with them as you want.”  You took the firstborn of your animals for sacrifice.  You took the first of your fruit, your harvest, your whatever.  Basically, you took the first of your income.

That principle by the way is how encourage all of you as you look for some guide as to how you should give in offering to the church.  No matter what percentage you use whether it be 12, 10, 8 or some other percentage.  Give in worship to God first and then determine the values you have on other items afterwards.  If you pay all your bills first and then figure out how to give, God gets what is leftover.  We and no one else should tell you what % to use.  Our guide would be determine your giving first then go after your budget.

Well, understanding that concept, God has promised that when He made you a child of His, His purpose was to make you the firstfruits of His creatures.  Being gifted with faith and life through Jesus Christ, how can you and I be the firstfruits of God’s creatures?  Well we see that explained for us in both Romans and 1 Corinthians.  Romans 16: 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.  1 Corinthians 16: 15 Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints—

In both of those passages, the term first convert is the exact same Greek word translated for first fruit.  What God is doing in you, He intends to use to bring more and more people to know Him.  That is part of His intended purpose for whatever it is that you are going through.  Now this is incredibly exciting, so let me walk us towards our applications, so I can give these thoughts a thorough apply to all of us.  So without delay, here are 3 takeaways from James 1:13-15

All the good gifts you have are there by God’s grace.  When you are doing well by our typical standards – good health, nice house, good job, money in the bank, you have those things by God’s grace.  Yes, you worked hard, went to school, made better choices than other folks, but you don’t get to take credit, and that should give you a thankful heart to God and a compassionate heart to anyone who is struggling.  Now you might say, “Wait a minute, Gordon.  I get up and go to work every day and work hard.  I earned my stripes at college or at work, I’m not like those lazy bums just looking to sponge off of others.  I earned what I have.”  Now, yes we are blessed with some wonderfully talented and hard working folks.  Many of you have proven yourselves to be resourceful and many of you have provided an incredibly nice life for yourselves.  Remember, like we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, even the folks living on the poverty line in America are wealthier than 98% of the rest of the world.

But the moment you take credit for your accomplishments and forget to thank God for every single thing in which you have, James says you are deceived.  Right now, whether your life circumstances are what is called rich or poor, you are to have an attitude of thanking God as one is undeserving of such blessings.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  We are not a big church, but we have plenty of wealth in this church.  The fact that we sometimes struggle to pay our bills is more indicative at times of our thinking we should be holding to more of the money “we made” instead of living as those who owe everything to God.

Any other attitude is deception.  We have enough wealth in this church to pay our bills, do mercy work, change the lives of those who are without, plant churches, and send off foreign missionaries.  If you have it, you have it by God’s good grace.  The good and even the things that we think are bad are there by God’s design to grow us into maturity and that maturity looks like us becoming more like Jesus.

Second, God’s unchangeable nature is intended to protect you and strengthen you.  Right now, if you are struggling with something that God has placed in your life, use it as a time to pursue the unchanging nature of God.  If you are confused, if I am confused by something that’s going on, it is because we have misunderstood the character of God.  He remains faithful first and foremost to Himself.  He does all things for His glory first.  We are graciously part of His purposes to bring Himself glory, and our proper response is to worship Him for who He is:  the unchanging God who loves us.

Again, Malachi wants that unchanging, immutable nature of God to protect us, to keep us from being consumed.  Anytime we do not understand God or understand what God is doing, it is not an opportunity for us to change what we know of God to fit our situation.  It is a time to pursue who God says He is in scripture so that our hearts are what is changed.  That will keep you from being consumed because wrong ideas about who God is will consume you.  False gods make false promises and never deliver.  Never.  It is okay to be confused by God.  Conform your heart around who He reveals Himself to be instead of conforming who you think God ought to be.

Understanding and living out these first 2 applications leads us to living out our final and 3rd application:  God intendeds for you to be the firstfruits of His creation.  As you understand that God is ordaining everything in your life for His glory and your good, as He defines glory and good, then you will live a confident, faithful life trusting that God does not change.  That kind of living in this painful world will enable you and this church to be the firstfruit of many people coming to know Christ.

We have a modern term for that:  revival.  Revival is the bringing to life that which is dead.  It is either the Christian who has grown cold and unfaithful revived or it is the dead heart made alive to Christ.  Gang, every church should either be praying for revival or praying that God sustains revival among us.  Nobody prays for it to end.  And this passage shows us how it comes about.

If we truly want to see God do a great work among us, if we want to see Him glorified and see His Kingdom and not ours grow, this is how it happens.  We recognize that everything in our lives, and I mean every circumstance from trial to supposed blessing is there by God’s design and He calls that a good and perfect gift to us.  God has placed those things there for us to walk through them with joy so that we would be further equipped to obey Him and give Him glory.

As we struggle in the midst of our circumstances, we have to be honest about the fact that it is us who changes constantly, but God never does.  His unchanging nature is our comfort, our port in the storm.  Trusting and know Him as He has presented Himself in the scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ will protect us from being consumed even in the most difficult of situations.

And finally, as we recognize and live out these truths,  God will use you and me and us to be the first fruits of many people coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.  It is not that you will become some super Christian who has the super power to endure any circumstance.  No, the testimony that you have to those who do not know yet is that you are presenting to them a true picture of the character of God.  Reveal God to others as He has revealed Himself to us in the scripture and in the person of Jesus, and that revelation in our life as we persevere through whatever God wants for us will be a sweet testimony to who God is.  And by God’s sovereign will and plan, He will use that to bring many and many more people to know Him.

2 Corinthians 3: Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God

January 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

SK Brunch on February 5th

In the past year and half since the launch of SK’s Sunday School program, we have seen incremental growth each month.  However, since the beginning of the New Year, involvement has been higher, and quite honestly, the quality of teaching only continues to get better and better.

To highlight our goals for this New Year’s Sunday School program, SK will be hosting a brunch on February 5th at 930am.  In addition to great food and coffee, the youth and adults will gather in our worship space to hear about some of the things that we will be studying as well as outlining teachers and plans for class expansion.  Specifically encouraging is the new Youth Class led by Ben Thomas.  All of our children’s classes will continue as usual throughout that morning.

If you would like to help with food, contact Vanessa, but do not tie attendance to bringing something.  If you are able to help out, that’s great.  But the most important thing is gathering in as many folks as possible to hear about the exciting things coming up in the New Year.

January 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

I Didn’t Plant the Church that I Thought I was Going to Plant (and Thank God for That)

I didn’t plant the church that I thought I was going to plant.  Oh, I pastor a church that I wouldn’t trade for any other on the face of the planet, but we are not who I thought we would be, and my peace with that has made all the difference.  Let me explain.

5 ½ years ago, Amy and I moved to Garner to start Sovereign King Church.  At that time, we did not know a single person in the town, and we didn’t have anybody already committed to the church.  We started from scratch if you will.

Needing to get to know folks, I set up each day in the local coffee shop.  I would spend 4-6 hours at a time there trying to meet as many people as possible.  Within a month, a Bible study of 18 – 22 years old sprung up and the makings of a core group began.  Simultaneously, the web was working for us, so 2-3 families were catching the vision and wanted to join in with us as well.

I thought I was planting this suburban church that would have a strong, younger contingent which would reach out to the post-church, college aged generation.  We would have a solid base of foundational families guided by energetic young adults that would keep us invigorated and focused.

Within 4 services, every one of my 18 – 22 year olds was gone.

Over the course of the next few years, we’ve regained some folks in their 20’s, but even to this day, we are not identified by a strong contingent of post High School/early college members.  We have some, but we are not primarily a church of that demographic.  That means that we have a wonderfully different energy – one that I never could have designed or even imagined.  And I still pray that God gives us a great showing of that generation, much of whom is lost to the church these days, but that too is in God’s hands.

I guess the question is, “What happened?”  Where did those guys go?

Well, I had conversations with many of them without ever getting a definitive answer.   So, I used to worry that maybe there was something systemically wrong within SK.  I don’t worry about that much any more though.  Here is my best guess.

There is a big difference between attending a coffee shop bible study and attending a worship service.  In both, Christ is lifted up, but the Bible studies were simply a presentation of the character of Jesus.  While a worship service better be that as well, the full breadth of worship includes elements like Times of Repentance, Biblical Exhortation, and the examination commands surrounding the Lord’s Supper.  That is a completely different world.

Our services are designed to experience God in full worship, and that must include the confession of sin met by the glories of Jesus’ grace.  We could have redesigned our worship services to exclude the elements that made them squirm, but that would be compromising the full Gospel of Jesus.

I know that grace was proclaimed to each and every one of those folks, but the wounds of their prior worship experiences were still fresh for many of them (that is probably another post all together).  Some of those relationships remain, and I pray that each of them find a wonderful, worshiping either with us or some else, but the challenge is still before SK (and many other churches).  Our communities must be ones that proclaim Christ without hesitation, and at the same time, we need to call all people to faith and repentance of sin.  Grace is not grace unless it is the meeting of our sin by God’s love.  My prayer is that generation (and all others) will see and meet that love.

So thankfully, we have the church that God has designed for us, and each week, it takes on a new persona as we grow.  We don’t look like I thought we would look like, but we look as God wants us to.

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 7 Comments