Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Commands, Two Images

Three Commands, Two Images

Intro.: I am afraid that I, like too many pastors, make Christianity seem more theoretical than practical.
  1. I really do like theology – If I can find a good theology book at a decent price, I will try to put into my library – either by putting it on my computer or on my bookshelf.
  2. It is easy for me to get caught up in theoryology, if you will, of my faith.
  3. But in doing so, I am making a big mistake – you see if the Christian faith is not practical, if it does not make much use to be Christian.
  4. Scripture comes in various genres – some books are history, some are poetry or other kinds of writing, some are prophesy, and some are letters. James is a letter.
  5. And as a letter two thing make it stand out from other New Testament books.
  6. First, there are many who think it is the first book of the New Testament to be written.
  7. As such, it may reflect the teachings of Jesus in such a way that we need to listen closely to what the author is saying.
  8. Second, James, more than any other book, blends the theology of our faith with the living it out.
  9. Today, that statement becomes very clear.
Read: James 1:19-27
T.S. James 1:19-27 has three commands – commands that will help us be obey God.

  1. Command #1: Know
    1. The command is know that you, no we, are to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
(Ill.) About 15 years ago I completed a degree in counseling. I have never formally used the skills – but I remember learning one thing during those two years. The most important skill that a counselor has is listening and helping the client know that he or she has been heard. The counselor's most important job is not advice, it is listening. That is where James begins – be quick to listen.
    1. But then it gets interesting – if I am going to listen, I have to slow down – and that is where James takes us.
      1. Quick to listen
      2. Slow to speak
      3. Slow to anger
    2. If I am moving too quickly, if I am thinking too quickly, my ability to listen is disrupted. My response will be my response, my response will be from my gut – rather than listening.
    3. James has it exactly right – if I am going to be quick to listen, I have to slow to speak – keep quiet so I can hear. And don't let my emotions get in the way of what I am hearing – be slow to anger.
  1. Command #2: Receive
    1. Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
    2. A bit later, John would write to some of the same audience that James was writing to -”Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20 NIV84)
    3. When John began his gospel, he wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
    4. When we turn our lives over to Christ – something happens. Jesus becomes part of us – he is the “implanted word which is able to save your souls.”
    5. I think it interesting that James includes the word “meekness” with the saving of our souls.

  2. (Ill.) When I attend Red Wings game, standing outside the stadium are two men who take turns doing some sort of preaching. They will stand and yell at the fans waiting to enter the stadium. Their message is okay, but its delivery shows very little signs of meekness.
    1. We must be willing to live out our faith, we must be willing to share our faith, but it must come with a spirit of humility, with a spirit of meekness.

  3. Command #3: Be
    1. Be - doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
    2. There are two sides to obedience – the first is one to hear what God wants. That part is easy -
      1. Go to church
      2. Read your Bible
      3. Listen to Christian radio or TV
      4. Read Christian books
      5. all types of ways to know what God wants.
    3. James never says we are not to listen – what he does say is that we are to doers of the word, and not hears only.
(Ill.) Vance Havner was a fairly well known conference preacher in the middle of the 20th century. He once observed, “You have not really learned a commandment until you have obeyed it. The church suffers today from Christians who know volumes more than they practice.”i
    1. Mearly hearing what God wants does not get it done, we must also obey what he wants of us.
  1. Illustration #1: A Mirror
    1. James has more to say about this topic. He has two illustrations that help emphasize the importance of what he is saying.
    2. James tells us that the person who is a hearer only is like someone who looks into a mirror and then forgets what he or she saw.
(Ill.) Important to understand that glass was not used in the manufacture of mirrors for several more centuries. Mirrors from the 1st century were made of polished metal – and like most metal mirrors today, it gives a distorted reflection. Paul once wrote, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly.” Paul, too, understood the problem. When a person looked into a mirror, they got an idea of they looked like, but because the image was distorted, no one wanted to remember what that reflection looked like.ii
    1. he person who only hears the word – and does not obey – has missed the point, and forgets what they have heard.

  1. Illustration #2: The Word of God
    1. James then describes the person who is a hearer and doer of God's will.
    2. This person is different, because he or she has heard and remembered what God has said. He has looked into God's word to see what he or she is like.
    3. The word of God is not meant to pin us down, but to free us to serve God. No longer locked into doing what others want, we are free to do what God wants.
    4. Someone has pointed out that “True freedom comes as we live the truth.”iii
Conclusion: Where do you want to see yourself?
  1. In a dim mirror that only gives a dull reflection – that you want to forget?
  2. Or in the word of God that will allow you to see yourself as God sees you?
  3. The choice is one we each have to make.
iVance Havner quoted in Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (588). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
ii“Mirror”. Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. 1995 (R. F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison & Thomas Nelson Publishers, Ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
iiiMinneapolis Tribune quoted in Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Beating the Trials

Beating the Trials

Lord of the compost heapyou take garbage
and turn it into
soil good soil
for seeds to root
and grow
with wildest increase
flowers to bloom
with brilliant beauty.
Take all the garbage
of my life
Lord of the compost heap
turn it into
soil good soil
and then plant seeds
to bring forth
fruit and beauty
in profusion
—Joseph Baylyi

I don't know weather Joseph Bayly was thinking of James 1 when he wrote his prayer, but I see some parallels.

Read: James 1:1-18
Trans: James is wonderful book – written to
  1. A group of non-Jewish Christians who were not living in Israel.
  2. A group of Christians much like you and me – people who were
T.S. James begins by looking at how we face trials and temptations – I want to look at four principles that James
  1. Life's difficulties require a new attitude.
    1. James writes, “Consider it all joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds.”
    2. Of course James has it all confused – who can be joyful when things are going haywire. How in the world could anybody ask me to be joyful when my health is deteriating, when I have had to give up my drivers license, when I have to live without adequate health insurance. Yeah, right.
    3. But that is what James says we need to do.
(Ill.) A couple of years ago, we built a weed garden into our backyard. Most people, if they found the plants we have there, would tear them out. They are wild; they are random – shades of blue, red, purple, white, yellow, and, of course, green; Some are short – barely off the ground, others are three or four feet tall.
Have you ever stopped to examine weeds? They serve as a reminder of judgment, a result of the curse on the ground after the fall of Adam. But if you look closely, you can see signs of mercy in that judgment. Some weeds have gorgeous flowers: tiny blue bells, ruffled purple blooms, and even magnificent displays of gold. Our weed garden may have had its beginning in troubles of the fall. But they also tell a story of God's grace in the midst of its ugliness. In the same way—even in trials or discipline—if we look closely, we can see beautiful signs of God’s mercy.
(Ill.) Some once said that “The ABC’s of spiritual growth: Adversity Builds Character”iii
  1. Life's difficulties require a new goal
    1. Trials will take us somewhere – James writes, “the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
    2. There is a part of us that does not to wait – wait for anything. We live in a culture that says, “Give to me now.”
    3. But God sugggests that the goal of the trials that come our way is not to get through those trials, but to build in us the patience to way for God to finish his work in us – to reach the point where we are spiritually “mature and complete.”
(Ill.) When I was a child, I was fascinated with the thought of pollywog turning into a frog. The pollywog lacks the very things that will define it as a frog., I want to make it clear that Christian maturity is not like the pollywog – we are not lacking the things that define us as Christians. When we come to faith, we have everything we need to function as a believer. What we need to do is grow – and that is what our trials allow us to do- to grow into what God wants us to become.iv
  1. Life's difficulties require recognizing their source
    1. When things are going haywire in our lives, we'll often say, “Why is God doing this to me?” - It must be God's fault when things are not going the way I want them to.
    2. James is pretty emphatic in telling us that God is to blame for the difficulties in which we find our selves. Listen again to his words: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
    3. Our trials result from our own desires – our wants.
(Appl.) Someone has asked the question “At what point do you deal with sin?” Not at the point of behavior—because then it’s too late—but at the point of desire. The person who is able to control his emotional responses is able to deal effectively with sin.
You must deal with wants and desires if you want to effectively deal with sin in our lives. If you expose your emotions to the baited hook, you may find yourself getting hooked unless you take immediate action.
  1. Let me conclude by noting that God provides tools for handling life's difficulties
    1. Not surprisingly, the answer begins with prayer.
    2. If we do not understand something – what do we do: we pray
      If we do not know what to do – what do we do: we pray.
      If we need something – what do we do: we pray.
(Ill.) Martin Luther understood this. He gave us three steps to understanding theology: How to study theology? Martin Luther found in Psalm 119 a method for becoming a theologian: prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio), and testing (tentatio). We often forget the last one, so here is Luther on the role of testing in producing a theologian:

For as soon as God's Word takes root and grows in you, the devil will harry you and will make a real theologian of you, for by his assaults he  will teach you to seek and love God's Word. I myself am deeply indebted to my critics, that through the devil's raging they have beaten, oppressed and distressed me so much. That is to say, they have made a fairly good theologian of me, which I would not have become otherwise. vi

Even Luther understood that prayer must come before we are ready to face the trials that come our way.
    1. It begins with prayer – but James give us one more point to remember: Everything we need is from God. And every good and perfect gift is from God.
    2. Why did God give us beautiful sunsets? Why create snow capped mountain tops? Why blue oceans teeming with life? Trees, flowers, wildlife or pets? Why?
    3. They come out of His love for us –
    4. Life will be difficult at times – let me ask two questions:
      1. Are you rooted in prayer – are you prepared for the difficult times?
      2. Are you ready to receive what God has to give?
Conclusion: God is ready to see you through the tough times. Are you ready to let Him?

iJoseph Bayly, Psalms of My Life, Christianity Today, January 15, 1988, 35. Quoted in Morgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (739). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
iiIllustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively. 1989 (M. P. Green, Ed.) (Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
iiiMorgan, R. J. (2000). Nelson’s complete book of stories, illustrations, and quotes (electronic ed.) (739). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
ivBased on an illustration found in Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively. 1989 (M. P. Green, Ed.) (Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
vMacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : A daily touch of God's grace (325). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.
viQuoted by Leonard Sweet (Facebook posting August 4, 2012) from Luther's Works (Fortress Press, 1960), vol.34.