James 3:1-12-Words that Reveal Faith-or Not-July 31, 2013

James 3:1-12-Words that Reveal Faith-or Not-July 31, 2013

James in chapter 3 is addressing a church community about two sins of the teacher: intemperate speech (vv.1-12) and arrogance (vv. 13-18).  James also considers and counts himself among this group.  In tonight’s study we will be addressing the former.  Many think that speech is all about what we say, but more importantly what we do not say is just as significant as well.  Proper speech is not just saying the right thing and the right time but also controlling the urge to say what we shouldn’t or would be destructive.  It is easier to lash out at another person that it would be to ask God to heal our hurts and give up our “rights” to ourselves for the sake of the Lord.  I personally know no other more destructive thing members of a congregation can do.

Those who are willing to teach bring on themselves a stricter judgment.  It is because of the power their position and their words have over the body of believers.  There is also here I think a double warning be careful if you are not a teacher how you use your speech as well.  Everyone will stumble at some point in this but it is God who knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and how are you not just as guilty if you belittle or try to harm your teacher through your speaking about them rather than to them.

There are many examples of improper speech and these are just a few:  gossiping, putting others down, bragging, manipulating, false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, flattering, and lying.  It is things such as this that are hard to control.  Much like a ship’s rudder the tongue is small but has a great impact on the direction of the future.  The tongue, the source of speech and thus of words and teaching, is very small but powerful.  James’s illustrations highlight the great consequences of even the smallest bit of wrong teaching.

The tongue is presented as instrument capable of sinful expressions.  Uncontrolled speech can spread like a wildfire, and a few short words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.  Before you speak, remember that words are life fire-you can neither control nor reverse the damage they do.  James goes on to say that man has been able to tame all created species, but yet cannot tame the tongue.  If this is true, then why try?  Even though we are not perfect in controlling the tongue it is better to try to fight fires instead of setting new ones.  It is better to, as much as possible, limit the damage of the tongue.

The damage that the tongue can bring can be very destructive both personally and to the unity of the body of believers.  The most difficult thing to deal with is the duality that seems to come from this kind of speech.  In one breath we bless the Lord and Father, and in the next curse those who are made in the likeness of our Father.

The tongue can do both good and harm.  It is this type of speech that creates confusion and disunity in the church.  The danger of speech is beyond what the words themselves express but also what they expose.  The spoken words are not the source but rather the heart and mind of the person speaking them.  In this way they are revealing about the character and nature of a person.

The mouth reveals its source, the heart and contents of the heart, whether evil or good.  James uses examples of sources that only yield only product:  a spring, a fig tree, and a vine can produce only its specific fruit.  Believers likewise are single-hearted and yield good fruit (mature), never a mixture of good and evil.

In a way, all believers are teachers.  We teach those around us, in both our actions and our words.  Thus we must be aware of the power of our words.  With our words we can build up people or we can break down people.  We can strengthen our witness for Christ with our words, or we can weaken our witness for the Lord with our words.  We can increase the unity of the church with our speech, or we can divide the church with our speech.  We were made in God’s image, but we have also fallen into sin.  God wants to change us from the inside out, so that our hearts and minds would make our speech pleasing to God.  In what way do your words reveal the reality of the faith in your heart today?

The Letters of James and John:  Real Faith; BaptistWay Adult Bible Study Guide; 2010

Keeping the Cross at the Center-July 28, 2013

Keeping the Cross at the Center-July 28, 2013

Colossians 2:6-15

Paul reminds the believers in Colossae and us just as we received Christ as Lord we should continue to live for Him.  How do we live for Him?  By being rooted and built up, strengthened and overflowing in thanksgiving.  It is these things that are Paul’s focus reminding the people to not just receive Christ as Savior but to live for Him as Lord.  To live for Christ is impossible without God working in us and through us by His power.  For this living to stand the test of time, outside influences, and internal struggles we must continue to be rooted, built up, strengthened, and overflowing with thanksgiving.

Paul instructs the believers to let no one take you captive by this world’s hollow and deceptive philosophy.  What are those philosophies?  That the material world is all bad, that Christ is not God, that things like greed, pride, selfishness, beauty, and the objectification of people are ok.  These are the type things that leave us empty no matter how much we try to choke down they will never truly satisfy us.  Dr. Gardener C. Taylor one spoke in an interview about the need to keep the cross of Christ central in preaching.  He then used an analogy of children eating sweets saying that if you keep feeding children sweets they will keep coming back and eating them, but soon there will be a price.  The price is that these sweet do not nourish or give strength they only weaken the child, and prolonged eating of sweets will root their teeth making it impossible to eat the real food that does provide the strength needed.  Too often we have settled for the easy sweet stuff of this world or watered down Christianity that never lives up to the fluff, it doesn’t fill us up or sustain us, and eventually will make it next to impossible to receive true nourishment.

Contrasted with the hollowness of this world is the fullness of the deity that lives in Christ.  The fullness of God dwells in Christ and now we have been given fullness in Christ.  Nothing else will complete you or satisfy you like Christ.  The great news is you don’t have to feel empty, alone, afraid, worrying that we don’t measure up to someone’s standards.  The answer is you don’t and I don’t either, we can be full and complete in Christ.  We don’t have to keep eating what the world is feeding, and that is truly a great freedom found in Christ.

It is in Christ that we have put off the sinful nature, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.  It was God’s power, not my effort, that both raised Christ and saves us from our sins and for His purposes in the world today.  The power of resurrection lives in us and we do not have to feel empty, but rather filled with Christ.

When we were dead in sin, God made us alive with Christ in forgiving our sins, it cancelled the written codes power over out lives because the laws of this world have no power over those who are dead.  He took it all away, nailing it to the cross.  The power of the written codes were to regulate life, and in death they have no power or dominion.  Christ took the punishment with Him to the cross.  In doing so Christ was disarming the powers and authorities and making these so-called power a public spectacle.  They thought this public death of a man who claimed to be God that they would set an example to any who would dare call Jesus Lord rather than Caesar.  Christ instead makes a public spectacle of them by removing their “supposed” power by triumphing over them by the cross.  The victory was made greater when the first believers saw the resurrected Christ.  Their supposed victory was ours through the power of the cross.

We have talked about Christ and His divinity and now about receiving Jesus, living in His fullness, and giving thanks to God for saving us.  We need to remember to keep the cross as the center because in His cross there is victory in heaven and for daily living.  Living out of our relationship to Christ, an appropriating of what God has already accomplished in Christ.  This puts the emphasis where it belongs in Christian living-not on human willpower or effort but on God’s grace-wand enables such living to be characterized by thankfulness.

Just as we have received Christ Jesus as Lord let us continue to live for Him, being root, built up, strengthened, and overflowing in thanksgiving.  For this the freedom and power of the cross for both our salvation and our daily living.

James 2-If You’re Really Christian-July 24, 2013

James 2-If You’re Really Christian-July 24, 2013

James 2:1-7

We need to find value in all people, not just ones that society finds value in.  Most congregations drift towards a homogeneous existence; people look, dress, and speak in similar fashion.  We should not make a habit of showing favoritism.  The word translated “favoritism” means literally to life up a face.  The idea is that Christians don’t look at someone’s face or appearance to decide whether they will be treated well or not.

James then tells a story to indicate that point of treatment.  James reminds them that God chose the poor to be rich in faith.  One who is hungry or grieving is much more likely to respond to the hope of the gospel than one whose life is full.

The church grows most rapidly among people who face hardships.  The church has grown through persecution and poverty, and now it faces the greatest challenge-prosperity.

Don’t show favoritism.  James then gives an example about pride of position or wealth, and even worse it seems like a biblical example of “that’s my pew”.  Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  So who really gets to decide the standards?

If we discriminate among ourselves how will the world ever believe that we can love them.  Outreach doesn’t begin with a program but it really starts with the people of God doing life right together with one another.  It will be attractive to others and people will reach out because they do believe that faith in Christ saves and transforms lives.

James goes on to say how God has not chosen those in whom the world we deem rich because really this stands in contrast to the world’s view and value of things, it exposes our sin, and demonstrates how far we are from God.

James 2:8-13

God’s value is not based on the world’s standards.  How are we keeping the royal law to love your neighbor as yourself, if we show favoritism?  To break any part of the total law is to be a law-breaker.  So…speak and act like those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.  Why should we do this?  Because we will not be shown mercy if we are not merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The issue with living here is when we judge others by a different standard than ourselves, we are effectively saying by our actions and words that we prefer that law and under that law we are all law breakers no matter to the degree and deserve judgment without mercy.

“Love your neighbor as yourselves” (James 2:8).  This command to love is evidenced throughout the New Testament.  To show partiality is sin.  When we violate any part of the law, we are sinners.  Since we are all guilty under the law, we should live be the law of liberty.  Only mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:14-26

Genuine faith is transformational.  When Christ is in us, we begin to take on the values and characteristics of Christ.  If you want to know whether a person’s faith is genuine, observe the person’s reaction to another person in need.  It is by helping someone in true need that we may not be given anything in return.  It is in blessing those that cannot return the favor that we are doing the work of God.

The faith (belief) James referred to in this chapter is a false faith.  True faith is belief in action.  The good works were evidence of their faith, not meritorious.  Abraham did not offer Isaac to impress God; he did it because he trusted God.

The so-called faith, described in chapter 2, is a mere intellectual acceptance of certain truths without trust in Christ as our Savior.  James was also not saying that a person is saved by works and not genuine faith.  Rather, he was saying, to use Martin Luther’s thoughts, that a person is justified (declared righteous before God) by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.  “Genuine faith will produce good deeds, but on faith in Christ saves.”

What good is a professed faith if we do not trust our lives with it and for it?  Or worse what good is a faith we talk about that is good and wonderful for us but is not good enough for the rest of the world so we judge them by different standards?  So how good could that faith really be if it is not good enough for anyone else?  We need to live our lives for Him.

Christ does save us not our deeds, but Christ came to save more than our intentions but rather our lives.  In trusting and believing requires action.  It is by its nature active.

Like the tightrope walker going across Niagara Falls pushing a wheelbarrow and when he arrives safely on the other side He asks the crowd how many people have faith that he can go back across.  There were many hands raised, and he then responds great I never thought I would get so many volunteers to ride in the wheelbarrow.

A person is justified not by faith but by what he does, it is this that his faith is real that a man trusts and believes it with his life.  As the body without the Spirit is dead so is faith without deeds is dead.

The Letters of James and John:  Real Faith; BaptistWay Adult Bible Study Guide; 2010

Christ is Our All in All-July 21, 2013

Christ is Our All in All-July 21, 2013

Colossians 1:15-28

These verses in Colossians are perhaps the clearest statement of the divinity of Jesus.  Jesus is God made visible to us.  He not only reflects but also reveals God to us.  Jesus was God and therefore was before creation and was active in creation so that all things belong to Him.  He came before all things and all things hold together in Him.  Consider if you will for a moment if you took God out of the picture.  Creation would spin into chaos.  Christ is also the head of the church.  The previous statements point out Jesus is Creator God with all authority and everything falls apart without Christ, including and especially the church.

The Greek culture of Colossae believed that all matter was evil so:

1. If Christ was God then he could not be fully human

2.  God did not create the world because He would have created evil

3.  Christ was not unique there are many intermediaries, Paul said no He is the firstborn of the resurrection and supreme.

4.  They refused to see Christ as the source of salvation claiming instead special or secret knowledge (gnosticism)

By their understanding spiritual and physical worlds were separate and God would only be in charge of the spiritual world.  It is instead His resurrection from the dead that demonstrates His Lordship over the material world.

Christ is fully divine and fully human and we should not try to diminish or limit either.  Just because we may not completely understand does not make it any less-true.  Christ’s death reconciled us, bringing us into a right relationship with God through His sacrifice.  Christ made Himself the Way by dying for our sins, and allowing us to receive righteousness and yet many people today will try various different ways in an attempt to bypass the Way Christ.

Sin always puts us at a distance from God it makes us think that we can do it, we can manage, and that we somehow know what’s best if not better than God does.  Christ has reconciled, paid the balance for out sins in His Death in the flesh.  If His death were not in the flesh how can is be redemption for the sins of the flesh.  Christ dies so that we are presented holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.  If we trust Him for salvation we can and should trust Him for daily living.  If there were multiply ways to get to God then we should each find which way is most convenient or works the best for me.  Paul doesn’t say he looked for another way, but rather he became a servant of the Way.

Hold on to faith in the hope held out to you.  Hope is being given out to us in Christ.  This greek point of view that all flesh is evil and that there are multiple ways, sounds like today when we think we can do it on our own.  In choosing our own way we are telling God that He made a mistake and we do not need the way He provided in His Son.

Paul begins to talk about suffering which is not the favorite topic of too many.  It appears Paul is speaking of the unavoidable suffering that happens as we bring the good news.  The good news is that the suffering of Christ gave us life and now our sufferings are an extension of the sufferings endured by Christ because we are His.  As we suffer Christ suffers too.  Paul understands suffering he is writing this letter to Colossae from jail for his belief in and proclamation of Jesus as Lord.  Suffering, although not pleasant, can be endured joyfully because it  changes lives and brings people into the kingdom.

The idea of secret or gnostic ideas meant exclusivity controlled by those with the “knowledge”.  Paul proclaimed in its fullness the gospel, it was formerly a mystery but has been fully revealed in Christ.  It was in Christ we see the totality of salvation and redemption that no one would stand before us and accuse us, not because we are innocent, but because the penalty has been paid-in-full.  Through Christ, the Way, was made open to us, and Christ in us is the hope of glory.  Maturity in Christ does not mean that we will be flawless.  We should be motivated each day as we seek Him that it is God working this out in our lives.  It is His strength and power not our own.  Without Christ we are separated from God, but salvation is available through Christ.  As Christ works in you tell others about Him.

The Letter of James: Real Faith in Action-July 17, 2013

The Letter of James:  Real Faith in Action-July 17, 2013

Background:

It was believed that James the brother of Jesus wrote the letter, it was believed that James the disciple had been martyred by this time.  The first readers of James’ letter were Jews who had put their faith in Jesus.  They were members of the twelve tribes of the Diaspora.  It was this dispersing of the believers that came with additional struggles but also a greater opportunity to advance the gospel.

In A Modern Context:

The letter of James speaks not to one church in one particular location but to a church universal that is dispersed around the world in secular places.  Just like in James’ day this spreading out of the church has presented the church of today with new struggles and opportunities.  James’ letter is a call to understand that faith moves beyond doctrine to action.  Believers literally personify what they profess in living their lives for Christ.

Christian Living 101

An Illustration:

A pastor stopped by to check in on a homebound member and found that they had died.  One investigating officer found a stack of almost 75 unused prescriptions for medicines.  She had gone to the doctor, who had prescribed treatment, and yet she failed to do what the doctor had said.  We should be reminded that reading the Bible and failing to act on its teaching is just as foolish and deadly as collecting prescriptions without taking the medicine.

James 1:1-4

The letter is written to the Jewish Christians living in the Roman world.  They faced challenges of following Christ in a secular society, where they were often isolated by both their beliefs and their heritage.  Their faith required obedience to Jesus that appeared to be treason to Romans and blasphemy to Jews.  Christians today who live in nations where they are in the minority often encounter the same difficulties.  Difficult days will come.  Trials do not come to us as a punishment but as opportunities to prove the authenticity of our faith.  It is in the trials that our faith is tested and strengthened.

James 1:5-8

Trust God’s wisdom and not earthly wisdom.  God’s wisdom is peaceful, gentle, and unwavering.  Godly wisdom is accessed through prayer; “ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach” (James 1:5).  Don’t trust your possessions for security.  There is never enough.  Fear of losing it all or being surpassed by others urges us on.  The poor almost always respond to the gospel first, yet in many churches those who have money are given special status.

The person of humble means should be honored in the church, and the person with social status should be humbled.  The church must resist the values of society and acknowledge that our worth is found in serving Christ.

James 1:12-18

We cannot say, “The devil made me do it.”  We are tempted by our own lusts.  When we give in to these evil impulses within us, they bring about destruction.  When lust is conceived, it promises life and joy.  There is great anticipation of fulfillment.  Yet when sin is experienced, it brings heartache and death.  Turn from temptation because God gives life, no death.

Practical Christianity as It Relates to Life’s Trials:

  • Find strength for life’s trials in the joy of the Lord
  • Seek wisdom from God’s word in making life decisions
  • Don’t fall for the world’s values
  • Run from temptation
  • Apply the principles of God’s word
  • Be a lifestyle advocate for the marginalized

James 1:19-27

We live in a world of noise, temptation, prejudice, greed, distractions, and conversations.  Bitter and jealous feelings of past hurts constantly reappear and seek to dominate our thoughts.  We are pushed from the outside and struggle from the inside.  We need the word of God and to seek Him.  It would be foolish to hear the word from God and then live according to the world’s standards.  A blessed person is one who puts the world and their past to the side, listens to God’s word, and then acts on it.

Anyone who claims to be religious and cannot even control his own speech has deluded himself.  Authentic Christ-followers are unstained by the world but shaped by God’s word.  A person of genuine faith is not just someone who talks a good game.  A person of faith is one who reflects a life transformed by the grace of Christ, evidenced by a genuine concern for their fellow-man.

The Letters of James and John:  Real Faith; BaptistWay Adult Bible Study Guide; 2010

Thankfulness and the Will of God-July 14. 2013

Thankfulness and the Will of God-July 14. 2013

Colossians 1:1-14

Do we thank God for one another?  The thankfulness in our hearts comes from our faith in God.  The gospel as it has spread to the world has been and is bearing fruit, just as it has with the Colossians.  This fruit has been growing since the day they heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

We all have learned about this gospel of grace from someone who shared it with us and they should be able to see the evidence of this saving gospel in our lives.  It is because of the faith and love in the Spirit.  It was this reason that Paul was praying and asking God to fill them with the knowledge of His will…not money or anything else…through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Why…that we may live a life worthy of the Lord and please the Lord in every way.  What pleases the Lord…bearing fruit in every good work; growing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might, this is the reason we would have great endurance, patience, and joyfully giving thanks.  It is in Him that we qualified (not in ourselves or our work)…qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

This giving thanks to the Father because he rescued us from the rule of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  God brings us to the kingdom of His beloved Son in Him we have redemption and forgiveness.  Bearing fruit in every good work producing great endurance, growing in knowledge of God gaining patience, strengthened in power that we joyfully give thanks.

Paul writes of his thankfulness to God because of the people’s faith and love for one another.  These came from the hope stored up for them in heaven.  It is this hope that prompts us to trust Him and Love one another because of the gospel.  It is this gospel that is bearing much fruit and growing all over the world has also come to you.  It is also doing the same in you.

Hearing is not enough, it is also the understanding God’s grace in all its truth that puts us in the best position to understand our own sin, our need for a savior, that we can trust Him and the faith, hope, and love are the marks of a Christian.  Paul shares prayers of thankfulness for the receiving of the gospel, a prayer for maturity in the gospel.  Mature fruits of love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is a difference between bearing much fruit and bearing mature ripe fruit.  Ripeness is being filled with the knowledge of God’s will through spiritual wisdom and understanding.

The prayer for the maturity of knowledge and living to the please the Lord not ourselves.  In living you, yourself will bear fruit in good work, grow in knowledge, and be strengthened, so that in life there will be great endurance for the work, patience as we grow in knowledge, and joy in our salvation and inheritance because of Christ not us.  As they mature they come to the realization in discerning God’s will and living for Him that not only do we need His grace for salvation, strengthen for His work, patience in daily living, and joy for in understanding that grace also bring us into the kingdom of God’s Son.

FB-The Apostle Paul in his letter to the believers in Colossae tells them that he is praying for them.  A prayer of thankfulness that the gospel has been bearing much fruit all over the world and now they also have received the gospel.  A prayer for maturity in the knowledge of the gospel.  He prayed that they would be filled with the knowledge of God.  Being filled is about maturity.  Mature (ripe) fruit is better than many unripe fruits.

A prayer for living for the Lord.  The fruit has not reached full potential until the very seed within has planted to bring forth more fruit.  Receive Him, mature in knowledge of Him, and live for Him.

The Worry of Life-July 10, 2013

The Worry of Life-July 10, 2013

Matthew 6:25-34; Philippians 4:6-7

7 Realities of Life

  1.  Life is Hard
  2. People are complex
  3. Seldom is the issue, the issue
  4. Try to do something that counts
  5. You can always quit, just don’t quit too soon.
  6. Happiness is, learning to live with what you have and be grateful
  7. Quit looking for the right person for a job or in life, instead be the right person

 

7 Realities of the Christian Life

  1.  Life is Hard…Trust God He is faithful
  2. People are complex…Love them anyway
  3. Seldom is the issue, the issue…focus on Christ
  4. Try to do something that counts…Give your life to Him
  5. You can always quit, just don’t quit too soon…God isn’t finished with you yet
  6. Happiness is learning to live with what you have and be grateful…God is the creator of all and He will take care of you.
  7. Quit looking for the right person for a job or in life, instead be the right person…Don’t spend some much time worrying about what others should be doing, instead be God’s person and allow Him to work through you.