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The Difference

With the exception of biblical Christianity, all other world religions require their followers to do something to improve themselves. Some are more extreme than others, but the driving force behind the activities are that something needs to be fixed and that can only be fixed if I do something.

Prayers. Meditation. Fasting. Pilgrimages. Poverty. Begging. Bathing. Exercises.

Even within Chrsitianity, some will have a list of actions that have to be completed to guarantee a place in heaven.

Confession to a priest. Baptism. Lighting candles. Praying. Mass. Pilgrimages. Giving.

The Bible clearly teaches that the individual can do nothing to earn favor with God, or guarantee for himself a place in heaven for eternity.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).

 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5).

There are many more verses, so it’s pretty clear that salvation is all of God and not of man.

But James stirs up the question about faith and works:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14).

Obviously, he is not contradicting the writings of Paul and others.

What James is calling for is for believers to live out their faith. He gives a couple of examples in the following verses about meeting the needs of others. If we say we believe, but aren’t willing to help others, are we really believers?

The same is true in other areas of life. If we believe that a dentist will help us, we will go to him when our teeth hurt.

If we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true, we won’t just talk about it, or hold it within our hearts, we will act upon it.

Rather than saying that believers are saved by works, James is arguing that what we really believe is seen in what we do.

So how does your life look today? Are you living out biblical, gospel-driven principles?

What you say and do reflects what you truly believe. So what have the last few days revealed about what you believe?

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But, I never killed anyone!

When we moved to Germany in 1993, I had to get a German drivers’ license. To do that meant taking drivers’ ed all over – in German within a year of being in Germany. We could take the written test in English, but the lessons and the driving test were all in German.

And there are some different rules, signs, and measurements when you drive in Germany. (No, they don’t drive on the opposite side of the road, in case you were wondering).

I remember in my very limited German venting my frustration to the instructor: “I’ve been driving for more than 15 years and I haven’t had an accident or killed anyone!”

That was true, but I didn’t know all the rules, signs, and measurements required to pass the German driving test. And I had broken some of them. When he took me out for my first drive, he graded me like I was taking the official test and I failed miserably. Crossed a solid white line. Didn’t keep my hands at 10 and 2. Failed to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk…and probably a few others.

So the need was clear that I needed to have the driving lessons. Even though I had never killed anyone, I was guilty of breaking the law.

James says the same thing about the law of God:

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11).

We may think that we’re pretty good because we’ve never killed anyone. Or we haven’t commited any major crimes. And we’re certainly better than a lot of other people. We even go to church and put money in the offering plate!

But just like my second drivers’ ed experience pointed out, “If you’re guilty of one point, you’re still guilty.”

Just as an example, take a look at the Ten Commandments:

The 10 Commandments List, Short Form

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

How did you do? Guilty of one, you’re guilty of the whole law.

Fortunately, there’s hope for us lawbreakers. Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for our crimes, and He did it fully. Nothing else left for us to do. Our disobedience earned death for us, but He gives us eternal life.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

To whom will you talk?

Many people who are reading this will be heading to church tomorrow morning. Some are going to be busy preaching, or teaching. Others will be going through the stress of getting the family out the door, clean and presentable. Then get them to their proper places, only to gather them up at a later time.

Conversations in the hallways. Conversations in classrooms. Lots of social interaction takes place on a Sunday in churches around the world.

But to whom do you talk? Are you already making a list of the people you have to see to plan an upcoming event? Others that you’re going to talk about their kids and grandkids? Maybe some have been in the hospital, or away for other reasons, so you’re planning to visit with them?

What about visitors? Do you make an effort to talk with them? Or just with certain ones that look promising?

Evidently, that was a problem way back in the first century church, too.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4).

The rich received special attention and the best seats in the house. The poor were handled roughly.

God, through James, calls us to not show partiality. When we do that we are “judges with evil thoughts.”

Maybe there’s not the obvious income disparity among the visitors to your church. (If there is in your community, your church may not be doing a very good job of reaching everyone in your community – just sayin’).

But maybe there are other reasons that we spend more time with others, while ignoring others.

Maybe it’s because they’re too much work. They’ve got problems and we don’t want to deal with them.

Maybe it’s because we think our circle of friends will give us purpose and meaning.

Maybe it’s because we crave to be the center of attention and have found a group that will give us that.

Do you see how all those reasons are the evil intentions of which Job spoke? When we make judgments, decisions about with whom we associate at church, it’s most likely because we are looking for our clique to meet needs that only God can meet.

Tomorrow when you go to church, sit somewhere else. Look for that husband who is there without his family. That mom who is trying to handle her kids by herself. The seniors in the back row because it hurts to walk any further. The visitors who aren’t dressed up to snuff. Someone that you haven’t talked to. Someone who is having a hard time.

AND TALK TO THEM!

Everyone else is just staring, wondering, and whispering.

Be what God wants you to be – a minister of His love and mercy – yes, even in church!

What do you see?

 

What do you see when you look into the mirror?

Is it good? Is it bad? What happens when you look longer than just a passing glance to make sure your hair is straight and there’s no spinach on your teeth?

What do you do about what you see?

James compares the Word of God to a mirror. As we look into it, it reveals who we are and what we need to change.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25).

When you say that you read the Bible, or go to church, it should make a difference in your life. It should change the way you look at yourself and the world around you – a biblical worldview.

If you look into the Word of God and it doesn’t change you, you are like the guy who looks into a mirror, but forgets what he looks like as soon as he walks away. “What color is my hair? Did I have a smudge on my face?”

Notice in verse 25 the word “perseveres.” It’s not just a one time looking into the Bible, but a continual looking, and a continual applying of the word that brings the blessing. It isn’t always pretty when we look in the mirror of God’s Word, but it will bring blessing as we stick to it.

I want it all!

Fame. Fortune. Power.

Good food. Good friends. Good times.

Love. Sex. Money.

Health. Wealth. Happiness.

Best athlete. Best student. Best citizen.

Great looks. Newest fashion. Latest technology.

Happy wife. Happy life.

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that these are things that we think are important. We’re looking for them. We’re preparing for them. We’re hoping for them.

And they aren’t inherently wrong. Nor is it necessarily wrong to work toward those things. But why is it that so often when we’ve made it, we are met with an emptiness? All of a sudden that goal was not all that important. We thought we’d be happy, but it really didn’t satisfy for very long.

Part of it may be that God has wired us to keep on learning and improving. He created us in His image and He is perfect and knows everything. So part of that image-bearing is the desire to know more and to always improve.

But a bigger reason for the dissatisfaction is the anticipation of that goal satisfying a need, filling a void, an emptiness in our lives.

Solomon, the richest and wisest king to rule over Israel, had it all, tried it all, and lived the dream. If you look at Ecclesiastes you’ll see that he had the resources to fulfill all his desires. He studied philosophy, engineering, biology, and psychology. He built a great temple and palace and had extensive gardens. Music and the arts were part of his daily life. Servants and soldiers were under his command, giving him power and leisure. A thousand women (700 wives and 300 mistresses) made up his harem to satisfy his relational and sexual cravings.

He had it all. Everything that the human heart craves. All the dreams and goals that anyone might have ever had. He pushed the limits. He had the resources and the power.

And what was his assessment?

“…all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” – repeated often throughout Ecclesiastes.

It’s a pretty depressing read. It hits pretty hard when you realize that he had everything and did everything that you thought was important, and then says, “It’s like chasing the wind.”

His conclusion is the encouragement:

13 “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

Remember who God is. Remember that He is the ultimate judge, so it’s best to obey His demands, rather than those of society.

That sounds harsh, but when you also remember that God loves you, knows you better than anyone else, and has done everything necessary for you to have a relationship with the creator of the universe, it becomes easier.

No longer are you trying to keep up with the Joneses.

No longer are you looking for happiness in events and stuff.

The hole that needs to be filled is not going to be filled with the things, people, events, and adventures of this life. They are okay and God has given them to us to enjoy.

But He alone is the one who gives satisfaction.

Why doesn’t God do something?

When we are battling ongoing temptations, discouragement creeps in. It can be very wearing to fight the same temptation over and over for decades with very little apparent success.

And when we get into that state of discouragment, we wonder why God doesn’t do something about it. Why can’t God just take away that temptation? Why can’t God change me so that I’m not tempted by that?

Those may sound like legitimate questions, but the next step is so easily stumbled into: If God doesn’t take it away, then maybe He wants me to just give in. Maybe I’ve been fighting something that God really wants me to enjoy. Maybe I’ve been too hard on myself.

In very rare cases, that might be true. Sometimes we build up rules around ourselves that aren’t based on clear teaching of the Bible. We set up the rules that God never intended and we fight battles that God never put in front of us. But I would say those are pretty rare.

We are more likely to look for excuses to continue in our sinful behavior, actions that we know are against God’s will. And if we are not careful, we can blame God for putting those temptations in front of us.

Look what James wrote:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

The temptation does not come from God. He cannot be tempted and He does not tempt anyone.

The temptation comes when we are led away, enticed, by our own desires. It’s within our nature to want to follow our own rules, set our own boundaries, build the structure that makes us feel comfortable.

But when those desires lead us to act contrary to God’s Word, that’s sin. And the sin that continues to grow leads to death. We might enjoy the sin for a season, but it will eventually kill us – maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe spiritually – but sin is guaranteed to kill us.

It’s not God’s fault that you are faced with temptation. In fact, Paul writes that with every temptation God provides an escape route. He’s not planning the temptation, He’s planning the escape.

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Look for the escape and run for it. Leave the temptation behind.

Bragging rights

Casual conversation – or social media postings – reveal a lot about what’s going on in a person’s heart.

Obviously, we don’t put everything that’s going on out there in public. We project an image that we want others to see.

Rarely will someone post a picture of oatmeal – unless it’s made with steel cut oats, fresh blueberries, brown sugar and a sprig of mint. And the recipe and health benefits are then usually attached.

We don’t post the mundane, every day events that fill our lives. If we do, then it’s to make a joke out of the mundane, every day events that fill our lives.

Conversations center around the great adventures, new cars, family vacations, and fantastic food.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing those fun parts of our lives with others, what do your conversations reveal about what’s going on in your heart? Are you bragging about the good things in order to cover up the bad things? Are you boasting in the great things to make yourself look better than you really are?

Look what James wrote about bragging:

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits (James 1:9-11).

Riches are going to fade away. Every new thing becomes old. Every new recipe becomes common. Every vacation becomes a memory. The wealth that gets passed on to the next generation is squandered. Cash loses its value.

It’s temporary, fading like a flower in the heat.

Verses 9 and 10 tell us in what we can boast: The lowly in his exaltation, the rich in his humiliation.

Since the following sentence talks about the fading of earthly riches, it can be that he’s referring to some type of earthly exaltation or humiliation. It’s got to be a spiritual exaltation and humiliation.

When he acknowledges his sin and lack of ability for saving himself, the lowly is exalted to a child of the eternal king, a son of the heavenly father, a joint-heir with Jesus Christ.

When he acknowledges his sin and lack of ability for saving himself, the rich is humiliated, realizing that his wealth, power, and fame will not earn him a place in heaven. It’s all through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

So what bragging rights do we have? The cross of Christ. Nothing we have done, but everything He has done.

And that will never fade away or become old for all of eternity.