Finding Real Freedom

Finding Real Freedom

Isaiah 61:1-3 (Part 1)

“…the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news…” vs. 1

 

What’s the Message? 

I thought we would have some light-hearted fun this morning by looking at a few signs, that are real places, where the sign might be sending a mixed message.

-Do Not Enter – Entrance Only

-Curve Left, Turn Right

-Stop Sign, No stopping anytime

-Left Turn arrow, no left turn

-Puppies, Puppies, Puppies, Parking for Chinese  Food Customers

-Wendy’s, Beat Diabetes Buy 5 Frostys for $1

-McDonald’s, Parking for Drive-thru Service Only.”

 

Obviously, someone has not thought out completely what they are trying to communicate in these instances.  But…have you ever thought about what message you might be sending to people about Christianity or maybe what the message of the church sends to those who don’t believe? Isaiah addresses this in Isaiah 61:1-3 so if you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

 

Read Passage – Isaiah 61:1-3 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

 

God’s Messenger 

Verse 1 starts with something that Isaiah is keenly aware of and that he mentions several times throughout the book that bears his name, he says:

 

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” vs. 1

 

Isaiah was certain of something; God had called him to be His messenger. That’s a great thing to know exactly what God wants you to do. Here’s something you might not have grasped before, you and I have the same calling as Isaiah. Jesus told his disciples in John 20:21:

 

Again Jesus said, Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

 John 20:21

 

So Jesus sends the disciples out but the call is also for you and me. God did not say’ “Okay, accept my Son,” and then zap you are out of the world. NO he chooses to use us to be his messengers of Good News. The thing is, sometimes the world doesn’t hear it as good news and many times they feel that the church gives them a mixed message. Isaiah has some great insights, 4 in fact, that should be part of the message we bring to the world. These four things are freedoms that we bring the world. We are looking at freedoms and yet I think the world hears restrictions from us more that the freedoms.

 

The Freedom of Jesus Message 

The real message of freedom is found when we look to Jesus. Interestingly, Isaiah’s message to Israel is the precursor to the message that Jesus gives. So if we take the message of Isaiah from chapter 61 and match it to Jesus message, we see four freedoms.

 

  1. Freedom from Division 

The first freedom is found in verse 1b:

 

“…the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” vs. 1b

 

Notice that Isaiah points out the anointing of the poor.  Why the poor? We tend to divide ourselves and the rich tend to have what they need and they get special privileges in our world. But Isaiah brings the message that a time is coming, a time in God’s kingdom, where the poor are given dignity, the poor are given equality, things even out between the rich and the poor, and that God’s love and salvation are  not just for the rich, the well to do and the privileged, but for all people.

 

Jesus said in Matthew 5 “Blessed are the poor” and in Matt. 11 5o proclaim the good news to the poor, in Matthew 19 that we should give our things to the poor, and in Luke 14 to invite the poor to our celebrations. Jesus brings the message that all people matter to God and that there is no favoritism. Jesus is giving us insight into the kingdom of God.  What is the kingdom of God like? Glad you asked. Let’s look at the kingdom of God revealed to John in Rev. 5:

 

with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Rev. 5:9b

 

In God’s kingdom there is not division and we bring that same message to the world. The church is to reflect God’s kingdom where every people, every tribe, every language, every culture, every social status, everybody is welcomed and accepted.

 

2. Freedom From Brokenness 

The second freedom that Isaiah states in his message is that God’s message brings freedom from brokenness. He says in verse 1c:

 

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” vs. 1c

 

Notice that it’s not just freedom from the brokenness but healing as well.  He states that he was sent to “bind” the brokenhearted.

Ex. Let me use an example to help illustrate what Isaiah is saying.  Think of it as breaking a finger. The best way to heal the broken finger is to tie it or “bind” it to the finger next to it so that it heals straight and so that the hand works as a whole, the way it was designed.  So here is what the message of freedom is, we bind together to support, help, encourage, and heal one another. We bring the message of healing. The ultimate bind comes when we bind ourselves to Jesus Christ. Jesus also sent the message of healing to the world and he did more than speak it, he made it happen for people. Luke 9:6:

 

So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” Luke 9:6

 

Our message to the world is and should be one of healing. The ultimate healing comes when we go to be with God and we are healed forever; no sickness no sadness, no tears, no problems, no death. Everything is put right by God.

 

3. Freedom from Darkness

The third freedom is in verse 1c:

 

“…to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” vs. 1c

 

The picture Isaiah paints here is the one where you are held captive. In their day, jails and captivity are in dungeons and cellars; away from the light. It’s dark and dingy and cold. Darkness brings up feelings of uncertainty, it’s scary, there is an uneasiness in it, and really it’s not good for us either. I would even go so far as to say that we were not intended to live in darkness. Jesus spoke these words in John 8:12:

 

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

 

Notice the picture Jesus gives us when it comes to light.  Jesus says we will never walk in darkness; that sense of uneasiness, that sense of the unknown and the hidden, the uncertainty that is there in darkness. No, Jesus makes everything open, clear, and everything is made plain.

 

4. Freedom from Judgment 

The 4th freedom that Isaiah highlights is the freedom from judgement.  The reality is we will all face a day of accountability. Isaiah says in verse 2a:

 

“…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God…” 2a

 

Isaiah talks about the Year of the Lord’s favor, the OT equivalent of  the Year of Jubilee where freedom was granted. In the OT there was a precedence in place where you could enslave yourself to get out of debt.  At the 7 year mark you were granted your freedom.   and the day of vengeance The really neat thing about this verse is that it is the Year of the Lord’s favor in comparison to the day of Judgement. The Judgment Day in eternity is something we all face but it’s only a day. In comparison, God’s favor is a long time, a year. And here is the bottom line, mercy will win. We often stress the judgement of God when it may be more effective to stress God’s mercy.  James says in James 2:13:

 

Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

 

In God’s realm, mercy triumphs over judgement.  Mercy: kindness given to someone in a bad situation or kind and forgiving treatment to someone who could be treated harshly. I am not saying we overlook sin. What I am saying is that the world has come to see the church as someone who can’t wait to tell everyone what they are doing wrong and many times treating them improperly. If God is willing to forgive and restore and show kind treatment when we should be treated harshly, we can do and should do the same. He does it for us, for you, so we should do that for others.

Jesus: The Ultimate Messenger 

We have seen how Isaiah’s words reflect Jesus and Jesus even quotes Isaiah. After quoting Isaiah in Luke 4 Jesus says this in verse 21:

He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21

Jesus is the fulfillment of these freedoms for us. In fact, I we only know true freedom from division, brokenness, darkness and judgement through Jesus.  We try to find it in many different forms and ways but ultimately these freedoms are only found in Christ. We may experience parts of these in a small portion, but the ultimate freedom comes in Jesus. That was his message, and that is the message we should be bringing to the world. Jesus gives us this charge in John 20:21:

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”

John 20:21

Jesus message is our message.

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A Nation In Crisis

A Nation In Crisis (Lessons From Isaiah)
Isaiah 1:1-9
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” vs. 2b

I’m Voting for Bobby!
Can you name the year?
Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated
The Vietnam War is not going as well as hoped
Anti-War protests grow and happen across the country
The U.S.S. Pueblo intelligence ship is captured by the Koreans
The Apollo 6 Mission
Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated
Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s administration falls apart and he chooses not to run for reelection

Yes, that was 1968. I was in second grade and I remember going to my friend
Mark’s house to spend the night. Mark’s father had come home from work and
was reading the paper and watching the news. I saw Bobby Kennedy on the
television and I told Mark’s dad that Bobby Kennedy would win the presidency
and that if I were old enough I would vote for him. He chuckled at me and said
something like, “What does a little 7 year old know about politics!” He also said
something like this, “With all that is happening in our country, it’s a crazy time and
our nation seems to being going to hell in handbasket.”

48 years later and I think a lot of people might be saying the same thing about our
country right now. The Presidential race is not only dividing our country but seems
to get more crazy and whacky by the day. It seems we have more killing of
innocent people than ever. Mass murder seems way too frequent. Internet scams,
elder abuse, etc. and the list goes on of all the things that make it seem that our
country is on the verge of collapse or at least falling apart at the seams. But you
know, we aren’t the only ones that feel that way and many times in the past
countries have felt the same way. What do we do. We are going to start a short
series on messages from the prophet Isaiah. Today, we will start at beginning of
the book that has his name on it. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s
Word from Isaiah 1:1-9.

Read Passage – Isaiah 1:1-20
The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns
of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen,
earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have
rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel
does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose
guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the
Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. 5 Why
should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is
injured, your whole heart afflicted. 6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil. 7 Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by
strangers. 8 Daughter Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege. 9 Unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would
have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.

Israel and Judah Out of Whack
If we think we are out of whack and everything is going crazy, I think the nation of
Israel in the Old Testament may have had it a whole lot more than us. Let me
explain. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God heard their cries of
oppression and chose them to be his people. He led them out of slavery, took them
to a land that He choose for them, gave them victory over the peoples of those
lands and virtually provided for all their needs. He gave them honor and respect
and then choose them to be the people that would carry on his name. They loved
taking all the blessings and good things that God gave them. But, as they settled
and established themselves, they became more self-centered, more concerned
about what they wanted rather than what God wanted for them and even rebelled
against God. For the next couple of hundred years, they go through this time of
moving toward God but then rebelling again. God wanted to be their God and he
wanted them to be his people. He likened it to a Father-Child relationship. In verse
2 Isaiah shows how unstable that relationship had become and how God viewed it:

“For the Lord has spoken: ‘I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled
against me.’” vs. 2

That’s where Isaiah comes in. These people kept falling away from God, so God
would send prophets to try to warn them and guide them and correct them to get
their relationship with God back on track. A good picture of this comes from one
of the kings that Isaiah prophesied to, Jotham. He was actually a pretty good king
and did some good things but still do all that was necessary. It says about him in 2
Kings 15:34-35:

“He (Jotham) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father Uzziah done.
The high places, however, were not removed; the people continued to offer sacrifices and
burn incense there.” 2 Kings 15:34-35

So he did well to follow God, but didn’t take care of everything. He still let these
false gods and worshippers do their thing in a kingdom that was supposed to be
totally dedicated to God. It’s a good lesson for us that we can be true and faithfull
to God but that if we let evil and false gods into our lives, even a little, it could
have terrible effects.

How Bad It Had Gotten
So, what happened was that if continued to spiral downward. This is how bad it
had gotten, verse 3:

“The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my
people do not understand.” vs. 3

It had gotten so bad they were worse off than animals, and not just any animals,
animals that we associate with stubbornness and not being too bright. These
animals have no sense of right or wrong, no sense of intelligence, no sense of even
who owns them and feeds them. And Isaiah is saying that these people had spiraled
down below those animals. That’s bad. Isaiah is saying about the Israelites that
they didn’t even know their own dad. It got so bad that God eventually let their
enemies destroy them and only kept a remnant of people to carry on his name.
Now you might think, wow, this is going to be a short sermon cause all we have to
do is stop doing things wrong and everything will correct itself and work out okay.
Not so fast. We have a lot to learn from Isaiah.

Signs You’re Out of Sync with God
In fact, Isaiah has some things to teach us that have a dual application to them. We
not only can apply them to our nation but to our individual selves as well. What
Isaiah show us is three things: 3 signs that you are out of sync with God.

1. Turned Your Back on God
The first sign that you are not in sync with God is that you have turned your back
on him. Isaiah says in verse 4b:

“They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their
backs on him.” vs. 4b

What is he really saying when he says they have spurned the Holy One and turned
their back on him? It’s this: Where do you find your truth and what determines
your ethics and values? God wanted the Israelites to trust him, follow him, and
trust his plan for them. They were trusting in themselves and their king and
basically turned their backs, they turned away, from God.

We have the same choice; who do we trust, who do we follow, what determines
our values and ethics. It used to be that God values were the basic building blocks
of our country and of people lives. No anymore. That was even true in the 60’s like
we talked about earlier. Even if it wasn’t trusting God it was following a religion, a
set of laws or rules that were to guide people. Today it is not that way at all. Today
the teaching is to trust ourselves. That we have the answers, we have the
knowledge and experience to determine all that we are.

Here is where Christianity differs from other religions and other strains of thought;
we don’t follow a set of rules or laws or even trust in ourselves. Our belief is in a
person; in a relationship with God and his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus urges us to
follow him in Luke 14:27:

“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27

So the teaching of Isaiah is to learn from Israel and not turn our back to God but to
turn toward God and follow him.

2. A Hardened Heart
A second sign that you are not in sync with God is that your heart has hardened.
Isaiah warns in verse 4a:

“Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption!” vs. 4a

Notice his words “whose guilt is great.” Guilt is an emotion we have that is meant
to guide us and help us. Guilt is a feeling that is caused by knowing or thinking
you have done something wrong. That feeling is a guide for us. It should cause us
to consider our actions, to consider what we have done and to help us move toward
doing what is right. When we don’t, we end up where Israel ended up; with a
hardened heart. It no longer affects us. Ever wonder how some people can do
something wrong or evil and not feel bad? That’s a hardened heart. We are
endanger of hardening our hearts when we no longer feel guilty about our sin and
about the things that displease God.

We see that happening as a nation right now. We don’t do all we can to protect the
downtrodden, the homeless, the less fortunate. We see the rich getting richer and
the middle class disappearing. We don’t feel guilty when the innocent die or when
the homeless go without food and the basic necessities. The guide is God, His
Word and His call on our lives. But following God takes effort and work.
Jeremiah, another prophet to Israel, put it this way in Jeremiah 29:13:

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

Too many of us take a lackadaisical effort in following God and that can lead to
indifference and a hardening of our heart.

3. Full of Hurts
And the 3rd sign that we are not in sync with God is that we are full of hurts. Israel
found themselves hurting and not understanding that they were causing their own
struggles. Isaiah put it this way in verse 6:

“From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds
and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil.” vs. 6

When we hurt, we become numb to other things in life. Hurt consumes us. It takes
our mind off the things we need to focus on to be in health and keep us a good
place.
Ex. Abbey’s injury at UPS. Hurt her wrist that led to hurting her shoulder, which led
to hurting her leg, which led to hurting her hip which led to her hurting her back
which led to her not working this kind of a job again.

Here is another thing about hurt, it is the result of sin. Sin might feel good at the
moment, but eventually we feel the hurt and pain of not following God’s plan.
God takes no pleasure in seeing us hurt and the real deceiving thing about it, is that
sin, which Satan wants us to fall into, causes us hurt and we in turn blame God.
Satan has the ultimate deception going on here.
Ex. The deception that things like cancer, diabetes, heart issues, etc. are caused by
God.
But that is not God’s plan. God’s plan is to preserve and restore. Psalm 36:6 says:

“Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You,
Lord, preserve both people and animals.” Psalm 36:6

Sin entered the world and corrupted things and has caused us hurt ever since. But
God’s desire is to bring restoration and preservation.

Turning the Tide
So where does that leave us? Hopefully not down and hopefully not without hope.
No, there is a sense that the tide needs to be turned. There is an awesome passage
that ends this chapter and it brings hope and promise, not only to Israel but to us as
well. It comes in verses 18-20 and it says:

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land:
20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.
” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The only thing that can bring real restoration and real preservation is to turn the
tide of sin and know that God’s ways and his plan are the best for us and the thing
we need to move forward in life. That restoration and preservation comes in what
Jesus did for us. God saw the problems we would have and provided the solution
for us through Jesus Christ. Notice what Christ does for us, the sin that is so dark
red, like scarlet and crimson, very dark reds, are made clean, white, white as snow
and as white and pure as wool.

Notice the effort on our part, to be willing and obedient, and not to resist and rebel.
This does not guarantee our country will turn the tide, that this will save our
country. Here is how it does speak to us; that we can have a full restored
relationship with God, that if our country is to turn, it starts with us individually.
The church needs to be the instrument of change not because of what we can do
but because of what Jesus has done for us. That is represented by this table in front
of me and the opportunity and joy we have in celebrating communion this
morning.

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Integrity

Integrity

James 5:12

All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Do You Go To Church? 

A lady was sitting in her beach chair on a Florida beach when the little boy, in his swimming trunks, and carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” Then he asked her: “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again, her answer was “Yes!” He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?” Again she said, “Yes!” She began to wonder where the question were leading to when The little boy gave a sigh of relief and said, “I finally found the right person. Will you hold my quarter for me while I go in swimming?”

Trust and integrity are huge issues. Today we are going to look at one simple verse that James uses to challenge the 1st century church to a life of integrity, honesty and straightforwardness.  If you are able, would you stand as we read God’s Word from James 5:12.

Read Passage – James 5:12 

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.” 

Let Me Sum It Up For You 

In the greater scheme of things when you look at this verse James is trying to drive home the point he has emphasized in the this chapter about the importance of our relationships and our words and how those impact our walk with God.   He starts the verse with the words:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters…” vs.12a

“Above all…” In Greek that is pro panton.  That word is not one that is used to denote coarse of profane language but one that says, in light of everything that is said, “pay attention” to this or even, “but finally…” He wants the readers to realize that his letter is about to come to an end and they really need to pay attention to the end and not lose track or lose heart.  When you read something its easy to skim past the end or hurry through it. He wants them to realize the importance of this and really hear what he is saying to them.

Trying to Get God Involved

Again, this is not a passage about using profane language. It’s about the oath’s we take and the trustworthiness of our words. Can people trust what we say and do they find us credible. In fact, James is probably thinking about a passage he would have memorized as a kid when going to the temple for school from the laws found n Leviticus, more specifically, Lev. 19:12:

“Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:12

This passage is really a bridge of two thoughts; the ones that come in verses 7-11 about the patience we need in tough times and verse 13-20 about our prayers to God. Commentators disagree which section it goes with but I would suggest that is does very well standing on its own and bridging the thoughts about our relationships with others and our relationship with God. In either relationship, we need to be trustworthy and honest.

The warning that comes at the end of this verse in Lev. Is meant to caution us about bringing God into our oaths, especially when we know they are not true. When you make a false oath and you try to bring God into your lie, you are mixing oil and vinegar.  They don’t mix.  Neither do lies and God because in God there is only truth.  So don’t bring God into your lies. You don’t because as is says at the end, “He is the Lord.” You are not deceiving God but you might be bringing dishonor to his name. So don’t!

James and Jesus Teaching on Integrity

James also does an interesting thing here, he uses the very words of Jesus to drive this point about integrity home.  He actually almost word for word uses the teachings of teaching from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:34-37. A close look at these two passages together help us understand James message much more clearly.

One thing that may have crossed your mind is that you don’t see the word integrity in either passage.  That’s true.  But let’s look at how integrity is defined and that will help us launch into this passage.

Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. (Dictinary.com)

In a word, James is directing us toward two moral values that should be evident in our life: honesty and truth. Those are also two Godly character traits. So, what do we need to know about integrity?

  1. Be Aware of Dishonesty

First, it is important to be aware that dishonesty is out there and more directly, we can have a propensity to be dishonest, especially if we are trying to build ourselves up, get an advantage, or even defend ourselves. James says in 12a:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” vs. 12a

As we saw in previous passages, notice that he is talking to fellow believers and the church because he addresses this to “brothers and sisters” and he personalizes it by saying “my brothers and sisters.” Dishonesty and lies are not to be part of the church but as we see in the headlines often, the church has often been thought of and found to be dishonest and not trustworthy.  Now notice how hjesus put it in Matthew 5:34-35a:

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;or by the earth…” Matt. 5:34-35a

Earlier we studied how James taught that words are important.  We like to think that words are just words but they really are important and we need to be aware of our words, the weight they carry, and the potential for good and destruction that they carry. Often Jesus would say things like, “Truly I tell you…” (Matt. 5:26)

Ex. Most all of us have at one time or another been duped by someone’s dishonesty. Scam’s by phone callers about taxes, lost grandchildren, etc.

How does that feel.  You feel used, hurt, taken advantage of, etc. So when the world hears the church being dishonest, it experiences those same feelings and hurts. The church is meant to bring healing and good news to the world.  Dishonesty bring just the opposite.

  1. Live In/With Integrity

The second point that James beings to our attention about integrity is that we should be living in and with integrity. There is a simple way to do that, he says it in verse 12b:

“All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” vs. 12b

These words are almost word for word the exact words of Jesus.  I have put them next to each other for you to see.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” Matt. 5:37a

The point here is clarity. There should be no doubt about our words to others so that they can find us trustworthy and honest.

Ex. Every so often my wife will ask me a question and I will answer with— (a question) or (a vague answer)> So here is what Claudia says to me; “Answer me yes or no” She lives this passage and hold s me to it too.

The world looks to the church for answers to life’s issues and wants to know if we are honest and truthful.  Too often we have not been and then when they find the truth, and it’s different from what the church has said, they won’t hear the other things we say.

Ex. I recently was watching TV and saw a preacher telling the viewers that God wants you to be well and if you’re not, it has to be sin.  He also said that the solution was to buy his “healing water” and you could wash away your sin and be healed. Those kind of things mislead people. Yes, God does want you to be well but to promise healing through this “special water” or to say it’s your sin that is causing your sickness is not Biblical. Job did nothing wrong and his issues were not because of sin.

When we are untruthful and misleading, the world will not listen to us anymore and they will not hear the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

  1. Honesty Is a Serious Matter

And finally, third, James reminds us that honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity is a serious matter. James says in verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Those are hard words but Jesus words are even stronger in Matt. 5:37:

“…anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matt. 5:37

Here is what James and Jesus are both getting at: you have to decide who you are aligning yourself with. If you are aligning yourself with God, God is truth. John 3:33 says:

“Whoever has accepted (Christ) has certified that God is truthful.” John 3:33

So this is a hard choice we have to make; to follow God or to follow Satan. If we follow God, we choose not to lie and on the occasion that we do, we don’t try to bring him into it by saying things like “I swear to God.” Then we are bringing him into something that is totally foreign to him and has nothing to do with him. On the other hand, when we lie, we are aligning ourselves with Satan. John 8:44 says:

“When he lies, (Satan) speaks his native language, for is a liar and there is no truth in him.” John 8:44

Satan is the Father of lies.  The question is: Who’s your Father? God Almighty or Satan? Speaking the truth and living in integrity is so important, so serious, that it tells others who we are living for and who is our Father.

Hope and Confidence

So it is important to note two things about integrity, honety, trughfulness and the oaths with take;

  • If we are always truthful, we will never have to “swear” or take oaths because there is never a reason to doubt our integrity or honesty.
  • But…more importantly, two, it may appear at times that evil prevails. That people who lie get ahead, that dishonesty has its rewards. But go back to verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Look at that last word. Condemned. A judgment day is coming. A day when we will stand before God and have to give an account for what we have done. It’s at that point that we realize why Jesus came and died on the cross; for our forgiveness. If we align ourselves with God, accept Jesus gift of salvation, there is no condemnation for us. But if we align ourselves with Satan, the Father of lies, though we may get away with things now, we will not at the judgement seat.

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Let Love Prevail

Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas

This week we lived through some of the most discouraging and frustrating times as a nation. We saw the senseless killing of people and the struggle with understanding any of it. We see opposite ends happening; people being pulled apart by what is going on and people being united by what is going on.  You might be surprised this morning because you thought we were going to continue our study of the book of James. I was surprised too because I felt God calling me to address this issue and that to bring some peace, some understanding and some perspective to these times.  A quick review of the weeks events:

July 6th – Philandro Castile and his girlfriend were pulled over for a traffic violation. He tells the officer he has a gun but has a permit to carry it. The officer tells him to get the permit and when he reaches for it, he is shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger side of the car, while his girlfriend is witnessing and recording the whole event.

July 7th – Alton Sterling was selling CDs early Tuesday outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, when a homeless man approached him and asked for money.

The man was persistent, and Sterling showed him his gun. “I told you to leave me alone,” Sterling told the man, according to the source. The homeless man then used his cell phone to call 911. The police came and apprehended Sterling and while laying on the ground subdued by police was shot and killed.

July 9th – While protests were taking place in downtown Dallas over the killings of Castile and Sterling, an ex-military trained — shot into crowds of protesters at police who were monitoring the event killing 5 policeman and wounding 7 more.

We need to understand that the world needs to hear the message of Christ  more than ever; that if change is going to take place, one of the first places it needs to happen is with the church. We need to be in the world, bringing the message of the love of God to all people and see this senseless killing stop. For direction, we are going to read Jeremiah 22:3 this morning. If you are able, please stand.

Read Passage – Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Killing and Murder

Some people think this is a new epidemic.  It’s not. Unfortunately, our nation has had a history of abuse of people; Native Americans, Asian, Hispanic, Black, and the list goes on. I think on a greater scale with technology, understanding and education, and with the perspective of God, our nation is now being held more accountable and greater change is need for us to move forward.

It is important as we embark on this subject, that we understand God’s Word and what it really says. So let’s go back to Exodus 20:13 to begin, it says:

“You shall not murder.” Ex. 20:13

So the first thing to be clear about is God’s command that we not murder.  In fact, God even put in place regulations and laws about those who murder. For example in Genesis 9:6 he states:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:6

God early on established the sanctity of life and the need for us to be held accountable. He also made it extremely clear that we are not to be murdering others. One of the main reason is that we are made in the image of God and we will touch on that a bit later. So how do we define murder? Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Murder: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

That sounds pretty clear but it might make us ask the question; “Then what is killing? It is also important to note that there is a difference between killing and murder. Let me give you this statement:

All murder is killing but not all killing is murder.

So let me explain by giving you some aspects of killing that are not murder.

-Unintentional

You’re out hunting with some friends and you think you see an animal in the bushes and you shoot. You kill someone. You didn’t mean to do it, it was unintentional, an accident. Even God understood that accidents happen and when he established Israel he provided “Cities of Refuge” for people to go to and live and be safe if they killed someone unintentionally. This way the relatives could not take revenge. Now you couldn’t leave the city, if you did, you were fair game, but a way to protect those that killed unintentionally was provided.

-Self-Defense

Someone breaks into your house and is assaulting you and you know it is your life or theirs and you kill the intruder. It wasn’t planned or done with malice, it was self-preservation.

-Capital Punishment

Now there is some debate on the next two and some of you may agree or not agree with these next two. Capital punishment. Someone is killed because they have taken the life of, murdered, someone else and the consequence of their actions is to have their own life taken. Again, I realize some of you make think capital punishment is wrong so realize that there is some disagreement here.

-War

And with this reason as well, war. When someone is called upon to defend their country and have joined the armed forces, and they kill, many consider that an act of killing and not murder. Again, I realize some of you make think war and killing in war is wrong so, again, realize that there is some disagreement here.

I hope these have helped you be able to tell the difference of thought between what murder is and what killing is.

Why The Commandment “Do Not Murder”

In light of what has happened this week, we need to talk about these things. I believe God told me to talk about them. And…I believe God has strong feeling about this to and we really need to understand what His Word tells us and how it guides us in all of this. I focused on 3 areas that are important to God and, as the church, we should look at them as important too.

  1. Murder Lessens the Sanctity of Life

Now first, I have touched on it briefly but let me do a little deeper with this, murder lessens the sanctity of life.  God from the beginning established that every life is important and that every person has value and is valued by him. Part of Jesus discourse on the Sermon on the Mount was just that, that we are valued by God and that he cares for each of us.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:26:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt. 6:26

Now God cares for each of us and the question might be; “why?” Two reasons:

  • We are his creation. When I make something, I am proud of it and I want to take care of it. Even if it’s not all everyone else thinks it should be. I made it. It’s of value to me.

Ex. I made a painting and some people laughed at it. It’s not professional, not going to be in a museum, but it’s mine and I am proud of it.

  • We are made in his image. You and I are made in the image of God Almighty. We were fashioned after God himself.

And let’s not forget John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

 

Jesus died for all people, everyone. Not some, not just the good, not a selected few, but all. Whoever believes in him. All are welcome.

  1. Murder Usurps God’s Authority

Secondly. Murder usurps God’s authority. Usurps is a fancy way of saying that we are trying to take the authority away from God and assume it ourselves. Let’s go back to the beginning in Genesis 2:7 where it says:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7

God made us. He decides who has life and who does not.  It’s his creation not ours. And it’s not ours to take away from him. When we murder, we have moved God out of the picture and put ourselves in his place, and it’s not our place. The Bible is very clear that God is the one who gives life and that God is the one who determines how long we live.  We want desperately to make those decisions ourselves and yet it is not our decision to make. We have gotten to the point that we feel we have the right to make those decisions. No! Job in Job 14:5 says:

“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5

We want to assume the control and yet it is not our control to have. We have to stop playing God. When someone decides to shoot innocent people and take lives, whether they are law protectors, civilians, someone with a grudge, someone who has been wronged or hurt, etc. they are playing God. Even revenge, God says “Revenge is mine.” We are not to put ourselves in God’s place.

  1. Murder Reflects Your Heart

And third, murder is reflective of what is in your heart.  This is a harsh one because we all want to believe that we would never do such a thing, but it seems many people have the capability of this and they don’t realize it. Jesus said in Matt. 15:19:

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matt. 15:19

I look at that list and I go; “No, not me.” But I have to realize that I am capable of any of those things. Pastors say a lot of things sometimes without really fully explaining them.  One is: Have Jesus in your heart.  SO here is the explanation of why we need to fill our heart with Jesus; because if we don’t, it can be filled with things like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. I don’t want those in my heart. And if what is in my heart comes out, what better thing can you fill it with than Jesus, his words, his example, his way of doing things.

Let Love Prevail

That is why we land here this morning on this issue: we, the church, need to let love prevail. I was really proud of Philandro Castile’s girlfriend.  She had just witnessed one of the most horrific things a person could, someone she loves killed right in front of her. Listen to her words in a statement made the next day:

“Not just blacks, not just whites, not just Asians, everyone, this affected everyone.” No one deserves to be taken away.”

We, the church, need to be in that place.  That all lives matter. We do that by living like Jesus. We do that by following God’s Word.  We do that by adhering to Godly principle like the following:

Kindness and compassion

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.

Love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Gal. 5:22-23

Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col. 3:15

Jesus not only taught it, he lived it. 1 John 5:11:

Jesus

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

1 John 5:11

That’s how we are to roll in this life, how we are to live in a world that is lost and confused. We move in love not hatred. We live in peace and kindness and with God’s peace ruling our hearts. We need this because the only way our world will change is to realize that we have the chance to live forever with God in eternity and that the only way to have that assurance is through Jesus Christ because he died for us and covered our sin.

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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones
James 4:11-12
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

Hurtful Words
There are companies that make their money using hurtful and untrue words; that make their living putting things out there and dealing with the consequences later. I was reminded of this the other day when I was in the store and I saw a pretty famous tabloid and right as I was reading the headline and thinking if anyone would buy this publication, the lady in front of me turned around, grab one, and threw it onto the belt with her groceries. It was almost like she could hear my thoughts. Well, it got me thinking about lawsuits and people who have to dal with that kind of stuff. So, here is a list of the top 5 celebrity lawsuits. (taken from insidecousel.com)
5. Cameron Diaz – Sued a tabloid because it claimed she was having an affair with another celebrity when, in fact, both were in relationships of their own and were not having an affair.
4. Robin Williams – Williams sued his celebrity look-alike who, with the help of his agent, was pretending to be the actual Robin Williams. Under false pretenses, the look-alike was cheating charities under Robin Williams’ name and causing serious damage to his reputation.
3. Kiera Knightley – The Daily Mail published accusations that Knightley had an eating disorder and had been responsible for the death of a young lady with anorexia. The actress went to court and was awarded several thousand dollars which she handed over to a charity.
2. Sharon Stone – Plastic surgeon Renato Calabria let two U.S. magazines know that Stone had received a facelift. Stone claimed the accusations were false and had defamed her resulting in difficulty in finding work. She sued the surgeon for damages and won.
1. David Beckham – A magazine printed an article claiming that Beckham had hired a prostitute, so he sued. Since Beckham could not prove the magazine acted maliciously, he lost the court ruling and his $25 million lawsuit was tossed out.

The most famous libel lawsuit is…Hulk Hogan. You know, it’s hard when someone says something about you that is not true and really is out and out a lie. But it happens, and probably more often than we care to admit. As we continue through the book of James, he addresses this very subject and how we, especially within the church, should not be a part of such things. If you are able, please stand as we read James 4:11-12.

Read Passage – James 4:11-12
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It All Comes Down to 2 Laws
James is really taking the thoughts and ideas of Jesus here and asking us to put our faith into action by considering how we are treating one another. God has always been concerned about how people are treated. We are God’s creation and he doesn’t like seeing his creation treated improperly. God helped us by giving us the 10 Commandments as a rule and guide for living. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy those laws are expanded so that we have guides for almost every kind of situation in life. And if that wasn’t enough, he sent prophets to help along the way in the O.T. as well. There is a period of almost 400 where God was silent but then he broke that silence and sent his son Jesus Christ. In Matthew 22 the religious leaders are trying to test Jesus by asking him which is the greatest commandments to follow. (Really God wants us to follow all of them.) But Jesus, he tells them that it all comes down to 2 laws:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matt. 22:37-39

So Jesus really simplifies it for them, he says it is all about two laws or ethics; one, your relationship with God, and two, your relationship with others. They were trying to trap him but Jesus wasn’t falling into their trap, he just simplifies things for them, and for us too. You might recall Jesus words from Matthew 5 right after Jesus had given the multitudes The Beattitudes:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt. 5:17

Jesus wants to make it clear that he is not contradicting anything from the past or changing what God has previously given, he was coming to fulfill the law and was showing us what it looked like to live out those laws in our lives.
Ill. Can you imagine if they had tabloids back then? The Jerusalem Star – headline: Jesus Claims; “I fulfill of the Law of God” 🙂

The Pitfalls of Slander
James stresses very strongly in this passage that slander should not be part of who we are. So let’s make sure we have a good clear definition of slander so we can apply what he is saying.

Slander: to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone (Meriam-Webster Dictionary)

Notice the two aspects of slander; 1) it’s a false spoken statement; and, 2) it’s having a bad opinion (How we view people in our head)
Let’s be clear as well as to whom James is saying this, verse 1a:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” vs. 11a

Be careful here and notice; James is talking to the church! He is using the term brothers and sisters because he is addressing those within the church. It would be best if we didn’t have this kind of attitude at all but even more so, this should not be something that is part of church life. As family, God’s family, false statements and bad opinions should be checked at the door. This is so important because as family we are to love one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11) as Paul says. God loves us and we are his children. We should not be tearing each other down, period! It’s important to know why; because we are not acting as God’s children or as family when we do so and it stops s from having unity and effective worship.
Ex. A parent saying “That’s not how we act in this family!”

*It Puts You Above Others
James point out three pitfalls of slander. The first pitfall is that when we slander, you put yourself above others. James says in verse 11b:

“Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” vs. 11b

It’s interesting that in our culture today we have a high value on “no judging.” You often hear people say things like, “I’m not judging you,” or “We are not to judge others.” It’s more severe in the church. When we judge, we are telling our brother or sister that they don’t belong in the church. That’s not our call. God already made it clear that is not our job to decide who is in and out, that’s his call. In a sense we are saying that we are better than you and that God’ wants us more. No! God’s law is that all are welcome.

*It Puts You Above the Law
The second pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above the law, verse 11c:

“When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” vs. 11c

There is a subtle yet import thing to grasp here, that when we slander we are declaring that we know best, that we know better and that our way is the way. God didn’t give us laws to pick and choose which we think are correct and which we want to follow. No, we are to follow the whole law and Jesus, as we stated earlier, came to fulfill the law meaning that we need to be even more intent on keeping his word.
Ex. Do not lie. He didn’t say don not lie when it is convenient or when you think it is best or when it is for the greater good. No, we are called not to lie and many people try to justify their lies.

Don’t put yourself above the law.

*It Puts You Above God
And the third pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above God, verse 12:

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” vs. 12

This is harsh but very true, when you slander, we have put ourselves in God’s place and we are assuming power. God has the power not us. We somehow live in this illusion that we have the power. That goes back to Satan’s words to Eve in the garden where he entices her and says that “you will be like God.” We fall into that thinking that we are like God. We are not.
Ex. My call to the phone company and asked to speak to a manager. The operator aske dhow she could help. I asked “are you a manager?” She said no. She was assuming the power but she didn’t have the power. We should not be assuming God’s power.
Steps To Avoid the Pitfall

In order for us to put James’ words into action, we have some big decisions to make so I challenge you to make some tough decisions this morning.

1. Desire Peace Not “Winning”
First, what is more important to you, having peace with each other, or winning? Many of us can be competitive and stubborn. We are more concerned about being right and getting our way, winning, than we are about having peace. God’s message to us is to get along and to build each other up and ultimately to live in peace with one another. Romans 12:18 says:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

I have at times been approached about being a mediator of sorts for people. Sometimes it is a married couple, sometimes a parent and child and sometimes just two people who are in disagreement. Here is usually the way I’ve been asked to mediate; “Pastor we have a disagreement. Will you listen and tell them I am right? Within the church, we should be more concerned about peace yet “winning” has become more important. And this isn’t just in individual cases, this is in churches as a whole and denominations.
Ex. Last week we talked about the top causes of disputes in the church; worship style, decision making, length of service, etc. Isn’t sad that we are more concerned about winning and having our way than having peace within the body of Christ?

2. Remember God Loves All People
The second decision is to decide if you are going to love all people or just the ones you decide to love. Now don’t get me wrong with this, we are not called to be best friends with everyone. And, there are some people that you just don’t click with. That’s okay. It is important to remember that God makes it clear that he loves everyone. This took me back to some verses I memorized as a kid, John 3:16-17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16

The challenge is to remember that Jesus died for anyone who will take his free gift. He doesn’t die for just a few, just for the good people, just for the rich, etc. He died for all and when we slander, we lessen the work of Jesus Christ. Remember this is written to the church and if the world sees the church back biting, slandering, talking behind each others back, etc. They will not want to be a part of that church. That’s why James starts with the question in verse 1 of this chapter what causes quarrels and fights among you? People see enough of that in the world.

3. Commit to Personal Integrity
And the third decision is really one that is a tough one that you have to make internally, are you going to commit to personal integrity? They thing about slander is that it tears you down and it becomes a stumbling block to worshipping God and to being the person God created you to be. In fact, slander can lead you away from God and make you miserable. You need to commit to personally being committed to God and his ways and allow him to lead you and change your heart. Jesus is addressing a crowd in Mark 8 and he challenges them with this thought in verse 36:

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

See our decisions and the way we live have eternal consequences. Personal integrity is being fair and honest with yourself and it’s a state of being complete or whole. We are only whole when we allow God to lead and when we follow his ways.

Get Out of My Chair
Let me challenge you with this thought about that? Whose in your chair? We all have a heart and soul and we have this space there. Some call it a hole or a void or something like that, but for our purpose today I am going to call it a chair. (Kind of like a throne) Who is sitting on the chair of your heart and soul? Is it God? Is it you? God is asking us to allow him to be the one that sits on the chair. Let him guide, direct, etc. His ways are the best and he only wants the best for us and when we let God sit in the chair, He can change even the worst of people to someone beautiful. Many of us refuse to get out of the chair. We like being in charge and in control. In fact, when it comes to our brothers and sisters, we are called to allow God on the throne and tell us how we are to handle those relationships. His way is found in Col. 3:13:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

We are called to bear and forgive. There is only one reason why we need to do this; he did for us through his son Jesus. Because Jesus died and rose again, God has forgiven us. Because of his grace and gratitude, we are called to do the same. Lead into communion.

Communion

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Changing the Direction in Your Life

Changing the Direction of Your Life

James 4:1-10

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8

Two Sides 

One of the things I love about our church is the openness and mutual love and concern we have for one another.  It’s not that way in all churches and that’s a shame. In fact, I think disagreements, arguments, and church splits are occurring at an alarming rate and that really is puts the church in a bad light in the view of our communities.  They see the church as a place of contention rather than an accepting and loving community.  I did a little research. Can you name the top 5 issues of conflict in the church? I got this list from Thomas S. Rainer website which is dedicated to growing healthy churches.  This report was put out in July 2014.

  1. Worship style
  2. Decision making – who makes the decisions
  3. Length of worship service
  4. How to deal with clergy and moral failure
  5. Worship service time change

Other notable things that are struggles in the church: volume, pastor’s salary, how big the church should be, attire, role of the Pastor’s wife and/or children.

It’s sad that these things occur but the reality is that they do and it affects the role of the believer. Some become disillusioned with their faith or even just disillusioned with the church and it has resulted in many who choose not to go to church. As we continue with our study of the book of James, he addresses this issue in chapter 4 verses 1-10. If you are able, please stand as this passage of God’s Word.

Read Passage – James 4:1-10 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

Problems in the Church 

James doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to this subject.  He hits it right on. He wants our faith to be reflected in how we live. Here is the bottom line, if we want the world to change and to see Christ, it has to start with the church and what that means is that it has to start with each of us, individually. So he asks a question in verse 1a:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?” vs.1a

The early church was used to fighting. They were constantly at odds with the Romans and unfortunately that attitude had spilled over into the church. They were so used to being in conflict that it carried over into he church to the point it was affecting their worship. Conflict can get so bad that it could bring the church to a standstill and cause it to become ineffective. James doesn’t list a specific incident of what was going on but he does tell us the problems they were dealing with:

-Selfishness You desire but do not have…” vs. 2

First, selfishness. He says in verse 2: (read). Selfishness is wanting everything the way you want it. It’s not concerned with others or the whole but only about yourself. In fact, the very definition of selfishness is excessively concerned about only yourself.

-Cravings  “You covet but you cannot get what you want…” vs. 2b

The second problem they had was that they coveted, he says in verse 2b: (read). Covet, that deep desire to want what others have and keep it all for yourself. You want it so bad you crave it and are not satisfied until you have it.

-Impure Motives When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with

     wrong motives” vs. 3

And, the third problem, they had impure motives, verse 3: (read). Now get this, the  impure motives were directed at God. Oh they asked, but they were in a sense deceiving God only to get things for themselves.

Ex. The way that the world sees the church as only out for money.

Does this sound like the kind of church you want to belong to? Probably not.

Looking Like the World 

You might be wondering why James makes this jump from chapter 3 about the use of our words to this issue within the church.  It’s pretty simple, we use our words to fight and quarrel and to put down others while at the same time build ourselves up. I asked a question: Is this the kind of church you want to belong to? The obvious answer is “no.”  The reason behind the question is when we act this way, when we take on these traits of fighting, quarreling and only wanting our way, we are looking like the world.

Ex. Current elections happening on national and local levels are full of fighting, back biting, name calling, and candidates telling us their way is the best way. I’ve heard many people say they don’t know who to vote for or possibly not even wanting to vote. We should vote.

But we don’t want people to look at the church and not see that it’s different than the world.  If it is not, they won’t see the love, peace, and hope that God offers. There is actually a tragic consequences to living this way; it comes in verse 5:

Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” vs. 5

This is hard to fathom but the reality is that when we are acting in these manners and the church is selfish, coveting, and living in impure motives, we are not that bride of Christ and the beauty and love of God, no we are in danger of being the enemy of God. Wow, what a drastic shift.

Changing the Direction of Your Life 

So the challenge from James here is to change the direction of your life. To look and act differently than the world and to be so in love with God that the world would want to be in the church. Now I love this next verse, it has such a great message for us, verse 6:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” vs. 6

You should circle “But he gives us more grace.” What an amazing thought.  Despite ourselves, our selfish desires, despite our divisive ways, God operates on grace. Grace: the unmerited assistance and forgiveness of God. This changes the direction of our life. God’s grace causes you to want to live differently. James tells us what that look like in three different ways.

  • Submit 

The first thing that we can do is submit to God. He says in verse 7a:

Submit yourselves, then, to God.” vs. 7a

Many people don’t like the word submit.  It carries a lot of negative connotations. The word for submit carries with it the full range intended by the term repentance. In fact, it actually has two aspects to it, to turn away, and then to humble yourself. So from what James mentioned earlier, we turn away from selfishness, coveting, and impure motives and then choose to humble ourselves by putting ourselves under God’s authority.  I’ll be honest, this doesn’t come naturally to us. Submitting to god means we trust his plan, we choose to follow his word even though we might want something different, and we trust that his way is always the best way for us.

Ex. Jesus, his willingness to only do what the Father tells him to do and to be obedient, even to the point of death.

The thing about this is that it’s not a one time decision.  You have to make this decision everyday. Jesus did and he tells us the same in Luke 9:23:

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Circle the word daily. I can tell you that you can make this decision one day and struggle with it again the next. But let me remind you what James tells us about this: But he gives us more grace. Grace says I can fail everyday and still be forgiven and loved and start all over.

  • Resist 

The second thing we need to actively do is resist and he is specific in what we resist, the devil. Verse 7b:

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” vs. 7b

 

Notice he says that when we resist he will flee. This is not a maybe. He will flee. But I know I struggle with this because he doesn’t flee as quickly as I would like.  And because he flees, doesn’t mean he won’t try and come back. Here is a great example of fleeing.

Ex. “Like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Fowler has tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and ‘scare-coyotes.’ She has slept with her lambs during the summer and has placed battery-operated radios near them. She has corralled them at night, herded them at day. But the southern Montana rancher has lost scores of lambs—fifty last year alone.

“Then she discovered the llama—the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama. ’Llamas don’t appear to be afraid of anything,’ she said. ‘When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won’t have anything to do with that. Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away.’”

Barry McGee, Denver Post

Think about this as you consider resisting the devil; you don’t have to do it on your own. Not only do you not need to but in many ways you can’t on your own. But listen tot the promise of God that comes from 2 Peter 2:9:

“…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” 2 Peter 2:9a

Isn’t this awesome news? YEA! Here is the challenge in our attempts to resist: identify the areas you are trying to do it on your own. It’s in those areas that you will get attacked again and again and again.  (Encourage people to write them down, find accountability partners, be open and honest with who you are not only to God but to yourself.)

  • Come Near 

And finally, the third thing you can choose to do is to come near to God, verse 8:

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8

We must look at our lives and ask ourselves if we are living in a way that we willing put ourselves in a position to experience God in a more intimate way every day.

Ex. Think back to when you were dating or interested in someone. For me, I remember being interested in Claudia and I would purposely go places or hang out in places where I could see her and interact with her.

We have to be willing to put ourselves in places that we see, experience, and are interacting with God.  Many times we live our lives and hope God shows up somewhere. No, we have to be proactive in including God in our lives.

Ex. Think about what you can do to draw near to God.  It might be putting more Christian music in your life, or more Scripture, or prayer, etc. But realize it might not happen if you leave it to chance. Don’t over complicate it but make it a purposeful part of you day.

David says in Psalm 72:28:

But as for me, it is goodtobenearGod. I have made the SovereignLordmy refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”  Psalm 73:28

Don’t just include God, make him the place you run to, your refuge, your home base, and your strength. Make him your default (the place you turn to first).

Give God Room to Work 

So James ends by encouraging us in the last verse of this passage, verse 10:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” vs. 10

He says humble yourself. He ends by showing the stark contrast of those who are selfish, who covet, and who live with impure motives; the contrast is humility. The ways that bring problems are reckless and self seeking. Humility is having the control to realize that you can’t do it yourself but that God can. Notice the last phrase: “He will lift you up.” The bottom line is you don’t have to build yourself up, God will lift you up. That’s why God sent his Son, so you don’t have to be in a struggle of trying to prove yourself and earn his love. We willing accept the gift God gave us in his son and that changes who we are.  We are no longer selfish, greedy and egocentric. This is who we are:

-Co-heirs with Christ

-A child of their King

-The bride of God

-Loved, cared for, and valued

Not because we demand it or earned it, but because of god’s great grace, we are lifted up and valued by God.

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The Power of the Tongue

The Power of the Tongue
James 3:16-12

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings…” vs.9

The Change in Word Use
Put on your thinking caps for just a moment and think about this; according to Graph.net there are 6.8 billion people in the world who speak over 7,000 languages. That’s a lot of different languages but, of course, there are some languages that are more prominently spoken around the world. So…can you name the top 5 spoken languages in order of the most spoken. As you guess them they will appear on the screen.
Top 10 spoken languages in the world
1. Chinese 1.2 billion speakers
2. Spanish 329 million speakers
3. English 328 million speakers
4. Arabic 221 million speakers
5. Hindi 182 million speakers
Honorable mention of 6 through 10
6. Bengali 181 million speakers
7. Portuguese 178 million speakers
8. Russian 144 million speakers
9. Japanese 122 million speakers
10. German 90 million speakers
So projections by graph.net says this is going to change. By 2050, here are the projected top 5 languages that will be spoken:
1. Chinese
2. Hindi
3. English
4. Spanish
5. Arabic
The interesting thing about this is that if we want to communicate effectively with people and those of other cultures, it may be important to know the right languages and their cultural background. As you know, you can use a word that may be fine in one cultural and not so fine in another. Today we are going to look at the importance of our words. James gives us some food for thought on this in James 6:6-12. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – James 3:6-12
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Limited Control
Since the beginning of time, God gave us our tongue to glorify him and to have a limited control of things on earth. Genesis 1:26 states:

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

So we are made in God’s image and likeness but our control was always intended to be limited. Adam even had the privilege of walking and talking with God. That must have been cool. The control we were given was over the animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures. We have distorted that control and extended it to be over ourselves. As God never intended Israel to have a king, he wanted to be their king, so we were never intended to control each other and even ourselves but to have God be over us. Part of that “ruling over” is that one way we can control the animals is through our words. God even gave us the authority to name them in Gen. 2:19. Verse 7 of our passage today talks about us taming the animals:
“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind…” vs. 7

One of the ways that taming comes is through our words. So, we feel a bit of control and power that comes with the idea of taming things like the animals.

Untamable
Ever been to the circus or sea world or a zoo? I love to see how those trainers can work with animals and train them and tame them. They teach them to do tricks and acts that I am amused by and stunned by. But there is some bad news that James gives us here in verse 8, he says:

“…but no human being can tame the tongue.” vs. 8

We can tame and train a lot of things but James makes it really clear here, we cannot tame our tongue. Sounds a bit hopeless. Here is what I believe God is trying to get us to consider through this statement, we cannot totally tame our tongue but we still have some choices to make on how we live our life. We also want to live in such a way that we are wanting to live more like Jesus.

The Choices of Our Words
Here’s what James does for us. He gives us three word pictures that are also choices that we have to make when it comes to how we use our words. These are important choices and need to be considered carefully.

  • Praise or Curse
    The first choice comes in verses 9 and 10:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” vss.9-10

The picture here is our conversation and interactions with others and ultimately with God himself. Remember I mentioned that Adam walked and talked with God in the garden. I believe that some of that conversation must have been praise. I could just hear Adam saying something like: “You created that God? Wow! That is beautiful. God you are so incredible.” But here is the thing, sin entered. Satan was right when he told Adam and Eve that eating of the fruit would make them like God. We were created in his likeness. Yes, we are “like” God but the reality is that we are not God. God could use his words and call things into being, we cannot. God used his words to instruct and guide. We may be made in his image but we are not God. Satan on the other hand, he used his words to manipulate and mislead and to drive a wedge between God and man.
We have the same choice in our lives today. We can recognize God’s wonderful creation and praise him. But…do you know the opposite of praise, yes, curse. We were created to praise but we have chosen to use our words to curse. David encourages us in Psalm 66 to let God’s praise be on our tongue:

“I cried to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.” Psalm 66:17

We cannot be in union with God and be on the same page as him if we are using our words to curse others. God is saying: “I created him/her, I made them in my image. And you are curing them? No, I love them.”
Ex. One thing I love is my wife and kids. Now I know my kids faults and I know just as well if not better than anyone their short comings. But here is the thing; you better not talk bad about them around me. Why? Because I get defensive. Those are my kids. God has that same sense and even greater when it comes to his kids.

Exercise: Turn to the person next to you and just say one thing you appreciate about them. How did that make you feel? How did it make them feel? See, wew need more of that in our life.

  • Refreshing or Bitterness
    The second picture he gives us concerns water, and he says in verse 11:

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” vs.11

The choice is pretty clear through the illustration, we can choose words that are refreshing and life giving or we can choose words that are bitter and destructive.
Ex. After a workout – So refreshing to have a big glass of ice cold water Can you think of a time when you would want to have a big glass of salt water? As a kid my mom made me rinse my mouth with salt water to avoid or get rid of sores in your mouth. Oh, I hated that.

James points out that these two waters can’t come from the same source the same spring. This reflects or deeper person, that we can be people that use our words to bring refreshment to others lives or we can bring a bitterness that hurts and is repulsive to people.
Ex. Don’t really try this but do you know what happens when you take a big gulp of salt water? You choke. You gag. Literally, if we are using words that are bitter and harmful to people we are choking them and making them gag.
Paul writes in 1 Thess. 5:14

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with one another.” 1 Thess. 5:14

If you are taking notes, circle “encourage the disheartened.” We live in a world where we have people using their words to tear down and oppress.
Ex. The increase in bullying in our schools and even worse with internet.

  • Fruitfulness or Fruitlessness
    The third choice comes from the illustration of tress, and more specifically fruit trees. Verse 12 says:

“My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?” vs. 12

Our choice is that our words can bear good fruit or bad fruit and in some cases no fruit at all. Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The idea is that you are what you are. You cannot change what you are in your heart and your words will eventually reveal what is in your heart.
Ex. Animals like a dog. They can be friendly, loving, and the greatest pet but at some point they will always remind you they are a dog. Right? They will do something like eat of sniff something disgusting, etc.
Jesus reiterates this same concept in Matt. 7:17 when h e says:

“Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Matt. 7:17

This goes back to one of the things that we talked about earlier, that we were created to praise and worship God. At the core we have that in us. Our words should reflect that and show that to the world.

Challenge: To make the choice to use words that bear fruit.

Important Words To Hear
The difficult thing about this is that we cannot do it on our own. Remember James teaches us that our tongues are not able to be tamed. But…we still have choices to make and we need to make every effort to be people that praise, refresh and bear fruit. Now we cannot tame our tongue but there is one that can. God asks us to trust him and to trust in his Son. Jesus showed us through his words that the tongue can be tamed and that our words can make a difference; with his help.

I thought it would be good to end with some important words. Word we need to hear and words that speak to our life. Words of Jesus.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” John 10:10

“And surely I am with you always…” Matt. 28:20
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

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Just Make Room

Just Make Room

2 Kings 4:8-17

You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you?” vs. 13

The Talking Parrot 

A wealthy Texas man was in the habit of giving his mother an extravagant gift each year for Mother’s Day. He made it his goal to give her something more expensive and unique each year.  One year he gave her the entire collection of – music.  Not to be outdone the next year he gave her hang gliding lessons. Well he got to the point where he thought he may have out done himself and was at a loss of what to give her until he ran across this unique and gifted talking parrot. The parrot could speak in five languages and the topping on the cake was that it could sing her favorite song, The Yellow Rose of Texas, while standing on one foot. The bird cost $10,000.00 but that made no difference to the man. Well the man was thrilled with his gift and gave it to his mom on Mother’s Day. About a week later he called his mom to check in on her and maybe gloat a bit over his gift. He asked his mom how she liked the bird. She replied “It was delicious!”

HA! I guess it is good to make sure you give your mom the right present and that she is clear on how it is to be used. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word from 2 Kings 4:2-17.

Read Passage – 2 Kings 4:8-17

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.” 11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’” She replied, “I have a home among my own people.” 14“What can be done for her?” Elisha asked. Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.” “No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” 17 But the woman became pregnant, and break and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

Finding a Friend 

We have been working our way through the book of James but being that it is Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist taking a break and doing a Mother’s Day story. In 2 Kings 4 Elisha is the main prophet in Israel. Israel is on a downward spiral. Elisha goes from town to town proclaiming the Word of God and in chapter 4 he goes to the city of Shunem, which he has been to before, and stays at the house of family he has stayed with before. We know little about the woman introduced as the woman of the house but we do know she is childless and that she seems to have control of her household and the trust of her husband. She is one who lives out another famous verse that we read often on Mother’s Day in Proverbs 31:11:

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” Proverbs 31:11

We can see how her husband trusts her and has confidence in her and in her decision making

Old Testament Hospitality 

Now the OT cultured had a different view of hospitality than we do.  Our culture is very protective and guarded. We have extensive lock systems, security system and video surveillance, and all kinds of things to protect ourselves. We rarely hear of taking someone in unless we know them or know someone they know and can vow for them.

Ex. A good example is last week when we got away for a for days, we booked an Airbnb room but the owner went on Facebook to check us out and determine if he wanted to rent to us. The owners can check out your profile and decided weather or not to rent to you.

In the culture we see in 2 Kings, a traveler could go to the main town square and hang out in a particular place and if people saw them there, they were letting others know they needed housing for the night. The people of this time were used to taking people in.  Many of their homes had a “chamber” or porch area toward the front of the house where they could put a bed and some simple necessities for strangers go spend the night. It was somewhat protected from the rest of the house because it was in the front and part of the main living quarters.

In our story today we see the Shunammite woman actually go a bit further with this idea of hospitality, she designates a room on the roof for Elisha so that when he comes by, she is prepared to welcome him and his place is secure.

Her Character… 

What kind of woman would do this? The answer is a woman of high character and one who was confident in herself.  This woman has a quiet dignity about her We can learn from her noting she has three important traits that we take note of and that speak into our lives as well. These traits all have to do with her making a room for Elisha and that speaks about the rest of her life as well.

-Made Room for Others 

The first thing to take note of is that she makes room for others in her life. She didn’t have to designate a space for Elisha but she wanted to. This shows her gift of hospitality and acceptance of others.  We read in verse 8:

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.” vs. 8

This shows the importance of giving food to men of God! Ha! No, just kidding. The first thing to note is that word “urged.” Circle that word. What this really shows us is her open spirit to others and her gift of serving. She wanted him to come to her house. Would you agree with me; a person with an open spirit to others is an attraction and a joy to be around? When you open your spirit to others and are inviting in your soul, there is a certain beauty to it. Verse 9 specifically notes that Elisha is a “holy man of God.”  She goes the extra mile for this man who is God’s representative. He’s a prophet, one that speaks the word of God and this woman shows through her actions how important she sees his presence in her community. People who have that open of a spirit are rare but great to be around.

Ex. Maria at Raley’s. Always welcoming, helpful, etc. You wait in line at the store just to get her. (Do imitation)

Proverbs 11:25 says:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Prov. 11:25

There is a refreshment that comes from being around someone who is so welcoming and warm. You tend to like those people and you tend to remember them as well.

Ex. Last week I heard Bob Goff  the author of Love Does. He is that kind of guy. He loves people, welcomes them, sees the good in them. He told the story about how he loves cake pops. I’ve always wondered why people like those things but he does.  He told this story about a guy he was having a struggle with so he buys a cake pop and send it to him in the mail. Ha! Turns out that a simple act like that eased his heart to love the man even more.

We are so guarded in our culture. Why not have a heart that is open and welcoming. Buy someone a cake pop, a cup of coffee, etc.  Having issues with someone, buy them a simple gift and I’ll bet your attitude will change.

-Made Room for God 

A second trait to take note of is that this wealthy woman made room for God. Obviously from the text we note that Elisha had been there before.  It’s interesting that she wanted to be prepared anytime the man of God came to town. We know that God is at work and around us but many times we haven’t prepared for God. This woman wanted to carve out a niche in her life so that whenever God showed up, she was prepared.  Verse 10:

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.” vs. 10

It’s interesting to think about, she didn’t go to extremes here, she didn’t get all this fancy stuff and make this room that was extravagant. Nope, she made it a functional simple space that Elisha could use. In this room she put a bed, table, chair and lamp.  This was a place Elisha could use for study, for rest, and that would have just the basics.

But note: she created a space for God. So many times we get caught up in life in general. We fill our lives with work, the kids, with the gym, hobbies, internet, technology, etc., all these things that take our time and energy and we haven’t left room for God. Many of those things are good and needed in our life. But…you know the first area we cut back on?  Our spiritual life.  God just wants a simple place to dwell, just the basics, one that he can use for His purpose and one that is set aside just for him. It’s important to have a place for God.

Ex. Tuesday, got my hike, did my puzzles, built some planter boxes, etc. but never read my Bible. I cut the wrong thing out.

David wrote in Psalm 51:10:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Circle “create” Many people want God in their life but have not created a space for him or prepared a place for him.

Ex. How can you do this?
-A Specific time of prayer

-A walk and talk with God everyday; and it doesn’t have to be long

-A verse card strategically place (Fil’s computer)

-A armband, bracelet, etc. that reminds you about God during the day

-Made Room for God’s Call 

And, the third trait this Godly woman displayed was that she made room for God’s call. You might be thinking, “Didn’t you just say that?”  No. Making room for God and making room for his call are two different things. Let me explain. Many people invite God into their lives. There is a saying that goes,

“Many people want to serve God-but only in an advisory capacity.”

Making room for God’s call is making room for God’s plan for your life, even when it seems your life pattern is set, even when it seems impossible, even when it doesn’t match your plan. For this Shunammite woman, her life plan seemed set.  She wasn’t going to be a mother and the text lends us to believe that she was past the point of having children. Not only that, but she carried around the stigma of being a woman who didn’t have children, which made her of lower standing in her society. In some senses, she was prepared just to finish out her life as a good wife, but not a mother, grandmother, etc. and possibly alone because at some point her husband would probably die before she did. It all seemed set and inevitable.  So, when she is told she will have a child by the same time the next year, her reply in verse 16:

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” vs.16

Although we don’t have the inflections and tones in her voice, we can pretty much assume based on her character that this wasn’t disbelief, this was that she just didn’t want to get her hopes up. She was guarding against the stigma and shame she felt from her society.  Think how she would feel if she told everyone that God promised her a son and then it didn’t happen. She would be ridiculed even more.

People of character leave room for God’s plan even when it doesn’t match their plan or situation. We can get to the point of missing God’s plan when we base it on our ways and what we feel is going to happen.  David put it this way in Psalm 95:7-8:

“…for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,Do not harden your hearts…’” Psalm 95:7-8a

Circle “Do not harden your hearts.” When we accept God but not his plan we have hardened our hearts. We need to make room for God’s call, for the impossible, for the unexpected, and for the things that we haven’t planned on or considered.

Challenge: What area of your life do you feel is so set that it would take an act of God for it to change? Or, what area of your life have you given up on because you feel it will just never happen? Now ask yourself, have you left room for God’s call?

Fulfilled Promises 

This story ends on a high note.  From verse 16 to 17 it jumps ahead a whole year and we read in verse 17:

But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.” vs. 17

God fulfills his promise to the Shunammite woman. This is so exciting and encouraging. God’s ways will always work. Not one of his promises will go unfulfilled. You might be thinking that this is just another Bible story. No, this is God’s assurance that he provided for us too.  You might be thinking that the extraordinary doesn’t happen to you. That your life and your plans are set and that there is nothing that can change them.  Not true. Just the opposite. God sent his Son to this earth to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).  Jesus came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly. You may have given up on a dream or a plan. Jesus shows up when you least expect it. But don’t forget to make room for him and to make room for his call.

Fun Saying 

Some people make room for God but it’s in the waiting room

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Words Are Important

Your Words Matter

James 3:1-6

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” vs. 6

 

Telephone

All of us have played the game telephone. It’s that game where you are in a line and someone starts by whispering a phrase in someone’s ear and they turn and whisper it to the next, and so on and so on until it gets to the end of the line. Usually the end result is no where near what was started with. So here is a cartoon from Leadership magazine that shows a line of pews and the same sentence being passed from person to person.

1st pew: My ear kind of hurts
2nd pew: The pastor has an earache
3rd pew: The pastor got a hearing aid
4th pew: The pastor is having trouble hearing
5th pew: The pastor got a double earring
6th pew: An old lady with a cane is walking out and says”: That does it, I’m outta here! The pastor’s got a double earring.

 

There is a general sense in our world today that words are just words.  They don’t mean much in some instances; things like Twitter, Facebook, in emails and texts, and maybe to some extent even in our normal everyday regular conversations. But in other circumstances, we know they mean a great deal; i.e. bullying, on TV and movies, and most currently in the political realm. We are listening to our politicians words very closely right now in the campaigns for President that are happening. The Bible has a great deal to say about words. James talks about this in chapter 3 of his book.  If you are able, would you stand as we read God’s Word from James 3:1-6.

Read Passage – James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Christians Are Judged

Did you know that when we get to heaven we will be judged? Jesus talked often about the Day of Judgement. Read Matthew 10, 11, and 12, and you hear Jesus words that there is a day of judgement.  That day is coming and many people better think again about their eternal destiny before that happens.  In verse 1 of James 3 he says:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” vs. 1

Somehow many people have not realized that there is the Day of Judgement coming. But listen carefully now, judgment is different than condemnation.  We’ll be judged at whether we did well with what God gave us or whether we did not do so well. So don’t think, I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior, I don’t have to worry about standing before God on Judgement Day. No, you will.  But there is good news. Jesus took our condemnation on the cross so we won’t be condemned…but we still are accountable for how we act. We will be held accountable for our actions.  So we need to get this right.  We need to see our words and our actions do have consequences.  There is no condemnation which means we can’t lose our place in the kingdom but we also get a crown and that crown is full of jewels based on our works and actions. And it gets better, we get to throw that crown back to God at his feet because we recognize that all those good things we did, he accomplished it through us. We give him the glory.

Here’s the Good News 

You might say that this doesn’t sound much like good news.  Well, here’s the good news. Lets read verse 2a:

“We all stumble in many ways.” vs. 2a
Huh? You might be going, wait, that’s good news? Yes.  Turn to the person next to you and say “I stumble.” See, we are all in the same boat.  None of us are exempt.  We all stumble. Not one of us is really better than the other, So don’t even worry about how bad you might think someone else is and better yet, don’[t worry how bad you are or even how good you might think you are, we all stumble.

This is true with our words too. Everyone has had that moment when they say,

“Oh, I didn’t mean to say that” or that moment when we’ve said “I wish I could take that back.” But it’s okay, we all stumble. So, let’s do something about it. Let’s learn what God show us about our words and how we can get better at living in a  way that we don’t have to say those things or better yet, live in a way we look back with regret.

Lessons About the Importance of Words

James us a really practical book. In these 6 verses he give us some lessons on the importance of the words we use. I see three of them here.

  • Learn to be Careful

First, when it comes to our words, we need to be careful what words we use. Again let’s look at verse 1:

“Not many of you should become teachers…” vs. 1a

James uses an illustration here that everyone can relate to. Anybody here ever had a teacher? Sure, we all have.  Ever had a teacher tell you something wrong? Ok, don’t answer that. Some of us have had teachers that have given us the wrong information.  What do we say and think? Yeah, they should have known better. We expect teachers to know what they are talking about.  Even more when it comes to those who teach God’s ways. We have to be careful because our words can lead someone astray or down the wrong path. I sure don’t want that on my conscience.

But even more so, teachers need to be careful what they say which tells us to we need to be careful too. Some well-meaning people have said things to those who don’t know god and turned them away from him forever. See our words can drive people away from God or our words can help them see God as a loving Father who loves them and cares for them.  But you know what, this applies to us too.  Jesus said in Matt. 12:37:

“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matt. 12:37

Our words can save us or condemn us. Paul said in Romans 10:9:

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Ex. At a conference this week with 4000 others and we sang and declared Jesus is Lord. What a great sense of joy and encouragement.

  • Be Willing To Be Led

Lesson 2, we have to be willing to be led when it comes to our words. You’ve probably heard “You can’t tell me what to say!” Well, maybe not, but that might be the sign of a person who is not willing to grow, to learn, and who is willing to be obedient to God. I know that is hard to hear but listen to the illustration James uses in verse 3:

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.” vs. 3

Bits are a tack that is put in a horse’s mouth and rests in an area of the mouth where there are no teeth. Now get this, they work on pressure, not pain.  They are not meant to cause the horse pain, just enough pressure for the rider and horse to communicate effectively enough to work in line with each other.

So get the picture here, the bit is meant to be useful and helpful for the rider and horse to work together. Now I am not saying any of you look like a horse, but…well you fill in the blank. J  We give our lives to God and the analogy is that he is the rider and we are horses.  We try to control the ways we go, the things we do, the things we say.  God is trying to guide and direct us, not with pain, but sometimes it takes a little pressure. Lots of people are like horses trying to steer themselves. If we a rider and horse are in sync with each other, it’s a smooth process and a thing of beauty. But…we have to be willing to be led. Solomon wrote in Prov. 1:5:

“…let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…”

Prov. 1:5

Notice it’s the wise who listen and learn. We have to want it and be willing to follow even if there is a little pressure.

  • You Can Use It for Good or Bad 

And the third lesson James teaches us about our words is that you have a choice, you can use them for good or bad. We have probably all been on the wrong end of some bad words at one time or another. We might forget but James makes is really clear, our tongue is just a small part of who we are but it has a lot to do with who we are.  He says in verse 5:

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” vs. 5

It’s interesting here that he uses the idea of boasting. You know, it seems that boasting never has the effect that we think it will.  We try to boast about what we’ve done or boast about some accomplishment and most of the time people are more critical of us and unimpressed.  Yet, somehow we are sure it is going to have the opposite effect. James says it’s like a spark that burns a whole forest down. One small spark has the potential to burn down a whole forest of trees and our tongue, and a few choice words, has the potential to ruin our life.

The opposite is true as well, our words can bring healing and joy to someone who needs the love, peace, and joy of our God. Proverbs 16:24 says:

“Graciouswordsare a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Prov. 16:24

Ex. Trip to Colorado and I left my hip-pack with my wallet, credit cards, and id in SF airport.  I luckily prepaid my taxi ride to the hotel.  I get there, explain my plight to the woman at the front desk, and her words, “Don’t worry, I will help you and make sure you are taken care of.” And she did.  My words later, a letter to her boss and hotel chain president about her professional manner and going the extra mile for me.

Famous Last Words

Let me finish with some famous last words. Word that will change your life. You’ve heard them before. Close your eyes. You know them, Hear them again.

“Father, forgive them, don’t know what they are doing.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

“It is finished.”

Jesus said those words for you. He forgives you. He died for you. Nothing you’ve said or done will ever condemn you if you accept him and his free gift. We are moving into communion.

Communion

Prayer of salvation

Prayers of confession

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Faith In Action

Faith In Action

James 2:14-26

“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” vs. 18b

For the Team 

A Giant fan, a Padre fan, and a Dodger fan are climbing a mountain and arguing about who lives their team more. The Padre fan insists that he is the most loyal.  “This is for San Diego” he yells and jumps off the side of the mountain. Not to be outdone, the Giant fan is next to profess his love for the team. He yells, “This is for San Francisco!” And pushes the Dodger fan off the mountain. HAH! Sorry if I offended any Dodger fans out there.

When you are sold out for something and it really gets into the core of who you are, your actions support that. In this case, the Dodger fan found out the hard way. On a more serious note, we can say we believe in God and in Jesus Christ, but do our actions really show it? What would it look like to really live like a Christian, especially today when being a Christian is looked down on by many people because they feel we are too right wing, too fundamentalist, and to intolerant. I suggest to you that we are living in a time when we need to have a faith that is real and that people can see through our actions and lifestyle.  Today we will be looking at James 2:14-26. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – James 2:14-26

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Biblical Contradiction? 

I grew up in a pretty strict community of Christian people who I admired and who taught me many good Christian values. I loved them a lot and I feel I had a good foundation for my faith. One thing they often said was: you are only saved by faith; it was faith, faith, faith. One of the main passages for that came from is Romans 3:28:

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Rom. 3:28

That made a lot of sense to me. You can’t earn your salvation was another thing they would often say.  I tried to live that out but I found myself in a struggle. I found myself doubting at times and then when I felt my faith wasn’t strong enough or when I struggled with my faith I would question if I was really going to go to heaven when I died.

But another thing happened too. I realized the only way I could be a good Christian was to do good things and I bordered on moralism. In other words, I always wanted to do good things and be the “good Christian” boy because I knew that would please God and he couldn’t send me to hell if I was a good boy, right? So I set out to pray every day, read my Bible, help people whenever I could, etc. Now I was bordering on actually trying to earn my way to heaven.

One thing that happened as I started reading The Bible more and was it seemed like there were passages that contradicted each other. I was taught you could only be saved by faith and that made sense but there were passages like the one we are reading today.  Doesn’t it seem that there was some Biblical Contradiction? Read verse 17 again:

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” vs. 17

Isn’t that saying the opposite of what Paul said? Paul says faith alone and then James starts talking about actions. Did he not read or hear Paul? Is he saying you can earn your faith?

More than Talk

James even pushes it a bit more when he says things like  our faith is more than just talk in verse 14:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” vs. 14

It’s an interesting thing to think about. Can I claim to follow God, can I declare Jesus is my Savior and not have it affect my daily life? Well guess what, there is a group that claims to believe in God but it doesn’t affect how they live. Yea! James tells us about them in verse 19:

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” vs. 19

Ex.  I managed a recreational softball team that played in the city leagues.  It was a lot of fun. I managed it but asked the players to pay the fees. We took the total fee and divided it up and each guy was supposed to kick in their share. I had one guy who would play every season and always promised to pay.  Every season he agreed to be there, never missed a game, and always had an excuse about why he didn’t have the money but he would get it to me. He said he wanted to be part of the team and played every game and promised me the money every week but it never seemed to happen. I didn’t want him to tell me he’d get me the money, I wanted to see the money. He could say it but it wasn’t real until he did it. BTW, it wasn’t \until he showed up and I wouldn’t play him that all the sudden he came up with the money.

Here is what James is trying to get us to understand. You can say you’ve given your life to God; you can call yourself a Christian, but you can’t really have a changed life without showing it.

The Balance of Faith and Action
What I learned about Paul and James and their apparent contradiction can be summed up in this; the Christian life is one that has a balance of faith and action. Let me put a little bug in your ear as we approach this: It is possible to be religious and not be living for God.  Note: that was the Pharisee’s in Jesus time. James helps give us a couple of ways to evaluate this for ourselves and to check our lives so we aren’t out of balance, or even worse so that we aren’t like the demons who say they believe in God but choose to follow Satan. Ouch!

  1. Real Faith Changes Your Heart

The first evaluation comes from within; it our heart. Here’s how I interpret what he is trying to get across; Real Faith Changes Your Heart.  In verse 16 James says:

“If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” vs. 16

What’s he saying here? He is saying that mere words are just fake because your heart isn’t really changed. Our words have no substance if they are not from our heart. Remember, even the demons claim that they know God is God. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18:

“But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” Matthew 15:18 

Jesus is touching on the same concept here. Our words reflect the deeper part of who we are and that is found in our heart. We are broken people. We cannot save ourselves and our heart is a reflection of that. We use our words to confess our sin and through the work of Jesus on the cross, we are cleansed. But…that is not a permanent state. We sin and our heart is once again stained with sin. So when we speak, we can say things that are untrue but it’s our that is a reflection that our heart is in constant need of Christ renewal.  To rectify this, we need renewal. We need revival.

Abraham

In the passage, James gives us an example of person who goes through this process; it’s Abraham. When Abraham was a younger man, he struggled trusting God and it showed in his words. In Genesis 18 God promised Abraham that he would be a father and that he would be the father of many nations. In Genesis 20 Abraham and Sarah are traveling and they come to a place where this guy, Abimelek is king.  Abraham is fearful that they will kill him so he tells Sarah to lie about her identity and say she is his sister so they won’t kill him and abduct Sarah. She does and God has to speak to Abimelek in a dream and let him know that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. Abimelek them has to return Sarah to Abraham.  Now why did Abraham and Sarah lie? Because they didn’t believe in their hearts that God was going to come through and that came out in their words.

Now jump ahead a number of years.  Sarah has had a son, Isaac, and God calls Abraham to take his son and go up on a mountain and sacrifice him. If you read Genesis 21, you see that when God speaks and calls Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he does not respond with words. Why? Because Abraham’s heart is now changed. In hi heart, he trusts God. But when Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb for the sacrifice is, Abraham’s words reflect his trust in God and he tells his son “God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice.” See his change of heart. Trust has taken the place of doubt. In his heart, Abraham now fully convinced, in his heart, that God will work and provide. His heart trusts God and that is reflected in his words to Isaac so that James says in verse 21:

“Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” vs. 21

Real faith in God will change our hearts.

  1. Real Faith Changes Your Actions

We trust, and that trust leads to a second way our faith is checked to  make sure we are in balance, real faith changes your actions. Probably the most famous verse from James comes in verse 18:

“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” vs. 18

So here is where Paul and James are not in contradiction with each other but are complementing each other. When Paul talks about that it is only faith that saves us, he is talking about the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross and that you cannot earn your way to heaven but it is faith in what Jesus did and accepting that free gift. James is now talking about what that faith looks like after you have accepted the gift of salvation. James is saying that our faith changes the way we act. The best example of this is Jesus who live out faith through his actions. John reveals this to us in 1 John 2:6 where he says:

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6

I find it easier to do something if I have an example of what I am supposed to do. It seems we all work that way.

Ex. Planter box. I have been thinking about building planter boxes for us to have a vegetable garden. A few weeks ago we were at Home Depot and there were these planter boxes made of  this certain kind of cement blocks and 2” x 12” boards. Claudia saw it first and showed it to me and you know my words? Yea, “I can do that.” Why? Because I saw an example of it.  So this week we bought the blocks and yesterday I started building our planter boxes in the backyard.

Rahab

Again, James gives us an example of someone who lived out this concept for us and it comes in verse 25:

“In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” vs. 25

Now think about this for a second.  If you wanted a good example of faith and you go into a town of people, who you going to look for? A Godly, righteous, moral person who appears faithful.  But who does God choose? Remember, the Israelites are going in to conquer this land that God is giving to them. God sends some spies in and they end up at this house of a woman named Rahab. Let me explain who she is:

*A woman – Men didn’t usually talk to women. Most woman were thought of as property and something to be owned.

*An enemy – She was part of the people they were coming in to take over and to annihilate. She was the enemy.

*An Outcast – She was a prostitute. She was the kind of woman a man would use but would never be accepted in society.

That is who God choose. Why? Her faith.  God looked beyond the outward and looked at her faith and knew that this was a person he could count on to act out the things he asked.

Living Faith

The bottom line is that James challenges us to be people who not only claim to believe God and trust Jesus as Savior, but to live it out too. He ends this passage by saying in verse 26:

“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” vs. 26

James is stating that without a spirit, a body is just a corpse. It has no life. Notice he is talking about faith not having no faith.  His analogy is that faith without deeds is just like a lifeless body; dead. Now the good news about his is that Jesus died for you and I so that we can have the Holy Spirit. His Spirit lives in our hearts and that gets to come out in our actions. We see the beauty of what Jesus did for us, he died so that we would have new life, life in a relationship with the Almighty God. When you see that beauty of Jesus, that giving of himself for you, you want to live a good life out of appreciation and gratitude. You are so grateful that he did that for you, that you in turn want to give a little part of that to others so that they can see how much he did that for them too.

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