Sunday, October 27, 2013

Patience for the Journey

Patience in Suffering
James 5:7-12
Introduction:  Let me take you back for a moment 2000 years or so. The disciples had been through a rollercoaster of emotion as the heartbreak and confusion of the Cross gave way to the joy of Resurrection Sunday. Jesus had conquered death and proven beyond question who He is.  Then, for forty days, he had been appearing to them and teaching them about the Kingdom. He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. Finally the disciples asked Him, “Lord, is it at this time that you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  (Acts 1:6). Now Jesus had been teaching about the kingdom for 40 days, and he could have rebuked his disciples for their question. Hadn’t they been listening? But he didn’t. He redirected them. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons the Father has set by his own authority. But [rather than “when,” this is what you should be concerned about] …you will be witnesses for me…” He re-directed their thinking from “when” to “what”, that is, from when He will return to what they should be doing until He returns.  Now notice what happens next (Acts 1:9,10):
Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.  10 And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel,  11 who also said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."
Notice how Luke emphasizes the connection between their question, the ascension of Jesus, and the words of the angels.  The timing of his return is known only to God. The practical impact of the imminence of His return is to inspire readiness and faithfulness on the part of the followers of Jesus. One of the themes that is foundational to James in this letter is discipleship. James wants his readers to know what an authentic Christ follower looks like. In this passage James wants his readers to know that though we will have trials, though we will pass through difficult circumstances and have to deal with difficult people, we should live differently in the light of the promise of His return.
This past week a few of us were interviewed at the Olympians meeting on Wednesday night. One of the questions that was asked of me was what do you like about being a pastor. I am glad about one question that wasn’t asked: What do you least like?  I like the people, and love seeing how God is working in them, growing and maturing them and using them. I don’t like to see the suffering and pain and struggles that so many go through. I guess I should have learned by now that those two go together. James said, “Count it all joy brothers when you fall into various trials, know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…”  But if we are to bear one another’s burdens that is exactly where we have to be, alongside, praying with them, walking with them.  James has been speaking throughout this letter to believers who are experiencing trials and is urging them to patient endurance, to hang in there in the midst of trials with a confident hope in the future. (1:2,3,12).   As the work of a farmer is invested in faith, with his hope anticipating a future harvest, so we should serve the Lord, even in the midst of trials, trusting in His plan.
The Big Idea: Even when life is tough we can patiently endure, trusting that God has a plan, and that He is working for our good, and for His glory.
I. Be Patient: The Lord is coming (7-9). As surely as a farmer must wait for his crop to mature, believers can trust that God’s story is unfolding on schedule. Notice James has changed his tone from prophetic rebuke, to pastoral encouragement. He begins, “Therefore, be patient brothers and sisters…” He is addressing fellow Christ followers, brothers and sisters in the flesh since they are Jews, and spiritually since they are believers.
       The first word in the Greek text is the imperative “Be patient…” It’s a compound word that breaks down as “long tempered…” When we think of the English expression “short tempered” we can see the idea, patiently enduring people that could anger us or annoy us or drive us to frustration. This word usually focuses on how we deal with difficult people. A little later we’ll see another word that talks about our “enduring” of difficult circumstances.
         The foundation of our hope: the promise of His coming (7a). Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” The promise of his coming, the imminence of His return, is mentioned three times in three verses. That promise is the foundation of our “blessed hope.” Titus 2:11-13  says,
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,  12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,  13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…”
Jesus is returning. Do you believe that? Whether or not you believe it, that is the truth.  How then, should we live?  Well Paul told us in that Scripture: “…soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age…” with an eye toward heaven, knowing that this present sin infested world is temporary, even fleeting. Jesus is returning. By the way notice the “therefore” near the beginning of verse 7. It is reminding us that this admonition comes as a logical follow through to the warnings we looked at the last couple of weeks:  Since it is foolish and futile to plan our future without submitting to the sovereign plan and prerogative of God, since our riches and material comforts are temporary and fleeting and can offer no hope beyond the grave, we can patiently endure hardship and difficult people looking with hope, with a confident expectation, toward the promise of His return.
         The example: The patient endurance of the farmer (7b-8). See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.  8 You also, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”  If you don’t have patience, farming is probably not for you. A farmer does his part, planting, irrigating, fertilizing, but there is a lot he can’t control and one is the timing of the harvest. In Bible times the ability to irrigate was much more limited, and the seasonal rains coming at the right time was crucial. Everything was done in anticipation of the harvest. It’s ready when it’s ready. It’s time when the time has come. James is saying learn from the example of the farmer, waiting patiently, knowing that the time of harvest will come. “Coming” is the word “parousia,” i.e, “arrival” of the Lord that has “come near.” The verb indicates a past act with continuing results. This is the doctrine of the imminence of His return. God knows when, it could be at any moment, so we must stand firm in our faith, ready to meet the King, and actively embrace the mission He has entrusted to us.
        Don’t grumble: You are almost home (9)! Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.”  When I think of “grumbling” in the Bible my mind goes quickly to the Hebrews in the wilderness. They grumbled under the oppression of slavery, God used Moses to bring them out of Egypt. Then they grumbled in unbelief at Kadesh Barnea, they grumbled about a lack of water, they grumbled about a lack of food, they grumbled about a lack of meat… We never grumble right? Well… This context that speaks three times about the imminence of the Lord’s return says don’t grumble. Why? Because a day of judgment and justice is coming.  Even when life is tough we can patiently endure, trusting that God has a plan, and that He is working for our good, and for His glory.

II. Persevere: The Lord is merciful and compassionate (10-11)! We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who testify to God’s faithfulness, even through times of adversity.
       The example of the prophets: As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The Hebrew prophets had a unique calling. For the most part it was not to bring predictions about the future coming of Messiah. They were the “prosecuting attorneys” of the Covenant, often citing the evidence that Israel was guilty of being unfaithful to their covenantal commitments.  This was not always a popular message to preach, but despite resistance and persecution, they stayed faithful. Sometimes they suffered, sometimes they were hated, but if they were a faithful prophet they had no choice but to speak the message God had given. I’ve been reading this week through Jeremiah – his message was not popular, he was rejected, beaten, hated, thrown in a well, but he continued to speak the truth. Hebrews 11:32-39 summarizes some of what the prophets went through as they took a stand for truth and called the people to covenant faithfulness:
“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-  33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,  34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.  36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated-  38 of whom the world was not worthy- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.  39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…”
Their message was not “popular,” it was not easy to preach nor was it warmly received, but they stayed faithful, speaking the truth that God had entrusted to them.  James speaks not only of the perseverance of the prophets, but points to one particular example of perseverance under trial: Job.
        The perseverance of Job: “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…” “Steadfastness” [hupomone] speaks to standing up under pressure, not wavering in the midst of trial.  Whereas “long suffering” emphasizes patience with people, the word here, “patience” or “steadfastness,” emphasizes bearing up under the difficult situations of life.  Job’s experience was horrendous, and yet he could say, “Though he slay me yet I will trust Him.” What faith! As we read the story of Job, we can see a bigger picture than Job himself understood, yet he stood firm. And ultimately he experienced God’s compassion and mercy, as James says here: “…and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”  Even when life is tough we can patiently endure, trusting that God has a plan, and that He is working for our good, and for His glory.

III. Be honest: Don’t let suffering lead you to bargain with God or with men (12). All God wants is our trust and our obedience. On first reading, without considering the context, v.12 might seem out of place, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your ‘Yes,’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’ lest you fall into judgment.”
       First of all, recall that James in this letter has been very interested in calling attention to “sins of the tongue.” It’s a small thing, but is capable of causing a lot pain and destruction. In this passage he has already talked about grumbling, and now he cautions against taking an oath. He draws attention to this imperative with the phrase, “But above all my brothers…” The emphasis on speech is not surprising when you think about it. Where else is a lack of patience and endurance most likely to show itself?  It starts in the heart, but out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.  We might grumble and complain or lash out in anger, or we might try assuaging the situation with words, saying what people want to hear or making promises we are not sure we can keep. A disciple should simply speak the truth in love, let his/her “yes” be “yes,” and “no” be “no.”
  In the context of trials and suffering this makes sense. Under duress, facing pressure from circumstances or from people, we can try bargaining with God or making promises to people to alleviate the uncertainty of the moment. This is one of those passages where it looks like James is reflecting on something Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount. We read in Matthew 5:33-37,
"Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'  34 But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  36Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  37 "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.”
As a believer in Christ my word should be my bond, it should be enough if I am truly committed to being a person of integrity.
What is God saying to me in this passage? Even when life is tough we can patiently endure, trusting that God has a plan, and that He is working for our good, and for His glory. God is writing a story on the stage of human history that reveals his character, his power, his love for his people. We don’t know all the details but we know enough about the big picture to say with confidence that the suffering of this present age is not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be reveal in us. The end is going to be better than we can possibly imagine.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage?  Are you going through a difficult period in your life right now? Maybe its circumstances that seem about to bury you, or maybe it’s a person that is trying your patience. Remember, this too will pass! God has a plan, and if you know Christ you are included in it. I’ve never been a runner, my younger brother has taken to running marathons and recently did a half iron man race. I’ve heard that distance runners can get to a certain point where they “hit a wall,” and feel like they can’t go on, but if they can “push through” they can make it to the finish line. You might feel like you are up against the wall, out of gas, unable to continue. Remember that the suffering and pain of this age is temporary, passing. Remember that Jesus is returning and it could be soon and very soon that we are going to see the King. Remember He is with you and promises wisdom to those who ask, and endurance to those who lean on Him.    AMEN.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Money Problems? It's worse than you think!

Money Problems?
James 5:1-6
Introduction: Some of the fastest growing churches in the world are those that advocate a gospel of “health and wealth.” That is certainly popular in America today as many view the “American Dream” in terms of “whoever has the most toys, wins.”  James will show us that some of the abuses of today are nothing new, they were already showing themselves in the early church. Like most ungodly behavior, the misuse of money usually begins as a problem in the heart.  The passage we are looking at today has a context; James was speaking in 4:13-17 about those who would arrogantly plan their future without consulting and submitting to the will of God. It also leads up to 5:7, where he says “Be patient then…”  It seems James is signaling out some rich in the community who have acted unjustly toward the poorer Christians. Their money gives them a feeling of independence; they are in control of their life and their future. You might think, well if this is about the rich, I can tune out. If money talks, the only thing it ever says to me is “good-bye”!  Two responses:
     1) According to a recent study, the poorest 5% in American are richer than 68% of the people in the world. The average American is in the top 5% of the wealthiest people in the world. So you are richer than you think!
     2) Whatever your level of income or your possessions, the “love of money,” greed and covetousness, can creep into our lives. The problem isn’t money in itself, but rather our attitude toward wealth and possessions and how that affects our attitude toward God and toward others. Jesus taught his disciples that it is impossible to serve two masters, you can’t serve both God and money (Lk 16:13). Elsewhere He said that where our heart is, there our treasure will be also. Where is our treasure (Matt 6:19-21)? 
The Big Idea: God knows how we handle what He has entrusted to us, so we must be good and godly stewards.
I. We will be held accountable for our use of what has been entrusted to us: Rich oppressors are called to lament their coming miseries (v.1). “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you…”
           As in 4:13, James begins again with the phrase, “Come now…”  The repetition ties the two passages together as a stern admonition. He once again is speaking like an Old Testament prophet, condemning those who are living as “practical atheists,” forgetting God as they arrogantly plan their lives and their futures, hoarding wealth and using or disregarding people who get between them and their aspirations.
          “Come now, you rich…” The context makes it clear the rich that James is confronting: those who are hoarding wealth and disregarding others in the process. It’s the “me first, too bad for you” attitude that characterizes so many today. It’s the attitude that says “My comfort and security is all the matters to me, every man for himself!” Its quite different from the attitude pictured by Jesus in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the attitude that “looks out not only for our own personal interest, but also the interest of others…” (Phil 2:4). Jesus’ teaching is clear that we are called to love our neighbor, our fellow humans, and that their need and their good is something that should impact our decisions.
          To the “rich” James warns, “…weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you…” This is strong language, it speaks to the wailing and mourning that often accompanied the death of loved ones in the the Ancient Near East. It’s used of the crying out of demons as they are cast out by Jesus. Here, the language implies heart breaking despair, like Judas weeping bitterly after betraying the Master. In James admonition it points to the divine judgment that the oppressors of the poor were bound for – the eternal judgment of Hell. Two things to consider:
     1) This is a warning to those who are in fact perishing, who don’t know God and are living with all their focus on this present world. James, as a prophet in the Old Testament, is warning them that judgment is coming and that they had better repent while there is time. Actually he is preaching a bit like Jonah in Ninevah in that he is announcing impending judgment. I think, like the Ninevites, the implied message is “repent before it’s too late!” (Or at least that was God’s message even if it wasn’t Jonah’s!).
     2) Secondly, he is also sounding an alarm for others in the community, believers in Jesus, who have been letting the love of the world creep into their thinking and their choices. It is a wake up call: Is this how you want to act (from the previous context, “Don’t you remember that friendship with the world is enmity toward God?” Have you forgotten who you are in Christ? Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called!  Listen, God knows how we handle what He has entrusted to us, so we must be good and godly stewards.

II. The useless hoarding of wealth: You can’t take it with you (2-3b) ! “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten.  3 Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire.”
          James is reminding his readers that the riches that they are pursuing are temporary. This is not something new to James. In a passage I alluded to above, Jesus had taught saying,
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,  20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
The things that we treasure in this life are temporary and fleeting. Real estate, investments, our cars, our collections, all of it can be lost, broken or stolen. We should plan – Scripture talks about the wisdom of thinking ahead, planning for an emergency. We should not be a hoarder in the sense of neglecting legitimate needs and the work of the Kingdom. Missionaries are a good example. Men and women hearing the call of God to serve in difficult or even dangerous places to bring the Gospel of Christ to those who need to hear need and deserve our support – the worker is worthy of his/her hire. Am I so tied to things that I covet but don’t need that I am neglecting opportunities to invest in eternity?
          The mention of “evidence against” them implies judgment, it pictures a courtroom and it reminds us that we will give an account. In a real sense the unbelieving rich will have the ashes of their lives behind them as a testimony of what they valued. Remember the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-25,
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried,  23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  24 And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'  25 But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish...’”
Judgment is coming for those who reject Christ and fix their heart on the things of this world that are so fleeting. 
           As believers in Christ we should have the perspective that we are called to be stewards of what has been entrusted to us. Paul stated a principal in I Corinthians 4:2 when he said “…it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy…” Paul is talking there about our faithfulness with the message that has been entrusted to us, but the principal of stewardship applies more broadly to all of life. Paul asked the Corinthians in that same chapter “What do you have that you did not receive? IF you received it why do you boast as if you had not?” (I Corinthians 4:7b).  All that we have, life itself, is because of the grace and mercy of God.  God knows how we handle what He has entrusted to us, so we must be good and godly stewards.

III. A heart issue: The Love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (3c-6). James points specifically to some of the sins of oppression that characterized the unbelieving rich of his day, and unfortunately at times showed up among wealthy believers as well. Elsewhere Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:6-10,
Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,  7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.  9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith…”
Paul is not saying that every sin starts with the love of money, but he is saying that’s where a lot of sins begin, and James points out just a few.
     The sin of wrong priorities, specifically, living only for today (v.3c). “You have laid up treasure in the last days.”  The perspective of an atheist is that we are living only for today – so eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.  Since this life is all there is (they suppose), the chief concern becomes looking out for number one, or perhaps my family as well, but beyond that, you are on your own! James says we are living in the “last days” and that truth should mold our priorities in such a way that we look beyond our comforts and desire for security and think about the kingdom and the mission that has been entrusted to us. Wait a minute, you might say, if James thought we were in the “last days,” and here we are 2000 years later, what’s the big deal? The writer to the Hebrews uses similar language in 1:1-2, the work of Jesus initiated the “last days.”  The same phrase is used by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:1-4  where Paul describes some of the same attitudes that James is confronting in his letter:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,  3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,  4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…”
Does that not sound like a description of America in the 21st century? If atheists are on a path to destruction living only for today, why in the world would a believer conduct his life, Monday to Saturday, like a “practical atheist,” making choices with our possessions that seems to imply I am living only for myself and my comfort and security? In these last days we have been entrusted with an urgent mission. Time is short and eternity is at stake for those who have not yet believed. God alone saves, but He works through us, the church, His followers, and the preaching of the Word. We need to refocus our perspective.
     Next James points out the sin of unjust gain (v.4). Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” The picture is that of unjustly gained wealth, a willingness to bend the rules or step on other people to get what we want.  Fairness is not a motive, much less generosity. 
     Next he turns to the sin of self-indulgence (v.5). 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have had your day, you have experienced “comfort” in this life, but again speaking like a prophet in the Old Testament, judgment is coming.  I point the finger at myself as well as I say this, but this is America in the 21st century. We think we deserve it, we are “different” than the rest of the world. So millions starving in Sudan have nothing to do with me eating out four times this week or spending $100 a month on lattes. What would Jesus say? Would to God that more and more we would look on the world around us through His eyes, and think beyond the games that entertain us to the souls that are headed toward a lost eternity.
     The sin of injustice (v.6). You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. The language here is a little difficult. Ultimately we know that only Jesus is righteous, and He, the Just, died for the unjust, willingly, and silently, like a lamb before its shearers, He opened not His mouth.  I think James’ point here is that their treatment of the poor by the rich, the innocent who did nothing to deserve their hatred, was leading to their suffering and death. Is this the love for our neighbor that Christ followers are called to exhibit? If we are God’s children, if our heart is to know Him, more and more we should see the world around us through our Father’s eyes. Compassion, grace, and generosity will increasingly guide the decisions we make.
What is God saying to me in this passage? The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The things we accumulate here are temporary, they will all rust, corrode or burn, so why do we hold it so tightly? God will hold us accountable, He knows how we handle what He has entrusted to us, so we must be good and godly stewards.

What would God have me to do in response to this passage? You are richer than you think. Money is not evil, having it is not sin, but hoarding it, coveting it, gaining it unjustly surely is evil, which is sin. You might identify yourself more with the oppressed poor, but remember, fellow American, you are richer than you think. Sometimes we can develop a sense of entitlement, an idea that we deserve to be supported by society. There are legitimate needs, and then there is also laziness. We should be willing to work. We should be cheerful givers: God is not only interested in tithes, he expects us to be wise stewards of all that He has given us, using all that we have been entrusted with for good, for the gospel, and for His glory.               AMEN.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Thy will be done..."

“Thy Will be done…”
James 4:13-17
Introduction:  As Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount He taught his hearers what Kingdom life in a fallen world would look like.  In that sermon He taught His followers about prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.  The Lord’s prayer (or perhaps more accurately, “the disciples’ prayer,” since it was a model prayer for his followers), given by Jesus to his disciples to show them (and us!) how we should pray, begins, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven…”  Most of us have memorized that prayer and in one form or another, many have prayed that prayer, but how long has it been since you really thought about those opening words of the Lord’s Prayer? That God would be approached as our heavenly Father, and regarded as holy, that His Kingdom should be established, that His will should be done, willingly, joyfully, on earth as in heaven. His will. If we are praying that prayer, are we merely saying the words, or is that what we really desire? His will? James says that is the attitude of normal, healthy, Christianity.
Remember that James, in his letter, is telling us the kinds of things that accompany authentic faith in Christ.  As a Christ follower walks with the Lord, and matures in his faith, more and more the attitudes and actions that we see described in this epistle are apparent in our lives.  Genuine faith will spawn the works that accompany salvation. The implication also is that we need to guard our hearts, because any one of us can, for a time, fall into patterns that look like the world if we are not careful.  Chapter 4 has had a theme that has carried throughout the section: if we know God, if we see Him as He is, we will have a proper humility, and we must choose to be humble, willingly submitting our life to Him.  V.12 asked, “Who are you to judge another?”  The first part of that question undergirds the imperatives and instruction that we see throughout this section, “…Who are you…” James is asking his readers, and us, “What are you doing? Who do you think you are? Do you realize you are acting like the World, that you are living in ways that make you look like the enemies of God?” The short paragraph we come to today addresses the question of how we plan for the future, and ultimately, asks if we are willing to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, and subject our will to God’s will and our plans to His plans for our lives.
The Big Idea: As Christ followers we should plan for the future recognizing that God is sovereign: Our will should be to discover and follow His will and purpose for our lives.
I. We should seek His will because that is the only thing that is sure about the future (13,14).  Whether it is natural disasters or the acts of humans, we simply cannot predict what will happen five minutes from now, much less on the coming days, weeks, or years.
            Verse thirteen begins, “Come now, you who say…” This phrase only occurs twice in the entire New Testament, here and in 5:1. It is not a friendly greeting, rather it is calling attention to the wrong thinking of a segment of the professing church to which James is writing. James is talking like an Old Testament prophet and saying, “LISTEN! HEAR THIS!”  “You who say…” shows that it is the actual speech of the group he is speaking to that is being presented as evidence against them.  They are using language and making claims that are inconsistent with their profession of faith in Christ.  Once again the tongue is a barometer, a gauge, that reveals what is at its core a heart matter. As we’ll see their speech indicates that they are guilty of planning their lives, their futures, without thought of God and his plans or sovereignty.
            Notice that specific statements that they are making: Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’…"  These people are confidently planning their future without considering God and His will. Notice the verbs are all future indicative, statements about what is going to happen: “We will go… we will spend… we will do business… we will profit…” Greek has a subjunctive mood that allows for doubt or uncertainty about exactly how future events will unfold. The indicative mood used here indicates absolute certainty, confidence about something that is being affirmed. They are planning confidently about what they are going to do for the next year, yet they don’t even know what tomorrow holds for them.  There is no doubt or uncertainty expressed, there is no provision for readjustment of their plans by God, they are saying this is it, this is what we will do. This is so easy to fall into. It is reasonable and right to plan, but we have to recognize only God knows the future.  Do you remember the financial crisis in 2008? Many people had their plans for the future laid out. The stock market always goes up, home values are higher every year. We had a reminder that the future is not so easy to predict as we thought. 
            “…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James says, for all of their arrogance, they don’t even know what tomorrow will bring (v.14). This is almost a citation of Proverbs 27:1, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth…” The point is, planning ahead without allowing room for God to redirect is arrogant. We are acting as if we can control our future, as if we are the master of our fate.  We are essentially acting as if we think we are omniscient and omnipotent.  You might say, “Wait a minute, those are attributes only of God.” James (and Proverbs) says we don’t even know what tomorrow will bring, much less a series of 365 tomorrows over the next year.  That’s his point. As Christ followers we should plan for the future recognizing that God is sovereign: Our will should be to discover and follow His will and purpose for our lives.
II. We should seek God’s will because to live otherwise is arrogant (15,16). Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’  16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil…” 
            Notice here that James is not telling us to live in the moment and forget about the future. He is saying that we must deliberately submit our will and our plans to God, recognizing that we are always subject to His redirection. If we plan contingent upon what “the Lord wills” we are recognizing His Lordship, we are acknowledging that He is sovereign and that His will is best.  We are planning, and that’s fine, but we are consciously submitting our plans to God’s plans. We are praying “God, your will be done on earth, in my life…” Just as it would be arrogant to put ourselves in the place of God and judge our neighbor (v.12) it would be arrogant to think that we know better than God about tomorrow.
Making our plans for the future without including God in the conversation is foolish and arrogant. Remember the story of the Rich Fool…
And he told them a parable, saying, ‘The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  17 and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'  18 And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'  20 But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'” (Luke 12:16-22).
             Notice what James said the believer should say as he plans the future: “Instead say, ‘if the Lord wills I will live and do this…”  We are dependent upon God for life, we don’t know how much time we have. God does. He numbers our days. He has a plan for us, and we need to recognize that even when we don’t understand, His timing is right, His plan is perfect.
So to plan our future without acknowledging God’s sovereignty is boasting, and “…all such boasting is evil…” James uses a strong word here, “evil” is the same word Jesus used in the disciples prayer when he told them to pray, “deliver us from the Evil One…”  The rich man’s attitude, an attitude that we are all susceptible to, is reflected in the famous poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
That is the attitude of pride, arrogance, and that is sin: Humans thinking that they are in control, that they make the rules. It’s the arrogant rebellion of the nations that we see in Psalm 2:1-6,
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,  3 "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."  4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.  5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,  6 "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."  
God is sovereign, Jesus is Lord, and human rebellion is exceedingly arrogant. Ron Hodgecraft described sin as “…A tiny drop of protoplasm, floating on a little speck of dust in space, shaking its fist at the God who created a hundred million galaxies.”  As Christ followers we should plan for the future recognizing that God is sovereign: Our will should be to discover and follow His will and purpose for our lives.
III. We should seek His will because to know what He says and disobey is sin (17). So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” 
             James here gives a principal that applies more widely than this context: If we hear the truth of God’s Word, if we know what God would have us to do as we are faced with a choice, a moment of decision in our life, and still we choose to go in another direction (our own!), that is sin.  When we know the truth, we are responsible to obey the truth. 
            More specifically, in this context, James is saying that if we choose to act presumptuously, to live as practical atheists going on in life planning our own future as if we thought we were masters of our fate without seeking God’s will and plan for our lives, that is SIN, because we know better.
What is God saying to me in this passage? As Christ followers we should plan for the future recognizing that God is sovereign: Our will should be to discover and follow His will and purpose for our lives. How do we discover His will? It starts with the Scripture. We need to hear and obey the Word of God. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, there is no need to wonder if you should be baptized. There is no need, husbands, to wonder about loving your wife: God said it plainly, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.”  That is pretty clear. We know what God’s will is. James is not telling us to look ahead. He is not saying do not plan for the future. He is saying that as we plan ahead we need to include God in our planning. Our will must be to seek HIS will for our life.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Life is all about decisions, choices we make as individuals. I read in a devotional this week that C. S. Lewis wrote,
"Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of."
That is a great encouragement. But the writer of the devotional warned:
“But as with all non-negotiables, it works the other way, too. Even a trivial indulgence in lust or anger today represents the loss of territory in our hearts that the enemy can secure, giving him an inroad to launch an attack against you—an attack that otherwise would have been impossible. Each misstep offers him a stronger foothold for marshaling his counteroffensives against you, against your marriage, against your family—if not right now, then at a later time when he knows he can inflict the greatest amount of damage.”

We are responsible for our choices, and our choices have consequences. We don’t know anything about what will happen tomorrow, five minutes from now, or five years into the future. God knows. Nothing is a surprise to Him. Doesn’t it make sense to submit our will to His?  Another proverb gives the right perspective: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” That sounds like a plan we can live by!       Think about that.   Amen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pastor Report - October 2013

Pastor’s Report – October 2013
                The end of summer is a time of transition at Boothbay Baptist Church. Our summer residents have mostly left and the changing leaves and frosty mornings remind us that winter is approaching. As a church family this quarter we have continued our focus on the mission of “knowing God and making Him known” and continue to “…envision a community of Christ followers rooted in the Word, treasuring God as supremely valuable and proclaiming the riches of His grace to the world.” Training opportunities like the current adult class on apologetics and the recent Saturday seminar by Vision New England, “Disciples making Disciples” (DMD) are equipping us to more effectively implement our vision and carry out our mission.  This is not something new for Boothbay Baptist Church, but is a conscious effort to stay focused and to stay engaged in the work that God has entrusted to us.  One of the “take aways” from the DMD seminar is the fact that a biblical model of discipleship is something that needs to occur at various levels for all of us. Outreach begins with loving our neighbors and investing ourselves in relationships. Equipping and “in reach” means seeking to engage the entire body in mentoring relationships, in dynamic small groups, and in active worship.  To be most successful in carrying out our mission and vision we need a fully engaged church body with every member committed to discovering their gifts and realizing their personal mission and calling as they participate in the body. As I write this report we are anticipating our first baptismal service of the year tomorrow. May more follow as they see the importance of this public commitment of a new disciple.
                The exciting FASCAR Rally led by Eric Brown of Word of Life and our great team of Olympian WOL leaders was a high energy kick off to our Word of Life Olympian ministry this month. Our Word of Life teen ministry led by missionary Fay Christy and veteran leader Karen Lawless will be assisted this year by Shawn Cusumano. What a team!  Pray for these workers, consider getting involved, and look around for those in your neighborhood who you can invite to attend these groups.  The upcoming Trunk or Treat event on October 31st will once again be an opportunity for outreach.  We are seeking to open our parking lot to the community and to create a safe, fun alternative to Halloween that will also give us an opportunity to present the gospel and distribute tracts and Bible portions to the community. We are focused on mission, to God be the glory.
                I have enjoyed the new preaching series on the Epistle of James, what a practical and convicting study it has been for me personally. As we finish up this series over the next few weeks we will soon transition to Thanksgiving and the Advent season, before beginning an exciting new series on the Book of Acts in January. I covet your prayers as I dig into the study of this important book.  I also continue to participate in the Wednesday night devotional series on the Psalms, and have been blessed by others gifted in teaching taking a turn at presenting encouragement from this portion of Scripture. Thanks to Mark Kamen for coordinating this time of learning together leading into our prayer time. Sam Michael continues to be a stalwart as he leads us in our prayer time.  I have also begun teaching a class in New Testament Greek at the New England Bible College on Thursday afternoons. It has been enjoyable having a part in equipping these men who have sensed God’s call to the ministry.
                Our small group on Thursday evenings continued through the summer and we enjoy the time of learning, sharing, praying, and fellowship. The elders would like to see full involvement of our church in small groups. If you have not yet found a group to participate in, I encourage you to talk to me or your elder and we will explore options with you.  Our Wednesday morning Men’s Prayer and coffee time at the parsonage has been consistently very small, but a blessing to those present. I continue to be available to counsel couples and individuals and value the privilege of looking at the scriptures together for God’s answers to the challenges we face in life.  Mary Ann and I are thankful that God has us here, as a part of this church family. May each of us be faithful in seeking Him together and engaging our community for His glory.                                                
                                                      Soli Deo gloria,

                                                  Pastor Steve and Mary Ann 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Draw near to God

“Drawing nearer, going deeper”
James 4:7-12
Introduction:  Hunting season is something a lot of folks look forward to. I recently had a contact from a friend of mine that I haven’t seen in years and learned that he was in Maine recently and got his first bear. Encountering something as big as a bear is not something I’d be anxious to do. I’ve heard that if you have a surprise encounter with a bear in the woods and it notices you and begins acting aggressively in some way, its best not to turn and run, but to “make yourself big”. I don’t know. I would probably turn and run and you would be reading about it in the paper. Bear 1, Steve 0. Those who know better say “make yourself big” and the bear might back away. In life, that is what many people try to do with other humans. They try to make themselves look as “big” as possible to the people around them. Sometimes even, as the next verses indicate, they try to make themselves look big by making others look small. James will show us that is not God’s plan for Christ followers. One of the great misconceptions of the world about Christians is the misconception that we are prideful bunch of religious people who live by a strict set of rules. I think that if our exploration of the Bible together over the last few years has shown anything, it is that the Christian life is not primarily about rules, but about relationship. At its heart is our love relationship with God based wholly on His grace.  If we embrace that truth, that will change us, and it will change how we see others.  James is almost shocking in the way he makes his point that the key to victory in the Christian Life is surrender. Submitting to God and His authority in our lives means acknowledging that He is Sovereign, and that we approach only because of His mercy and grace. Context is always important in interpretation. In the previous context James was asking his readers, “Why are you acting this way, don’t you know that being a friend of the world makes you are an enemy of God?” I don’t think the point is that James is necessarily questioning the salvation of his readers (though he may have suspected there were some among them that were not truly saved). He was saying that living in such a superficial way as they were looked like the world, they were acting like they were God’s enemies instead of His children. He is calling them to draw near to God, to go deeper in their relationship with Him, to experience the victorious, abundant life for which they were created.
The Big Idea: If we see ourselves rightly in the light of who God is, we will thank Him for grace, and we will be more gracious toward others.
I. Our Relationship with God (4:7-8a). The first element of understanding grace is that we will desire a deepened relationship with God. We will give Him the throne of our heart.
       James begins verse 7 with the admonition, “Submit yourselves therefore to God…” The word “submit” is frequently used with respect to our response to those who have authority over us (see for example I Peter 2:13,18; 3:1,5,22; 5:5). This however is not talking about our submission to any human authority, but to the Lord Himself. There is an axiom of Bible Study that says when you see a “therefore,” you should ask what it is “there for.”  The admonition to submit is based on the statements in the preceding context. In light of the grace of God described in v.6 and the call to an appropriate humility, recognizing who God is and His authority of us, we should submit ourselves to Him, affirm and embrace His absolute authority over our lives.  He is your Maker and Savior. That means He is the boss. Period.
       The parallel action we must take is stated next:  “…resist the devil and he will flee from you…” James reminds us that we have an enemy who will do all he can to destroy our relationship with God. Notice this statement is put in between two positive admonitions concern our relationship with God. Because the Lord is on our side we have what we need to resist Satan’s attacks. The Enemy is an expert in human weaknesses and will hit us where we are most vulnerable. But greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world! We need to consciously submit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ and resist the enemy who would lead us away from God.
       The next statement is an amazing invitation in the Jewish context of the first century: “…come near to God and He will come near to you…” In the Old Testament only the priest had the privilege of approaching God in the Holy of Holies. We see an amazing development in the context of the Gospel story. Matthew records it in Matthew 27:50-51,  
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit.  51 Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…”
That was a literal, historical event, but it also had tremendous spiritual significance. Because of Jesus, the veil has been torn, and we can come with boldness into His presence. He is waiting, calling, inviting us to come. Does it sometimes feel like God is far away? James says “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” A thousand years earlier the psalmist wrote in Psalm 145:18,The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” He created us and redeemed us so that we could experience intimate fellowship with Him.  Because of Jesus He counts us as righteous, because of Jesus He calls us His children! What grace!  If we see ourselves rightly in the light of who God is, we will thank Him for grace, and be more gracious toward others.

II. Our Attitude toward sin (4:8b-10).  The second element of our response to grace is to detest our sin, to turn from it as we turn to Him.  Because you love Him, you’ll want to turn from those things that grieve Him. Paul asked the question at the beginning of Romans 6, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Rom 6:1b-2).
Here James says “…wash your hands… purify your hearts…” There is a worship chorus that pleads, “Give us clean hands O God, give us pure hearts…”  That is a good word in that it reminds us that we are dependent upon God: He is our strength and help against the world, the flesh, and the Devil. By praying to Him like that chorus says we are submitting to his authority and sovereignty and asking His help to do what James here implores his readers to do.

o        Wash your hands…” - “Clean hands” seems to look toward our actions, what we do. If we are going to cleanse our hands it means that we are choosing to repent of and turn away from those choices in life that we know run counter to the Word and will of God. When we confess our sins, implicit is the idea that we will repent, turn from them as we turn to God.

o        “Purify your hearts…” - “Pure hearts” goes even further, since we look not only at our actions, but our attitudes. This is what Jesus was getting at in the sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said… but I say to you…” He was saying yes, these kinds of outward activities are deplorable to God, they are sin and can’t be tolerated among the people of God. But even further, God knows our hearts, and it grieves Him when our heart and mind entertains and even enjoys the kinds of things that we know would displease Him.

·          “…grieve, mourn, wail…” These phrases speak to our hatred of our sin, genuine heart felt repentance. This signals a kind of brokenness that seems to recognize what we deserve. If we confess our sin, as I John 1:9 suggests, we call it what it is, not simply “a mistake” or “a weakness” but rebellion against God and exaltation of self. I was speaking with someone this week who had been in a conversation with a friend about sin. The friend was getting excited, “I hate my sin. I HATE my sin! I HATE MY SIN! DO YOU HATE YOUR SIN???” The guy was so taken aback by the passion of his friend and said, “I, I think so, but apparently not as much as you do!” Do you hate your sin? Think of the reaction of Isaiah when he had the vision of the heavenly throne, with the Seraphim surrounding the presence of God worshipping Him in His holiness: “Woe unto me, I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips…”  He saw his sin in the light of the holiness of God, and he was devastated, undone, left empty handed and naked before His Majesty, the King of the Universe. If we haven’t grieved over our sin it’s probably because we haven’t gotten a good sense of the holiness and perfection of King Jesus.

·          “…Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up…”
 Making yourself look big might be a good idea if you find yourself being threatened by a bear, but when it comes to relating to our fellow humans and especially when it comes to approaching God, that is not the way of the Lord: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” I don’t think that means to make yourself look small, it means to be honest about who you are, and before God we are all very, very, small. Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees Jesus said in Matthew 23:6-12,

"They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues,  7 greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.'  8 But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren.  9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.  10 "And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ.  11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.  12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Look, we would all be lost if not for the grace of God. In ourselves we deserve judgment because we are all sinners by birth and by choice. If we’ve been saved by grace, by definition it is all of Him. At best we are one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. If we see ourselves rightly in the light of who God is, we will be genuinely thankful for His grace, and also be more gracious toward others.
III. Our Speech concerning others (4:11-12).  James at this time gets specific, he comes back to one specific sin, a sin of the tongue, which he knew his readers could relate to: speaking badly of a fellow Christian. Instead we should choose to let our speech reflect our love for our brothers and sisters:  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
        Our speech will reveal our heart, it will show what we really think about others. NB. to make matters worse, James says “one another” and repeats the word “brothers” three times. He is talking about our relationships in the church (see also Matt 7:1-5).  It is important to recognize that this is not saying we ignore sin, or that we don’t confront a brother or sister that is falling away or acting in a way that brings disrepute on the church (Matthew 18 gives clear instruction on a biblical procedure that is motivated by love and works toward restoration). But we do reject destructive sins of the tongue that target another. Gossip and slander that aims to hurt someone or embarrass them, and even to expose them not with a view to their restoration, but so that we might look just a little better. We make ourselves big by making them look small.
         Notice in v.11b that to speak against a brother is to speak against the Law! Remember Jesus said that loving God and loving our neighbor is the summary of the whole Law. If our speech reveals judgment and hatred toward a brother we are saying somehow God’s word is untrue or doesn’t apply to this life.
         Judging our neighbor and speaking against a brother also is putting ourselves in the place of God according to James. James 4:12  saysThere is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.” If He gave the Law, its His Word, period. He is the Judge and the Savior.
         “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” See others rightly, being gracious toward one another, starts with seeing God rightly, and taking a hard, honest look at ourselves as well. We are only sinners saved by grace. We didn’t deserve it or earn it. If we are speaking badly about someone we are acting as if we are in the place of God, who alone is our judge. At best we can be one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.
What is God saying to me in this passage? If we see ourselves rightly in the light of who God is, we will thank Him for grace, and we will be more gracious toward others.
What would God have me to do in response to this passage? Have you responded to the grace God has extended toward you? This week we celebrate the Lord’s Table together. It is an opportunity to examine yourself, to remember His grace, and as James says, “Submit yourself to God…” Recognize His authority, His Lordship, and voluntarily acknowledge that He is Lord. Resist the Devil, he has no power over you. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. We are more than conquerors through Christ. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you… You remember the story of the husband and wife driving along, on opposite ends of the bench seat of their old sedan. “Why don’t we sit together like we used to?” His reply from behind the steering wheel, “I haven’t gone anywhere!” James says Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you! He wants to have a living, intimate relationship with you. I was at home sick when twenty of you had a great Saturday a couple of weeks back at the “Disciples making Disciples” seminar. From the feedback we got at our small group, one of the encouragements that was offered was that a disciple needs to develop his relationship with Christ at several levels. One is through public worship. Do you know He is here, right now? We need to come together, expectantly, with excitement, knowing that Jesus is here with us. As we sing, as we study the word, as we gather around this table in remembrance, He is here as surely as He was with His disciples in the upper room.  A second avenue for drawing nearer is our personal devotional time. That means getting alone in a quiet place, picking up your Bible and reading it. Praying to him, and sometimes simply sitting quietly in His presence. Do you have a daily quiet time with Him? How did you do this week? Were you in the Word? Another setting that we need is to be part of a small group. A small group setting can be important, it can be a place where we can discover our gifts, and “provoke one another to love and good works.” We all need it. Do you have it? A little more risky is to develop a one on one relationship with another believer who will meet with you and hold you accountable and encourage you toward love and good works.

            Loving God is always connected with loving one another. It means that as a recipient of grace we should be gracious toward others, rather than judging, forgiving, encouraging, doing what we can to point others to Jesus. As we pray, and prepare our hearts to celebrate His amazing grace in this ordinance, allow the Spirit to reveal to you exactly where you need to humble yourself, where you need to resist the enemy, how you can draw near to God more effectively, how you can speak words that edify others and bring glory to God.  Think about that.  AMEN.