Thursday, June 30, 2011

James 2 – Playing Favorites

James 2 – Playing Favorites

[TV shows from "lifestyles of the rich and famous" to "MTV's Cribs" have shown us all that the rich and famous live a different life than most of us. I read this week, the story of Patricia Kluge who was married to John Kluge once the richest man in America. Patricia was a British model and actress and the 3rd wife of John Kluge whose net worth was over 5 billion. The couple divorced in 1990, and Patricia's settlement was worth 1 billion; this week she filed for bankruptcy listing 10 million in assets, and 50 million in debts. Her former husband John died last year, still worth billions, but like all men he took nothing with him when he died.

So if this is the fate of the rich and famous, why do "normal" folks feel compelled to treat them different? This is the question for James 2.]

James 2

Beware of Personal Favoritism

1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

[Would you show partiality with the gospel? Would you welcome into our church a local hero like Dirk Nowitzki, the same way you would welcome someone who looked homeless? Regardless of where you live, or who you socialize with, God forbids partiality with regard to the faith. Every time I'm in Newport Beach for work, I laugh at gated communities. I mean if you live in Newport Beach where the average home cost 1 million dollars, who are you trying to keep out?

We also live in a rich neighborhood. I don't mean Burleson, or Benbrook, I mean the kingdom of God. The inheritance we have in Christ Jesus was fully bought and paid for by him. We did nothing to earn it, but we all share in its blessings. And God says we don't own the faith, but we do hold it as trustees, or ambassadors. And since we hold this sacred trust of the gospel of grace, for His purpose, and not our own; we must hold it without partiality.

Around Easter time I came to church on Wednesday night for choir, and I talked to Jimmy Walker. Jimmy works for a print shop that does a lot of mass mailings for churches and businesses. And he was fired up that a local church paid for an Easter mailing that targeted only high income households in expensive neighborhoods. Then demanded a discount when they discovered their mailing also went to an apartment complex. Apparently they were trying to increase the tithes to the church by targeting high income households, but they didn't want renters in their church, no matter how high the income.]

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

[God not only appeals to His sovereignty in saying it's my church, my faith, and my gospel; but he also appeals to logic. Who responds more to the gospel the rich or the poor? When Jesus was born was the good news not announced to poor shepherds?

In Matthew 11When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus asking, "are you the one?" He responds by telling them go tell John what you have seen; the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. These were the signs-of-the-kingdom that Isaiah has prophesied in chapters 35 and 61 to tell of the coming messiah.

In Matthew 19 when Jesus met the Rich young Ruler who wanted to be saved, but trusted only in his wealth, he told his disciples it was easier for Him to push a camel through the eye of a needle, than to push rich people into heaven. You see the rich always have to battle the temptation of their own possessions, and no man can serve two masters. So I don't think there are a lot of rich people in heaven, as most find it hard to trust in God, and easy to trust in their wealth.]

8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder."Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

[I think these last 6 verses were for the legalist in the crowd. The ones who were thinking "I can do everything else right? I can love God, and give money, and worship, and even be nice to everyone, but still keep my preferences and just talk and share Jesus with to the people I like, and that will be ok with God." But that is not what the scripture says. The same God who said no to murder and adultery, also said no to partiality. Once when Jesus said Love your neighbor a lawyer asked "who is my neighbor?", and that prompted the parable of the Good Samaritan. And in case you forget the conclusion of that story the answer to "who" was the one who showed compassion. (Luke 10)

The scripture here tells us that the one, who shows partiality instead of love or compassion to his neighbor, is guilty. Has offended the God who gave the whole law, and is thus guilty of the whole law. But this isn't the law of the flesh, this law is only for the redeemed. Verse 12 reminds us this is the law of liberty, the law you can only keep because you have been regenerated, born again. And just as God extended mercy to us while we were still sinners, so we extend mercy, and share the gospel with everyone showing no partiality, and thus fulfill the law of liberty.

Back in James 1:9-10 the scripture says "Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation" because both of those mean that they met God. When the poor are lifted up, and the rich are humbled, that means they discovered what they really needed most in the world, was not even in the world, but in heaven.

And so to the rich and to the poor, we teach and preach Jesus, without partiality; because that's the way God wanted it. After all who are we without Jesus?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

James 1 – Mirror Mirror

James 1:19-27

[In the fairy tale "Snow White a beautiful but vain and jealous queen has a magic mirror with supernatural knowledge. When the queen would ask "Mirror Mirror on the wall who's the fairest of them all?" the mirror would answer "you my queen are the fairest of all". But as young Snow White grew into a woman her beauty began to rival that of the queen, until the day came when the mirror gave an answer the queen did not want to hear.

Mirrors are a funny thing, because they reveal so much about us, not just about how we look but how we respond to what we see in the mirror. Most men don't spend a lot of time in front of the mirror, because there is not much we are going to do with the information the mirror provides. Many women though can spend an hour in front of the mirror fixing and adjusting her hair and makeup and clothing until she achieves the desired look.

Today in the second half of James 1, we are going to look into a mirror. This one, like the Queen's mirror has supernatural power, the mirror of our Christian regeneration; a mirror that instead of revealing our own likeness, will reveal our Christ-likeness, or lack thereof.]

James 1

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

[Angry words just feed our anger, sometimes we are too quick to respond when we feel it is a personal criticism. Listening first before answering can cause is to understand the fears of concerns of others instead of just reacting with our pride. The path of anger does not lead you to the righteousness of God.]

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

[Filthiness, would be a moral vice, this we are encouraged to lay aside like you would remove dirty clothing, and wickedness would be an evil desire or intent and these are listed as a hindrance to receiving the Word of God. Contrast those with meekness, which enables you to receive the word of God.]

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

[So once you look into this mirror of Christ likeness, first we must ask what do we see, and next we are told to take action, be a doer of the Word, don't just look at the mirror and walk away without changing anything. Works governed by Word will be blessed by God.]

26 If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless.

[Religious refers to the outward ceremonies of worship, so this is a warning against those who learn to play the religion game, without a change of heart. The evidence of real change is the self control demonstrated in what you say, and how you say it. Notice it says "thinks he is religious", aiming squarely at those deceive themselves with religious activities, when the evidence of regeneration is not there.]

27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

[Again we have a contrast between a religion that is useless (the unbridled tongue), and one that is pure and undefiled. To show compassion to widows and orphans is a true demonstration of faith in God, and his reward, because with the widow and orphan you would have no expectation that they could pay you back. The second is to keep yourself unspotted or undefiled by the evil world system. So compassion and self control are evidences of regeneration, that Christ likeness is being revealed in you.

If you are skeptical of this mirror, and maybe thinking to yourself this sounds like works based salvation or even legalism, look back at verse 25. This is not a law of bondage, but a law of liberty. We are free to pursue Christ likeness because he has saved us, because we have been born again, because of the supernatural regeneration brought by the Holy Spirit when we repent of our own sinful will and trust in Jesus as our savior.

Real freedom isn't doing what your flesh desires; that is the law of sin that leads to death (verses 14 & 15 we studied week before last), but the law of liberty is found in fulfilling God's purpose. "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). God's purpose in salvation is not to make a better you, but to glorify the sacrifice that Jesus made, by making us over in His image.

So look in the mirror, not your shaving mirror, or your makeup mirror, but look in your Christian mirror and consider what you see. A mirror is not a photograph that saves a moment in time, but it is dynamic revealing each day what needs to be combed, shaved, or cleaned in order to conform us to the image of Christ. And that Christ likeness is revealed in our compassion toward others, and our self control toward the world.]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

James 1 - Joy in Trials

James 1:1-18

[James' epistle to a still mostly Hebrew church shows this as one of the earliest writings of the Christian church. James is the half brother of Jesus and was the bishop of the church at Jerusalem mentioned in Acts as the author of the Jerusalem decree regarding Gentile believers and their obligation to the Mosaic Law. Without a doubt the trials mentioned reference the persecution faced by early Christian Jews.]

Greeting to the Twelve Tribes

1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

Profiting from Trials

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

[The meat of the teaching is right here. The trials of verse 2 are a proving or refining, to reveal the true value of a person. In many businesses we apply trials and testing to find and correct the flaws in parts components or software. You don't want to fly in an airplane made of untested parts, nor would you want to trust untested software to file your federal tax return, because the risk of loss is too great.

So it is in God's kingdom. God builds his church stone by stone but he tries and proves each of us to guarantee the fidelity of His work. Many times we are too impatient for the process to work out. Many young converts are eager to do the work of the Lord, but they run off unproven and fall without patience that the Lord would have provided were they willing to be tested.

No one looks forward to trials, but we are told to respond with joy to the testing which the Lord allows. Joy in knowing God has a future purpose in your life. Joy that God considers you a candidate for the work he is doing. Joy that whatever you are a part of, will glorify the Lord, once you have learned patience and wisdom.

Verses 5-7 shows that God is the source of all we need to bring him glory, but without faith, we will not pass the test, and we will fail to give God the glory He deserves.

To be perfect lacking nothing means to be complete fulfilling God's design, his intended purpose.

The Perspective of Rich and Poor

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

[If the rich are not brought down in humility they would focus only on the material things which will perish. If the poor were not exalted they might despair of their poor circumstances which are also temporary. But in God both know the eternal treasure is God Himself, and that knowledge leads to faith, righteousness, and eternity.]

Loving God Under Trials

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

[God's purpose in testing is not to watch you fall into sin. We learn from the book of Job that even when Satan afflicts us, God is still in control.

I Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted
beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

Left unchained, lust leads to sin, and sin leads to death, this is the natural course of men left to their own desires, and human history is full of examples. But God did not leave us to our own desires, he gave us a redeemer, and a salvation that includes regeneration, meaning he does not leave us the way he found us. Under the new covenant we read about in Hebrews, God changes our hearts and minds so that temptation can have a far different outcome leading to wisdom and patience, instead of sin and death.

When God allows His children to be tempted it is to build us up in the faith, not bring us down in the flesh.]

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

[I have to be honest, when Christians endure hardship our first response is to feel compassion for their trouble, to focus on the short term pain. But we need to resist the temptation to question God's sovereignty. God knows our troubles, but if he took away all the troubles, where would we learn patience, how would our faith increase. Finding Joy in troubles comes from faith, knowing that God is in control. Yes, God enjoys giving gifts to his children, but not to our detriment. There were times in my youth when I needed discipline more than ice cream, and my father gave me both as he saw fit. So it is with God, "the Father of lights" maker of the sun moon and stars.

We are saved because God was willing to pay the price for our redemption. That was at great expense and with much hardship and suffering by His own son. Moreover through men of God we have received the word of truth; that was also God's will. But we still sometimes question God, complain against the pain of each trouble. But that trouble is never without purpose; and joy comes from understanding God's purpose.]

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hebrews 13 – Christian Code of Conduct

Christian code of conduct - Hebrews 13:1-6

To get us back in context I want to pull a verse from Hebrews 12 verse 5 which is quoting Proverbs 3:11-12

" My son, do not despise the
chastening of the LORD,
      Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
whom the LORD loves He chastens,
      And scourges every son whom He receives."

Why is this important? One place where modern Christians often fail is in respecting the sovereignty of God. God knows what is best for us to accomplish his purpose! We read Romans 8:28 "All things work together for good to them that love God, who are called according to his purpose" and we use that to encourage anyone facing a struggle in life. But 8:28 makes no sense without 8:29 which tells us God's purpose that God has predestined or predetermined that we are to be conformed to the image of His Son. So the chastening of Hebrews 12 has a purpose, to sanctify us, to constantly refine us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Hebrews 13 I read as parental instruction to God's children. Think of Dad going on a trip, lining up his children saying these are the rules, this is how I want you to behave while I'm gone.

1 Let brotherly love continue.

Jesus said to His disciples in John 13:34-35, "A new commandment I give to you, that you loved one another; as I have love you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another". Love for the brethren is a test of true faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle John said in his first epistle, "He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him" (I John 2:9&10 NKJV). Then later on in I John 3:14 we are told, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (KJV). Those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ constitute the largest "blended family" in the world! As with all "blended families", we often face difficulties trying to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We all come from different backgrounds. In fact, sometimes our only common ground is the ground we occupy at the foot of the cross. So, we must always be reminded of that common ground and the common grace that we've all experienced in Jesus Christ. The "ties that bind" in the family of God are eternal.

2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

We are not only called to love the saints but also complete strangers.
"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels."

This was literally true in the life of Abraham and Lot they sheltered and fed Angels. Jesus will say when He judges the nations, "'…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see You a STRANGER and take you in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say unto them, 'Assuredly I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me'" (Matt. 25:35-41 NKJV).

Isn't it amazing that God places such value on ministering to people's basic needs? Compassion goes hand and hand with brotherly love as a "sign" of regeneration. So we ask ourselves: When was the last time I prepared a meal for someone? When was the last time I visited someone who was sick or in prison. When was the last time I provided water for one who was thirsty or clothing for someone who was without? God is glorified by this! Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community!

3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.

We are admonished in verse three to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are suffering for the Savior. They are a part of us. When they suffer, we suffer. "The Voice of the Martyrs" is one ministry informing the privileged church in America about the persecuted church in the world ( We must pray for those who are suffering for the Savior as if they were are family…because they ARE. The next time you feel ostracized from others because of your faith, consider our brothers and sisters around the world who have lost their possessions, their freedom, and in many cases their lives for that same faith!

4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

If you thought the marriage conference was last week so it was safe to come back to church this week; surprise! Marriage is under satanic attack, and far too many of us are not fighting to defend it. To turn the negative into a positive command I would say "Honor your marriage". Esau was said to despise his birthright because he sold it cheap, for the temporary satisfaction of a bowl of bean soup; and so today many marriages are sold cheap for temporary pleasure.

"Experimentation without reservation" is the marketing message that streams from our televisions, computers, billboards, magazines, radios, and even our "smart" phones. Marriage is no longer considered a covenant before God, but a non-binding contract of convenience. When either of the party's feels that their needs are not being met, they simply dissolve the contract and begin looking for a new deal.

God's Word, however, has not changed. Marriage was His idea; and when we depart from His design, judgment awaits,
"Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

We know what adultery is, but people try to hide behind technical definitions like they're Bill Clinton. Fornication to me is a catch all term, derived from the Greek term "pornea" the root of our word pornography, and it refers to prostitution, sex for money. Satan has to love being able to combine lust and greed into one highly successful sin.

Terrible consequences await those who abandon God's standards of sexual purity. Disease, guilt, depression, and even suicide can result from breaking God's rules for relationship. For a professing believer to indulge in wrongful sexual activity is to invite the wrath of God upon his/her life. King David is an example of this truth. Because of his seduction of Bathsheba, David's life was subject to physical dangers, emotional pain, and spiritual sorrows that he could have never imagined. And though God removed the guilt of David's sin, He never removed the consequences of it.

5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Live without coveting anyone else's stuff (job, car, home, wife, kids, boat or big screen TV), because you have Jesus who is worth more to us than any stuff, and in fact our love of stuff will diminish our love for Jesus. It is what the Bible calls idolatry, taking something that can be good and enjoyable, and desiring it enough that we are willing to get it our own way, without regard for the will of God. Live without covetousness.

Most of us would not say that they are "rich". In fact, most of us would say that if we could have "just a little more" income life would be easier. Roughly 98% of all Americans consider themselves "not rich". But when you consider what the rest of the world lives on compared to the average American it becomes clear that we're VERY rich! In fact, more than half of the world lives on less money than most Americans pay for cable!

Do you realize that only 3 to 5 percent of people in the world own (or finance) their own car! Yet, some of us are so rich that we have two cars; and we even have a house for our cars to live in (garage) so that they can be safe from the elements! You know what else we do in America? We get in our cars and drive past twenty or more restaurants where (because we're so rich) we pay people to make our food for us and serve it to us! Some of us rich people then eat so much food in all these restaurants that we have to go to a gym and pay people to help us exercise! That's how rich we are! Yet, we can never get enough.

So, we're rich but we don't feel rich. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income". The University of Warwick in the UK recently completed a study they called "Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction". As the study's title suggests, their research concluded that for most people, to feel happy about how much money they have, it has to be MORE THAN what their friends and colleagues have. This turned out to be true no matter how much money someone makes. As long as they know a neighbor, friend or co-worker with more, they are never satisfied that they are really well off. If they make 50k per. year but their friend makes 75k they're discontent. If they make 6 million per. year but their neighbor knocks down 8 million per. year they're discontent.

This truth translates into the life of the believer if we're not careful. We begin living for the things of this world and before you know it "contentment" is no longer even a part of our vocabulary, let alone the way we live our lives. So, if "rich" is a moving target, then how much is enough? The apostle Paul answers that question for us in, 1 Timothy 6:6, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing in to this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. AND HAVING FOOD AND CLOTHING, WITH THESE WE SHALL BE CONTENT" (NKJV). The Christian finds contentment not only in the basest condition (food and clothing) but also from the fact that Christ Himself is present in his life! If you are ever tempted to create a list of the material things you don't have, instead, make a list of the miraculous things you do have in Christ! If your mind is concentrated on coveting you will never be content; but if your mind is concentrated on Jesus you will be content in Him with just food and clothing.

6 So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (Psalm 118:6)

Fear Not!
These Hebrew believers were facing persecution from their families, friends, and foes to the Christian church. God sometimes uses persecution to separate those who possessed genuine faith from those who are merely professing faith in Christ. Persecution is a refining fire.

Following Christ is not a social club, or an added responsibility to one's schedule. Following Christ is a surrendered life. Jesus is our Savior AND LORD. This means that what He says, we will do; and where He sends, we will go. Christ is our Priority, Christ is our Passion, and Christ is our Purpose in life. He assures us of His very presence in our lives! This truth should encourage all genuine believers; wherever we go, HE GOES WITH US; whatever we do, HE DOES WITH US! The presence of Christ in our lives should prompt us to live for His glory.

In the military you have "orders" that tell you where to go and what to do; but they also have the "Uniform code of military justice" that tells you the right or just way carry out those orders, and the chastening or correction that will enforce the code.

For Christians "The Great Commission" represents our orders, to go into all the world and make disciples; and Hebrews 13 gives us our "Uniform code" of how to conduct ourselves as we fulfill the great commission.

  • Love one another
  • Be compassionate to strangers
  • Remember the persecuted
  • Honor your marriage
  • Live without coveting
  • Fear not what man can do to you

This is the code of conduct our sovereign God has chosen for those whom Jesus has redeemed. As we seek to spread the gospel, God is seeking to mold us to the image of his Son, using this code of conduct as our guide. And he has promised to chasten or correct us as needed, whenever we forget to be like Jesus.