Thursday, June 13, 2019

Not to Be Taken Lightly


“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”

(James 3:1-5 ESV)



Most of you remember the old nursery rhyme: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” This phrase is used, encouraging our children so that they won’t take to heart all that is said to them. It’s used to discourage them from crying about every mean thing that is said to them.



However, according to James in the above passage, words are very powerful. The tongue is very powerful. Many problems are caused by this seemingly insignificant part of the body.



And we all struggle with our use of the tongue. We all have a tendency to say things that ought not be said. James says that if someone is able to control his tongue, he’s a perfect man. If someone can control his tongue, he’ll have no problem controlling his whole body.



It’s for this reason that James discourages us from becoming teachers. He’s not saying that teaching is an immoral vocation. And he’s certainly not discounting the importance of Biblical teachers. But, because we struggle with the sins of the tongue, it’s something that should be taken very seriously.



He tells us that those who teach will be judged more strictly. As the King James Version says, those who teach will receive the greater condemnation. And there’s a couple of reasons for this, I believe.



This is true, first of all, because those who teach speak with a level of authority. As we teach, people are listening to us. As we teach, people are taking to heart what we say. And there is ample opportunity for us to lead people down the wrong path, whether it be intentional or unintentional.



Those who teach are held to a higher standard because, having this position, the temptation is there to use this authority for our own, selfish benefit. It’s important to recognize that we all have an axe to grind. And we often use our position that others will agree with us, that they’ll side with us. We use our position that our personal agenda might be pushed.



Finally, those who teach are held to a higher standard because we ought to know better. Those who teach have to prepare before they do so. They have to dive into the subject they’re teaching that they might understand it and properly convey it to their students. And with understanding comes responsibility. With it comes a higher level of accountability.


May we who teach take this office very seriously. May those who are considering the vocation of teaching give this serious consideration. It is not an office that should be taken lightly.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Incompetent

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." 
(Acts 1:8 ESV)

As believers in Jesus, as the people of the Church, most of us realize that we’ve been called to serve.  And when I say this, I’m not referring to the pleas of Christian Ed, who need volunteers for VBS or teachers for Sunday School. I’m not referring to the pleas of the Trustees for help with various work projects around the church. And I’m not referring to the pleas of the nominating committee as they seek candidates for the various offices of the church.

I’m referring to the call of God. I’m referring to his call to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. I’m referring to his call to make disciples of all nations. I’m referring to his call to use the gifts, entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit, to build up the body of Christ.

However, when it comes to this call, many of us are hesitant. And the reason we’re hesitant is because we question our own abilities. We question our ability to do what God has called us to do.

To be quite frank, we don’t feel qualified for such a task. We don’t feel that we know enough about God’s Word. We don’t feel competent enough to step up to the plate. And we feel too sinful to be of any real use to the Lord or to the church.

I’m sure the disciples felt the same way when Jesus placed this calling upon them. The task assigned to them seems much too big for such a small group of men. It seems much too big considering their background and education.

However, as we look at the above passage, we see how they would be able to carry it out. Jesus told them that, when they Holy Spirit came upon them, they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. The Spirit of God, then, would empower them to do what God had asked of them.

The same thing is true of us. We can question ourselves all day long, and our assessment of our abilities may be quite accurate. Left to ourselves, we are unqualified. Left to ourselves, we do lack the necessary knowledge. Left to ourselves, we don’t have the required skill to carry out this work.

We must realize, however, that God has not left us to ourselves. Our ability to carry out this calling isn’t dependent upon our wisdom or abilities. It’s dependent upon the Holy Spirit.

Instead of holding back because we question ourselves, we must step out in faith. We must step out in faith, trusting the Spirit of God to work in us and through us. We must trust that he can and will work through us, despite our sin and our shortcomings.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Contradictions of Scripture?


“Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 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 that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 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? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

(James 2:20-26 ESV)



Skeptics are quick to say that the Bible is full of contradictions. They do so in order to discredit the Scriptures. It’s their intent to undermine the faith that many place in the Word of God.



One example of this can be seen above. Scripture is clear that we are saved not by what we do. It is clear that our works play no role in our salvation. It tells us that we are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Jesus. However, in the words of James, we read that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.



As we run into something like this, it can be quite troubling. And it’s caused quite a stir throughout the centuries. Many have assumed that James contradicts the teaching of Paul, as well as that of Jesus.



What are we to do? Does this prove to us that Scripture is not inerrant? Does it prove to us that it’s not infallible? Does it reveal to us that we have to determine, with our reason, which parts of Scripture are true, which parts are God’s Word, and which are not?



The Bible does not contradict itself in any way. As all Scripture is God-breathed, as it proceeds from the mouth of a perfect, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, it cannot contradict itself. Differences such as the one we’re discussing do not contradict one another. They, instead, complement one another.



We must first begin by looking at the context in which James makes this statement. He’s been telling us that faith, apart from works, is dead and cannot save. He’s been telling us that genuine faith is more than a mere profession of belief. It’s something that impacts the way that we live our life.



What James is telling us, in this passage, is that a mere profession of faith cannot justify us. It’s only a true, genuine faith that can do so.  And such a faith is expressed in our actions. It’s demonstrated in the way that we live our life.



Paul would not dispute this. However, when said that we are saved by faith, apart from the works of the law, he was speaking against those who believed they could earn their salvation. He was telling them that we can play no role in our justification. It’s a free gift of God, given to those with faith in Jesus.



It’s not a matter, then, of who is right. They’re both right. We are saved through faith. Our works play no role in our salvation. But, at the same time, our works are necessary. They are the essential result of our faith in Jesus.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

No Separating the Two


“But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe-- and shudder!”

(James 2:18-19 ESV)



The issue of faith and works, and their role in salvation, is one that’s troubled the church for centuries. The conflicts surrounding this issue have been numerous.  And it’s something with which believers continue to struggle today.



Some say that works alone are enough for salvation.  They say that by simply being a good person we are saved. Others say that faith and works together provide for us salvation. They insist that, along with faith, works play a role in our salvation. And still others say that it’s by faith alone we are saved.



According to Scripture, we’re saved by the grace of God alone through faith alone. Our salvation is not something of which we are deserving, nor is it something we can earn. It’s a free gift of God bestowed upon us as we trust in Jesus Christ.



This, however, does not mean that works are unnecessary. It doesn’t mean that, because we have faith, we’re able to live as we please. We find that a genuine faith cannot be separated from works.



In the previous passage, James told us that faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. In other words, works are a necessary result of our faith. They are necessarily produced by our faith. And if this product is not present, neither then is faith.



This is the point James makes above. One person cannot claim to have faith while another has works. Works apart from faith are meaningless. And so too is a professed faith without works.



“I will show you my faith by my works,” James says. His works provided evidence of his faith. And the same is true of us. They demonstrate the faith that resides within the heart.



Even the demons believe in God, he points out. Even they know that God exists. Even they believe that God is God. Yet, none of us believe they are saved. We do not believe they are saved because they do not receive him as their God. Even knowing his power, they actively oppose him.



The same principle applies to us. Many people profess faith in the Lord. They acknowledge that he is God. Yet, even though this is true, they continue to oppose him. They continue to live for sin. They continue to live in a state of rebellion against him.



If this is true of us, we are not saved. A true faith in Christ involves repentance. It involves a turning from our sin to the Lord. It brings forth the new life God has provided us.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Natural Result of Faith


What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 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? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

(James 2:14-17 ESV)



Our beliefs govern our actions. Our actions are determined by our beliefs. This is something we all recognize to be true.



Because we believe in the law of gravity, we are careful as we approach a high cliff. Because we believe in gravity, we don’t jump out of airplanes without a parachute. If we didn’t believe in gravity, these precautions would seem completely unnecessary.



In the same way, because we believe that life is precious, we do what we can to protect and preserve it. We try to make healthy choices. We make use of the medical care that’s available to us. And we encourage others to do the same. If we didn’t believe that life is precious, if we believed that it was worthless, we’d behave in the opposite manner.



This is the argument that James is making in the above passage. If we claim to have faith, but we do not have works, our faith is not genuine and it’s not able to save. Our faith will naturally produce good works.



He uses the illustration of someone in need. If we wish them well, but do nothing about their need, is it genuine? Of course not. If we truly care about their well-being, we’ll do whatever we can to help them in their time of need.



Scripture clearly teaches that we’re saved not by what we do, but through faith in Jesus. Realizing this, some of us take this truth to an unhealthy extreme. We think that it doesn’t matter what we do, we feel that we’re free to live as we please, because God’s salvation is a free gift.



This mindset, however, is not fitting with a life of faith. If we truly believe in the Lord, if we truly believe that he’s saved us from sin and death, we cannot continue to pursue these things. Our faith will lead us to repentance. It will lead us to turn from our sin to Christ.



So, although our works play no role in our salvation, they are a necessary result of our faith. It’s impossible for us to possess faith without works. Our trust in the Lord will naturally lead us to produce the fruit of faith.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Faith & Mercy

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
(‭‭James‬ ‭2:12-13‬ ‭ESV)

As believers in Jesus, we have been justified by faith. In this way, we have received the righteousness of Christ, having been forgiven of all our sin. We are, therefore, saved from sin and its consequences.

This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re free to live as we please. It doesn’t mean that we can live in sin, trusting that we’re forgiven. Even as believers, we are answerable to God.

James reminds us of this truth in the above passage. He had been speaking about the sin of partiality, and reminded us that, even if this is our only sin, we are guilty before God. No matter how good of a life we live, a single sin alone makes us guilty in God’s sight.

For this reason, as people who have received the mercy of God, we must show mercy to others. We must bestow upon them the great blessing God has given us. If we will not show mercy to others, then we ourselves are unable to receive the mercy of God.

The sad reality is that, in our nation, the church is known for a lack of mercy. And this is especially true in conservative, Bible believing churches. We are known for a focus on truth at the expense of love for those in need.

According to James, this cannot be. Believing the Bible to be God’s Word, we must show mercy to those who are in need. Our faith requires this response.

A lack of mercy reveals a lack of faith in the Word of God. It reveals that we are hardened to the mercy God has shown us. We cannot separate the two because faith and mercy go hand in hand.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Judging Ourselves Rightly


“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

(James 2:8-11 ESV)



We like to think of ourselves as good people. And, if questioned about it, we can offer up a pretty good defense of this position. We can point to areas of life where we have done quite well.



We might point out that we are good parents to our children. We may point out that we go to church most weeks. We may point out that we give to charities that benefit those in need.



However, in reality, we’re not the good people we believe ourselves to be. Even if there are areas of life where we feel we’re doing well, even if there are areas of life where we are doing well, this changes nothing. It changes nothing because there are also areas of life where we are not doing well.



Even if we are good parents to our children, we may demonstrate a lack of concern for other children in our sphere of influence. Even if we are going to church most weeks, we may be relying on our effort rather than the grace of God for salvation. Even if we are giving to charities that benefit those in need, we may be ignoring people in need in our own community.



The point James is making above is that we are all lawbreakers. We are all guilty. In fact, committing only one sin makes us a lawbreaker.



Even if it were possible for us to keep all of God’s commands, save one, we’d be guilty. We’d be just as deserving of God’s judgment as everyone else. And we’d be just as in need of his salvation.



However, realistically speaking, that life is not possible for us. Our sin is much greater than that. Even in areas where we think we’re doing well, sin is present. We fall short of God’s standards in ways we don’t even perceive.



We, then, must judge ourselves realistically. We must recognize our sin, and confess it to the Lord. And we must look not to our goodness, but to the grace of God, for salvation.


Monday, April 22, 2019

Playing Favorites


“My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 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, 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," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?”

 (James 2:1-7 ESV)



Our natural tendency, as sinners, is to show partiality. We naturally favor some over others. And that favoritism is typically based on our perception of who is the most useful.



A perfect example is the one that James cites above. We tend to favor those who are wealthy over those who are poor. And, why? Because they have the more to offer us.



We might think that this happens in our personal lives, and not so much in the church. But nothing is further from the truth. In reality, this happens as much in the church as it does everywhere else.



The poor are not able to contribute as much as the rich. Therefore, we value their opinions less. And, not only that, but we value their contributions less.



We value their contribution less even though, according to Jesus, the two small coins of the elderly widow were more significant than the donations of the rich (Mark 12:41-44). They were more valuable because, even if her gift was lesser from a monetary standpoint, it was more generous. It was a more sacrificial gift than those given by the wealthy.



Favoritism is even expected in the church by those who are wealthiest. It’s expected because, if the church won’t or can’t spend the money on a specific project, the rich will do it themselves. It’s assumed that the church will never turn away that significant of a donation. They will not turn it away at the risk of losing a member who contributes so much.



We do this despite the fact that God has chosen the poor in this world to be blessed. We do so despite the fact that it’s the rich who oppress us and drag us into court. They do so because they have the means to accomplish their goals.



Showing partiality, according to James, is sinful. In this way, we have made distinctions. In this way, we’ve become judges with evil thoughts.



We can show partiality for other reasons, of course. We can show it based upon a person’s educational level. We can show it based upon a person’s race. We can show it based upon a person’s background.



Whatever the case, when we show partiality, we are not looking at people as God looks at them. We are not valuing people as God values them. The worth of a man, in God’s eyes, is in no way dependent upon his means. His worth is found in the price paid for his redemption.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Our Easter Hope


“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.”

(1Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)



I remember, a couple of years back, as my family and I were at the funeral home. It was just prior to the visitation for my mother. At one point, my dad approached the casket by himself, as he struggled with the loss of his wife. My son, who was five at the time, went and took him by the hand. He said: “Don’t worry, Grandpa. She’ll rise again when Jesus comes back.”



Out of the mouths of babes. In that moment, a young boy expressed a truth that escapes many who are more learned in the Christian faith. He comforted his grandpa with the great hope we have in Jesus.



Many of us believe that, at death, our spirit goes to be with the Lord and that’s the end of it. We imagine ourselves or our loved ones sitting on clouds and strumming harps. We imagine eternity as a purely spiritual existence.



Where we get this understanding, I don’t know. While it’s true that our spirit goes to be with Jesus at the time of our death, that’s hardly the end of it. The end of it comes when Jesus returns and, as we read above, the dead are raised imperishable.



Death, you see, is the punishment of our sin. And since Jesus has born the punishment of our sin, because that price has been paid, death must be no more. If we have been redeemed, then death has been rendered powerless.



If our bodies remained in the grave, it would demonstrate that the victory had not been won. It would reveal that Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough. It would reveal to us that we are still under the power of sin.



However, in the end, everything will be as it was in the beginning. Man will exist as both a physical and spiritual being in the new creation. He will live in the presence of God where sin and its consequences no longer wreak havoc on us.



This is our hope. This is the hope of Easter. Because Jesus rose, we know that we too will rise. As God raised Jesus from the dead, we know that he will raise us also.




Monday, April 08, 2019

A Religion or a Relationship?


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

(James 1:26-27 ESV)



“Religion” has become a dirty word to many Christians today. It’s associated with a mere profession of faith and a hypocritical life. Christianity, they say, is not a religion, it’s a relationship.



It’s believed that this also sets Christianity apart from other world religions. Other belief systems are “religions,” we are told, while Christianity is something different. They are dependent upon a system of works, while we experience this “relationship” with the Lord.



There is certainly a relational aspect to Christianity that is not known by other faiths. Jesus tells us that those who believe in him are empowered to become children of God (John 1: 12). He tells us that we are not mere servants, but friends (John 15:13-15).



However, that being said, “religion” is not the dirty word we often make it out to be. Our faith can be properly described as a religion. A religion, after all, is defined as a conviction, a creed, a faith, or a belief.



James also ties our faith together with religion in the above passage. If our religion isn’t put into practice, he tells us, it’s worthless. If we fail to bridle our tongue, it’s worthless.



He goes on to describe what a pure and undefiled religion looks like. It’s to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. And it’s to keep oneself unstained from the world.



It seems that James’ definition of religion is synonymous with faith. Religion is not an empty profession of belief. It’s a belief that results in action. According to James, a religion that does not result in action is no religion at all.



This also ties together with his discussion of faith in chapter 2 of this book. Faith without works, he says, is dead. Faith is not a mere profession of belief. It’s a belief that both empowers and motivates action.



Just as a sincere faith will result in works, just as a sincere faith will be expressed in our works, so too will a sincere religion. If it is not being expressed, then our religion is not sincere. In that case, according to James, we are not truly religious.



So, is Christianity a religion? The answer to this question has to be “yes.” If we have faith in the Lord, it will lead us to serve both God and our neighbor.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Doers of the Word


“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

(James 1:22 ESV)



Many of us, in the church, fit James’ description above. We are hearers of the Word. Perhaps we come to church and listen as the Scriptures are read. Perhaps we listen as the message is preached. However, we are not doers of the Word.



We think we’re on the right track. We think we’re doing well. After all, here we are, at church, hearing the Word. Yet, as James points out, we’re deceiving ourselves.



We’re deceiving ourselves because we aren’t truly receiving what God is offering to us in his Word. We don’t allow his Word to speak into our life. And this isn’t about doing more good works to earn brownie points with God. It’s not about earning our salvation.



In order to receive the blessing of God, we must “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). We must receive what God is revealing to us in his Word. We must receive what it tells us about ourselves and what it tells us about Christ.



Failing to be a doer of the Word, James says, is like a man who looks intently in a mirror and then immediately forgets what he looks like. We learn from God’s Word that we are sinners, in need of the grace of God. In fact, our exact sins are revealed to us as we look to Scripture. And we hear his call to repentance. So, if we are hearers only, we forget this truth as soon as the proclamation of the Word comes to an end.



We also forget that our righteousness is found in Christ alone. We forget that we have nothing in ourselves to endear ourselves to him. We are righteous only in Christ. We are righteous only because we’ve received his sacrifice upon the cross.



Being a doer of the Word means that we live in the Word of God. We live in the knowledge that we are mere sinners deserving of judgment. We live in faith that Jesus gave his life on our behalf, that our sins might be forgiven and that we might receive his righteousness. Our works, then, flow naturally from this life of repentance and faith.



Believing that we are sinful and unclean, we turn from our sinful desires. We reject them. In fact, we hate them.



We seek the mercy of God. We seek his forgiveness for our rebellious spirit. We seek his forgiveness for the sinful acts in which we participate. And we trust in Christ alone for this gift.



We, then, look to him for strength that we might live for him. We realize that we can’t live for the Lord as we desire. It’s only with his guidance and power that we are able to do so.



The person who has received the freedom found in God’s Word will then be blessed in his doing. He will not be perfect. He will not be free from sin. He will, however, receive the blessing of God as he lives in the truth of his Word.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Two Ears, One Mouth


“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

(James 1:19-20 ESV)



We all have something to say. In fact, we have an opinion about everything. And we do all that we can to make sure it’s heard.



We express ourselves verbally as we visit with our friends. We do so as we chat on the phone or take part in meetings. We do so by posting our thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and every other online resource. We even go as far as arguing with complete strangers.



In short, we are quick to speak. We’re quick to run off at the mouth. We’re quick to say things that ought not be said.



We also tend to be slow to hear. We have so much to say, we have so much that we want everyone else to hear, that we fail to listen to others. We fail to hear what they are expressing. We fail to hear what they what to be heard.



Lastly, we are quick to anger. We get upset about everything. We feel slighted by the most minor offense.



These feelings of anger often result from our unwillingness to listen to what others are trying to say. They result from a rush to judgment on our part. We assume the worst of others, allowing these feelings of anger to well up within us.



This is a problem. It’s a problem, James tells us, because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. It leads us, instead, into sin.



Our anger causes us to lash out. It leads us to say hurtful things. It may even lead us to damage the reputation of another.



We’re quick to label everything as “righteous anger.” But few things truly fall into that category. Our anger erupts as we entertain only our feelings and accusations. It erupts as we’re slow to forgive someone who has wronged us, whether intentionally or unintentionally.



Let us, then, heed the words of James. Let’s speak only after we’ve heard. Let’s speak only after we’ve had time to consider.



Even if we have to bite our tongue, let’s make an effort to do so. Let us hear people out. And let us be quick to understand and to forgive when necessary.




Monday, March 18, 2019

Saved by the Power of God


“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

 (James 1:18 ESV)



One of the most prevalent doctrines in the church today is that we are saved by our decision or choice. We’re told that we are to make a decision for Christ. We are told that we must choose Christ.



However, we find in Scripture that this is not possible. We find that our salvation has nothing at all to do with us. In fact, we don’t play any role in it whatsoever. It is the work of God alone, from beginning to end.



We see this brought out in the above passage. James tells us that God brought us forth, that he saved us, of his own will. In other words, we aren’t saved because of our own choice or decision, but God’s.



We see this in the words of Jesus as well. In John 15:16, Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Again, it’s by God’s will that we are saved.



In our sinful nature, we want nothing to do with God. Left to ourselves, we would never choose Christ nor make a decision for him. By nature, we long only to rebel against the Lord and to live for our own desires.



Our natural state is described by the apostle Paul in Romans 3. Starting in verse 10, he says: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."



James tells us that we are brought forth, that God saves us, through the Word of truth. He saves us through the gospel. It’s only as we hear the Word of God that we are enabled to believe in him and be saved.



However, even this results from the power of God. It results from the power of God because, apart from him, we can’t understand the gospel. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. It’s foolishness to them. And, as he says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”



It’s only as God works in our hearts, by his Word and Spirit, that we are saved. It’s only as he provides to us his Word, and his Spirit enables understanding, that we can believe and be saved. Again, from first to last, our faith is a work of God.



This does not suggest that God will forcefully save us. We are able to reject him and this great gift that he offers. However, we cannot and will not be saved by our own decision.



This also doesn’t suggest that God will choose some to be saved and others to be damned. Scripture assures us that, by his death, Jesus atoned for the sins of all people. It assures us that it’s God’s desire for all to be saved.



However, it tells us that we can take no credit whatsoever for our salvation. It wasn’t accomplished by a choice that we made. It wasn’t accomplished by our response to an altar call. And it wasn’t accomplished by a prayer that we prayed. All of these are the result of faith that was kindled in our hearts by the Word and Spirit of God.



This may be troubling to some but, in reality, it’s very refreshing. It’s refreshing because I don’t have to worry if my motives were pure enough when I made my choice. I don’t have to worry that, perhaps, my prayer wasn’t sincere enough when I offered it up. Nor do I have to wonder if, when I responded to that altar call, it was truly good enough. I have full assurance that, by faith, I have been saved. I’m assured that my salvation is an act that was accomplished by God apart from any effort or merit on my part.








Monday, March 11, 2019

Blessings from Above


“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 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.”

(James 1:16-17 ESV)



Most of us recognize how fortunate we are. We live in a very prosperous land. We live in a place where even the poor are wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world. We have all that we need from day to day.



We have a home, in which to rest and keep safe. We have food to sustain us from day to day. We have so much clothing, it clutters our home. We have our health. We have the strength and talent to work. We have family and friends who support us and share life with us. We could go on and on, listing the blessings we possess.



However, even though this is true, we often take these blessings for granted. We think and act as though we’re entitled to them. We think and act as if we’ve earned these blessings.



It is true that we work and earn the money to pay for the things that we need. All we have to do is look in our checkbook to know this is true. But we fail to realize there’s much more to it than that.



As God reminded the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 8, it’s because of the Lord that they lived in such a bountiful land. And even though they worked for the wealth they possessed, it was the Lord who have them the strength to work and the power to get wealth. They would have nothing apart from the Lord.



The same is true for us as well. Without God, we would have nothing. Without the Lord, we wouldn’t even exist. As James reminds us in the passage above, everything we have, every good and perfect gift, is from above. It’s a gift from God.



And this is something that is constant. It remains true throughout time. It remains true because our God is unchanging.



May we, then, recognize this truth and give to him the praise and glory he’s due. Let’s offer to him our thanks for the many blessings we possess. And may we continue to trust in him, each and every day, knowing that he will provide for us everything we need.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Owning our Desire


“Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

(James 1:13-15 ESV)



Our natural tendency, when we are tempted or when we fall into sin, is to direct the blame elsewhere. We blame others, who’ve caused the temptation, even if it was unintentional. We blame others, whom we accuse of causing us to sin.



We even go as far as blaming God. We blame him because he allowed the circumstances which led to our temptation or sin. We blame God because, in our mind, he didn’t do enough to help.



Going back to the beginning of the Bible, we see that this was also the case with Adam and Eve. When God confronted Adam about his sin, he pointed the finger at Eve. And, indirectly, he also pointed his finger at God, who’d given him this woman.



When God confronted Eve, she did the same thing. She also placed the blame elsewhere. She blamed the serpent, who had deceived her.



We often fail to acknowledge that we ourselves are the source of the temptation. As James points out in the above passage, we are tempted when we are lured and enticed by our own desire. So, then, it’s our desire, it’s our sinful lusts, that cause temptation.



The same is true when it comes to sin. Sin flows from our wicked desires. When our desire conceives, James says, it gives birth to sin.



The result of this, of course, is our judgment. Because of our sin, we receive the penalty of our sin. When sin is fully grown, James says, it brings forth death.



I’m not denying that others can sometimes play a role in enticing us. I’m not denying that Satan himself can play a role in this. However, the reason it becomes an issue for us is because of our own sinful nature. Apart from this nature, the provocations and allurements of others would not be an issue.



What we learn from this is that, when we are tempted, we cannot blame others. When we sin, we cannot blame others. We must own our desires, we must own our temptation, and we must own our sin. We must acknowledge it to the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and strength.




Monday, February 25, 2019

An Enduring Faith


“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”

(James 1:12 ESV)



As believers, we face trials of many kinds. We struggle with temptation. We struggle with sin. We struggle with disappointment. We struggle with difficult circumstances in life. And, of course, we endure various forms of persecution.



These trials can make it difficult to remain faithful. It seems, at times, that life would be easier if we only forsook the Lord. It seems that this world would be easier to navigate without the struggles brought on by our faith.



However, as we see in the above passage, we must remain steadfast under trial. We must persevere under trial. We must endure these hardships. And we must do so that we might receive the blessing of eternal life promised to us by God.



Our faith, you see, is not a one-time decision that we make. It’s not a one-time prayer that we offer. It’s not something given only to us at the time of our baptism. Faith is the ongoing state of a believer in Jesus. It’s a continuing trust in the Lord in the face of difficult circumstances.



Because we receive the salvation of God by faith, our faith must remain if we’re to receive it. We cannot turn from faith, we cannot forsake the Lord, and receive his blessing. We are not saved because we, at one time, had faith.



Jesus echoes this thought in Matthew 24. He’s discussing, in this chapter, all of the trials and struggles that will be faced by believers as the end approaches. And then, in verse 13, he says: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”



We, then, must remain in faith in the face of these trials. No matter how hard life may get, we must confidently trust in the Lord. We must not waver, we must not falter, when life gets difficult.



This, of course, is not something we can do on our own. We must rely on the Spirit of God for the strength to carry through. We must allow him to work in us, through his Word, that we might stand firm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Source of our Standing

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.” 
(James 1:9-11 ESV)

It’s easy for us to misinterpret the things we see around us. It’s easy for us to misinterpret our circumstances in this life. This is true, especially, when it comes to our standing before God.

We tend to look at those who are lacking the blessings of this life and assume that they are excluded from the blessing of God. And the opposite is also true. We look at those who have everything this world has to offer, and assume they have received a larger dose of God’s favor.

Such thinking is dangerous. If we are lowly, it can leave us in despair. It can cause us to deny the work of the Lord in our life. And if we are rich, it can give to us false hope. It can cause us to trust not in the Lord, but in ourselves and the worldly blessings we possess.

The simple reality is that, even if we are lacking in wealth, influence, or prestige in the world, we have become a child of God through faith in Jesus. And, if we possess this faith, we can rejoice in our exaltation despite our outward circumstances.

We can rejoice because of our high standing. We can rejoice in the tremendous blessing the Lord has bestowed upon us. We can rejoice because, even though we appear lowly in the eyes of the world, we have been exalted by God.

In the same way, if we have wealth, influence, and prestige in this world, our faith will lead us to acknowledge our lowly position before the Lord. We'll recognize that our life in this world will one day come to an end. We'll concede that the blessings we have received in this life will one day pass away. 

This may not seem like a blessing. It may not seem to be something about which we can boast. But the reminder of the temporary nature of our life is, indeed, a blessing. It forces us to look not to ourselves nor to our wealth, but to the Lord. And it leads us to boast in everything God has done for us.



May we, then, find our worth and our standing, as well as that of others, not in worldly circumstance. Let us find it in the Lord and in the sacrifice he’s made on our behalf. Let us find our worth and standing in the promise he’s given us.




Monday, February 11, 2019

Asking in Faith


“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

(James 1:5-8 ESV)



As believers, we know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. We understand that it’s in no way dependent upon any inherent goodness we claim to possess nor upon our actions. In fact, we believe that we are completely undeserving of God’s forgiveness and salvation.



However, we often fail to realize that this is true of every blessing God has to offer. Every blessing he gives is bestowed only by his grace. And every blessing he gives is received only through faith.



We see, in the above passage, that this is true of wisdom. We are encouraged to seek wisdom from God when it is lacking. We are encouraged to bring our request to God, knowing that he gives generously to all. But we are told also that we must do so in faith.



We must ask in faith without doubting, James tells us. We cannot, at the same time, ask for wisdom and doubt that God will give it to us. We cannot, at the same time, ask for wisdom and question that which is given.



He goes on to compare a person who doubts with a wave that is driven and tossed by the wind. It isn’t the Lord that determines his direction. Every change of the wind, every change of circumstance, does so.



A person who doubts is a double-minded man. His thoughts not only reflect those of the Lord and his Word, but those of the world. They reflect the sinful flesh which he inhabits.



Such a person is unstable, lacking a foundation. His life is not established upon something that is sure. It’s established upon that which easily shifts, causing our life and our faith to crumble beneath us.



A person who doubts, James says, must not suppose that he’ll receive anything from the Lord. Because his blessings are received through faith, we are unable to receive them when we doubt. Our uncertainty, our lack of faith, hinders us from obtaining them.



Whatever we need from the Lord, be it forgiveness, salvation, wisdom, material resources, or strength, it can only be received through faith. Let us, then, present our needs to the Lord. But, as we do so, let us trust in him. Let us ask in faith without doubting.

Monday, February 04, 2019

The Blessing of Trials


“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

(James 1:2-4 ESV)



We all face trials in life. As we live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people, we endure difficulties of various kinds. Circumstances arise that not only make our faith challenging, but do the same with life itself.



We don’t enjoy these struggles. In fact, most of us view our trials as a curse. As we encounter them, as we deal with them, we often question God. We don’t tend to think that anything good could come of them.



James, however, encourages the opposite mindset. He says that we’re to count it all joy when we experience trials. We are to face them gladly. We are to count them as a grace. We are to count them as a blessing. 



We’re to do so because of their effect upon our faith. These trials test our faith, he says. And the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. It produces endurance, perseverance, and patience.



The implication, in the words of James, is that these qualities would not be developed apart from trials. They would not be produced without hardship. We would remain in an infantile state as far as our faith is concerned.



This is why he goes on to say that we’re to let steadfastness have its full effect. We’re to do so that we may be perfect and complete. We’re to do so that we’ll be lacking in nothing.



He isn’t suggesting that we’ll be sinless on this side of eternity. What James is saying is that we’ll become mature in our faith. And, as a result, we’ll reach the goal of our faith. We’ll receive the blessing of everlasting life.



Even though we don’t consider them such, it’s clear that our trials serve as a blessing. It’s safe to say that none of us welcome or enjoy the trials we face. But, even so, these trials are used by God to bestow his blessing upon us. They are used to build our faith in him that it might become more sure.



Recognizing this, we can approach our trials differently. We can approach them confident that God will use them for our good. We can approach them knowing that they will be used by God to establish us in faith.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Seeking the Simple Life


“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

 (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)



In this day and age, we all have something to say. We have something to say about absolutely everything.  We have something to say about politics. We have something to say about community needs. We have something to say about tragedies that have occurred. We have something to say about others, and the way that they conduct themselves. And we want to be heard.  


Not only do we have this desire to be heard, we have the means to make it happen. Not only do we have our family and friends with whom we can share our opinions. We literally plaster our lives, sentiments, and thoughts for everyone to see. We post them on Facebook. We post them on Twitter.  We state our position and then argue it with absolutely everyone. We do so with family, friends, and even complete strangers.  

We also have a desire to be a somebody. We want to be known. We want to be seen and recognized for what we do. We want to be admired and viewed as a success. In fact, we want to be celebrated. 

We aren’t content to live our life in obscurity. We aren’t satisfied to remain unknown. We’re scared that our life might be viewed as insignificant or inconsequential.


However, in the above passage, Paul calls us to the opposite way of thinking. He calls us to the opposite way of life. He encourages us to live quietly. He calls on us to a peaceful and a restful existence.


It’s OK to be anonymous. It’s OK if we’re unimportant or insignificant in the eyes of the world. In fact, it’s quite peaceful when this is true of us. And this is the life to which we are called.

He calls on us, also, to mind our own affairs. Some translations tell us to mind our own business.  Instead of focusing on the happenings in the lives of everyone else, we’re to tend to our own concerns and responsibilities. We’re to place our focus on that which has been entrusted to us.

            
This doesn’t restrict us from lovingly watching out for others. It doesn’t forbid us to lovingly care for others. However, it does prohibit our busybody tendencies. It bars us from the gossip that flows from our nosey, meddlesome ways.     

Finally, he calls us to work with our hands. Living a quiet and a peaceful life doesn’t mean that we live a lazy life. We are to work hard. We’re to be diligent. We’re to do so that we might walk properly before others and that we might be dependent on no one.


Let us seek such a life. Let us ask God to show us the value of such a life, and to empower us in it. Let us confess to him our failure to live this life. And let us look to him for the grace and mercy we so desperately need.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Limiting God's Blessing


“Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

(Psalm 127:3-5 ESV)



It’s common, in our society, for people to comment that children are a blessing. It’s heard, most frequently, when celebrating a pregnancy or a birth with a friend or family member. We go on to add that children are a miracle.



However, even though this is commonly said, it isn’t reflected in our lives or our society. What our lives suggest is that children are not a blessing, but a burden. What our lives suggest is that children are a hindrance.  



For this reason, we do all that we can to limit the number of children we bear. Many, in our nation, support abortion for any and every reason. They believe that we should have the right to take the life of a child that we do not desire. They believe that it should be up to us to decide the size of our family.



Most of us have also gone all in on birth control. Even when married, we wait to have children until “we are ready.” We wait until we have “enough” material resources (in our opinion).



In fact, limiting the number of our children is held up as a virtue in today’s world. We’re told that our world is being overpopulated. We’re told that the world cannot support the number of people who are to come. And, for this reason, reducing the number of children is viewed as wise.



Our nation even supports efforts in various third world nations to limit the number of children being born. We see them as the biggest source of growth in the world population. And, because they are the “problem,” we try to fix it.



I’ve been questioned and insulted for having as many children as I do. I’ve been asked why my wife and I chose to have a larger family. I’ve had people make negative comments as my children followed me around the store.



If we truly believed that children are a blessing, would this be the case? Doesn’t it make sense that, if we truly believed this, we wouldn’t seek to limit his blessing? If we truly believed this, doesn’t it make sense that we’d embrace it?



If God promised to bless us with wealth, we wouldn’t seek to limit it in any way. If he promised to bless us with health, we wouldn’t seek to limit it in any way. If he promised to bless us with power, we wouldn’t seek to limit it in any way. So, if children are truly a blessing, why do we do so with them?



When traveling in third world nations, the size of my family is applauded. Our fellow Christians, in other nations, truly believe our children to be a blessing from God. And, for this reason, they celebrate with us.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Take Care!

“You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
(2 Peter 3:17-18 ESV)

Many of us, in the church today, are oblivious to what’s going on around us. We live in our own little bubble, paying little attention to the happenings of the world. We live in our own little world, remaining ignorant of the events and trends in the Christian Church as a whole.

This was true of me in my younger days. I grew up in a conservative Lutheran church. I grew up with a Bible-believing pastor. And, because this was all I knew, I assumed every other Lutheran church was the same.  I was surprised to find out, as the ELCA merger was preparing to take place, that this wasn’t the case.

I was surprised to learn there are churches who do not believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. I was surprised to learn there are churches who approve of things that the Bible defines as sin. And I was even more surprised to learn that there are many people who have accepted the false teaching being fed to them.

In the prior verses, Peter stated that the ignorant and unstable twisted the Scriptures to their own destruction. And this is what he’s referring to as he makes the above statement. Knowing this, knowing that some twist the Scriptures, we must take care.

We must take care that we aren’t carried away with error of lawless people. If we aren’t aware of the false teaching that’s being proclaimed, we may very well get sucked into believing it. If we aren’t aware of what’s going on, we may end up accepting the twisted doctrine of the ignorant and unstable.

According to Peter, we must know this, we must be aware of this, to ensure that we don’t lose our own stability. If we get sucked into the twisted doctrine being proclaimed, if we come to accept it, we’ll receive the fate of those who proclaimed it to us. Just as those who proclaim it do so to their own destruction, so will we receive it.

As believers, we cannot stick our head in the sand. We cannot remain ignorant of what is going on within the wider church. We must be aware that we might stand firm in the face of false teaching.

Along with being aware of the false doctrine being proclaimed, we must also continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord. We must continue to be fed by the Word of God that our faith might flourish.  We must do so that we might receive each blessing he's prepared for us.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Expectations in Ministry


“And he said, "The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come."”

(Mark 4:26-29 ESV)



As we engage in ministry, whether it be as pastors, missionaries, or lay people, we find ourselves falling short of the expectations others have for us. Why aren’t more people joining the church? Why aren’t more people coming to faith in Christ? Why aren’t more churches being planted in the United States?  Why aren’t more churches being planted around the world?



We often find ourselves on the receiving end of the blame.  These things aren’t happening, we’re told, because we’re not doing our job well enough.  Perhaps if we worked harder, things would be different.  Perhaps if we were replaced, the next person would do a better job and accomplish more.



We have the same tendency as those pointing their finger at us.  We place the blame upon ourselves as well. We tell ourselves that, if only we were better preachers, things would change.  We tell ourselves that, if only we were more cool, hip, rad (insert your own description here), things would be different.  We tell ourselves that, if only we worked harder, things would be different.



One of the hardest, yet most refreshing truths of ministry is that we can only scatter the seed.  We can do nothing more.  We cannot cause the seed to sprout or to grow.  We cannot cause it to turn into a full grain in the ear.



It’s the hardest truth of ministry because we want to think that we can do something. If fact, we want to have a role to play in the results of our ministry.  We want to be able to take credit for good things that are taking place.  And we have to get over ourselves.  We have to acknowledge that, although we scatter the seed, it’s not we who produce the growth.



However, it’s also refreshing.  And it’s refreshing because we can simply scatter the seed without feelings of guilt or blame.  We can scatter the seed, as we’ve been called, entrusting the results to God.