Sunday, November 23, 2014

JOYFUL SUFFERING (part 2)


Rich Man Poor Man
1:9-10

What is important for every man and woman is his or her position before God. There are those who are righteous before God because he declared them to be righteous because of their faith in his son. There are those who are unrighteous before him because they have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and have not believed in Jesus in order to have their sins atoned. Nothing ultimately matters other than that.

Yet men and women focus on other things. One of those things is wealth. It is easy to convince yourself you are better because you are richer. It is easy to see yourself as worthless because you are poor. That was very much the case with first century Jews. But God does not accept this structure. Jesus said to some rich Pharisees “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men in a abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15) So James addressed this issue within the greater context of suffering.

The lowly or poor believer (brother) should boast in his exaltation. Although he is poor on earth, he is exalted in Christ. Christ, in fact, was poor on earth but exalted to the right hand of God. (Philippians 2:9) That is easy to understand. But the opposite is true also. The rich man should boast in his humiliation! He is like the wild flower, which withers and dies in the heat.

We understand wildflowers in Texas. We love our wildflowers. Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrushes, Mexican Sombreros, Wild Daisies and more. They pop up in Spring and we relish them. But, once it gets hot, they disappear. They are only up for a few weeks. So it is with human life. Life is short. As you get older you wonder where it all went. The days and weeks go faster and faster. And then this life ends, the flesh fails and we are gone from this earth until the restoration of all things. Stevie Nicks wrote a song for the band Fleetwood Mac called “Landslide”. She wrote

“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?”

That is true of rich and poor alike. It is humbling. So the rich should boast that this life, even with wealth is short and riches do nothing to win God’s favor. But right standing before God will last forever.

Our economic status can be a trial for believers. Certainly the poor were, and are, often persecuted. You wonder if you have too much or not enough. Rich people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. Poor people make themselves miserable obsessing about money. But your standing before God is the important thing.

The Father said this plainly in Jeremiah 9:23:

Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”


James might also reflect the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 23:12: whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Blessing For Perseverance
1:12

James told us before to be steadfast. In fact, this verse has three words to show us James is referring back to his opening theme in verse 2: trial, test and steadfast (persevere in NIV). We are to consider it joy to face trials knowing that they produce steadfastness which makes us complete. Here he says God blesses us when we are steadfast under trial. Steadfastness and perseverance in the faith is the proof of our salvation. Jesus said “the one who endures to the end will be saved”. James says the same thing here. Those who endure the trials and keep the faith will be saved.

James speaks of that reward in a metaphor. He compared the Christian life to a race. The winner of a race in the Greek games received a crown. It was a wreath of laurel leaves worn on the head. Here is a picture:










In a long race, the runner must endure trials. He or she will experience fatigue, pain, thirst, hunger, sunburn and other unpleasant things. To finish, you must endure those without giving up. If the runner endures and finishes, he or she receives a crown. These days you get a medal or a shirt.

James called this the crown of life. He said God has promised one to those who love him. Only one who loves God will endure trials and suffering to the end.

The crown of life symbolizes eternal life. One who believes in Jesus endures to the end and receives eternal life. (John 3:16) Jesus said the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 24:13)

Paul referred to a crown of righteousness. As he saw his execution approaching, he said:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (1 Timothy 4:8)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Jesus is Sufficient

This is Jesus, and he is the great end. He is the one we are meant to see, to know, to treasure. Through our tears and triumphs, our pain and pleasures, our losses and loves, Jesus stands at the end of the road offering himself to us, inviting us to behold his worth and cherish his sufficiency. John Piper


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Good Shepherd

Ezekiel 33:11 "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.

12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.

14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.

15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD.

16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

The priests of Israel utterly failed. They succumbed to idolatry. They became wolves rather than shepherds. God condemned them for this. And he promised to become the shepherd of his people. God fulfilled this promise in Christ, as he did all Old Testament promises. 

The promise was two fold: God would become the shepherd and he would seek his sheep. Jesus fulfilled both parts. He was the shepherd of his sheep and he sought and seeks sheep for his flock.

Jesus said "I am the good shepherd". (John 10:11, 14) He calls sheep into his fold, they know him and follow him. And, Jesus came to seek his sheep. He said "...the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

“I want to see a focused vision of spiritual maturity — the expansion of the soul is the best phrase I can use for it.  That is, a renewed sense of the momentousness of being alive, the sheer bigness and awesomeness of being a human being alive in God’s world with light, with grace, with wisdom, with responsibility, with biblical truth.”

J. I. Packer, quoted in Christianity Today, 6 April 1998, page 40.

JOYFUL SUFFERING - PART 2 (James 1)


The reason we count them as all joy is the purpose of trials. Verse 3 tells us the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. You are steadfast when you do not waver in your faith, when you endure, when you are firm. Steadfastness and endurance are traits of a mature believer. A mature believer is one who is much like Christ. God works in us for our sanctification, making us more and more like Christ.

Did Jesus have joy in trials? Hebrews 12:2 tell us to look to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus did not have this trial to sanctify himself, but to save us. But the writer of Hebrews used it as an example for us so that we will endure, not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3) In other words, so that we will be steadfast.

Steadfastness is not the end result, however. Steadfastness has an effect on us, making us perfect and complete. (4) James said to let it have its full effect on us. We grow in faith. We grow in holiness.

Some of you have faced great trials. You have been seriously ill. You have lost a job. You have been divorced. You have lost friends. You have been persecuted for your faith. All of us will face trials at some point. You can get angry or panic. Or you can count it as joy, trusting God to do his work on you, and wait for it to be over. Once you have trusted God through a trial, you have even greater faith. You become steadfast. You become holy. You become complete.

In addition to Jesus himself, there are other examples in the Bible. As I mentioned, Job faced great trials, but honored the Lord. When Peter and John were arrested for preaching, thy rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Paul went to prison but wrote that he rejoiced because he believed that Christ would be honored in his body, whether Paul lived or died. (Philippians 1:18)

You may be thinking, how can I get to be like that. James gives us the answer. In verse 5, he said if we lack wisdom we can ask God for it. We quote this out of context all the time. But he is speaking in the framework of trials. If we lack wisdom on how to handle this trial, God will give it generously and without reproach.

Sometimes we face a trial and know exactly what to do. When I faced political turmoil in my job a few years ago, I knew God wanted me to trust him to fix it and avoid taking revenge. I knew this from study of the Bible. But when I faced a trial due to a bad business parter, I did not know what to do and prayed for God to show me. He did and I got through it and learned to trust and to ask.

James says God gives generously. He will give you the wisdom you need to handle the trial. He will not withhold from you. He also does this without reproach. Have you ever asked somebody a question, and gotten the answer, but made to feel stupid? God does not do that. He literally gives wisdom single-mindedly.

And in the same way, we must ask for wisdom without doubting. You cannot really stand firm and doubt at the same time. So, you cannot ask God for wisdom on how to be steadfast if you doubt that God can or will give it. You are unstable, saying one thing and believing another.

I think many folks approach a test this way. They ask God to help, but actually doubt that he can help. Then they face the trial in doubt and fear and anger and do not receive any spiritual growth from it. Sometimes God is gracious and still handles the trial or makes it come out all right, but the believer does not receive the full benefit of the trial. So his or her testimony is “I was not sure God would help me and I really was terrified but he did and now I am relieved”. But it could have been, I asked God for wisdom and he gave it to me. I endured the trial and praise God for the ability to face it and grow from it.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

JAMES 1:1-8 - JOYFUL SUFFERING



[Note: all Scripture quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.]

James is one of 7 letters the English Bible groups behind Hebrews. Theologians refer to them as the General Letters because they are not addressed to a specific church as Paul’s letters were. You may have heard them referred to as the Catholic Letters. That term was used by the church historian Eusebius in his work Ecclesiastical History. “Catholic” meant “universal”.

Despite this history, I note that the letter addresses specific problems. It stands to reason that those problems existed in specific churches and that James wrote to them to correct those problems.

It is thought that James letter was written very early and may even be the first New Testament letter.

The Greeting
James 1:1

The writer of the letter identified himself as James. It is generally accepted that the writer is James the brother of Jesus. The New Testament testifies that Jesus had a brother named James. Matthew 13:53-55. The Greek word for “brother” here is “adelphos” which literally means “from the same womb”. In Galatians 1:19, Paul said he went to Jerusalem and visited James “the Lord’s brother”.

We know that James and his brothers did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God initially. (John 7:5) He may not have come to believe in Jesus until the resurrection. Paul wrote that Jesus appeared to James. (1 Corinthians 15:7) James and all of his brothers were in the room with the Twelve in Acts 1:14.

James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul called him one of the pillars of the church. (Galatians 2:9) He also sent men to Antioch to check on the church. (Galatians 2:12) In Acts 12:17, Peter, being released from prison by an angel, told the believers to tell James and the brothers. In Acts 15, we also see that James had the last word in the Jerusalem council regarding the Gentiles. He commanded them to listen to him. (Acts 15:13) He said “my judgment is” and proceeded to lay down a ruling regarding the Gentiles.







I think James described himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” because the recipients of the letter already knew he was the Lord’s brother and he wanted to emphasize not his physical relationship to the Lord, but rather his spiritual relationship. He lived to serve the Lord.

The recipients of the letter were the “twelve tribes in the Dispersion”. The 12 tribes was a way of referring to Israel. But we know James was writing to believers. In 2:1 he said “as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory”. He may have meant believing Jews who lived outside of Palestine. For example, Acts 2:9-11 shows us that Jews from many countries, who evidently did not speak Greek, attended Pentecost and witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Twelve. Three Thousand people believed and were baptized. Then they likely all went back to their own countries and met in worship together.

However, he may have just referred to all believers, regardless of race, outside and used the term to identify the church as the New Israel. The church is dispersed because it is not in heaven or the New Earth and is often persecuted and oppressed. Jews in the intertestamental period used this terminology to refer to the true people of God in the last days and I prefer this interpretation. Jesus seems to have indicated this truth also. He chose 12 apostles, suggesting he was creating an eschatological Israel. In Matthew 19:28, he told them that in the new earth they would sit on 12 thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel. He is saying that Christians are the true people of God in the last days.

Peter used a similar term in 1 Peter 1:1, addressing his letter to the “elect exiles of the dispersion”, again using this metaphor to describe the church as away from its real home in heaven. He goes on to describe the church in the same terms God described Israel (2:9) and goes on to say they are sojourners and exiles. This is another way of saying the same thing, that this earth in this age is not our home.

The country singer Jim Reeves wrote a song about this:

"This World Is Not My Home"

This world is not my home
I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.

The angels beckon me
From heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home
In this world anymore.


Testing of Faith
1:2-18

This passages tells us how to react to trials and tests. It also tells us the purpose of them.

James refers to trials of various kinds. The word for trial here includes tests of faith, whether by persecution or just difficult times. It might mean having your house burned down by Muslims because your are a Christian, or finding out you have cancer, or losing your job.

We we encounter trials of various kinds, we are to count it all joy. The NIV uses “consider”. We usually react to trials with frustration, anger, anxiety or fear. So, this is an audacious statement. Remember Job’s wife told him to curse God and die. (Job 2:9)

This does not mean that trials are fun. If they were fun, they would not be trials. That is why he says for us to count it joy or consider it joy. It is not our natural reaction. So, we must count it as joy. In fact, we must count it as all joy, with nothing else mixed in.

The reason we count them as all joy is the purpose of trials. Verse 3 tells us the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. You are steadfast when you do not waver in your faith, when you endure, when you are firm. Steadfastness and endurance are traits of a mature believer. A mature believer is one who is much like Christ. God works in us for our sanctification, making us more and more like Christ.

Did Jesus have joy in trials? Hebrews 12:2 tell us to look to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus did not have this trial to sanctify himself, but to save us. But the writer of Hebrews used it as an example for us so that we will endure, not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:3) In other words, so that we will be steadfast.

Steadfastness is not the end result, however. Steadfastness has an effect on us, making us perfect and complete. (4) James said to let it have its full effect on us. We grow in faith. We grow in holiness.

Some of you have faced great trials. You have been seriously ill. You have lost a job. You have been divorced. You have lost friends. You have been persecuted for your faith. All of us will face trials at some point. You can get angry or panic. Or you can count it as joy, trusting God to do his work on you, and wait for it to be over. Once you have trusted God through a trial, you have even greater faith. You become steadfast. You become holy. You become complete.

In addition to Jesus himself, there are other examples in the Bible. As I mentioned, Job faced great trials, but honored the Lord. When Peter and John were arrested for preaching, thy rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Paul went to prison but wrote that he rejoiced because he believed that Christ would be honored in his body, whether Paul lived or died. (Philippians 1:18)

You may be thinking, how can I get to be like that. James gives us the answer. In verse 5, he said if we lack wisdom we can ask God for it. We quote this out of context all the time. But he is speaking in the framework of trials. If we lack wisdom on how to handle this trial, God will give it generously and without reproach.

Sometimes we face a trial and know exactly what to do. When I faced political turmoil in my job a few years ago, I knew God wanted me to trust him to fix it and avoid taking revenge. I knew this from study of the Bible. But when I faced a trial due to a bad business parter, I did not know what to do and prayed for God to show me. He did and I got through it and learned to trust and to ask.

James says God gives generously. He will give you the wisdom you need to handle the trial. He will not withhold from you. He also does this without reproach. Have you ever asked somebody a question, and gotten the answer, but made to feel stupid? God does not do that. He literally gives wisdom single-mindedly.

And in the same way, we must ask for wisdom without doubting. You cannot really stand firm and doubt at the same time. So, you cannot ask God for wisdom on how to be steadfast if you doubt that God can or will give it. You are unstable, saying one thing and believing another.

I think many folks approach a test this way. They ask God to help, but actually doubt that he can help. Then they face the trial in doubt and fear and anger and do not receive any spiritual growth from it. Sometimes God is gracious and still handles the trial or makes it come out all right, but the believer does not receive the full benefit of the trial. So his or her testimony is “I was not sure God would help me and I really was terrified but he did and now I am relieved”. But it could have been, I asked God for wisdom and he gave it to me. I endured the trial and praise God for the ability to face it and grow from it.

Consider it all joy when you face a trial. Let God make you steadfast through it. Let steadfastness make you holy and complete in Christ.

Friday, November 07, 2014

PRAYER


An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get into touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God—that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening. God is the thing [Person] to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing [Person] inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers. The man is being caught up into the higher kinds of life—what I called Zoe or spiritual life: he is being pulled into God, by God, while still remaining himself. - C. S. Lewis