Category Archives: Sermon Related Posts

#OfficeArtifactWednesday: The Redneck Fish Finder… Thoughts On the Power of Words


Anyone who has ever visited my office knows that it has always been filled with odds and ends. Little collections and keepsakes. A big part of the reason I collect things is to spur my thought processes. Being surrounded by odds and ends sort of feeds my short attention span and sometimes results in interesting thoughts. #OfficeArtifactWednesday is a weekly Facebook/Twitter posting I am doing to share a bit of what I’ve accumulate and some of how it makes me think. Let me know if you find it interesting.

For my first Office Artifact Wednesday item, I decided to share a picture of my redneck fish finder. 15 years ago I preached my first sermon in a church. During the sermon I told a joke about fishing with dynamite. The next morning, when I came into my office I found a bundle of wooden dynamite with the label: “Redneck Fish Finder.” There was no card or label. No one ever took credit for the gift. Someone thought enough of the anecdote (or me) to bring the knick-knack by and gift it to me. It has been a part of my office collection everywhere I have gone since. It is the very first office artifact.

Over the the last decade and a half of looking at the redneck fish finder on my desk everyday, my thoughts on it have changed. In the beginning I was encouraged that my story had caught someone’s attention. It was very encouraging for me as a young preacher. It’s not often that sermons illicit responses, so this has served as a bit of a reminder that folks are listening.

As time passed my perspective changed. The dynamite began to serve as a reminder of how powerful stories can be in conveying a point. I love telling stories and bridging them into principles or lessons. I’ll admit that I do this almost constantly, looking at things and considering how they can be used to illustrate an idea. I do this because stories can create deeper understanding. They can help people identify with what is being conveyed. They also draw in the listener’s attention. My fish finder always brings my mind back to this concept.

In the last few years, as I have finished seminary, studied the Bible more deeply, and worked with people more seriously, the fish finder has grown to reflect the reality that the things I say from the pulpit have the potential to make a huge impact on those I serve. I’ve spoken carelessly to folks and regretted it on more than one occasion. This is especially the case when preaching, because it involves standing in a spot where folks look to you to learn truth about God. The responsibility involved ought not to be taken lightly. Over the years I’ve known people whose words were like a carelessly tossed bomb in any situation: inflicting pain, provoking anger, and breeding dissension. I’ve also watched as preachers ignore the scriptures in favor of their own agenda and opinion, misleading folks for selfish gain. Being a professional talker (and a guy who tends to to talk too much) it’s important to remember the power of words and to choose them accordingly. Jesus once said: I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. (Matt. 12:36) He also taught: “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  (Luke 17:1-20)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. Proverbs 17:28

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!” Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down. Proverbs 26:18-20
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Patching Cracks Vlog Episode One: Stealing Daddy’s Seat, a Comment on James 4

This is the very first Patching Cracks video blog. It’s new to me, so let me know what you think.

james sermon click

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UnCommon Sense: Is Your Wisdom Godly or Worldly?

James 3

Everyone assumes that they have common sense and are wise. Recently, I have noticed that self-assuredness is incredibly common in our culture. You see it in memes on Facebook, proclamations that the poster has more sense than the rest of the world. Bumper stickers proudly proclaim the driver’s amazing sense compared to the population at large. At the foundation of many arguments and articles is the assumption that the wisdom drives the position of the author, whereas the other political party’s adherents live with their heads in the sand. This self-assuredness, often without reflection, is spoken of in the book of James. James uses the word “wisdom”, rather than common sense, though the concept is similar. Wisdom is knowledge that translates into action.

James 3:13-18 describes two kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and wisdom that is from God. These two kinds of wisdom differ in their orientation and in their results. Noting the results of wisdom is important because in the passages preceding, James writes at length about the tongue and how loosely spoken words can create havoc in the church, comparing these loosely spoken words to sparks that ignite a forest fire. Wisdom is the source of the thinking that drives our words. As such, we can look at the result of our spoken words and get a hint as to what sort of wisdom lies behind them.
2 wisdomWords that create chaos can be easily identified because they breed conflict, anger, and infighting in the body of Christ. Words that create chaos and destruction are likely rooted in worldly wisdom.
Words that make peace tend to spread the gospel, and create unity in the body of Christ.  These are the sorts of things James points to as coming from words that are steeped in Gods wisdom.
The major focus of verses 13-18 is the source and characteristics of worldly and Godly wisdom.
Worldly wisdom: Wisdom that is worldly is self-centered. James describes this as bitter envy and selfish ambition. Both of these are focused on what the individual wants for themselves and the emotional drives that motivate the individual. If the desire to be right breeds misery and anger over others not recognizing the value, rightness, awesomeness, or importance of you or your words, worldly wisdom is at play. The final component described here is boasting, which is essentially bragging over how smart, sensible, or right you   are. Such self-aggrandizing is described as a lie, because it is proclaiming wisdom that isn’t Godly Wisdom. James goes on to describe this sort of wisdom as being essentially the opposite in origin from Godly wisdom. James closes his comments regarding worldly wisdom by pointing out that wherever wisdom is driven by self-interest, you will find sinful behavior and disorder. The fruit of worldly wisdom is chaos.
Heavenly wisdom: Heavenly wisdom is first described as “pure” meaning “not sinful.” If wisdom arises out of any sort of rebellion against God, it isn’t heavenly. He goes on to describe it as peace-loving, considerate, submissive, impartial, and sincere. These qualities essentially point toward heavenly wisdom creating peace and harmony in the body. “Considerate” is best understood as flexible, or not rigid in personal preferences or opinions, something worth considering when a fight breaks out over whether the organ belongs in every song in the worship service. “Submissive” refers to submission to scriptural truth. Wisdom that is Godly essentially takes God’s design as the template for the world. “Impartiality and sincerity” refer to honest, loving treatment of others, regardless of their past, wealth, social status, etc. The final two ways James uses to describe heavenly wisdom are “merciful and full of good fruit.” “Mercy” refers to love for neighbors that translates into action, which consistently produces good fruit.
The final comment James offers on the matter of wisdom is “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Wise people seek peace and plant seeds of peace in the lives of others. The harvest they reap is right relationship with God and their family in Christ.
Self Examination: Earlier in his letter, James urges believers to look at the scriptures as though they were a mirror. We are directed to look at the scriptures and compare our own behavior and life to the ideal. The passage offers a few great pointers regarding what we are to look for in considering whether or not our wisdom is spiritual or worldly. Do we consider our own wants and interests first or those of others and of God? Does our aclick herettitude create chaos and conflict or do we make peace and encourage unity in the body of Christ? The answers to these questions tell us where our wisdom comes from. Most folks are wise in their own eyes, but this is very different from being truly wise.
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When Brush Fires Break Out In the Church

The area of Northern Montana where I reside is largely prairie. Our annual rainfall is measured in inches and the local farms grow wheat and raise cattle. fireatnightDuring the late summer, a persistent Sunday morning prayer request is for no fires and for safety when they do break out. The interesting thing is that it takes very little to start a blaze. The heat from the exhaust of a car parked in tall grass is more than sufficient to light a fire. A thrown cigarette or a lightning strike can destroy hundreds of acres. Dry wheat, chaff, brush, high winds, and farm equipment make for a dangerous combination during the dry season. One of the most impressive things about these fires is the response from the farmers and ranchers. When a fire breaks out in the  hills, the farmers call each other, load into trucks, and put the fire out. The fire department is also called, but with 30 miles of travel to put in before they fight the fire, every set of hands matters. Most farms have water trucks and backpacks for spraying water on fires. There is a perfect model here for the church.

In the third chapter of James, he speaks at length regarding the tongue and the danger that accompanies words that are far too loosely spoken.
Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  James 3:5-6
I have worked in professional church ministry for over a decade and have watched as gossip, envy, angry talk, and other words started fights that ruined friendships and split fellowships. All it ever was, was a small spark; a few words and the fire was lit. Gossip, boasting, and judgement preceded the forming of  factions and alliances, which led into hostilities and splits. It’s astounding to me the sorts of things folks would say and do in the name of their opinion regarding what was right for the church. Once these fires started, they were extremely difficult to put out. I once met a stranger at work who grew up in a different town than the church I worked for. He told me all about what he heard of my actions in a church fight that had happened years before. A few sparks spread to another field and the fire continued. The tragedy of the whole situation was that believers in Christ got burned. I know folks who walked away from church membership entirely over the shoddy behavior of the folks who decided it was their job to burn the wheat and the tares in the name of their petty issues. (Matthew 13:24-30)

Ideally, the church should resemble the farming community in which I live. When a fire breaks out, instead of running to pour08252013FourAlarm99YeaOldChurchPhiladelphiaFire_001 gas on the blaze, every member should leap into action to put out the fire before the harvest is set ablaze. Friends, family, and neighbors wouldn’t sit around and listen to the newest juicy gossip. Instead, they would recognize the danger of a fire catching and respond by lovingly correcting the behavior and stopping the fire before it spreads. When a fire catches and begins to spread, members of the church community would charge in and make peace, throwing water on the situation. They would respond to the fire alarm with a sense of urgency that is in harmony with the danger that is presented to the body of Christ.

They would respond by working to put out the fire. This does not mean that they will drive the fighters out of the church, but rather they will call those involved to Christlike behavior, love, and to be peacemakers. Believers do not step on each other to create harmony. Rather, they call each other to repentance, speaking the truth in love.

A final component of preventing fires from spreading in the church is for the preacher and teachers to teach members about the dangerjames 3s of speaking too loosely and the sin of gossip. Believers need to be taught about the dangers of loose talk and the sins associated with sowing seeds of dissension in the body.
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Faith Like a Broken Record Player

I am an avid record collector. I own a couple of record players, broken record logobut do not have a decent player for my stereo in the living room. Last week I was volunteering at a community rummage sale and I came across an older, but fairly high end turntable. I was giddy as a school kid when I plugged it in and hit the play button. My heart sank when the turntable remained still. I quickly dismantled it and discovered the belt was broken. Further investigation revealed that the motor worked. The record player worked, but the turntable didn’t spin. No matter how well the motor ran, it didn’t matter, because the power didn’t transfer to meaningful motion. This record player sat on my desk all week while I was studying the book of James for last Sunday’s message. I believe that this is why that broken record player came to mind when I read James 2:14-17.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
If I believe in God and believe that Jesus died for my sins, but do not live as though it is true, then I am not all that different from the record player sitting on my desk. Part of me is working right, but there is no transmission of that belief into lifestyle. Mere belief isn’t saving faith. James explains that belief is good, but even the demons believe and they do not have faith. Faith is belief that shapes how we live our lives. In the example that James offers, a member of the body of Christ is in need. This is a person that Christ bled and died for. If we see them and our possessions are of greater value to us than our brother in need, then our worldview isn’t adequately shaped by our beliefs. If we aren’t moved to compassion by our family member’s need, then our faith may be little more than belief.
This passage has fueled centuries of debate as to whether or not we must work in order to be saved. The assumption that we need to work to be saved misses the point. We are saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus. Faith is more than belief. It is a life commitment. Faith is belief with a working drive belt, that brings the music of God’s kingdom to the world through the actions and words of his people.
Sermon LinkWe are not to look at our own actions and try to guess if we are saved. Rather, we are to look at the world around us through the lens of the teachings and grace of Jesus. It shapes our perception of our possessions, the temporary nature of this life, what is really of value, what our life goals are, and every other part of who we are. We begin to see the world as redeemed possessions of the almighty God and as brothers of Christ. This new view of the world will necessarily change our behavior. Saving faith acts because it is alive. Dead faith is mere intellectual acknowledgment.
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Watching Exercise Videos & Eating Oreos

“If you read the book of James, once a day, for 40 days it’ll change your life.” I first heard this statement years ago while on a mission trip with a group of kids from my church. It was also a challenge issued by one of the project leaders. 2 weeks ago I shared the samjunk-food-junk-exercise1e challenge as part of our James sermons series. Since then I have had several members approach me to tell me that they are reading James daily. This has sparked some interesting conversations about how the book has pushed them to reflect on their own lives. It has also prompted me to consider the whole idea of the challenge, particularly as I prepare the 3rd sermon, dealing with James 1:19-27. Several things have come to mind and I hope to explain them in this essay.

Reading the scriptures is sort of like watching an exercise video. My wife owns a handful of workout videos and routinely spends time lifting weights or doing aerobics with an overly chipper spandex clad individual shouting encouragement at her. The video is only effective if she hops up and actually does the exercise. If she sits and enjoys the show while eating Oreos, the video is unlikely to make any impact on her. The same can be said of James. Simply reading it is a good start. However, reading the book of James, in and of itself, will not change you. Real chSermon Linkange that takes place in any person happens as a result of the Holy Spirit convicting you and prompting change. Further still, we are made new and changed as the Spirit aids us in overcoming our sinful behaviors and habits. This change is a process that is rooted in the Holy Spirit’s action in us. God’s actions aside, we cannot read as a passive audience. We must act in response to what we read.

Reading James, or any part of the scriptures, puts God’s word in our minds and provides an entry point for the Spirit to prompt us. For example, James contains all sorts of material regarding how we talk and the effects of our words. For example, as a believer reads James, the passages about language provide opportunity to reflect on how we talk and whether or not it conforms to the standard set forth in scripture. If I read the book and never reflect on myself. If I pour over James and never pray for the Spirit to open my eyes to where I need to grow, or worse yet if I read it and think about how all sorts of other people I know are falling short of the standard, then I will not see any change. It’s roughly similar to sitting and watching an aerobics instructor and thinking about how your neighbor really needs to exercise more. It simply doesn’t have any impact on your life. James puts it better than I do:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

James 1:22-25

For reading the scriptures or listening to messages to make an impact on you, it is necessary to look at them, like a person looking in the mirror, and reflect on the state of ourselves in comparison to what ought to be. The scriptures will show us perfection and in doing so give us a standard to strive for. For a believer, who is already forgiven for sins through the blood of Christ, our job is to pursue holiness. We look at the law, not as a list of do’s and don’t’s, but rather as a standard to strive for out of love for God and gratitude to Christ. 

It doesn’t make sense to get out of bed in the morning, look at the messy state of my hair and instead of combing it, consider how terrible our spouse’s hair is. We look to know God and to know where we need to grow in Christlikeness. 

Real change that results from reading the book of James for 40 days is a result of studying, praying, reflecting, and applying. The scriptures aren’t magic. They can change you, but they do so through the lens of your relationship with Christ. 

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