Tag Archives: James

Frog, Toad, Cookies, and Temptation

Originally published in the Patching Cracks column in the Big Sandy Mountaineer 4/24/14. I have done some some editing and made some additions here. 
Frog-and-Toad-illustratio-007.jpgOne of my favorite stories to read my daughter at bedtime is from The Adventures of Frog and Toad. In the story, Toad bakes a batch of cookies. He and Frog discover that they cannot stop eating the cookies because they are too delicious. They begin to devise ways to prevent themselves from eating the cookies by making it more difficult to give in to temptation. Frog called it: “Building up willpower.” They quickly discovered that if they wanted to eat the cookies badly enough they would find a way around obstacles. Eventually, Frog throws away all the cookies and proclaims: “we have lots and lots of willpower.” To which Toad responds: “You may keep it all, Frog, I am going home now to bake a cake.” It’s a funny story with an interesting point. The problem wasn’t the cookies, the problem was that they wanted the cookies more than they wanted to not eat them. The book of James touches on this idea when it addresses the things that are in our lives that cause temptation. It’s easy to blame God for giving us such temptations. However, temptation starts in us and are a product of our fallenness. In Romans Paul describes how the sin living in us seizes upon the law of God as a standard to rebel against. Sin drives us to do things we hate. He describes sin and the ensuing temptation as powerful and ruling over our bodies. As a result of this powerful force within us, even if the things we want are not in front of us, if we want them badly enough, we will go looking for them. Mind you, it is not the case that desire itself is bad. Desire is natural. Desire for food, pleasure, leisure, security, relationships, being right, or anything else are simply a part of how people are designed. Desire becomes destructive when it loses all checks and begins to cause damage. It can be seen in decisions made simply based on a desire with no concern for inevitable consequences and what is right or wrong. A common example is carelessly spoken words that are regretted the moment they are spoken. Other examples include extramarital affairs, the seemingly iron grip that pornography seems to have over the lives of many men, addictions, eating disorders, spending problems, etc. These typically involve normally healthy desires that become distorted and get out of control. James describes this as being dragged away by our own lusts. Ultimately, it’s important to recognize that the source of the problem is within us.

The solution for dealing with these sorts of issues begins with recognizing that if our problem is rooted internally, the solution will need to be external to some degree. The Bible describes the solution as allowing God to intervene and aid us in overcoming that which controls us. If we aren’t strong enough to defeat a problem on our own, we need someone who can aid us in doing so. Apart from a higher power intervening, we will find ourselves stuck. Paul explains this in Romans 7 & 8. New life in Jesus through God’s Spirit is the pathway to overcoming temptation. This is achieved through intimate relationship with the savior and discipleship. The Spirit supernaturally intercedes and enables us to overcome temptation. Sometimes this means confessing our sins and seeking accountability with our brothers in Christ. It begins by acknowledging to God that you are helpless to overcome your own sins and that you need Jesus to give us new life. Shortly thereafter we need to actually come under his Lordship by obeying his teachings, joining a body of believers, reading his word, and talking to him regularly.
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Pink On Family and National Morality

Arthur pink- family.jpg

I came across this quote from Arthur Pink today and thought it was worth sharing, particularly in light of the alarmist things I encounter in my social media feeds on a daily basis lately. It’s easy to find folks to blame for the problems in our nation. Folks post their outrage on social media, flock to politicians peddling easy answers, demand laws that will straighten up the world we live in, and pine for God to set things right. The problem with these solutions is that they are top-down fixes to a bottom-up problem. Decline and decay start in our own homes and churches. We must address our own messes before looking to those of others. In the 2 millennia since its birth, Christianity has changed the world, not through legislation and power, but through discipleship and devotion to the cause of Jesus. Fathers, follow Jesus and grow spiritually. Then, spend time with your families, loving and teaching them who Jesus is and how to follow Him. Devote yourself to your God, your marriage, your family, and your church (in that order). If you want this country to change, start with yourselves. Through prayer and discipleship, Jesus’ following grew to fill the world. It will only happen again through the same efforts.

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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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