Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 5

Faith and Deed – James 2:14-26

Based on a sermon from 22nd May 2022

Here’s an age-old question:  Can faith with no works save you?  Works and faith have often been at the centre of debate in the church.  So, what exactly is necessary for salvation?

Some groups have gone the legalistic route, trusting in their good works to save them, believing that by strict adherence to rules they can earn favour with God.  Others have said the mind is most important and physical actions aren’t. Therefore, just believe and you will be okay.

It’s a fundamental issue and one that James covers in detail here.  Remember James is a practical book so it is natural he will emphasise the practical side.  Is faith without works of any use?  Can that faith save him?

James gives an illustration to prove his main point (that faith without works is dead).  The example is this.  A person in need comes to you for help.  With smooth words you bless the person and wish them well, sending them on their way.  Judging only by your words it would appear that you have great love, compassion, and mercy for this person.  However, you do nothing tangible to help this person.  They go away exactly the same as they came, – in need.  Your beautiful words did nothing to satisfy their need.

Here’s a rhetorical question: What use is that?  The obvious answer; it is no use.

The response to the situation above is hypocritical.  It would be better to just truthfully say “I won’t help you.  I don’t want to help you.”  The implication is that words are not as important as actions.  Empty words are useless.

So, James is saying that faith without works is dead (17).  This is the point of his previous illustration, and is a major theme of his epistle; Christianity has to be lived out practically in everyday life.

In chapter one, he showed that trials test true faith.  Perseverance in trials is an indicator that a person’s faith is real and that they are truly saved.  Thus, response to trials is test number one.

Test number two is works.  The point is similar to the one at the end of chapter 1 about hearing and doing.  Knowing a lot of things is pointless unless that knowledge changes how you live.

Simply put, this means that a person with real faith will live a changed life.  A person who is genuinely saved will bear fruit.  Jesus taught the same thing.  In Matthew 7:17 Jesus says; “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

We are to evaluate our own spiritual condition by examining our fruit.  Are you zealous for the Lord?  Are the fruit of the Spirit evidenced in your life?  Do you love sharing the gospel?  Do you delight in studying God’s Word and prayer?  Do you sacrifice things in your own life in order to pursue God?

Those things are evidence that you are a good tree.  On the other hand, going to church, being baptised, joining the choir, praying a prayer, owning a Bible, calling yourself a Christian are not very good indicators of salvation.

Warning!  Not all belief is saving faith (19).  There are some kinds of belief that don’t save.  The demons believe God.  Satan and demons have mostly orthodox doctrine.  They know personally the Father, Son, and Spirit.  That is, they believe in His existence and power.  They certainly know God created the world.  We know they believe in the judgement to come (Luke 8:31).  But they hate God with all of their hearts and fight against Him with every breath even though they know He is real and the Judge.

Demons believe God, but they do not submit to Him; neither do they rest in Him.  So, although they believe God, they do not believe in God, that He is worthy of their adoration and praise.  This verse shows us very clearly that head knowledge doesn’t save.  Even acceptance of the fact that God is true doesn’t save.  One must place their faith in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord in order to be saved.  So, agreement to a list of facts about God is not enough, (Acts 16:31).

As we look at these verses it appears that James may be contradicting Paul’s teachings of justification by faith.  How can we reconcile James’ teaching with Paul’s?  Is he contradicting Paul?  It’s not a necessary disagreement, as this passage actually complements the message of Paul very consistently.  The reason for confusion involves a mistaken view of the biblical definition of “faith.”  Saving faith is not merely agreement; it is trust.  James makes it clear that the “faith” which he says cannot save is mere intellectual belief.  True faith saves, but it also results in works.

James readily acknowledges that salvation is a gift from God (see James 1:17-18) and quotes Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So, it is clear that James does not believe in salvation by works alone and this passage as part of Scripture cannot be teaching that.

So what then is the point?

We know that James is a book stressing practical living and showing us some tests we can apply to see if we are genuinely saved.  In this passage James is emphasising the action that must come out of genuine, living faith.

So which came first, Abraham’s faith or his offering of Isaac?

His faith came first.  He first demonstrated faith many years earlier by obeying God’s call to “go to the country I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1).  Even when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he first left his place and travelled to the location to be used for sacrifice.  From the beginning, he believed that God would raise up Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).  His steadfast belief in God led him to obedience.  So we are saved by faith alone.  But practically speaking, this faith must show itself through action or it is dead.

Then we have another example of Rahab, who demonstrates faith in action, because her works proved that her faith was genuine.

Joshua 2:9-11 tells us:

9 and (Rahab) said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’

This is Rahab’s statement of faith.  It shows very clearly that she believed God is the real God of heaven and earth.  She followed this statement with actions that proved that she meant what she said.  She risked her life in order to save the lives of the spies.  In essence she betrayed her own country, people, and idols, because of her faith in the real God.

If Rahab had spoken these words to the spies and then reported them to Jericho’s authority, it would have proved that she still was loyal to her own idols.  It would have proved that her faith in God was not genuine, certainly not strong enough to change her lifestyle or affect her choices.

James said that Rahab was “justified by works.”  These works proved to Israel that she was loyal to Jehovah.  It was on the basis of these works (saving the spies) that she and her family were saved.

Faith and works are two sides of the same coin.  Without faith, Rahab never would have risked her life for strangers.  And without her deeds of protection, her professed faith would have been empty.  As James says in verse 26, “faith without deeds is dead.”

This is a stark warning of the need for personal examination.  Your faith should change how you live your daily life.  Would a neutral party observing your life find any evidence that what you believe is changing how you live life on a day to day basis? 

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 2:14-26 and John 14:23-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Digging into God’s Word

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond these questions.

As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

  • Ask God to show you two ways your faith has changed how you live on a day to day basis.
  • Now ask God to show you two more ways that your faith needs to be reflected in your daily life.  Again, give thanks to God for what He shows you and ask Him to give you strength and courage to believe and do, so you live both with faith in Christ and deeds for Christ.

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit.  I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 4

Favouritism Forbidden – James 2:1-13

Based on a sermon from Sunday 15th May 2022

Wow, these are tough words from James.  He pulls no punches!  He is holding nothing back.  He is being totally blunt, telling the fullness of God’s truth, the truth that we need to know in order to live a life of obedience to God.  Those we know who are blunt can be a challenge to us, perhaps so much so that we avoid them if we see them when we are out.

James 2:13 says, “Because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”  But he concludes by saying, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.”  What a hard hitting verse!  We’ll unpack this a little this morning.

We’re continuing our series on the Epistle of James under the banner of “Holiness, Me and the Church”.  Our theme this morning is “Favouritism Forbidden”.  When looking for the meaning from any passage, it is always important to look at the context.  This chapter, and indeed, as I have said previously the whole book of James, is a letter from the apostle James (Jesus’ half-brother) to the Church about practical Christian living.  Not only does it deal with how to respond to God, but also how to maintain a Christ-like relationship with others.  If we find it uncomfortable to read then we should not avoid it by skipping over it, instead we should make a conscious decision to dig into it so that we learn, listen and let it shape our Christian lifestyle, so we become true “doers” of the word.

Our reading this morning is the first half of chapter 2.  It addresses the favouritism some believers were showing toward the rich at the expense of the poor (v1–9).  James then goes on to speak about the Law and how breaking even one of God’s commands makes one guilty of breaking all of them – one infraction is all it takes to make one a lawbreaker (v10–11).  While some in the church may have seen favouritism as a “lesser” sin, James informed them that any sin, no matter how small it seems, constitutes breaking the entirety of God’s Law for His people.

James clearly condemns acts of favouritism.  Often we treat a well-dressed, impressive looking person better than someone who looks shabby.  Why do we do this?  We do this because we would rather identify with successful people than with apparent failures.  The irony, as James reminds us, is that the supposed winners may have gained their impressive life-style at our expense.  In addition, the rich find it difficult to identify with the Lord Jesus, who came as a humble servant.  Are you easily impressed by status, wealth, or fame?  Are you partial to the “haves” while ignoring the “have-nots’?  This attitude is sinful.  God views all people as equals, and if He favours anyone, it is the poor and the powerless. We should follow His example and love our neighbour.

Why is it wrong to judge a person by his or her economic status?  Wealth may indicate intelligence, wise decisions, and hard work.  On the other hand, it may mean only that a person had the good fortune of being born into a wealthy family.  Or it can even be the sign of greed, dishonesty, and selfishness.  By honouring someone just because he or she dresses well we are making appearance more important than character.  Sometimes we do this because:

  1. poverty makes us uncomfortable; we don’t want to face our responsibilities to those who have less than us;
  2. we want to be wealthy too, and we hope to use the rich person as a means to that end;
  3. we want the rich person to join our church and help support it financially.  All these motives are-selfish; they view neither the rich nor the poor person as a human being in need of fellowship. If we say that Christ is our Lord, then we must live as He requires, showing no favouritism and loving all people regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

James 2:12–13 fits right into the flow of the previous verses of our sinful attitudes towards others.  Verse 12 says, “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.”

James teaches believers that they are no longer held under the old Law; instead, they are under a new law of freedom that was established through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As born-again believers we are under the New Covenant.  This liberty, which comes through the gospel of Christ, gives us freedom from the power of sin.  James is saying, live your life in such a way that proves that you expect to answer to God some day for your actions.  No believer will be able to excuse his sin by saying, “I couldn’t help it,” because the cross of Christ did away with that bondage.  We are under the law of liberty now.

In James 2:13, the thought is continued: “Because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.”

We dare not violate the law of liberty in our hearts by withholding mercy from others.  If we who have been shown such great mercy act unmercifully toward our neighbours, then we will be dealt with in similar fashion.  Jesus made the same point in the parable of the unforgiving steward (Matthew 18:23–35).  And the principle goes back to Solomon’s time: “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).  James’ mention of “mercy” here corresponds to his mention of “love” in verse 8: the “royal law” is to love your neighbour as yourself.

This brings us to the final statement of James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgement.” The idea is that mercy “glories” against judgement.  Knowing this truth, where mercy and judgment seem to conflict, mercy wins!  The good news for every child of God in Christ is that God’s mercy toward us will triumph over His judgement of us (see Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus). Our sins may argue against us, but Christ is our loving Advocate who argues for us and prevents us from receiving the judgement we deserve.  We, in turn, are to display God’s type of mercy toward others.

So in essence, James 2:13 tells us that since God will judge us with mercy, we as recipients and thus bearers of His mercy, should judge others with His mercy.  Being merciful is an act that shows our thankfulness for all God has done, and this is only made possible through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement, showing no Favouritism (James 2:13)

Our amazing God is a God of mercy, a mercy that shows no favouritism.  Jesus revealed such mercy through His life and teachings.

Jesus answers a lawyer’s question by asking a question at the end of a parable which begins and ends with a wounded man who is the focus for three people on a journey (Luke 10:30,35). They are from different classes — a Jewish priest (Luke 10:31), a member of the Jewish tribe of Levite who assisted the work of the priests at the temple (Luke 10:32) and a Samaritan (Luke 10:33, 35). They arrive, see and respond.  I’m sure the parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar to you.

Vincent van Gogh’s painted this parable.  He portrays mercy as action-orientated, interactive and found in unexpected places.  It has been said that the mercy can be described as the willingness to enter into the chaos of others and journey with them.

All three men journeying to Jericho saw the wounded man, but only the Samaritan had a heart moved with compassion, “he took pity on him” (Luke 10:33).  He was moved from the depths of his being.  Through compassion he knew something had to be done to address the need he felt in his heart.

We find this pattern in two other parables – when the father sees his lost son return (Luke 15:20) and when a person is caught in a huge debt (Matthew 18:24–25, 27).  Jesus’ life and actions are the incarnation of God’s mercy: when He met the funeral of the widow’s son “his heart went out to her” (Luke 7:13);when He healed the blind men He “he had compassion on them” (Matthew 20:34).  This is also repeated on many other occasions too. 

The Samaritan’s response to the wounded man showed generosity and care above cultural expectations.  Today we see the Samaritan as “good” for coming to the wounded man’s aid who we presume to be a Jew from Jerusalem.

But who was the Samaritan?  There are some indications in the story.  He could have been a merchant or trader.  He journeys (Luke 10:33), he has an animal to carry his goods and he has with him two items typical of trade at the time – oil and wine (Luke 10:34).  Traders were unpopular with peasants who regarded them as part of the system that oppressed and exploited them.  Traders were despised by the elites who regarded them as new wealth and upstarts.

The Samaritan showed mercy to the wounded man and drew on all he had available to care for him.  He used the medicinal qualities of oil and wine on his wounds and fabric for bandages.  His animal carried the wounded man to the inn paying for the stay at the inn with coins he put himself into debt and gave himself and the man he was helping into the hands of the innkeeper.  This is mercy in action, triumphing over judgement.

This parable guides us into the works of mercy: we see a need, then having a heart moved with compassion we decide how to respond to the need the heart has felt.  In a world of structural sin where political and economic systems function to benefit those with power and wealth, immense harm is done to the majority of people.  Godly mercy takes us to the root causes of suffering and injustice, to the works of justice, it shows no favouritism towards anyone for all are equal in God’s sight.

The lawyer to whom Jesus told the parable could not cope with where he found mercy.  Instead of answering with the term Samaritan, he answers Jesus saying: “the one who showed mercy.”

In Van Gogh’s painting we see a portrayal of the giving and receiving of mercy: there is no favouritism or judgement.  If we want to be a welcoming Church here, how might we as followers of Christ, give and receive justice and mercy to those wounded by our society that is stacked up against the “have nots”?

Alleluia! Christ is risen….

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 2:1-13 and Luke 10:25-37, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Digging into God’s Word

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond these questions.  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Looking at our Church identity below, how can we better minister to those in our community who are in need?

RedBRick Church Identity

Safe Haven – A trustworthy, rooted and reliable place of welcome, comfort and restoration

Divine – A people who are honest and raw and reflect the supernatural realms of heaven

Illuminating – A beacon of light and love to the community, which guides safe passage through the storms of life

Generous – An abundant blessing to the community which reaches out, cares and bears the burdens of others

Courageous – A bold and strong people who are equipped to protect and fight in the battle-

Together – A united people who value, include and lift one another up as we travel to our joint destination

  • What situations have you found yourself in when you were tempted to show favouritism?
  • In what way does God avoid showing favouritism?
  • How does God show grace and love to all people?

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit. I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Listening and Doing

Based on a sermon from Sunday 8th May 2022

Key Bible passages: James 1:19-27 & Luke 8:4-15

I’m sure that most hand basins in our bathrooms have a mirror above them.  How often do we really take a good look at ourselves when we are washing our hands, or cleaning our teeth?  I know I don’t; so frequently Barbara tells me that my hair is sticking up!  I just haven’t noticed it despite looking at myself in the mirror.

James, in his letter uses a mirror as an illustration as to how we are to look into the Bible.  He is saying, don’t just scan a few verses and think that you have done your duty toward God.  Instead, James is saying we are to dig deep into the Word, and meditate on it.  As we do this, we need to compare our life to the Bible, and if it says that we need to do something different, we need to do it.  To help us achieve both “listening and doing” the Word we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.  We often become angry when our egos get bruised, when we think that we are not being heard, when we feel neglected or offended.   James is saying we should not become angry over such things because selfish anger never helps anyone.  It does not bring about the righteous life that God desires (James 1:20).

A way to help us overcome anger is to humbly accept the Word planted in us.  Isn’t that a wonderful image; God’s word is planted in you!  Just think about that for a few moments, God dwells in you through His Word, Scripture.  How does that make you feel, excited, peaceful, frightened?  We are called to humbly accept the word planted in us because this is the only way we can be saved.  For God’s word brings life, love, hope, safety and security, confidence, knowledge, wisdom, forgiveness, eternal life, and I can go on with such positive and uplifting nouns. 

As I read these verses from James’ letter I was reminded of Jesus’ words when He was questioned by the Pharisees about which is the greatest law.  I am sure you know His response:

Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)

Jesus, in teaching us the way God wants us to live, clearly teaches that we should always treat those around us like we want to be treated.  James, tells us what this looks like… listening to others, not getting angry or being rude to them, and looking out for people who are going through hard times. 

How do we become “doers” of the Word as James is encouraging?

By listening to it.  This has to be done both physically and spiritually.  Without the spiritual aspect of listening, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be like someone looking at themselves in a mirror and immediately forgetting what we have seen when we go away.  The effectiveness of our time reading and studying the Word will be seen by others when we allow it to have an impact, an effect, on our daily behaviour and attitude about God, His world, family, friends, our work etc. 

Spiritual listening helps us to get our priorities in line with God’s priorities, and so brings our life into line with His plumb line truths.  Before we do anything we should be asking if it is grounded in Scripture, for Scripture, God’s Word planted in us, always points us in the ways of God, not humanity, not self. 

As I continue to reflect on these verses from James the parable of the four soils/sower comes to mind.  Here Jesus teaches that the seed is the Word of God (Luke 8:4-15).  The farmers of Jesus’ day took handfuls of seed and tossed it as they walked through the field.  Inevitably seed would have fallen on ground that would not produce a crop.  The path, (soil 1) represents those who refuse to believe God’s Word.  As soon as they receive it is taken away.  The rock, (soil 2) represents people who believe the Word, but never get round to doing anything about it, so it takes root but quickly dies because they do not nurture it.  The thorn patch, (soil 3) are those who accept the Word and are changed by it, but over time they are overcome by worries and the lure of materialism, thus leaving no room for God in their lives and His Word withers and dies.  The good soil, (soil 4) are people who in direct contrast to all the others follow Jesus no matter what the cost.  They are people who apply the planted word in them and so grow in the ways of God.

Which soil are you?  Reflecting on the parable of the four soils how do you tend your good soil so that you listen better to God and become a better doer of His word?  Reading Scripture is of paramount importance.  As you do this you discover God’s love for you and His creation.  His word also teaches us the importance of prayer, individually, in small groups and corporately.  His Word teaches us the importance of worship, spending time praising God for who He is.  His Word teaches the importance of discipleship, being prepared to study the Word privately and with others.  His word teaches us of the importance of mission and ministry (evangelism) where we reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ through word, deed and action.

Remember, before we do anything we should be asking if it is grounded in Scripture, for Scripture, God’s Word planted in us, always points us in the ways of God, not humanity, not self, and by perseverance God’s Word planted in us produces an abundant crop, a hundred times more than was sown. 

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 1:19-27 and Luke 8:4-15, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Digging into God’s Word

Looking back to the Parable of the four soils, consider these questions…

What are the “birds” in your life? – Where has God’s Word not taken root in your life?

What are the “rocks” in your life? – Where has God’s Word grown in your life but has now died because you have not done anything about it?

What are the “thorns” in your life? – Where has God’s Word been overcome by the worries and the lures of the world, leaving no room for His Word to grow?

How do you keep your “good” soil good? – What are you doing that helps you dig deeper into God’s Word and so live out the righteous living God desires?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond these questions.

As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit.  I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 3

An introduction to James

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with our actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why?  Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Learning from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do, at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 2

Trials and Temptations

Based on a sermon from Sunday 1st May 2022, and James 1:1-18

“Have we trials and temptations, is there trouble everywhere?”

These words from the famous hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” written by Joseph M. Scriven, lay out the human condition well.  At every turn it seems there is a sudden problem, or bad habits creep in, and it feels like our walk is set back.  Sometimes a tragedy strikes so great our faith shakes.   Though they may feel the same, there is a distinct difference between a trial and a temptation.  Discerning between moments of trials versus moments of temptation is an important element of the Christian life, and can guide us as believers in our quest to follow God’s will.  

So what is a trial, what is a temptation?

We’re taking this summer term to look at the Book of James, a book about how we can engage in “good works” for the Lord and be a “doer” of the Word.  In the 2nd and 3rd verses of the first chapter we find a concise definition of a trial.  We read, 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

So a trial is a testing of our faith, for us to lean on God.  God never wastes a moment because both trial and temptation can be used by God for our growth, and to draw us closer to Him.

Trials come in many forms, but they typically come in the form of an outside force beyond the individual’s control.  Illness, fire, accidents, and job loss are easily recognizable as bad moments in life, but God is sovereign over those times.

On the other hand, temptation, is internal.  Individuals can only be tempted with that which is individually tempting to that person.  Some struggle with stealing, some with lust, others with lying.  Once again the book of James clarifies in chapter 1:14, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”  While one person may be able to walk by an expensive bracelet with no compulsion to slip it into their pocket, another may wrestle with an impulse to shoplift.  Temptation strikes where someone is weakest.  God never tempts us: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” (James 1:13).

The Book of Job illustrates both the external nature of trials, as well as God’s sovereignty over them.  Job a devout man, had virtually all that he had suddenly taken away from him.  Satan came before God, challenging Job’s devotion, and thereby challenging God.  Job 1:9-11: God allows Satan to do his worst.  However, by the end of the book, Job has gained a greater understanding of who God is, and the Lord carries Him through the trial, blessing Him even more than before.

An example of temptation is the younger son in Jesus’ parable, The Prodigal Son.  This son is tempted by what appears to be a much better way of life outside the safety and security of his father and family.  On receiving his share of the inheritance he squanders it all – showing that even though the grass looked greener on the other side of the track when he got there it wasn’t!  Caving to temptation led to further temptation and took him further away from God, until he realised the error of his way.

James 1:12 states, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (see also James 1:4).  Christians are being refined by God in their trials, as James tells us to consider it pure joy when we experience trials, because they are also opportunities to glorify God.

By contrast, the Bible uses one word over and over again when telling believers how to respond to temptation. Flee. “So flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22); “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18); “flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14); and the list could continue.  It does not mean that temptation will not be a struggle; it will be, but when we see temptation at the door, we should fight to avoid the snare.  There is also a blessed reminder in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Christ died and we are forgiven if we will come to Him in repentance. 

Understanding all of this, it can still be difficult to discern when we are being tempted, and when we are being tried.  Sometimes the temptation comes in the trial, wanting to respond in anger, rather than in a Christ-like fashion.  Ultimately, the best way to discern between the trials and temptations is to take the advice of Joseph M. Scriven, the great hymn writer, and “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Go to God with your trials and temptations, and He will guide you best.

Holiness, Me, and the Church – Part 1

An introduction to James

Based on a sermon from 1st May 2022, and James 1:1-18

“MIRACULOUS!” …”Revolutionary!” … “Greatest ever!”  We are inundated by a flood of extravagant claims as we shop on-line, flip through television channels or magazine pages.  The messages leap out at us.  The products assure us that they are new, improved, fantastic, and capable of changing our lives for the better.  For only a few pounds, we can have “cleaner clothes”, “whiter teeth”, “glamorous hair”, and “tastier food”.  Cars, perfume, diet drinks, and mouthwash are guaranteed to bring happiness, friends, and the good life.

But talk is cheap, and too often we soon realise that the boasts were hollow, quite far from the truth.

‘Jesus is the answer!” … “Believe in God!” …  “Follow me to church!”  As Christians we also make great claims but are often guilty of belying them with their actions.  Professing to trust God and to be His people, we cling tightly to the world and its values.  Possessing all the right answers, we contradict the gospel with our lives.

James confronts this conflict head-on.  It is not enough to talk the Christian faith; he says we must live it.  “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?” (2:14).  The proof of the reality of our faith is a changed life.

Part of the good news is that a genuine faith will inevitably produce good deeds.  This is the central theme of James’ letter, around which he supplies practical advice on living the Christian life. 

The book of James is considered to be written by James the brother of Jesus, which makes what he writes even more powerful.  Why? Because James tried to stop Jesus.  His family (brothers) thought He was crazy and didn’t believe Jesus when He said He was the Son of God!

After Jesus rose from the dead, he appeared to James, (1 Corinthians 15:7).  Can you imagine that conversation?  I’m sure it was filled with lots of tears, repentance, forgiveness, and Jesus’ amazing grace.  After that episode, James becomes Jesus’ biggest supporter.  As one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15), he bravely proclaims Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

This letter can be seen as a how-to book on Christian living, containing tools for Christians on how to live a holy and righteous life before God.  Confrontation, challenge, and a call to commitment await us in its pages.  As we journey through James over the next three months our hope should be that we become better at being “doers” of the word (1:22-25).  We will be exploring this under the theme of Holiness, Me, and the Church.  Our verse for this term is from Psalm 51:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

May we hold this verse before us as together we dig into James this term.

Tools from James 1:1-18

These verses  give us some tools that are useful for us in order to become the “doer” of the word that God is looking us to be.  I will now share tools that I believe we can find in this passage.  Later you will have an opportunity on our own to re-read those verses from chapter 1 and ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.

Pure Joy (v2)  Note James doesn’t say “if” you face trials, but “whenever” you face them.  We will have trials but with God’s help it is possible to profit from them.  The point is not to pretend to be happy when we face pain and difficulty, but to have a positive outlook (“consider it pure joy”) because of what trials can produce in our lives.  So, James is telling us to turn our hardships into times of learning.  Therefore, tough times can teach us further the importance of perseverance. Which is the next tool…

Perseverance (v3)  This is the same as patience, endurance and steadfastness.  Perseverance is persistence in doing something despite difficulty (pain) or delay in achieving success.  It’s about pushing on through to the end and not giving up.  The outcome of perseverance is growth in maturity….

Mature and Complete (v4)  God wants to make us mature and complete, not to keep us from all pain.  That can be difficult to accept, if God is a God of love then surely He will protect us from pain?  However, God always turns things on their head, so instead of complaining about our struggles we should see them as opportunities for growth.  I have found that thanking God for promising to be with me in rough times helps me to persevere and helps me to grow in maturity.  In thanking God, He wants us to ask him to help solve our problems and to give us the strength to endure them.  As we do this we need to be patient, and remember that God will not leave us alone with our problems for He will always stay close and help us grow.  The outcome of growing in maturity with God is wisdom….

Wisdom (v5)  By wisdom James is talking not only about knowledge, but about the ability to make wise decisions in difficult circumstances.  Whenever we need wisdom we can pray to God, and He will generously supply what we need.  We don’t have to grope around in the dark, hoping to stumble upon answers.  We can ask for God’s wisdom to guide our choices.

Therefore, wisdom means practical discernment.  It begins with respect for God, leads to right living, and results in increased ability to tell right from wrong.  God is willing to give us this, His wisdom but we will be unable to receive it if our goals are self-centred instead of God-centred.  To learn God’s will we need to read His word and ask Him to show us how to obey it.  Then we must do what He tells us.  As we do at least two things happen: we grow in belief and trust…

Belief and Trust (not doubt)  To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God; but also believing in His loving care.  It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.  We must put away our critical attitude when we come to Him.  God does not grant every thoughtless or selfish request.  We must have confidence that God will align our desires with His good and perfect purposes.  Our requests therefore, must be in line (in harmony) with the principles of God’s Kingdom.  The stronger our belief, the more likely our prayer will be in line with God’s will, and then God will be happy to grant answers to our prayers.

Allowing God to deepen our belief and trust means that our mind will be less likely to waver.  If we are not completely convinced that God’s way is best we will treat His word like any human advice, and we then retain the option to disobey.  A wavering mind, wavering between different opinions, actions, between allegiance to subjective feelings, the world’s ideas, and God’s Commands will lead us to act unwisely and immaturely.  When we are struggling, remember that you can trust God.  Then be loyal to him.  The way to stabilise your wavering or doubtful mind is to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God.

As belief and trust grow, we can grasp better the concept of God’s promise that we have received the Crown of life (v12)  The crown of life is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes (1 Corinthians 9:25).  God’s crown of life is not glory and honour on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God for ever.  The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.  So we move on to the next point..

Love of God (v12)  This helps us to overcome temptation.  Temptation comes from evil desires inside us, not from God.  It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action.  Like a snowball rolling down hill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way.  The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.  What helps us to stop temptation is to know the….

Word of truth (v18)  God’s Word is truth and it gives us new birth, the ability to resist temptation, to give direction and power to become the “doers” of the word God is always calling us to be.  The Word of truth sets us free from our past, rebirths us into new life by the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  As believers in Christ, we are the recipients of God’s best and sweetest gifts.

Living thoughts

I encourage you to read James 1:1-18.  As you do, ask God which of these tools you are struggling with in your personal and corporate relationship with God.  As an aide-memoire this may help

  • Are you struggling with considering it pure joy when you face trials?:
  • Do you give up easily, and wish you had better perseverance?
  • Are you lacking in maturity?
  • Do you struggle to make wise decisions?
  • Do you lack belief and so doubt God’s promises?
  • Do you feel that the crown of life is just outside your grasp, that you are not good enough for it?
  • Does temptation get in the way of your love of God?
  • Are there things getting in the way of you believing and trusting the word of truth?

As you ask God and let Him speak to you, acknowledge where you are struggling, where the enemy is using his evil schemes to tempt you.  Then confess to the Lord the harmful impact these are having on your life, receive God’s forgiveness, rebuke the schemes of the enemy and replace what you have rebuked with opposite of what you have confessed.  So for example, if God has shown you that you lack His wisdom, pray that you will be blessed by His wisdom so you are able to make wise decisions in your life that are in line with His plumb line truth.

The vital importance of Easter

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 and Luke 24:1-12

What a story Easter tells!  The Son of God in the form of Christ came as a man, truly human, and experienced all that we experience, except that he never sinned, and on top of this he rose from the dead.  His disciples had not expected Jesus to do this.

But if there was no resurrection, then Christ was not raised and so there would be no Easter to celebrate and no message of Christ to proclaim. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the church at Corinth that if Christ has not been raised then his preaching is in vain which means that their faith is also in vain.  So Paul reminds them of the facts about the resurrection.  He quotes the tradition that he received from those who were in Christ before him.

That:

•           Christ had died and was buried according to scripture.

•           Christ had been raised on the third day, according to scripture.

•           Christ had appeared to Peter, then to the twelve; then to about 500 Christians, to James the half-brother of Jesus, to the Apostles, and last of all to Paul himself.

These are the facts of Christ.  Without them the Christian faith has no substance, no meaning and no purpose.

Paul did not begin this chapter by quoting his own experience.  Yes, Christ, in his risen form had appeared to him, but he does not start from there.  Instead he quotes tradition that can be checked and confirmed by others.  I believe that the implication here is that Paul’s experience of the risen Christ was not a private mystical vision, because it was like the experiences of the others who all believed that Christ had risen because they had seen him.

The appearances of Christ were for the benefit of all his disciples and followers.  The same applies today.  When Christ works in and through our lives, he does so for the benefit of others, not for the benefit of self; like when we pray for others, or help others in a practical way.

And I think that the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead helps us to understand this principle.  Yes, there was a direct benefit for Lazarus, he was brought back to life.  But the implication of this miracle goes beyond that because many came in search of Jesus and Lazarus ‘for on account of him many Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him’ (John 12:11).  It became a selfless act of witness.

Paul is saying that it was on the basis of these appearances that Jesus’ disciples preached his resurrection from the dead.  So the words “Christ died, he was buried, he rose again, and was seen” are the basic historical facts that Christ died for our sins.  And there has only ever been one person who has died for the sins of the world – Jesus Christ.

Paul himself was one of the greatest witnesses of the resurrection.  When he was an unbeliever he was utterly convinced that Jesus was dead.  He was so convinced that he went to extraordinary lengths to stamp out those who believed otherwise. 

But as we know his life was turned upside down: a change occurred that brought him persecution and suffering.  Paul makes it clear that his salvation was purely an act of God’s grace.  But he allowed that grace to work through him as he served the Lord.  And it is only by the grace of God that we also serve the Lord.

Things happen to us in our lives, some good, some bad, and some, we’d rather not have happen, so to some extent we all face persecution.  And I’m sure that when life for Paul was difficult he must have drawn strength from his conversion, and thanked God for his grace toward him.

But whatever our experiences of the risen Christ, we must not cling on to them.  Mary tried to do that when she saw Jesus in the garden on that first Easter morn.  Instead we must take them out with us, building on them, as we serve those who we share are daily lives with.  Life goes on and just as it was for Paul, so it is for us that by God’s grace we are what we are.

But how do we understand God’s grace?

Well for me God’s grace is based upon at least 4 things:

•           His love for his entire creation

•           His love for his Son

•           The death of his Son

•           The resurrection of his Son

All of this resulted in the forgiveness of our sins and the opportunity for us to receive eternal life, and so one day live with Christ in resurrection glory.  And as Paul found out, God’s grace has tremendous power, because if we accept the above we cannot help but let it change our lives.  We become a new creation renewed in body, mind and spirit, making us more like Christ and so drawing us closer to our heavenly Father.

In my experience God’s grace is ALL powerful, where ALL is spelt in capitals, yet it works so gently as it reveals to us his care, compassion, understanding and above all his love for us.  God’s grace brings us home, into the arms of his love.

So again:

•           if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised

•           If he was not raised, there is no gospel to preach

•           If there is no gospel, then we believe in vain and we are still in our sins

The resurrection therefore is not just important; it is “of first importance,” because all that we believe hinges on it.  Without it we can never get home and my knowledge and experiences are worthless.

Christ is risen…

He is risen indeed!

Living Thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

1.         What is the central point of the Gospel?

2.         What is left of the gospel without Christ’s resurrection?

3.         What are the implications for us of Jesus’ resurrection?

4.         Why did Paul call himself the least of the apostles?

5.         Because he was least, did he just give up trying to accomplish as much as the others?

6.         List all of the implications for us, if Christ did not raise from the dead?

A Good Friday message – A mocking spirit

Based on Mark chapter 15, verses 16-32

Over the time of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, a mocking spirit prevailed.

Have you noticed how flocks of crows/rooks/seagulls circle around looking for somewhere to land?  It is as if they are waiting for one bird to take the lead, and as soon as one does, the rest fly in to land.  The mocking of Jesus started in private (v16-20).  There we read how soldiers led Jesus away to the palace, where they mocked Him privately.  In the 16 verses from v16-32 Jesus is mocked again, again and again!

First by passers-by:

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’

Then by the chief priests and the teachers of the law

31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!  32Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’

Finally, those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

This was public humiliation of the highest order!  All could hear the words of the passers-by.  That was their aim, for all to hear. 

Did you notice how the chief priests and the teachers of the law “mocked Jesus among themselves.”  I expect they did so in order for others to hear.

Finally, Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”  All very public. 

To me, “hurling insults” means you want it to stick on the person you are insulting.  Heaping insults implies an excessive amount of insults were aimed at Jesus.  This was a prolonged attack!  The mocking spirit was having a field day, believing that the victory belonged to their boss, the devil, satan.

What were they mocking?  They were mocking God’s greatest gift to us, His Son Jesus Christ.

Have you hurled and heaped insults on others? 

Have you circled around like a flock of crows/rooks/seagulls waiting to get in there with an insult? 

Perhaps you’re the first one to land a punch, and as soon as you do, those with you soon join in and the insults come flying in from all directions!

But how did this make you feel?  Did you feel justified, and proud; thinking, “They deserved that”!  A little while later, how did you feel?  Regret at what you said?  Ashamed, remorseful?  Words spoken in haste and judgement are very hard to undo.

Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of insults and mocking.  How did it make you feel?  Belittled?  Insignificant?  Of no value?  Worthless?

An insult can be interpreted as an attempt to reduce the status of the recipient and raise the relative status of the insulter.  The insults from the chief priests and the teachers of the law were no doubt motivated by anger surrounding issues of their sense of insecurity – Jesus was more popular than them.

The truth is this: mocking others is a sin.

Thankfully Jesus could take it.  Yet, we had a part to play in the drama of that afternoon because our sins were on the cross too.  Jesus bore all our sin on the cross, all our mocking of who He is, so that we can enjoy and experience the Father’s love for us personally.  The penalty of our sin was paid for by His horrible, tortuous and painful death.  But as with all sin to be free from it means that we first have to recognise and acknowledge when we’ve sinned through insulting others, then repent of this sin with a sincere and contrite heart.  Anything else is folly.

Finally, we are to replace the insulting, mocking spirit, with its opposite – praise!  The enemy hates praise of God.  He can’t stand it at all.  It’s so bad to him that his only option is to flee.

When we commend someone, acclaim them, endorse them, honour them, hail them, we are praising them, and the mocking spirit has to go.  When we do this God sees from heaven and praises and blesses us for such an attitude and effective strategy against a mocking spirit.

Praising God (Palm Sunday)

Based on a sermon from 10th April 2022

I’m sure that you have been in a situation like this…

Imagine that you are sat around a table with good friends, a mix of children and adults, that you haven’t seen for a while.  You have so much to tell about what has being going on in your life.  You start to talk, but one of the children interrupts, “I have something to say.”

“Just a minute. When I’m finished,” you reply, and you continue sharing what God has done in your life.  Then another adult starts talking, sharing how they have seen prayers answered in their life.

“Is it my turn yet?” the child who interrupted earlier asks. “Because I want to tell you about my report.”

“We’re almost done,” one of adults says.  The child lets out a big sigh and rolls their eyes!

Eventually, it is their turn. “Finally!” they exclaim. “I’ve been waiting forEVer,” and they launch into an enthusiastic explanation of their school report and what they had discovered in their recent project.  Had they not talked at that point, they would have burst in, unable to contain themselves any longer.

Have you ever felt that way with God?  Unable to contain your praise because of all He’s done?  Yet, often what God has done in our lives is so completely worthy of praise, that we don’t notice it, and we miss the opportunity for sweet worship with God in His Throne Room.

Palm Sunday is a day of praise, and we’re now entering the week of Easter, Holy Week.  As we journey with Jesus we begin with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Jesus loved the city of Jerusalem, and every year He would go into the city as a visitor, participating in the annual Passover feast.

On this occasion as Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did not come as a visitor but as a King to many.  So here we have Jesus making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a colt of a donkey.  The response was amazing; the crowds were celebrating.  They were laughing.  They were cheering.  They were having a great time.

They were shouting,  

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21)

‘Hosanna!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Mark 11)

 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ (Luke 19)

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

What does Hosanna mean?  It’s a Hebrew expression meaning “Save”.

What does blessed mean?  The word blessed is from the Greek word makarios, which means to be happy or blissful, but it also means a self-contained happiness.  This word has the idea that our happiness is independent of our circumstances.  It is self-contained, meaning that regardless of what is happening to us externally, we can be truly happy internally.  We can be genuinely blessed as followers of Jesus Christ.

This is what the crowd were feeling and experiencing and knowing deep in their knower!  That Jesus saves, and regardless of their circumstances they were truly internally happy.

When we’re experiencing such emotions there can sometimes be someone who questions why we are so happy.  It’s as if they have a bucket of cold water ready to throw over us!

If the Pharisees in the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem to such adulation had a bucket of cold water, that is what they would have done to the crowd, thrown it over them!

They said to Jesus:

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:39-40).

But what did Jesus mean by saying “the very stones would cry out “?  Now, it wasn’t that Jesus was saying the stones would actually come alive and shout with conscious praise.  But it’s not that God couldn’t cause stones to cry out.  In fact, God uses creation in amazing ways in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the earth quaked.  Rather He was saying,

“Don’t you get it? They have to praise me.  They have recognised the significance of me riding into Jerusalem on a never-before-ridden colt, what it really means, and they cannot contain their joy!”

There was great joy in the atmosphere.  The proper and only response was to praise Jesus.  No matter how hard the people could have tried to suppress it, eventually it would have burst out in an uncontrollable way because the presence of God was so powerful and tangible that they just couldn’t help themselves.  They were experiencing a time of “freedom”, of renewal, praising God with heart, body, mind, soul and spirit.

Even if, … no, especially if, you are going through a rough patch, find the reason to praise God.  Then praise Him with all you have left in you, and see if it doesn’t make you feel better, and watch how God will start to work in your life.

What has God done in your life that is worthy of praise?

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2 & 19-29 & Luke 19:18-40, and let them speak to you afresh in light of Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal, what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

When you can’t not praise God

Enjoy this time with the Lord. Reflect on or journal about the following questions, listening for what God has to say to you.

1. What if you don’t feel like praising?  Some days life is so hard that praise is the last thing we want to do. We feel like we have little to be thankful for.  Although the two are closely intertwined, praise can be distinguished from thanksgiving.  Think of praise as saying back to God who He is.  “I praise you for your faithfulness. I praise you that you are holy and true.  You are my rock and my salvation.”  If you’re struggling to praise today, open up your Bible or Bible app to Psalm 147 and read it out loud.  Let it remind you who God really is.

2. Go ahead and give thanks!  What are you thankful for today?  Take time to quieten your soul and spirit and let God bring to mind the things He has done in your life.  Do any surprise you?  Thank and praise God for all He is and all He is doing in your life and the lives of people around you.

3. It’s time to get your worship on!  Choose one or all of the songs to listen to on YouTube, or come back to these songs throughout the week.  They have the power to lift your spirits!

  • Holy, holy, holy is the Lord (Anon)
  • This Is Amazing Grace (Phil Wickham)
  • The One Who Saves (Hillsong)

Journey to Hope – Rising on Eagle’s Wings

Based on a sermon from Sunday 3rd April 2022

God stayed with the people leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21)

In this series we have been looking at the journey that the Israelites took through the desert to the Promised Land.  We have used their journey to help us look to revival.  If we want to see revival happen here, we need to learn from their journey.  In Numbers 16, Deuteronomy 1 and 2, we learn that the journey the Israelites took should have only taken 3 to 4 months, but it didn’t; it took them 40 years. Why?  Let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.

Twelve spies went out, but only 2 came back filled with hope that they could and would be able to step into the Promised Land.  Ten spies had no hope and didn’t trust God.  They were fearful and did not enter it.  These ten spies represented a generation who said they wanted to go into the Promised Land, but when “push came to shove”, and were faced with the realities of freedom, they didn’t want to enter.  They were fearful. They rebelled against Moses.  They grieved over Egypt and wanted to go back.  They moaned and groaned.  They tried to do life without God and take control.  They didn’t listen to the rules and commandments that God gave them, to help them live good holy lives.  They disobeyed God and chose to worship other gods.  They created a golden calf for themselves to worship.  Having a golden calf (a physical, man-made religious altar) was more important to them than a good, living, faithful, loving God.  Even though God had saved them from Egypt, destroyed their enemies in the Red Sea and promised them hope, they still didn’t trust God.

In Deuteronomy, we read that because of their disobedience and lack of trust, a whole generation was not able to enter the Promised Land.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.  15The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. (Deuteronomy 2:14-15)

If we hold on to our fear, our grief, our religion, and ways that we have to do church, then we will never enter the promises that God has for us, just like the Israelites.  The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.  God doesn’t want us to stay in our own desert.  If we don’t give our stuff to God, we, like the Israelites may miss out.  God didn’t allow the Israelites to enter the Promised Land until the Israelites were ready and the old generation had passed.  If we refuse to change and give ourselves to God, we may be like this old generation and we many never enter God’s Promised Land and see the revival that is promised.

When this doubting fearful generation passed, God gave them the land.  God fulfilled His promise and God gave them even more.  God fought for them.  God is utterly faithful and true.  God loves us so much and He will fulfil His promises to us.  we can have faith and confidence that God will fight for us too.

In Exodus 33 v7-23 we read of Moses’ hunger for God.  Moses met with God face to face, and he was still hungry for more, more of His presence, more of His love and favour, more of His glory.  He asked God to “Show me your glory” and God did.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19 v4-6)

God is so good and God is so good to us.  We are a Holy people.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are favoured and God’s treasured possession and therefore we will soar on wings like eagles.

Psalm 91 is awesome and it speaks of the promises of God over Moses, the Israelites and over us too.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.

We can rest under God’s wings.  Whatever we are carrying, we can bring it to God.  Under His wings of love, trust, peace, comfort and safety, God is our refuge and strength.  We can be vulnerable and exposed with God, because He is good and He will shield us.  God will cover us with His feathers and we will not need to feel shame and guilt.  God is our shield and He will stop the arrows that may come our way.  He loves us and as we drop our baggage, we can grasp and hold on to His wings.  As we grasp on to God, we will soar on wings like eagles.  We can have hope and we will rise.  We will rise above the storm.  We will rise into the hope and promises of God.

Isaiah 40 v28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

We can have hope for Revival here in this community.  We can have hope that salvation will come to our loved ones.  We can have hope that the Holy Spirit will come and renew, refresh and awaken his people.  We can have hope that the sheep who are lost, will be found again.  We can have hope that the prodigal son, will come back into the loving arms of God the Father.  We can have hope that cancer will go.  We can have hope that sick children will be made well and sickness will flee.  We can have hope that the barren women, will conceive and have children.  We can have hope that those who are slaves to addiction, will be set free by the blood of the lamb.  We can have hope that depression will be turned into deep wells of peace and joy.  We can have hope that the lonely will never be forgotten and isolated again.  We can have hope that families and friends who have been at war with one another and separated through disagreements and betrayal, will be united in love, forgiveness, and joy once again.  We can have hope that anger and unforgiveness in this community, will melt into repentance and compassion.  We can have hope that poverty in this community will be eradicated.  We can have hope that the schools will be filled with the sound of children and youth worshipping the Lord our God.  We can have hope that there will be such a hunger for God, that people will be weeping in the street.  We can have hope that this community will be completely transformed by the power of God’s love.

If God has done it in the past and God is everlasting, God will do it again.  We can have hope, because God is faithful and does not break his promises. We can have hope and we will all soar on wings like eagles.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Consider the following questions as you Dig into God’s Word.…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Take another look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.  What kind of “spy” are you?  Are you 1 of the 10 who doubts the hope of the Lord and His promises, or are you one of the 2 spies who said “Yes”?
  2. Remember Moses in Exodus 33 v7-23. How hungry are you for revival and for more of God’s power, glory and love in your life?
  3. Do some research on eagles and watch clips/look at photos of eagles soaring.  Look at Isaiah 40 v28-31 and Psalm 91 again.  Ask God to reveal more of what it looks like to soar in hope on eagle’s wings in your own life.  Repent where needed and then pray for more hope and faith to rise within you, and let it influence the way you pray and seek God.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you.  Grant us your light as we enter into Easter.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love.  Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre