Wednesday, August 15, 2018

“Taming the Tongue” – James 3


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiH7Z_MevOY (video about the power of words)

“Your words always say more.” Did you catch that at the end? How true that is! Getting a card or letter is great but how much better it is to hear those good things straight from the person’s mouth. Talking can, of course, be overdone. More is not always better. I have heard that the reason we evacuate women and children first during a disaster is so we can think about a solution in silence. I don’t know if that is true or not. 😊

Knowing what to say and when to say it is one of the hardest things in the world. Have you ever known of anybody that just had no filter for their mouth? If it came in their head, it was coming out of their mouth, right? That can be refreshing; to always know where you stand with a person and to always know they are saying what they mean. That can be good, at least for a while. But sooner or later, that person is going to get themselves into trouble.

I have some married friends like that in Ft. Worth. The husband will be about to say something that comes to mind and his wife, who knows him well, will say, “Filter!” and he will stop and think about it for a second. That helps. It’s not always enough but she does what she can.

We learned in chapter one of James that we should all be “slow to speak”.  There are lots of other scriptures to back up that line of thinking. Proverbs talks about talking quite a bit. That may be some irony right there.

Proverbs 10:19  When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 17:28  Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

Proverbs 18:2  A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

I had a married couple come to me for marriage counseling a few years ago and when I asked what was wrong the woman just started right in. “Well, he just won’t talk to me. He never says anything. How am I supposed to know what he wants or needs if he never tells me? I keep trying to get him to talk but he just”, blah, blah, blah, she just kept talking on and on and on and never let up. Finally, the poor man just looked at me with this look like, “I think the problem is obvious, right?” And all I could do was just nod in sympathy. (True story)

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” There is not much better than someone who knows just what to say at a difficult time. Words can bring great healing and unity and motivation…or words can bring complete disaster and we all have the opportunity to do either one when we speak so how do we know how to handle our words? Let’s start with James chapter 3, verse 1-12.

We continue our campout in the beautiful little book of James knowing that James was not writing to unbelievers but writing to real Christians; real disciples, followers, believers in Jesus. But he was writing specifically to mature believers; people who have been doing this for a while. When James says to consider it pure joy when we face trials, that can only be done by somebody who has been with Jesus for a while and served God faithfully long enough to know that He can be trusted.

It's the same with being quick to listen and slow to speak. It’s true of having good deeds along with your faith. None of this can possibly be done by non-Christians or even immature Christians so when we come to this passage about controlling our tongues, it’s the same way. If you just can’t do what James says to do, then you either have a shallow relationship with God or possibly no relationship at all.

I’m not saying it will be easy; far from it. But a mature believer will see progress in all these areas. Let’s look at what he says about our words and after we all put on our steel-toe boots, let’s turn to James 3:1-12.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

A man working in the produce department was asked by a lady if she could buy half a head of lettuce. He replied, "Half a head? Are you serious? God grows these in whole heads and that's how we sell them!"  "You mean," she persisted, "that after all the years I've shopped here, you won't sell me half-a-head of lettuce?" "Look," he said, "If you like I'll ask the manager."  She indicated that would be appreciated, so the young man marched to the front of the store. "You won't believe this, but there's a lame-brained idiot of a lady back there who wants to know if she can buy half-a-head of lettuce."  He noticed the manager gesturing and turned around to see the lady standing behind him, obviously having followed him to the front of the store. "And this nice lady was wondering if she could buy the other half" he concluded.  Later in the day the manager cornered the young man and said, "That was the finest example of thinking on your feet I've ever seen! Where did you learn that?" "I grew up in Dallas, and if you know anything about Dallas, you know that it's known for its great football teams and its ugly women."

The manager's face flushed, and he interrupted, "My wife is from Dallas!" To which the young man replied, "Did she play for the Cowboys?" (sermonillustrations.com)

How many of you know that the more you talk, the more risks you take? It is so easy to say something wrong and the more you talk the more inevitable it is that you will say something that you wish you could take back. James tells us here that teachers especially have to be careful. They have extra responsibility to speak the truth because they will be judged more strictly than others who don’t teach.

So, while James says teachers need to be very careful, in verse two he says that we all stumble. We all have to be careful. We all, as mature believers, will be judged by what we say and we need to know what is the right way and what is the wrong way to handle this slippery little muscle in our mouth called the tongue.

Before you handle a firearm, you need to know how to handle it. Somebody has to show you and usually the person showing you has had experience with it, good and bad. If you go to the gun range and the range officer is missing a couple of fingers, you need to listen to him because he probably knows from experience what he is talking about.

The tongue is every bit as dangerous as any firearm but it can also do some wonderful things as well. The first thing James tells us is about the tongue’s power to direct. Your words have the ability to show, to guide, to direct others to the truth of what they need to know. James illustrates this by describing horses and ships as being guided by small bits and rudders.

When you first put a bit in a horse’s mouth, the wild nature of that horse rebels against that bit. It’s not natural. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient for how that horse wants to live. Well, we have a wild nature as well. The Apostle Paul calls it the old man or the flesh and that old, fleshly, wild nature of ours doesn’t want our tongue to be controlled. It wants to sin. It finds pleasure in sin. It finds pleasure in letting somebody have it with a few choice words.

It finds pleasure in dropping some bombs and watching the carnage. Well, James is telling us that is sin. That is immaturity and it needs to be repented of and never done again because you are guiding and directing people with your words whether those words are good or bad. Do you realize that? Everything you say is guiding people in one way or another. You have the power to guide them toward Jesus and a life of peace and joy with the promise of eternity in Heaven, or you can, by the words of your fleshly, old man mouth, direct them towards Hell and everything Satanic. The power to direct is a big responsibility.

James also says that our tongues or our words have the power to destroy. Look at verse five again. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

That’s harsh language, especially for one talking about using harsh language. He says it sets the whole course of one’s life on fire. You have the power in your words to destroy others…and yourself. Remember, he is talking to believers here and saying, “Don’t wreck your life by the words you speak.”

On a windswept hill in an English country cemetery stands a drab, gray slate tombstone. The quaint stone bears an epitaph not easily seen unless you stoop over and look closely. The faint etchings read: Beneath this stone, a lump of clay, / lies Arabella Young, / Who on the twenty-fourth of May, / began to hold her tongue. (sermonillustrations.com)

How you speak is how you are known. Do you want to be remembered as the person who spoke apples of gold in settings of silver or do you want to be remembered as the person who destroyed yourself and others with your inappropriate, gossipy, harsh or hateful words? You need to make the choice right now before anybody else gets hurt.

Not only do our tongues have the power to direct and the power to destroy but they also have the power to delight. Look at verses 9-12. He compares our mouths to great fountains of flowing water. Proverbs echoes that in chapter 10 where it says, “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life.” Also, in chapter 18 he says, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook.” Does that sound like your speech? Flowing with wisdom and a well of life?

If that does describe your speech, that is delightful to God and man. Can you imagine being able to do something, anything, that delights God? When we praise God, when we make Him look good and sound good because we know He is good, then God delights in that. He wants to be known as loving and merciful because He is, so we should say that every chance we get, not just when we are in church.

But look at what else James says we can do with our mouth in verses 9-12. We can curse men who are made in God’s image. How is that not, at least indirectly, cursing God? A fountain cannot provide two kinds of water. This is another situation where, if you are going to live that lifestyle, please take the Christ Fellowship bumper sticker off your car. Don’t tell anybody you go to church here or even that you are a Christian because you give us all a bad name.

None of us are anything close to perfect but if you aren’t seeing great progress in this area, I am concerned about your eternity. I’ll just be blunt. I believe scripture teaches that there is going to be a lot of people in Hell that were church members for years and years but never truly had a relationship with God through His Son Jesus and the proof of that relationship is a changed life; a life that was continually looking more and more like Jesus.

Turn to Isaiah chapter 6. I need you to see something. So many times when we imagine God, we see Him as some doddering old man with a beard and staff in a white robe and maybe He is throwing a few lightning bolts or He is despairing about the sad state of His creation but Isaiah was given a real vision of God and he describes it the best that he can in Isaiah chapter 6. I want you to envision this if you can as we read verses 1-5.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the LORD, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

What was Isaiah’s first response when He saw God? Did he see God sitting on a lawn chair and walk over and give Him a fist bump? “S’up God?” No! He saw God sitting on His throne as King of kings and Lord of lords with angels flying around Him covering their eyes from His intense holiness. Just His name being called out caused the whole place to shake and smoke and Isaiah’s natural reaction was, “Oh no. I’m a dead man.”

Why was that his first reaction? Because he immediately realized he had unclean lips. Can you imagine seeing God and now, like a recording playing in your head, you hear all the words you have said; all the times you said something untrue; all the lies, all the gossip, all the coarseness and cursing, even the unnecessary truths?

You haven’t thought of your unclean lips before because you live among a people of unclean lips. It’s all over the TV and movies and radio. It’s at your job. Your parents talked that way and even your teachers. But now…now you have seen God and it is all too obvious. You may have thought before that you wouldn’t want to hurt Him with your speech, but now you realize…what is to keep all-knowing and all-powerful God from hurting you???

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 5:3-4 continues with, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Do you want to know for what you should be thankful? Right now, be thankful for God’s incredible mercy and grace; grace that says, “I have seen you and I have heard what you said and if you repent (turn away from that lifestyle), I want more than anything to forgive you. Not because you deserve it but so that the world will see my grace, mercy and forgiveness.”

My dear family, a mature believer will control his tongue. We all mess up and maybe we say something in the heat of the moment sometimes but it ought to pain us to hear it come out of our mouths and those times will be fewer and fewer the longer we serve our all-knowing, all-hearing, all-powerful God.

If that does not describe you today then I would love to talk with you and pray with you because there is either something wrong with your relationship with Jesus…or it may not exist.

As the music plays, let’s bow our heads and close our eyes and use our mouths to voice to God right now our repentance and our praise. If you don’t have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus, then all you have to do is believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no man gets to the Father or to Heaven but through Him (John 14:6).

Ask Him for forgiveness and allow Him to come into your life as Lord and Savior and allow Him to change your life right now. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to understand everything. Just accept His undeserved grace. We aren’t guaranteed another day or another breath. Do that right now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

“Dead, Demonic or Dynamic Faith” – James 2:14-26


Before we get started, I have to ask how you like our flower arrangement here in front of the pulpit. (flowers are obviously fake) Aren’t they pretty? And they smell so…something. There’s nothing like fresh flowers to liven up the place, right? I picked them myself. Does anybody know what kind these are? Yes, they are plastic. I did pick them though. I picked them from a selection of fake flowers our church has in the closet but they are actually pretty hideous, aren’t they? How could you tell they were fake? How are these different from real flowers? Real flowers smell pretty. Real flowers are soft and tender to the touch. Real flowers use water and sunlight and they also change as they grow. They become prettier and smell sweeter as they age.

Real flowers just look different, especially up close. From a distance these might look like real flowers – maybe – and technically, you could still call them flowers. They just aren’t real flowers. They aren’t fooling anybody and I bet a real flower would be offended that these are even called flowers. Nobody likes a fake when you are expecting the real thing, especially when it comes to people. Have you ever known a fake person? Maybe they were fake about their happiness or their wealth or how important they were. Nobody likes being around those people and do you know what’s worse than a fake person? A fake Christian. Have you ever known a fake Christian? You probably have and some of them are pretty good fakes. They may come to church, know scripture and even pray but they aren’t real.

Jesus warned us about them in Matthew 7. He said, 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

There will be a lot of people who are expecting to live for eternity in Heaven because they claimed Christianity as their religion. They went to church every now and then and they put one of those fish symbols on their car and they typed “Amen” to a couple of Facebook posts. They even walked the aisle and prayed a prayer and got baptized so surely they are real Christians. Right Jesus? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

That’s a scary sentence, isn’t it? How do we know that Jesus isn’t going to say that to us? Well, let’s continue our campout in the book of James. It’s our fifth week and we have finally made it to chapter 2. Starting in verse 14, through the end of the chapter, James writes some things that have been controversial down through the ages.

Martin Luther was one of the greatest Christian minds and thinkers in the world but he misunderstood this passage and because of this passage rejected the whole book of James and wanted it stripped from the Bible. His thought was that it contradicted the Apostle Paul’s teaching that justification came by faith alone and he thought James was teaching that it was faith plus works that saved you. So, let’s look at this passage and make sure we understand what James is saying because it makes the difference between real and fake Christian faith.

James 2:14-26 says, What good is it, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Speaking of Martin Luther, he once said, “God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing.” That is truth and it is well said but I submit to you this morning that there is more than one kind of faith but only one kind of faith that will save you. James gives us examples of three kinds of faith.

Look at verse 17 again. In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Dead faith is the first kind of faith he shows us and dead faith is illustrated by the person who sees a need and does nothing to meet the need. James says that is dead faith. If something is dead, what is it good for? Nothing. Dead faith cannot save you. James does not disagree with Paul about this either. Paul rightfully said that we are saved by grace and through faith in Ephesians 2. We are saved through faith but the proof of that faith…is good works. It is a changed life. It is sacrificing yourself for the sake of others.

Do you know how to start a campfire? There are any number of ways to start a fire. You can rub two sticks together. Good luck with that. It’s way harder than the movies would have you believe. You can make sparks by banging two pieces of flint together. You can buy one of those magnesium fire starters and I think they work pretty good but I would rather just use a lighter. That’s way easier.  So, how do you know when your fire is lit? There is smoke. Where there is smoke there is fire. You don’t start a fire with smoke but smoke is proof that you have fire. That’s how it is with good works and faith. You aren’t saved by good works but your salvation is proved by them. They go hand in hand and if you don’t see good works along with faith, it’s a sure sign that your faith is dead and you should be very concerned that the last words you hear are going to be, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!’

Jesus warns of this in several places but one that comes to mind quickly is His parable of the four soils. You remember that from Luke chapter 8. Jesus uses the seed that is planted to compare to the Word of God and there are four types of soil that receive the seed but only one kind yields a lasting crop. Some of the soil looks good and starts out well but the seed is lost or dies quickly. James is saying that is dead faith and dead faith is useless for saving you.

Some of you know what it’s like to be in need. Some of you know it more than others. I have been in churches that talked a lot about meeting the needs of people but I love being a part of this church that really does help. A couple of years ago some church members came to me and told me how they had been blessed financially with some kind of windfall and they wanted to give something special to the church. They handed me $400 and told me to bless somebody with it.

Now, that is faith that is alive. That is faith accompanied by action. But listen to how it ends. The very next day (I promise this is the truth), the very next day a couple came to me asking for prayer. Their landlord was about to kick them out for not paying the rent and when I asked how much they owed, they said it was $400. There is no way the first couple knew about the second couple and vice versa. That was just a God thing. So, I prayed with them and then read Romans 8:28 to them that says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Then I patted them on the back and said, “I hope it works out. Have a blessed day.” Then they left and I went and made a car payment. Do you believe me? Okay, most of that story is true but of course I gave them the money.

But we probably all know situations that really did turn out with somebody that was able to help but didn’t and basically just said, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.” I have great concerns about that person and that person should have great concerns because James says that kind of faith…is dead and if your faith is dead, you are spiritually dead.

James also mentions another kind of faith besides dead faith and that is demonic faith. Do you see that in verse 19? He says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” This is pointed directly at the religious Jews who recited the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4 every day that says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” They would quote that every day but too often their lives didn’t reflect anything deeper than their ability to memorize and James says that even demons can do that. They know there is a God and at least they are afraid of Him.

We also see this kind of faith today in religious skeptics. You know the guys. They are so-called scientists who like to be interviewed on TV and wax eloquent on the “truth” behind the “myths” of Jesus and the Bible. They can tell you from carbon dating how old the earth is and how the Israelites crossed over on dry ground and how Jesus didn’t really die on the cross; he just fainted. They know all about Jesus but they don’t KNOW Jesus.

Let me give you another example. Who is this guy? (Picture of Billy Graham) Everybody knows Billy Graham, right? Do you know him? Sure, you do. So, if you know him, tell me what his phone number was. What was his shirt size? What were his dreams? What was his favorite ice cream flavor and how did he take his coffee? We say we know Billy Graham but it’s just a passing head knowledge and if your faith in God is just passing head knowledge, I don’t care how much knowledge it is, you got nothing the demons don’t have. Ephesians 2:10 says that when we truly know God we are created in Christ Jesus to do good works. That’s the only kind of faith that can save and James gives us two illustrations of dynamic faith.

As a master teacher, James drives his point home with two biblical examples of true, inward faith demonstrated by obvious, outward actions. Though he has at his disposal a host of examples of faith from the Old Testament, James chooses two extremes: Abraham and Rahab, and hopefully we all find ourselves somewhere between the two; Abraham, the father of our faith and Rahab, a harlot. (Charles R. Swindoll, pg. 61) Both showed their faith by their good works and both will be in Heaven. Now, we know, as we talked about last week that not everybody’s experiences in Heaven will be the same and there will be rewards given to those who earn them but we know that we will see both people there. Both believed God’s word to them and both were obedient to do what God said.

In John 14:23, Jesus said, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” You will do what God’s Word says to do and you will do it, not to be seen, but it will be obvious when you do it, just as obvious as it is when you don’t.

Now, I hear you. I hear you asking the questions, “How much good stuff do I have to do? How many little old ladies do I have to help across the street? How many times do I have to come to church a month? How many dollar bills do I have to put in the plate? How much good stuff do I have to do to prove I am a Christian?” Well, there is some good to those questions and I understand the thinking behind those kinds of questions but they are not good questions. The good part is that you are thinking in terms of yourself. The absolute wrong thing to do is to ask those questions of other people and then compare yourself to them.

“Well, I go to church, give money, help old ladies, whatever, fill in the blank way more than that person does so I must have some serious faith. I know God is pleased with me because I’m better than they are.” That’s way off the track James wants us to be on. That may be true or it may not but God looks at your heart. He judges by your motives so let’s start there by asking some different questions of ourselves.

What does your quiet time look like? Are you truly doing business with God or just checking a box when it comes to your private prayer and study time? Do you look forward to it or is it a chore? You can’t do God’s will if you don’t know His Word. Are you memorizing it? When was the last time you had a fun and lively debate over the finer points of scripture with a friend? What do you talk about in your free time? Are you growing spiritually? Can you tell a difference in where you are today and where you were last year? What about that bad habit or even that addiction? Are you praying about it but not seeing any change? Does God seem distant? When was the last time you shared your testimony or even mentioned the name of Jesus?

Is church a priority? I will say again that the greatest problem this church has is making the Lord’s Day a priority and not just an option. It is not just God’s will but a command that we meet together and that we are here for each other using our gifts to build up the body, the bride of Christ.

Those are the kinds of questions you need to ask yourself because a dynamic faith will manifest itself in good works. It just will and you don’t have to ask if you are doing enough. If you wonder if you are doing enough then something is wrong with your faith and it’s not the quantity of it. Jesus said that if we have just a little bit of faith, we can move mountains. That’s because a little bit of dynamic faith will always do more than a lot of dead or demonic faith.

We pray a lot around here for revival. Everybody wants revival and everybody knows we need it but it never seems to really happen. In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church's integrity problem is in the misconception "that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior." He goes on to say, "It is revival without reformation, without repentance." C. Swindoll, John The Baptizer, Bible Study Guide, p. 16. Repeat quote.

Does that sound like you? Don’t compare yourself to somebody else. Has your life truly changed since you walked the aisle and prayed the prayer or whatever you did? Are you truly seeing God do good works through you, that you never did before or even wanted to do before?

If you have any doubts about your faith, I would love to talk to you and pray with you about it right now. Don’t be fake like these flowers down here. There’s no good in living life like that here and now and we all want to hear our Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant!” Ask Him to be Lord of your life and to change your life right now and to forgive you of all your sin. Your life won’t be perfect and some things will always be difficult but there is such peace and joy in this life knowing you will spend eternity with Him in the next life. Don’t leave here without knowing for sure.






Wednesday, August 1, 2018

“Orphans and Widows” – James 1:27


Now, we all know that money can’t buy happiness but who among us has never wondered what it might be like to be a millionaire?  There’s nothing wrong with thinking about it every now and then.  Just don’t let it become something that you dwell on until it starts to motivate you to do something unwise.  Don’t let it get in the way of your relationship with the Lord.



So, I want to ask you, what would you buy if you suddenly became a millionaire? Yea, yea, yea, we know you would tithe and then you would give to charity and pay off bills. Sure, whatever. But I want to know what you would buy for yourself. Do you ever think about it? Sure you do. We all do.



That’s a question I love to ask because it tells me a lot about a person. I have asked that and had the person tell me that they would buy all these new shoes and purses and makeup and outfits. That told me something about them and I had to say, “Troy, do you really think you need all that?”



Then I have asked it to others and have them truthfully tell me that they don’t need or even want anything. They are perfectly content with just what they have. Again, that tells me a lot about a person.



Now, what’s interesting is this:  How much of that million dollars are you going to be able to take into eternity?  When you die and go to Heaven, to spend life without end forever and ever and ever, how much money are you going to need?  None, of course. 



Can you imagine dying and waking up looking at Jesus and He says, “Well done my good and faithful servant!  Now let’s look at your bank account and figure out where you are going to live”?  That would be bad news for most of us.  Thankfully and by God’s great grace we don’t have to worry about that.  But did you know that not everybody’s Heaven is going to be the same? 



While salvation is a gift, there are rewards given for faithfulness in the Christian life as well as the loss of rewards for unfaithfulness.  So, when I talk about BOOCOD – the benefits of obedience and the consequences of disobedience – many times these are eternal.  In Revelation 22:12 Jesus says, “Look! I am coming soon, and my reward is with me to pay each one according to what he has done!”



Don’t you want to know what to do and where to invest for eternity?  This life is a wisp of smoke compared to eternity which lasts forever and ever so let’s make sure we invest our time, talent and treasure in things that will last for eternity.  If you want to know where to invest your money on this earth to become wealthy, you can ask my friend Scott Parrish, who is my money go-to man but if you want to know where to invest for eternity, then I suggest we look at what the Bible says.



Let’s continue our look at the New Testament book of James.  James is between Hebrews and 1 Peter and is one of my favorite books because although it is a small book, it is packed full of great little nuggets of wisdom.  Turn to James chapter 1 and let’s look at just one verse, verse 27, to see where we should invest to make an eternal difference.



“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”



I have heard it said that some people have just enough religion to make themselves miserable.  (Harry Emerson Fosdick) Do you know anybody like that?  Most of the time, I would say that is exactly what religion is good for.  In fact, I don’t usually have much interest in religion at all.  Neither does the Bible.  Does that sound funny to you?  It’s true.  This word “religion” is only used in five verses of the whole Bible and when it is used it always talks about the outward trappings of worship.



If someone considers themselves to be religious, most of the time it is because they go to church occasionally or maybe they say a prayer sometimes.  But did you know that if all you do is go to church; if all you do is walk through the door, sit in the pew and then check the box “went to church” when it is over then it does you no good?  If all you do is mouth the words of a prayer but you don’t mean them then it is a worthless waste of time.



James says that the only outward expression of religion that is worth a flip; the only outward thing that God says is pure and faultless is when you look after widows and orphans. Everything else has to do with your where your heart is and what your motivation is.  That’s why we don’t normally refer to Christianity as a religion but instead we know it to be a relationship between us and the Father through His Son Jesus.



1 Corinthians 2:11 says, “For who knows a person's thoughts except their own spirit within them?”  You can go to church every Sunday and stand up and sit down at all the right times and you may even say a great prayer and put some cash in the plate but if you don’t have a relationship with the Lord then all those outward expressions of religion don’t mean a thing.



But when you truly have a relationship with God and have the Holy Spirit living inside of you guiding you and helping you then your religion will be lived out and shown for what it is because you will want to help the helpless and you will, in fact, do more than just want to help.  You will help those who need help.



James says that this is “pure and faultless”.  Do you know why this is pure and faultless?  Because it reflects the attributes of God Himself.  Deuteronomy 10 says, “18 God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.”



I will say it again.  More than anything else; above your comfort or your happiness, God wants you to be more like Him and when you look after the helpless, you are never more like Him.  The psalmist says in Psalm 107, “They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away. 6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and He delivered them from their distress.”
  It says so in verses 6, 13, 16, and 28.  God looks after the helpless in their distress.  So should we.



You know, I hear all the time about how Islam is a religion of peace.  To me that makes as much sense as a football bat but let’s put aside the fact that that religion, while saying they are for peace, actually seem to be doing the opposite so many times.  Let’s put that aside and think about where people go when they need help.  Is a non-Muslim going to go to a mosque when they are hungry and ask for food?  Do you hear about the Muslim community or the Buddhist community or the Hindus coming together to repair houses or feed the hungry or start coat drives?



That’s the difference between a religion and a relationship.  Jesus died on the cross to be the sacrifice that we could never be because of God’s grace and forgiveness and all we have to do is believe.  Because of that belief; because we have a life-changing relationship with Him, part of that life-change means helping others, especially the helpless who will probably never be able to repay us.  We can never repay Jesus for what he did for us and that inward love for Him spills over into our outward generosity to others.



Now, I get asked all the time when we talk about our food pantry here at the church about how we handle people who might take advantage of our generosity.  It’s a natural question to ask. When does it go from help to enabling when we know somebody has been using drugs or getting drunk and then they come to us to ask for food?



1 Timothy 5 teaches that people who are in need should be helped by their families first of all and that they shouldn’t be lazy.  They should be people who do good deeds and should be busy and not idle.  They should be.  But if they aren’t, that is on them.  That is wrong for them but nowhere does it say in James 1:27 that we should look after the helpless if they meet all the requirements and to refuse them is on us.  That is wrong for us.

Now, when it says to look after those people (and the King James says to visit them but it means more than just make a social call).  It means that we should do what is best for them which means to meet not just their physical, bodily needs but to also meet their other needs as well.  In the very next chapter James says, “If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”  (James 2:16)



When James says we should look after or visit them it means we should do what is best for them in every way.  I have figured out that while we have been called to minister to the poor, the addicted and the incarcerated, we can’t help everybody.  We can’t meet every need.  We don’t have the resources for that nor do I feel that we are meant to meet every need.  Nobody can do that.



But we can help them get to a better place.  Maybe that place is a spiritual place and we can definitely help there.  Maybe that place is to the hospital or the rehab center.  Maybe that better place is a better frame of mind or a better place to live.  Maybe they need to go to Fort Worth or Dallas where they can find a job.  Maybe that better place…is my house.  Maybe it is your house.



On our website and in our bylaws we have written our statement of purpose.  It says that we exist as a church to do whatever it takes to lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.  I’m sure that there are things that our church could do better.  We may disagree on some minor points of doctrine.  Maybe we even need to come up with a couple of rules to go by around here – probably not.



But one thing we do right; one thing we do well and we do it to the glory of God and by His grace is we care for widows, orphans, the poor, the addicted and the incarcerated around here.  I see y’all all the time doing things for people who will never be able to repay you and you do it because you want to.  I see you give to the food pantry and the food pantry always needs to be resupplied, by the way, but we never run out.



I see you giving rides to people who don’t have any other way to get around.  I see you comforting those who are hurting.  I see you doing whatever it takes to meet people’s needs so that we can do whatever it takes to lead people to a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.



The world’s system of values says that, yes, we should help people.  We should help people when we have plenty of time and when we have plenty of money and when we know that they can pay us back soon and only if they are helping themselves and only when enough people see us so that we can get plenty of credit for it and then be able to write it off our taxes at the end of the year.



The American industrialist, Henry Ford, was once asked to donate money for the construction of a new medical facility. The billionaire pledged to donate $5,000. The next day in the newspaper, the headline read, "Henry Ford contributes $50,000 to the local hospital." The irate Ford was on the phone immediately to complain to the fund-raiser that he had been misunderstood. The fund-raiser replied that they would print a retraction in the paper the following day to read, "Henry Ford reduces his donation by $45,000." Realizing the poor publicity that would result, the industrialist agreed to the $50,000 contribution in return for the following: That above the entrance to the hospital was to be carved the biblical inscription: "I came to you and you took me in."  Bits & Pieces, March 3, 1994, pp. 1-2.

James didn’t say we are to look after the helpless when it benefits us or makes us look good. That’s how the world looks at it and that’s how the world gives, when they give. James says at the end of verse 27 that we are to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.  Isn’t that a good word to use for the world’s system of values-pollution?  If our church; if you; if I don’t look after the helpless in our community, then then who is?  The world?  The world, with their polluted system of values, who only help when it doesn’t cost them too much and have no regard for the spiritual needs of people?

I can’t allow that when I have been given so much from our generous Heavenly Father.  The bonus on top of all the blessings we have been given and the blessings we receive here on earth when we help the helpless is that it is storing up treasures in Heaven (Matt. 6:20) that will last for eternity.  That’s a good investment.



Let me close with a story I heard about an old widow lady who lived way back in the sticks of Tennessee.  A deacon in a local church heard about her and just went to check on her to see if she needed anything and found her to be in desperate need.  She had no money, no food, no way to get anywhere and she was very sick.



The deacon asked if she had any family around and the woman said that she had a son in New York who was well-off but never helped her.  She said he was nice enough to write every month but all he ever did was send a piece of paper with some guy’s picture on it.  The deacon looked at one of the letters and found the green piece of paper and the picture to be of Ben Franklin ($100 bill).



My dear family, we are surrounded by people just like that lady.  I don’t mean they are back-woods widows.  I mean they have no idea that the help they need is just waiting on them to accept it and use it.  They have no idea that they have much greater needs than just their food and the light bill.  They don’t even realize that without that relationship with Jesus they have no hope, not just in this life, but in the next life for eternity.  All they have to do is accept it but how will they hear without someone to tell them and how can we tell them if we don’t meet their physical needs?



How are you going to help anybody if you don’t have that relationship with God through His Son Jesus?  As we bow our heads and close our eyes I want you to think back to the time in your life when you asked Jesus to be Lord of your life; when you repented of your sins - turned away from those sins and asked for forgiveness.  If you don’t remember a certain day or time in your life when you did that, then I would love to talk with you more about what that means.



Come down right now as the music plays.  Don’t wait another minute.



Invitation / Prayer



Tonight at 6 pm we will discuss what to do when the widow is mean and the orphan is a 16 year old drug addict.


Monday, July 23, 2018

“Listen, Live, Lose, Love” – James 1:19-21


Have you ever known anybody that just had to be right about everything; somebody that knew all the answers, even if they were wrong? I used to work with a guy like that. He was such a know-it-all. I remember one time I asked him a question that I knew there was no way he could possibly know the answer and he acted like he didn’t hear me. I was sitting right next to him and so I asked him again and he literally turned away from me and just pouted, refusing to even acknowledge the question. The words, “I don’t know” just were not in his vocabulary.

We probably all have known somebody like that but how many of you know anybody that simply must be right…with God?  There are lots of people that feel they are always right but not many that are always right with God. That is a lot different. It was Henry Varley who said, "It remains to be seen what God will do with a man who gives himself up wholly to Him." That man would be a righteous man.

Sitting in church, we would probably all say we want to live a righteous life but be honest. It doesn't sound like all that much fun, does it? We want to be righteous but not many want to pay the price. The problem is that there are two groups of people that keep you from living a righteous life: you and all the other people around you.

You are almost always your own worst enemy. You want to live righteously and yet you want to live like the world lives. You want the stuff. You want the fun. You want the sex, drugs and rock n roll party life. You want the money, the fame, the security that all of that is supposed to bring because the world says you need it even though you have had some or all of that and you know it’s not true. Yet, we are still drawn to it.

The good news, though, is that you are starting to mature and starting to understand that none of that brings lasting happiness and none of it brings any kind of lasting joy or peace. You are starting to get a handle on your own desires and God is doing some great things in you and through you. You are a long way from perfect but we have been working on that for some time now and you are seeing progress. Thank you, Lord!

Our passage this morning is in the book of James chapter one and here James addresses that other group of people that we struggle with, everybody else. I don’t care who you are or what you do, you have probably thought at some time in your life something along the lines of, “This would be a great job if it weren’t for all these stupid people.” Right? You’re thinking that you could really be used of God if these morons around you would just leave you alone. If only everybody was perfect like you and thought correctly like you and would just live their lives like you, everything would be okay.

Well, not much has changed in the 2000 years since James wrote this. He understood that feeling and has given us, not just good advice but it is also a command. This was written by James through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore is a command by God to all of us who call ourselves Christians.

As we start reading James 1:19-21, I want you to insert your name at the very beginning. He starts off by calling special attention to this section of the letter and says, “My dear brothers, take note of this…” I want you to put your name in the margin or on top of that word “brothers” if you write in your Bible.

My dear Todd…my dear Brian, my dear Lois. Got it? Let’s read James 1:19-21.

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

I don’t always divide messages into points but this passage seems to divide itself four points that James says we are to do if we want to live righteously and each one builds on the other. If we want to be right with God, then James says we are to listen correctly so we can live righteously. Then lose the world - but love the Word.

Now, when it comes to the first point, listening correctly, everybody knows how to do it and everybody always does it…if you ask them. If you ask them, they are listening. The problem is that they are right and the other person is wrong so THE OTHER PERSON is the one that needs to be listening.

The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."

Have you ever felt like you just needed the other person to listen to you and that if they would just listen – just listen – then the problem would be solved? Yes, of course you have because everybody feels that way sometimes. Your spouse needs you to truly listen. You boss needs you to listen. You neighbor, your children, your friend, they all need YOU to listen to them.

Teenage prostitutes, during interviews in a San Francisco study, were asked: "Is there anything you needed most and couldn't get?" Their response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears was unanimous: "What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me." (Jim Reapsome, Homemade)

That breaks my heart. How many lives would be changed, how many souls would be won for Jesus if people just had somebody to listen to their problems? How many problems would just go away if one person just decided to listen and not just be waiting for their turn to talk? If we could just learn to listen correctly and focus on the other person and what they mean, not just what they say. We need to look into their eyes, assess their body language, ask questions, even take notes if possible.

It is a proven biological need of every human to be heard, to express themselves. Have you ever met somebody that only wants to talk about themselves? It’s because they never really had anybody to listen to them and they are desperate to be heard. When people feel like they are not being heard, do you know what happens? They start to get mad. They get angry because the solution to the problem is not that difficult. “Just be quiet for a minute and let me speak!” That’s what they are thinking.

But that is so hard to do because we all want to be heard. Well, if you want to listen correctly so that you can live righteously, then James says to be quick to listen and slow to speak because the anger that comes when you don’t is not what God wants. Robert W. Herron once said, “Good listening is like tuning in a radio station. For good results, you can listen to only one station at a time. Trying to listen to my wife while looking over an office report is like trying to receive two radio stations at the same time. I end up with distortion and frustration. Listening requires a choice of where I place my attention. To tune into my partner, I must first choose to put away all that will divide my attention. That might mean laying down the newspaper, moving away from the dishes in the sink, putting down the book I'm reading, setting aside my projects.”

We all know how to listen and when we need to be heard, it seems like we are asking the other person to do something pretty easy, right? Just be quiet and let me talk. But here is the problem that so many people fail to realize when they are asking or just expecting the other person to be quiet and listen. The problem is you are asking that person to do something that is actually very difficult and if you ask at the wrong time, it makes it even more difficult.

Just because you have the need to be heard doesn’t mean the other person is able to listen right now. If you and your spouse are in the middle of a heated debate, don’t expect them to truly listen. If they are in the middle of something else, you have to understand how difficult it is to truly listen even when you really want to, much less when your attention is already somewhere else. I’m not taking away the value of your need to be heard. Just realize that, if done wrong, it can lead to more anger.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Listen correctly so you can live righteously. Now, go back to verse 21. 21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. How many of you would say that you watch an “average” amount of television? I don’t know what “average” is and it doesn’t matter. I didn’t even try to research it by googling it. But you would say that you watch TV like an average person?

Now, how many times have you ever watched a movie, a 30-minute sit-com or even the evening news and seen two parties modeling how to truly listen? I can’t remember ever seeing it except maybe from somebody playing a psychiatrist and they usually don’t even do it right then either. No, most of the time you see somebody getting mad because the other person didn’t listen and so the first person just kills the other person. That makes for good TV. That sells. People tune in for that stuff.

But James says don’t fall for it. Don’t watch that stuff. Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent. That’s what the world does. It’s what the world watches. It’s what the world thinks and that’s part of why the world is in the shape it’s in. If you want to listen correctly so you can live righteously then lose the world and love the Word. I’m not telling you to never watch TV. I love to watch TV but I realize all the time that what I am watching is not making me righteous. It is not helping me to be right with God. And that stuff is all around us. It’s not just TV. James says it is “so prevalent”.

1 John 2 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

Addressing a national seminar of Southern Baptist leaders, George Gallup said, "We find there is very little difference in ethical behavior between churchgoers and those who are not active religiously...The levels of lying, cheating, and stealing are remarkably similar in both groups. Eight out of ten Americans consider themselves Christians, Gallup said, yet only about half of them could identify the person who gave the Sermon on the Mount, and fewer still could recall five of the Ten Commandments. Only two in ten said they would be willing to suffer for their faith.  Erwin Lutzer, Pastor to Pastor, p. 76.

Now, do me a favor. If that describes you, please don’t tell anybody you go to Christ Fellowship, okay? In fact, just don’t say anything about church or Jesus or God at all because you are doing nothing to help the cause of the Kingdom by living like the world lives and then telling other people how they should live and what religion to follow. We are to be in the world but not of the world. People should be able to see Jesus in you especially as you relate to other people and when difficult times come.

Men, how would you feel if your wife started hanging out with her ex-husband? Oh, it’s nothing serious. They’re just having dinner together a couple nights a week, maybe a movie on the weekend. No big deal, right? But then you notice that she starts to take on some of his mannerisms. She uses some of the same words he does. They even have some inside jokes that you don’t understand and she starts to like the same things he likes and pretty soon you realize y’all don’t have much in common any more but she sure has a lot in common with him. No big deal, right? At least she still uses your last name.

As Christians in the church, we are called the Bride of Christ all through scripture and God is described as being a jealous God in Exodus 20. It is not that God is jealous or envious because someone has something He wants or needs. God is jealous when someone gives to another something that rightly belongs to Him. He paid the price for you to be His child and He loves you too much to allow you to be flirting with the world when James says here that we should get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

God has given us His Word, the Bible and passages like this in James, not to be a killjoy but to show you just how deep His love is for you. He has given us this owner’s manual for life and it tells us how best to get along with others and how to be right with God and that is what this whole passage is really about in James 1. James wants us to be right with God.

But I hear ya. Right with God, a righteous life, it all sounds so…boring. Right? I know. So, let’s just get real practical here for a minute. Let’s think about this. Who do you think lives or lived a more boring life, the Apostle Paul or the lady you work with that is keeping up with the Kardashians? Think about it. Who is the boring one? D.L. Moody, who won thousands of people to Jesus or the guy who works 80 hours a week so he can buy a boat so he can go to the lake twice a year?

God says in John 10:10 that He wants us to live a full and abundant life here on earth so do you think that describes you when you have read everything on Facebook or you when you are on a mission trip? Now, that’s just in this life. The real reason to live a righteous life; the main reason we want to be right with God is for the next life. Jesus said in Revelation 22:12, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done!”

James says that instead of loving the world, we should lose the world and love the Word. He says we should accept the Word. What does that mean? Accept it means to put it on like a coat. Wallow around in it. Live in it. Meditate on it and let it change your life so you can change other’s lives by the way you live. Have you done that? Are you continuing to do that?

If not, then start today by asking God to forgive you of your sins and then you need to repent, or turn away from, those sins. Then ask Jesus to be Lord of your life and give you the Holy Spirit to live in your life to help you make good decisions and even be able to do things like listening to people who need someone to do just that. Accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do that right now as the music plays.


Monday, July 16, 2018

“Asking for Wisdom” – James 1:5-8


               
Perfect submission – all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest;
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.


What a beautiful old hymn with such powerful words. Those words would be powerful if anybody had written them but they were written by Fanny J. Crosby and what makes them so powerful is when you know that Fanny Crosby was completely blind. When she was only six weeks old, a careless doctor treated her for a minor eye inflammation and caused her to go completely and permanently blind.

Yet Fanny Crosby harbored no bitterness against the physician. In fact, she once said of him, “If I could meet him now, I would say thank you over and over again for making me blind.” She believed that her blindness was a gift from God to help her write the hymns that flowed from her pen, more than 8,000 in her lifetime.

Can tragedy be a gift? If it can be then how is it that some people, like Crosby, can understand it that way but most other people can’t? Most people just call a tragedy a tragedy and might even grieve over it all the rest of their lives. How is it that she could declare it a blessing? Was she being dishonest? Was she faking it just to look pious?  How was she able to do that and how can we do that?

Maybe you think you don’t even want to do that even if you could. Why should we want to call a tragedy a blessing? Because sometimes we just want to be mad, don’t we? It’s unfair and we don’t deserve it and it’s mean and we deserve to be mad even if we are mad at God. Have you ever felt that way? That can be a dangerous place to be.

And do you know what that sounds like to me? It sounds like a little kid. It sounds like a child who has had his toy taken away from him. He doesn’t understand why and so he is just going to pitch a fit and be mad, even at his own mother who took his toy away from him. Now, I understand that there is a big difference in having your toy taken away and having your eyesight taken away. I’m not comparing the two. I’m comparing the attitude of a child with that of someone who claims to be a believer, a follower, a disciple of Jesus Christ who is going through a crisis and whines and cries about it the whole time.

We are going through the book of James for a while; just camping out here over the summer and the overall theme of the book is basically, “Grow up!” We have graduated from Boot Camp and all sorts of military training and we are no longer baby Christians. Some of you may be young in the faith and some of you have been doing this for 40-50 years but for the vast majority of us here at Christ Fellowship, we are not spiritual infants.

We fed on milk through boot camp and gradually started maturing to where we could eat solid spiritual food and now it’s time to eat some meat. That’s what James is. It is meat and for a mature believer it ought to be wonderful and tasty, if not a challenge sometimes. But God expects those who have been believers for some length of time, like we have, to start acting like it. We know that difficult times are going to come our way and when they do, we need to know how a mature believer is expected to act. That’s what the book of James is for. So, turn, please, to the first chapter of James and let’s continue our study.

James is in between the books of Hebrews and 1 Peter in the New Testament. Last week we looked at verses 2-4 that talk about considering all things to be pure joy and we saw that we don’t necessarily consider the circumstance to be joyous but we should have joy knowing that God has allowed this trial into our life for a reason and will give us more than enough grace to get through it and in the end we will have everything we need, which is to look more and more like Him.

Reading the book of James is like finding a pearl on the sea shore, and then finding another a few feet away and then more and more pearls as you walk down the coast and sometimes it may seem like those pearls are not related at all but if you study it closely, oftentimes it becomes clear that one pearl relates wonderfully to the other. That’s what we find with verses 5-8 as they relate to verses 2-4.

Let’s read James 1:5-8 now. 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That person should not expect to receive anything from the LORD. 8Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Now, the first thing you need to know about this passage is that, like the whole book of James, it was written specifically to Christian people and just like considering a trial to be joy is impossible for unbelievers, asking God for wisdom has no guarantees for those who are not truly followers and disciples of Jesus. If you don’t have the wisdom to truly devote yourself to Him then you don’t get to ask Him for wisdom about what car to buy or what woman to marry.

For any of you that are not true believers; for those of you who do not have saving faith and believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no man comes to the Father except through Him, and this faith has changed your life; if you do not have that and you need wisdom, I recommend getting one of those Magic 8-balls. Do you remember those things? They’re like 10 bucks on Amazon. I checked. Go for it. That’s probably your best bet because this passage is not for you.

Now, if you are a Christian, you need to know exactly how James means that we ask for wisdom and how it relates to the verses before it. So, let me give you an example and then we will discuss it. In his commentary on the book of James, Warren Wiersbe describes an older woman who was going through some great trials. She had had a stroke, her husband had gone blind, and then she nearly died in the hospital. In the middle of all this, her pastor saw her in church one Sunday and assured her that he was praying for her.

“What are you asking God to do?” she asked. Her question startled the pastor.

“Well,” he replied. “I’m asking God to help you and strengthen you.”

“I appreciate that,” she said. “But pray about one more thing. Pray that I’ll have the wisdom not to waste all of this” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature).

What she meant was she didn’t want to miss out on what God was doing in the midst of this trial. She was trying to consider it all pure joy and now she was asking for wisdom in how to do that; how to see God at work; how to see how this would be for her good as Romans 8 says.

Now, in some other commentaries, I read some guys say this is the only circumstance in which we should pray for wisdom as James is saying; that we should only expect God to give us wisdom in the midst of great trials, but I don’t know where they get that. I believe that any good father would want his children to make wise choices and we should ask about every decision we need to make.

I don’t know that God is too terribly concerned with what brand of toothpaste we use but this scripture is not saying we can’t pray about even that. I would rather err on the side of asking God for wisdom too often than not often enough. There might be a two for one sale on Colgate that we didn’t know about until we asked for wisdom. It says that God gives generously without finding fault.

But any immature believer can ask for God’s wisdom for toothpaste – and they should…but we’re not immature believers anymore and we want wisdom, not just for the little things, not just for things like what job to take or who to marry but also for understanding that God is working in the midst of our cancer, divorce or even the death of a loved one and so we will be able to consider it all pure joy.

Let me ask you this, is counting it pure joy a natural reaction when the doctor has bad news? Of course not. That can only be done by having a relationship with God and having faith that He is allowing this for some reason and you know you can trust Him no matter what. As we start to mature as believers, we should start to get better at this. It should start to be our natural reaction after a while and one of these days we will have everything we need as it says at the end of verse 4.

But until then, you may need to ask for wisdom about how to do that and what it looks like for you. So, that brings up the question of what does wisdom from God look like? Well, we are in the right book to answer that question. We just need to go over a couple of chapters to the last part of chapter 3.  James tells us exactly what it looks like to have wisdom from God.

James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Now, I want to read that again but first I want to give you a scenario to imagine. Imagine (and some of you don’t have to imagine, you can just remember) that the doctor has run a bunch of tests on you and he gives you the worst possible news.

James 1:2 says to consider that to be pure joy. Remember we are mature Christians and we have the power to do this. James doesn’t say it will be easy nor am I saying it but we can do it. Now, to consider it all pure joy we need to understand that God, in His sovereignty, has allowed this in our lives so we can have maturity and perseverance and that leads to lacking nothing.

But we want wisdom on how to do that and so we ask God and we don’t doubt but let’s look at what God’s wisdom looks like in this scenario. When the doc gives us bad news, we pray for wisdom to be able to consider it pure joy and that wisdom (now going back to 3:17) is first of all pure. How can wisdom be pure? By not being mixed with anything else. God will not give you wisdom mixed with fear or envy or selfishness. Verse 15 says that kind of so-called “wisdom” is from the devil.

God’s wisdom is peace-loving. I have seen sickness in a family member bring out the best in people but I’ve also seen it bring out the very worst. I’ve seen people get mad at the doctor in this situation. When God gives wisdom it will always promote peace.

God’s wisdom is considerate. I think of my friend Robert Miller again. He was the perfect example of this. In the worst part of his cancer treatment, he always asked how he could pray for other people. That kind of consideration doesn’t come naturally and it doesn’t come to an immature Christian. That is God-given consideration when you pray for wisdom as you consider it joy.

God’s wisdom is submissive.  Now, is James saying to be submissive to God or to man? The answer is both. It goes hand-in-hand with peace-loving and considerate so God may give you the wisdom to submit your will to somebody else, maybe a family member or doctor or to God. That is what God’s wisdom looks like.

God’s wisdom is full of mercy. Webster’s definition of mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm. It’s so easy in a serious illness for the family to feel helpless, guilty, or even an unwelcome and uncontrollable anger for any number of reasons. How comforting for the rest of the family in a time like this for God to give you the ability to say, “It’s okay. I forgive you. I love you. I want the best for you.”

Next, James 3 says that God’s wisdom is full of good fruit. Times like this are great times to tell somebody else about God’s love for them. They have come to visit or they have called you to ask how you are doing and it is the perfect tie-in to what God has done, will do and is doing in your life. But you’re probably not mature enough for all that so just never mind. 😊

Two more…God’s wisdom is impartial. We have probably all been around somebody that was impartial in their sickness. They were mean and rude to everybody, all the same. I don’t think that is what God’s wisdom looks like.

Lastly, God’s wisdom is sincere. Please don’t try to fake this. If God gives you wisdom, it will come naturally and if it doesn’t come, then you need to continue to pray. Pray and believe and don’t doubt that God will give it. He wants you to have it and have it abundantly.

In Mark chapter 9, a young boy is brought to Jesus for Jesus to cast out a demon from him. The boy’s father said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

God honored that man’s prayer and He will honor yours if you are praying for wisdom, especially wisdom to know how to consider trials pure joy.

Imagine with me for a minute a battlefield.  There are tanks and troops everywhere. Bombs are falling. Jets are flying. Men are screaming and people are dying. The general in charge calls his trusted sergeant over and says, “Sergeant, I want you to gather up the gear you need and take A Company around the right flank and rendezvous with B Company by 1300 hours. Now go!”

But then the sergeant says, “But sir, I don’t think I can do that. I’m scared and I don’t know how and what if things go wrong and what if this or that…”

Now, what do you think the general is going to say? “Oh, poor thing. I’m sorry. Stay here with me and I’ll send somebody else. Don’t worry. It’s ok.” No, that’s not what he would say. Why? Because that sergeant is trained and prepared and motivated and has been given everything he needs to get the job done for his own safety and for the good of his country AND he has been given an order.

That’s right where we are today. I am a sergeant speaking to other sergeants and we have been given a command by General James here who is speaking for the Great Commander, our Lord and Savior, God, who is in control and who loves us and has prepared us for this mission and given us every resource we need to get the job done and make Him look good in the process.

So, when He says to go and make disciples, that’s what we do. When He says, “Don’t be afraid.” We are not afraid. When He says to consider it all pure joy, we understand and when we need more wisdom to do that, He will generously give it.

I want to leave you with this. I hope you understand that none of this is possible on your own. Without a life-changing relationship with God through His Son Jesus, this is just a fairy tale.  So, when people outside of the faith see you living like this and having joy and peace in the difficult times of life and still living a full and abundant life when others might have given up, they take notice.

Somebody is watching you all the time and if you react to difficulties like everybody else reacts, then your faith is irrelevant to people. If your faith in God doesn’t change your life in a way that is obvious to others, then why would anybody listen to what you say about church or God or religion? They don’t need that. They’re falling apart on their own just fine.

We are called to be holy, which means “different” or “set apart”. Can people tell you are a disciple of Jesus by how you react to trials in your life? If not, it’s time to repent and ask God for forgiveness for not doing what we have been commanded and then ask for wisdom in how to do it. Do that right now as the music plays.



Invitation / Prayer



Perfect submission – all is at rest,

I in my Savior am happy and blest;

Watching and waiting, looking above,

Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long;

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.