Thursday, September 12, 2019

Living in Hope


“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

(James 5:7-11 ESV)



The Lord has given to us a tremendous hope. He’s assured us that, one day, Jesus will return. He’s assured us that, when Jesus returns, the dead will be raised imperishable and that those who are alive in Christ will be transformed. He’s assured us of a new heaven and earth. And he’s assured us that we’ll live forever in this new creation, where there is no more suffering, death, or mourning.



As we endure the trials of this life, we can’t help looking forward to the fulfillment of these promises. In fact, we would prefer that Jesus come back now. We would prefer that the hardships of this life would come to an end that we might enjoy the blessings of which Scripture has spoken.



We, however, do not know when this day will come. It may come soon, or it may be generations away. And, for this reason, we are called to patience.



James compares the patience being required of us to that of a farmer, waiting for the fruit of the earth. He has to wait while the crops receive the early and the late rains. He has to wait until the time of harvest is at hand.



He points us also to the patience of the prophets as they proclaimed the Word of God. He points us to Job, who remained steadfast in the face of many trials. Their example is one we can emulate as we look forward in hope.



He then reminds us of the Lord’s purpose. He does so because, as we wait, it’s easy for us to call this into question. As we endure the trials of life, we can begin to question his motives. And God’s purpose, James assures us, is compassionate and merciful.



God’s desire is for our salvation. But it’s not for our salvation alone. He desires the salvation of all mankind. And, as we await Jesus’ return, he’s working for the salvation of the lost.



In the meantime, we’re not to grumble against one another. We’re to avoid this complaining, realizing that it can lead to judgment. It reflects not the patience to which we are called, but our momentary displeasure.



May we, then, look for the Lord’s coming in hope. May we patiently await his return, knowing that God is faithful to his promise. And may we remain steadfast, living in light of this hope, without wavering.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Taking Advantage of the Needy


“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” 
(James 5:1-6 ESV)

No matter how we compare to others in our nation, the fact of the matter is that we are rich. As Americans, we are among the wealthiest people in the world. Even those considered “low income” in our nation have far more than most people in the rest of the world today. 

As those who are rich, we have to take the above passage seriously. Even though we may believe ourselves to be innocent, even though we may believe that we haven’t or don’t take advantage of others, we have to evaluate ourselves when it comes to those who have less. We have to do so because it’s the natural tendency of our sinful nature.

The rich have a tendency to be discontent with their wealth. They have a tendency to always want more. And they have a tendency to do whatever is necessary to make that possible, even if it means harming or taking advantage of others.

As I say this, I’m reminded of Martin Luther’s explanation of the Seventh Commandment in his Small Catechism.  He says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring them into our possession by unfair dealing or fraud, but help him to improve and protect his property and living.”

Even if we believe that we haven’t robbed our neighbor of his money or property, we may have stolen in other ways. We may have taken advantage of his misfortune to acquire something unjustly. Or we may have taken advantage of his misfortune to improve our own.

For example, imagine your neighbor has an awesome sports car. You’d like one for yourself, but they cost too much money. Your neighbor, then, loses his job and has to sell his car in order to provide for his family. And you come in with a low-ball offer because you know he’s desperate. You pay him far less than the car’s value, knowing that he’ll accept it in his time of need.

Or perhaps someone is desperate for a job, and you hire him. However, knowing he is desperate, you fail to pay him a fair wage. You take advantage of him, in his hardship, for your own personal gain.

These are the situations to which James is referring. We live in luxury while taking from those who have little. And, if we are guilty of this, his warning must be taken seriously.  We must repent of our sin, look to Jesus for the forgiveness of our sin, and make things right with our neighbor.

As God’s people, we are called to love our neighbor. We’re called to serve our neighbor. We’re called to seek his blessing, rather than his harm.




Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Planning for the Future


“Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

(James 4:13-17 ESV)



In our society, we like to plan. In fact, we encourage people to plan for just about everything. We encourage them to decide what they would like to do and to discover how they can accomplish their goal.



We’re always asking high school students what they would like to do as a career, and how they plan to accomplish their goal. We ask young couples about their plans when it comes to starting a family. And we encourage people to prepare for retirement by putting a savings plan into place. The examples are endless.



In the above passage, however, James challenges this way of thinking. I say that he challenges it because he calls us to consider the implications of our planning. And he calls us to look at life differently.



Although we tend to think that our method of planning is wise, James tells us that it’s arrogant. It’s arrogant because we act as if we have something to say when it comes to our future. It’s arrogant because we act as if we know what tomorrow will hold.



He reminds us that, in ourselves, we are nothing. He reminds us that our life is a mist. We’re here for a short time, and then we’re gone without a trace. And, for this reason, we're to consider God’s will for our life.



We ought to say, he tells us: If it’s God’s will, we’ll do this or that. While we can utter these words as we discuss our future, this isn’t as much of a formula as it is an attitude. We must approach life with a spirit of humility, recognizing that God holds our future in his hands. And we must approach life recognizing that God blesses us with everything we need that we might accomplish his purpose.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Occupying the Place of God


“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

(James 4:11-12 ESV)



We’re continually told, today, that we’re not to judge. What is meant by this is that we’re not to speak against the behavior of others, sinful or not. What is meant by this is that we are not to share God’s truth. And it may be easily assumed that this is what James is saying above.



He tells us, however, that we’re not to speak evil of one another. This can also be translated as: speaking against our brother, or slandering our brother. It’s a general term that can describe many forms of harmful speech such as questioning legitimate authority, defamation, or bringing wrongful accusations against another. In other words, we are not to make it seem that our brother is guilty when the reality is different or even unknown.



As believers, then, we are not to run one another down. We’re not to assume the worst about one another. This is something that we see in Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment in his Small Catechism. Luther says: “We should fear and love God so that we do not deceitfully lie about, betray, backbite, nor slander our neighbor but defend him, speak well of him, and put the most charitable construction on all that he does.”



Sadly, this is something that happens all the time in the church. We see or hear something about another that raises a question or doubt in our mind. And we naturally assume the worst about him.



We judge him. We determine that he’s living in unrepentant sin. We determine that he’s wrongly occupying a position of authority. We believe that his faith is in question. And not only do we harbor these thoughts, but we share them with others.



In this way, we run down our brother. In this way, we destroy his reputation. In this way, we speak against him.



This is something we must not do. In this case, we’re assuming a position that belongs not to us, but to God. James tells us that, by doing so, not only are we wrongfully judging our brother. We’re standing in judgment of the law. We’re acting as though we are the author of the law. We’re acting as though we are God himself.



This, we’re reminded, is not our position. God alone is the author of the law. God alone renders judgment. God alone is able to save and to destroy.



This doesn’t forbid us from the proclamation of God’s Word. It doesn’t forbid the preaching of the law. And it doesn’t forbid us from holding one another accountable.  However, while we are called upon to voice God’s law and his judgement, we are not called to share our own. While we are called upon to proclaim the Word of God, we are not called to share our own. We are not to speak against our brother, sharing our baseless judgment of him.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Humble Submission


“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

(James 4:7-10 ESV)



Most of us think that we understand the difference between pride and humility. Pride, we believe, is thinking too much of ourselves. And humility, in contrast, is thinking too little of ourselves. While there is some truth to this understanding, what we fail to grasp is the connection of pride to unrepentance, and humility to repentance.



This is brought out to us in the above passage. James had been addressing the connection that the believers possessed with the world. He’d told them that, by befriending the world, they became enemies of God. It was an act of adultery, an act of unfaithfulness, to the God who’d made them his own.



As we see above, he goes on to call the people to repentance. If things were to change, if they were to be rescued from this state of enmity with God, they had to turn from their sin and to the Lord. And this repentance would take the form of submission and humility.



Neither of these words are considered desirable by mankind today. Submission, after all, implies that we are not free to make our own decisions. It implies that we’re not in charge of our own life. And humility implies an attitude of weakness and lowliness.



We don’t aspire to either of these qualities. In fact, we tend to look down upon those who possess them. And we, instead, encourage the opposite. We encourage people to think highly of themselves and to take charge of their own life.



Repentance, however, takes the form of submission and humility because we are brought to the realization of our true standing. We are brought to an understanding of our position in the universe. And this removes any sense of pride or self-worth we may feel.



We are brought to the realization of our sinfulness. We are brought to the realization that we are not good people. We are brought to the realization that we are undeserving of God’s love and blessing. We are brought to the understanding that the only thing we deserve is his wrath.



We are also brought to the realization that God is our Lord. We are brought to the realization that Jesus is our Lord. And we, in turn, are his people. We are the people that he both created and redeemed.



While this may lower our view of ourselves, it’s a blessed thing. It’s a blessed thing because of the great assurance we receive from the Lord. As James points out to us, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. When we draw near to God, he will draw near to us. And when we humble ourselves, God himself will exalt us.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

In the World and Of the World


“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?”

(James 4:4-5 ESV)



We’ve all heard the phrase: “Be in the world, but not of the world.” Although this isn’t a direct quote from Scripture, it certainly is consistent with Scripture.  And it tells us that, even though we do live in this world, and although we live among the people of the world, we are called to be different.



As much as we claim that this is our endeavor as believers, the truth is very different. The reality of the situation is that we are in the world and of the world. We do not like to be different. We do not like to stand out. We desire to reflect he world in which we live. We desire to be like the people among whom we live.



We prefer conformity. We prefer to be in accord with the world. We prefer to keep in step with the standards of the world. And we long for this that we might be loved and accepted by the world.



Our tendency is to think that this is no big deal. However, according to James in the above passage, this is a serious problem. Our tendency to befriend the world demonstrates a spirit of adultery. It reveals that, instead of demonstrating our faithfulness to the Lord, we worship the world in which we live.



We are not able, at the same time, to befriend the world and love God. Yes, we are to be kind to the people of the world. We are to love the people of this world. But we are not to befriend the world in the sense that we are conformed to the world around us.



The world, after all, is wicked. The world is in a state of rebellion against God. And if we’re conformed to the image of this world, if we befriend the world, this will be our condition as well.



James says that, to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. Both conditions cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive. It’s one or the other.



Scripture tells us, James says, that God is jealous. In other words, he is not willing to share us with another. We belong to him, and to him alone.



Loving the Lord, then, invites the hatred of the world. Jesus says as much in John 15:19. And although none of us like to experience hatred and rejection, this is the reality we face. We, then, must willingly endure the world’s hatred that we might experience the love and mercy of God. We must endure the world’s hatred that the love of God might be seen in us.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Unaswered Prayer


“You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

James 4:2-3 ESV



We’re often confused when it seems that God isn’t answering our prayers. We’re confused when it seems that he isn’t providing for us in our need. We’re confused because, in Scripture, God promises to do so. 



This causes many of us to struggle with our faith. It causes many of us to question or doubt the promise of God. We don’t know how we can trust in God when this seems to be the case.



In the above passage James tells us why we don’t have the things we desire. He tells us why God will leave our prayers unanswered. And these reasons begin, once again, with the searching of our own heart.



He says, first of all, that we do not have because we do not ask. In other words, we aren’t bringing to him our needs in prayer. No matter what we claim, we aren’t truly looking to him as our provider.



As we experience needs, we often take God’s grace and provision for granted. We fail to pray about them. We fail to entrust them to God. We, then, blame and accuse him when our needs are not satisfied.



God does promise to provide for us. And it’s true that he knows our needs before we ask. But he also calls on us to bring our needs to him in prayer. We are to bring our needs to him in faith, trusting that he will provide.



When our prayers go unanswered, we must then look at our motives behind the request. And, more often than not, our requests are selfish in nature. We are seeking our own glory rather than God’s. We’re seeking to have our will accomplished rather than God’s.



We must realize that God isn’t simply a Genie in the sky who is bound to grant our every wish. It’s not our will that will be accomplished, but his own. And, as his people, we are called to seek his will rather than our own.



The prayers God will answer are those that align with his will. The prayers he’ll answer are those that agree with his purpose. And as his people, as his children, our will is to be brought into conformity with his own.




Monday, July 29, 2019

Christ Alone


“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

(Galatians 5:2 ESV)



In the modern evangelical church, we are quick to confess that we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone. And this has also been the position of the historic Lutheran Church. We believe, teach, and confess that we play no role in our salvation. It’s the work of God from first to last.



That being said, although most of us do trust in Christ, we don’t stop there. We continue to believe that something, along with Jesus, works to accomplish our salvation. We don’t truly believe that Jesus is sufficient.



This is also what was going on among the Galatians. False teachers had come into the church claiming that, in addition to Jesus, the people had to be circumcised if they were to be saved. They taught that the people had to follow the Law of Moses if they were to be saved.



Paul stood firmly against this teaching. He told them that, if they accepted circumcision, Christ would be of no advantage to them. He went on to say, in verse 4, that those who sought to be justified by the law are severed from Christ.



Christ alone saves. And we cannot add anything to it. Once we begin thinking that it’s Jesus plus this or Jesus plus that, we are lost.



Circumcision isn’t an issue in our day, at least not in a spiritual sense. However, many other things are. Many of us believe, for example, that Jesus plus abstaining from alcohol saves. Many of us believe that Jesus plus speaking in tongues saves. Many of us believe that Jesus plus a strict ten percent tithe saves. And many of us believe that Jesus plus an hour-long daily devotional time saves.



There are countless examples we could cite, but you get the point. Each of us has to search our own heart to see what we’re depending on in addition to Jesus. However, the point Paul is making remains the same.



If we trust in anything in addition to Christ, we are believing a corrupted version of the gospel. If we trust in anything in addition to Christ, he will be of no advantage to us. If we trust in anything in addition to Jesus, we are severed from Christ.



Yes, many activities flow from our faith in Christ. Many changes in our life result from our faith in Christ. But they are just that…results of our faith. They are the byproduct of our faith. These are not the things that save us. And they are not where justification is found.



May we, then, trust in Christ alone for our salvation. May we look to him, and to nothing else, for the forgiveness we so desperately need. May we truly believe that his sacrifice is sufficient.


Friday, July 26, 2019

Pointing the Finger


“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

James 4:1-2 ESV



As we experience conflict with others, whether it’s someone close to us or someone of whom our knowledge is more limited, we tend to focus our attention on their behavior. We focus on their tone. We focus on the specific words they choose to use. And we focus on the content of their message.



What I’m saying is that, as we enter into conflict, we pinpoint them as the cause of our argument. Perhaps they were rude when they spoke to us. Perhaps we take issue with their intent. Perhaps we see a weakness in them that seems intolerable to us. Or perhaps we simply cannot agree with their logic.



As we, then, fight and quarrel with them, we place the blame at their feet. After all, if they’d approached things differently, we wouldn’t be arguing in the first place. If they did things the way we believe they should be done, things would be better by far. And if they only understood our way of thinking, or if they weren’t so stubborn, conflict could have been avoided.



What we fail to do, as we engage in conflict, is to look within. We fail to consider that, perhaps, we are the source of the conflict. We fail to consider that we are the one who is at fault.



This is what James is calling us to recognize in the above passage. He tells us that the quarrels in which we take part are caused by the passions within us. And, when he speaks of these passions, he’s referring not to those desires which are godly. He’s referring to our selfish and sinful desires.



We enter into conflict because we don’t have the things we desire. In fact, this longing causes us to seek the harm of others. We cannot obtain the things we desire, so we fight and quarrel.



It’s needless to say that this isn’t true of us alone. It’s typically the case with all parties involved in the conflict. However, we cannot simply point the finger at others. We need to, first and foremost, look at our role. We need to uncover our sinful desires that led us to take up arms against our brother.



May we, then, approach conflict with a spirit of humility. And, more than this, may we approach it with a spirit of repentance. May we seek the forgiveness of God and that of our brother for the sinful desires which led us into sin.




Monday, July 15, 2019

A Wise Guy?


“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

(James 3:13-17 ESV)



Many of us, in our society today, consider ourselves to be wise. And if we don’t yet consider ourselves to be wise, we’d like to one day. Wisdom is considered by most to be a positive, attractive quality.



Wisdom indicates someone who’s experienced. It indicates someone who is knowledgeable and who possesses good judgment. It indicates someone who’s intelligent and discerning.



However, as we look at the words of James above, we find something rather surprising. Wisdom, according to James, is characterized primarily by meekness. The good conduct of the wise, he says, is demonstrated by meekness.



I say this is surprising because meekness is not perceived as a positive quality in our day and age. In fact, meekness is viewed as a sign of weakness. We understand the meek person to be spineless. We understand him to be nothing more than a doormat before others.



However, we find in Scripture that meekness is, in fact, a positive quality. Jesus tells us, in Matthew 5, that the meek will inherit the earth. This echoes the words of Psalm 37:11, which say: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”



Those who are meek are humble. They are long-suffering. They are teachable. They are submissive.  This is in accord with the words of Jesus, in Matthew 20, who tells us that the one who would be great must be a servant, and that the one who would be first must be a slave of all.



James goes on to say that the wisdom that is from above is peaceable and gentle. It’s open to reason and full of mercy. It’s impartial and sincere.



The quality of meekness is seen most clearly in Jesus, who describes himself to us in Matthew 11:19, as gentle and lowly. This phrase is translated in the KJV as “meek and lowly in heart.” Although he is God, he humbled himself in order to serve us.



It’s in meekness that true wisdom is seen. Good conduct flows from the meekness of wisdom. Let us, then, seek to learn from those who display this quality. And let us ask God to instill within us a wisdom, characterized by meekness, that we might be a blessing to others.


Monday, July 08, 2019

Inconsistent Speech


“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

(James 3:9-12 ESV)



As a pastor, one of my greatest pet-peeves is when people alter their behavior once they discover my position. I’ve been around those who consistently curse and engage in course joking. Then, they ask me what I do for a living. And, upon learning that I’m a pastor, they apologize and try to talk in a clean manner.



I appreciate the gesture. I appreciate that they’re doing their best to keep from offending me. However, I am uncomfortable with the fake personality they then adopt. Even if I don’t like their way of speaking, I would almost prefer them to be real.



That being said, as Christians, we tend to behave in a similar manner. When we’re at church, we talk in a dignified manner. But, away from the church, our speech is full of cursing and lewd dialogue.



In one sense, because we are sinners, we will always have slips of the tongue. As James pointed out in verse 8, no human being can tame the tongue. However, we also can’t use this as an excuse for our ongoing, willful behavior. We cannot use it as an excuse for our habitual behavior. With the empowering of the Holy Spirit, there is a control that can be exercised.



James makes it clear that, just as spring cannot produce both salt and fresh water, and just as a fig tree cannot produce both figs and olives, our mouths should not produce both blessing and cursing. We should recognize it as a problem when we praise God one moment, and curse someone the next. As he tells us, these things ought not to be so.



Let us, then, confess our sin to the Lord. Let us repent of the inappropriate words that we use. And let us seek, by the power of the Spirit, to speak in a consistent manner. Let us seek to praise God and to speak to others in a dignified manner.




Wednesday, July 03, 2019

A Very Big Deal



“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. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
James 3:5-8 ESV

In the church, we often speak up concerning numerous sins. We address the common sins of the day. We address those that are contentious and divisive.

We address homosexuality, abortion, and injustice, all of which are abhorrent in the eyes of God. And we are right as we proclaim to the church and the world what Scripture teaches about these subjects. However, our tendency is to avoid some of the most common and destructive sins of the day.

We rarely, if ever, discuss the sins of the tongue, which are numerous. And we find ourselves participating in them on a regular basis. In fact, we find ourselves doing so while lacking an attitude of repentance.

We gossip. We slander. We lie. We bear false witness against our neighbor. And although we may, at times, experience a sense of guilt as we do so, it doesn’t bring an end to our behavior. We dismiss these sins, considering them minor.

Even if we understand that these things are wrong, we don’t consider them to be a big deal. We count them as insignificant. In fact, we almost consider them to be irrelevant.

But as we look at the words of James, above, we find that they’re a very big deal. He says that the tongue is a fire. He says that it’s a world of unrighteousness. He says that it stains the whole body. He says that it sets on fire the entire course of our life.

It’s a constant problem. It’s a restless evil, James says. And it does great damage. As we read, it’s full of deadly poison.

And this isn’t a problem had only by a few. Although man has tamed almost every creature on earth, no one has tamed the tongue. In other words, in something with which we all struggle.

We, then, must take the sins of the tongue very seriously. We must recognize how great our sin truly is when it comes to these various forms of wrongdoing. We must confess our sin, we must repent, and look to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness he offers. And we must ask God to work in our heart and to take control of our tongue that it might be used for his glory.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Freedom?

“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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” 
(Romans 6:17-18 ESV)

As we approach the 4th of July, our thoughts revolve around the concept of freedom. This, after all, is what America stands for. And this, of course, is something we all long for. We want to be free to live our own life, without the authorities that be telling us what to do. We want to be free to make our own decisions, without the powers that be making them for us.

This is true also when it comes to our relationship with God. We tend to think of ourselves as free. And we tend to think that God has given us free will.

He has given us free will, in a sense. He doesn’t tell us if we should marry nor whom we should marry. He doesn’t tell us what to eat or what to wear (other than the fact that it should be modest). He doesn’t tell us whether we should own a dog, a cat, or no pet at all. Decisions like these are left to us.

However, in a very real sense, we are not free in the least. Before coming to faith in Christ, we are slaves to sin. Sin is our master. The only thing we can do is sin. No matter how hard we try, we cannot live for the Lord and we cannot obey him.

After coming to faith in Christ, we are free from sin. I don’t mean by this that we’re perfect or that we no longer struggle with sin. However, because of Jesus, it doesn’t have the hold on us that it once did.

But this doesn’t mean we’re free. We still aren’t free to live life as we choose. We still aren’t free to make any and every decision for ourselves. We aren’t free because, after coming to faith, we are slaves of righteousness.

After coming to faith in Christ, righteousness is our master. After coming to faith in Christ, it’s righteousness that controls us. After coming to faith in Christ, we desire to live for the Lord and we strive to do so in all things.

This is what Paul is revealing to us in the above passage. And even though we tend to think of slavery in a negative way, even though the very term puts us off, in this sense it is good. It’s good because, as slaves of righteousness, we receive the benefits of righteousness.

As he goes on to say, in verses 20-22: “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

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.