Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is God a Friend?

James 4:4-6

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.”

When the early Christians chose to indulge in their pleasures instead of serving God, James says they are choosing the world over Him. How? Jesus says, "You cannot serve two masters. Either you will grow to love the one, and/or hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Adultery seems like a strange word to use in this situation. But what is adultery? It is choosing to not be faithful to the one you have given yourself to, and giving yourself to someone else.

So then it makes sense that James would talk about our relationship with God, and how he jealously longs for the Spirit he has caused to dwell within us. When someone's spouse commits adultery, they feel jilted and betrayed. God loves us just like that, and became part of us when His Spirit dwelt in us through Christ. That is the sense in which we are one with God and dwell with Him. So when we choose turn to the world to get our needs met (James calls this "friendship with the world"), God sees this as turning from Him and His love. The verse calls this "enmity" against God. The word means, "a hostility, or deep seated ill will toward someone." You see this is no tiny matter.

But then James says, "But God gives us more grace." Meaning even when we spurn God for the world, God keeps coming after us. God never gives up on us, though we might be tempted to give up on him. It is not as if God wants us to hate the world. God calls us out into the world to bring it closer to Him. He wants us to be His salt and light in the world. He wants us to be "in" the world, but not "of" the world. Why? Because we are the people He has called out of the world to give praise to His name. He is our God and we are the sheep of His pasture. He has left in the world so that He might be able to communicate His grace toward the world through us. Remember God so loved the WORLD!

So today, remember who your friends are, and how God has chosen you to be His friend forever!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Argue?

Submit Yourselves to God

James 4:1-3

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Another area of great concern for James is the in-fighting that is happening in the early church. It is one thing to have a healthy debate when a church is growing over key issues, but these were outright destructive fights, which led to division and strife in the body, and were a terrible witness to the world. Who would want to be a part of a church that is always fighting about petty arguments?

And at the core of these behaviors is self-centeredness with people wanting what they want, with wrong motives. An argument is usually the result of someone wanting to prove something, or someone who wants something but they can't get it on their terms. It is part of our fleshly or sinful nature, and James is trying to put a curb on this ASAP.

As an antidote to these behaviors, James is asking them to go to God with what they need. Instead of relying on self to manipulate what you want, go to God and He will give you what you really need. And you don't have to fight with God to get it. Another issue was that when they prayed, they also prayed selfishly for their own desires, versus God's will being done for them. These are all signs of spiritual immaturity, and from time to time we can all act this way. A real sign of spiritual maturity is when you don't have to be right all the time. You are okay with not winning an argument, because you realize that God will work it out in His time if you really are right. Not many people are convinced through arguing anyways. They just get madder at the other person, and more resolute to maintain their own position.

But if we pray for others when we are mad at them, and if we pray for God to purify our desires and motives, we can grow in being more Christ-like. You will notice Jesus never really argued with others. For those that disagreed with him, he loved them, and/or moved on not trying to change them. He entrusted them to His Father. If we can learn this I think we will be a better witness in our church, our families, and where we work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Do You Know if Someone is Wise?

Two Kinds of Wisdom

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James continues to exhort the teachers, who he said verses earlier, would be subject to greater judgment. Here he addresses the issue of wisdom. He illustrates two kinds of wisdom, that are quite different from each other. He makes a very stark difference between the two when he says, one is "heavenly", and the other is "earthly, unspiritual and deomonic".

True wisdom which is from above has certain characteristics that come out from the person who claims to have it. The characteristic that stands out to me is "humility". True wisdom comes from someone who is not self seeking and trying to prove themselves to be wise. But their wisdom is also shown by their lives. True wisdom does not create disorder, confusion and strife, but brings about peace, kindness and humility from those who are truly wise. The wise person doesn't sit on the throne on high and spew forth profundity, but is gentle, quiet and submissive and not boastful about their standing.

You can see there is quite a difference between the two types of wisdom James describes today. Unfortunately there were teachers in the early church who exhibited the earthly, unspiritual and demonic kind of wisdom. James knew this kind of teacher was a severe threat to the early church. As you look around the church you might see leaders/teachers that exhibit some of these characteristics, hopefully the good ones. Remember to pray for your teachers that these qualities might be evident in their character. As we see Jesus, the master teacher, we see that His wisdom was pure, peace loving and considerate. His character was always in alignment with what he taught. As we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can truly be wise teachers.

Monday, July 27, 2015

What's Wrong with Christians Cursing?

James 3:7-11

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.

James uses several more analogies to drive home the problem when Christians beliefs don't match their words. Even wild animals can be tamed, but it appears the tongue can't be. And we are made in God's image which should be reflected in who we are and what we say. And then James lifts up the principle problem with this kind of behavior. With the same mouth we praise God in one instance, than in another moment we curse others. Maybe this can even be before and after church, especially if you have kids. (LOL)

But ultimately what James is getting at comes with his metaphor of the salt spring bearing fresh water, and a fig tree bearing olives. James uses these illustration to show it is not possible for a Christian to be in Christ and praise God one moment, and then cursing others in the next. Remember he is correcting an early problem in the early church in its 2nd generation of believers. Christianity is at a critical point in its early life. There is persecution by the Roman Empire, and some are even being killed for their witness to Christ. Therefore, it was even more important for them to behave in accordance with what they believe. The whole world was watching them.

And we know we are in a very challenging time in our era as Christian believers. While the church is growing in some circles, it is shrinking in mainline and other denominations here in the U.S. As with the early church it will be important for us to live lives worthy of our calling. I want to be careful here, because this is not some new law. It is not as if we all don't fall short in this matter in some way or another. But the point is how do we make progress in using our tongue to praise God on Sunday, and then use those same words as we interact with during the week. (Including those who take our parking space at the local supermarket!) We can admit this is challenge. But ultimately our influence in our society, will be related to the sincerity of our beliefs, linked to the words we use!

Finally, we must remember that as remain in relationship with Christ, we will bear fruit through our abiding in Him. The abundant and living water that Jesus brings into our lives, can flow through our praise to God and encouragement of others. May that new reality help you to tame your tongue! Apart from him we can don nothing!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Words Matter!

James 3:3-6

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.

James gives two powerful examples of how something small controls something that is very big. What makes a bit so powerful is that it is placed between a horse's teeth on its sensitive gums. An ill fitted bit can cause so much pain it causes the horse to be obstinate. Likewise even though a ship is not driven by a fierce storm when a rudder is guiding its way, yet a rudderless ship is bound for destruction.

Of course, in those days these two examples would mean more in Jesus' society than ours. But the principle remains the same. Our tongues have great power to either guide us through storms and carry heavy loads, or to lead to destructive situations. Finally, James says that even though a tongue can create a small spark in the beginning, the end result can be a raging forest fire. We have all seen or been a part of raging arguments that start with a small comment, and then catch on fire and can cause great damage. When one looks back, a little self control of the tongue could have prevented this calamity.

On the flip-side our tongues can be used for great good. With our lips we can praise God. With our lips we can pray to God and others. With our lips we can share the Good News of the gospel. With our lips we can provide a comforting word, or an encouraging word that so many so badly need. God has created us with a tongue and given us a language so we can communicate and do much good.

That is why I believe the last fruit of the Spirit Paul gives in Galatians is self control. Just like a horse needs bit for control, and a ship a rudder to keep it on the right course, God has given us a tongue which if used with control can bring much good. But if out of control can do much damage. One of the things I have found very helpful is to think before I speak. And ask the question, "Is what I am going to say bring glory to God? Is what I am going to say build others up or tear them down?" I think James comments have relevance for today! What do you think?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Teachers Beware!!!

Taming the Tongue
3 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.

Today James teaches on the importance of taming the tongue. And nowhere is this more important than for those who are
teachers of the Word. In fact, James says teachers will be judged more strictly than others. This is not a judgment for sin, but for what we do with the gifts we have been given. Teaching is one of the spiritual gifts given to those in the body of Christ. Teachers teach the Word of God in a manner that builds up and edifies the believers, to make them stronger in the faith. And of course they do that by what they say, which makes it all the more important for them to tame their tongues. Here are some reasons for this strong admonition from James:

1. Teachers represent God and therefore their integrity is judged in part by how they control their tongue. Since they use their tongue to teach about God, they need to be careful in how they use it in other settings as well.

2. Teachers must watch their words because the doctrine they are communicating needs to be consistent with God's Word. It is easy for a teacher to get on a tangent, and they must be careful to avoid personal opinions which may be confusing to those listening.

3. When a teacher teaches something there is a sense in which once something is taught it remains etched in the mind. If it is true that once we say something we can never get it back, how much more important is it for teachers to think and pray about what they are going to say.

You can see why James is so strong in his warning to potential teachers in the body of Christ. But as a teacher I can say there is no greater joy than teaching people God's Word, and how they can learn to read it for themselves. We also must remember, as with any gift, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to exercise our spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit works through us so our words can build others up. The Holy Spirit helps us discern the words to use and not to use. The Holy Spirit helps to tame our tongues so our words match what we teach.

We see today why teachers and the teaching gift is so important. May God lead teachers to use their words carefully.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How God Uses a Prostitute!!!

James 2:25 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? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

As we know from the scriptures that Rahab was a prostitute, whose inn became a shelter for many wayward traveling men and the subsequent immorality. Isn't it interesting that her eventual transformation included sheltering the spies for their holy purpose to check out the promised land for Joshua. She was smart too, as she put her flax out to dry, which she also used to hide them when them when the Amorites came knocking at her door. Then, when they needed to be sent on their way, she lowered hem from the roof, with a scarlet rope she had. When the spies left they remembered that the command from God to Joshua was to completely wipe out the Amorites, and all the people in the city of Jericho. The scarlet rope would be left out to ensure that Rahab would be saved.

In passage today, Rahab is used as another example of those who were made righteous by faith. Because she was so despised by society for her trade, the story of salvation shows us how God justifies the worst of sinners by faith, not by their works. The ironic thing is that in Matthew, in his genealogy, we learn that Rahab is the wife of Salmon and in line of Jesus.

Here how one commentator sums up the miraculous story of what Rahab's faith led to in the Jesus story,

"Family Connections—While Rahab’s parents, brothers and sisters were alive at the time of her association with the spies Joshua sent out, we are not given any of their names (Joshua 2:13). Some of the ancient Jewish fathers who held her in high reputation reckoned that she was the wife of Joshua himself, but in the royal genealogy of Jesus, Rahab is referred to as being the wife of Salmon, one of the two spies she sheltered. In turn, she became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth from whose son, Obed, Jesse the father of David came, through whose line Jesus was born (Matthew 1:5, where the asv reads, “Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab”—not Rachab). Salmon was a prince of the house of Judah, and thus, Rahab, the one time heathen harlot, married into one of the leading families of Israel and became an ancestress of our Lord, the other foreign ancestresses being Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba. The gratitude Salmon felt for Rahab ripened into love, and when grace erased her former life of shame he made her his wife. Jerome’s comment of the inclusion of the four foreign women in Matthew’s genealogy is suggestive—

In it none of the holy women are included, only those whom the Scriptures blame, in order that He who came in behalf of sinners, Himself being born of sinners, might destroy the sins of all."

So what can we learn? God uses all people regardless of their background and sinful past. The common denominator is faith to believe in what God has done, and the courage to act on it. Again today we see faith always leads to works. Where is God calling you today to step out in response to God's call on your life. The scarlet cord Rahab used was a sign that by the scarlet cord of Jesus' life and death, we would be saved from our enemy, namely sin. Thanks be to God!