Work In Progress

James 2:14 “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?”

James 2:17 “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

James asks a very important question, “What is the profit of faith without works?” He then adds, “Can that faith save?” To help lead us to the right answer, he uses an illustration which reminds us that talk of food will not always satisfy the appetite of a hungry man. In the same way, a dead faith cannot produce life. Right away James recognizes there will be objections to his teaching; some will say, “You have faith, I have works.” This seems to be the objection of those who think there is more than one way to God. They might say, “I am glad you have found something that works for you, but I don’t need that. I am a good person, and when I die, I will go to heaven because of the good things I have done.” James is in no way saying our good deeds will get us into heaven, but that true faith is always accompanied with good works. The person who truly believes, will have actions that support his claims.

Throughout history, James has gotten a whole lot of grief for writing this passage. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that this book does not belong in the Bible. I think it is important that we see James is not presenting a different doctrine than the rest of Scripture, but is in fact, explaining more clearly, the doctrine of justification by faith. James is not alone in teaching that faith without works is dead.

JEREMIAH TAUGHT IT

Jeremiah 7:8 “Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.”

JOHN THE BAPTIST TAUGHT IT

Matthew 3:7-8 “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance

PAUL TAUGHT IT

Galatians 5:6 “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”

Titus 1:16 “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.”

PETER TAUGHT IT

2 Peter 1:5 “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; . . .”

JOHN TAUGHT IT

1 John 2:4 “He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

JESUS TAUGHT IT

Luke 13:3 “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Matthew 7:19-20 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

Matthew 7:21-23,26,27 “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

James goes on to explain his teaching by stating, faith cannot be seen without action, “I will show you my faith by my works.” He then uses one of the most powerful sermon illustrations ever given. He declares the demons, who believe in God, show by their actions, they are not followers of God. In contrast to the demons, James reminds us of the father of faith. Who showed the reality of his faith with His obedience to the word of God. His action of placing his son on the altar, showed in a striking way, that God was his chief love (Genesis 22:1-12).

Jesus declared, the first commandment is to loved God with ALL. This is evidenced in our lives, not simply by words, but by actions. With one final illustration, James brings up Rahab the harlot. Her past life was marked with open sin, although no details are given as to what led her down that path. All we know is when presented with the opportunity, she chose to depart from her old way of life, and determined to join with the believers and follow God. What about us,? What are the works that show an account our faith? In Matthew 7, Jesus stated, we must do the will of the Father. The first work to add to our faith is simple obedience.

Read your Bible and do what it says. When you come to a text that convicts you, make some changes in your living. It is not the change that saves you, but the saved will certainly change.

Pastor Jim

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I’m A Little Lost

James 1:5 “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.”

Wisdom might best be defined as “knowing what to do.” In life we are constantly faced with circumstances in which we have no experience. We are left wondering what in the world we should do. When James writes, “If any man lacks wisdom…” he is not suggesting that only some of us are in circumstances for which we do not have solutions, but that ALL of us are in constant need of wisdom. The word “if” could also be translated as “since.” The question is not really if we need wisdom, but rather how do we get it?

Wisdom is received in at least 4 ways. First, wisdom comes from experience. If we touch the hot stove, we have learned not to touch it again. Second, wisdom can be received by listening to those who have gone before us. My children learned not to touch the hot stove, not by burning their fingers, but by heeding the warnings of mom and dad. Third, wisdom can be given supernaturally. One of the gifts of the Spirit, given to the child of God, is the “Word of Wisdom.” We saw it in action in the book of Acts when the church was facing an unfamiliar and perplexing dilemma. The solution is given to James that satisfied all involved and provided a solution to the problem (Acts 6:1-7). Finally, wisdom is also received through prayer. That is the subject of James’ exhortation.

Colossians 2:3 “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Paul reminded the Colossians that all wisdom is hidden in Christ. There is no circumstance which we face that He does not know the best course of action. This wisdom, he says, is hidden in Christ, which requires that we seek Him in order to receive it. We seek that wisdom by taking our situation before the Lord in prayer. “Lord, I am facing this decision and I really do not know what to do. I pray you would show me the right way to navigate through this.” Once we have taken our request to the Lord, we must wait for an answer. This is often where the Christian sways. We forget, while prayer is the way we take our needs to the Lord, His Word is the way He communicates with us. If you want to hear from the Lord, you must crack open the pages of your Bible and read. In addition to daily reading through the Bible, it is a good idea to look up verses that directly target the circumstances you are in and put their teaching into practice in your life. It is through His Word that God will give wisdom to His children.

Pastor Jim

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Testing Testing 123

Jeremiah 27:14
“Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you”

Not everyone who speaks is telling the truth. A salesman may tell you what he thinks you want to hear, rather that what is factual. A friend may tell you what they think is kind, so as not to hurt your feelings or damage the relationship. This principle is important to grasp, especially as it relates to those who claim to have the answer to spiritual questions. Just because a person showed up in Judah wearing a white robe, carrying a staff and speaking loudly, did not mean he was a prophet. In the same way, just because a person has an opinion about eternal life, godliness or spirituality, does not mean  their opinion is valid. The litmus test used in Scripture to determine if a person was truly a prophet was the Word of God. Paul wrote,

1 Thessalonians 5:21
“Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

During my years as a high school teacher I wrote, administered and graded a lot of tests. One common form of testing was to use a “scan-tron.” Before grading the test I would make a key, all other tests would be compared to this one. It was the standard by which all answers were compared. When it comes to determining the validity of someone’s claims about Christ, life, death, eternity, godliness, sin tolerance, righteousness, etc. we need to use the Word of God as the answer key. It is not what I think that is the highest standard, but rather what God has revealed in the pages of His Word.

Pastor Jim

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Praise God

Hebrews 13:15-16 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share; for with such sacrifices, God is well pleased.”

Worship is a very important part in the growth of every Christian. Many times, we measure God in light of the difficulties  we are facing. We think there is little, or no hope for us because our problem seems massive. It is in worship that we are able to see our life in light of the nature of God. We need to magnify God (which does not mean to make Him bigger, but to bring Him into focus) so we see life in light of His great love, mercy and power. As we magnify Him, we will see how little our problem is, compared to His ability. That becomes the source of great peace during trying times.

Here, in Hebrews 13, we see a couple of key elements that should be part of the worship life of the believer. First, we are told to offer the sacrifice of praise. Music is an amazing medium. Things that are often difficult to remember, seem to become fixed in our minds when put to song. How many times have you had a song “stuck in your head”, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot seem to get it out? I do not consider myself to be poetic in the least. In fact, I find it difficult to express to God the way I truly feel, but there are so many worship tunes that seem to say what I am feeling. When we gather for corporate worship, and I am able to follow the musicians as they play, I feel like my heart is finally able to express the things I wanted to say to God, but could not find the words.

Second, we are told worship must include thanksgiving. Just prior to these verses, we are warned against covetousness. To “covet” is to want what we do not have. It is often driven by failing to be content with what the Lord is currently doing in our lives. The children of Israel were known for grumbling and complaining during their wilderness travels. Instead of looking at what God was doing: providing water from rocks, miraculous food from heaven, a cloud covering from the sun, and a heavenly night-light to lead them, they chose to focus on the things they felt He was neglecting to do. They constantly complained about His provision, and threatened to turn from the Lord every time things got tough. Instead of focusing on the things that do not seem to be going your way, get your eyes on the Lord, and begin to thank Him for all He has done and is doing.

Finally, a life of worship, is a life that not only looks up but also looks out. When we see God as He truly is, we cannot help but to develop His heart for others. We are exhorted to include doing good to others, and sharing the things God has given us to benefit them. Worship is not something that is exclusively singing. While song is a great way to express how we feel about Him, it cannot be the only way we express praise. We must express it in actions toward one another. The Levitical Priesthood was composed of singers and musicians, but also included people who set up the tent, made the incense, baked the show bread, and a long list of other requirements, to make corporate worship possible. In God’s economy, those things are as much worship as playing guitar or leading in song. At our church, there are many who worship in the kitchen making coffee, or bring refreshments to make fellowship better. Others worship in the parking lot, assisting people to find a spot, and still others worship by inviting friends and neighbors to hear about Christ.

Don’t forget, doing good and sharing is as important to your worship life as singing, playing musical instruments or expressing thanks

Pastor Jim

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Unstoppable

Jeremiah 25:3
“From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, even to this day, this is the twenty- third year in which the word of the Lord has come to me; and I have spoken to you, rising early and speaking, but you have not listened.”

Jeremiah goes down in history as one of the greatest men who has ever lived. The writer of Hebrews included him in a class of people who he described as “Men of whom the world is not worthy.” Jeremiah had a ministry that outlasted kings and kingdoms. Even after the nation of Judah fell, Jeremiah’s voice still resounded throughout the land, calling the people back to the Lord.

If we were to use a traditional scale to measure the value or effectiveness of Jeremiah’s ministry, he would not rank among the greats. Day after day, year in and year out, Jeremiah called on the people to turn to God. Although he saw great reforms under Josiah’s reign, these changes had little lasting effect upon the people. The high places and idols that Josiah removed still remained in the homes of the people and worked their way back into the public forum. As Jeremiah cried out to his nation, the people continued down the pathway of idolatry and immorality, until it was too late and the nation itself collapsed.

Fortunately, the God who does not see as man sees, also does not measure as man measures. Jeremiah’s greatness was not determined by how people responded to his message, but rather by how faithfully he delivered it. In the midst of complacency, confusion, and full frontal attack, Jeremiah refused to be silent or dilute his message in any way. Like the rising of the sun, Jeremiah’s voice could be heard daily, calling the people to turn to the Lord.

Faithfulness remains the key to effective service. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will not be responsible for how others responded to the Gospel message, but rather how faithful we were to God. If you have been called to be a homemaker, then faithfully minister to your husband, and raise your children to love and follow Christ. If you have been called to work in the secular world, then do your work heartily as unto the Lord, looking for every opportunity to share the love of Christ with your co-workers. If you are in the silver years of life, look for ways to invest in the spiritual growth of young people; perhaps serving in children’s ministry, discipleship or prayer.

When the day comes for us to stand before the Lord, all that will matter is whether we have received Jesus Christ and been faithful to Him. Let’s follow the example of Jeremiah and not allow the rising tide of worldliness to sidetrack us from faithfully serving the Lord.

Pastor Jim

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Bitterness

Hebrews 12:15 “. . . looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled”

Bitterness is the byproduct of being unwilling to forgive. We are warned against allowing bitterness to take root in our lives, thus springing up and defiling us. Roots, for the most part, are the unseen part of the tree. We understand for a large tree to be able to support itself, its roots must go deep and spread wide. Bitterness begins to develop its root system in us the moment we choose to keep record of wrong, rather than forgive the wrong doings of others. While we are able to continue on for some time unaffected by it, this unforgiveness will soon spring up and bitterness will reveal itself.

It seems to me, bitterness may have been one of the chief causes behind Moses’ failure, which kept him from entering the promised land. Scripture records that the children of Israel once again complained about their circumstances in the desert. They were thirsty, and rather than trusting in the provision of God, they looked to Moses and began to complain that their needs were not being met. Moses went to the Lord with the problem and was told to speak to the rock and water would be provided for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses unleashed his fury on the people, then in his rage he struck the rock. God, in His mercy, provided for the people. However, Moses was disciplined for his disobedience; he being forbidden to enter Canaan. The punishment might seem severe if we do not keep in mind that the spiritual leaders must rightly represent the Lord to the people, or they will develop a wrong view of God. This was not the first time God provided water in the wilderness, He had done it years earlier and in response, Moses named the place “Meribah” meaning contention.

This has always struck me. Moses took a stick, struck a rock and water, enough for two million people, was provided in the desert. Rather than naming the place “God is Awesome” or “Great Provision”, or something else that would forever remind the people of how amazing the Lord is, Moses chose to remember the failure of the people. Now we find him, years later, facing similar circumstances. His unforgiveness has birthed bitterness, and his bitterness springs up as he lashes out in rage against the people.

While bitterness is the byproduct of being unwilling to forgive; forgiveness stems from looking at the cross and realizing all that Jesus has forgiven you. The forgiveness of God is complete. Paul wrote, our sins were nailed to the cross never to be brought up again. Forgiveness means to treat someone as though they had never done the thing that hurt you, or that has made it hard to be kind to them. Choosing to forgive is sometimes very difficult, but being unwilling to forgive has much greater consequences. If there is anyone who you are harboring bitterness toward, take some time right now and pray that God would help you to forgive them and treat them as though they had never hurt you in the first place. Do it now before the roots take hold of you.

Pastor Jim

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Study Time

Jeremiah 23:18

“For who has stood in the counsel of the Lord, and has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it?”

One of the big problems Jeremiah faced was, those who were supposed to be experts of the Word of God were neglecting it. Instead of studying the Word and instructing the people, they were playing ‘God’ by coming up with their own form of worship and lifestyle. Jeremiah wonders where are those who studied the Word of God and and are living according to it? Years later, the New Testament addressed the same issue.

Hebrews 5:12
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”

Every generation is in need of those who will become students of the Word of God, and live according to its teachings. Here in Jeremiah, we learn how to become a student of the Word.

First, we must be those who will stand in the counsel of the Lord. The idea is, we are the ones who will come to the Word of God for our marching orders. Instead of looking out at the culture of the day, or the behavior of those who have gone before us, we must become people who will look to the Word of God for instruction. In 2 Chronicles, when King Josiah stumbled across the Word of God, he immediately put himself under its authority. The highest ruler in the land saw that he must be ruled by the Word of God. If we are going to become effective students of the Word, we must see it as the authority of our lives.

Second, we need to hear the Word and mark it. The idea is, we become serious students of Scripture. This involves time, effort and energy. If we want to understand the Word of God and live accordingly, we must devote ourselves to daily reading and study of the Word. The most common objection I hear is “I don’t have time.” While I understand that life is busy and there are seasons when things are especially hectic, I also have come to realize, we all have the same amount of time and make choices as to how we spend it. If we are going to be students of the Word, we must make time to study.

Finally, Jeremiah spoke of marking the Word. I think this paints a picture of a person who expects to hear from God as he opens the pages of the Bible. With pen or highlighter in hand, we should open up the Word and expect that God is going to speak to us about our lives. This expectancy will lead to hearing God speak from the pages of His Word.

Pastor Jim

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