Welcome back my friends to Simple Faith
We are looking at few things today – first the review I made on Thom Rainer’s books – “I Am a Church Member” and “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” and then the book of James.
My goal is to let you know that we each have an opportunity to change our church and make a difference. When I say our church I mean our universal Christian church.
The most widespread and common thread of our analyses was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as its hero. They hold tight with each passing year. They often clung to things of the past with hopelessness and fear. And when any internal or external force tried to change the past, they responded with anger and resolution: “We will die before we change.”
And they do.
Hear me clearly: these churches were not hanging on to biblical truths. They were not clinging to clear Christian morality. They were not fighting for primary doctrines, or secondary doctrines, As a matter of fact, they were not fighting for doctrines at all.
They were fighting for the past. The good old days. The way it used to be. The way we want it today.
I know it is a fine line between wanting to make the church appealing to an unchurched world by having flashing lights and music productions to preaching God’s word and speaking the truth.
I believe you grow a church by growing your members and making them disciples. I also believe you begin to mentor others to take your place and duplicate yourself. As the church members grow in Christ they will want to do more and more to further God’s kingdom. They will not be looking for the church to entertain them, but to grow them in the word and being able to mentor others in the faith.
I believe we join churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us and to care for us. Local churches are not Country Club privileges & perks. I have said and I have heard – people say – I didn’t like the Pastor, or the people were not friendly enough, excuses. God does not place us in churches to have a social life or party.
So here is what growing churches are doing:
Growing Churches are grounded in a Consistent Vision and Message
The first characteristic of a growing church is that church leadership conveys and spread a consistent vision and message. When church leaders define and consistently communicate a clear cut vision and message, the people of the congregation will in turn internalize the message and over time will live it out. However, when the vision is not communicated or is constantly changing people become confused and uncomfortable. This is not to say that the core vision and message of the church will not shift every once in a long while; of course it will. But when the church leaders communicate and live out a consistent message then the people will feel more comfortable and stick around.
Growing Churches Passionately Preach the Word of God
The second characteristic to a growing church is the preachers and teachers are passionate about the Word of God. They preach the Bible and are not ashamed of it. Of course, this characteristic is tied to the first one. For any message a church expresses should be founded on the Word of God. And, it does not matter much if the preachers and or teachers are powerful speakers. It matters that they are passionate and sincerely believe what the Bible says with all their hearts.
Growing Churches Love to Celebrate God’s Presence through Worship
A third characteristic common to growing churches is that they love to celebrate God’s presence through inspiring and intimate worship. Like King David before the ark of God, leaders of growing churches yearn to bring their congregations into the glorious presence of God. They want them to know the deepest intimacy with their Lord and Savior both in the assembly and when they walk in the affairs of everyday life. Like Moses stepping out of the Tent of Meeting; their faces glow from the glory of God resting in their souls. Members of growing churches love to celebrate the presence of the Living God in their lives.
Growing Churches Fellowship in Small Groups
A fourth tip to church growth is that growing churches fellowship in small groups. Leaders and lay people alike need to gather in small groups to pray and encourage one another. They meet in small groups to help one another keep the fire in their hearts burning bright. Life is full of ups and downs and each member of the church needs a safe haven of fellowship where he or she can enter into each week to share their joys and sorrows. Sometimes the big assembly can be overwhelming and impersonal. In small groups, members of the congregation can become grounded and made to feel like a person who matters.
Growing Churches Quickly Assimilate Newcomers
A fifth characteristic of growing churches is that they are friendly to outsiders and quickly assimilate them into the church body. Church leaders love newcomers. They have a passion to reach everyone for Christ. They want everyone in the neighborhood to find faith in the Lord and loving fellowship in the body of Christ. Leaders of growing churches recognize that the Lord has uniquely fashioned each person with special gifts and abilities to share in the life and work of the church. Growing churches quickly assimilate newcomers.
Growing Churches Keep Their Leaders Accountable in Personal Life and Ministry
In the 1990s, “Friends Church” in Yorba Linda, California was one of the fastest growing churches in Southern California. They went from less than 200 in 1985 to close to 6000 in 2001. One of the practices of the church staff and leadership was to write personal and ministry growth goals each year. Throughout the year, the executive pastor would conference with each staff member to see how they were progressing in their goals. Of course, it was all done in grace and love. Growing churches keep their leaders accountable to keep growing in personal character and ministry skills. I checked this church has 4 services with close to 3,000 in each that means 12,000 people could be attending this “Friends Church.” That is pretty exciting.
Growing Churches Take the Great Commission Seriously
A seventh characteristic of growing churches is that they take the great commission of Jesus Christ seriously. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he commissioned his disciples to go out into the world and share the message of Jesus Christ with everyone from every tribe and nation. Nearly every church gives lip service to this concept, but growing churches live it out every day. They get out and love on people even if those people reject them and the message of Jesus.
My friends the church is us… not the building
We can make a difference.
We can learn from the reformation too.
One thing that happened during the reformation – The Reformers were guided by the conviction that the church of their day had drifted away from the essential, original teachings of Christianity, especially in regard to what it was teaching about salvation—how people can be forgiven of sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and receive eternal life with God. The Reformation sought to re-orient Christianity on the original message of Jesus and the early church.
The Reformation to summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity.
The Five Points are:
- “Scripture alone”: The Bible alone is our highest authority.
- “Faith alone”: We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
- “Grace alone”: We are saved by the grace of God alone.
- “Christ alone”: Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
- “To the glory of God alone”: We live for the glory of God alone.The Scriptures are our ultimate and trustworthy authority for faith and practice. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is the only place where truth is found, but it does mean that everything else we learn about God and his world, and all other authorities, should be interpreted in light of Scripture. The Bible gives us everything we need for our theology.We are saved solely through faith in Jesus Christ because of God’s grace and Christ’s merit alone. We are not saved by our merits or declared righteous by our good works. God grants salvation despite our sin and not because of the good things we do.God graciously preserves us and keeps us. When we are faithless toward him, he is still faithful. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”The goal of all of life is to give glory to God alone: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The chief purpose of human life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
- Glory belongs to God alone. God’s glory is the central motivation for salvation, not improving the lives of people—though that is a wonderful by product. God is not a means to an end—he is the means and the end.
- We can only stand before God by his grace as he generously attributes to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ and attributes to him the consequences of our sins. Jesus’ life of perfect righteousness is counted as ours, and our records of sin and failure were counted to Jesus when he died on the cross.
- As humans, we inherited a nature that is enslaved to sin. Because of our nature, we are naturally enemies of God and lovers of evil. We need to be made alive (regenerated) so that we can even have faith in Christ. God graciously chooses to give us new hearts so that we trust in Christ and are saved through faith alone.
- Every word of the 66 books of the Bible is inspired by God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit also helps us to understand and obey Scripture.
I believe this is a good segway into the Book of James – pull up your chairs and fasten your seat belts, this is going to be a lot of fun!
I believe what James writes is relevant to the church today. So let’s begin in the book of James
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. 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. 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 has a real point here, for we don’t normally develop perseverance in any field of endeavor without facing a trial of some sort, and living in this world, we will surely need perseverance. Let’s face it, nobody grows to maturity in life without developing some perseverance, and as time goes by, being immature ceases to be cute and moves into the category of unattractive!
Verse 5 has always been of particular interest to me; James makes it sound so easy. If you lack wisdom, ask God for it and He’ll give it to you. Personally, I’ve noticed that if I ask for wisdom, I get trials. If I ask for patience, I get trials. If I ask for perseverance, I get trials. Do you suppose there is a connection? I admit that this isn’t very scientific, unreliable as it is, but James might be going somewhere like this in his thinking: Trials are an important part of spiritual growth and there is no way around that.
That brings us headlong into verse 6. When you ask God for wisdom, “you must believe and not doubt” and to be honest, it strikes me that this is where we sometimes go wrong. I don’t just mean because we might have doubts, but because we often draw the wrong conclusion from James’ remark. If I ask for wisdom and get a trial instead, is that because I doubted, or is it because wisdom comes from experience? All too often, the Sunday school answer to that is that we lack faith. This isn’t the point James is making here. His point is much deeper than that.
Look at what comes next: Someone who doubts is like a wave that is “blown and tossed by the wind.” This isn’t talking about someone who doubts God will answer their prayer with a sort of direct download of the “Wisdom App” it is referring to someone who doubts that Jesus is the Lord! That person is likely to be tossed on the churning seas of this world, never quite getting their bearings, always unsure, confused, and adrift. This brings me to the question – Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?
Well, do you?
The answer to that question, dear friends, is not only the key to understanding this passage, it is also the key to understanding most things. The person with doubts will receive nothing much, for they are “double-minded” and “unstable in all they do.” They are double-minded not because they are immature in their faith, but because they haven’t made their minds up; they are still holding back, holding on to the old life, seeking a compromise or a safety net.
They are “unstable” because they haven’t entirely committed, and how can we learn to persevere if we hold back, straddle the fence and don’t commit?
Now you can see why I warned you to have your seat belts fastened, there will be some bumpy air at this altitude!
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 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.
In this brief text, James jumps to a subject that will keep cropping up in this letter: Rich and Poor. James takes an approach to this subject that is very much in line with that of Jesus, and is quite different from the one most have today, for James sees material wealth as a trap.
I thought this was an important scene for any Christian to see, for it shows how the attitudes of this world have played out in the Body of Christ. Of course history shows us that this sort of thing has gone on since the very early days of the church, and we see much written against it in Scripture, such as in these verses; interesting isn’t it? Have you seen things along these lines?
As for me, I’ve only seen this kind of thing expressed in subtle ways, but I’ve seen it, and it is nothing less than disgraceful! In Christ, we are equal. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white, rich or poor, for in God’s eyes we are His children… and we are all expected to love one another and to put the interests of others ahead of our own.
In Christ, there are no divisions among people, there is only unity. In Christ, it does not matter if we are rich or poor, black or white, male or female; we are one.
Of course, culture tends to interfere… But when culture tells us that we must be divided along any lines, culture is wrong!
You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
– Galatians 3:26-29
Sometimes we need to really remind ourselves that our culture is not what counts when it comes to our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, for what matters is the “in Christ.”
And what a glorious testimony this is! In a world where people are divided by so much, we are one in Christ! Oh, if we would only remember this glorious truth…
In reality, there is only one division left, and that is “in Christ” or not in Christ. The really great news is that all are invited to enter unity with Christ; let’s be certain that every single one receives an invitation to dwell with us in unity and peace.
I think this is an important point for all of us to reflect upon and to ask for God’s guidance in, that we might truly understand what it means to be a follower of Christ.
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.
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 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 is summing up this section here, and he returns to the idea of perseverance. We should consider trials a blessing, for in coming through trials, we learn to persevere in our faith, to remain firm in all situations and ensure that when the Day comes, we will receive the “crown of life.”
This is indeed a message of hope, giving us, as it does, a whole different perspective on the trials that everyone faces in this life. James goes on to point out that trials do not come because God is tempting us, for God does no such thing, He doesn’t need to! We seem to find our way into temptation quite on our own. Each of us has our own dark little secret place where we hide our desires and evil motivations. They pop up periodically and we follow them, and the result is that we fall into sin, and if we let that sin carry us away with it, death ensues. In this case, “death” is separation from God as opposed to in the physical sense.
So, there is the pattern, there is the cycle; the question is how can we stop it? In James’s words, how can we “persevere” in our faith?
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. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.
We have a pretty good hint in these verses, for as James says “every good and perfect gift is from above.” Where can we look to quash those evil desires that lead us to temptation? Above! We can increase our focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ. God does not trick us, nor does He move the goal posts, for He is reliable, constant and true. He is our source of light, life and truth; He is where we need to look in a time of trial and testing, not this world our own inner desires. As Paul put it elsewhere, we should set our minds on that which is above. That is where our salvation from trials comes from; that is where we will receive the crown of life!
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
I really like these verses, they are both familiar and practical; to me they are also profoundly important as a way of life. Verse 19 is quoted so often that I’m not even sure those who quote it know it’s from the Word and it is certainly great advice, but how often do we take the time to notice that it is only the introduction to a larger theme?
First the advice: Quick to listen. For many of us, that would be quite an accomplishment in itself. I don’t know about you, but there are still times when I find myself neglecting this one; mustn’t get carried away. Slow to speak is the next one, and I know plenty of people who struggle with this.
As for me – the less I talk the more intelligent I sound, but I open my mouth and I can be like a leaky pipe, drip drip drip.
OK, maybe we are all works in progress.
Slow to become angry is the third in this series, and it is a real problem for some. I doubt I need to say much more on this.
Verse 20 has the point James is setting up in verse 19, yet is isn’t quoted so often as the previous verse for some reason. Human anger doesn’t produce “the righteousness that God desires.” Have you ever thought about that? What does our anger really produce? Out of every 10 times we become angry, how many times does our anger produce anything worthwhile? OK, I can see that there are rare cases when we become angry over an injustice and then we do something about it. Yet even in those times, if we are acting out of anger, how often can we avoid inflicting a second injustice because we don’t stop soon enough? An example: We become angry because we see someone shove another person out of their way; how do we respond? We might let them have it with angry words, and call them all sorts of ugly names. Do two wrongs cure an injustice? It is very difficult to respond in anger without going too far!
Verse 21 is the conclusion, something we can tell right away because of the word “therefore.” Therefore is always the conclusion when someone is making a persuasive case. What James was really getting at in the first two verses was this: “get rid” of all that “moral filth” and “evil” that is “prevalent” and “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
Let’s pause a moment and think about this “get rid” part. This is a metaphor that is used several times in the New Testament, for in the Greek it looks like the “taking off” and “putting on” that Paul likes to use. Here it would go something like this: “Take off those filthy rags that are covered with evil and clothe yourself with the righteousness of God.” Now, looking at verse 21 again, we can see that we are to take off (get rid of) the moral filth and evil, and pit on (humbly accept) the Word that can save you. Here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: Is the “Word” a person or what?
I am going to say that this “Word” that can save you is none other than the Person of Jesus Christ. Yes, dear friends, going back to the beginning, if we are quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger, we would be putting our trust for Christ into action. Actually Pretty cool, isn’t it?
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.
One of my very favorite verses in all of the Scriptures is verse 22, and I can’t help but notice that it’s almost never quoted outside of a study of James; not even by me! I really love this verse because it just brushes past all the arguments and excuses and comes right down to the bottom line: Do what it says!
We aren’t just to read the Word, we’re supposed to follow the Word, just like we aren’t just supposed to be in Christ, we are supposed to follow Him. So simple, yet so seldom done. If we just read it, we deceive ourselves because we get the idea that everything is great, after all, I read my Bible today. Then what do we do, go out and do what everybody else does?
James follows with an interesting illustration, that of someone looking into a mirror, seeing their face and then forgetting what they looked like. Hearing the Word and not following it is pretty much a waste, for we are to put it into effect in our lives. Even better, James tells us exactly what he means.
We are to gaze at the “perfect law that gives freedom” intently, and then act accordingly. To fully comprehend James’ instruction, all we need to do is to know what he means by “perfect law that gives freedom.” I think Jesus can help us out here:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
James is talking about putting our love of God and of one another into action; if we do, we will be blessed in everything that we do. What a simply amazing little passage, so simple, so clear.
What holds us back?
This is what it means to love, to put that love into action, and to serve God. This is what Jesus did, and this is what His followers are to do.
I cannot believe we have run out of time.
My friends – once again this was Simple Faith and I am your host, Cathy Merritt. See you next Sunday. God bless
Here is a link to listen to 30 August, 2015 09:00 pm radio program: Simple Faith