Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 9

The Prayer of Faith

Based on a sermon from Sunday 24th July 2022

James 5:13-20

Since Easter we have been studying the Epistle of James, who is writing to Christians and teaching them what it means to be a mature Christian.  First, we’re to be patient when we find ourselves in testing times.  Second, we’re to practice the truth at all times, and thirdly we’re to have power over the tongue.  We’ve also looked at how we need to have and use Godly wisdom – where our deeds, words and actions are in tune with God’s plan and purpose for us.

Last week we looked at patience in suffering; Christians who are being oppressed.  He urges us to stay patient as we wait.  The day of the Lord, the very same one that our oppressors should be dreading, is one we can look forward to.  It will come.  The Lord is standing at the door and is ready.

In today’s section James focusses on prayer, including that we are to pray and praise God (James 5:13).  Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege.  Think on this: as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! 

“Is any of you in trouble?” (v13).  As God’s people going through life, we will endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God.  What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances?  Well, we’re not to grumble and criticise those who appear to be having an easier time of it (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord.  Instead, we should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory (James 1:5).

No doubt about it, prayer can remove affliction.  But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will because God can transform troubles into triumphs, as we read in 4:6 “He gives us more grace”.  Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that the cup might be removed, and it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.

James indicates that we don’t go through troubles at the same time:  “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).  God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing.  The mature Christian knows how to sing while he is suffering.  (Anybody can sing after the trouble has passed.)  God is able to give “songs in the night” (Job 35:10).  He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail.  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and sang hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

As praying and singing were important elements in worship in the early church, so they should be important to us.  Our singing ought to be an expression of our inner spiritual life.  Our praise should come from the heart (Eph. 5:19) and be motivated by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick.  Over the course of my Christian journey I have, with others, prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing.  But other times, He has not seen fit to heal the person.  I remember praying for one person and they received healing, then praying for someone else and they did not!

In verse 15 James states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”  This does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the people praying.  We need to realise that God heals, faith doesn’t, and all prayers are subject to God’s will.  It is also important to realise that our prayers are part of God’s healing process.  That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.

Christ’s death on the cross has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness (5:16).  But confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church.  So if we have sinned against an individual, we must ask them to forgive us.  If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.  If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support.  If, after confessing a private sin to God, we still don’t feel His forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.  In Christ’s kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers (1 Peter 2:9).

So, the practical lessons from this section must not be overlooked.  For one thing, disobedience to God can lead to sickness.  This was David’s experience when he tried to hide his sins (Ps. 32).  Second, we never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others, including the church!  Third, there is a great healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with, (See Proverbs 28:13)James is being tough here.  In essence he is saying, “Make it a habit to confess your sins to each other”.  So, do not hide sin or delay confession, because our most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer.  The results are often greater than we thought were possible.  Because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, it only makes sense to rely on it – especially because God encourages us to do so.  Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today.

But how often have you thought that your prayers won’t be answered, or haven’t been answered because you feel that you are not good enough to be in God’s presence and ask?  We look at Biblical characters like Elijah and say, of course God answered his prayers, he was after all a prophet of God!  But listen again to what James says… “Elijah was a man just like us,” (5:17).  In other words, he was not perfect; in fact, right after his glorious victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away.  But he was a “righteous man,” that is, obedient to the Lord and trusting Him.  God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just for ones we may call the spiritual elite.  Elijah prayed in faith, for God told him He would send the rain (1 Kings 18:1).  It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth (Robert Law).  Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent.  “He prayed … and he prayed again” (James 5:17-18).

James concludes his letter with a challenge to his readers: make an attempt to bring back those among you who have wandered from the truth.  He refers to people who were once part of the Christian community but have lost their way.  Perhaps James has in mind believers who became spiritually weak.  Perhaps these were never true believers in Christ, at all, but merely part of the community.  In either case, they’ve wandered away after false ideas.

James doesn’t address how we might accomplish this rescue, only that we should try.  Even reaching out to someone who has wandered from God’s truth, with grace and compassion, is sometimes enough to bring them back into the community.  However we reach out it should be made with great love and concern for their souls.  James is not speaking of condemnation, judgement, or arrogance. He’s speaking of a sincere interest – a loving effort – to help someone else.

So these final verses that close out the letter are encouraging those who believe in God to show it.  This is most readily shown by praying in response to every circumstance.  We should pray for ourselves, praise God, and invite the spiritual leaders of our churches to pray for us when we are sick, or spiritually weak.  Healing will follow; sins will be forgiven.  We should confess sins to each other so we can pray for strength for each other to overcome sin.  Prayer works; God hears and responds.  If we really believe this is true, our behaviour will reflect it.

James’ letter is a very practical one, it’s emphasis is on faith in action.  God calls every believer to serve with compassion and grace, and to live in obedience to His commands.  When we do this, we are able to love one another.  When we show such love we are bringing glory to God as we show that heaven is here on earth.  All of this helps to draw people to Christ so they too find God’s amazing love for themselves.

In a nutshell, James’ letter encourages us to believe in God, place our faith in Him, and place our trust in Him.  Such belief, faith and trust needs hands and feet if Christ’s church is to grow here, and these hands and feet are yours and mine!

Living thoughts

This is an 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.  Re read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

This brings us to the end of our study of James. His emphasis has been spiritual maturity. This would be a good time for us to examine our own hearts to see how mature we really are. Here are a few questions to assist you:

  1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?
  7. Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  8. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  9. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  10. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  11. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  12. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  13. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticise and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

God doesn’t want you to just grow old—His heart is for you to continually grow in spiritual maturity.

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power in Christ we have to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react and if we will choose to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness, which reflects your divine character.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 8

Patience in suffering

Based on a sermon from Sunday 17th July 2022

James 5:7-12

Patience is a virtue.  Who has heard of that saying?  I said this often to my daughters when they were growing up.  They often wanted something there and then; they couldn’t wait.  “I want it now, Daddy!”  Patience is something we need to practice.  For many of us it doesn’t come easy!  How often have you got angry when things are not working out the way you want them to?  Perhaps someone has let you down, or some vital part you ordered has not arrived and you can’t complete what you are doing.  I get impatient when I can’t get something to do what it is supposed to do.  It causes me stress, like for example, when one of my first smart phones wouldn’t connect properly to the internet, and oh boy was I impatient!

This morning’s passage from the Epistle of James is entitled “Patience in Suffering”.  In the verses before this, James rebukes the rich oppressors and warns them that the Lord sees their evil.  Now James turns his attention to the believing oppressed, – those who are suffering unjustly in a broken and sinful world at the hands of broken and sinful people, – and he wants to encourage them not to give up.

There are times when I have experienced suffering at the hands of others and my natural reaction is to lash out, but this is not what James is teaching.  Instead, James is encouraging us to “be patient and stand firm”.  Anyone planting seeds has to be patient; they are not going to grow whilst you stand and watch them  You have to wait patiently for the land to yield its valuable crop!  The farmer doesn’t take matters into his own hands. He doesn’t get down on the ground and start berating the seeds for not growing.  He waits.  However, whilst being patient, waiting, we are to stand firm, i.e. we are not to waiver from what we know to be true about Jesus as found in Scripture, not to waiver from who He is and not to forget His promises to us, particularly that He will return, for “the Lord’s coming is near”!  Christ’s return will happen, we can be certain of this, and so we need to live in the certainty of this, a certainty that the Bible never questions.

The battle for us is often because we don’t live in this certainty, so we need to “stand firm” in Christ, and not to be tossed to and fro by every wind, difficulty and evil that comes our way.  We are to take a stand against the world, and the schemes of the devil, the prince of the air, by establishing in our hearts the promises and character of God.  Much of which we have been looking at over the last few weeks as we have journeyed through James.

We do this by walking in the way of Jesus, who Himself received the greatest level of oppression and mistreatment the world has ever known, yet for our sake he trusted in the promises and character of His Heavenly Father.  If we have hope of Christ’s soon return, we should cease petty conflicts to which James alluded in chapter 4.  As children in a school classroom look out for their teacher’s return, God’s children should be on guard for Christ’s return.  In so doing, good behaviour and mutual harmony are essential, so don’t “grumble against each other”.  When we grumble we turn inward, become selfish, and lose sight of the hope we have in Christ.

James reminds us that when we are being mistreated it does not give us license to sin.  The Christ we await with eager expectation is the same Christ who delivered us from the punishment and the power of sin.  So, establish your hearts with patient expectation.  Wait eagerly for Him to return and for Him to execute judgement.  That’s His job.  And just like the farmer has other work to do while he’s waiting for the rain, so do we.

As we wait, we are to persevere.  When we undergo trying circumstances may we be comforted to learn that others have endured worse situations.  “The prophets” stood loyal to their Lord, suffered for it, and now their experience encourages us.  James reminds us that, though they suffered, the outcome of their lives was worth it in the end.  So, the Lord honoured Job’s endurance and perseverance with multiplied blessings (cf. Job 42:12).  Job showed steadfastness, endurance, perseverance (hypomonēn, cf. James 1:3; Col. 1:11).  He “stood firm”. Yes, he lost property, family, and health, but his patience demonstrates the purpose of character of his Lord: that He permits suffering, because it leads to His excellent purposes (Rom 8:28; Phil 1:6).  Moreover, while critics blaspheme God because of human suffering, Job’s record shows the Lord to be compassionate and merciful.  Suffering, then, must be attributed either to the means for God’s ultimate purposes or, more often, man’s own doing through corrupt leaders or personal sin.

We can trust Christ in suffering and even remain faithful to His calling in our lives because He is good for it!  His character is proven.  His promises are sure.  Even in a fallen world living with the opposition of fallen people, we are called to faithful endurance.  Establish your heart with patient expectation … with faithful endurance …

This passage from James is, at its core, an invitation. 

  • It invites us to see and trust that Christ is faithful to His promise — He is coming back to defeat the wicked and to deliver the waiting.
  • It invites us to see His character — His compassion and mercy, His love and justice, His uncompromising holiness.
  • It invites us to follow in His footsteps. –- He is the one who shows us what it looks like to “stand firm”.

Standing firm is what Jesus did when He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) as His time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven. 

  • His was a determination to go to Jerusalem to take the condemnation that you and I deserve.
  • His was a steely resolve to bear the weight of brokenness that your sin and my sin caused.
  • His was an inner persistence to trust in the Father’s plan, knowing that one day He would return and finally put all our enemies under His feet.

He stood firm and established His heart to accomplish yours and my salvation.  He has promised to bring it to completion on His return.  The invitation for you and for me is to trust the work He has already done, and patiently endure until He returns.

Living thoughts

This is an 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.

Re-read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

  1. Why does James use the example of a farmer to illustrate the principle of patience (5:7)?
  2. What does the “coming of the Lord” have to do with patience (5:8)?  Is it merely about awaiting His arrival, or is it also relevant to how we decide to act now?
  3. Why is complaining against others detrimental to Christ’s work among us (5:9)?  What happens to us when we complain against others?  What risks to we run?
  4. In what ways is God calling you to persevere (5:10)?
  5. What message does God have for you in the story of Job?  What does Job’s story teach us about God (5:11)?

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power we have in Christ, to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react; whether to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 7

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Based on a sermon from 26th June 2022

 James 3:13-18

We’re continuing our journey through the Epistle of St James. 

When you come to a fork in the road, or when you have to make a decision, who or what do you turn to for the answer?  Do you base your choices on what feels good?  Do you ask your friends or family?  Do you use your own logic and reason, or do you follow your heart?

The world says, “Listen to your heart” but God says;

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  

God doesn’t want us to lean on our own understanding. He wants us to lean on His. God wants us first and foremost to go to Him, and then wait for His answer before we make a move.  Remember what James said at the beginning of his epistle;

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

God doesn’t want us to go on whims and feelings that rely on our logic.  He wants to give us the wisdom that we need in order to make the right decision and to know exactly what to do.  Therefore, there are two types of wisdom, worldly (i.e. of the flesh) and Godly.

Last week we looked at “The Taming of the Tongue”.  A key to right talk is right thought.  The tongue is contained in a cage of teeth and lips and yet it escapes.  Intelligence cannot keep a lock on that cage, but true wisdom can.  A controlled tongue is possible only with cultured thought.  A mouth full of praise results from a mind filled with purity.

So…

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

James begins with this question:  Who is wise and has understanding among you?  Do you have wisdom and understanding?  People cannot merely think they have wisdom.  Wisdom must be shown in action.  The evidence of humble wisdom is shown in good conduct.  To state it more precisely, James is saying: we prove which wisdom we have by our actions.  He is asking us to evaluate not only what we know is right but also to practice what is right.  Wisdom is revealed by the way one lives his or her life through good conduct.

Not only are we to have good conduct, but we are to practice this good conduct in humility.  Humility in the Bible means: “The quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (see also Proverbs 11:2).

James shows us what wrong wisdom looks like.

But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

If a person has envy, jealousy, and selfishness in the heart, that person is living a lie.  As we read in v14 such people deny the truth.”  They are claiming to be wise, but they are living in a way that denies the claim.

Where does envy, jealousy, and selfish ambition come from?  They come from having a sense of one’s self-importance.  These attitudes come from believing that we must look out for our own interests.  These attitudes come from seeing others receive what we think we ought to have.  Worldly wisdom says, “I will take care of myself.”  Worldly wisdom says, “I deserve this” and “I demand that.”  “I demand respect.”  This is how the world teaches us to think and act.  But here the Bible condemns such thinking.  Such wisdom is not from above.

James calls this wisdom “unspiritual.”  We are not acting or thinking spiritually, but according to the sinful nature.  Paul used similar language to condemn carnal, worldly thinking:

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3).

James is not one to mince his words.  He states that this worldly wisdom is “demonic.”  What a statement!  He is saying, “You think that you are of God when you act like this!  You are not of God; you are influenced by the demonic”.  We are constantly in a spiritual battle, attacked on every side by demonic forces.   Stop fooling yourself! Stop lying to yourself! This is a very serious warning.

In verse 16 James describes the result of this worldly wisdom.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

As the world rejects the Gospel, there will be an increase of disorder and every evil practice.  Why is gun-related, and knife-related crime increasing?  Because the gospel is being rejected.  Rejecting God does not make us more civilised, as experts and philosophers supposedly claim.  Rejecting God causes people to be more disorderly and wicked.

We see this in families; many are disorderly and broken.  Relationships are damaged and ruined.  Society and relationships are becoming more destructive as we focus on ourselves and stop focusing on God.  The longer we remain selfish and reject the wisdom from above the greater the mess we are making of our lives and the world around us.

 “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (v17)

Here in these verses James describes for us various characteristics that will test us to see if we have the wisdom that comes from above.  The first characteristic above all else is purity.  The pure life is clearly a life that is obedient to godly wisdom, God’s wisdom.

Nothing shows wisdom from below more than a life of impurity. We are lying to ourselves if we think we have wisdom and understanding because too readily we are living an impure life.  Where is our wisdom?  Where is our understanding?  Further, why would we listen to the “wisdom” of people who are leading impure lives?  How foolish to listen to their instructions!  Living a pure life demonstrates godly, spiritual wisdom.

This wisdom from above is not only pure but peace-loving, considerate, and submissive (v17).  These are characteristics that describe the wise person’s disposition.  If we truly have wisdom, the wisdom that comes from above, the wisdom that is not destructive and unspiritual, then we will be peaceable, gentle, and open to reason.  Those with the wisdom from above listen to others.  They are teachable. They are meek.  They are gentle, and humble.

Now we have established that the first three qualities describe the wise person’s disposition, let’s turn to the second set of qualities.  The second set of qualities reveals the wise person’s actions.  James says that those with godly wisdom are full of mercy and good fruits (v17).  These qualities describe the wise person’s actions.  We do not have the wisdom of God and cannot claim to have godly understanding when our lives are not full of mercy and good fruits.  Can your life be described as “full of mercy and full of good fruits?”  Remember how James began this teaching in v13.  Your good conduct shows the meekness of wisdom in your life.  So where is the good conduct?  Where are the merciful acts?  Where are the good fruits?  When we rise tomorrow, Lord willing, we must think about what good works and merciful acts we can do.  This will show that God’s wisdom is at work in our lives.

To stand for the wisdom of God is increasingly counter-cultural in our world full of selfish ambition.  There is no question that it takes faith to pursue the wisdom of God.  Thankfully, James points to some of the “good fruit” that will come as we trust and believe that the wisdom of God truly is best:

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

The world around us is desperately longing for peace.  Despite the work of the devil through his minions and demons we can attain the peace God has for us because the wisdom of God brings that peace in the midst of disorder to all who are searching for peace.  While we are all surrounded by a cacophony of hatred, fighting, hostility and contempt, ask God for His wisdom to give you faith and the courage to stand as an example of His peace.

Which wisdom leads your life?  Are you following the wisdom from above or the wisdom from below?  It is easy to know which one you are following.  Look at your life; your actions and conduct.  Look at your character and attitude.  If you have jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition, then you are lying to yourself if you think you are following God.  You are following the wisdom of the world.  Those who follow God show it by their good conduct that is full of purity, peace, gentleness, and mercy. Live the righteous life that God demands from you.

Living thoughts

This is an 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.

Re-read the Bible passages, James 3:13-18 & Matthew 7:21-29.

Digging into God’s Word

Start by taking a moment to allow God to call to your mind the times when you have acted out of worldly wisdom and not Godly wisdom.  What impact did that have on your life and on the relationships with those around you? 

As you confess your sins, do so in penitence and faith, firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments and to live in love and peace with all.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.  We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name. Amen.

Declaration that you are Pardoned

Our God fulfils His promises and is true to His word.  Having confessed my sins, I declare that God has forgiven me.  I declare that God willingly pours out His wisdom on me.  I receive it as the good gift that it is because Christ died for me. Amen.

Digging Deeper into God’s word

  1. Why are people quick to follow someone who claims wisdom and knowledge?
  2. What are practical examples of true religion today?
  3. In a world overflowing with knowledge, why is wisdom of critical importance today?
  4. How can we discern the type of wisdom people are using in the world?

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power in Christ we have to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react, whether we choose to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Wisdom…it seems so elusive, Lord!  But then I realise it is only elusive because I am holding on to pride.  When I humble myself before you and seek your truth with my whole heart, you give it freely.

Oh, Lord, may I stop trying to make your words fit my agenda.  Instead let me read your word without my preconceived ideas and ask what it is you are actually saying.  Give me wisdom and courage to apply your truth to my life even when it is uncomfortable for me to do so.

May I have a reverent fear for you so I will not twist your words to fit what I want.  Let me study more and share my opinions less.  May I let your Word talk to my heart and change me so that I may humbly live and serve in a way that glorifies you.  To the One who is the Word and my Saviour.  Amen.

Lord, help us to discern the difference between the wisdom that you give and the counterfeit wisdom that is of the devil.  When we get anxious over our desires, plans or ideas and need them desperately to work out for us in order to be happy, that’s when we lose humility and scheme on how to get our way.  We get angry with anyone in our way and envious of those who win support for their ideas over ours.  But the wisdom and ideas you give. Lord, make us more peaceful, content and focussed on building unity and oneness around us.  Oh, make us a wise people that reaps a harvest of goodness for everyone who works beside us.  Amen.

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 6

Taming the Tongue

Based on a sermon from Sunday 19th June 2022

James 3:1-12

Has anyone heard of the phrase, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me”?  It’s a chant that was spoken on the playground when I was a child, but in my experience, and with what the Bible tells us, that phrase is completely false.  I am sure that many of you have been in situations when the words that someone has spoken to you or over you, have hurt you or caused you pain.

When I was a young teenager, I was bullied at school.  I had really bad acne when I was a teen, and I had a really low body image of myself.  Because of my low self-esteem, the words that people said to me were powerful.  I was called “pizza face” and many other names too.  All the bad words that were spoken over me were hurtful and made me more and more depressed.  Because I had depression, I would come home and lash out in anger, and would cause even more pain and sadness.  I said horrible things to my father, mother and sister, but this was because of the hurt and pain I was feeling inside.  The painful words at school, sparked a fire within my low self-esteem.  This fire then grew and overflowed at home.  I tried to stop the fire from spreading into my own family, but then I would also receive painful words at home from my family too.  Some of the words that were spoken at home by my family, did not help my situation, but they helped to stoke the fire even more that roared in my heart.

The fire in my heart raged on and on and it corrupted my whole body.  I was angry, bitter and utterly depressed, so much so that I wanted to end my life.  The only thing that could help me, was a Holy Spirit encounter with God.  I needed him to pour his waterfall of love, kindness, joy and acceptance over me.  I needed his healing water to pour over the fire in my heart and heal me…. Which you know, is what God did.

This scripture in James 3 is such a huge challenge, but it is so important to us.  Your speech is a barometer of your spirituality and your relationship with God.  When I was a teenager, my relationship with God was very small and so therefore my speech was full of hate.  When God filled me afresh with the Holy Spirit, His living water flooded the depths of my soul and restored me.

Jesus spoke about this water of life to the Samaritan woman at the well:

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

This river of life changes us and the forest in our hearts can be forever watered and cleansed.

When our heart is overflowing with his living water, we will naturally speak with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and we will have self-control, i.e. the fruit of the Holy Spirit, (Galatians 5:16-26).  Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, will enable us to tame our tongue, because the Holy Spirit has turned our tongue of cursing, into a mouthpiece of God’s glory and blessing.

Our tongue should only be used to bring praise and glory to God and to bless.  If we yield to the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit completely and utterly lead us and take over, then the promise God gives is that our tongues will build each other up.  If we surrender to God, then our old self will go and we will be made righteous and holy.  These scriptures are not a command; they are a promise.

Earlier on, I shared about the brokenness of my own heart.  My heart was a broken dry and dusty hot forest.  It was the perfect conditions for a forest fire to start.  When the sparks of hate and pain came, the forest in my heart was set ablaze and it became uncontrollable.  If the forest in your heart is healthy, i.e. it is well nourished and saturated with the Holy Spirit, then the sparks of fire would have little or no effect.  If the forest in your heart is dry, words of fire can have devastating effects and can last a lifetime.  They can become part of us and who we are. They can become part of the fabric of who we are.

That is why it is so important to have a healthy forest in your heart.  The sparks of fire will come.  They will come because the enemy wants to destroy us and make us believe that we are the scum of the earth and not God’s chosen people.  The enemy knows how to make you feel horrible and he will plant seeds of lies and hate in your life.  However, if you have a healthy heart, or if you have a heart like a healthy forest, when the sparks of the enemy do come, these sparks will get quenched by the Holy Spirit.

When the sparks of fire come, we need bring up fresh water from the well of living water inside our heart.  We need to bring up His words of truth; I am accepted, I am loved, I am chosen, I am God’s masterpiece, I cannot be separated from the love of God, I am redeemed, I am significant to God, I am a new creation, I am the apple of God’s eye, I am a saint, I am a joy bringer, I am healed, I am un-offendable, I am courageous, …. The list can go on and on.

We are a Jesus Ministry Church.  Within this Jesus Ministry teaching we learn that time and time again, we agree with the enemy’s words over our lives.  I agreed that I was ugly and that spark completely destroyed my heart and made me depressed and angry.  We need to agree with God’s truth; the truth that we are beautifully and wonderfully made.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Why not write done your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Start by saying this prayer…

God, thank you that you always want to heal my heart.  Thank you that you love me and you can always come and mend my brokenness.  Where there have been fires that have raged in the forest of my heart, come with your Holy Spirit and quench and restore them.  I pray protection over me now as I take time to respond to this word.  Thank you that you love me and are with me.  Amen.

Have there been some sparks of fire that have come flying your way recently?  What has that done to your heart?  Have they hurt you?  Has there been words of pain that were said to you a long time ago that has still left some pain or sorrow?

Take some time to chat about these questions with God and if you can, forgive these who have cursed you and then bless them.

Prayer Response

Spend time praying that you will become freed up from focusing on past hurts and move towards perceiving new works that God has prepared for you in this season. God is calling all to notice and step on to the pathway He is making in the wastelands, and to drink from the rivers in the desert.

The Trinity

Based on a sermon from Trinity Sunday, 12th June 2022,

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

John 16:13

As a child Mum and Dad read bedtime stories.  These included the exciting Swallows and Amazons stories by Arthur Ransome.  In one scene the children guide their boat into a little rocky inlet using the “leading-light” method.  Leading lights, used on both major and small waterways, consist of two lights or markers some distance apart. The one further inland is positioned higher than the one closer to open water.  The skipper of a vessel seeking to enter a harbour or inlet keeps these two markers aligned vertically and can confidently steer the ship in without mishap on rocks or other obstacles.  The whole process, however, depends entirely, of course, upon both markers being accurate or “true”.

Today’s Gospel passage starts with Jesus pointing out that his disciples still have much to learn about God’s purpose for his own life and death – and indeed the lives and deaths of the disciples themselves.  At this stage however, he acknowledges that they are in no state to hear what awaits them in the immediate future – the trial and crucifixion of the man they have followed and been taught by for three years, concerning whom they have high hopes for the future.

Equally, they are not ready to hear the message that in the longer term their future will be entirely taken up by travelling far and wide, propagating the good news about Jesus Christ.  Nor can they, at this point, grasp that they themselves – a group of fishermen and lowly souls – will become the founding fathers of the Christian faith and Church – and, indeed, that most of them will be martyred in that cause.

Jesus does, however, offer hope for the future in the form of the promised “Spirit of truth” – the Holy Spirit who, much like the leading-lights in Ransome’s story, will guide the disciples “into all truth”.  The guarantee is that the Holy Spirit “will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is to come” (John 16:13).

The voice that speaks the truth to the Spirit is of course that of God the Father, the source of all truth.  Thus the work of the Holy Spirit is not independent of the work of the Father but, as members of the Holy Trinity, the Father and the Spirit are in perfect harmony with each other, and with the Son.  God is one and God is three.  It may be perplexing and defy mathematics, but it is implicit in the message of scripture and confirmed by the doctrine of the Church.

So how are we to apply this theology to ourselves and our own time?  Firstly, we need to come to God the Father through Jesus the Son, our Saviour, who has borne our sins by dying for us.  Secondly, we need to nurture the work of the Spirit in our lives and seek guidance and spiritual empowerment through an active prayer life.

This emphasis on God’s guidance through the Spirit takes us back to the illustration of the leading-lights.  Remember that two perfectly aligned lights together guide the ship safely into harbour.  To push the illustration a little further, we can think of one of the lights as representing the Holy Spirit, guiding us spiritually from within, tuning our conscience, sensitising us to understand what kind of behaviour is holy, and what dishonours God.

Meanwhile, the second light might represent the apostles’ testimony in the form of the stories about Jesus in the Gospels – who Jesus was, what he taught and how he lived, died, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.  In addition, the epistles – the letters that were written by St Paul and the other apostles – set out more clearly the doctrine of the faith.  Taken together, these writings, both Gospels and epistles, are the foundational and authoritative writings of the Christian faith and can be seen to be represented by the second light.

As we live out the Christian life, and as we think about the Holy Trinity today, we do well to keep in mind these two leading lights – the Spirit and the word.  If we steer our lives in such a way that we keep these lights aligned, we will be guided safely on our way.

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.

Digging into God’s word…

  1. In your Christian life has one of the persons of the Trinity been emphasised more? Father, Son or Holy Spirit?
  2. Is there a person of the Trinity that you have felt more connected to?
  3. Who do you pray to most often?
  4. What’s the hardest part of the Trinity for you to grasp?

Digging deeper into God’s Word…

  1. What would the Spirit of truth do for Jesus’ disciples when He came? (John 16:12-14)
  2. In what way would the Spirit bring Jesus glory? (John 16:14-15)
  3. When would the disciples see Jesus? (John 16:16)

What Now?

  • How does understanding the Trinity affect our relationship with God?
  • Why is it important that we know God in all His fullness?

Pray

Spend time praying to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Remember, Celebrate, Anticipate

Based on a sermon from Sunday 5th June 2022

Isaiah 43:18-19

Forget the former things;

    do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!

    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

    and streams in the wasteland.

It’s good to remember the past, but we are called to anticipate the future, and God calls us to do this with faith in Him.  This is a fascinating and instructive switch between the previous two verses of Isaiah 43 (16-17) and Isaiah 43:18-19.  In the two verses before (Isaiah 43:16-17), Israel was told to look to the past by remembering the great things God did for them at the Red Sea.  But then in Isaiah 43:18, they were told, do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.  This shows us that there is a sense in which we must remember the past, but only in terms of God’s great work on our behalf.  There is also a sense in which we must forsake and forget the past, with all its discouragement and defeat, and move on to what God has for us now, today and in the future.  We can anticipate the future with faith.

We are to always remember that we have been created and formed by God.  We are no accident, for we are the work of God.  As we are no accident we all belong to God!  Because of this God has something new and exciting for us in our present situation.  So He wants us to be looking expectantly for what He is about to do.  He does not want us to live in defeatism and hopelessness.  Instead we are to be looking for Him to change defeatism and hopelessness, i.e. the desert, from badlands, into a fruitful place, because He will create rivers for us in the desert.   This new thing, will be a new blessing for us!  Sadly, too often we look for God to do for us exactly what He has done for us in the past.  But here in Isaiah, we learn that He wants to do a new thing for us, in a new way. 

Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, told them that if anyone belonged to Christ, then they were made new, the old ways of life have passed away.

“From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we no longer think of him in that way. If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself. And God gave us the work of bringing everyone into peace with him.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-18 International Children’s Bible, ICB)

Because our Queen’s faith is central to her life, central to her identity, she lives her life with a strong sense of belonging to God.  The God the Queen worships, our God, is undoubtably the one true God, the first and eternal and all-powerful being (Isaiah 43:10-13).  Her Majesty proclaims that God, through His Son Jesus Christ, has sustained, guided and strengthened her throughout her long reign, and she expects Him to continue in this vain.  But she doesn’t just focus on how God has worked in and through her past, she looks to see what God is doing now and so by faith she anticipates a good future.

This is to be our response.  What is God doing now, today, in this moment in time, here in this place?  You see God is always doing a new thing.  Lamentations 3:22-23 says this,

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

    his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

The words “they are new every morning”, that’s what gets to me, God’s love is new every morning.  It is always fresh vibrant, exciting, full of life, full of compassion and mercy, never stuck, always moving forward.  What an awesome love! 

The Good News is this; God wants to do something new for you in your life.  Do not get stuck by looking for Him to do the same things that He has done for you in the past, in the same way.  He wants His relationship with you to remain exciting, not stagnate and boring.

So let’s be alert and look expectantly for the NEW things that He desires to bless us with today.  As you do this keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, for in a changing world, we can truly trust our unchanging Lord, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Heb 13:8).

Pentecost

Based on a sermon from Sunday, 5th June 2022

Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8-17 & 25-27

Having the privilege of watching England play cricket against Australia at the home of cricket, Lords, I have been part of a Mexican wave.  It’s quite something to be involved in; each person in the crowd stands up and puts their arms in the air after the person to one side of them, creating a continuous wave-like motion through the crowd.

A wave in the sea has more in common with a Mexican wave than you might imagine.  Although it looks as though the individual water molecules are moving, in fact they stay where they are, in the same way that an individual stays in their seat in the stadium, and the energy is transferred from molecule to molecule.

The Bible’s first mention of God’s Spirit goes right back to “the beginning”, when the Spirit moved on the waters like the wind, stirring up an enormous, powerful wave.  It’s a story familiar to many people, as is today’s Gospel reading – the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples like fire and wind – both powerful sources of energy.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit to be with us always.  Jesus predicts that people will believe because of the works He has done, and also the works that His followers will do.  So, we’re expected not to sleep on the job!  Rather, the Holy Spirit will give us power to achieve more than we could on our own – and this all through God’s power.  God, who created fire, wind and waves, will energise us to tell others of God’s love, in ways they can understand.

Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as “another Counsellor” or “another Advocate”, depending on your translation – because we already have one in Jesus himself.  In a familiar introduction to confession, Jesus is “our Advocate in heaven”.  The Holy Spirit is our advocate on earth.  Advocate, meaning someone who helps us, stands alongside us, a bit like the person next to us in a Mexican wave, giving us the confidence to get up when it’s our turn.  Someone has to start that wave, just as the wind starts the waves at sea, and Christians believe that initial power comes to us through God’s Spirit, sent from the Father and the Son.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, what Philip fails to see is that Father and Son are always working together to do the works of God.  The miracle of Pentecost is that we can be part of that too.  We can do God’s work and in turn help others to believe in the Father, who is in the Son, and the Son who is in the Father, and who, together, send us and live in us by the power of their Holy Spirit.

All Jesus asks of us is that we love Him and show it by keeping His commandments.  He had already summed up the commandments in the familiar two: love God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself.  And He also gave us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  If we follow these commandments and believe in Jesus in terms of who He is, we will be able to do the things He did.  But wait, Jesus says we will do even greater things, because He is going to the Father!  What does this mean?  Put simply, whoever has faith in Jesus will do what Jesus has done.  This is how we know if someone is a follower of Jesus.  This is how we know if we are followers of Jesus!  The works Jesus did pointed people to God.  The works we are to do are to point people to Jesus, and so to God!  As a believer in Jesus our life (works, deeds, actions and words), are to point others to Jesus. 

As Christians we have all received the Holy Spirit, this is the Spirit of the crucified and risen Christ.  Before the resurrection of Jesus, nobody in the history of the world had ever received that, not even Jesus!  In the power of this absolutely new experience — the indwelling of the crucified and risen Christ — our works of love and our message of eternal life in union with Christ, is to point people to the glory of the risen Son of God and His Father.  As we do this we will be instrumental in people receiving the greatest gift and greatest healing of all – the forgiveness of their sins.  All of which is on the basis of the finished work of Christ (John 20:23).  This will be new, greater than what Jesus had done at that point, i.e. greater than Jesus’ earthly miracles because this is what He came to accomplish by His death and resurrection – the forgiveness of our sins.

We are called to carry on Jesus’ works.  We do this by being His light in His world, and by living in His love that He calls us to share, and offering forgiveness of sins in His name as the crucified and risen Christ.  When we do this we can ask Him for whatever we need in order for His interests to be furthered here on earth as it is in heaven.   When these three “ducks” are in a row we can ask for anything in His name and He will do it.

In the sea, the waves go up and down where they are, bumping into each other, and the energy gets transferred. With that initial injection of energy from the Holy Spirit, whatever we do in the place where we are is part of something much bigger, something very powerful.

What can we do, in the place where we are, to help that happen?

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: Acts 2:1-21 and John 14:8-17 & 25-27, and let them speak to you afresh in light of God pouring His Spirit over you..  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.

  1. What is Jesus’ answer to Philip’s question: “Show us the Father”?
  2. What else does Jesus say about His relationship with the Father?
  3. What are the “these” in “greater works than these”?
  4. In whose name and in whose delegated power do disciples do ‘their’ works?
  5. What will the Holy Spirit do for the disciples?

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 a 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.

Our identity in Christ

Based on a sermon from 29th May 2022

John 17: 20-26

Imagine one day you suddenly and un-expectedly find out that you are not the person you thought you were!  In fact, you are adopted, and the family you have lived with for the whole of your life are not your biological family.  Due to shock would you hide away, uncertain of your true identity?

How do we know who we are?  Many things feed into our self-understanding: where and when we were born; what we look like; where we grew up, where we went to school and where we live and work.  But mostly it is in our relationships with others that we learn about ourselves.  And the same is true about our self-understanding as people of faith.

In Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, He speaks of interconnected relationships, between Himself, His heavenly Father and His followers.  He is thinking about the time after He has left the world, and the almost impossible task that will face His disciples.

The message they will have for the world is outrageous.  It says that God’s anointed ruler, so long expected by the Jewish people, has come!  But, far from leading an army against the Romans, after a short teaching and healing ministry He has been executed.  And this executed criminal is not only the Jewish Messiah, but the Saviour of all people whatever their race or religion.

This is a message that will get Jesus’ followers into trouble.  They will be ridiculed, attacked, flogged, imprisoned, even killed.  How, Jesus asks, are they to find the confidence and the courage to go forward?  How will they hang on to the certainty that what they have come to believe about Jesus is true?

Jesus’ answer is about relationships.  Those who have accepted Him as Lord have become part of a new network of relationships that includes Jesus Himself, His heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit and all other believers.

As believers we have two families, our human one, and our family of faith.  We have a home in heaven as well as a home on earth.  We are named as belonging to Jesus, and we share in God’s glory.  We know not only what we believe, but who we are.  And that is where we will find the confidence we need, in the security of knowing that we are God’s beloved children, members of a family of faith.

The forces we, and the disciples, have to take on will be more serious than the school bully: they are the powers of sin, darkness and death – but we are, and they were, empowered by knowing who we are and where we belong.

Jesus’ prayer makes complicated reading, but it amounts to a description of a relationship that enables Christians to belong to Jesus and His heavenly Father.  Christian faith, it implies, is not just a matter of belief; it is very much about who we are.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we often feel insecure.  Those who hide it best often feel it most.  But our insecurity is an invitation from God to escape the danger of false beliefs about who we are and find true peace in who He is.

So at the heart of what it means to be a Christian is to receive a new identity.  In Jesus, we do not lose our true selves, but we become our true selves, only in Him.

Christ is our life —  not only the guarantee of it in heaven, but the down payment of it by the Spirit now, because He lives in us.  His joy becomes our joy; His love, our love; His peace, our peace; His strength, our strength.  All we need is in us, because Jesus dwells in us.

We cannot experience anything greater than the fullness of union with Christ.  Nothing reaches higher or is more theologically comprehensive.

In Christ, we are fundamentally new, and belong to the people of heaven.  The language and values and customs and expectations of this world are to increasingly feel foreign to us,  because we have been born again for another world, to a greater kind of existence.

Our task is much easier than that of the first disciples.  We are not pioneers, but messengers of an established faith.  Thankfully here in the UK we are more likely to be met with indifference than persecution.  But being met with indifference is still painful, therefore, like the first disciples we too need confidence and courage to live out the Gospel in our own time and place.

As members of God’s family, part of the community of Christ’s Church, we are to know who we are:

  • That our identity is a gift from God,
  • that we have a new belonging in Jesus,
  • that we are united to Jesus
  • and that we are citizens of heaven! 

All because we are loved by God, not for anything we have done, but just for being created in His image!  Knowing, and believing who we are in Christ has the power to draw others to Christ, as much as by what we say.

Let us pray

Gracious God, help us to know ourselves as your beloved children, and give us confidence to proclaim the Gospel with our words and in our lives, all of which we offer to you for your sake and glory, in the name of Christ.  Amen.

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.