Thursday, July 2, 2015

How do I Obey God?

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

What James is talking about here is the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. Someone may know a lot about the bible and be able to quote chapter and verse, but do they apply it's basic teachings. In the New Testament the word "heart" is closely associated with the "will". Although before we came to Christ our will was in bondage, now that we have been redeemed, we can direct our will toward obedience. This is guided by the Holy Spirit, who works in you to follow God's good and perfect will.

A lot of people think following Jesus and obeying His Word is a big drag. A downer. But James says someone who knows the word and doesn't follow it, is like a person who sees themselves in the mirror and then walks away forgetting what they look like. When we come to Christ, we see ourselves as the Father sees us, a His beloved son or daughter. But when we walk away it is like forgetting who we really are, and following a false image of who we used to be.

And yet when we are led by the Holy Spirit, we see a freedom we could never experience in our own will. And James says that by doing God's will and following His Word we will be blessed in all we do. The question is do you want to live the blessed life that God has for you, or stay in the bondage of your will which leads to slavery? As you look in the mirror today, see how God sees you through His Son. Then as you hear God's Word, be careful to do what it is says which is your new life in Christ!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

How Can I Be Quick to Listen?

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

James gives the antidote to anger, which leads to damaging and hurtful words. He says be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry. Why is "quick to listen" first? Because usually anger is reactive and we rarely take the time to go from our emotional reaction to staying in our head. As we are quick to listen, it gives us time to let anger subside and not act in a harsh a way.

When we listen we can at least try to understand where the person is coming from and ask clarifying questions. Often major arguments and fights are over a miscommunication. This can especially happen from emails and Facebook. When we are not in face to face interaction, we have no way to observe body language and nuances of tone and language. We don't understand the spirit of someone's remarks.

Most of all being quick to listen shows other person we care and can change their attitude from bitterness to understanding. Listening can diffuse a situation, whereas anger stokes the fire which can become destructive quickly. How often have you seen or experienced a small argument turn into a bitter and hurtful argument. Behaving in this way is also a great witness to the world.

Guess who modeled this better than anyone? Rarely did Jesus react to anyone? He usually remained non-anxious and asked a lot of clarifying questions. He often started a retort to an accusation thrown at him with, "You say..." There is a time for appropriate anger like when Jesus confronted the Pharisees, but that was not in reaction to anything other than their own hypocrisy.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Good and Perfect Gift!

James 1:16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Contrary to the previous verse where James warns against making the statement that God tempts us, or entices us to evil, he tells the believers to not be deceived. In fact, it is quite the opposite. God never wills evil. Instead God is the source of every perfect and good gift from above. It is perfect in the sense of fitting for what we really need. It is good because it comes from God who is good. He cannot not but give good gifts.

God's gifts will always be good and perfect because his nature and character never change. When we take time to think about the really good and perfect gifts in our lives, it is easy to see why they come from God. Like our birth, our parents and family, our friends, and the gifts he gives us to serve Him and others. And they are all from him.

Of course the greatest gift He has given us is Himself in the person of Jesus. Jesus shows how good and perfect God is. He never fails to do good in all of his dealings with us when he came to earth. His gifts are perfect in the sense of they they are he right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. He gave us the gift of forgiveness and a reconciled relationship with God, it is exactly what we needed. The time had come to fulfill God's plan for all time. Jesus was the perfect man and the perfect plan for all humankind.

When we are tempted to blame God for what goes on around us, we must remember God is good and perfect. He can never act or decide against His very nature and character. That is good news for us. The only question is have you received the gift? Have you in faith in the good and perfect gift God has given us in His Son Jesus Christ?

At just the right Jesus died for you and me? He knew exactly what we needed. The only question is will you accept this perfect gift and trust what God has given you? You can do that right now, God is always waiting for you. That will never change. Amen.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

What is the Crown of Life?

12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James has already said something about trials earlier in this chapter. He tells the early church to not be surprised by them, and ultimately they will shape them and mold them to maturity. Today he talks more positively about trials and their ultimate reward. He calls a man "blessed" if he can endure through the trial. And the promise is when he withstands the test, he will receive the crown of life. If we study the word "crown", we see it in five different usages, such as "crown of glory" and "crown of righteousness".

In Paul's writings the crown is given to the victory in athletic games. The runner receives first prize, which was a garland of flowers they wore around their head as the victor. There are other uses of this word, as it is also worn at wedding feasts, and also put on royal kings. So what is its meaning here? Regardless of how you interpret which type of crown it is, it symbolizes something of earthly value. While it brings happiness and honor in the present it doesn't have any enduring value.

Also it means the crown of life. A victorious life lived by the power of Christ is the most joyful life we can live here on earth, with the promise of eternal life in the future. Dallas Willard calls our life here as believers, "the eternal kind of life". Meaning eternal life starts the moment you come to faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit. So what is the application here?

We will all have trials. They will be hard to endure. But the promise of God is that, as we persevere and remain steadfast, we will receive the crown of life. Victory here on earth in daily trials is but a mirror of the crown of righteousness Jesus has put on the heads of all who believe and trust in Him for salvation. And one day, we will receive a crown of glory in heaven, which will never fade away.

Pray for whatever trial you are going through today, asking for the strength to persevere and receive the crown of life!!!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Who is Rich and Who is Poor??

James 1:9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.

The theme of contrasting the rich and the poor is a common theme in the book of James. Since James is such a practical letter, one of the most practical things we can focus on is what are we to do with our material resources. A lot of people like to divorce the material from the spiritual. This leads to the conclusion that being materially wealthy is sinful, and being poor is automatically spiritual. We all know that there are rich people who are totally devoted servants of God, who use the resources they have been given to advance the kingdom. The last time I checked almost every kingdom advancing mission needs resourcing.

And likewise the other conclusion is that just because someone is poor does not mean they are being obedient to God. Could someone who is poor have ended up that way because they were lazy, or were foolish with what they had been given? Obviously on the flip side a rich person could be greedy and living only for earthly pleasures. And as the passage says, their riches will fade away like a hot scorched plant that loses all its blossoms. Also someone who is poor is in a position to show that true wealth is stored up in heaven where it cannot lose its value or fade away.

So then what is James saying here? Either position could lead to pride, or to humility. The next passage we will look at tomorrow will show us that either situation will tempt us to be prideful. And as we persevere through this trial, we will become spiritually rich. When we have pride, we lose our spiritual foundation. We are reminded that though Jesus was the richest man in all history, he did not consider equality with God as something to hold on to. But he humbled himself and emptied himself. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.

So whether you are rich or poor, if you humble yourself you will be exalted! But if in pride you keep things to yourself, even what you have will be taken away from you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Can You Have Joy in the Midst of Trials?

The Book of James
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Trials and Temptations
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James, the half brother of Jesus, is writing to his Jewish brothers and sisters who have been scattered due to persecution. This is not the apostle James, who was martyred in 45 AD. As persecution is happening to the early Christians, James wants to encourage them so they will not lose faith. As he discusses trial and temptations, there are several principles that are useful for us. You should memorizes verses 2-4. This verse has come in handy for me countless times.

1. "Consider it joy when you face trials!" Huh? We will see why soon! "Consider" is a mental word related to mindset, or how you think about something, or frame it's meaning.

2. "Whenever you face various kinds of trials." It is not if we will have trials, but when. As a Christian you will face trials, that is a given. And they will be of various kinds. Usually trials hit us in a weak spot, where there is a chink in our armor. It wouldn't be a trial or temptation if it wasn't hard to deal with.

3. "The testing of your faith will produce perseverance." When you have trials your faith is tested? Why? Because trials tempt us to think God isn't doing good for us, or worse yet He doesn't really care about us. But faith is trusting that God will eventually use the trial for something positive in our life and in our character.

4. "The purpose of our trials is that we would be mature and complete lacking in nothing!" Trials mature us, because when we are immature we can't handle them. We quickly fold when things don't go our way. It is too much for us. But when we are mature in Christ, we can know that though this is hard it will make us stronger. It will actually strengthen my faith, because I will have to trust in God when things aren't going well. It is easy to have faith in God when things are going well, but much harder to trust God when we are in the trenches of a trial.

So what are you going through today? Can you consider it a "joy" somehow? Only if you can take the time to consider the maturity and completeness it is working in you. I don't mean to diminish trials because some of you have gone through tremendous trials that are incredibly difficult. It can be cliche in times of deep grief to tell someone glibly, "oh don't worry God is just making you a stronger Christian!" While this may be true, we need to allow each person to understand this truth in God's timing. I hope this helps you to see that it is possible to have joy in the midst of trials. Seems impossible but it is Jesus' joy in us. As the verse goes, "the joy of The Lord is my strength!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

What Should I Do Until Jesus Returns??

Luke 21:25-28
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

This is one of the many passages in the New Testament that describes our Lord's return. There are a couple of places where we mention this in our services. When we recite the Creed, what we believe we say about Jesus, "He will come back to judge the living and the dead." Then in Holy Communion we say, "He will come again in great and promised glory."

But what DOES the passage say today?

1. There will be major turbulence in the Creation. All the things God has made the sun, moon, stars and the sea will roar and toss.

2. Jesus came first in meekness. There was nothing particular about his appearance. He was the son of a common laborer. He grew up in Nazareth, which caused some to say, "Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" So today we learn that although he came in humility, he will return coming on a cloud with great power and glory. Jesus came in a manger, and comes back on the clouds.

3. It will be such an upheaval that people will faint from terror. I have been in earthquakes and tornadoes, which caused quite a bit of fear. But my sense is that this will be a 100 times more frightening!

4. Finally, as believers, we don't need to be afraid. We can hold up our heads because Jesus is coming to take us home. Instead of fearing destruction, we can look forward to our redemption. We are going to see what we have believed through faith. Our faith will become sight and we will be grateful for those who took a risk and shared Christ with us.

So the question of the day is....

1. Are you ready for Jesus' return? Are you standing in faith and staying true to your beliefs?
2. Are you living a life that you won't be disappointed when He returns. Will you be glad you gave yourself to God's purpose to bring God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven?

If not, why not? You and I might want to consider this!