If you were to do a survey among believers and ask them about their primary focus as a Christian, you would likely receive a variety of responses. Some may say we are to focus on loving God and loving others. Others may say their focus is on service or worship. Still others may point to outreach and evangelism. Each of these are good answers, but at the end of Jesus’ time on earth it is notable that Jesus chose to put the spotlight on “making disciples.” If this is the focus, how do we accomplish this task and how are we to understand the Great Commission? This Sunday we are going to look at the wisdom behind this often neglected and misunderstood priority as we study the methods Jesus employed in making His own disciples.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
The early church fathers considered church discipline as one of the marks of the true church. If their assessment is true it should trouble us, because church discipline has become exceedingly rare these days. I think there are a number of reasons for this. For starters, it seems as if offending someone today has become the greatest of all sins, and few things offend a person more than pointing out their sin. That is compounded by our mobile society in which a new church which will either ignore or even embrace their sin is usually pretty easy to find. So rather than risking offending and losing church members, we simply say nothing. Church discipline is also hampered by the reality that none of us is perfect. The “let him who is without sin throw the first stone” thing makes many of us afraid to speak up. We know our sin and we really don’t want anyone pointing a finger back at us!
But I think the greatest drawback with church discipline is the way in which we have formalized it. We have taken it out of the realm of personal relationships and given it to church Sessions, Presbyteries and General Assemblies, with courtroom-like rules and regulations that make the process so formal, unyielding, complicated and ineffective that it ceased having any impact on the holiness of individuals.
James, as I believe the rest of Scripture does, clearly states that the responsibility for holding one another accountable for their sins belongs to each of us. If you see your brother or sister falling into sin, you do not have the luxury of looking away, or waiting on some official body to step in and do something. You are your brother’s keeper. That is how God has designed His kingdom. We tend to think of our relationship with God as deeply personal and private. It is something strictly between God and me. But in reality, salvation not only brings us into a relationship with God, but also brings us into a relationship with each other! Together we are viewed by God as the bride of Christ. Together we represent Christ to a fallen world. Therefore if a brother or sister sins and wanders from Jesus, we have a responsibility to them and to God to bring them back. That is how James concludes his book.
Sunday we will talk primarily about how we reach out to those caught in sin. I would encourage you to reread the entire book as you prepare for Sunday, and ask God to open your heart and mind to His calling on your life.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
In 1986 Bon Jovi released their third album, “Slippery When Wet”; and on it was the song, “Livin’ On a Prayer”. A good friend of mine counts this song one of his favorites of all time.
The song was the creation of three men: Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Desmond Child. The song is the band’s signature song, topping fan-voted lists for decades. After the September 11, 2001 attacks – in which New Jersey was the second-hardest hit state after New York, suffering hundreds of casualties, the band performed an acoustic version of this song for both states.
When asked to speak about the song and its meaning, Jon Bon Jovi said, “It deals with the way two kids – Tommy and Gina – face life’s struggles, and how their love and ambitions get them through the hard times. It’s working class and it’s real…I wanted to tell a story about people I knew…a lifestyle I knew.”
Here are a few lyrics:
Once upon a time not so long ago
Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day working for her man
She brings home her pay, for love, for love
She says, we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love
We’ll give it a shot
Woah, we’re half way there
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it I swear
Woah, livin’ on a prayer
Now James would understand that. As we’ve seen throughout our examination of this letter, life for the first century Christians is far tougher than what Tommy and Gina were facing; they had livelihoods. Many of those to whom James is writing don’t. Add to that the loss of loved ones due to intense persecution, the rampant spread of disease, and oppression, and their lot in life was meager at best.
So what does James tell them at the conclusion of his letter? What practical exhortation does he give them in verses 13-18? In a word – “PRAY”. He calls them not to live “on a prayer”, but to establish a lifestyle of prayer in which every want and need, joy and blessing is bathed in prayer. Look at what he says here. He talks about the incalculable value of prayer. In fact, in six verses he mentions prayer seven times, describing its application and its power. We are going to look carefully at all of this on Sunday, Mother’s Day, in a message entitled, “Healing Prayer”. I hope you are planning to be with us, especially since this text has been used throughout the centuries to support some serious fallacies.
In preparation for Sunday, you may wish to consider the following:
- What examples do you have of specific answered prayer in your life?
- Did God ever surprise you in answering your prayer?
- How are the words of James 5:13-18 an elaboration of what James says earlier in his letter?
- In verse 13 what’s James saying about what our focus should be in all circumstances?
- How are praying and praising two sides of the same coin?
- What can we learn from verses 14 and 15 about the extremity of the need for prayer in special cases? (note the word “over” in verse 14)
- Is James promising healing every time the elders anoint with oil and pray?
- Who does he say we should confess our sins to? What are the circumstances?
- Why does James cite Elijah as an example of effective prayer?
- How is this example an encouragement to us?
Thursday, May 3, 2018
A woman once approached the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler after one of his virtuoso performances. Her approach was actually more like a rushing teenage groupie. As soon as she was within shouting distance she exclaimed, “I’d give my life to play as beautifully as you do!” Kreisler’s reply was a classic. He smiled and said, “I did,” and walked away.
Last week a dear friend was lamenting his lack of patience with his wife. The same day I heard another man say, “I hate traffic; just hate it!”
This week I read about a man who hates to stand in line anywhere he goes. Every time he sees a line - at the grocery store, a ball game, anywhere, he always says the same thing, “I stood in line all through the Army and I don’t intend to stand in any more lines for the rest of my life!” Now when we hear the word, “Patience”, that’s what we normally think; lines, spouses, traffic. But not our friend, James. He’s talking about a patience that is much more like that of Fritz Kreisler than that ex-Army man.
Throughout our four-month investigation of James’ letter we have repeatedly seen how practical James is, and how relevant his words are to our lives. Rather than portraying the Christian life as a war or a series of big spiritual battles, it’s a series of small choices we make every day.
One of my college professors, Thomas Howard, famously said, “Heaven and hell are under every bush.” And what he meant by that is what James is talking about throughout this letter. Hell is, “Your life for mine.” In other words, “It’s all about me…The purpose of your life is to satiate my deepest desires.” Heaven is the opposite, “My life for yours. I am here to love you as I love myself.”
In Sunday’s text, James 5:7-12, we will hear James talking about the necessity of patience. It’s a patience that resembles not only the Old Testament prophets and people like Job, but God Himself. If anyone ever demonstrated biblical patience, it’s Jesus Himself.
As with most of James’ words, there’s a lot in this text. If we begin to see the Holy Spirit applying its truth to or lives, our joy and peace will explode. In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled “Patience” you may wish to consider the following:
- Why does James pepper these verses with the word, “brother”; or as some manuscripts say, “brother and sisters?”
- What six imperatives does James issue in these six verses? (Hint: One of them is repeated.)
- What do you know about the early and latter rains in Palestine?
- What does James mean in verse 8 when he says, “Establish your hearts”?
- What does James analogize to the latter rain?
- How does the coming of the Lord breed biblical patience?
- Why the admonition against grumbling in verse 9? What connecting is there between patience and a lack of grumbling?
- What is the secret to steadfastness?
- What does avoiding oath-taking and swearing by heaven or earth have to do with patience?
- Look at Luke 9:51 and what Jesus does. James uses the same word to describe what he calls all of his brothers and sisters to do.