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, October 10, 2011

"Living in the Here and Now" - (10/09/11)

James 4:11-17 (Message #10 in James Series)
October 9, 2011

INTRODUCTION:
            Whenever you are visiting with a kid and you ask him his age he will always round the number upward as in, “I’m 7… and a half!” or “I’m 12… but I’ll turn 13 in two months!”  They always do this with that obvious excitement about getting older.  Children and young people live for the future.  They dream of all the wonderful things they will get to do when they get big.  I was visiting with our grandson, Morigaen, a couple of days ago and we were talking about driving.  He told me that his mom had taken him to a big abandoned parking lot a couple of times to let him get practice driving.  I asked him how old he has to be to get a permit in Washington.  He said, “I’ll turn 15 and a half next month, grandpa.  Then I can get my learner’s permit!”
            Of course, adults have a different perspective.  People older than about 25 will always round off their age downward, especially women.  A woman will still say that she is “thirty something” when she is really 39¾.  If children live dreaming about the future, adults often live in the glow of the past.  For example, we all know a few baby-boomers who are still dressing, thinking, and acting like old hippies who never quite made it out of Woodstock and Height-Ashbury. 

TRANSITION:
            But the truth is that we have no guarantee of the future, and we cannot go back and relive the past.  All we have is the present, the here and now.  And as Christians we are called to live for Christ today, to do what we can now for the Kingdom of God.  We hope we’ll have tomorrow but God never promised that to us.  And the past is already rolled up like a scroll, never to be seen or replayed again.  Of course, as Christians we should learn from the successes and failures of the past, and we should make plans for the future, but we should concentrate on living well today because today is all we really have.  We are told in God’s Word to “redeem the time.”  This means to buy it up and invest it well, for we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
MAIN BODY:
Verse 11: Do not speak against [slander, whisper about, speak evil of] one another, brethren.  He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 
  • Here in verses 11-12 of our text James turns his attention once again to deal with the subject of speech, specifically mouthing off and judging other Christians.  This was likely one of the manifestations of the attitudes that James condemned up in verses 1-2.  Christians were apparently allowing their covetous attitudes to run rampant and this was causing fights and squabbling among the believers that James characterizes as “wars and battles.”  This manifested itself in part in judging and condemning one another.
  • James’ argument is that if you are guilty of judging your brother then you are placing yourself above the Law of God, which forbids such judging.  Of course, this is true of all kinds of lawlessness.  When a person breaks the speed laws on the highway he is, in essence, saying that he is above the law and that ordinance does not apply to him.

Verse 12: There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 
  • James goes on here in verse 12 to argue that there is only one who is greater than the law and that is the Judge and Lawgiver himself.  He says to his reader, “There is only one Judge, buddy, and it ain’t YOU, so come down here and get out from behind that bench.”  He argues that you and I have no business judging one another.  We can’t save one another, so we shouldn’t try to condemn one another either.  God alone is “…able to save and to destroy” and He has the moral high ground to do both.  You and I are nothing!  Moreover, with our sinful track-record we should be ashamed to point a finger at anyone for anything!  “Who are you to judge your neighbor?”  Indeed.  The answer is obvious—I’m nobody.

Verse 13: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”
  • Here in verse 13 through the end of the chapter James takes up yet another subject, and that is, the fleeting nature of our lives.  I think that in James’ mind this paragraph relates to his former statements concerning worldliness in that the attitude he is condemning here is a form of worldliness—i.e. leaving God out of our plans and heading out on our own as though we were in control of things rather than He.
  • You and I live in the midst a self-imposed delusion—that we are actually in charge of our lives, that we have some degree of control over what happens to us.  We make plans and lay out our schedules with the thought that if we just write it down then it’s settled.  We take precautions and do things to protect ourselves and our families so that we can sleep at night.  We buy insurance and set up retirement accounts to prepare for the future.
  • Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that we should stop doing these things, just that we should stop thinking that because we have done them now we are safe and don’t need God anymore.
  • For example:
1.       You take Lipitor and aspirin, and exercise every morning, only to have your doctor tell you that you have inoperable stage-4 colon cancer.
2.      You make your kid wear his bicycle helmet every time he goes out riding but he gets hits in the chest by a loose bullet from a drive-by shooting down the street.
3.      For 20 years you pay for flood insurance, only to have your house destroyed by a tornado.
4.      You raise your sweet little girl in Sunday School and church, plus youth group, Vacation Bible School, Christian summer camp, and the best evangelical university in the country, only to have her decide to elope with a long-haired rock musician with tattoos, nose rings, hygiene issues, and lots of attitude about you and every other Christian he’s ever met.
  • If you sit around and think about stuff like this it will drive you nuts, so instead, we keep on doing our little rituals to keep our minds off the fact that we are in charge of exactly NOTHING, and we can control exactly NOTHING.
  • Here in verse 13ff James is making an appeal to Christians who think they can plan out their own lives all by themselves.  He gives the example of a merchant who makes plans to expand his business and travel to new places to sell his wares.  Is James saying that this in and of itself is wrong?  NO, of course not.  People in business are always looking for new markets and new ways to sell their products to more people.  That’s the nature of commerce.  However, James is saying that many Christians operate every aspect of their life this way, leaving little room for God to do anything.

Verse 14: Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow [let alone next week or next year].  You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 
  • James zeroes in on three human failings: 1) The limits of our knowledge about the future.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  2) Our impotence to affect the outcome of tomorrow.  We are powerless to control what will happen.  And 3) The uncertainty of our life in general.  He says we are about as stable as fog.  We’re here today and gone tomorrow, or sooner.

Verse 15: Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 
  • A believer, who understands that God is sovereign and in control, will readily admit and acknowledge his dependence upon God.  His attitude will be, “Im yirtzeh hashem…” (Hebrew), “Deo volente…” (Latin), “Se Deus quiser…” (Portuguese), “Insha’Allah…” (Arabic), or in English, “If God wills… we will live and also do this or that.”  Our words are important because they reveal our thought and attitudes.

Verse 16: But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.
  • James comes down on his readers by pointing out that this logical and reasoned attitude toward ourselves and toward God was not what they were demonstrating.  Rather, they were “boasting in their arrogance.”  He denounces this attitude and calls it what it really is, “SIN!”
  • There is no place, ever, for this kind of boastfulness.  It is always condemned in Scripture.  Ephesians 2:8-9 come to mind: “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast.”  Or I Corinthians 1:27-29: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before Him.” 

Verse 17: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin. 
  • For years I’ve heard this verse pulled out of its context and used independently but it is even more powerful in its natural setting.  In this last verse of our text James sums up this section with a warning to the unthinking boastful merchant of verse 13, as well as to us, reminding us that there is more than one way to sin against God.  The Jews always tended to emphasize doing the right thing, with little emphasis on the quality of the attitudes behind the actions.  However, as Christians we all know that our lives should be characterized by an attitude of humility and a total dependence on God.  This is at the heart of Christian living.  And James says that the Christian who knows this and yet does not do it, “…to him it is sin.”
  • We know that all sin starts in the heart and mind.  For example, adultery is, first of all, a sin of the heart and the thoughts.  The sin of adultery occurs long before the sexual act is carried out.  Moreover, we often speak of sins of omission and sins of commission.  These both have to do more with actions.  “Sins of commission are when we do things that we should not do, things we have been forbidden to do, by God in His Word or by the laws of men, or both, as is often the case—stealing, hurting other people, setting fire to someone’s house, moving your neighbor’s property line, etc.  “Sins of omission on the other hand, are when we fail to do what we should do, we fail to do the right thing—e.g. when out of cowardice we fail to speak up or to prevent someone from being attacked; when we fail to help someone who needs our help; when we dummy up and refuse to witness to someone whom God has obviously put in our path, etc.

CONCLUSION:
            To clarify this a bit further, we can think of sin as a three-phase process.  Though this can work positively let’s start from the negative.
PHASE 1: Embracing an incorrect thought leads to…
PHASE 2: Having an incorrect attitude, which results in…
PHASE 3: Committing an incorrect or sinful act.
            Let me illustrate this first with something we all can understand.  In pre-WWII Germany those who espoused the doctrine of Aryan racial superiority and called themselves “√úbermensch” (overmen, or superhumans), came to believe that Jews were less than fully human.  They called them “untermensch,” meaning “undermen, or sub-humans.”  This was their belief, their firmly held doctrine.  However, I think we can all agree that they were, what I like to call, “Wrong!”  They embraced an incorrect thought.  That’s PHASE 1.
            This incorrect thinking led them to have incorrect attitudes toward Jews.  If Jews are sub-humans then they don’t have the same needs and rights as the rest of us.  If they are sub-human they are incapable of having the same hopes and dreams as us superhumans.  If they are less than fully human then I can trick them, steal from them, lie to them, and make fun of them and it doesn’t really matter because it’s not like I’m doing it to a real person.  That is PHASE 2—Incorrect attitudes based on incorrect ideas.
            PHASE 3 puts it all together and ties a bow around it.  If we know for a fact that Jews are sub-human and are hateful, dirty untermensch, then it doesn’t matter what we do to them.  Really, they are more like livestock than people, and we kill and eat livestock without a second thought.  Therefore, we can enslave Jews and make them do whatever we want done, or we can kill Jews by shooting them, gassing them, or starving them and we are perfectly within our rights.  You all know the end of the story.  Incorrect thinking, gave way to incorrect attitudes, which in time resulted in 6.5 million Jewish men, women, and children being murdered by the Nazis in horrific ways.
            So, you’re thinking, how does this relate to our text here in James 4?  Let me try and pull it together.  Just as the Germans can never say, “We didn’t know that killing Jews was a sin,” so also we can never use ignorance of the right as a defense or an excuse for our doing of the wrong.  If we choose to disobey God and not do what He has commanded us to do, that is sin, and there is no excuse for it.  On the other hand, if we disobey God by doing what He has forbidden us to do, that is sin too, and there is no excuse for it.  All too often we are quick to forgive ourselves, and to let ourselves off the hook.  As I mentioned last Sunday, we often take our own sin way too lightly.  It just doesn’t bother us that much.  But it should, and it will if we get into the Word, and begin to see things through God’s perspective.
            But how do we break the three-phase sin cycle?  Logically, if we want to begin doing the right things, then we have to be driven by correct attitudes.  Additionally, if we want our attitudes to be correct and right before God, then our thinking has to be brought into line with God’s thinking, and that can only be done as we immerse ourselves in God’s revelation, the Word of God.  Life change can only come about as a result of our knowing and embracing the truth.  Then our righteous behaviors will come into line with our thoughts and godly attitudes.
            The apostle Paul said it well in Romans 12:1-2 – I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.  2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Or as Paul says it in Ephesians 4:22-23, “[You must] lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and…be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” 
            Of course, telling others to do the right things for all the right reasons is easy.  I can look you right straight in the eye and tell you that you ought to do it this way.  However, I don’t find it so easy to do myself.  It’s a daily struggle and I fail often, but look again at verse 15.  It reminds us that our seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years are all in God’s powerful merciful hands.  “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  He took care of your past when you came to know Him.  Let Him worry about your future because you have no control over it anyway.  You just need to concentrate on living for Him with all your might in the here and now.

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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