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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

            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.”

            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.

            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.

            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.

            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?

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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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