Monday, March 30, 2009

James 1:16–18, "The Rewards of Faith"

Have you heard of Tony Dungy?
Have you heard of Laroy Rocquemore? Laroy Rocquemore was a person who influenced Tony Dungy tremendously, and if not for Laroy Rocquemore we probably would not know Tony Dungy as we do today. Tony Dungy, the first African-American coach to win a Superbowl, writes that when he was in high school he quit the football team. One of his closest friends, Bobby Burton, a receiver, was passed up as a team captain while Dungy, the quarterback, was picked. This happened between their junior and senior years playing high school football. Dungy writes in his book, Quiet Strength, "I just couldn't understand this. It seemed obvious to me that both of us should have been captains. I could only think of one explanation. For some reason the school didn't want two black captains. It seems impossible now." He writes that his football team had never had two black captains. He was so upset and no one could convince him the votes were counted correctly. He reacted according to his hurt and anger, and quit the team to show his disapproval. Because he was such a leader, many other African-American players quit the team too. A walk out had started. He writes, "I hadn't really thought about the possibility that when I decided I wasn't going to play the other kids would quit as well, but it didn't bother me. I just figured everybody had to make his own decision." His dad wanted to know what he would do to make the situation better instead of just reacting, but he said, "I was seventeen and I didn't care if the situation got better or not. My feelings were hurt, Bobby's feelings were hurt." He said, "I'll just play basketball."

As the team was preparing to practice again before the senior season began, a former school administrator of Tony's who tried to help young African-American kids asked him over for dinner. His name was Leroy Rocquemore. He said, "'Tony, you enjoy playing football and these other kids enjoy playing football. You should have your senior year to play. At the end of the day, what are you really upset about anyway?'" Tony writes, "I began to answer but he continued, talking over me, without waiting for a response." I hadn't realized his question was rhetorical. Mr. Rocquemore continued, "'Even if the issues are that important, should they spoil the fun that all of you should be having playing football as seniors? Thirty years from now you don't want to look back and see that you missed out on something you really loved doing.' Then he asked the question he really wanted me to answer, 'Why would you let anything stop you from doing what you have the ability to do?' Although I was convinced he was right I had always had quite a temper and my pride wouldn't allow me to back down."[1]

We'll come back to that story's outcome at the end of this entry. But for now, Dungy lived out what James warns against in verses 13 through 15, our own desires. The previous entry goes over how not to give into our evil or our own desires and lusts.
James says, (v. 13–15, NIV) "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."

Now, in verse 16, James gives us a hinge verse, linking what "not to do" with what "to do." He says, (v. 16–18, NASB), "Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren," (hinge verse). "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."
It is a common misconception that God and the Bible only tell us what we can't or should not do. Last entry was an example of that. But, when God tells us what "not to do," He also tells us what "to do." If you've worked with someone who has an addiction, or had one yourself, you know that those people need not just to quit, but to substitute it with something better. In Christianity, it is not about what we "don't do," but what "we do" for the Lord.

The first point I see in these verses is this: There are better rewards for keeping the faith, so
do not be deceived by what feels good (v. 16). God’s people should not be deceived by what feels good. This is that hinge verse, finishing the thought “do not be dragged away, abort evil desires,” and replacing pursuit of evil with pursuit of good. A comparison is coming, and vv. 13–15 were the negative, “Do not do this” and now we get to hear the “instead, focus on this.”
James is calling people's attention to this very important teaching, because he uses “my brothers,” a phrase mentioned at least 12 times in James; used to draw reader’s attention to what is being said. It's like his hearers have ADD or ADHD because he has to repeatedly address them. It is an attention getter when the letter was read out loud, and also a reminder that James says this in love (as we should always do when correcting one another--and we should be correcting one another in church more than we probably are--every church).
James uses "my brothers" twelve (12) in:
1:2— to have joy on trials; 1:19—warning us of speed limits; 2:1, 2:5—Don’t show favoritism to rich or poor; 2:14—faith without works is dead; 3:1—not many should presume to be teachers; 4:11— slander; Chapter 5 climaxes with four of them 5:7, 5:10—patience (takes a lifetime to master! Even then!); 5:12—not swearing; 5:19—Benediction summary.

What's the big deal? We know we should do what is right, not what is wrong. But is it just in our heads or has it made its way to our hearts? Our feet? Our mouths? Our eyes? Our hands? When we're alone?
Remember the image of the fish: lured or enticed and then dragged away by our own evil desires.
The fish went for what looked good. A lure is something neutral used for something evil. "Lust" can be good desire in Scripture, or the same word can mean evil desire. Be careful not to use the strong forces within you for evil or selfish gain, when God meant for them to be used towards His Kingdom.
An example of chasing after evil desires happens every fall in Wisconsin. The male deer, bucks, get one thing on their mind (and you know what that thing is). They will not stop until they have accomplished that mission. They get hit by cars and trucks all the time as they blindly chase these evil desires. If you see a doe racing across the road, stop. There might be a doe chasing it. This is the picture of us when we are led away by our own evil desires. We chase and pursue what feels good until we are suddenly interrupted and "smacked" by the consequences, just like the bucks are "smacked" by a passing vehicle.
2 Tim 2:22 says, “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
How do I apply this? What do I do instead of my own evil desires when they come? Instead of gossip, love your enemies and do good to those who hate you
i. Instead of pride, be humble 1 Pet 5, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, therefore humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord that He may exalt you at due time, casting all your cares on Him for He cares for you.” Instead of lust/longing for what we don’t have, be thankful and content with what God has given us.

Lust is not just physical or sexual lust, but can be for material things or money, power, control, or things we ingest into our body (food, drink, alcohol, drugs).
The opposite of lust is not boredom, but as 2 Timothy points out the opposite is using that God-given drive or hunger for more to ingest Godly attributes (see 2 Timothy passage above).
This doesn’t mean be satisfied and not try to better yourself, but thank God for what He has given you.
Start thanking God for what He has given you as well.
Proverbs 7, remember from last entry, (v. 25 and following), "Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng." She has a ditch like a holocaust picture full of dead bodies. Beware!
What God does in Proverbs next, chapter 8, is portray wisdom (God's point of view) as a woman as well, doing a similar dance of enticement for our attention and benefit.

Proverbs 8:1 and following says, "Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud; 'To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.'"

He goes on about the benefits of wisdom.
James tells us this going into verse 17, CHOOSE GOD'S GIFTS, NOT THE WORLD'S.
Sometimes I can get led astray by all the discount book offers I get in the mail. Books are great, but wasting my money every time I feel curious about a new book is the opposite of wisdom, and wrong.
Have you tasted everything in the world and found it lacking? Don't be led astray by anything, James warns!
Apart from God, we will never find "gifts" that fulfill our needs. Our itch cannot be scratched unless we consider what God has to offer.

Secondly, Verse 17, James tells us God has much better gifts for us! There are better rewards for keeping the faith, so secondly, choose God’s gifts, not the world’s. THIS IS THE REWARD OF FAITH AND FAITHFULNESS. God is the source of all good and perfect gifts, and God does not change, so the source of good gifts will not change. All good and perfect gifts are from above, coming down from the Father of lights, in Whom there is no change, nor shifting shadow. James connected the negative desires giving birth to temptation and sin and death, with those things we should desire, rooted in the One who gave us birth to produce the greatest fruit of all He created.
Every good or perfect gift is not where you always feel guilty afterwards. It's not over where you always feel regret, or where you beat someone up to feel better.
There are two different words used for gifts. In the NIV it combines the two, using only one word for "gift," but in the original there are two distinct words for "gift." "every good gift and every perfect gift/endowment." The first one:
Every good gift (DO-sis, from BDAG and TDNT meaning gifts more common or given among men. This is used in Phil 4:15, of Paul’s reception from the Philippians and none other, “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone”)
This first word for “gift” means more common, or given among men, such as:
Phil 4:15, “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you alone.”
The second word is “complete/perfect gift” or “perfect endowment.”
"Every complete/perfect gift," DOE-ray-ma, is a more elevated style.[2] This word is used of God’s gifts to men, such as in:
Rom 5:16, “the gift [DOE-ray-ma] is not like that which came through the one who sinned, for on the one hand, the judgment arose from one transgression, resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand, the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification.”
“is from above”
See James 3:17 too, where the wisdom that comes from above is preferred, coming from God. THIS IS PART OF THE GOOD/PERFECT GIFT TO SEEK
Is the point of James that there are different gifts? The point is where all good things come from, which is from God.

Yes, we should seek God's gifts over worldly gifts, but in the end, whether we receive from a man's hands or supernaturally from God, the truly good things come from God.
So then, no matter where you find kindness, goodness, peace, self-control, joy, or agape love, it came originally from God. No matter where you get the rent money at the last minute, or the health care for your baby, it came ultimately from and because of God.
This means also that the truly good things are what God desires for us, not our own evil desires. Thus, the seeking of what is Godly instead of our own desires results in receiving the best gifts from God.
Notice how James words this, in the passive sense, as in 1:5 speaking of wisdom, "it will be given to him," now saying, "comes from God." By saying this instead of "God gives wisdom" or "God gives the best gifts," James tells us God is sovereign, good, gracious.
Application: Seek God and His righteousness—that’s where you will scratch the itch to your deepest desires.

What if you don't believe or follow Jesus and are reading this? You ask, "Where do I begin?"
Begin by believing that Jesus died because of your sin and confess that sin. Confess you are a sinner, and need God's forgiveness. Believe that God loved you in spite of your sin and Jesus Christ was crucified because sinners should have been (sinners like me). Believe Jesus died for you but also didn't stay dead. He was alive for good on the third day as many witnesses admit, and commit to follow Him. There is a God shaped hole in everyone’s heart, and temporarily fillings leave you wanting more. Only in believing and following Jesus can we have satisfaction and fill the void in us.
My prayer for those who have heard this and don't follow Jesus is that you would never rest until you find rest in Him.

God is the source of what feels good and lasts.
I bought some Easter candy recently for the kids. When you eat that, you get a sugar spike and temporarily have a lot more energy, but when the sugar low hits later you are lower than when before you ate the candy. But eating proper food gives energy that lasts. So too, pursuing God's best instead of our natural desires produces longer lasting satisfaction.
A blacksmith worked for a Tyrant king a long time ago. His only desire was to please that Tyrant. He came into his king's presence once, and his king ordered him to make a chain. Upon finishing the chain, the blacksmith presented it to the king. The Tyrant was not happy, and told him to make it twice as long. The blacksmith complied and later returned with the chain as ordered. The Tyrant commanded him to make a second chain of equal length. Again, the blacksmith complied and later returned now holding two chains of the same length. The last time the blacksmith came in, with three chains, the Tyrant ordered the guards to take the three chains the blacksmith had made and bind him in jail.

That is a picture of what happens when we continually give into our evil desires. We think we're pleasing the tyrant master called sin and don't realize we are slowly creating a cell of bondage for ourselves. When we least expect it we wake up to find we are bound to the desires we once controlled!
But not if we seek God's great and perfect gifts. Loving people with agape love is how we grow, as are patience, kindness, goodness, joy, self-control, slowness to anger.
Tonight 10 minutes after sunset, with binoculars, look to the West, and you will see the planet Venus reflecting the sun. Think of the awesomeness of all the planets out there in our solar system, our closeness to the sun so we neither freeze nor burn, within a solar system, within a galaxy, within a universe of many galaxies. God is the Father of all lights! All we can see above us. The Bible says God knows them all by name. The lights may change, but what does James say about God?
“change” was used to describe the way the planets and stars moved in their apogees; “shadow of turning” also a phrase for heavenly bodies in their rotation. The language in Greek for these terms were familiar to astronomy or astrology, describing the changing planets in the sky. It is very important to understand that though God is Lord of all the heavenly bodies we can see, and those planets and bodies continuously move and change, God Himself does not change.
If you look at Venus like I suggested, you will have to keep adjusting your telescope. Why? It is slowly but surely moving, as are we on Earth.
But not God! If today God is good enough to do what is best for me and has the best gifts for me to seek, and gives them to me, then tomorrow that will be true too!
Right now the world is scary, the economy has resulted in layoffs and hard times. But I say even if I lost everything, I would trust in God to provide all my needs, not necessarily all my wants. We can have confidence that God will supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.
Call out to Him. Ask God. James says in 4:2, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures!”
I urge the reader ask God now, today for that need that no one has been able to meet. Experience the greatness of God.
God is the giver of all good and all perfect gifts, and God has not changed, nor does He ever change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Thirdly there are better rewards for keeping the faith, which result in fruit.
In other words, we are chosen by God to be the highlight of creation (v. 18). We are to be God's first fruits. James 1:18 says, "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created."
We read in Leviticus 23:10–25, how God instituted a law that the people would bring Him the first and best of the land called the first fruits. In our worship for this topic when it was preached, we read that passage in Leviticus together. You should take a minute to read it too before continuing.
Now, having read the background for what a "first fruit" was, it is amazing that James refers to us as God's first fruit of all creation. God's harvest, the first (especially in James' time) and the best in His eyes.
Out of everything God has made, mankind is the pinnacle of creation. Out of mankind, Jesus said "I will build My church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it," and out of the church, Jesus looks for that first fruit, which are the believers sold out to God to do His good works.
It means a faith not just in my head or heart, but in my hands and feet. Faith that works.

James switches in v. 18 to past tense. He's giving a history lesson.
Every since James 1:1, James has spoken in present tense. Look at it.
He has said in the last few verses, "Don’t give into evil desires, that will conceive sin, and give birth to death, don’t be deceived [by what feels good], choose God’s gifts, not the world’s, God does not change!"
Now he switches to past tense. James switches from present to past tense. By His will he gave birth to all believers so that they are the firstfruit of all He created.
What single event was the Word of truth? Jesus Christ—God becoming flesh, and believing the Gospel for salvation. Jesus coming into a person's life has brought that person new life, and because of that new life, we can have a first fruit for the Lord.James connected the negative desires giving birth to temptation and sin and death, with those things we should desire, rooted in the One who gave us birth to produce the greatest fruit of all He created.
The one thing you need to know if you are stuck in mire, filthy, sinning, feeling guilty, not wanting to crawl out of bed in the morning—is that God made you with the purpose to make the greatest parts of His creation.
What is the peak of God’s creation? Mankind. What is the peak of mankind, the peak of God’s creation? The church, the redeemed saints. What is the peak of mankind, the peak of God’s creation, the peak of the church? Those believers who are producing good works for God.
Don’t be deceived by what feels good!
Choose God’s gifts, not the world’s
And Know that God has chosen His people to be the highlight of creation
God wants to do a work in you that you could never do yourself. Look at the pictures of the hubble telescope, galaxies far, far away, beautiful paintings and artwork, music that makes grown men cry; deep sea creatures, millions of species of plants and animals all over the world, and nothing comes close in God’s sight to when a child He redeemed does good works for Him.
You and I have the ability to gain God’s favor—make Him smile—like no one else, if we will devote ourselves to doing His good works! But it happens only by the word of truth—which is the gospel of Jesus Christ taking root in your life. Then you are reborn in Christ, and the Holy Spirit comes in to begin a new nature.
Do you have the ability to be the highlight of God's creation? You can only say yes if you have already said yes to Jesus Christ, and believe that His death for your sin is acceptable, and that His resurrection is true. You must commit to follow Him.
I always end with this note, because it is the most important decision a person could ever make. Consider it, won't you? If you are already following Jesus (a disciple, not just a decision) then examine your life and find an area where you can devote yourself more to following Him.
Tony Dungy concludes this section of Quiet Strength by telling that he thought he was right. He said, "I alwasy had quite a temper and my pride just wouldn't allow me to back down. I could understand Mr. Rocquemore's point but from a moral standpoint I still was pretty sure that I was right. Plus at seventeen pride and hurt feelings can be pretty overwhelming emotions. Mr. Rocquemore knew that I would have trouble asking Coach Driscoll to return to the team, so he said that he would talk to him and do his best to smooth everything over. 'I'll tell him you want to play and make everything alright. Don't worry about it.' So after he talked to Coach Driscoll, Mr. Rocquemore arranged for the three of us to meet. Coach was a very principled guy and he set the tone for the meeting. Here's what he said, 'Tony, you can come back, but you've missed winter conditioning, you've missed summer workouts. You guys,' he knew that if I came back the others would coem back, 'are going to have to do some extra stuff to earn your way back.' He mentioned extra running, washing the dishes at camp, and so forth as his requirements, 'If I'm going to let you back.' When he had finished I think the only thing I heard was 'If I'm going to let you back.' I was getting mad, thinking, 'If he's going to let me back?' I started to get visibly upset, and Mr. Rocquemore gave me a look. It was the same look I would later give John Lynch during a press conference before the 1999 championship game in St. Louis. That look that kept me quiet and in my seat. For all the while, even Mr. Rocquemore was thinking 'Now why did Coach have to go there.' After the meeting he took me aside and said, 'Coach is the coach and you're the player. And there are times in life when you're just going to have to do certain things. That's just how it goes. That's a lesson you're going to have to learn to get through life.'"[3]
What happened when Tony Dungy gave into his own desires and quit the team? Was he able to just join again and act as if he had never lost his temper? Was he able to act as if he had never led the walkout and cost the football team other valuable players? No. He had to do some cleaning up to fix what he had damaged.
There may be some cleanup when we decide to seek after God's gifts, which are better. The rewards for serving God faithfully, consistently, everyday, are much much greater and longer lasting than the rewards for serving our own desires.
[1] Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength.
[2] See A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, and Theological Dictionary of the New Testament for all my research on Greek to English meanings.
[3] Tony Dungy, Quiet Strength.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

James 1:13–15, "The Trial of Temptation"

As I preached this a couple of weeks ago (yes, I'm behind in posting this), I mentioned I was recovering from a sickness. That sickness made the rounds here in Darlington, and I felt sick to my stomach still (among other things) as I stood to preach. However, I could stand and speak, so God be glorified. It will take more than that for me to not preach. Right before the sermon we have offering at church, and our Youth Pastor and Children's Pastor Russ and Nichole Paul sang a beautiful song for offering about Jesus going up the hill to die for our sin. We paused and prayed. That's a great idea for you now, if you're reading this. Press "pause" on life and thank God for not being satisfied with justice, but reaching down to save us in His mercy and love.

Now we come to the topic of James 1:13–15, "The Trial of Temptation." I read a funny story. Have you heard the folk story of the bandit Jose’ Rivera, who became notorious in several little towns in Texas for robbing their banks and businesses? Finally the townsfolk, weary of the constant plundering, hired a ranger to track down Jose’ Rivera in his hideout in Mexico and retrieve the money. The ranger at last arrived at a desolate, ramshackle cantina. At the counter he saw a young man enjoying his brew. At one of the tables, hands over his ample stomach, hat over his eyes, snored another patron. With much gusto, the ranger approached the young man at the bar and announced that he was on a mission to bring back Jose’ Rivera, dead or alive. “Can you help me find him?” he asked. The young man smiled, pointed to the other patron, and said, “That is Jose’ Rivera.”
The ranger shifted his southern girth and ambled over to the sleeping bandit, tapping him on the shoulder, “Are you Jose’ Rivera? he asked. The man mumbled, “No speak English.” The ranger beckoned to the young man to help him communicate his mission.
The ensuing conversation was tedious. First the ranger spoke in English and the young man translated it into Spanish. Jose’ Rivera responded in Spanish, and young man repeated the answer in English for the ranger.
Finally, the ranger warned Jose’ Rivera that he had two choices; the first was to let him know where all the loot he had stolen was hidden, in which case he could walk away a free man. The second choice was that if he would not reveal where the money was stashed, he would be shot dead instantly. The young man translated the ultimatum.
Jose’ Rivera pulled himself together and said to the young man, “Tell him to go out of the bar, turn to the right, go about a mile, and he will see a well. Near the well he will see a very tall tree. Beside the trunk of that tree is a large concrete slab. He will need help in removing it. Under the slab is a pit in the ground. If he carefully uncovers it he will find all the jewelry and most of the money I have taken.”
The young man turned to the ranger, opened his mouth...swallowed...paused—and then said, “Jose’ Rivera says...Jose’ Rivera says...’Go ahead and shoot!’”[1]
Read James 1:13–15. To review, James started by telling us to determine it joy when going through suffering; that we are supposed to have perseverance when going through suffering so we can be mature and complete, lacking nothing; if we do lack wisdom, we can ask of God Who gives graciously and without reproach; to pray in faith for wisdom or anything else; how to handle the trial of poverty when some who are wealthier are oppressing you; and this time how to handle temptation as a trial.
So far James had focused on trials dealing with the outside. Now he changes focus, switching from external trials to internal trials. Temptation could be said to be the subtitle for the next 4 1/2 chapters in James except for a few verses. These people were suffering on the outside, but they needed to have not only a Godly attitude about the outside trials, but they had to deal with trials within the body.
We'll see in 1:19–21 to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
In 1:22–25 we'll see how we need to resist the temptation to be hearers only of the word and lazy. We must do what we hear in God's word.
2:1–13, we'll see how we should not favor people over other people.
2:20–27, we'll see how we should avoid the temptation to have unbelief. We should believe. Jesus commanded us in Matthew 6 and Luke 12, "Do not worry . . ."
3:1–12, we will see how we should tame the tongue. James will explain that the tongue is the most divisive, dangerous part of the body.
3:13–18, careful of falling into bitterness. Don't let your circumstances control you.
4:1–12, different kinds of fighting amongst ourselves; Chapter 5 warns the rich not to use their wealth at the expense of others. Some wealthy were also within the congregation.
Temptation is a huge problem! Wherever you find a population of human beings you find temptation, and you find sin.
Why? Because we have a sinful nature. Whenever the bird of temptation lands on our head, we honestly hope it makes a nest there; but once the droppings and chaos begin, we realize we have made a mistake. People are like the richest, most fertile soil, and temptation is like throwing the best seed of sin on it. What do you expect? We are such a fertile soil for sin, because a part of us desires it. Better luck getting the spots off a leopard, or finding a cow without hooves, than to find a human who does not struggle with temptation from time to time (or more often).

In Systematic Theology we have ten (10) categories of systematic theology, give or take one depending on which systematic theology you read. We have Theology Proper (the study of God), Christology (the study of Jesus Christ). But we don't have to teach students about the category of Hamartiology (the study of sin). Why? Everyone knows how that one works already! We live it. I pray that as a pastor I can be used by God to teach us well from God's word, and I can say, "We sin less than when I came here." We won't ever be sinless, but we should always sin less (thanks Dr. Sweeting).

James doesn't say "if you are tempted," but "when you are tempted." It will happen.

The first point is to avoid the blame game, especially towards God (v. 13). When someone is tempted, God is innocent, for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt.
The same word used in Luke 4 talking about Jesus being tempted is the word used here for us to be tempted; which is the same word as "trial" used earlier in James. But this time the context demands it is "tempted." Jesus was tempted from the outside by Satan, but not the inside as James explains we are. Hebrews tells us Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. But only from the Tempter's point of view (read Matthew 4 and Luke 4). James will describe a process of birthing sin and death which begins inside us, which Jesus did not experience. God could not have sinned, because sin is anything opposite of the will or nature of God, so if God appeared to sin that would no longer be called sin, for sin by definition is opposite God, resulting in evil. (God being the definition of good).
The Jewish believers scattered all over should not have accused God of tempting them because God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself tempts no one (v. 13). Neither should we! We should not blame God, or others--but especially God when tempted!
Sooner or later you will be tempted to blame God during temptation. "If God loves me, He would not let this happen! He would stop this! It's His fault!" James, leader of the Jerusalem church, probably pastored many people. He probably had seen one of every type of problem (pastors see one of everything, and many repeats. Hard to surprise a pastor). No doubt James wrote from experience, that we are tempted to blame everyone except ourselves when we are tempted.
How do we apply this today? When tempted, take responsibility.
Secondly, God teaches us this: Don’t let desire drag you away. James 1:14 says, (NIV) "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed."
See the picture of the fish. One moment he's swimming along, and then he sees the silver hook in the water, so he says to himself, "I've always wanted to eat a cold, hard metal hook!" No! A fish would never try to eat a bare hook. The fish tries to bite the lure, and is deceived into biting the hook. The audience of James scattered over the known Mediterranean world would have recognized the fishing terminology in "lured" and "dragged away."
We too are lured and enticed, and then after sampling sin a little bit we suddenly are dragged away.
Fishing can be interesting. Last year I went fishing once and caught two coolers full of bluegill in four hours. Later someone returned to the same spot and caught nothing.
I took my kids fishing at Yellowstone Lake last fall, and the first time caught a small fish, showed my daughter, let her hold the pole with the fish on there for a while. She was so excited. The next day, she wanted to go fishing again, so we loaded up the van and went to the exact same spot. After having her hold the pole for 15 min, nothing happened. She handed it to me saying, “I’m done,” and walked away.
But you always need two things to catch a fish: 1) lure, 2) hook.
Sin is like this in our life. It never shows up and says, “Hi, I’m sin, I’m gonna cost you everything, ruin your marriage, family, and friendships, and lose money you could have earned, and waste your time, and leave you feeling guilty all over! I'm going to lead you down the wrong road and make you hate yourself!” If it weren't for the enticement of sin and attractiveness of it, we would all stay away from it.
Sin is like a hand grenade hidden in a chocolate donut. We take the first bite and "boom!" it's all over.
If you have sin in your life and have said for a long time, "It's not my fault. It's God's fault! It's my wife's fault! It's my husband's fault! It's the devil's fault!" The fish swims towards the attractive lure. We can only blame ourselves when we go after that attractive desire.
We should say "No!"
How do I apply this? If you have sin in your life, confess it to God (admitting it) and take the blame. We can't blame Satan, even though he tempted Jesus from the outside.
The devil has an inside agent, the flesh, and that desire inside us (sinful nature) is the root of our desire to do what is wrong.
Paul said in Romans 7 that he did the things he did not want to do, and did not do the things he did want to do. He felt so guilty he said, "what a wretch I am!" Don't read Romans 6 or 7 without reading Romans 8, because Romans 8 tells us in Christ there is no condemnation or separation from God's love.
If you sin and are in Christ, that sin was paid for on the cross when Jesus died once for all. Does that mean we should continue in sin if we have been saved from it? No! To say you love God and to act the way you want to anyway probably means you never truly believed and follow Jesus.
Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly, and sin appears to be that abundant life, but it is not! Look at what sin does!
How do you want God to view you for eternity when you arrive in heaven?
Thirdly, "after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin when it is full grown, gives birth to death." So point #3 is Abort evil desires (v. 15)
This verse is pregnant with birth analogy words. Two different words are used for giving birth, words that were used for Jesus' and John the Baptist's birth in the Gospels. Conception and birth are gifts from God, beautiful, and a part of how we are to obey Him in “be fruitful and multiply.” But when we give into our evil desires, instead of giving birth to life, we give birth to sin, which gives birth to death.
James uses this to show us the results of our evil desire, which leads to temptation, which leads to sin, which will lead to death.
The ancient proverb says, "you can't stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from making a nest there." When the bird lands on your head, when you hear a voice saying, "Stop! Hold back! Don't give in!" That's when the desire is starting to conceive like a fetus trying to implant itself on your inner womb. It will grow, not stopping there. Sin is contagious, addictive, and once it gets a hold of you, it gives birth eventually to death.
So, Nate, you're saying I have to be bored the rest of my life, I can't have any fun? I'm saying that sin comes from three sources: the world, the devil, and here it comes from the flesh--sinful nature--evil desires. I'm saying if you follow the definition of fun according to any of those three sources, you will eventually experience death.
But, there is another definition of fun and excitement, found in following Jesus Christ, which results in eternal life and an abundant life starting here and now. If you're reading and saying, "That's boring to me." Give God a try. Otherwise, you know that your own self-serving desires will lead to sin and death. God will lead you to life.
In John Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan reaches gates of hell, to exit, and two beings greet him with some hostility. First, he meets his daughter, an alluring woman from the waist up and a horribly disfigured creature from the waist down. She informs him she was born when he disobeyed God, and her name is Sin. She introduces him to her offspring, who battles Satan with overwhelming power. His name is death, and when she gave birth to him he disfigured her on his way out.[2]
This is the process of what happens. That is why we must prune it, cut it out, tear it down, deny it, refuse it, replace it with good desires--cut it or it will flower and produce death!
Does this "death" mean that if I sin I will die immediately? It says sin will finish it’s work and lead to death.
Genesis 2:16, 17 ,"The Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat of any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.'" But they did eat, and they didn't die that day, did they? The Hebrew language said the same word twice in a row, strong emphasis, "Dying you will die." But Adam's longevity of 900+ years is much longer than ours.
Another passage of Scripture illuminates what "death" means in Genesis, and in James.
Out of all the sermons and writings in James, this is the most important and practical so far. It sets up the rest of the book.
Proverbs 7. Take five minutes to read it.
She promises him she has a lot of food, because she has made a fellowship offering and the meat must have been eaten right away afterwards. She has prepared a bed, her husband is away, and all the man's problems and excuses to do what was right were removed by her. Did she lead him away as a man's man, taking his woman? No, like "an ox going to the slaughter."
Proverbs 5:7 and following speaks of adultery as well. Verses 9 and following says, "lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are spent. You will say, 'How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly.' Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well."
What does death mean in Scripture? You may live a long life, but you will watch everything leave you. You will suffer. In adultery you break your family, shame yourself in front of your children, have a child with someone else and give your best to someone else's family. Your life is gone, and though your heart beats and lungs breathe you live a death. God doesn't tell us to avoid certain desires because He wants us to suffer, but because He doesn't want us to suffer, and He sees more than we do. He sees the line above the water, and the lure and hook below, and he warns us loudly, "Don't be dragged away and enticed!"
God loves you and is telling you not to sin because of that. So let's act on it, and resist.
If you feel stuck in sin, read Romans 6 through 8, about presenting bodies as instruments of righteousness instead of sin. Psalm 103 says God knows our frame, is mindful that we are but dust.
I watched an interview years ago about Ted Bundy telling James Dobson that everyone he met on death row was like him, not just addicted to pornography but hopelessly addicted to it. Our culture has many spores and deadly flowers reproducing throughout it.
Stealing, lying, greed, drugs, excessive drinking, individualism creating pride and arrogance, trying to gain all of God's benefits without giving back to Him--these are all evils our culture promotes. They appear good, but they all give birth to death in the end.
I watched a video of an ant with a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps inside it. The cordyceps starts as a tiny spore, and gets inside, feeding off the ant while slowly killing it. The ants exhibit irrational behavior, and the others ants, upon seeing their behavior, take them far from the colony so the others are not contaminated. When the parasite kills the ant, it grows inside, finally bursting from the body and sprouting long stems, from which it will shoot new spores to contaminate other ants.
This is the picture of us conceiving of an evil desire, that desire giving birth to sin, and sin giving birth at last to our death.
How do we find happiness, life, fun? Jesus didn't say, "I'm here to ruin your life," but Jesus came and said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly!” Live in Him. If you want to get the most out of your 6, 7, or 8 decades on the earth? Follow Jesus. Even now, believe in Jesus Christ nad you will be saved.
To Review: First, avoid the blame game, especially towards God (v. 13); Secondly don’t let desire drag you away (v. 14); Thirdly, abort evil desires (v. 15).

[1] Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), pp. 98-99

[2] John Milton, Paradise Lost, ……

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The Treasure of Poverty," James 1:9-12

What do you think of when you hear "status symbol?" Is there something in your life that you have, that you didn't have, that makes you feel more important? In some places my wife and I have lived we met many people who valued different things in life as symbols of their status. Accomplishments. What I drive, where I live, family, friends, salary, husband (my wife's problem . . .just kidding), wife, etc.
James will speak this time about status, and lack of it. Poverty is a status, and we will see how high or low. Richness is a status, and we will also see how high or low in God's eyes. Abraham Lincoln said that anyone could withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power. Thomas Carlyle said, "Adversity is hard on a man. But for everyone who can handle prosperity, there a hundred who can handle adversity."[1]
Take a moment to read James 1:9–12. Go ahead.
James will show us the following. Here's a synopsis of what to expect. Vv. 9–12: Poverty is an external trial, yet it is highly valued by God while riches are something to be humble about. In the context of rich who were oppressing poor, and Jesus’ caution that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the trial of poverty becomes the treasure of poverty, freeing one from relying on wealth instead of God. Both rich and poor should rely on God and not their wealth, but this is easier for the poor, so their poverty has become their treasure. The rich have a "rock in their shoe" in their wealth, or a humble status. Also, enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth—the crown of life.
James' word to the humble, which is translated poor. If you are poor, be proud of your high position (v. 9). James is referred to as the proverbs of the New Testament. Here is one. It takes time to think it through. At first glance, it is a contradiction. The poor have reason to be proud about their high position. Yet, James says, "The one who is poor should boast in his 'high position' (NIV). Am I to read this right, that those who lack material goods should be proud
Jesus brought reversal of social, economic, and spiritual law. Jesus said, quoted in Acts but not the gospels, "It is more blessed to give than receive," and also better to give than receive; blessed are the “poor” “meek,” “hungry” “those who suffer.”

Doesn't saying, "God bless you," or "blessings" mean the recipient is supposed to get better? Elevated status? Jesus taught a reversal of it.
The next time you say, "God bless you," be careful.

Why would He do this? Jesus devoted a whole Beatitude to the poor. In Luke 4, Jesus read Isaiah and the prophecy of Him coming to preach the gospel to the poor was fulfilled.
Maybe it will shed light to see how this fits into the whole context of James so far. Let's see:
We've seen that trials create perseverance and perseverance creates a faith not lacking in anything. Wisdom is something very important that we should not lack, but if you lack wisdom, ask of God and it will be given to you. Ask for it in faith, as with any prayer, without doubting, or you show hesitation which is the opposite of persevering faith. Doubting when asking God is guaranteed to result in receiving nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
Then, comes poverty.
Poverty is a trial, the first one James mentions. He goes from generalizing to specifics. Financial poverty for followers of Jesus is a treasure—because it forces/allows one to trust in God alone.
God has a soft spot for the poor. Doesn’t mean throw all your money to the wind to have this treasure. I knew of someone who did this once; the person emptied their bank account and threw it into a neighbor’s front yard. That's not what this means, and I would recommend to that person if I knew how to reach them that they should not do that again.
James did not instruct them to become poor, but to rejoice in the status where they found themselves. Why? What does a poor person have to celebrate?
Caution here: Jesus' teachings on the poor have been misinterpreted many, many times. It doesn't mean you should try to be poor, but if you find yourself poor, God regards you as having a high status.
Why am I in a higher status if I'm poor?

First, if you have ever been in a situation where you don't know where the next dollar is coming from, you know what it means to cling to God (or you should).
Once, when I was in junior college, I remember driving my '78 Ford Ranger King sized F250 pickup truck, rusty and held together with bubble gum and duct tape, not having enough money for gas to get to school the next day. God came through, but I was listening intently to Him and praying.
I think (Whiteside theology) that the answer to "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" is because if it wasn't for the bad things making us look up, we would always look inwards. Sometimes, we only relate to God when we have a need. Sadly, most who read this (me too) if we're honest, by far pray when we have a need we want God to meet. We rarely pray to commune with God and know Him more.

The poor are more like the wealthy than they think; both wish they had what they don't. God's word shows us it's not about what you don't have, but about what you do have, and the poor have opportunity and a clear vision. Poverty releases you from the tentacles of money.
That should encourage the reader.
That was one of the most important points of this entry.
Also, poverty and doing without creates an attitude of gratitude.
To the poor, be encouraged, because in the world you are nothing, but to God you are highly exalted! You are able to trust in Him and He can be a part of you without the barrier of money!

Second, if you are wealthy, you are humble in status (v. 10)
Later, James will talk about internal trials (temptation, the tongue, arguing, impatience), but now he’s dealing with the external trials. Get this: the wealthy have a humble status, and therefore reason to boast. “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position/humble status,” (v. 10).
In verse 10, see how James writes, (NIV) "But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower." Read verse 11 and see it is quick and complete in its destruction. How do you think this struck the wealthy people, sitting in the pews of the first century churches? "Great, thanks a lot James. I'm hiding out for my life, daily dodging questions about my activities so I don't get persecuted for my faith or lose my business, and this is what I get? I'm lowly or humble, and going to pass away like a wild flower?"
Is what James said true? Search the Scriptures, and see that the wealthy are the humblest of all in God’s economy. Not regarded less, but wealth is only a blessing among men, not when dealing with God. It gives us no leverage, but it can keep us from growing spiritually. The more power it brings, the less we seek the power of God.

This too is a very important point.
I have met some whose relatives were at the end of their life, still clinging to their money. Does that make sense? Don't they understand that you can't take it with you? I heard of one man who took his gold with him when he died, brought it to the heavenly gates, and St. Peter met him and said, "Bring the truck over here, we've got more pavement!" Don't forget to wipe the gold dust off your feet--don't get it on my clean floor.
There is an inversely proportional ratio of God’s wealth and our wealth. The greater our need, the more He can give us. The greater we have self-sufficiency, the less we cry out to Him, and the less we receive. Outwardly the wealthy appear powerful, but to God He longs for them to guard their hearts against the tentacles of money.
That was one of the most important points of this entry too. (let the reader understand). Did James, thus God, hate the rich? Keep reading and you will see them come up again and again in James, and you'll get a picture for the wealthy. See the following passages: in 2:6–7 James describes these people: obviously not believers in Jesus, but slanderers and persecutors of Christians and Jesus Christ’s name. See also 5:1–6, and the character of those specific rich oppressors is evident.
Though there were wealthy in the congregation (read 2:1–4). It was a very hard source of suffering externally. Wealth has never been called a sin in Scripture. If God blesses you to gain more money, go for it. Barnabas sold land and laid all the money at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36–37). I know many fine men and women sold out for Christ, who use their wealth for the kingdom of God. Be successful, but be careful!
It’s like having a pet elephant: It will demand to be fed and cared for, and attract friends you never knew you had, and problems you never knew were there.
I have some relatives and friends who have done quite well for themselves, and even those who hated them suddenly warm up to them. Wealth can become a horrible monster, and corrupt even the godliest person! Be successful, and be careful!
Why are pride and humility important? Humility is the goal of followers of Jesus. Poor = financially humble; rich = spiritually humble.
Pride in riches creeps up quickly. Those who deal with money have to constantly struggle against lording it over others.
Proverbs 22:22 “Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case, and will plunder those who plunder them."
To the rich, be careful. Riches fade, but the word of God does not. God knows those who are His.

Finally, persevere through what is temporary and you will have what is eternal. All people and things on earth are vulnerable to decay, but not God’s. James is still banging the drum of "persevere," even if it is through an inner struggle that comes with having or not having money.
Riches fade as the flowers wither, but persevering through a trial results in riches that are not earthly and will not fade (v.11–12)
It is not if, but when a person’s wealth fade. Look at verse 11, and see it is not just fading away, but the wealth accumulated on earth is destroyed. The imagery here probably suggests the sirocco hot wind of the Middle East. E. F. F. Bishop, Apostles of Palestine, wrote about the sun’s ability to scorch, “no one who has lived in Palestine ever forgets as it blows continuously night and day once it has started. The temperature hardly seems to vary. Flowers and herbage wilt and fade, lasting as long as “morning glory.” Anemones and cyclamen, carpeting the hillsides of Galilee in spring, have a loveliness that belongs only to the past when the hot wind comes. Drooping flowers make fuel. The field of lupins are here today and gone tomorrow.”
Since I've moved to Darlington I've officiated 10 funerals. In Texas, I officiated 10 funerals, and before that I've attended dozens of other funerals. I have never seen a U-Haul on the back of a hearse. I've never seen someone stashing cash into the deceased pockets as they viewed the body, saying, "This is from your mother and I, you'll need this."
A comforting word to the poor, and a caution to the rich not to get too attached to earthly wealth. Two things James points out about earthly wealth and rich oppressors:

1) Gaining riches on earth may or may not happen, but

2) their complete destruction will.
If you're asking the question, "Then how do I invest my wealth in something that will not be destroyed?" The answer is "Use it for God's Kingdom!" The best thing you can do with what God blesses you with is to invest it in His Kingdom work. The Kingdom of Heaven is what the church of Jesus Christ is doing on earth, trying to help people understand and believe that Jesus died for them so they could have eternal life be believing in His death and resurrection for their sin. The Kingdom work is also trying to make those who believe into disciples who use their gifts and abilities for the Lord, and glorify God. Invest in your local Church, missions, privately helping those in need for the Gospel. Jesus Christ’s Kingdom is the only live market that guarantees high return, and has been guaranteeing it for 2,000 years! Not money, but better than money!
Note: Not just any old ministry. it is wise to consider that, though there are many good para church ministries that I too give regularly to, nothing except the church is guaranteed to withstand the gates of Hell. Jesus only said He would build His church, and all other ministries can receive above and beyond what we give to God's kingdom through what God has decided is more important.

When we die, we lose access to money. We will wish we had spent our time on what we have access to—God, His word, people.
Pause here. If God had stopped His word here and had James move onto the next topic, both the poor and the rich would be left thirsting after worldly wealth, with no good substitution. But he answers that need in verse 12.
What does verse 12 give as a word of hope? As we said above, persevere through the temporary until you get to the eternal. Enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth, because all the rich and their riches will pass away, but all who persevere through trials will receive the crown of life.
I'd like to give some free information here, some research on the crowns mentioned in the New Testament. There are 5 crowns mentioned in the New Testament, using the same word "stephanos."

1 Cor 9:25, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive an imperishable wreath (stephanos), but we an imperishable.” Crowns were given for those who competed and won, also who competed and won according to the rules. It was for finishing, but for finishing well. God has crowns for us to look forward to if we persevere.
1) The crown of “glory and honor” which every human is crowned with by God; Hebrews 2:7, 2:9 (Read that). Most likely indicates the rule and dominion mankind is supposed to have under God’s authority over this earth, as the only created thing in God’s image.
2) Those we lead to Christ are a crown of saints.
1. Philippians 4:1, “Therefore my beloved brethren, whom I long to see, my joy and my crown.”
2. 1 Thessalonians 2:19, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you at the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.”
3) 2 Timothy 4:8, a crown of righteousness is laid up for all who have loved Jesus Christ’s appearing (future).
4) 1 Peter 5:4, a crown of glory awaits faithful shepherds/pastors who finish well (not fall away). Pastors, ministers, priests who fall away do not qualify, for they do not faithfully finish. Certainly the false teachers and teachers who veer off Scripture for their own agendas or pleasures also forfeit their stephanos.
5) The crown of life, probably metaphor for salvation, which we will have if we persevere, James 1:12.
1. Rev 2:10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison; so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for 10 days, be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
2. Again in Rev 3:11, “I am coming quickly. Hold fast so that no one may take your crown.”
Emphasis is not on what type of crown, but that it is life, unaffected by sun, wind, heat, cold, rich who oppress the poor, or evil men who persecute followers of Jesus. It is a crown of life, eternal, given (Rev 2) after death!
Is salvation something we only receive if we do enough good works? Acts 16:31 tells us that if we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be saved from our sin. We take that in faith. Jesus also said in John 10:28-30, Jesus shows us no one can snatch us from His hand, or His Father's hand (even ourselves--no one means no one, we would not want to leave Him if we are saved, but the longer discussion of this is for another entry). Other passages lead to this too.

Why seek a crown? This is salvation! This is eternal life! You have it already, and James is saying to persevere through the “testing of one’s character” (trial) and you can expect this crown! Look in Revelation 4, the 24 elders around the throne of God cast their crowns down at His feet, as we sing, “All the saints adore Thee, casting down their golden crowns upon the glassy sea.” So you want to have a crown in that day. You want to persevere through trials!
How do I apply this? Who cares about money! We pray for what we need, but compared to the crown--salvation--that cannot perish, we will be embarrassed if all we lived for in these 7, 8, or 9 decades was for money.
Poverty is an external trial, yet it is highly valued by God while riches are something to be humble about. In the context of rich who were oppressing poor, and Jesus’ caution that it is more difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom, the trial of poverty becomes the treasure of poverty, freeing one from relying on wealth instead of God. Both rich and poor should rely on God and not their wealth, but this is easier for the poor, so their poverty has become their treasure. Also, enduring a trial results in riches that far outweigh riches on earth, because all the rich and their riches will pass away, but all who persevere through trials will receive the crown of life.
Luke 12:27-32 comforts us. Don't worry (command), either about eating or wearing clothes. He urges us to take care of His business, and He will take care of ours. Verse 31, "But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well."

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 22.