My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link: http://www.sellwoodbaptistchurch.org/onlinechurch.html

Monday, August 22, 2011

"Faith Dressed In Work Clothes" - (08/21/11)


James 2:11-17 (Message #5 in James Series)
August 21, 2011

INTRODUCTION:
            “Clothes make the man.”  I’m sure this must be the favorite quotation of men’s tailors and haberdashers around the world.  It was originally coined by Mark Twain many years ago when he made the astute observation, Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  While he was right, of course, the quote obviously refers to the fact that when people see a person who is well-dressed, they assume that person is a professional—intelligent, capable, and moving up in life.  Therefore, employment counselors will tell you that you should dress the way you want to be perceived.  If you dress like the president of a Fortune 500 company, people will see your potential and take you more seriously, getting you closer to one day achieving your goal.  On the other hand, if you show up dressed in raggedy clothes, with messy hair, and 10 lbs. of piercings, people will conclude you probably won’t take the job seriously and will never achieve much in life, so they will hire someone who looks more promising.
            We all understand the concept of dressing correctly for the job at hand.  There is such a thing as “appropriate dress” for every occasion.  If I attend the opera I should be dressed in a suit, with white shirt and tie.  If I am a steel worker I should show up for work with steel-toed boots, leather gloves, and a hard-hat, not flip-flops, Bermuda shorts, and a Hawaiian aloha shirt.  If I am a police officer I should show up at roll call in my uniform, wearing my tactical vest, and with my weapons cleaned and ready.

TRANSITION:
            The dictionary defines the words faith, love, hope, mercy, and service as nouns—things, objects.  Grammatically speaking that is correct.  However, theologically speaking these things are all verbal in concept—words of action.  Why do I say that?  Because the Bible makes it clear that…
  • Faith unapplied is not faith at all
  • Love unshared is not genuine love
  • Hope left unfocused and free-floating is useless
  • Mercy not extended in not real mercy
  • Service left undone is of no value
            These things all involve work and effort.  They are not emotions.  They are not mere concepts or mental constructs.  They are words of action and accomplishment.
            In our text for today James takes up one of the major themes of his letter, “Faith Dressed in Work Clothes.”  He tells us that faith dressed in a pretty outfit just so that it will look nice and draw attention at church is not real faith, but rather a counterfeit faith, a cheap knockoff of the real thing.

MAIN BODY:
Verse 11: For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.”  Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
  • James here is obviously referring to the Ten Commandments given to Moses as part of the Law revealed to him at Mt. Sinai.  He is pointing his readers to Exodus 20:13-14, to the 6th and 7th Commandments.
  • Also, you will notice that this verse is a continuation of the context that we looked at last week, where James has been talking about the fact that Christ’s “royal law” forbids showing favoritism or partiality.  To do so is sin and is a transgression of the law (vs. 9).  While some may think this is a small matter, James says in verse 10: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
  • You see, it’s important to remember that these are God’s Laws, not man’s.  Moses didn’t make them up; God handed them down.  These are sins that God takes very seriously.  Moreover, these laws are meant by God to be taken as a whole, not individually.  They all hang together, interwoven, like the threads in a tapestry.  If you break one you have broken them all.  The murderer cannot comfort himself by saying, “Yes, I murdered someone, but at least I didn’t commit adultery.”  And the adulterer cannot defend himself by saying, “OK, so I cheated on my wife, but lighten up.  It’s not like I killed someone!”
  • James says that under God’s system of reckoning, if we break one of God’s rules, we have broken them all and stand guilty as transgressors, whether we’ve broken one or all ten.

Verse 12: So speak and so act [toward the poor] as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  
  • Here James gives us his summary exhortation.  He points out that the Law of Moses has no liberty.  It has no wiggle room.  If you break one little part you’ve broken it all.  You are much better off to submit yourself to the “law of liberty” that Christ announced.  It contains grace and mercy as well as justice and holiness.

Verse 13: For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; [but] mercy triumphs over judgment.
  • This verse is a warning.  James is saying that if you want to go with the Law per se, then you will be judged by the same law you use to judge others.  And brother, you won’t like where that takes you!  If you go the route of self-righteously judging others then just know that your judgment will be without mercy, too.  You’ll get what you dish out.  Jesus went into this teaching in detail in Matthew 18:21-35.
  • But I love the second half of this verse: “…[but] mercy triumphs over judgment.”  Now that is Good News!  We can see the truth of this in the way God deals with us.  We deserve His wrath and His strict judgment.  However, He has chosen to deal with us in mercy.  For those who believe in Him for their salvation, His mercy forestalls His judgment.  His mercy trumps the demand for judgment in those who turn to Him.

Verse 14: What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?  Can that [kind of] faith save him?
  • The two questions that James poses here both call for a resounding, “NO!”  “THAT FAITH” cannot save him!  For you see, faith that is barren, that has no accompanying evidence, no credentials, no fruit, is not genuine saving faith, but merely words.  A false faith, that is barren and dead, cannot save anyone.  James is not talking here about works as a means of salvation, but rather, works that proceed from faith, the ethical outworking of true godliness and especially the work of “loving your neighbor” spoken of up in verse 8.  FAITH WORKS you see.
  • There are so-called Bible “scholars” who like to claim that Paul’s Letter to the Romans is a direct contradiction to what James says here.  They will try and convince you that the messages of these two writers were diametrically opposed—that Paul promoted salvation by faith alone, apart from works, and that James defended salvation by works added to faith.  These skeptics are what I like to call wrong!  Paul and James were perfectly agreed on the doctrine of salvation—that it is by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.  Moreover, they both believed the same thing about the role of good works—that they are the fruit of salvation; that genuinely saved people will obey and serve God, and will produce good works for God’s glory as a result of their new life.
  • Even that hero of church history, Martin Luther, got it wrong.  He had no use for the Book of James because he thought that it contradicted Romans.  What he failed to understand is that: (1) James was not refuting Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith, but rather a perversion of it.  And (2) that Paul and James used the words “works” and “justification” in different senses and in different contexts.
  • But here in verse 14 James is obviously talking about professions, claims of godliness.  James is looking at what people say about their faith.  In this case he’s talking about those who claim to know God, to love God, to believe in God, to serve God, etc.  They are like the approximately 78% of Americans who claim to be “Christians” yet most of whom never darken the door of any church, ever; who don’t read their Bibles; and who give off little or no evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  [By the way, that number is down from 91% who in 1948 identified themselves as some kind of “Christian.”]
  • To profess to be a “Christian” means that you have placed you complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord; that you are truly a Christ-follower, a Christ-obeyer, not merely a Christ-admirer. 

Verses 15-16: If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
  • “If a brother or sister…”  James here is speaking about the plight of other Christians.  Now we certainly have a Christian obligation to show kindness and mercy towards unbelievers, but here James is talking about how we should treat those of the household of faith, fellow Christians.
  • He says that if you see that your brother is lacking is clothes and food and all you can come up with is a pat on the back and a bunch of empty words and pious platitudes about “Jehovah-Jireh, God will provide,” then you are not a real Christian and moreover, you know nothing of genuine Christian charity.  “Go in peace!  Be warmed and be filled!  God bless you!”  Phooey!
  • His question hangs in the air: “What use is that?”  The obvious answer?  “NO USE WHATSOEVER!”

Verse 17: Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
  • James says that this kind of so-called “faith” is not merely useless or unacceptable, it is DEAD!  It is not real faith.  It is not faith of THE FAITH.  This kind of faith is of no use to anyone.  It merely serves to prove that you have never truly experienced the life-giving, transforming new birth the Jesus offered to Nicodemus in John 3.  It merely shows that you need to get saved!
  • “…being by itself.”  Faith is not a loner.  It does not live in solitary confinement.  It is not a theoretical virtue that can be held up and examined in isolation.  First of all, faith always has an object.  There is no such thing as free-floating faith, as in, “I’m a person of faith.”  Faith must be applied in a direction, toward an object.  Of course, the Bible says that the only worthy object of man’s faith is Christ Himself.  Everything else is unworthy and will eventually prove to be nothing more than shifting sand.  Secondly, genuine biblical faith always bears fruit.  It is never barren.  Therefore, as in the case put forth up in verse 14 where someone claims to have saving faith, yet has no fruit to show for it, we have every right to conclude that the person in fact does not have saving faith and is therefore still an unsaved unbeliever.
 CONCLUSION:
            Does this sound harsh?  Does this sound judgmental?  Don’t blame me; take it up with James and Jesus!  I’m just a simple Bible preacher.  I don’t make this stuff up.
            As I mentioned a few moments ago, this is a warning passage.  In it James is challenging us who claim to be “Christians” to take a long hard look at our lives and at our profession of faith to see if there is any genuine evidence to back up who we claim to be.  Real faith, biblical faith, saving faith works and produces good works—not to try and make ourselves worthy of salvation, but because of the salvation that has already occurred.
            I can claim to be a mallard duck.  However, if I don’t have a big orange beak, shiny colorful feathers, webbed-feet and a girlfriend who lays eggs then I’m probably not a real mallard.  Likewise, if I claim to know Jesus, to be a Jesus-follower, and yet I have none of the personal character traits of Jesus, I don’t do Jesus things, I don’t like to hang out with Jesus people, and I don’t produce any Jesus type fruit and good-works, then I’m probably fooling myself.
            Let me ask you today, if being a Christian were against the law and you were hauled in to court and brought up on charges of being a disciple of Jesus, would there be enough evidence in your life to convict you?  If not, you’d better back up the truck and take a hard look at who you really are, not just who you claim to be.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Soiling the Sacred Name" - (08/14/11)

James 2:1-10 (Message #4 in James Series)
August 14, 2011

INTRODUCTION:
            My mother used to know all the old Broadway show tunes and most of the words, especially of the old love songs.  I can remember her many times sitting down to the piano and playing and singing those old songs one after another.  I can’t remember hearing her sing this particular song but I’m positive that she knew it because it was a big hit in its time, and I think I learned it from her.  The following article is from Wikipedia.
Harrigan” is a song written by George M. Cohan for the 1907 Broadway musical, Fifty Miles From Boston.  It celebrates, and to some extent mocks, his own Irish heritage.  The song was later performed by James Cagney and Joan Leslie in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, a biopic [biographical movie] of Cohan’s life.

FIRST VERSE:
Who is the man who will spend or will even lend?
            Harrigan, that’s me!
Who is your friend when you find that you need a friend?
            Harrigan, that’s me!
For I’m just as proud of my name, you see
As an Emperor, Czar or a King could be.
Who is the man helps a man ev’ry time he can?
            Harrigan, that’s me!
CHORUS:
H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N spells Harrigan.
Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me;
Divil’ a man can say a word agin’ me.
H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N you see
Is a name, that a shame never has been connected with.
Harrigan, that’s me!

TRANSITION:
            Mr. Harrigan was very proud of his name.  To him it was a name with a clean record, with no shame attached to it.  Some of us wish we could say the same thing about our names, because a good name is very important.  Just think what it would be like to go through life with a last name like Hitler, or Manson, or Bundy, or Dahmer.
            A name like one of those would be a badge of shame, even if you weren’t related to that horrible person in any way.  In school you would likely be teased, ridiculed, and abused.  Later on it could be a problem when you apply for work or try to go into military service.  A bad name is hard to outrun.
            In our text for today, James talks about the importance of the name by which the world knows those of us who are Christ-followers.  He says that there are things that people sometimes do that bring dishonor to that name, and drag it through the mud.  Turn in your Bibles to James chapter 2 and let’s see what he has in mind.

MAIN BODY:
Verse 1: My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.
  • This section starts with, “My brethren…”  Thus, we are reminded again that James is addressing this letter to Jewish Christians, like himself, who have been scattered abroad as a result of the persecution against Christians back in Jerusalem.  You will also observe that James’ often uses this expression, “my brethren” (11 times, or some form of it, “brethren, my brethren, my beloved brethren”) when he either wants to change subjects or to make a strong point (cf. 1:2, 16, 19; 2:1, 5, 14; 3:1, 10; 4:11; 5:12, 19).
  • “Do not hold your faith in… Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”  But how is that even possible?  How can a genuine Christian play favorites with people, accepting some and rejecting others, people that Jesus loves and for whom He gave His life.  A spirit of favoritism is incongruous with the teachings and the personal example of Jesus himself who loved all with whom He came in contact.

Verses 2-4: 2For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty (lit. shabby) clothes, 3and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 
  • James gives a down-to-earth example of how this might have been playing out in the Early Church.  The Christians have come together for a worship service.  (Note: the location is unimportant.)  Two visitors show up for the worship service at the same time.  One of them is obviously wealthy.  He has the look and the smell of wealth.  He wears the clothes and accessories of a wealthy man.  Following the custom of that day, he wears several gold rings on every finger.  But right behind him walks in a man who is obviously poor.  His clothes are tattered and worn, and maybe not even very clean.  His sandals are worn and patched.  He needs a shave and a bath.  He has no jewelry of any kind.  What are you going to do?  How are you going to approach these two men?
  • For many people the wealthy man would be the more desirable one to have in your church.  One might reason, “Just think of all the good he could do if he decided to make this his church home.  He would be an amazing trophy of God’s grace.”  On the other hand, you look at the poor man and think to yourself, “He smells bad and people will not want to sit near him.  And besides, he’s probably just here to see if he can chisel some money out of our Deacon Fund.  Maybe I can get him to sit in the back, out of sight, and the pastor can handle him after the service.” 
  • James poses the question in verse 4: “[If you do this]…have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?”   What we have here is a division between profession and practice.  James is saying to his readers, on the one hand you profess to believe in Christian equality, that all men are equal before God.  But on the other hand, you are pandering and showing deference to those with power, wealth, and rank.  By this action you are proving yourselves to be biased judges with false values and self-serving motives.  James accuses them of being, literally, “evil-thinking judges.”

Verse 5: Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, which He promised to those who love Him?
  • To what is James referring?  Is he saying that poor people are more spiritual than rich people and that God likes them better?  Are they heirs of the Kingdom just because they are poor?  Does that mean that poor people go to Heaven but rich people will go to hell?  No, of course not!
  • Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must love the common people because He made so many of them.”  James is just saying that those who grant special treatment to rich people fail to understand that God “has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, which He promised to those who love Him.”   In fact, this is very reminiscent of Jesus’ own words in Luke 4:18 on the occasion of His first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.”  Then shortly after that in Luke 6:20-26 we read: 20And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  21Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  22Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.  23Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in Heaven.  For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.  24But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.  25Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.  26Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.”  
  • James is simply pointing out that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is especially dear to the poor because in it there is a welcome for the man who has none other to welcome him, and through it there is a high value placed on the person whom this world regards as having no value.  In Christ’s eyes every person has infinite worth.

Verses 6-7: 6But you have dishonored the poor man.  Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?  7Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
  • “But you have dishonored the poor man.”  We don’t usually think in those terms, do we?  Normally we are more concerned that we don’t dishonor or offend the wealthy and powerful.  We don’t usually think about the fact that we can also easily offend a poor person if we aren’t careful.
  • Secondly, James here argues against favoring the rich unbelievers by also pointing out that they were the very ones who were dragging the Christians before the Jewish tribunals that were allowed and recognized under Roman law.  Given the context here, no doubt this was for debts.  They were the ones who were persecuting the believers. 
  • In verse 7 James uses a third argument.  He says, “Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?”  To which name is James referring?  I believe he is speaking about the sacred name of Jesus Christ, and the honorable name “Christian,” which has been attached to the followers of Christ for many centuries.  In Acts 11:26 we learn that during that year while Paul and Barnabas ministered together in Antioch this word “Christian” was first used to describe Christ’s disciples, who previously had been called, “The Way” because of Jesus’ claim in John 14:6 to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  James says that these rich men who were taking the Christians to court were “blaspheming the fair name.”  To “blaspheme” is to call vile and dirty something that is sacred and pure.  It usually refers to a sin of words, but it can also imply wicked deeds.  In this case, both their words and their deeds were a wicked insult against the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church.

Verse 8: If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 
  • Here James refers to the “Royal Law.”  What is that?  We know about the Law of Moses.  Is it the same as The Royal Law?
  • The word “royal” has to do with kings, and queens, and royalty.  A law made by a king is automatically a “royal law.”  Back up in 2:5 James spoke about the poor being “…heirs of the Kingdom, which [Christ] promised to those who love Him.”  So James is speaking here about King Jesus.  One day Jesus was asked, “Master, which is the greatest of all the commandments?”  What was His two-part answer?  He responded, “The first commandment is, ‘Thou shalt love the LORD with all thy heart, mind, soul, and strength.’  And the second is like unto it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’  On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets.” 
  • James says that if we are practicing this “royal law” from the lips of King Jesus, we are doing very well.  The clear implication, however, is that if his readers are practicing favoritism and showing partiality then they are definitely not carrying out the royal law of Christ!  The one precludes the other.  He states this firmly in verse 9.

Verse 9: But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  
  • In Matthew 7:12 Jesus taught, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”  But if we show partiality and treat rich people better than poor people, then we have broken this “royal law” and are not treating our neighbor the way we would want to be treated.  In other words, if we were in their place we would feel offended and hurt to be treated as second-class people just because we are not as wealthy as other folks.  If that happened to us when we went to visit a church, we would never darken the door again, and perhaps never return to any church again.
  • “…and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”   Here James is not referring so much to the Law of Moses as to what the Early Church called, the “didache,” the collective teaching of Christ and the Church (although Leviticus 19:15 does deal with the subject of showing partiality).  The whole spirit of Christianity is contrary to partiality.

Verse 10: For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 
  • Among friends, lovers, or spouses can 100 truths outweigh one lie?  Can 100 acts of faithfulness outweigh one act of treachery?
  • You see, in our fellowship with Christ the transgression of one precept of the Christian rule of faith is a breach of the whole thing, because it breaks fellowship with Christ, the One who is the object of our faith.
  • Or to put it another way, how many times does a person have to lie to be considered a liar?  Once.  How many times does a person have to cheat to be considered a cheater?  Once.
  • James wants his readers to understand that this business of favoritism and partiality on the part of the Christians is not a “little sin.”  It is a “big sin” in God’s eyes, and should not be underestimated.

CONCLUSION:
            For me, the most powerful phrase in this whole text is James’ comment in verse 7 about those who were blaspheming the fair [beautiful, lovely] name by which you have been called.”  That just jumps out at me.
            I can’t help but wonder what actions or attitudes there might be in my life that bring shame and reproach on the name of Christ and of His Bride, the Church.  How many times have I acted, or reacted, or spoken out in harsh and unkind ways that in essence “blaspheme His sacred name”?  I’m ashamed to have to admit that I’ve been guilty many times.  I’m just grateful for the amazing grace of our loving Lord who is willing to forgive us and cleanse us.  But that grace can never be used as an excuse for bad behavior and rotten attitudes.

FEEDBACK:
            Have you ever done something that you know would bring dishonor to Christ and to your Christian testimony if it were ever to become public knowledge?  How did it make you feel?  What did you do about it?

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Tiger Taming & Real Religion" - (08/07/11)

“Tiger Taming & Real Religion”
James 1:19-27 (Message #3 in Series)
August 7, 2011

INTRODUCTION:
            The Book of James is the earliest of all the New Testament books, having been written probably in the year AD 46, just a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The author is James, sometimes called James the Just, who was the oldest of Jesus’ half-brothers and sisters.  He, along with the rest of his siblings did not come to believe fully in Jesus as the Promised Messiah until after the Resurrection.  Among other appearances, the Risen Christ appeared to James and that brief encounter sent his life in a whole different direction.
            After his conversion he became one of the most beloved and respected of the First-Century Christian leaders.  From his home in Jerusalem he served as a pastor-to-pastors and as an overseer and mentor for the growing church.  His godliness and wisdom were well known.  He was one of the first people to put his stamp of approval on the newly converted, Saul of Tarsus.  It was largely through his influence that the Jerusalem Council came to their wise and balanced position with regard to the huge influx of Gentile converts into the Church.
            Here in this little 5-chapter book we have the distilled wisdom of James concerning various important subjects of the Christian life.  He writes from the standpoint of a Christian pragmatist rather than strictly a theologian.  Again he takes us to the bottom line about how Christians ought to live and act.  The book is very practical, and still relevant to the lives of 21st Century Christians.

TRANSITION:
            In the section leading up to today’s text, James takes up the question of how we should view the trials of life.  First he looks at the trials that come from without, from sources over which we have no control.  He concludes that in those cases we need to keep our eyes on the Lord and continue to trust Him, recognizing that God allows trials to come to us that our faith might be strengthened, that we would learn endurance and that through the experience we might grow in Christian maturity and Christlikeness.
            Then in verse 13 he switches gears to talk about a different kind of trial—trials that come from within—which he rightly calls “temptations.”  These are trials over which we have a great deal of control.  As people in whom the Spirit of God dwells, we are not helpless victims in the face of temptation.  We have all the tools necessary to withstand and overcome temptations without falling prey to them.  James urges us to learn to spot the traps before we fall into them, to not be lured into the snares by our own lusts, and to recognize the fingerprints of the devil on situations before we move forward.  He also says that if we fall into temptation we can never blame God for it because He never tempts us to do evil.  If we fall into the hole it’s because our own blindness, stupidity, sinfulness, and lack of asking for God’s help before the fact.

MAIN BODY:
Verses 19-20: This you know, my beloved brethren.  But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
  • Again, James addresses his remarks to “everyone,” by that meaning all believers, implying that this is a universal principle of Christian living.  However, I believe that this admonition is also connected to what James says in the preceding verses about how a Christian is to act while going through trials, tribulations, and times of testing.  When we are going through hard times we are often tempted to look for someone to blame.  If we can’t find a good candidate we sometimes blame ourselves, or even more commonly, God.  We get mad at God and conclude that He has forgotten us or has neglected His duties toward us.
  • James mentions three things: hearing, speaking, and becoming angry.  He says we should be “quick” to do the first, but “slow” to do the other two.  By saying “quick to hear” he gives the sense that our will is involved.  We are always quick to do things that we like and believe in.  We use the expression, “he leaped at the chance.”  That’s the idea here.  On the other hand, when we are “slow” to do something it usually means that we are reluctant or fearful.  For example, we are slow to make out our wills.  We are slow to go to the doctor.  We are slow to pay our taxes.  We have to think about it.  We don’t rush in.  That’s how we should be about shooting off our mouths without careful forethought, or letting angry words flow out of us like molten lava, destroying whatever they hit.
  • “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”  The expression, “You can’t get there from here” comes to my mind.  Human anger never leads toward righteousness, or peace, or harmony, or anything else that is positive.  Our anger only leads to more anger, hateful words, broken relationships, and bitterness.

Verse 21: Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the Word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 
  • James sounds here very much like Paul in Colossians 3 when he talks about “putting off” or “putting aside” the works of the flesh and the old sinful practices that used to characterize us before we came to know Christ.
  • Just a word here for you who are using the KJV.  Verse 21 says, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness…”  I love that phrase!  But a person might wrongly conclude that James is demanding that only excess of evil is to be put away—only the really big, nasty sins.  The word here translated as “superfluity” in the KJV means “remainder, that which is left over.”
  • James says to “put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.”  For some of us even after we got saved that’s quite a lot, and for others not so much.  A new believer usually still carries more “old baggage” but a more mature Christian is hopefully carrying less.  That doesn’t mean we are perfect, but it does mean that the process of sanctification has done its work over time.
  • “…in humility receive the implanted Word… which is able to save your souls.”  How does salvation come about?  The Bible says that the Holy Spirit convicts the sinner of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.  How does He do that?  He uses the Word of God as the Sword of the Lord to instruct us in the paths of God.  “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  God draws the sinner to Himself by cords of love and irrefutable truth.  The sinner is ultimately brought right up to the One who called Himself “the Door,” toe to toe with Jesus.  As he gazes at the Savior, he is struck with his own sinfulness.  He cries out to the Lord for forgiveness.  He exercises genuine repentance.  Through the exercise of God-given faith in the person and work of Christ, the sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and steps through “the Door” into Eternal Life, through Jesus, “Whom to know is life eternal.”

Verse 22: But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.  
  • This is a very familiar verse to many of us.  But notice again how it starts: “But prove yourselves doers of the word.”  James’ point is that talk is cheap.  He says, “Let’s see some proof.  Let’s see some action instead of just words.”
  • Or to put it another way… you claim to be a Christian.  You say that you love God and that He is the #1 priority of your life.  Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will KEEP My commandments.”  So how much of God’s Word are you actually obeying?  All of it, or just those parts that you like and find convenient to obey?  James here is calling us to action, to unqualified obedience to the will and word of God.
  • He contrasts the 100% obeyers to those who merely “hear” the truth but choose to ignore it and go on about their business.  Frankly, I think that describes the majority of American “Christians.”  The percentage of professing Christians in America who actually takes this stuff seriously is pretty small.
  • The Barna Research Company is a Christian company that does all kinds of surveys and fact-finding.  I want to share some statistics from a survey they did two years ago.  This will illustrate my point about how many professing Christians are biblically ignorant and largely non-compliant.  [Read parts of the survey.]

Verses 23-24: For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.  
  • In verse 22 James already said that the hearer/non-doer is self-deluded.  Now he goes on to say that this individual is also blind, forgetful, and stupid.  Why?  Because he steps up to the mirror, sees the filth on his face, turns his head and looks at it from several angles, then says, “You handsome devil, you!  You’ve still got it after all these years.”  He doesn’t use the mirror the way it was intended—to reveal the problems, dirt, imperfections, etc. so that they in turn can be corrected.  Rather, he sees only what he wants to see, and ignores the obvious problems.
  • That’s how a lot of people are when they read the Scriptures.  They find ways to apply the truth to everyone but themselves.

Verse 25: But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.  
  • In the previous verse James speaks about how a mirror reveals the imperfections of the outer man.  Now he contrasts that with God’s “perfect law,” which reflects the inner man.  To “look intently at” means to peer into the matter, to scrutinize it carefully.  But to scrutinize what?  God’s perfect law.  James is talking about the same thing that David talked about in Psalm 19: 7The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.  8The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.  9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.  10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.  11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” 
  • God’s Word, His perfect law, has another characteristic that James points out—it gives liberty to the captives.  Sin enslaves, God gives freedom through the instrumentality of His Word when we come to believe it.  But notice that the blessing of God in verse 25 is conditional.  God’s blessing is clearly reserved for those who abide in His Word and obey it (“not forgetful hearers but effectual doers”). 

Verse 26: If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  
  • Lots of people in this world describe themselves as “religious,” although many of them don’t know what it really means.  The words “religious” and “religion” come directly from the compound Latin verb, relig├íre (re = again + ligare = to tie up).  Here’s the concept… imagine that you and your sweetheart have been leisurely drifting down the river in your little rowboat, just enjoying the scenery.  But then you decide to stop for a picnic so you paddle your way over to the shore and tie your boat up to a tree branch.  However, you’ve never been very good with knots and the current is strong.  As you are sitting there on the blanket eating your egg-salad sandwich you happen to spot a little boat drifting by that looks a whole lot like your boat.  By golly, it is your boat!  You jump up and run over to the river trying to figure out what to do.  With all your hollering and jumping up and down you soon draw a crowd of helpful onlookers, with each one having a theory about the best way to snag your boat and retie it to the shore.  One guy says, “What you need is a big long pole of some kind to reach out there with.”  Another fellow says, “Why don’t you just swim for it?”  Some old lady says, “Get a rope and tie it around a rock and throw that into the boat.  Then you’ll be able to drag it back to shore.”  One by one you try out these suggestions, all the while running along the river bank trying not to lose sight of your boat.
  • What you have here is an example of how every religion has its own idea of how to get man reconnected to God.  Everyone recognizes that man has become untied from his moorings.  Man’s fall into sin broke the rope that tied us to God.  Now the challenge is to find some trick or system or secret knowledge by which man can be retied to His Maker.  Thus, every religion offers a way to do that, to reconnect sinful humans with God.  In the essentials all religions prescribe the same things: be sincere, be kind to other people, do good works, follow the rules of the religion, don’t commit overt acts of sin, and think happy thoughts.  The Average Joe out there will tell you that “all religions are basically the same,” and he’s right in that they are all man-made attempts to solve the problem of man’s disconnectedness from God.  Each one has its own   unique formula for fixing the problem but they all boil down to some form of good works.
  • The rub is that Jesus condemned every religion except His own, and by that I’m talking about biblical Christianity.  He blew all the other religions out of the water when He declared: “I am THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE.  No one comes to the Father except through ME!” 
  • So here James points out that for those people who claim to be “religious” there is an acid test for the validity of their religion.  If they can’t even bridle their tongue, then their religion is proven to be a fake, a counterfeit.  He can say that with confidence because he knows beyond any doubt that only God can transform a person from the inside out and give them a new heart, which results in a different flow coming out of their mouth.  “Religion” per se cannot tame the tongue.
  • Tigers are powerful creatures with a mind of their own.  They aren’t afraid of much, and they are at the top of the food chain.  The number of tiger trainers in the whole world can be represented on the fingers of your two hands.  And even they have limited success, because tigers are a nearly untamable beast.  Likewise, the tongue is nearly untamable.  In fact, only God can do it.

Verse 27: Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  
  • James believed that there is such a thing as “THE TRUE RELIGION.”  And that inevitably implies that all other religions are FALSE RELIGIONS.  Jesus believed that too.  He said, “I AM THE WAY.”  That categorically condemns all other religions—the Buddhist way, the Islamic way, the Zoroastrian way, the Confucianist way, the Hindu way, the New Age way, the Baha’i way, the Mormon way, etc.—all these are false “ways” because they can’t get your boat tied back up to the dock, ever!  They are all shooting blanks.  They make smoke and fire but they can’t do the job of getting man hooked back up to his Maker.
  • In these last few verses of James chapter 1, James lays down four acid tests of genuine Christian faith.  The first is absolute obedience to God (being “doers of the word”).  The second acid test is the ability to control our tongue.  Only a person controlled and led by God can do that.  Here in verse 27 James offers two more acid tests.  Number 3 is our willingness to help people in need even when it is difficult and inconvenient.  He refers to the OT command for God’s people to take good care of the orphans and widows, people who were typical examples of those who needed help.  The fourth acid test of genuine Christian faith is personal purity.  We are in the world but Jesus said that we are not to be “of” the world.  A “real Christian” will work to remain spiritually pure even though he is surrounded by all manner of sin and filthiness.  James offers us these four evidences of “real religion.”

CONCLUSION:
            When I find myself in philosophical/theological discussions with people about religion and they come off with, “I believe that all religions are about the same, and that they all offer good things, don’t you think, Reverend Wilson?” I always come back with “Yes, I agree, but…”
            For you see, the question isn’t “Is it a good religion on paper and do its adherents do some noble things?” but, “Does it actually succeed in getting people reconnected to God?  Can it tie up the boat to the dock?”  The answer to that is, of course, “NO!” because none of the world’s religious systems can guarantee a person of salvation.  None, that is, except the true religion that Jesus gave us.  The Gospel declares, “These things are written that ye may know that ye have eternal life.  The witness is this; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.”
            My friend, no other religion on that planet would dare to make such a claim because none of them has any way of guaranteeing that a person will ever make it to Heaven.  All that any of them can offer is a lot of pretty words, a life-long treadmill of good works, and a gunnysack full of “hope-so’s.”  But with Christ we don’t have to merely hope we make it.  We can know!

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Attitude Versus Altitude" - (07/31/11)

“Attitude Versus Altitude”
James 1:9-18 (Message #2 in James Series)
July 31, 2011

INTRODUCTION:
            I love airplanes.  I always have.  They fascinate me.  That something made from steel and aluminum and other heavy materials can actually get off the ground and soar through the air like a bird is absolutely amazing to me.
            For many years I wanted to be a pilot.  Even after hearing God’s call to missionary service I assumed for a long time that I would end up being a missionary pilot, because of my love for airplanes.  However, God had a different plan for me and my dreams of flying have never yet come true.  I’m still hoping that when I get to Heaven I will be able to fly, one way or another.  We’ll see.
            Like with any specialized field, aeronautics has its own vocabulary.  A word you will hear pilots use is “attitude.”  However, when they use that word they mean it in a sense different from its common usage.  They are not talking about pilots being grouchy in the cockpit.  The dictionary defines “attitude” as:
1. The position or posture assumed by the body in connection with an action, feeling, mood, etc. [e.g. to kneel in an attitude of prayer]
2. A manner of acting, feeling, or thinking that shows one’s disposition, opinion, etc. [e.g. a friendly attitude]
3. One’s disposition, opinion, mental set, etc.
4. In aeronautics, the position of an aircraft or spacecraft in relation to a given line or plane, as the horizon. 
It is in that sense this last I want to use the word today, to explain that “attitude determines altitude.”

TRANSITION:
            Today we are in our second study of the Book of James.  Last Sunday we looked at verses 1-8 of chapter 1 and I also gave some background information about who James was and why he wrote this book.  I don’t have time today to go back over all that information for those of you who were not here, but I would encourage you to read the introductory pages in your own study Bible.  That will help bring you up to speed.

MAIN BODY:
            Today we are starting at verse 9 but you will remember that James has already been talking about how Christians should respond when they find themselves going through times of trial and testing.  We are to look at it positively, “considering it all joy,” knowing that God will use it to build our character and strengthen our faith.  He says that trials build endurance.  But the fact is a lot of people don’t see it that way.  When trials come they look around for someone to blame.  They fail to see trial from God’s perspective so rather than letting it run its course and “have its perfect result” as stated up in verse 4, they handle it all wrong and fail to get out of the experience what God had intended.  That’s because “attitude determines altitude.”  They get their eyes off the Lord and start looking around them at the circumstances, and in no time they are in a fast glide path downward.  That’s because for an airplane to go up its nose has to be pointed up.  [Use model plane as example]
  • A lot of Christians are looking at the waves down below instead of at the Lord out there on the horizon.
  •  In trials we lose sight of the horizon and become easily disoriented.  For that reason we must keep our eyes on Him.
  • A temptation overload is like an onboard systems failure.  At that point you can’t believe anything your instruments tell you.  You have to keep your eye on those things which never change to keep your bearings.  Otherwise you will end up crashing and burning.

            Now in this next section James gets specific about one specific kind of trial—poverty.  Many of the Jewish Christians to whom he’s writing lost nearly everything when they fled Jerusalem and Judea to get away from the persecution that started with the death of Stephen.  Many of them left with just the clothes on their backs and the coins in their pockets.  Now they are scattered all over the Middle East just trying to survive.  With that in mind, let’s read starting at verse 9.

Verses 9-10: But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 
  • “The brother of humble circumstances.”  Who is he?  What is he like?  What does he face each day?  First of all, he is a Christian, a child of God.  He’s a “brother.”  By the fact that his life is being compared to that of a rich man, we can conclude that he is poor by comparison.  By “humble circumstances” I believe James is talking about a person who has little money and possesses few of this world’s goods.  He scrimps by and ekes out his existence day by day, never sure if he will be able to bring in enough to feed and clothe his family.  But James encourages this man to “glory in his high position.”  What an odd statement!  We can only assume that he is talking about this poor Christian brother’s high standing with God.  But be careful here!  He does not have a high standing with God because of his poverty, but because of sonship through the finished work of Christ.  James is saying, “In spite of the fact that you don’t have much here and now, you are still a child of the King, a crown prince who will one day rule alongside Christ, you are a joint-heir with Prince Jesus.  The Father loves you and has already prepared a mansion for you in Heaven where you will be with Him forever.”
  • But how about the “rich man”?  James has a word for wealthy Christians as well.  He says, “Rich man, you need to beware of becoming attached to your riches so that they do not become the driving force and focus of your life.”  For you see, that is always the temptation for rich folks.
  • NASV says that the rich man is to “glory in his humiliation.”  That is awkward and hard to understand.  In plain English it means that a rich Christian ought to rejoice that in Christ he has been brought down to a level where the “deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19) and the obsession to amass and hold on to them are no longer primary or even relevant considerations.  Moreover, he needs to recognize that riches are temporary.  They will burn up one day.  Material wealth will not go with us into eternity.

Verse 11: For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away. 
  • Things that look good today won’t look so good tomorrow, because beauty fades.  New cars get old and turn into rust-buckets.  Knockout gorgeous women get saggy skin, wrinkles and age spots.  Strong viral young men turn into fat old duffers with hair in all the wrong places.  Houses go out of style and start to fall apart.  You name it and it has a shelf life.  Sooner or later its beauty and attractiveness will fade away.
  • James says that wealth is like that too.  The rich man looks good today, like he has everything going for him.  But none of that stuff lasts.  Everything he owns will eventually fall apart.  In fact, he too will pass away.  The rich man will eventually die and leave everything behind.
  • Now this news is not a great comfort for a rich person.  James didn’t intend for it to be.  He was trying to bring comfort to the poor Christians and a reality check to those who have been trusting in their riches rather than in God.

Verse 12: Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 
  • James says that there are both present and future blessings for those believers who persevere under trials.  He speaks of the “crown of life” that is reserved for them.  He claims that this has been promised by Christ himself.  But what does this really mean?  Is he talking about an actual crown that will be passed out to certain people in Heaven?  No, I don’t think so.  The phrase, “the crown of life” is what’s called an “appositional genitive construction.”  Put simply, James is saying that the crown consists of life itself, a gift that God has promised to all those who love Him.  The Bible states repeatedly that God has abundant blessings in store for those who love Him, keep His commandments, and serve Him faithfully whatever the cost may be.

Verse 13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 
  • I mentioned last Sunday that in these verses James deals with two different types of trials: those that come from without in the form of difficult circumstances beyond our control, and secondly, trials from within that result from temptations that we face because of our sin natures and our acquired taste for sin.
  • He makes a clear distinction between “trials,” which can come from God in order to refine us and make us more Christlike, and “temptations,” which never come from God but from the devil, and are always intended by the enemy to cause us to fall and flail and fear and fail.  “Trials” are designed by God to make us stronger, while “temptations” are concocted by the devil in conjunction with our flesh to bring about our spiritual ruin and to embarrass God.
  • So here in verse 13 James makes the transition from the one kind of trial to the other.  The word “temptation” always carries the idea of luring a person into sin.  James probably had in mind here the Jewish doctrine of “yetzer hara,” which literally means evil impulse or evil inclination.  Some Jews reasoned that since God created everything, He must have also created the evil impulse.  And since it is this evil impulse that tempts man to sin, ultimately God, who created it, is responsible for evil.  But James shoots that idea down in flames.  He says categorically that God is not the source of evil.  Being absolutely holy He himself cannot be tempted to do evil.  Moreover, being absolutely holy He does not tempt anyone to try and get them to do evil things.  No, but in the next verse he explains how evil happens.  He lays out the downward staircase leading a person toward sin.

Verse 14: But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 
  • He says that “each one” follows this same pattern.  So this is true for believers and unbelievers alike.
  • A “trial” instantly becomes a “temptation” when our “lust” gets involved.  Now when we hear the word lust we instantly think of sexual temptations but the concept is much broader than that.  Lust just means a strong desire that is not bridled by higher motives.  A person can have a lust for fame, or money, or power, or sex, or possessions.  The sinful tastes of humans are varied so lust comes in a lot of different colors and models, but it’s all really the same thing.
  • Let me try to illustrate this using something that I’m familiar with.  One day I have some time on my hands and am just hanging out (First problem = idleness), so I decide to take a run up to the Harley-Davidson store to look at their new models.  Sounds innocent enough so far.  As I’m walking around drooling on the motorcycles (Second problem = the lust of the eye) I spot my good friend, Rick, talking with the salesman (Not a problem).  Soon I learn that Rick is buying a brand-new Harley with all the trimmings.  My mind begins to work.  I think to myself, I deserve a new motorcycle as much as he does.  My bike is a 2007 model.  That’s 5 years old, soon to be 6.  Also, I need a new bike because mine doesn’t have the kind of comfy rear seat that I’d like so that Ramel will be more comfortable when we go on long trips.  Besides, I would look really good riding on that deep purple jobbie with the metallic-fleck paint job and the 200 lbs. of chrome.”  Now we have a serious problem, Houston!  At this point I am being carried away and enticed by my own lust for big beautiful motorcycles coupled with my lust for impressing other people.  My self-talk is leading me right down the path toward sin.  I’m being motivated by pride, covetousness, and a few other sins and am justifying everything by my “need” for a new bike.

Verses 15-16: Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.  16Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 
  • James uses reproductive language here.  He likens the conception of sin to the conception of a child.  The seed is fertilized, emplanted and begins to grow.  It gets nurtured and grows some more.  It gets bigger and stronger.  Finally, the day comes when the birth happens.  But what pops out?  A fully grown, fully developed big ugly hairy sin.  It jumps down off the birthing table, struts around the room and proudly says, “Here I am!”
  • When a healthy new baby is born it is a joyful occasion for everyone.  We rejoice in that new life.  Everyone is smiling.  Everyone is happy.  The birth has brought forth new life and all kinds of potential for good and for greatness.  We say, “Maybe he’ll grow up to be a great doctor and discover the cure for cancer.”  Or, “Maybe she’ll grow up to become President or a great ambassador.”  However, when sin is born, things quickly start to look like a bad horror movie.  The ugly monster strutting around the room suddenly pounces on the nurse and strangles her.  Then he leaps on the mother and crushes her throat.  Then he tears through the hospital slaughtering everyone in his path.  Now that’s an ugly scene but it sort of portrays what James is saying: “When lust gives birth to sin, and sin is accomplished, SIN BRINGS FORTH DEATH.”
  • Verse 16 is a warning to not misread the signs.  He says: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.”  That’s because the devil’s deception plays into this story.  We can be carried away by our own lusts, but we can also be deceived by Satan.  The enemy will try to place things in your path, knowing that you are a sucker for that kind of temptation.  He will form fit the temptation to fit your weaknesses.  So, if you aren’t careful and vigilant, you will step right into his tailor-made trap.  Going back to my story about motorcycles, knowing myself like I do, I’m better off just not going into those kinds of places, in the same way that a person who struggles with alcoholism should stay out of bars, and a person who struggles with sexual temptation should stay off the internet when he/she is alone.  There are things we can do to help.

Verse 17: Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 
  • Here James is reminding us that God only gives us good gifts.  He never gives us cheap, counterfeit stuff.  This is to drive in his statement that God does not tempt us to do evil.  That’s not the kind of present He gives His children.  James here uses a word picture to say that God never changes (there’s no variation in His light), and there is no sin mixed in with His goodness (no shifting shadow).  The Bible says He’s the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  Man changes but God doesn’t.  Man’s love grows cold, but God’s doesn’t.  Man’s commitment to God tends to wane over time, but God’ love for us only grows stronger.

Verse 18: In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. 
  • This is just James’ way of reminding us that salvation is all of God, and not of our doing.  We are saved because of the working of His sovereign will, not because of any participation on our part.  James here uses language pulled right out of Genesis 1 and the creation account.  God brought forth life out of nothing, “ex nihilo.”  He spoke everything into existence and then pronounced it all “good.”  So it is with our spiritual life, our rebirth.  II Corinthians says that “if any man is in Christ he is a NEW CREATION.”  In other words, we are saved through the sovereign creative work of God.
  • He points out to his early Christian readers that God had saved them so that they would be the first wave of many more to come.  Look how many down through the centuries have come to believe in Christ as their Savior.  But those early Jewish believers, scattered abroad were the “first fruits” of what will one day be a great harvest.

CONCLUSION:
            There are lots of things in this world that you can blame God for.  Typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc., even though the Bible says that all these things are really the result of the fact that nature is all hosed up because of man’s fall into sin.  In other word, we’re really the cause.  We might call them the “fruits of the Fall,” which are unlike the “fall fruits” of apples and pears.  When sin and death came onto the scene, death and destruction reverberated though all of God’s creation.  The Bible says that the whole world now groans in pain, looking forward to the day when the Lord will bring about a new heaven and a new earth.
            But if it makes you feel better go ahead and blame God for all the rotten stuff that He allows to happen in this world.  It’s true, He’s sovereign and powerful, and He could stop it if He wanted to.  But leaving that issue aside, DON’T EVER BLAME HIM FOR YOUR SINS.  He does not cause anyone to sin.  He does not set you up so that your only option is to sin.  He will never tempt you or try to entrap you.  No, that’s all the work of the enemy, Satan, and his little buddies, working in conjunction with your already rotten flesh and sin nature.
            Jesus came to save us from our sins and to set us free from the power and dominion of sin.  He came to make us new and to destroy the old sin nature in us with its propensity to choose sin over holiness.  In this passage James tells us, “Don’t you dare try to lay the guilt of your sin on God’s doorstep.”  We are responsible for our own sin.

FEEDBACK:
            So what do we take home with us today from this passage?  What do you find here to meditate on in the days ahead?  Is there a life lesson or is this just a mental exercise with no real relevance to our lives?

About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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