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Set Apart #12 - Prayer & Praise

1-01 12 - Prayer & Praise



There are times in life when your prayers seemed to be amped up.  There is more urgency and energy.

For me, I have found that journaling my prayers at times is helpful.  It helps me focus my thoughts.  It allows me a written record of my prayers, which is interesting to look at later on – sometimes we forget what we have been praying for and therefore, don’t recognize that God is answering. 

A few weeks ago I attended a pastor’s round table regarding African-American ministries and reaching men and women cross-culturally.  The host of the meeting was Dr. Maxie Miller of the Florida Baptist Convention and the keynote speaker was Chris McNairy of the North American Mission Board.

I learned quite a bit at this event and the fellowship was great, but one thing Chris said really stuck with me.

He shared how his prayer life had improved over time.  Prayer doesn’t come easy for many and yet, it’s the key to continued communication and intimacy with the Father.

He recommended E.M. Bounds book on Prayer.  I’ve been reading it (well, actually, it’s seven books bound in one cover.)  This Civil War era pastor about the necessity, essentials, possibilities and reality of prayer.  Of course, the power of prayer as well.

I believe we all know that prayer is important and some of us seem to pray easily.  Yet, knowing the Enemy is constantly attacking, I’m sure that most of us struggle to maintain a strong, healthy, vibrant prayer life. 

Our prayers become bookends we use at the beginning of meals or meetings.

We couch our prayers in language that is far from powerful.  Consequently, we end up with wimpy prayers and this feeling that God doesn’t hear us . . . or maybe even care.

Our prayers should be persistent yet humble.  One should not be “proud” of their praying, only in the God to whom they seek.

We find ourselves drifting to pray as a last resort at times.  How backward is this?

We pray for our wants.  This then becomes a testimony to selfishness.  Yet, aren’t we supposed to pray our desires before the Father?  Yes, but the key is intimacy.

As we grow closer to God, more intimate in relationship with Him, our focus shifts from us and our desires to Him and His.

This can be a painful shift at first, but then again, it’s a paradox.  To live, you must die.  That means our desires, our wants, our plans.  This too, changes how we pray.

The model prayer states “Your will be done.”  This is key.  His will will be done.  The question is can we handle that?

James closes his letter to the first century church with emphasis on prayer and praise.  Two things that identify Christians.

James 5

13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.  14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

Is anyone among you suffering?  This question starts the conversation.  The logical question after sharing that we, as Christians are to be patient when being oppressed and to not seek vengeance.

Suffering – that holds so many possibilities doesn’t it?

Sin entered the world back in Genesis and has been running rampant since.  Therefore, disease, loss, separation, relational issues, and a host of other negative things become that which all of us must work through.

So, are any of you suffering?  Many are.

If you’re suffering – pray

If you’re cheerful – sing praise

Pretty simple instruction.  In truth, both are prayers. 

Perhaps the two greatest weaknesses in the church today are in these two areas – prayer and praise.

There is much need for prayer.

There is much need for praise.

James then asks another question “Is any one of you sick?”

This passage has led to much confusion and misunderstanding among believers for centuries.

On one extreme, people have taught that physical health is always just a prayer away.

Others have found this passage to be a justification for what’s called “extreme unction” – a teaching begun in the 8th century that refers to a sacrament instituted by Christ to give spiritual aid and comfort and perfect spiritual health, including, in need be, the remission of sins and also, restoration of bodily health. 

While there is a school of thought that removes the physicality from the passage – interpreting that “sick” and “the sick man” reference only weariness and weakness, which they do, there is truth to the meaning that it also references the physically sick.  So, the sick can reference the physically ailing and the spiritually ill.  Regardless, there’s one prescription.

For the weak and spiritually weary – prayer is the answer.

For the emotionally, mentally and physically ill and diseased – prayer is the answer.

So, what is the deal with the oil?

During the time this was written, olive oil and other natural oils were thought to have medicinal value.  In fact, they were used by doctors to treat many illnesses.

The historian Josephus writes of Herod the Great and during the last days of his life, while fighting illness, he would be given baths in oil in hopes of effecting a cure.  Numerous ancient historians echo the use of oil in medicine.

It’s evidenced in the stories of the disciples.. .

Mark 6:12-13

12So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

As pastors we are to pray for the health of our church – that includes the church body as a whole and the individual members.  Many of you have come by the office or called or sent messages to us regarding sufferings you are facing.  The request is for prayer.  We pray believing.  I often ask if we can share the request with the body and I thank you for letting us do this.  Why?  Because there is power in prayer. 

Now, here’s where it gets challenging.  Have you ever prayed for healing and it just didn’t happen?  Oh, I know, we always say that there is ultimate healing, but you and I both know that’s often not what we mean.  When cancer has been found, we pray for removal.  When couples separate, we pray for reconciliation, when illnesses are diagnosed, we pray that the diagnosis will reverse.  At times, it does.  Can God miraculously heal in any of these situations and more?  Absolutely.  Does He always do so according to our desires?  No.

Does this mean God is mean?  Does He not care?  Why does He let this happen?  I hear all these questions and even have thought them myself at times.

When I was just seven years old and received word that my baby brother had died, I cried out to God.  I was angry and frustrated and just didn’t know why God would let this happen.

Here I am 35 years later. . .and I still don’t have a clear answer other than that I fully trust God and know that in His sovereignty, all things work together for good to those who love Him.

James continues in verse 15 stating that the prayer of faith will save the sick.  But wait, what about faithful believers who pray for healing, have pastors anoint them with oil, take their medication and remain sick.  Does this happen?  Yes.  Then, how do we justify this passage?

Prayers of faith are answered not simply because they are prayed in faith but only if they are prayed in the will of God.

1 John 5:14

14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 

God apparently does not always think it best to heal physically.  Yet, even though we may not see it, ultimate healing is God’s desire for all.  He desires that all be saved and have an eternal relationship with him.

If it was sin that occasioned his sickness, “he will be forgiven.” This suggests the possibility that, because of persistence in sin, God sent sickness as a disciplinary agent (cf. 1Cor 11:30). The conditional clause “if he has sinned” makes it clear that not all sickness is the result of sin.

The next step is to confess your sins to one another.  Is this about “airing your dirty laundry” so that all will know?

The reality is that we all must come to understand that we have blind spots in our spiritual lives.  When God reveals an area of weakness, He provides brothers and sisters who can help.  A confession to a priest or confessional is not required.  In fact, it’s not even suggested.  However, sharing with one another your sins and struggles (and make sure it’s the right ones another) allows for strength and power through prayer.

Remember, we are caught in a battle.  You need to have someone in that foxhole with you.

This is the basis for sharing prayer requests.  However, we must be careful not to allow prayer requests to become gossip.  Prayer requests shared, yet just shared to be put on a “prayer sheet” and given out to others, does not result in any power whatsoever.  The power and the healing comes not in the sharing, but in the praying following the sharing.

Notice too, that we are to confess our own sins one to another – so the instructions are not to confess others sins.  Pray for healing.

Kind of makes many of our prayer requests seem pretty mundane.  I fear that sometimes we focus way too much of our time “praying” for things that don’t matter at all while the prayers we have been instructed to focus upon just end up on a list somewhere.

Our hearts are key to our prayers. . .

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Our righteousness comes not from ourselves, but as a result of our surrender to God’s lordship in our lives.

As we have studied throughout this book, our Christianity changes everything about us – our thoughts, our words, our conduct.  We are made righteous through Christ.  What results is new life.

E.M. Bounds related prayer and conduct and character this way. . .

PRAYER governs conduct and conduct makes character. Conduct, is what we do; character, is what we are. Conduct is the outward life. Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced by that which is seen. Conduct is external, seen from without; character is internal -- operating within. In the economy of grace conduct is the offspring of character. Character is the state of the heart, conduct its outward expression. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.

James ends with an encouraging word to us all. .

19My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

 

These who have lost their way are the “sick ones” of the church family. They have wandered away. The Greek word here (planēthē) suggests one who has missed his path and is hopelessly lost. “Planet” was taken from this Greek word to convey the idea that the luminaries were “wandering stars” (cf. Jude 13), not “fixed” like the rest.

 

Wandering ones need to be brought back to the fold. James referred here not to evangelism but to restoration. Revival, not redemption, is in view. The rescue action is of great significance. A lost sheep is saved from destruction and his sins (the sins of the restored one, not the restorer) are covered as if a veil were thrown over them (cf. 1 Peter 4:8). He can move ahead again on the path toward spiritual maturity.

 

James has given clear instructions about how to achieve practical holiness and spiritual maturity. His pointed exhortations were designed to stab the consciences and stir the souls of his beloved Jewish brothers. Stand with confidence, serve with compassion, speak with care, submit with contrition, and share with concern. A believer should be what God wants him to be, do what God wants him to do, say what God wants him to say, sense what God wants him to sense, and share what God wants him to share. Spiritual maturity involves every aspect of life.

 

Perhaps you need restoring?

 

God has given you a church family that cares so much to not let you just wander alone.  He’s here.  Come back to him and experience the healing that is eternal.


Set Apart #11 - Patience In the Midst of Oppression

02 11 - Patience In the Midst of Opp


Ever notice how many people say they are praying for patience?

I was watching a movie that referenced this about a year or so ago.  One character asked another “What do you think God will do if you pray for patience?”  The answer is “Put you in a traffic jam.”

You want patience?  You will need to be placed in a situation where patience is needed.  Often that is what happens. 

Believe me a traffic jam is nothing compared to what often happens in life that pushes us to experience patience.  The sufferings and struggles we face here in America for our faith do not even compare to what many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world experience.

We live in a culture where being a Christian seems easy.  In fact, it’s probably too easy.

In reality, Christianity is at odds with the world.  We desire a culture that not only supports Christian beliefs and standards, but encourages them.  However, that just will not happen, since the world is at odds with Christianity.

We sometimes seem surprised when Christian morals and beliefs aren’t embraced by the populace.  We hearken to go back to the good old days where it seemed everybody went to church and held strong to biblical values.

The truth of the matter is that while Christian values and biblical teachings may have been more mainstream in some areas throughout history, the battle between Christianity and the lord of this world has been going on since the beginning of time.

I fear we forget this in the midst of the story.

Listen to this quote from John Piper in his book “Spectacular Sins”

But the times are changing.  For seventy million baby boomers, for example, life has changed.  It seems very short now.  What used to be a fond nostalgia for the sixties has turned into an ache that the beloved decade is now so far away that its main meaning is: we are dying.  Different ages get the message in different ways.

And not only life, but the world too is shrinking.  People who don’t like Christians are all around us. Only a strange providence keeps our churches from being bombed.  It is only a matter of time till the reality of the rest of the world comes home.  And all the while we are called by Christ to go to them, love them, sacrifice for them, bring the gospel to them.  The Great Commission is not child’s play.  It is costly.  Very costly.

The coddled western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction.  And when it does, whose vision of God will hold?  Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows?  Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? 

Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews.  And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians.  God is weightless in our lives.  He is not terrifyingly magnificent.  His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.

I think Piper is right in this analysis. We are hiding under a “feel good religion” so often and fail to recognize the battle, not to come, but that we are engaged in right now.

Last Sunday was an international day of prayer for the persecuted church.  Throughout our world believers gather at great risk to worship and study the Word of God.  They literally put their lives at risk to come together.  The story came out of India recently of a Christian pastor who was dragged out of his home and given three options – become a Hindu, leave the area of Orissa, India or be killed.  He stated that he had preached the Gospel of Christ all over Orissa, for the last ten years, and “I’ll not turn my back on Christ.” 

Once he said this, they took him out of the home, with his wife watching, and beat him to death in his village.  His wife now shares how her husband died for the sake of the Gospel with dignity and grace and is now resting in the arms of our Savior.

Last Sunday we ended with a verse in James 5, speaking to unbelievers who drag believers into court.  In cases addressed by James, believers were losing at times, not only their possessions for being falsely accused of crimes due to their faith, but also their lives.  Christians in the first century churches did not have the luxury of just joining a church and not having it radically affect their entire lives.  In many cases, their lives were exactly what hung in the balance after their conversion.

These believers faced persecution and, unless they realized the depth of their faith and the power of their God, they often suffered deeply, for generations.

There was no “country club” mentality among the seriously devout of the first century.

James then shifts his focus from accusing those who treat believers unjustly (and, by the way, will be judged accordingly by the Lord) to those who are the sufferers.

James 5

7Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

In this section, the emphasis is on those who suffer for the sake of the Gospel.  “Be patient” is the instruction.  The word translated as “be patient” describes the attitude of self-restraint that does not try to get even for a wrong that has been done.

It references being long-suffering toward people who do you wrong.

Have you ever been done wrong?

Our nature, most often, is to seek revenge (or at least someone else does.) 

The instruction here is to wait.  How long?  Until the coming of the Lord.  Wow.  That’s a long time.  We are reminded what Paul wrote in Romans. . .

Romans 12

 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There are some comparisons that help us understand.  In Israel, the farmers have to deal with some extreme weather conditions.  There are basically two rainy seasons – October & November and then in April and May.  The rest of the time, there’s just not much rain at all.  Therefore, the farmers would sow their seeds, and wait patiently for both rains came and provided the needed moisture.

James says “You also, be patient”

Easier said than done, but the only response permissible.

James applies the illustration of the patient farmer. In addition, he urges his readers to “stand firm.” The clause used here literally means “strengthen your hearts,” that is, be strong in the inner man. The verb has the idea of providing solid support, of establishing a person, and thus enabling him to stand unmoved by trouble. The reason given for standing firm is that “for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” The day when things will be set right is imminent. This confident expectation will undergird the faint heart and make it strong.

9Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 

This may be harder than being patient.  The instruction is to not grumble, meaning believers are to be patient toward both outsiders who oppress them and insiders who irritate them.

I had a friend come to me a while back to let me know that there was someone in the fellowship who was not abiding to this command.  It seems that this person felt that grumbling and murmuring were spiritual gifts.  In our journey toward maturity as believers, you will discover that there are often other believers who slide into this trap.  They grumble about ministries, pastors, small group leaders, finances, whatever.  You ever know someone who just wasn’t happy unless they were unhappy about something? 

This is the case for this person.  The thing is – I believe it’s a blind spot for them.  They don’t even realize what they’re doing.  However, everyone else does.  Consequently, their circle of friends is shrinking.

Let this verse from James be a warning to all of us.  We are all susceptible to this.  Why?  Because there will always be those who oppress us and there will always be those who irritate us.

Be patient.

First, we’re given farmers as illustrations.

Second, it’s the prophets of old.  As prophets, they were not often liked.  They may have been feared, but not loved by the masses.  Why is this?  Because they spoke the word of the Lord and the world does not like, no, it hates the word of the Lord.

All the prophets are referenced, but Jeremiah is one who truly lived out this oppression.  He was put in stocks, thrown into prison and lowered into a dark dungeon, yet he persisted in his ministry without bitterness.  Reminds me of the pastor in India.

Third, there’s Job who is shown as an example.  We often talk of the patience of Job.  However, if you read Job 12, 13 and 16, you’ll see that he wasn’t that patient.  However, what James is comparing here is not his patience, but that quality that Job truly excelled in – perseverance, or steadfastness.

Regardless what life brings, our feet are to be solid on Christ and the Word of God.

Rather than fight back – the strong believer is one who exercises long-suffering patience to those who oppress him and stout-hearted steadfastness in the trying circumstances that face them.

As we have said, it’s easy to be faithful when everything is going well.  The reality is that not everything will always go well.

Then there’s verse 12.

12But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

Back in Matthew 5, Jesus forbade swearing oaths altogether.  James is referencing the casual oaths prevalent in the day.

What does this have to with you?

This verse is not about profanity.  It’s about being men and women of the Word and true to your word.

This is a call to honesty and trustworthiness.

When you speak the truth, you shouldn’t have to say “I swear it’s true” or “I promise.”  Your word is true.  Why?  Because what comes out of your mouth matches what is in your heart. 

Let your yes be yes. Let your no be no.  You are not to be double-tongued or a person that some would doubt sincerity.

It seems that this section is about just changing behavior.  There are behavioral changes that are called for, but that is not the depth of what we are called to here.

We are set apart from the world.  We are to remember that to be loved by the world is not something to celebrate.  Why?  Because the world hates the Word.

We are being called up here.  We are being called to a life of purity, honesty, truth and service.

This is not a calling to easy, simple Christianity.  This is not about joining a club.  This is about total surrender.  That’s what it means to be set apart.

Are you there? 

Do you want to be?  If so, you can’t stay where you are.  It’s time to give up and surrender.


The Paradox - Dying to Live

Sometimes a phrase just doesn't resonate.  "Die to live" - I have heard it.  I have spoken it.  I have even preached it.  I believe it. . .with all my heart.  Yet, there are times, when in the midst of life, it seems that God needs to remind me that this is a key to truly living.  I slide back into selfishness and wanting things my way.  Hey, I've even preached in the past few weeks that it is a sin to make plans for ourselves and then ask God to bless them, rather than seek His face and desires and align our lives accordingly.  However, I still slide back into this mode.

A paradox is a strange thing.  Really.  Just check out the definition:

Paradox

 [par-uh-doks]
–noun
A statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

 

Something that seems contradictory or absurd.  Well, that's the Christian life at times, isn't it?

Just check out what the Bible says about this. . .

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)

It's been a busy week and frustrating at times and I've been led to pray deeper, seek Him and reminded that life is so much more than what I see right here, right now.  I forget so often.  While listening to some music this morning in prep for today's services, I came across an oldie.  I was taken back to when I first heard this song as a young youth pastor trying to help teenagers "get it" and again I realize that I still struggle at "getting it" constantly.  Just needed a reminder today.  There's more to life than what is seen.  There's a bigger story at work.  It may seem absurd all that is happening today, but that's the paradox.  God is still in control.


"Convert, Leave, or Be Killed"

"Convert, leave or be killed."  This was the ultimatum given to a Christian pastor/evangelist in the eastern state of Orissa, India.  Yesterday, I shared about how easy, Western Christianity is weakening us.  John Piper, in his new book Spectacular Sins:  And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ, makes this statement:

But the times are changing.  For seventy million baby boomers, for example, life has changed.  It seems very short now.  What used to be a fond nostalgia for the sixties has turned into an ache that the beloved decade is now so far away that its main meaning is: we are dying.  Different ages get the message in different ways. 

And not only life, but the world too is shrinking.  People who don’t like Christians are all around us. Only a strange providence keeps our churches from being bombed.  It is only a matter of time until the reality of the rest of the world comes home.  And all the while we are called by Christ to go to them, love them, sacrifice for them, bring the Gospel to them.  The Great Commission is not child’s play.  It is costly.  Very costly.

The coddled western world will sooner or later give way to great affliction.  And when it does, whose vision of God will hold?  Where are Christians being prepared for great global sorrows?  Where is the Christian mind and soul being prepared for the horrors to come? 

Christians in the West are weakened by wimpy worldviews.  And wimpy worldviews make wimpy Christians.  God is weightless in our lives.  He is not terrifyingly magnificent.  His sovereignty is secondary (at best) to his sensitivity.

As I watch this clip recounting what had happened in Orissa, I am burdened for the brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer for their faith throughout the world, but also for the depth of our faith here in the United States as we experience "comfortable Christianity."

(The video is too large to view completely here, so click "Options" and make it full-screen.


Easy Christianity Is Killing Us

I have friends, no more than friends. . . they are brothers and sisters in Christ, who meet together regularly as a church knowing that their lives are at risk if certain groups in authority were to discover where they were meeting.  These believers are not in our nation, but in a nation where God has "officially" been banned unless controlled by government sanctioned "churches."  

These believers work hard every day in their job.  Yet, they understand that what they do does not define who they are.  They are not wealthy.  They are farmers mostly, but in a nation where what they grow does not belong to them.  Therefore, they are not paid "a decent days wages."  

I met with them a little over a year ago in a cave.  We gathered together, sat on little wooden chairs and then they began to sing.  They were singing hymns and worshiping God.  They were speaking their native language.  Though I couldn't understand the language, I could understand their hearts.  Tears were flowing down their cheeks as they praised the Lord.  This wasn't even on a Sunday.  They had gathered together during the week because they heard I was coming.  People traveled great distances to be at this church meeting.  I shared a brief testimony, but must tell you, felt very unqualified to speak on faith to this group.

They were speaking to me.

They risked everything for the privilege of gathering as a church, to read the Word, to sing worship songs together.  

I thought about how we view church here in the States.  The emphasis is on creating programs and events that will entice people to come "check out the church."  Even Christians aren't often at a point of seeing that the coming together for worship and study is a priority.  Oh how easy we have it.

As I continue through the book of James, it is so revealing that often what we call Christianity is a facade.  It's too easy.  It's sometimes about the building, the pastor, the event. . .and not about the Savior.  Seriously, how many of you have had friends tell you about their church and all God is doing, but the closer you listen, all they're saying is how cool their new building is or how incredible their new staff member is?  We brag on stuff really well, don't we?

I was meeting with our pastoral staff today and we discussed how easily Christians drift toward lax theology and feel-good religion. It becomes evident in what we say and do and as James says "how we live our lives."

Next spring we have scheduled a gathering on Friday, April 1beginning at 6pm.  We plan to end at midnight.  Yeah, that's extreme.  Most of the time, we begin squirming in our seats after about 30 minutes.  So, why go six hours?  I have been inspired by The Church at Brook Hills "Secret Church" meetings which are scheduled this way.  There is something about seriously seeking God through quality teaching, sound theology and practical application through missional expressions.  This meeting will remind us of what our brothers and sisters experience throughout the world.  The evening will not be about high tech videos, music or graphic images.  It will be simple - prayer, teaching, prayer, exposition, prayer, solid theological instruction and . . . prayer.

I'm a little anxious about the schedule.  This seriously moves us from any semblance of "entertaining the masses" for the sake of religion.  It could be that I'm the only one here.  That is a reality.  Some folks just can't stay the full six hours.  I understand that as well.  Still, I hearken back to the group I sat with in a cave on the other side of the world.  Oh, how they would love to have the opportunity to fellowship freely and experience solid teaching from the Word of God.

Maybe we just have it too easy?  I think we do.

If nothing else, our Underground Church meeting will remind us what God is doing globally, and I suspect He will change us in the process.


Set Apart #10 - Warning to the Rich

We continue through the book of James and look at chapter 5 and the warning to the rich.  The question is "Who are the rich?"  Most people tend to think as "others" being rich, but compared to the world, just about all of us in this nation are rich.  So, the warning is for us.

 

01 10 - Warning to the Rich

 

Have you seen the new genre of television shows?  First, there were the home improvement shows like Trading Spaces.  Then, While You Were Out.  Then a show about throwing away things in your home you don’t need any more came out.  It was called Clean Sweep.

I remember one of the highlights was the yard sale the families were forced to have.

If you have ever held a yard sale, you can imagine.  The couple in the home chose things that belonged to each other to sell.  Made for some interesting stories.

Now, the new shows are more documentary types, rather than reality shows.  They focus on a trend called hoarding.  Some of these folks live in homes that are just unbelievable.  There are things stashed away in the homes that are years old.  It’s not so much an antique shop, but a trash heap.  The shock value is what makes the show.

While most of us wouldn’t consider ourselves hoarders (btw – neither do the folks on the television shows) there is truth to the fact that some of us swing so far in the direction of “saving for a rainy day” that we could be classified this way.

Living in one of the richest nations in the history of the world puts us in a category unlike many believers in history.  Wealth is comparative.  Even most of those living below the poverty line here in our nation are wealthy when compared to others throughout the world.

While we like to remind ourselves that the Bible doesn’t say money is the root of all evil, but only the “love of money” – which is true – we sometimes find ourselves struggling with knowing what we worship.

God addresses this numerous times in the Bible.  Jesus spoke plainly to the rich, young ruler about his wealth.

There are problems that arise when Christians are driven to make more, get more and ultimately hoard more.

In James’ letter to the early church, he speaks clearly on this subject.  If you were here last Sunday, you heard James decrying business people who plan ahead for the sole purpose of making a profit without ever taking God into consideration.  The concept of making our plans and then asking God to bless them was central to the issue of the day, and our day.

As believers, we dare not show the arrogance of presuming that our plans will come to pass apart from seeking God’s desires.

James continues with this focus in chapter 5

James 5 

1Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. 4Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. 

In these six verses James declares first the fact of coming judgment.  Then, he lists the crimes against which this judgment will be meted out.

“Come now” – this means “Now listen.”  It’s a calling to draw close and take notes.  Otherwise saying “You’d better get this.  It’s important.”

The rich are the target of this passage.  Not just the unsaved, but the saved as well.  Those who have accumulated much get the full bore of James’ statements here.

These are uncomfortable statements and those who buy into the health and wealth false gospel would choose to avoid even reading this passage. . .or just explain it away.

In truth, we must look first at the literalness of what is being said here.

The culture of the day was rampant with the haves and have nots.  The rich were really rich.  The poor were very poor.  There was no middle class of sorts.

Some of the very wealthy had become believers, yet they had not yet fallen into the mode of total surrender.  This was evidenced in how they viewed their wealth.

David Platt shares in his book, Radical, how we all have blind spots.  This is true.  There are areas in your lives that you cannot see clearly, but others can.  Have you ever had a taillight on your car go out?  In most cases, how did you find out?  Someone else told you.  This is because most of us do not have cars that let us know about taillights being out and in most cases, we never see them. 

As Christians we have blind spots. 

Platt shares that in his personal life, the concept of global poverty grabbed his attention.

Here’s what he writes:

Today more than a billion people in the world live and die in desperate poverty.  They attempt to survive on less than a dollar per day.  Close to two billion others live on less than two dollars a day.  That’s nearly half the world struggling today to find food, water, and shelter with the same amount of money I spend on French fries for lunch.

More than twenty-six thousand children today will breathe their last breath due to starvation or a preventable disease.

Suddenly I began to realize that if I have been commanded to make disciples of all nations (people groups), and if poverty is rampant in the world to which God has called me, then I cannot ignore these realities.

He goes on to clarify that the movement to eradicate poverty is not all Christian.  There are groups promoting an end to poverty.  Some are connected with religious groups that offer no concept of salvation nor a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Some are nothing more than social movements with no lasting results.

Many churches shy away from serving others simply to avoid being classified with these liberal, social groups that tolerate everything and stand for nothing. . .other than a nebulous goal of ending poverty.

 

I believe the Enemy has clouded our thoughts on this issue.  Make sure this point is clear.  The Bible nowhere teaches that caring for the poor is a means by which we can earn salvation.  The means of our salvation is faith alone in Jesus Christ.  The basis of our salvation is the work of Christ alone.  We are not saved by our works – whether that be caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, volunteering in church or any other action.

Yet, according to what God is revealing through this book, even though caring for others and living selfless lives are not the basis of our salvation, they are evidence of our salvation.

Platt says this “If there is no sign of caring for the poor in our lives, then there is reason to at least question whether Christ is in our hearts.”

James’s writings are clear.  The focus is on those who have much and place their trust, one commentary called it “arrogant trust” related to what we learned in chapter 4 in things that are doomed to decay.

James is painting a picture that isn’t too attractive – the “weeping and howling” that is described is that of a person whose hope is not in the Lord, but in the things he has accumulated in life.  The things he has hoarded for selfish comfort and gain.  The misery that is shown is what is the end result for all who place their faith in “stuff.”

Money brings merriment only temporarily.  Wealth eventually results in misery according to this passage.

So, simply put here’s where the sin results and it all falls apart. .

  1. crimes of hoarded wealth
  2. crimes of unpaid wages
  3. crimes of luxury and self-indulgence
  4. crimes of murder of innocent men

Those are pretty broad and yet there’s no getting around the bluntness of what is written here.  There’s no explaining away or making it all symbolic to mean something other than what is stated.

1.  Hoarded wealth - The story that James is painting is not a “rags to riches” story, but a “riches to rags” one.  Riches will rot. Garments will be moth-eaten.  Gold and silver will corrode.  This will all be evidence at the judgment of what you truly valued.

It’s a dire scene painted here by the writer, but one that cannot be ignored.  You may call this tough love, and that is what it is.  Our nature is to gather and hoard all we can.  The battle within is over lordship.

James speaks of corroded gold and silver and since those metals do not corrode, what is he saying here?  He is speaking of tarnished wealth.  That which is accumulated and yet is just stored and not used.

The point is that hoarding is not God’s will.

2.  “Failure to pay the workman” – There were some who cheated those who worked for them.  They failed to pay a decent day’s wages for the work.   Some call is being scrupulous.  God calls it sin.

3.  “Luxury and self-indulgence” – the two words translated here are actually synonyms, but there is a shade of difference in them.  The first translated as luxury refers to soft, luxuriousness that tends to demoralize.  The second word describes extravagant and wasteful self-indulgence.  It says the rich had “fattened” themselves on their wealth.  The Greek says they had fattened their hearts.  The heart is viewed as desiring luxury and pleasure, and the rich are pictured as giving their hearts everything they desired.  Why does James use this fattening imagery?  He is saying that the day of judgment is coming soon in their lives and rather than getting their houses in order for the Lord, they have been fattening themselves. . .in other words, they are preparing for the sacrifice and it’s not going to be a good result for them.

It’s not about a dissolution of relationship with God.  It’s about a life of missed opportunities.  It’s about saying you love the Lord but totally missing His mission.

Self-centered Christian theology totally misses the foci of the gospel.

4.  “Murdered innocent men” – this is the final crime mentioned here.  The rich in this culture were being accused of dragging believers into court.  This was not to be taken figuratively, but literally.  Christ, Stephen, James the son of Zebedee and even the writer James himself had been falsely accused of things.  There were rich in the culture who were guilty of attacking not only righteous men but men who were defenseless or refused to fight back.  It was bullying set up by the people’s power and perceived power in the community.

One commentary puts it this way:   In the scramble for more wealth, the rich used their influence in courts of justice, and in the process were guilty of bringing condemnation and even death to innocent men who offered no resistance.  What began as an interest in money ended as an insensitivity to murder.

So what does this mean for you?

A passage about the evils of wealth?

Not so much.  It’s a warning about the evils of desire.

What is your heart’s desire?  To know God and make him known?  Or something less “spiritual?” 

We all battle the lordship issue.  It’s easy to make a promise to God.  It’s not so easy to keep that promise.

When we surrendered our lives to Christ, as believers, in most cases we truly sought to live for Him, whatever the cost.  Then. . . we discovered the cost. 

Are we guilty of continuing to make our plans, to hoard our wealth, to collect more “stuff” while ignoring what God has called us to?

Some would say that “God wants me to be happy,” or “I’ve earned such and such and God has blessed me with more.”  Really? 

Here’s a revelation.  God’s desire is not that you be happy.  His desire is that you be holy.  That is not the same thing.

Is Christ Lord of all?  Really? 

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

 


Everlasting God. . . Sometimes We Just Need a Better Perspective

As I sit here in my study just 50 minutes before our 8am worship service today, I am overwhelmed by the greatness of our Lord.  Really.  It may sound "religious" or "sappy" but it's true.  I just listened to a rendition of the worship song "Everlasting God" and am once again reminded that of all the things that concern me, take up my time, fill my calendar and often become "important," the only thing that matters, truly is God.

I exist for one reason - to bring glory to the Father.

It's a simple song with pretty basic lyrics.  I've sung it before.  Our worship choir and band have led us in this song on numerous occasions.  I even have the Chris Tomlin CD with that features the song.  So why today did it strike me?  I think like many, I just needed a reminder that . . .

Our God, You reign forever

Our Hope, our strong Deliverer

You are the Everlasting God, the Everlasting God

You do not faint!  You won't grow weary.

You're the defender of the weak.

You comfort those in need.

You life us (me) up on wings of eagles.

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!  What truth.  What a great reminder.  Here's praying you know this God who loves you dearly.  I pray that you experience Him today!  Know Him.

BTW - this version is by the Florida Worship Choir, led by Terry Williams of the Florida Baptist Convention.  What an image of multiple generations worshiping together focused on an audience of One.  (I love the guitar solo, too.  Yes, you can worship through a guitar solo.)


"So Who Gets To Eat The Cracker?" - Baptists, The Lord's Supper & Landmarkism

I received a question from a friend on Facebook earlier this week regarding the Lord's Supper (or Communion) in her church.  The question had to do with our church's rules on who gets to partake of the remembrance when we as a church observe this ordinance.  She asked "Do you allow only baptized by immersion believers to partake or all believers?"  This set off a discussion regarding Baptist polity, biblical understanding of the Lord's Supper and Landmarkism.

The discussion was good and the questions were honestly asked.  There was a true seeking of guidelines and a question regarding this very important ordinance.

I was reminded of one of my professors back at Southwestern years ago when he said "The most divisive thing happening in Baptist churches nowadays has to do with 'opened' or 'closed Communion.'"  I was shocked.  I had no idea this was such a divisive issue.  I had been a member of numerous churches as a child, being the son of an active Air Force dad, and I had never heard any controversy over this.  Of course, I was just a boy and any controversy would not have hit my ears anyway.

Apparently, the church my friend was attending had just observed the Lord's Supper and the pastor had prefaced the ordinance with the statement that it was only for "baptized by immersion believers."  That caused her to wonder why such an emphasis on immersion to partake.

Now, as a Baptist, I believe in the authority of Scripture and celebrate the autonomy of the local church. So, understand this, I am not saying the pastor was wrong in what he said.  However, in our church I invite all believers (i.e. born again Christians) to partake in the Lord's Supper as a remembrance for what He has done for us.  This would be considered "opened Communion" to some because we do not require partakers to be members of the church.  We do stress that the Lord's Supper is for believers only in that the ordinance is for Christians to "remember" what Christ sacrificed on the cross.  Non-believers do not have the relationship with God through Christ and therefore, do not have anything to remember.  

We do not have the "cracker and juice police" (my non-Baptist friends would have the "bread and wine police") overseeing who gets a cracker and cup.  We instruct people and then leave it to them to be honest.  The Scripture also says not to partake in an unworthy manner and if a believer is led to not partake due to unconfessed sin or failure to attempt to heal personal relationships, he or she may refuse to participate. 

OK, there's more to say about opened and closed Communion, but the question on Facebook led to why some churches would add rules that seemingly aren't Scriptural like this.  I answered that it hearkens back to Landmarkism.  Apparently, most folks do not know what this is, so I thought I'd clear it up a little with some church history.  Rather than restate what has already been written, I have chosen to share from www.gotquestions.org the details of the Landmark movement in Baptist life.

Landmark theology, or heritage theology, is the belief among some independent Baptist churches that only local, independent Baptist congregations can truly be called “churches” in the New Testament sense. They believe that all other groups, and even most other Baptists, are not true churches because they deviate from the essentials of landmarkism.

Those essentials are 1) church succession—a landmark Baptist church traces its “lineage” back to the time of the New Testament, usually to John the Baptist; 2) a visible church—the only church is a local (Baptist) body of believers; there is no such thing as a universal Body of Christ; 3) opposition to “pedobaptism” (sprinkling of infants) and “alien immersion” (any baptism not performed under the auspices of a landmark Baptist church)—all such baptisms are null and void.

Another corollary belief is that only faithful landmark Baptists will comprise the Bride of Christ. Other Christians (non-Baptists) will either be the guests or the servants at the marriage supper of the Lamb. These other Christians are called the “family of God” or sometimes the “kingdom of God.” So, in heaven will be all the redeemed (the “family of God”), but only those who have been duly baptized by immersion (in an independent Baptist church) will have the special honor of being the Bride of Christ. The landmark Baptists use the story of the choosing of Isaac’s wife to illustrate God’s choosing of Christ’s Bride (Genesis 24).

Landmark Baptists consider church membership one of the highest priorities in life; in fact, being a member of a landmark Baptist church is second in importance only to one’s personal relationship with Christ. Because of their emphasis on local church membership (and their denial of the universal Body of Christ), landmark Baptists hold a closed communion; that is, only official members of their own local church are allowed to share in the ordinance of communion. No one, not even a Baptist, can partake of the Lord’s table away from his or her home church.

Landmarkism had its beginning in 1851, when a group of Southern Baptists met to oppose the liberalism creeping into their denomination. At issue was an “open” pulpit vs. a “closed” pulpit. Was it right to welcome non-baptized preachers from other denominations as guests in their pulpits? “Here are men,” they said, “who are not baptized according to the New Testament model, men ordained by churches that do not teach salvation by grace through faith, yet we are inviting them to preach as if they were true Christian ministers of the gospel.” Out of this meeting came the Cotton Grove Resolutions, the first articulation of the tenets of landmarkism.

The term landmarkism comes from Proverbs 22:28, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (KJV). Landmark Baptists also use Leviticus 25:23-34 as support for their doctrine. Just as the Israelites were not to “remove the ancient landmark” or sell, neglect, or give away their property, Baptists today are not to remove the theological “guideposts” that separate the church from the world. “The faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3) is their heritage. Landmark Baptists see themselves as safeguarding the purity of the church, as originally established in the New Testament. It is this purity which will be rewarded with being selected as the Bride.

The landmark Baptists’ original goal—to stem the tide of encroaching liberalism—was admirable. The problem is that landmarkism, in its attempt to fight error, has fallen into error of a different and more egregious kind—the misinterpretation of Scripture. Here are a few points that landmark theology fails to acknowledge:

1) The “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5 is not a water baptism, but a spiritual one.

2) The church did not begin with John the Baptist but with the Spirit’s baptism on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 11:15-16).

3) The baptism of John is not sufficient for the New Testament church (Acts 18:24-28; also Acts 19:1-7).

4) The church is not just a local body but a worldwide entity comprised of all believers, with Christ as their Head (Ephesians 1:21-22).

5) Scripture lists three categories of people: unsaved Jews, unsaved Gentiles, and the church (1 Corinthians 10:32). The “family of God,” therefore, is not separate from the church.

The “Baptist Bride” churches, with their emphasis on the ordinance of baptism, are surely missing the point of 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. There, Paul rebukes the church for the schisms arising over who had baptized whom. Paul goes so far as to say, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” Strange words, indeed, if water baptism is what makes one part of the Bride of Christ.

I have good friends who fall into the Landmark camp.  They are Christian and I'm confident they love the Lord with all their heart.  However, I would not fall into this group.  Church membership is important. We do stress this.  However, much more important than church membership is membership in God's family.  Salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is paramount.  Let's not miss the message by losing focus of what really matters.


9 - Planning Ahead. . .If It Be Your Will

Some passages in Scripture laud the act of planning ahead, yet James 4 seems to say "Don't do it!"  Today we looked at how we are to biblically plan ahead.

 

01 9 - Arrogant Believers

We have just survived another election cycle in our nation.  All across the nation, politicians were stumping and promising to be the answer for the ills our nation is experiencing.  I vote based on how I feel God is leading then I watch the returns on television as many of you do.

States being colored red and blue and political parties claiming victory and others conceding defeat.  It’s like a huge sporting event.  I know some political junkies who view election night like their Super Bowl.

We now have newly elected representatives who have to now answer the next question and that being “Now what?”

We all face the “now what” questions in life.  Once a goal is met or a challenge is covered, the question comes to us regarding what’s next.  We experience this in our personal lives, at work and even in church.  The danger is when we begin to plan the next steps.

You have probably heard the axiom “The failure to plan is a plan for failure.”  It’s a good business teaching and often in the church we have adopted this mindset.

In fact, planning ahead is a good thing.  It’s even biblical.  You get the comparative analysis in Scripture of the ants who plan ahead for the winter in Proverbs 6.  So, planning is not something to be ignored.

However, there is a problem here and James addresses it in his book.  Often as believers we jump ahead of God.  We become confident to the point of cocky.  It’s a challenge, especially if you are a planner.

Are you one who likes to have everything planned out?  You know who you are.  You’re on a vacation and you have a detailed itinerary for every little thing.  There’s absolutely no free time or time for options in your schedule.  If you’re that person, and married, God has probably married you to someone who is just the opposite – that plans about five minutes ahead of time. Makes for very exciting vacations, I’m sure.

Well, this is about planning ahead, but in the right way.  Apparently, many of us, as well as numerous believers in the early church were going about this planning the wrong way. 

James 4

 

13Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—14yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.  

Remember the “wisdom” of the world I shared about a couple of weeks ago?  This comment comes on the heels of that discussion and for good reason.  The planning that is described here is saturated with the false wisdom the world offers, which if you remember is categorized as earthly, unspiritual and demonic.

So, what makes it this way?

First, what is being referenced here is business travel.  In the first century, it was not uncommon for business people to travel throughout the Mediterranean region and relocate for a year or so.  Jewish people, especially traveled widely for business purposes.

We see Aquila and Priscilla as a couple who did this.  Lydia was also an example of a tradesperson who traveled throughout the region.  Yet, they were not chastised for their traveling for business practices.  So, what makes them different from those James is addressing.

Look again at the agenda. . .

  1. Today or tomorrow – starting time
  2. Go into such and such a town – James didn’t use a specific town because many were working this plan and each person’s destination was different.
  3. Spend a year there
  4. Trade
  5. Make a Profit

Sounds like a good business plan.  In fact, many of us would look at this and say “What’s the problem?”

God reveals the problem through James here.

“You do not know what tomorrow will bring.”

OK, that’s pretty simple.  I think all of us would agree with that.

Perhaps there’s a disconnect going on here.

What does this have to do with planning ahead?

The issue is the arrogance.  These businessmen plan ahead and have no idea what tomorrow may bring, much less a year. In fact, there’s no guarantee you will even be here tomorrow.  James says our lives are like a mist that appear for a little while and then vanishes.

Even if you have a long life here on earth, that is just a mist in comparison to eternity.

It’s an identity crisis.  It’s about lordship.

Church people are being addressed here.  People who have accepted Christ and joined a fellowship yet have not surrendered to the lordship of Christ.  These people make plans and work their schedule and continue on as they did before they became Christians and Jesus plays no role other than a cursory mention during the church service in their lives.

This was epidemic among the early church.

It’s no better today.

You can see the emphasis here when James gives one little phrase that shows wisdom from above.

You should say “If the Lord wills. . .I will do this.”

Now, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you just say this then everything’s OK.  It’s not a case of saying the magic words.

It’s about lordship.

For a believer to leave God out of his plans is an arrogant assumption of self-sufficiency.  You may say that Paul made plans and other apostles without saying the phrase “If it be God’s will.”  The language used here makes it plain that the phrase tacit – implied without having to be said.  The lives of Paul and other apostles make it clear they did not see their plans as apart from God’s hand.

By planning without considering God’s plan is the same thing as arrogantly claiming to be in full command of the future.

The Greek is translated literally as “You are boasting in your arrogant pretentions.”  It’s a boast of one’s own cleverness, hence, arrogance.

This “evil boasting” that James is referencing is that which Christians do, how they live, what they plan, while leaving God’s desires by the wayside.

This way of thinking is counter to the culture.  This is crazy talk for those who do not have the wisdom from above.  Yet, for a totally surrendered believer, it is the only wise way to live.

This teaching lines up with the theme of the entire book – knowing and doing. 

James wraps it up this way

17So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

So, what is God leading you toward today?  Is this a message that is just designed for us to go “Hmmm, that’s an interesting concept?” or is it deeper than that? 

Are you guilty of making your plans (even in ministry) and then asking God to bless them?

I think we’d be wise to take Henry Blackaby’s instruction to “See where God is blessing and join him there.”

 


China Nest of Hope Orphanage Update

We have shared about the orphanage in Beijing over the past couple of years.  Here's the information from their website.  

Eviction from current orphanage will occur in the Fall of 2011 We have managed to locate a suitable plot of land upon which we are planning to build our new orphanage. We had originally wanted to purchase a detached home that would be comparable in size to what we have at present, but we found prices to be beyond our reach for fully constructed homes. Therefore, our plan is to to build a facility on our own. Land ownership/lease for 40 years will cost $650K, and construction of a 1500 square meter facility will require $350K. We currently have $562K. We need to raise the remainder by no later than June of 2011 so that we may complete construction by the Fall of 2011. We are grateful for any and all donations that can be made towards helping us reach of our goal.