Monday, January 16, 2012

Living Godly In a Godless World

The Apostle James is the younger (half) brother of Jesus Christ.  Six months before the cross and resurrection, he wasn’t even a believer.  Yet he became a leader in the early church and he called himself a servant of God and the Master, Jesus.  The word is doulos (doulos) or bond slave.  It is the word you would use to describe someone who voluntarily chooses to enslave himself to another. 
It is important to see this call to commitment in James.  He gives us 60 imperative commands in only 108 verses.  James urges us to make this same commitment of unquestioned obedience to God.  There are some pretty life-altering decisions to make if you take him seriously. 
At the outset of this study, in the spirit of full disclosure, we should begin with the understanding that investigating James (with the intention of obeying God with whatever we find out) can be extremely hazardous to the health of playing at discipleship.  Any believer who has taken the time to know God and God’s Book also knows He demands loyalty from those who are named “Christian”.
Have you ever watched the CBS program “Survivor”?  If not, the “plot” is to isolate 16 people in some desolate spot and present them with increasingly difficult decisions.  In the early broadcasts one of the 16 castaways attempting to be the lone survivor who would walk away with a million dollars was a 24-year-old pre-seminary student from Seattle Pacific University named Dirk Been.  He said being forced to eat beetle larvae was not the most difficult ordeal he had to face on the island.  The hardest aspect of being marooned on a remote island was not having anyone around who shared his beliefs.  He said:  The spiritual isolation was tortuous.  The other tribe members couldn't understand where I was coming from; I didn't have someone I could really open up to and pray with.
Fortunately for Dirk, he felt the support of family and friends at home praying for him each day. The day before he left for Malaysia, about 70 members of his church gathered around him to pray for his health and safety.  "It was awesome!" Dirk recalls.  "And it didn't end there.  Even though I was alone and lonely as the sole Christian, I felt the presence of the Lord in incredible ways."[1]  
There is another ongoing survivor event, the survivorship of genuine Christian living in an increasingly postmodern, and even hostile, anti-Christian world.  People with commitment to follow Jesus Christ unreservedly are something of an endangered species.  Committed disciples of Jesus sense that the world views us as dinosaurs, outdated and disconnected Neanderthal thinkers in a space-age, Internet era. 
Do you feel that way about you living in this world?  While we don’t care to dwell in the negative, the reality is glaring: 
We really don’t live in a Christian world or even a Christian county!
And so, the proposition before the house this morning:
Christian survivor Reality check:
being a committed follower of jesus means you will find some tough roads ahead; you will be in the minority, and the world won’t care that you don’t like it!
If trying to live Godly in a Godless world describes you, there is some really good news; it’s found in the little Epistle of James.  This is the Christian Survival Manual.  If you would be an overcomer, a survivor in this postmodern world, James has the kind of practical advice you need.
James tells us important things a Christian worldview needs; he tells us about attitudes and convictions a Christian must possess – actions we must take – if we are to be survivors in a world that is spiritually stone cold dead!
Here’s some of the wonderful advice the Apostle James shares, which we will study in the next several weeks.  This is going to be a look at Christian Survival:
·     How to have joy in the midst of your trials
·     How to grow strong in your faith.
·     How to hang in there, when your “hanger” is broken.
·     How to love others, and not lose it
·     How to control your tongue so you can act wisely.
·     How to make morally wise decisions.
·     How to be unselfish, and still contented.
·     How to be patient!
·     How to pray and see real answers.
If those sound like some helpful topics for Christian living, well – you’re on the right track.  Join with me and be a survivor – a Christian disciple!

knowing the Owner of the island.

1James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:  Greetings     James 1:1 (NRSV)
James was doubtless one of the 500 who saw the resurrected Jesus, and became a believer.  He later became pastor at Jerusalem, and presided over the Jerusalem council mentioned in Acts.  His life was profoundly changed from one who thought his brother was crazy, to one who was martyred for his brother.  James was a Christian survivor – he knew the Owner of the Island!  He was Jesus’ earthly brother in the flesh, but became a doulos, servant to the Master.
So, if this morning you cannot say for certain that you have nailed down your relationship to the Owner, a saving relationship in Christ, based on His sacrifice on the cross for you, then the first step is still before you in becoming a Christian survivor – you need to be saved.  Tell Him you repent of sin, you want to be His child. 
Then, publicly take your stand with Him at the close of this service.  There will be an invitation time, and you will be invited to come to Christ, accept His name.  You can identify with Him in public Christian baptism.  That’s how you get to be friends with the Owner of the island.

knowing the value of difficult times.

2My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance;   James 1:2-3 (NRSV)
There is a difference between tempting and testing.  The “trials” of our text refers to a test.  (The word is dokimion, a proving, as in a test drive.  God never tempts – see James 1.13).  Years ago my seminary professor, Dr. Graham, put the difference to his class, and it stuck with me (one of the few things I actually retained).  He said that an easy way to remember the difference between a tempting and a testing is:
a temptation is from Satan, and it is designed to make you fall;
a test is from God, and is designed to make you stand tall!
So, when you have a difficult time before you, pay close attention which direction you’re being driven.  If away from God and His kingdom, then it is designed to make you fall – a temptation! 
If the difficult time creates a desire to find God’s will and way – to compel you to prayer to seek God’s face, and fellowship with believers for comfort and Godly counsel, and Bible study for God’s answers – well, that’s a test.  God is doing something! THAT’S why you can count it all joy!
Have any of you ever thrown a count-it-all-joy party?  I haven't either!  To tell you the truth, it's tough to consider it pure joy, because trials hurt.  Yet it's important to realize that unless we go through some tests, we will never know what our faith is made of.
It is hard to accept the difficult times, but becoming mature in the faith demands those times.  The Message New Testament translates verse 4 this way:
4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.   James 1:4 (NRSV)
We may kick and groan about difficulties in our lives, but often that is when God is using in His perfect way to change us into His useable servant. 
A ship was wrecked, and the only survivor washed up on a small uninhabited island.  He was exhausted.  He cried out to God to save him.  Every day he scanned the horizon, searching for help. Finally, he managed to build a rough hut and put his few articles in that hut.
One day, coming home from hunting for food, he was stung with grief to see his little hut in flames and a cloud of smoke.  The worst had happened.  But early the next day, a ship drew in and rescued him.
He asked the crew, "How did you know I was here?"  They replied, "We saw your smoke signal."  Maybe the difficulty you have now is a smoke signal that will lead to great blessing.[2]
Christian survivors know the Island’s Owner, and the value of difficult times, and they…

trust God.

5If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.  6But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; 7, 8for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  James 1:5-8 (NRSV)
There is a certain abandoning of ourselves – a putting-aside of our options when it comes to really trusting God. You may have had the experience of purchasing a gift for your child’s birthday; you spent all you could afford (and then some).  It’s the best gift ever.  Prior to the birthday you are in a store with your young child and he asks for a different toy – much less in cost than you just spent.  You’ve broken the budget on his birthday, so you have to say “no” to the lesser toy.  Your child is somewhere from disappointed to furious!  He doesn’t understand that your “no” today is only because you have a great big”YESjust ahead.  That’s childish behavior – but that’s what we do when we don’t trust God.[3] 
5Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  6In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  Proverbs 3:5-6 (KJV)
When you trust Him, it means you take your stand with Him – publicly, privately, and any other way He demands.  And so, it’s decision-time, and we need to ask the question:
Do you want to be a survivor?
If so, you have to ask the Owner – it’s His island!
If so, you will learn the value of difficult times – it’s His wisdom!
If so, you will have to learn to let go and trust – it’s His way!
Be a survivor!

[1] Greg Asimakoupoulos, Naperville, Illinois; © 2000 / Christianity Today, Inc.
[2] John Yates, An Attitude of Gratitude, Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.
[3] Adapted from Deborah Rau, Sunday Digest, Today’s Christian Woman, “Heart To Heart”

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