Faith, 13 March 2022

Faith
Series—Faith Works: The Book of James
James 5:13-20
 
Series Big Idea: Jesus’ half-brother, James, offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.
 
Big Idea: Faith works when we pray, praise, profess, and pursue.
 
Faith works! That’s been the message throughout our series on the book of James which we conclude today.
 
For centuries there has been a tension between faith and works. Many believe if you have enough good works, they will cancel one’s sins and earn you eternity with God in heaven. Much of the Protestant Reformation was an attack on this “works” heresy, emphasizing Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus:
 
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)
 
Praise the LORD for His amazing grace, His gift, for Jesus. If we are good enough to earn God’s approval, Jesus suffered and died needlessly!
 
The book of Romans declares,
 
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)
 
And yet Jesus’ half-brother, James, boldly states,
 
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26, NIV)
 
We are not saved by our works, but they are evidence of genuine faith. So many have misunderstood the “believe” in John 3:16 to mean if they mentally agree with historical statements, they can do whatever they want. James’ response:
 
You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:19, NIV)
 
Family, that’s one of the most sobering verses in the Bible! To say you believe Jesus died and rose again is not enough, according to James, because satan himself witnessed the events. He knows it’s history, but he has refused Jesus’ simple invitation to “follow me.” Have you?
 
PRAY
 
Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Faith works! Grace works! How? The conclusion of this short yet powerful book offers four action steps. For those of you who like alliteration, this is your day! First,
 
Pray when you suffer.
 
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. (James 5:13a, NLT)
 
Simple, right…but is that always your first response? When I’m sick, sometimes I go right for the Tylenol. When someone hurts me, I want to lash back—or at the very least tell others about how I’ve been wronged. When I suffer anxiety over the news, I’m prone to panic, strategize, worry, or try to control situations far beyond my control.
 
Last week, Pastor Mike talked about suffering. It’s a part of life. Dare I say it’s a part of God’s plan, often, to build our character. If you ever hear prosperity heresy saying God wants you happy, healthy, and wealthy at all times, turn them off! Jesus knows suffering. He promised we’d know it, too…yet we’re so shocked when it happens. Gas prices go up and we freak out while people in Ukraine are running for their lives. We bellyache when our favorite brand of toilet paper is sold out at the store or when winter weather is…cold! Many of us have no idea what true suffering is all about—though many of us do. The point is simply this: pray!
 
Last Sunday at a First Alliance reunion, one person shared of their incredible suffering, calling it both their “high” and “low.” How can suffering be a high? It has drawn them closer to God.
 
When things are going well, it’s easy to forget God. I believe that’s one of the reasons why the movement of Jesus seems to be in decline in our nation. We haven’t needed God. Yet what message have you seen and heard more than any other during the war overseas? Pray for Ukraine. I’m told 70% of Ukranians are Christians…and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is growing! They need God! They have nothing else! Their homes are being destroyed. Their valuables are being abandoned as they flee for their lives. I doubt any are calling their Internet provider to complain about slow downloads!
 
Pray when you suffer. Can we do that now?
 
PRAY
 
The rest of verse thirteen says,
 
Are any of you happy? You should sing praises. (James 5:13b)
 
He doesn’t say only praise when you’re happy. God is always worthy of our praise. He is good…all the time! But all of us have moments of suffering and moments of happiness. God wants us to share both—with Him and with one another. Romans again:
 
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15, NIV)
 
It’s interesting how Christians seem to be good at the second part, but not the first part! The point is,
 
Praise when you are happy.
 
By the way, this is why we sing on Sundays…and elsewhere. It’s a command! Whether you’re a singer or not is beside the point. The word “sing” appears over one hundred times in the Bible. It doesn’t matter if you sing like an angel or can’t carry a tune in a paper bag…make a joyful noise! We sing for the LORD! We sing to the LORD! It's all about Him!
 
I know a guy in another city who purposely shows up thirty minutes late to his church to skip the music because he says he doesn’t like worship music. But God does!!!
 
Just to review verse 13,
 
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
 
Now James circles back to suffering and prayer.
 
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15, NLT)
 
We believe in the power of prayer! Each week our elders are available at the conclusion of our gathering to pray for the sick. We’ve seen God heal! Miracles have not ceased! He doesn’t always answer when and how we desired, but as James said earlier,
 
You do not have because you do not ask God. (James 4:2b, NIV)
 
Again, when we suffer, when we are sick, pray! God is not a genie offering on-demand responses to our petitions, but He does hear and He always answers…in His perfect timing. I have tons of questions for God. I have doubts, at times. But I know God is good. I know He can be trusted. I’ve suffered for many years with various challenges, yet I am here to declare God’s faithfulness.
 
Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. (James 5:15, NLT)
 
Don’t miss the last part. I believe the greatest miracle is not cancer cured or even broken marriages restored, but forgiveness…salvation. If all God ever did for us was send Jesus, that would be more than enough. Family, this life is so short. Followers of Jesus will be with him forever. Forever! How does that compare to 80 or even 100 years? If the sickness is related to sin—which is possible—it can be forgiven.
 
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
 
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a, NLT)   
 
It doesn’t say confess to a priest. It doesn’t even say confess to God. He knows! It says confess to and pray for each other…so that you may be healed. Scientists are discovering what the Bible has said for generations: our mind impacts our body. Bitterness can cause physical problems. Buried guilt and shame can make us sick. And let’s not forget sometimes our suffering is the result of our sin. This is not always the case, but many of our ailments and pain are the consequences of sin—ours or those of someone else. This is why God hates sin!
 
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b, NLT)   
 
First Alliance is as church of prayer. One of our core values states,
 
Faithfulness. We are devoted to prayer, the Word of God, and following Jesus.
 
We have Zoom Prayer each weekday at 9 AM. Elders are available each Sunday morning.
 
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16a, NLT)   
 
Our Life Groups are perhaps the best prayer gathering we have as people do life together, confessing sins and praying for one another.
 
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16b, NLT)   
 
I could spend all day telling stories of the prayers of righteous people producing wonderful results. Hallelujah!
 
James uses Elijah as an example of the power of prayer.
 
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (James 5:17-18, NLT)   
 
That’s the power of prayer! You can read all about it and other miracles in 1 Kings chapter 18.
 
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
 
Lastly, James says we are to
 
Pursue the wanderer.
 
We live in a culture that seems to be increasingly independent. People don’t want to get involved in the affairs of others, and often for good reason. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of confrontation. But I’m often reminded of a wonderful book title by Lewis Smedes: Caring Enough to Confront. James says,
 
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:19-20, NLT)
 
This isn’t about self-righteously judging others, but rather loving…looking out for the best interest of another. It’s not always “nice.” Sometimes love can look rather harsh. It can even inflict pain! Why did I vaccinate my children? Love. Did it hurt? You bet! Did it harm? Quite the opposite.
 
Nice is not love. Tolerance is not love, either. How would you feel if I sent you a card that said, “I tolerate you!” Love gets involved. Love shows kindness, compassion, and empathy. Love believes in a preferred future and takes risks to protect another. Jesus said,
 
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15, NIV)
 
That’s not easy…especially if they don’t listen!
 
But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:16-17, NIV)
 
By the way, it never says gossip to others. It never says tell Facebook! The goal is always restoration and reconciliation, and that’s James’ point.
 
My dear brothers and sisters, if someone among you wanders away from the truth and is brought back, you can be sure that whoever brings the sinner back from wandering will save that person from death and bring about the forgiveness of many sins. (James 5:19-20, NLT)
 
This is not easy. It’s risky. You might be misunderstood. Your motives must be checked. James is not condoning condemnation. It is about helping a brother or sister get back on the path. Questions are helpful rather than attacks. One of my favorite tools is, “Help me understand.”
 
It seems as though people are wandering in record numbers. It’s trendy to “deconstruct” one’s faith, which is fine, so long as it is reconstructed and not abandoned. I recently saw a post which said,
 
Many people reject Jesus because of bad experiences with religious people. But, here’s the thing…Jesus had bad experiences with religious people, too. In fact, they killed him. People will let you down. Jesus won’t.
 
I pray that we can lovingly bring back wanderers to the faith. I am praying for several prodigals to return to their first love, Jesus. It’s a thrill to see someone repent of their sins and surrender to Christ.
 
Pursue the wanderer.
 
This is how James ends his important book. To summarize,
 
Pray when you suffer.
Praise when you are happy.
Profess your sins.
Pursue the wanderer.
 
What is your next step? Do you need to pray? Praise? Confess and profess your sins? Pursue a prodigal?
 
Throughout this book, Jesus’ half-brother, James, offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life because…faith works!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.

Arrogance, 27 February 2022

Arrogance
Series—Faith Works: The Book of James
James 4:13-5:6
 
Series Big Idea: Jesus’ half-brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.
 
Big Idea: The wise seek God’s will in humility rather than lusting after power and wealth.
 
I believe I was seven years old when I had my first public musical performance. I may have been eight or even nine, I don’t remember for sure, but I do remember a conversation that took place after I played a
piano solo at church. A woman approached me and said, “You play piano very well, young man,” to which I replied, “I know!”
 
Moments later, my dad taught me the meaning of arrogance, our subject today!
 
After a three-month break, we’re returning to the book of James, one of my favorite books, perhaps because it’s short, perhaps because it’s incredibly practical. The entire book, written by Jesus’ half-brother, can be read in a matter of minutes.
 
Who is the most arrogant person you know? Who is the most arrogant person in the world? It’s easy for us to see the pride in others, isn’t it? But what about ourselves? Do you need a mirror?
 
Some of you can surely relate to my story of arrogance, boasting about your abilities, appearance, wealth, or status…thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.
 
But there’s another side to the same coin of pride which is self-loathing. Have you ever met someone whose mantra is, “I’m not worthy?” While none of us deserve God’s love, salvation, forgiveness, mercy, and grace, our identity must be rooted in Him and who He says we are, not our feelings of arrogance…or self-hatred.
 
Author Brad Jersak notes,
 
“rejecting the forgiveness of God “because I’m not worthy” is totally prideful but the pride is so often obscured by our self-loathing. We think that if we condemn ourselves that it can’t possibly be pride. But what does self-loathing reveal except that the ego has become so deluded that it imagines it has usurped Christ from his throne and his judgment seat and has replaced the all-merciful Judge with itself. The ego, in this case, is a self-righteous inner Pharisee—and now it condemns you for embarrassing its perfectionism.” 
 
It’s important to recognize
pride may be the root of all sins. It was the sin that got Lucifer (satan) kicked out of heaven. It’s the original and most deadly of the seven deadly sins. It is ultimately seeing ourselves as God. If we’re honest, we all are tempted to be God. We want to be in control. Because it was satan’s fall, it’s no surprise it became his first temptation to humans.
 
You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5, NLT)
 
I have some news for all of you today: you’re not God!
We are not God! N.T. Wright said, “There is only one lawgiver, only one judge; and he can either rescue or destroy.”
 
Let’s take a look at our text for today.
 
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” (James 4:13, NLT)
 
I like how James says, “Look here!” Some translation say, “Now listen!”
 
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. (James 4:14, NLT)
 
That’s true, right? One of the things that surprised me about moving to Toledo was all of the fog delays for schools. We know fog! But it never lasts.
 
Note Greek, the original language, doesn’t have question marks. He’s speaking to business people who think the world revolves around them and their plans. Let me say it again, you are not God! The reason the Ten Commandments are so hard for me to follow is not so much the “thou shall not murder” or “thou shall not covet” so much as the first one…no other Gods (Ex. 20:3)…including acting like I’m God! He is eternal. For us, each day is a precious gift.
 
What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil. (James 4:15-16, NLT)
 
The Latin phrase is
Deo volente, DV, God willing.
 
“Don’t worry, everything will be ok. I promise!” Have you ever heard that? Have you ever
said that? There’s not much we can truly promise, at least circumstantially. It has been said the only thing you can control is your attitude.
 
We all make plans. You probably had a plan to be here today. You most certainly have plans for this afternoon, this week, or later this year. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that plans can change! People can get sick. Events can be canceled.
 
I don’t think James is literally saying we need to tack on “if the Lord wants us to” before everything we say. Maybe you’ve heard people talk that way. “Are you going to the hockey game?” “If the LORD wants me to!” But it’s important to recognize
we are not God. The concern is not planning, but arrogance, boasting about one’s plans.
 
In the book of Luke, Jesus tells a chilling story of a rich farmer boasting about how he had so many crops.
 
He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ (Luke 12:17-19, NLT)
 
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ (Luke 12:20, NLT)
 
Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. We need to live fully dependent upon God, for He is the one who provides every breath we take. James adds,
 
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (James 4:17, NLT)
 
We could camp out on this verse all day! That might be a definition of sin. We often think of sin as something evil a person does, like murder or theft, but James tells us there are sins of omission, things we fail to do. That might be a longer list for some of you than the sins of commission that you commit. We are to spend time communing with God in prayer, listening to God in Scripture, and fellowshipping with others. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, make disciples, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
 
It is a prideful act to disobey God, setting ourselves in His place. Do not worry or panic about this verse, but don’t ignore it, either. What is God saying to you? What are you going to do about it? Obedience is God’s love language.
 
Now James offers a sobering warning.
 
Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. (James 5:1, NLT)
 
James again says, “Look here!” “Now listen!”
 
Are you rich? Let me help you…yes! Even the poorest among us are rich globally.
Over 800 million people worldwide go to bed hungry each night…yet there are three free meals served every day of the year…seven blocks away!
To be clear, James did not write this letter to you and me. It is certainly relevant and
for us, but James has in mind the Jerusalem elite here, the religious leaders, chief priests and Sadducees who loved Temple power. You may recall they had Jesus killed!

Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. (James 5:2, NLT)
 
That happens, right? That great outfit you loved wears out…or goes out of style…or no longer fits!
 
Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. (James 5:3, NLT)
 
You can’t take it with you! I’ve never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse!
 
For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. (James 5:4, NLT)
 
William Shiell said these early Christians need to “begin to see Christ as owner and their role as steward of the company” who are now “entrusted with workers who are equally valued as ‘coworkers.’”
 
James and his family were poor. They received generosity and they were surely exploited, too. Tragically, the human heart has not changed in two thousand years! We live in a world filled with greed, injustice, and evil.
 
We need generous, godly men and women in business, creating jobs, caring for their employees, and supporting ministries. Money is not the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money.
 
There are many in our culture who say wealth is bad. Ironically, many of them are wealthy politicians! There’s nothing inherently wrong with wealth, but rather the motivation for and the use of wealth.
 
I don’t have access to the giving records to know who gives what here, but thank you to those of you who are generous. This is a generous church. I recently heard 70% of church goers give less than $1 a week to their church. A dollar a week!
 
I once heard someone say Christians should make as much money as possible and keep as little as necessary. In other words, be wildly generous! Some of you are wildly generous, and your giving is not only transforming lives today, it will be rewarded for eternity. Your investments at First Alliance Church, the Alliance Great Commission Fund, and our ministry partners will pay dividends for generations.
 
Can I tell you a
secret? Your wealth…it’s not yours to keep. It’s a gift to be stewarded. Your health…it’s also a gift to be stewarded. Both can be lost quickly! We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. We will all stand before God someday and give an account for what we did with our wealth, our health, our gifts, our freedoms, our time, our treasures. It all belongs to God! Tithe means ten percent, but all we have—one hundred percent—belongs to God.
 
I love hearing stories of people who give 90% and live off of a tithe. Giving ten percent is a good place to start in generosity. I’m not saying this to be a fundraiser, but to let you know generosity is one of our core values as a church, and it’s a joy to give! I love giving to First Alliance! And
every time I give, I kick the money monster in the teeth! You know, that voice that says just a little bit more will make you happy. Giving is a declaration that in God I trust, not the money. It’s a statement of faith, putting money where your mouth is. It’s a reminder that God owns it all…and I’m not God. In contrast to generosity, James continues,
 
You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you. (James 5:5-6, NLT)
 
“Innocent people” likely refers to those suffering for following Jesus, for righteous living, possibly the unpaid or poorly-paid workers of the merchants,
 
These are strong words! Judgment Day is coming…for all of us. Are you ready?
 
So What?
 
I find it easy to act like God, to feel entitled, to boast about my accomplishments, or even go to the other extreme and feel worthless at times.
 
I’m prone to make plans, believing I’m in control of my calendar…which we all know can be altered by a virus…or even the weather.
 
I’m tempted to think about
my money and how I’ve earned it without recognizing the gifts and opportunities which have allowed me to get an education, to acquire jobs, and the health to sustain working.
 
So how do we rid ourselves of arrogance and pride? How do we relinquish control? How do we avoid the lure of greed and the love of money? I have one word for you:
humility.
 
The wise seek God’s will in humility rather than lusting after power and wealth.
 
James spoke of humility back in chapter four.
 
And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
 
He is referring to Proverbs 3:34, a text Peter also quotes in his first book (1 Peter 5:5).
 
The LORD mocks the mockers but is gracious to the humble. (Proverbs 3:34)        
 
In case you didn’t get the message, James says in the next verse…
 
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
 
Three verses later…
 
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. (James 4:10, NLT)
 
Humility is a greatly misunderstood word. It doesn’t mean to think less of yourself, but rather to think of yourself less. It’s to think rightly, seeing what God sees, a broken masterpiece in need of restoration. It’s recognizing you’re not in control, you’re not God, and we’re called to follow Jesus, not command God to obey us.
 
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23, NLT)
 
That’s the path to greatness! It’s radical. It’s unpopular. But it’s the only way to experience pure joy and satisfaction.
 
Daily. Let God be God. Submit. Obey. It’s ok, He can be trusted. His love has your best interest at heart, even when the journey includes storms. He’s with you there, too.
 
The only reason I was able to play that song as a child—and the only reason I can play today—is God gave me gifts to develop…for His glory. Without Him, I can do nothing. But…
 
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13, NLT)
 
He is God. He is LORD. He deserves our worship, our attention, our praise. Jesus said it so well.
 
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33, NLT)
 
You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library
here.
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