Faith Works: James

Faith, 13 March 2022

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?
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?
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

Arrogance, 27 February 2022

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:
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

Wisdom, 14 November 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 3:13-18

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “wisdom?”

I must admit in a world of fake news, I often struggle to deal with knowledge, much less the application of knowledge! Take COVID, for example. The only thing I know for sure about COVID-19 20 months after the lockdown is I don’t know anything for sure about COVID! Social media and conventional media have made things so binary and adversarial that it’s hard to know what’s really true…and then I heard fake news travels six times faster than the truth…or is that statement fake news?!

Am I the only one struggling to know what’s true anymore?! Christians will often jump to, “Jesus is the Truth…” and he is, but how am I supposed to live my life in a way that glorifies God? What does it mean to be not only smart, but wise? I’ll tell you the big idea of today’s message right now:
The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding.

One of the great tensions for followers of Jesus is we are in the world, but we are not to be of the world. God has placed us here to be salt and light, to seek and save the lost through the power of the Holy Spirit, to restore God’s masterpieces. We’re all on a mission, and although God’s Kingdom is breaking forth now, it is not fully realized (as we can see from the news!).

We’re in the middle of a series called
Faith Works where we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of James, a short work penned by Jesus’ half-brother. James chapter 3 verse 13 begins…

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

I could easily preach this two-hour sermon (!) on this verse alone! Who among you is wise? How has understanding?

The wisest man in the world was…Jesus! Other than Jesus, many would regard Solomon as the wisest man in the world. When God essentially said he would grant Solomon one wish, Solomon asked for…a heart of understanding!

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

I’m still waiting for God to make that offer to me!

But seriously, how would you respond? Solomon replied,

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? (1 Kings 3:9)

In a word, Solomon sought wisdom. The next verse says,

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. (1 Kings 3:10)

Wisdom is priceless…and seemingly rare. We all need it, but I believe those in leadership are especially in need of it. I’ve heard people pray for presidents—past and present. Sometimes the intensity of those prayers is dictated by one’s political preferences, but my prayer for all presidents, governors, mayors, judges, and other leaders is simply for them to bow their knee and seek God’s wisdom rather than human understanding.

We’ve all seen ungodly leaders who are arrogant, power-hungry, self-serving, or simply ignorant. We’re all aware of the mixed motives behind decisions that impact the lives of others. In this current moment, I’ve been desperate for God to grant me wisdom to make decisions that impact hundreds of lives here. I can’t imagine being responsible for hundreds of millions of people!

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Humility comes from wisdom. I find this a fascinating truth. The fruit of wisdom is a good life, humble deeds. What does that say about many of our leaders? What does that say about so-called experts who are on perpetual self-promotion tours?
Humility is the hallmark of the wise. It takes a humble person to seek godly wisdom in the first place. The independent, autonomous person has no need for God…or anyone else. Perhaps that’s why scripture says,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

I’ve often confessed my pride. No, I’m not proud of my pride! But ever since I was a little boy, I’ve found myself crossing over the line between confidence and cockiness. Many trials in life have literally brought me to my knees and revealed my desperate need for God and His wisdom…but I’m frequently tempted to do it my way, to be in control.

Can you relate?

Pride is the original sin, the one that is believed to have gotten satan kicked out of heaven (Isaiah 14:7-15; Luke 10:18; Revelation 9:1
). It’s not wonder James continues,

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. (James 3:14)

Now James is calling out what it means to follow earthly wisdom. The fruit of the world includes envy, strife, and boasting. False wisdom reveals itself through envy and selfish ambition. Our culture today is all about building a brand, getting a platform, and promoting yourself. That’s the exact oppose of Jesus’ life…and he was worth promoting! The world exalts man and woman while the Kingdom always points to God and His glory.

Strife—a word found in some translations in verse 14—is literally a party spirit, getting people to support you while creating rivalry and division. There’s a lot of strife in our political system today!

Boasting is obviously an expression of pride, and Warren Wiersbe notes, “Nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men.” Have you ever heard an interview with an “expert,” using promoting a new book or film? They boast of their great intellect and knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with intellect and knowledge—Jesus was the greatest genius in human history—but boasting about it is quite another thing.

Many of you have heard the story of
Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time…and probably one of the greatest boasters of all time, too! A flight attendant asked him to buckle his seatbelt on an airplane to which he replied, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The wise flight attendant replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane!”

Boasting is great for TV entertainment, but it’s not an expression of heavenly wisdom. It usually involves lies, too. In fact, James notes,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:15-16)

Those are strong words! Pride is satanic! It is demonic! Envy and selfish ambition are not from the LORD! Yet think about how many famous people are wrapped up in themselves, their popularity, their celebrity. Envy. Selfish ambition. Boasting. Deceit. It’s all there! It’s all over social media, mainstream media, marketing and advertising…and it has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ!

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Here’s another list, this one describing heavenly wisdom. We saw back in verse 13 that godly wisdom is humble.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13)

Some translations use the word
meekness which is not weakness, but power under control. The original Greek word describes a horse that had been broken. It is the right use of power, and the right use of knowledge is wisdom. They go together.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Here in verse 17 James says wisdom is first of all
pure. It is holy. God is holy and everything He does is holy, set apart, pure. We will read in the next chapter that we are to purify our hearts. It saddens me that purity is often mocked as being old-fashioned, yet I doubt too many people would want to drink water that is 90% or even 99% pure!

Godly wisdom is also filled with
peace, a peace rooted not in compromise but holiness. If the church is pure, we will experience peace. This is not about turning a blind eye or sweeping sin under the carpet. That’s the way of the world…hide, cover up, mask.

The next element is
gentleness or being considerate. It’s not about being a doormat or simply “nice,” but rather what one man called “sweet reasonableness.” Abraham Lincoln was described by Carl Sandburg as a man of “velvet steel.”

The fruit of the Spirit includes peace and gentleness.

The list in James also includes submissive or compliance. Earthly wisdom makes a person stubborn, but a truly wise person listens to all sides and can disagree without being disagreeable. This is a foreign concept in today’s cancel culture. Obviously one can’t agree with everyone and make everyone happy, but you can be respectful and kind in the process. “Yielding to persuasion” is one translation of the word, which brings to mind Ephesians 5:21

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

This is wise, godly compliance.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

Next, James speaks of
mercy. He actually says heavenly wisdom is full of it! It is controlled by mercy. God does not give us the punishment we deserve, hallelujah! We are to show mercy to others as the Good Samaritan did in Luke chapter ten.

James speaks of
good fruits, the visible result of heavenly wisdom. What kind of fruit is your life bearing? Jesus said in John 15 that he is the vine and we are the branches, and we bear fruit based upon what we’re connected to, what feeds us. Tragically, many so-called Christians spend more time filling their minds with social media and depressing news than they do abiding and remaining with Jesus. Faithful people are fruitful. Is the fruit of the Spirit visible in your life? Here’s the full list:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

James adds that heavenly wisdom is impartial and sincere.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

It is single-minded and
decisive. Wiersbe notes, “Wisdom from above brings strength from above.” When we are seeking God’s wisdom, we can be confident in our decisions, knowing if they are pure and not self-serving, they will be impartial. They are also sincere. The original Greek word for hypocrite is “one who wears a mask” like an actor. That’s the way of the world. It’s phony, flashy, full of hype, and insincere. Heavenly wisdom is filled with love, honesty, and integrity.

James adds one final statement which summarizes much of what we’ve examined.

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)
Is this true? Of course! This is godly wisdom. It might not make you popular in the eyes of the world, but you’ll be a champion in the eyes of the LORD.

Paul described it this way:

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 5:8)

My question(s) for you today is:

Do you seek wisdom? Where?

When given the choice on Sunday morning between earthly and heavenly wisdom, the answer is obvious. Monday morning is where it counts, though. We have a real enemy who knows our weaknesses and lures us into trouble, envy, strife, confusion, and evil. I wish that could only be said about “those people” who don’t yet know Christ, but if we’re honest, they probably describe all of us at times. Why? Perhaps it’s simply the result of attention, our focus, the things we watch, hear, and experience. This is why we need to be in the Word, reading and listening to scripture, filling our minds with the truth that can set us free…from the lies of the world.

Those lies are nothing new. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women promoting themselves, arguing about who was the greatest, trying to build a tower reaching heaven, putting armor on a young boy, trying to dismiss a hungry crowd on the verge of a miracle, …the list goes on and on. There’s nothing wrong with seeking advice from others, but make sure your wise council is seeking godly wisdom.

Heavenly wisdom produces blessing, good fruit, abundant life, eternal life.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, (Proverbs 3:13)

It begins with seeking wisdom. The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding. Jesus said,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Here’s my paraphrase: seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness and his wisdom…and you will be blessed beyond measure. It doesn’t mean life will be easy, but it will be full and satisfying and a life worth living.

It all begins with surrender. It begins with laying down our agendas and pride and inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, to produce fruit in and through our lives.

Homework: review the lists in this text one by one and see what fruits are being produced by your life

For extra credit, do the assignment my dad gave me once as a punishment: write out by hand every verse in the book of Proverbs that talks about wisdom!

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

Favoritism, 24 October 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 2:1-13

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: We are to show love and respect to all…period!

There are three types of kids in this world. There are those picked first on the playground for the kickball, basketball, volleyball, or whatever team. These are the athletes, the skilled ones, the ones with speed. Some are naturally gifted while others have spent time developing their abilities. There are those middle-of-the-pack kids who are good players on a team. And then there’s that kid picked last. Nobody wants them, either because they are slow, clumsy, or just unliked.

Where did you find yourself?

Depending upon the sport, I think I’ve been in all three groups. I was solid at kickball in elementary school, but remember being among the last to finish the running on field day, watching the school buses pull up to the school, anxious that they might leave before I could finish my race! I was cut from the seventh-grade basketball team and couldn’t make the team in eighth grade, either.

Today we’re continuing our series
Faith Works, the message of James. It’s perhaps the most practical book of the Bible, written by Jesus’ half-brother James. Chapter two begins with important instructions related to favoritism and the simple message that We are to show love and respect to all…period!

Prejudice is simply pre-judging
someone. It’s a pre-conceived idea or opinion based not on experience or rational thought, but rather appearances and impressions. Prejudice can occur based upon the color of a person’s skin, their attire, or even their accent. In one sense it is very understandable. After all, when we encounter a person for the first time, we have limited data…and use what little information we have to form thoughts. It’s natural. However, like the temptation we spoke of last week, we must be careful what to do with those impressions while we seek to truly understand the masterpiece in front of us.

The heading for chapter two in the NIV version of the book of James says it all:

Favoritism Forbidden

The text begins…

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. (James 2:1)

Any questions? That’s pretty clear, but James elaborates.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2-4)

Favoritism is a sin.
Again, it’s nearly possible to not pre-judge someone…yet looks can be deceiving. Often the person who looks wealthy with a fancy car and nice house is actually just using items that belong to the bank! So many people who look rich are actually in debt up to their eyeballs!

The opposite may be true, too. I have a friend who’s a multi-millionaire after selling his successful business, yet he often looks like he just came in from chopping wood! One time he went into a car dealership with tens of thousands of dollars in cash, ready to buy a car, and he couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to him!

We all want the best seats at the concert or movie or sporting event. In our culture, people can pay extra to have VIP seats, but in church? Actually, church might be the only place where people don’t want to sit up front, close to the action. What’s up with that?! Regardless of your wealth, you can sit in the front row of most any church in America (just don’t show up late and distract every person in the house!).

We looked at the end of chapter one back in July, but the verse the precedes our text for today says,

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

That’s true religion. The Pharisees had it all wrong, looking impressive on the outside while having proud hearts. We are to look after the orphans and widows. Are they poor? They frequently are. We are not to become polluted by the world, acting like the culture. That’s what they were doing in James’ day…and sadly today, too. James is saying regardless of what happens “out there,” we should never discriminate in here, in the family. Every part of the body is valuable. Every member is important. We’re all sinners saved by God’s amazing grace. We’re all hopeless apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One of the things I love about First Alliance is we are a mosaic, a diverse family. Doctors sit next to homeless people who sit next to single moms who sit next to attorneys who sit next to ex-cons. Some are rich, others poor. Some are educated, some are high school dropouts. Some are young and others quite elderly. We have widows and widowers. We are here to serve orphans. All are welcome. Everyone belongs here. The only rule is no perfect people allowed!

James’ half-brother, Jesus, had a lot to say about the poor…and the rich.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

This doesn’t necessarily mean poor in finances, but any use of the word “poor” implies a lack, a need. This is why James continues in verse five…

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? (James 2:5)

It’s worth noting
there are many reasons people may be poor. Some have experienced unusual hardship such as a disability. Others are the victim of injustice. Many lack basic education, struggle with mental illness, some are simply lazy, and there are some poor who prefer doing life on their terms, no matter the results. This is why Jesus famously asked an invalid in John chapter 5…

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

There are some poor persons who don’t want to get well. They want free stuff. They want to milk the system. They want sympathy. But they’re not willing to take the courageous steps necessary to change.

Many in our First Alliance family want to get well, and they prove it every Wednesday at
Celebrate Recovery. They demonstrate it by their involvement in one of our fifteen Life Groups. They welcome accountability. I’m excited to announce we’ve been working behind-the-scenes for many months on a system to help people who truly want to get well. It’s not quite finished, but we’ll be looking for life coaches or mentors to come alongside men and women coming out of prison, homelessness, addiction, poverty, or just lacking basic skills such as money management or parenting. Stay tuned for details.

I don’t want to make too much out of this, nor do I want to make too little. In our culture—and apparently the first century, too—the rich were used to getting the best seats in the house, the best service from the host, the most attention. Yet God has a special place in His heart for the poor, the needy, those truly seeking help.

James continues,

But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 2:6-7)

In the first century, many of the rich were nervous about this new messianic movement we now call Christianity. They had no respect for King Jesus.

Our political system is very binary, right or left, conservative or progressive. One preacher recently described it something like this:

The right says the rich are good and the poor are lazy.
The left says the rich are greedy and the poor deserve the money of the rich.

The fact of the matter is there are not two categories—good or bad—but four. There are “good” rich people who are generous and create jobs and there are “bad” rich people who are greedy. Likewise, there are “good” poor people who try hard when experience hardships and there are “bad” people who are entitled and refuse to work.

James has obviously encountered some “bad” rich who were exploiting, suing, and blaspheming the holy name of Jesus. He adds,

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)

Jesus said the instructions of the entire Bible can be summarized in two commands: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s the true test of your faith, your maturity, the caliber of your discipleship. Note, too, that we are not merely to obey the law, but to keep it. That means we are to put it into practice. So often we judge ourselves based upon the sins we don’t do or commit, but what about the sins of omission? What about our lack of love for others? What about our lack of generosity, compassion, or kindness? What about our indifference, our self-righteousness?

I’m getting convicted here!

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. (James 2:9)

Obviously, favoritism is not a way to show love! Sometimes it’s done unconsciously. I know none of YOU would ever deliberately show favoritism, right?! Nobody at First Alliance has EVER been biased, prejudiced, racist, discriminated, or shown favoritism, right?!

The first step in change is awareness of the need. If I had a nickel for every justification and rationalization I’ve heard for favoritism, prejudice, or any sin, for that matter. I’ve been guilty, too. But what would happen if we truly viewed every person as a masterpiece created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth? Broken? Yes! In need of restoration? Yes! That’s why we’re here! That’s why we partner with the Creator of the universe to restore His masterpieces! And even the best of us are also a work in progress. I love these words from the late Dallas Willard,

Saints use up more grace than sinners. Many Christians view God’s grace as something only for sinners. That is just not true. God’s grace is better defined as God’s power at work within us to do what we normally can’t do on our own. The reality is that saints burn through grace like a 747 burns through Jet-Fuel.

We are not to show favoritism because we all need God’s grace. We all need love. We all want to be picked for the team, welcomed in the family, and given a chance.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:10-11)

I love that! Can you imagine someone appearing before a judge for murder and their defense is, “I didn’t sleep with anyone!”? Someone once said the law is like a sheet of glass. Once it’s broken, it’s broken. It doesn’t help to say it’s only a little bit broken! When we sin, we break the law, we are no longer perfect, we need God’s amazing grace and mercy, offered by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hallelujah!

The point is favoritism is a sin, just like adultery and murder. They may all have different consequences, but James is saying, “Stop it!” Christians are “little Christs,” and Jesus did not show favoritism. He did not commit adultery or murder, either!

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:12-13)

Oh how I need God’s mercy. I don’t want what I deserve, punishment for my sins. That’s mercy, it’s not getting the punishment deserved. N.T. Wright says,

‘Mercy’ isn’t the same as a shoulder-shrugging ‘tolerance’, an ‘anything goes’ attitude to life. ‘Anything’ doesn’t ‘go’. ‘Anything’ includes arrogance, corruption, blasphemy, favouritism and lawbreaking of all kinds. If God was ‘merciful’ to that lot, he would be deeply unmerciful to the poor, the helpless, the innocent and the victims. And the whole gospel insists that in precisely those cases his mercy shines out most particularly. So must ours.

In other words,

The true measure of our faith is how we speak, act, show mercy, and love.

We are to show love and respect to all…period!

You will never encounter a person Jesus doesn’t love. You will never meet a person His blood can’t forgive. You will never see or hear a human who is not a masterpiece, no matter what you see or hear.

When we show favoritism, we insult the dignity of others and judge them. By doing so, we set ourselves up for being judged by God, and that’s a terrifying thought.

Instead of judging, what if we showed mercy?
Instead of hatred, what if we loved?
Instead of curses, what if we extended blessing?

We can’t all be picked first on the team. Even if we’re the captain, we can’t pick everyone first. But we can speak, act, show mercy, and love in a way that honors people and glorifies God. Instead of cursing, criticism, and favoritism, we can offer blessing.

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

Temptation, 17 October 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:13-18

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half-brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

Today we’re back in the book of James, arguably the most practical book in the Bible. In between Global Missions Sundays and Advent, we’re going to continue going verse-by-verse through this short but powerful book. As a refresher, James is believed to have been written by Jesus’ half-brother who went from a skeptic to one of the leaders of the early Church. Dr. Tony Evans says, “James is the in-your-face, no -holds-barred apostle. He says in essence, ‘If you are going to be a Christian, be a real one.’”

I couldn’t agree more. The reputation of Christians in our current culture is…tragic! Instead of being known for faith, hope, and love we seem to have a reputation for politics, ignorance, and arrogance. We need real Christians, men, women and children who speak the truth in love, who are strong and courageous, who lead rather than follow, and whose hearts are set on the LORD Jesus Christ. It’s not about how much you know. The Pharisees were among the most knowledgeable people of their day, yet they missed the forest through the trees. Not only did they not look like Jesus, they had him killed!

Are you a Christian, a
real Christian? The short book of James is a great litmus test.

We looked at the first twelve verses of the book several months ago and James’ writings about trials. Trials are right up there with death and taxes as certainties in life. We all experience them, yet we are to consider them “pure joy” because they test our faith, producing perseverance and maturity. Verse 12 says,

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

We all want to be blessed. I usually sign my e-mails, “Blessings, Kirk.” It’s not one of those automatic signatures, but something I manually type each time. I truly want to bless others. I want you to be blessed. I want God to bless you…not only when you sneeze!

We often think of blessings as a new car, a promotion at work, or an attractive mate, but blessed or “happy” as some translations say is about our ability to experience, enjoy, and extend God’s goodness. It’s not about what happens around us as much as what happens internally, our ability to experience joy and growth.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations, though they come from the same Greek word, peirazo. God allows trials to strengthen us. Athletes often compete in “time trials” which are races designed to test their abilities. In doing so, the runners are challenged and strengthened.

Temptation comes from satan who tries to cause us to fail. God’s testing and satan’s tempting can occur in the same event, but
God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13)

I think that’s clear. God does not tempt anyone, nor is He tempted by evil…though Jesus was tempted while on earth before his death and resurrection. Notice the progression that occurs:

but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:14-15)

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

Satan cannot make you sin, but he can tempt you. He hates you and wants to destroy you…or perhaps wants you to destroy you! Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Do you see the contrast?

Family, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. We have a very real enemy. He knows your weaknesses. He knows how to appeal to your desires, leading you into sin and death. He’s very good…but God is greater!

We’ve all heard countless stories of leaders—inside and outside of the church—who have had moral failures. I doubt any of them ever thought, “Someday I want to have an affair and destroy my marriage, family, and career.” It all began with a desire and rationalization which led to sin and ultimately death…the death of their integrity, reputation, and like all sin, separation from fellowship with God.

I must add God forgives.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Hallelujah! But we may still live with the consequences of our sin. All sin leads to death, whether it’s the death of relationships, trust, or in some cases literal physical death.

What can we do to avoid death? Don’t sin.
What can we do to avoid sin? Avoid desire and temptation.
How do we do that?
Be alert!

Peter wrote,

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

Where are you vulnerable? We all have different desires and weaknesses. Some of you struggle with alcohol, others porn, still others food. You may battle pride and self-righteousness (that’s been one of my vices since childhood). Fear is a seductive sin when the most common command in the Bible is, “Fear not.” You know the old saying, “If you play with fire you’ll get burned.” Where are you vulnerable? The enemy knows!

Most of us are tempted in the areas of
identity (which we discussed last month), acceptance, significance, and security. Jesus was tempted by satan in each in Matthew chapter four…yet never sinned. It’s important to note temptation is not a sin—only when we give in to the temptation. One of my favorite verses in the Bible says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

It’s easy to think Jesus doesn’t understand pain or trials or testing or temptation…but he surely does! He was able to resist temptation because he knew his enemy, his focus was on the will of the Father, and he knew where and when he was vulnerable.

When are you vulnerable? One of my favorite acronyms, HALT, describes the four times we are especially likely to sin:


We need to be alert, especially when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. I have learned to be extra alert to temptation when one or more of these describe my condition. Often more than one is present.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. This is not about trying harder. It’s not about striving to be perfect. It’s recognizing all sin leads to death, the enemy is tricky, we need to be alert, and we need to call upon the LORD for help in times of trouble. I’m grateful for Paul’s words:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

You can make excuses and rationalize sin all day long, but the truth is you are not an uncontrollable animal. If you are a follower of Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit living inside you.

My friend and coach, Bruce Terpstra, notes in his book Three Passions of the Soul,

The power of temptation is that it has appeal to your soul. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, and yet was able not to sin (Heb 4:15). He was able to throw off the temptation because there was nothing in him that was attracted to sin. What attracts us to sin? Our souls are sick. They have been corrupted. But there is hope because we are not under the power of sin any longer. We are not bound. Sin is not our destiny. Christ has rescued us and set us free. We are free indeed.

Last week at staff meeting we were discussing a definition of a disciple. A disciple of Jesus is, quite simply, someone who looks and acts like Jesus, someone filled with the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Holy Spirit gives self-control. Ask God for it!
We need to pray!

I realize sin is a struggle for all of us, myself include. As I’ve often said, I’m a recovering Pharisee…among other things. Sanctification—becoming like Jesus—is a lifelong process. There are successes and failures along the way. Staying alert helps. Prayer helps.

In addition, journeying with others help.
We need to do life together. We have fifteen Life Groups to help you. Celebrate Recovery gathers each Wednesday at 7 PM to help you with hurts, habits, and hang ups, which is all of us!

I know this is politically incorrect, but not only is it not all about you, you can’t do it alone. We were not created to be independent individuals. We were made for interdependent community. We all have blind spots and weaknesses which others can reveal and help us avoid. As we’ll see later in James, we are to

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

We need to confess our sins to each other.
We need to pray for each other.
We need to speak the truth in love to one another.
We need to love and encourage one another.

If you don’t have people in your life doing that, it’s no wonder you struggle with temptation and sin. I urge you to get in a Life Group. Serve on one of our ministry teams. Get connected…not because we need you to join anything, but because we need one another.

I want to say again that
God may test, but He never tempts. In fact, Pope Francis recently made a slight change to the Lord’s Prayer for Catholics to underscore this point. We commonly say, “Lead us not into temptation,” but the Catholic Church now says, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” I like that, because God never tempts. He does test, guide and protect.

James chapter one continues,

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:16-17)

God may test, but never tempts. He only gives good gifts.

God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift.

The enemy wants you to believe God is bad, that He hates you, that He is out to get you, that He could never love you. That’s a lie!

God only gives good gifts and every good and perfect gift is from God.
When you are tempted—not if—focus on the goodness of God and His character. He is the Father of lights. He never changes. He always shines. He is truth. He is sovereign and in control. He is love.

He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

He made us His children so we can be a kind of firstfruits of His creation.

There’s a big difference between trials and temptations.

God does not tempt anyone, though He allows trials.

Satan tempts through desire which leads to sin and death.

We need to be alert, especially when we are H
ungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

We need to pray. We need to do life together.

God is good, the giver of every good and perfect gift. You are so valuable to Him, a child of the Most High God, His first fruits, the very best. You are a treasure.

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

Better Wise Up, 18 July 2021

Better Wise Up
Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 1:1-12

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: Wisdom is one of God’s greatest gifts, available for the asking.

If you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for? It sounds like something out of a Disney movie, but it really happened. The first book of Kings says,

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

This is King David’s son Solomon. How would you respond?

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. (1 Kings 3:6)

OK, Solomon, answer the question!

“Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. (1 Kings 3:7)

We’re still waiting!

Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. (1 Kings 3:8)

He finally answers the question!

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon asks for a discerning heart, a heart of understanding. Some would call this—in a word—wisdom. I can think of no greater answer, especially from a leader responsible for making countless decisions that affect many lives. Oh that our leaders today would make such a request of the Lord! It’s obvious that Solomon made an excellent choice.The text says so!

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. (1 Kings 3:10)

So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. (1 Kings 3:11-12)

Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:13-14)

Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:15a)

And what a dream it was!

Today we’re continuing our series on the book of James: Faith Works. Our topic today is wisdom…and you better wise up!

Two weeks ago Jason Horton tackled the first four verses of the book of James. This is arguably the most practical book in the Bible, penned by Jesus’ half-brother. To review, the book begins:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings. (James 1:1)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

If you missed Jason’s sermon, please go to our app, website, YouTube channel, or Vimeo page. It was excellent. The subject of trials forms the context of what follows.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. It’s a promise. It’s not directed at a particular person, but rather “any of you” among the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.

The original Greek word for wisdom is
sophia. I had a boss once named Sophia. She was…pretty wise, I suppose! It’s not just that God grants wisdom, but that he gives it generously, bountifully, liberally. That’s His nature, especially with His children. He is a good, good Father.

This is especially true in the midst of trials when we often lack wisdom, those moments in which we are out of control. If you’ve ever asked God, “Why?” you know what I mean. Our District Superintendent, Thomas George, has encouraged me to change, “Why?” to “What are You up to, LORD?” “Help me see what You see.” “I need Your perspective and wisdom, Father.” Trials are for God's glory and our growth.

James is saying
ask God for wisdom and it will be given to you. Period. Well, almost period! There’s a dreaded “but” which follows, though it’s not all that dreaded, actually.

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8)

To obtain wisdom, we need faith or, actually, commitment to God. James isn’t talk about someone who is uncertain God will answer their request or a person struggling with faith. Instead, it’s the person who is double-minded, a person who is not truly committed to God. They want to be successful in this world and want God to bless them now while also hoping to go to heaven when they die. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

A close equivalent to this double-minded person is found in Psalm 12.

Help, LORD, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts. (Psalm 12:1-2)

Hypocrisy is nothing new! Does it describe you? Again this isn’t someone who is truly seeking God and asking for faith. It’s a reference to Sunday-only Christians who use God rather than worship Him. God will grant wisdom to those truly committed to Him who ask. Don’t ask for wisdom if you’re not prepared to act on it.

Knowledge used to be valuable, but you can find just about anything on Google or YouTube. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the right application of knowledge. Who needs wisdom? I certainly do. This past year and a half has demanded more wisdom from leaders than perhaps any time in our lifetime. Should we close? Should we open? Should we encourage masks? Should we mandate masks? Should we get vaccinated? Should we require the staff to get vaccinated? Should we use the drinking fountains?

When people ask how they can pray for me, my most common response is, “Wisdom.” I need God’s wisdom. Not conventional wisdom. Not politically-correct responses. Not tickle-the-ears advise. I desperate need God’s wisdom…in my professional and personal life.

It’s really hard following Jesus in our culture. There is a constant temptation to live like everybody else, despite the fact that everybody else seems to be so confused, so fickle, so selfish, and so unreliable.

Recently Bible scholar N.T. Wright was on the Catalyst Podcast and offered an outstanding explanation of our current society, Listen…

It seems to me we are in a very confused culture with a highly moralistic culture of one sort that our world—the western world—has sort of invented new moralisms to take the place of the old ones, but the trouble with the new moralisms is that there is never any redemption. If you’re caught out saying accidentally something which somebody else says was racist or crypto-Nazi or whatever it is then that’s it, you’re out, you’re cancelled, you’re in social hell, even atheist hell if you like. There’s no way back, there’s no chance for repentance or forgiveness and so on. That’s a very cruel culture.

People used to object to Christians banging on about sin but the point of banging on about sin was to say there’s a way back to God from the darkness of sin as the old hymn says it and to say we’re all sinners was actually a positive doctrine because the answer is we’ve got a diagnosis for the problem and what’s more we have a solution, we have a remedy, God has provided the remedy, whereas in the present social and culture climate everyone is nervous about tripping up over some hidden “thou shalt not” in the culture whether it’s about gender rights of one sort or another or issues to do with race and so on and the rules keep on changing and as the rules change, when you’re my age, it’s very hard to keep up with them. It reminds me of that Roman emperor

Who made new rules and printed them out or stuck them out very small and had them stuck on high walls where nobody could read them and then would punish people for not obeying these rules and sometimes our contemporary culture feels like that and we have to argue for the importance of genuine morality, yes, but what we have at the moment is a sort of pseudo-morality of this victim culture where if somebody feels upset by something somebody else has quite innocently said then they can blame the person who’s done it and once you blame them there is no way back, they are non-persons or they’re damned or whatever, so how we respond to that as Christians is very different from the kind of stuff that most of us grew up with which was assuming that most people around us were sort of crypto-Pelagians thinking they could behave themselves and, therefore, go to heaven when they die. That’s not what people are thinking out there on the street now and we have to get used to articulating the message of Jesus in a very, very different context.

I know that’s a lot, but I believe it’s a lot of wisdom. I love how Wright is able to wisely assess our cancel culture and contrast it so poignantly with the Kingdom of God, an alternative way of life filled with love, hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

I confess sometimes I get caught up in the issues of our day, filled with fear and uncertainty rather than wisely seeking the Truth in God and His Word. Although our nation may be one exception in the last half of the twentieth century, most societies throughout history have not Christian foundations. The world has always acted like the world and will always act like the world. We are called—as citizens of the Kingdom of God—to live differently, to be filled with love rather than fear, to exercise grace not revenge, to seek after those who make us uncomfortable when we’d rather play video games or watch movies.

I can’t say this enough: I need wisdom. You need wisdom. Following Jesus in our day requires supernatural wisdom, and the good news is it is promised to us…if we ask and believe.

Would you commit to praying for me? I need wisdom. Our staff and elders need wisdom, especially during these next several weeks as we prepare for our fall kickoff on August 29. Next week we’ll begin what may be the most important sermon series I’ve ever preached for First Alliance Church. We’re going to present our six core values, the result of literally years of prayer, research, and discussion. God has answered our cries for wisdom. He has given us a compelling mission, an exciting vision, and a fresh strategy to reach our city and world as we more or less relaunch First Alliance this fall. As excited as I am about our future, I don’t want to take a single step forward without God’s direction, God’s protection, unity, and passion—my four prayers for FAC. As our society considers a post-COVID world in the future, we’ve been working behind-the-scenes to be optimally ready for whatever opportunities God provides for us. It is my prayer that our most fruitful days are ahead, that our baptistry would get worn out, that God would raise up men and women to serve Him here and around the world.

Perhaps my greatest fear is that I get in the way of what God wants to do, which is why I pray for and ask for your prayers for wisdom. Since it’s promised, we can pray with confidence and eager expectation. I better wise up. You better wise up!

There are four more verses I want to look at before we conclude today that relate to wisdom.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (James 1:9)

Does that even make sense? It does in the upside-down Kingdom of God where the first shall be last and where saving your life means losing it for Christ’s sake. A few chapters later, James will say,

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

The world says you need a platform. Get famous on Tik Tok. Make a career out of YouTube movies. Grab as much money, sex, and power as you can. It’s all about you!

God says, “Surrender to me and I will lift you up.”

Some of you find yourselves in humble circumstances. Several in our church family are homeless, jobless, spouse-less, or even penniless. Take pride in your high position. Humble yourselves before the Lord. He sees you. He knows you. He loves you. Your story’s not over. Seek help. You are a masterpiece in need of restoration…like me and the rest of us. God’s doing beautiful work through Celebrate Recovery here on Wednesdays at 7 PM. Do life together with others in a Life Group. We have several new groups launching this fall and some meeting now.

But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (James 1:10-11)

There’s a weather event in the Middle East called a sirocco. It is a very devastating hot wind that blows from the southern desert into Palestine, destroying flowers and plants. What an image!

Money is not the root of all kinds of evil. The love of money is. James reminds the rich—which is most of us compared to people around the world—it will all pass away someday. You can’t take it with you.

It reminds me of the man who was granted one wish—like Solomon—and he asked to see the next day’s newspaper so he could see the sports section and bet on the horse race. It was a great plan to get rich…until he noticed his name in the obituaries!

Rich or poor, young or old, black or white, wolverine or buckeye (!), …

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)

James speaks often of trials because he knows they make us grow, they humble us, they bring us to our knees, and they develop our character. As he said at the beginning of the book,

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Erwin McManus recently said,

I’ve always wondered why the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.

Why do we want to fear God?

Whatever you fear has mastery of your life.

Whatever you are afraid of, that’s your master.

If you only fear God, then only God is your master.

Every other fear will use that fear to hold you captive.

But when you fear God, He destroys the fear because it says that perfect love casts out all fear.

When all your fear is directed at God, His perfect love casts out all the fear and now you can live a life that’s truly free.

Some of you have made a mess of your life. You haven’t made wise choices and you’re suffering the consequences. There’s no shame in that, but redemption is possible. God takes our failures and brokenness and restores us into masterpieces. If we humble ourselves, He will lift us up. If we seek His wisdom and Kingdom and will, like will not always be easy, but it will be satisfying in this life…and the next.

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