Sunday, May 10, 2015


Rounding Up Strays
James 5:19-20

Where I grew up, there were often herds of cows out in the fields. Some of them would “wander off” from the rest of the herd. Someone would go get on a horse and find them, then bring them back. It was called “rounding up the strays”. It is a good metaphor for James’ words in these two verses.

If a cow wanders off from the herd, it might get injured by falling on a slope or getting caught in brush or a fence. It might also get killed and eaten by predators. The same is true of sheep, the more common animal in the New Testament.

James writes of “anyone among you wanders from the truth”. (19) That could mean one who has theological error or one who has become entangled in sin. He once again starts his instruction with “brothers”, clearly addressing believers.

There are many false teachers today. There are many temptations to sin and plenty of people who tell you it is ok to do so. We should guard our hearts and we should fight for our brothers and sisters. Since James says we can save the wanderer’s should and cover a multitude of sins, he must be speaking of serious sin or error that could lead to apostasy.

James tells us that we should go to one who has wandered from the truth and try to bring him back, for it will save him and cover many sins. (19)

Jesus taught this also. He told a parable in Matthew 18 about sheep. He said if a man has 100 sheep, and one goes astray, he will leave the 99 and go find the one and rejoice that it is found. (Matthew 18:10-14)

In addition, Jesus even taught the steps we should go through. This teaching is in Matthew 18:15-20. We are first to go tell the wanderer his or her fault. If the person listens to you, that is the end of the matter. Jesus says you have gained a brother (or sister). If the person will not listen to you, you go again to talk to him, but with one or two others. If he still refuses to listen, you tell it to the church. Last of all, if he will not repent, you must excommunicate him. That is what Jesus meant when he said treat him as a Gentile. (Matthew 18:17) Gentiles were excluded from the Jewish fellowship.

Jesus did this with Peter. It is recorded in John 21. Peter, you may remember, denied Jesus three times. After Jesus was arrested, Peter denied to the servant girl that he was a disciple. (John 18:17) He denied Jesus again to men standing around a fire. (John 18:25) He also denied being in the garden with Jesus to a man who was a servant of the high priest. (John 18:26) Denying Christ is about as serious a sin as you can commit, isn’t it? Yet, Jesus sought out Peter and brought him back into the fold. He did not make it easy on him, requiring him to say three times that he loved Jesus. But he set him back on track and commissioned Peter to tend to the flock of new believers.

Although wandering off into sin or error is a dangerous and harmful thing, I find it comforting that Jesus can and will restore a repentant believer and even use him or her in the Kingdom.

Paul also had to confront blatant sin in the church. The church in Corinth allowed a man to attend their church while he was sleeping with his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1) Paul instructed the church to excommunicate him and they apparently did. The man repented. Paul instructed the church to forgive him and take him back, to reaffirm their love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)

Too often we let our brothers and sisters wander off without trying to bring them back. That means their sanctification has ceased. It means they profane the name of Christ by their continued sin.

It is hard to do, and frequently unsuccessful. Nonetheless, we are to do it and God will often be gracious and bring the person to repentance. If we bring a person to repentance and restoration, we have covered a multitude of sins. Whereas, if we leave the fallen one alone, he or she will commit a multitude of sins. I have seen success in doing this, and I have seen failure. But, I do not regret trying.

Once a person repents, it is our duty to forgive. Some churches are not good at that.

May God give us the honesty to confront sin in ourselves , the courage to confront it in others, and the love to extend forgiveness to the repentant.


THE PRAYER OF FAITH - James 5:13-18

Just as a reminder, the picture above is an old painting of James.

The second topic of James' final three instructions is prayer.

The Prayer of Faith
James 5:13-18

The second area of James’ closing thoughts is prayer. Our response in all phases of life is prayer. If we suffer, we pray and ask God for strength and endurance. (13) This takes us back to verse 2 of chapter 1, “meeting trials of various kinds”.

If things are going well, and we are cheerful, we should sing praise to God. (13) Give God credit for the good things in life just as you cry for help in the bad things of life.

But what if we are sick? In that instance, James says to call for the elders of the church to pray for him and anoint him with oil. Oil was used for physical healing for the sick, but is also a symbol of anointing, the transfer of God’s power to an individual life. (Mark 6:13) It is a sort of symbolic act of consecration. The healing comes from the prayer, not the oil. (15)

Why call for the elders? Elders were to be men who were older and wiser. They were to be appointed to shepherd and instruct the church. (1 Peter 5:1-4) Paul instructed that elders should be appointed. (Titus 1:5-9) He gave a list of qualifications. He gave his final instructions to the church in Ephesus by speaking to its elders. (Acts 20:17) So the idea is that the elders would be mature in the faith, spiritually sound, wise in the Word and charged with ministering to the flock. Interestingly, Paul did not call say to call for someone who has the “gift” of healing, as is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:9. (Another question is, must these be appointed elders or just older men?)

The elders must pray in faith. (15) No faith is required of the sick person here. If the elders pray in faith, the Lord will raise up the sick person. The idea seems to be that the sick person has been too weak to get out of bed, but now is raised up in healing.

James says the prayer of faith will “save” the one who is sick. (15) The NIV says “make the sick person well”. The word translated save is the Greek word “sozo”, which may mean physically healed or delivered from sin. I would still say that God has the final say in who is healed and who is not, in his sovereignty. But I would also say, if you are asked to participate in this kind of event, as an elder, do not do it unless you can pray believing that God can and will heal. Do not pray in qualifiers to give God an out. He can take care of himself. Just ask God to heal the person. James says it is the “prayer of faith” that brings healing.

James also says, if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. While all sickness is not the result of sin, the Bible certainly allows for the connection. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus not only heals the paralyzed man, he forgives his sin. James allows for the possibility, because he says “if” the person has committed sins he will be forgiven, not “since” he has committed sins.

James also encourages us to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so we can be healed. There seems again to be a sense here that sin sometimes causes sickness. One example of this situation regards the Lord’s Supper. Paul said that some in Corinth were sick because they participated in the Lord’s Supper without discerning their sin and brought judgment on themselves. (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Certainly we are not to keep our sins secret. They will destroy us. Psalm 51 testifies to this, as David acknowledged his sin with Bathsheba made him feel that his bones were broken. (Psalm 51:8) He lost the joy of his salvation. (Psalm 51:12) Although we do not like to share our failures with others, confessing your sins brings greater accountability and allows another person to pray for you. And 1 John 1:9 tells us to confess our sins to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing.

James goes on to say that, when a righteous person prays, that prayer has great power as it is working. (James 5:16) He appears to have moved on from the elders to any members of the congregation. James gives us the example of Elijah, who prayed and God stopped rain for three and one half years, then prayed again and it rained. (17) Elijah’s power here was God given, and subject to the sovereignty of God. Although Elijah made the proclamation to Ahab that it would not rain, we would assume he did so at God’s command. (1 Kings 17:1-7) And God certainly directed Elijah to go and pray for rain. (18:41 et seq)

But I do not want you to think that my belief in God’s sovereignty means I do not believe in prayer. God has chosen prayer as the means through which he will work in our lives on many occasions. We are told repeatedly in the Bible to pray.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Scripture is about Christ

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40)

Scripture is about Christ. Read it to any other end and you will miss its meaning. 


Do Not Dishonor God With Oaths

This is the beginning of the end. When James says “but above all”, he is moving toward conclusion. He will have three concerns to address. All three involve speech.

This discussion about oaths or swearing is not about cussing.

It is about invoking God’s name, or something else, to tell someone what we say is true or that we will definitely do what we say we will. I am sure you have hear someone say “By God” before they committed themselves to something. Or maybe they simply said “I swear”. In American courts, witnesses are “sworn in” before their testimony. They swear to tell the truth. They swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, “so help me God”.

The Jews were allowed to take oaths. But they had to make good on them. Leviticus 19:13 says “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD”. Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 says “Pay what you have vowed-better not to vow than to vow and not pay”.

Our fidelity to God must be lived out in all areas of our lives. One area you might not have thought of, James mentions here. That is, do not swear or take an oath by anything other than the one true God. James mentions swearing by “heaven or by earth”. If you swear by anything else, you commit idolatry, for you say that person or thing is greater than God, or is as capable as God at holding you accountable. For example, the Jews would swear by the temple, or something in it, as if the temple and its furnishings could magically hold them accountable. Or, it would give them a way out, saying they did not swear by the Lord.

Only God has the power and the right to hold us accountable for our vows and oaths. Paul invoked God to show he was telling the truth in Romans 1:9. He said “For God is my witness…” and went on to say he prayed for them always.

The Westminster Confession says:

The name of God only is that by which men out to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence. Therefore, to swear vainly or rashly, by that glorious and dreadful Name, or, to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred. Yet, as in matters of weight and moment, an oath is warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament, as well as under the Old, so a lawful oath, being imposed by lawful authority in such matters out to be taken. (22:3)

The best thing, of course, is that you keep your word without needing an oath. You just do what you say you will do, whether yes or no. James here reflects Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:33-36. Jesus said:

Again you have heard it that it was said to those of old, “You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.

We should tell the truth without being forced to take an oath. We should do what we say we will do without the need of an oath. Christians should be known by truth and integrity. We should not despair of waiting for Jesus to return and adopt the standards of the world regarding the truth.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED (after the resurrection)?

When my daughters were young, I often read to them. At the end of many books, one of my daughters often asked "and then what happened?" It was not enough that the prince and the maiden lived happily ever after. She wanted to know what happened next.

Most evangelical churches make a big deal about Easter Sunday, or as I like to call it Resurrection Sunday. We sing songs about the empty tomb and hear sermons about the resurrection and what it means to our lives. 

Then we go back to our regularly scheduled programming. But, if my daughter were involved, she would ask "and then what happened?".  

After The Resurrection

After Jesus rose, he appeared to many people. First, he appeared to Mary Magdalene. (Mark 16:9). Mark did not reveal what Jesus told her, but John did. (John 20:15-18) Mary ran and told his disciples that he was alive and she had seen him. Sadly, they did not believe her. But Peter and John evidently did, for they ran to the tomb. (John 20:1-10) Also with Mary at the tomb were Joanna and Mary the mother of James and some other women. Jesus appeared to all of them. (Luke 24) 

Jesus then appeared to two of the disciples who were walking from Jeruslaem to Emmaus. He explained the Bible to them. (Luke 24:13-35). He ate with them.

Later that day, Jesus appeared to the disciples as they hid in a locked room. (John 20:19-23) He showed them his wounds to prove it was him and that he had risen bodily. 

Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples again. Thomas was not with them previously, and did not believe. But Jesus showed him his wounds and he believed. (John 20:24-29) 

Later still, Jesus appeared to several disciples who were fishing with Peter. He directed them to where they caught many fish. Jesus ate breakfast with them. (John 21) He also met with Peter and commissioned him to feed his sheep. 

Jesus then appeared to more than 500 people, many of whom were still alive as witnesses when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. I imagine Luke interviewed many of them. Then Jesus appeared to James, likely James his brother who became the first leader of the Jerusalem church (1 Corinthians 15:7) Eventually he appeared to all the apostles. He evidently spent 40 days on earth after the resurrection. (Acts 1:3) 

Jesus' final act was to take the disciples to Bethany. He lifted up his hands and blessed them. Then he ascended to heaven. (Luke 24:50). Before ascending, he directed them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit and commissioned them to take the gospel over all the earth. (Acts 1:8) Then he rose up until a cloud blocked their view of him. (Acts 1:9) And, finally, he was exalted to the right hand of the Father. (Acts 2:33) 

And that is what happened.

Of course, the story really does not end there, either. There is more to come. In fact, I have saved the best for last 

Jesus will reign there until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25) Then he will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God. He will raise the dead in Christ, then those who are alive in Christ, all to meet him in the air and be with him forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thoughts on Genesis 1 part 3

Periodically discussion arises about the six days of creation. Did God create all things in six literal days, or did the days represent longer periods of time. Genesis 1:31 says "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day." You can see it appears to be literal days. There is evening and there is morning. Even more so, though, is Exodus 31:17, whim says "It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’” 

Reading Scripture

Every reading of Scripture is an encounter with God. It is God speaking.