Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"Wise Relationships" - Doug Rehberg

“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens…” Proverbs 3:19

This week James turns from words, and the power of the tongue, to wisdom. This is a logical step, for as James will show us, the power of words feeds right into the need for wisdom. For James, the heart, the tongue, and the mind are not only inexorably linked, but must be controlled wisely.

Like food and water, words spoken in relationships are necessary for life. Indeed, the harshest of all human punishment is solitary confinement where one is deprived of all words completely. However, as James pointed out last week, words can wound or they can heal. They can cause life to flourish, or they can make life wither and die. Therefore, what is needed is a wisdom in the midst of relationships.

What James is going to tell us this week is that the evidence of wisdom is seen in the way we live, for wisdom is the ability to see and build healthy relationships. He will describe three features that characterize wise relationships: they are healing, they are humble, and they are full of praise.

The Greeks believed that there was a wisdom behind nature. Wisdom made nature operate in patterns and rhythms. To the Greeks wisdom was like a cosmic data bank, or better – an idea bank – that controlled the movements of life. The radical message of the Gospel challenged all of that. As the Apostle John says in the first words of his gospel – “The Word (wisdom) became flesh and dwelled among us, full of grace and truth.” Wisdom, therefore, is not some abstract concept for the Christian, but a personal God who entered time and space to re-establish a relationship with those He made for Himself and called to Himself. Indeed, the cross is where ultimate wisdom is revealed. It’s where the love of God, and the law of God are reconciled so that we can live in a healthy, thriving relationships with God and others.

We are going to try to unpack all this this week in a message entitled “Wise Relationships”. The text for Sunday is James 3:6-18 and our companion text is I Thessalonians 5:1-11. In preparation for Sunday’s message you may wish to consider the following: 
  1. What is meant by the current expression – “get a life”?
  2. How are relationships a necessary part of getting a life?
  3. What are some features of good relationships?
  4. Why does James appeal to creation in verse 9 when he excoriates his brothers for their blessing and cursing out of the same mouth?
  5. How does what Paul says in I Thessalonians 5:11 fit with what James is saying?
  6. How do you define encouragement?
  7. In verse 14 James uses the expression “selfish ambition”. Paul uses the same expression multiple times. Do you remember what it means?
  8. How does James again show that humility is key to all we say and how we live in relationships?
  9. What does Jonathan Edwards mean when he says, “The difference between knowledge and wisdom is the difference between knowing that honey is sweet and tasting it on your tongue.”?
  10. What is the opposite of cursing?
See you Sunday!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"The Power of Words" - Doug Rehberg

This week we are in a new section of James’ letter. Though he returns to a topic he discussed briefly in chapter one, here in chapter three he expands on his discussion on the tongue. And what he says is an echo of what the writer of Proverbs says in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Think of it. People die because of something said. Tongues can be weapons of mass destruction launching wars and holocausts. Tongues can also be the death of marriages, families, churches, careers, reputations, etc. But people also live because of things that are said like, “Not guilty,” or “No, I do not wish to terminate this pregnancy.” The writer of Proverbs says that the tongue can be “a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4). Tongues can reconcile people. They can make peace. They can build others up, bringing hope out of despair and life out of death.

James knows all of this, and that’s why he doesn’t stop with the tongue; he goes all the way to the heart. Jesus said it, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). A critical heart produces a critical tongue. A lying heart produces an acerbic, judgmental tongue. An ungrateful heart yields a complaining tongue.

But, conversely, a loving heart produces a gracious tongue. A trusting heart yields an encouraging tongue. In other words, the words you speak reveal what’s filling your heart. And that’s where the mirror comes into play.

When James says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body,” (verse 2) he’s not coaching us on how to be perfect – far from it. What he’s doing is holding up the mirror of the perfect law and showing us that there’s only One who bridled His tongue perfectly and that’s Jesus. He is the only One who humbled Himself sufficiently to have every word that proceeded from His mouth be perfect. The mirror humbles us when we see the miserable condition of our heart revealed in our unbridled tongue. And that’s the beginning of the change.

The mirror does one other thing! It points us in the direction of One who can change our heart and alter our speech. He can soften our heart and turn it from selfish grumbling to selfless gratitude. And the New Testament is full of examples of such change. The Apostle Paul, Zacchaeus, Peter, Legion, Mary Magdalene, and James are but a few.

This week we are going to dig into James 3:1-6 and see the power of words to kill or to heal, not just others, but ourselves as well.

In preparation for this Sunday’s message “The Power of Words”, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Do you remember the sermon from Thomas Chalmers cited in our bulletin lesson seven weeks ago? It was titled: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” How does that relate to the tongue?
  2. Look at James 1:26. How is 3:1-6 an expansion of what James says there?
  3. What is the command in verse 1? What judgment is he talking about?
  4. How did James experience that judgment?
  5. How is pride at the root of deadly words?
  6. How are words and works linked in Scripture?
  7. What is James saying about himself in verse 2?
  8. What would James say about the ditty: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me?”
  9. What evidence can you point to in Jesus’ recorded ministry that His tongue was perfectly bridled?
  10. How does looking into the mirror regularly change our words?
See you Sunday!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

"Living in Faith" - Doug Rehberg

In the movie classic Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Clause utters a definition of faith: Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.” In other words, faith is irrational, contrary to experience, logic, and knowledge. It’s believing in a feeling apart from any objective reality. I think that pretty well sums up the common definition of faith today.

When Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary, first went to China, it was on a sailing ship. As they made their way through the straits and shoals of the China Sea, the ship became immobilized by a lack of wind. Now for sailing people such events occur regularly with no need for alarm. But this time there was a problem with that strategy. The ship was drifting slowly toward an island of cannibals. In fact, in the distance the captain could see the fires already burning.

So, as a last resort, the nervous captain came to Taylor and asked him to pray for help. “I will,” said Taylor, “provided you set your sails to catch the breeze.” The captain declined. “I’m not going to make a laughingstock of myself by unfurling in a dead calm.” “Very well,” said Taylor, “then I will not undertake to pray for this vessel.”

Within minutes the sails were unfurled and Taylor took to praying. After about fifteen minutes, while engaged in prayer, there came a knock at his cabin door. “Who’s there?” shouted Taylor. “It’s the captain,” the voice responded. “Are you still praying for wind?” “Yes,” said Taylor. “Well, you’d better stop. We have more wind than we can manage.” Now let me ask you, was Taylor rational or not?

For the past eight weeks we’ve been studying the letter of James written to those he dearly loves. And everything he has to say to them involves faith. As we have seen, James has little time for religious doctrine that does not translate into the way we live.

For James the issue is the result of one’s faith. For James, if faith is only a matter of thought patterns and emotions of the believer, and does not exhibit itself in altered behavior; it’s moribund, dead, no faith at all.

Throughout chapters one and two James describes what a living faith looks like. He describes what a life will look like when one looks into the mirror of the perfect law – the finished work of Jesus Christ. Looking in the mirror not only reveals who you are in your own strength and ability, it will also show you who you are presently, and forever, in Christ.

In James 2:14-26, James takes special pains to labor the practical results of a genuine, saving faith. He says, “Faith without works is dead.”

Now that statement and his surrounding teaching have caused gallons of ink to flow over the last 500 years. More than that, those words have been the club that’s used by religious practitioners to underscore an apparent inconsistency in Scripture. Scores have argued that what Paul says about faith in Romans 4 and what James says here are mutually exclusive. A cursory reading of both texts gives you such an impression. But, as you dig a little deeper into the word, the contexts, and the historical realities of Romans 4 and James 2, all apparent contradictions evaporate. Indeed, a good look into the mirror of the perfect law (James 1:23) brings consistency, cogency, and godly challenge. We are shooting for all three this Sunday in a message entitled, “Living in Faith”.

In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
  1. Read Romans 3:21-25(a) and 4:1-5
  2. Do you see any inconsistency in what Paul and James are saying?
  3. What resolution can you offer?
  4. What light does Acts 15 shed on the apparent controversy between Paul and James?
  5. What’s the definition of the word “justification”?
  6. Is the faith James cites in verse 14 saving faith?
  7. What does verse 19 tell us about genuine faith?
  8. How does verses 15-18 show us proof of genuine faith?
  9. How does verse 23 show us a second proof of saving faith?
  10. How does the mirror promote both proofs?
See you Sunday!