IS YOUR FAITH PROGRESSING?

Facebook has over 1.9 billion users a day.  Their revenue each quarter is 6.4 billion.  There are 510,000 posts every 60 seconds.  Facebook is making billions of dollars every year giving people an opportunity to express themselves.

It seems our culture is quickly moving more and more toward people expressing themselves in an angry way. 

James says in chapter 1:19-20   Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

James gives us one of the principles of how God's Kingdom operates to produce the righteousness of God. Our problem is we live in a world where that principle gets turned upside down.  If anything our culture is quick to speak, quick to anger and slow to listen.

We've been talking about experiencing joy in the midst of trials.  It is during these trials that our faith is put on display for the world to see. Our challenge is when things don't go our way we find ourselves responding in anger then anger does not produce the righteousness of God. 

The past Sunday we learned four things about words.  

WORDS ARE POWERFUL

Proverbs 18:21 says, Life and death are in the power of the tongue,and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Words can be used to build someone up or tear down.

Words can wound or words can heal.

WORDS ARE A GIFT FROM GOD

James 1:16-17 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every GOOD GIFT and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

As destructive as words can be they are gifts from God. When we are getting thumped on our words are symptoms that we are not living well into what we should know.

Nobody ever has to wonder if their words are filled with anger.  Nobody ever has to wonder if their words are filled with jealousy.  Nobody ever has to wonder if their words are filled with bitterness.

WORDS REVEAL WHAT IS IN OUR HEARTS

Luke 6:45  The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

I like to say it like this.  "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth LEAKS!"  

If you have bitterness in your heart it will leak out.  If you have anger in your heart it will leak out and neither one of those produces the righteousness of God.

ULTIMATELY, WORDS  REVEAL TO US IF OUR FAITH IS PROGRESSING

We're not talking a saving faith as in salvation. We are talking about a growing dependence on God.  We are talking about the trials in our lives bringing us to a place of greater dependence on God.

If we find ourselves angry at someone maybe it is because we are looking to them to be our source OR we believe they have gotten in the way of what we deserve.  If that is the case we are definitely not depending on God which means if anything our faith is digressing. 

James tells us that no man can tame the tongue.  That doesn't mean we are hopeless. It just means that we have to depend on God to help us.

James 1:5 says, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

What is James encouraging us to do?  He's encouraging us to make God our source.  He's encouraging us to have a greater dependence on Him in the midst of a trial. As we live well into that then our faith is on display for others to see and our lives produce the righteousness of God.

 

 

 

Jesus: The True Elder Brother

One of my favorite TV shows is Designated Survivor.  When I watch it I find myself on the edge of my seat because there is so much tension in the show.  Every great story, every great tv show, every great movie is filled with tension.

In Luke 15 Jesus tells another one of his parables. This parable is filled with tension.  It starts out with a shepherd who loses his sheep.  He goes on this search to find his lost sheep and when he finds it he wants to invite his friends to celebrate with him. Then he tells a story about a woman who loses a coin and turns her house upside down to find it. When she finds it she invites all her friends to celebrate.  

Then Jesus tells us a story about a father and his TWO sons.  On the surface these two sons are very different.  One is a good son and the other is a bad son.  One is an obedient son and the other is a disobedient son. One son is responsible and the other son is irresponsible.  These two sons are like night and day OR are they?

If we look underneath the surface both sons are the same.  These two sons are not very different at all.  

Both sons are alienated from the father. Neither son loves the father.  They are only concerned with what they want, what they think and what they feel.  

The younger son asks his father for his inheritance.  It is very dishonoring to the father to ask for the inheritance before the father has passed away.  He is basically saying to the father, "I wish you were dead!" 

The elder son when his younger brother returns home refuses to celebrate when the father pleads with him to come celebrate. It was very dishonoring for the elder brother to refuse the father's plea. He cares nothing for the father or his feelings.

Both sons are only concerned about the father's things.  The younger son wants his inheritance.  The elder son is only concerned that his father killed the fatted calf for his brother and never even killed a goat for him.  Can you feel the tension in this story?

I bring your attention to the first thing Jesus said about this father and his sons, "A father had TWO sons!"  We know this story as The Prodigal Son which leads us to believe that there was only one lost son, but ultimately BOTH SONS ARE LOST!  

  • One son is lost in his riotous living and the other in his righteous living.
  • One son is lost in his disobedience and the other son lost in his obedience.
  • One son is lost in his ignorance and the other son is lost in his pride.

Easter is not just about those people who are obviously lost.  It is as much about those who believe they are doing all the right things like reading their bible, praying, going to church and tithing. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7:21-23.

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. 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?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

That is the scariest verse in the bible.  Is it possible that all these years we've heard the story of the Prodigal Son and not realized that both sons were lost?

If the elder son was a TRUE elder son he would have cared for the Father and would have gone to find his younger son and bring him home NO MATTER WHAT THE COST.

You and I had a TRUE ELDER BROTHER who came from Heaven to Earth because He loved the Father with all His heart.  It didn't just cost Him his wallet.  It cost Him His life.  It was the ultimate sacrifice.

  • He didn't receive the finest robe. He was stripped of His robe!
  • He didn't receive a ring on His finger. He received a crown of thorns!
  • He didn't receive the fatted calf. He was the fatted calf!

The Easter message is about God through His Son invites ALL OF US into a relationship with Him!

Thank God that you and I had a TRUE ELDER BROTHER who gave HIS ALL!  Jesus paid it all!  All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow!

If you want to know more about this perspective I encourage to go to amazon.com and purchase the book "The Prodigal God!" by Tim Keller.  It will change your life just like it did mine.

 

Partiality: Rich Man, Poor Man

What good is our faith if it is never put into practice with others? In our study of James, He tells us that the overflow of our faith should affect those that we come into contact with. And James, like any good pastor would do, provides his readers with a real life example. In this case, a rich man in fine clothing and a poor man in rags both walk into a worship gathering of believers. Enamored by the rich man’s appearance and unimpressed by the poor man’s presence, they prioritize the rich man and disregard the presence of the poor man.

 

For James, this response is a faith issue and comes down to answering the question, “Who do you trust in?” Think for a moment about what James’ audience is going through; they have been persecuted and then scattered abroad. With this understanding, we can assume that this is a group of people that mostly likely have great needs physically, financially, and emotionally. So the easy thing to do is to look to the rich man to meet these needs. According to James, living this way leads to partiality and favoritism.

 

Remember this, faith is always consistent with what it claims. The believer, who holds the faith, should understand that what God has done for us through Jesus was done 1) Impartially and 2) With no expectation of receiving anything in return. With this being said, James first would say to this group of believers acting in favoritism, “If you claim then to have faith in a God who is impartial, then why are you acting partially?” And then secondly, “If God gave to give, then why are you giving to get?

 

James' solution to this problem is to remind his readers, and us for that matter, with Gospel Truth. Why do we love? Because our King first loved us. Why do we forgive? Because our King first forgave us. Why do we serve? Because our King serves us? Yes, when we did not deserve the gift of salvation (Romans 5:8) God still gave. And when we could never repay the great gift that He gave, God still chose to do so. Resting in this truth leads to a consistent faith and a life of impartiality. If we truly know the King, then may we reflect His character to those around us.

A GROWING DEPENDENCY ON GOD

This past Sunday we concluded James 1.  James is writing to the Jews who have been scattered everywhere and are being persecuted.  He gives them several calls to action in order that they may be steadfast in this persecution.  

  • The first call to action is to count it all joy in the midst of their trials.
  • The second call to action is ask God for wisdom if you don't have joy during trials.
  • The third call to action is to be doers of the wisdom that God gives us. 

Every call to action leads us to a growing dependency on God.  

God gave Abraham a call to action.  Leave your father's house and go to a land which I will give you. He didn't tell Abraham where. He just said go.  Abraham learned to depend on God.  And if we continue following Abraham's life we see that dependency grow.

So when James gives us a call to action to count it all joy in the midst of trials we must allow our dependency on God to grow. Our dependency grows as we ask God for wisdom.  Our dependency shows as we walk out the wisdom God gives us. James says it like this!

James 1:22-25 (ESV)  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

But listen to the analogy James gives us next!

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 

 It's like looking in the mirror, walking away from the mirror, forgetting what you look like, walking back to the mirror, looking  into the mirror, seeing what you look like, walking away from the mirror, forgetting what you look like, walking back to the mirror... 

How many times have we heard a message on a Sunday morning and thought, "Wow!  I needed to hear that!" We start out Monday morning filled with faith ready to take on the week.  All of a sudden "stuff" begins to happen.  One of the kids get sick.  The washing machine breaks down. We get in an argument with our spouse. Our kids aren't co-operating. Next thing we know we are so overwhelmed with "stuff" that what we received out of the Sunday morning message gets "snuffed" out!  We FORGET the wisdom we received from the message.

What is the solution?

Take the mirror with you!  What?  Yes, take the mirror with you. Here's how James puts it.

But the one who LOOKS INT THE PERFECT LAW, the law of liberty, and CONTINUES IN IT, BEING NO HEARER WHO FORGETS but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

We have to be intentional about the call to action and the wisdom that God gives us and CONTINUING in it.

Here's how God puts it to the Children of Israel.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

That means taking a scripture, writing it on a piece of paper, making copies of it and putting around the house to remind us of God's wisdom.  Tape it to the mirror in the bathroom.  Put it on your refrigerator in the kitchen. Attach it to the rear view mirror in the car. 

We handed out these business cards to our families on Sunday!  We encouraged them to take as many as they needed to remind themselves that God is in control!

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The solution to "not forgetting" the wisdom that is implanted in our hearts is to be intentional with putting reminders of God all around us. The more intentional we are with the wisdom that God gives us the more our dependency on Him will grow!

IS YOUR FAITH RIPE OR NOT?

When you go to the store to pick out a watermelon you can  "thump" the watermelon with your finger to determine if it is ripe or not.

Well, how do we know if our faith is ripe or not?  We know by how we respond in the midst of a trial.

James tells us to count it all joy in various trials for the TESTING of our faith produces steadfastness.  It's not like the testing we had in school which is to determine how much we don't know. This testing that occurs in a trial is about putting on display the reality of the faith that God has already worked in us. It's about having a faith that is stable, real, and evident.  So, when we count it all joy in various trials, our faith will be put on display and will be evident to all.

It's about having a faith that is vigorous enough to see us through a trial with joy. Faith is not something you work up.  Faith is something that has been given.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB) 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, so that no one may boast.

So, James gives us some ways to "thump" on our life to see if our faith is ripe or not. 

James 1:19-20 (NASB) But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

What James is telling us is that it sometimes looks like anger.  If your day went perfectly and you got everything you wanted would you be angry? When do you feel anger?  Anger is what comes out of us when we don't get what we feel we deserve.  

When you get "thumped" and anger comes out then faith isn't working for you.

“Well I'm not angry I'm just peeved, stressed, frustrated! I'm just a little tweaked.” We use these terms because we don't want to admit the fruit doesn't smell ripe. It demonstrates that we are not living in joy in the midst of trials.

James tells us to put away all filthiness.  What he is saying is, “this anger doesn't look good on you.” It looks like wickedness. This is what it looks like when we don't live into what we know.

So, what is James solution to putting filthiness away?  He tells us to receive with humility the implanted word. What word should we receive? We are to count it all joy when our faith is tested by various trials. What word?  Every good gift comes from the Father above. Are we holding onto that truth?  Are we embracing that truth? 

Why would we live in anger?  Why would we live in malice?  Why would we wear stuff in life that isn't fitting?  Perhaps it is because we don't believe the word that has been implanted in our soul. 

We are to receive this word so that we can be doers of the word.  This isn't about behaving nicely. What is it that we are supposed to do with this word that has been implanted in us? What should we do in the midst of trials?  We are to rejoice!  And if we aren't experiencing joy in the midst of trials, James tells us to ask for wisdom, but I have to ask with confidence that God is working in me a joyous faith. 

This is what we should pray.  Lord, can I have wisdom so that the reality of my dependence on you will be seen in my life and that would look like and taste like joy.  

What is our normal response in the midst of trials?  GET ME OUT OF THIS!

What should we ask?  We ask for wisdom so that the reality of my dependence on God will be evident and it will feel like and taste like joy.

There is a purpose for trials.  The purpose is to put on display the faith that God has worked in us.  So, we have a certainty that in the midst of trials that God is working.  If we can lean on that then we will know that He is dependable and that He is everything He said he was. 

So how do we know if our faith is ripe or not?  We know our faith is ripe by how we respond in the midst of trials. 

This blog comes from the content of Brian Onken's message last week from the Book of James!