Tuesday, August 20, 2019

James the Just - Part 6 - The Upward Spiral of Metamorphosis

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.  Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.  James 1: 26-27

Metamorphosis is the process of change; complete change!  Tadpoles change into frogs; caterpillars enter the cocoon and emerge transformed into butterflies.  Spiritual metamorphosis (transformation) is expressed as a renewed mind.[2]  Spiritually transformed believers have…

A Controlled Tongue

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:21

James called the tongue a raging fire, totally unable to be tamed.  He says it’s like the rudder on a big ship, or a bit in the horse’s mouth.  It is a small thing, behind the scenes, yet the most powerful muscle in the body.  As surely as harsh words cripple people, good words inspire people to live higher-purposed lives: 
·      I regret that I have but one life to give for my country. –  Nathan Hale
·      Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.  – President John F. Kennedy
Words such as those changed the course of history. They challenged our souls and spirits, and as a result we will never be the same.  I have been the recipient of kind words in difficult circumstances.  There were times when such words put my heart back together and gave me the courage to go on.
Spiritually transformed people have a controlled tongue that speaks words of healing and encouragement.  And they have …

A Compassionate Heart

James visiting, or caring-for orphans and widows, is his way of helping us understand that the least powerful in our society, those who are most likely to be forgotten or fall through the cracks…these are the ones we must always help.  Transformed, spiritually renewed people have their tongues under control, and they are compassionate.
But you probably have known people who are not what we would call religious; they never attend church or even seem to have faith in God at all.  Yet, they are compassionate towards the less fortunate; they do more than even many believers who talk a good talk.  They seem to be more Christian than the Christians.  Are they Christians of “genuine religion” after all?  Well, they might be; it isn’t up to you and me to judge another’s motives for what they do.  But remember this, practicing kind words and even doing wonderful good deeds are not what make you a Christian – those are only indications you follow a strong moral code of kind and unselfish ways.  If living like that could bring about forgiveness for our sins the cross is God’s chief mistake; it would mean Jesus didn’t have to die.  The Apostle Paul said it clearly, you cannot buy salvation:

God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.  Ephesians 2:8-9

So, then, if it’s by grace, why all this “genuine religion” talk about doing good stuff?  It’s simple – if you have truly been born again, you will be like the One who gave you life.  
There is a good example of this in the science of fiber optics.[3]  
The strands of glass or plastic are about the thickness of a human hair.  Bundled together they carry light, electrical impulses and even sound waves at incredibly fast speeds.  They’re the reason why your TV picture is so sharp, and your cell phone works. 

Imagine a thousand of these (hair-sized) fibers bound together like a cable.  Each strand has a beam of light to offer, but each one came from the same, single light source.  The light at the end of the “cable” reflects the source.  And the source, through all the little cable connections, sheds light that changes the world.  This is how it is when you allow yourself, like a caterpillar submits himself to the cocoon, to let God have you in His cocoon of salvation.  In it, he nourishes and changes you – you become transformed and renewed to live a life that reflects His glory and beauty.  That’s metamorphosis!
For You Today
The Christian life is so much simpler when we stop trying to force the change, and simply accept the change God is bringing!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons     Unless otherwise noted, Scripture used from The New Living Translation©
[2] Romans 12:2
[3] Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

Friday, August 16, 2019

James the Just - Part 5 - The Downward Spiral of Sin

Monday, August 19, 2019

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation.  Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.  And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.”  God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else.   James 1:12-13

Temptation is the seed of sin, and Satan plants it.  We cannot control the thoughts that enter our minds.  However, as Martin Luther pointed out, though we cannot prevent the birds from circling over us, we can stop them from nesting in our hair!  Satan may plant the seed as a temptation; growing it to a bumper crop is our fault!
THE DIRECTION TEMPTATION TAKES TO BECOME SIN       
There are dozens of examples in the Bible of this pathway – however, David’s sin with Bathsheba is striking.  Let’s use that as our roadmap to compare it with what James is teaching us about the way sin defeats believers.
Desire (James 1:14)
Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 
David (2 Samuel 11) saw Bathsheba, a very beautiful, but married woman.  God created desire in us; it’s necessary that we be interested in the opposite sex if our species is to continue.  However, just like fire, which is a good thing – if you handle it in a way God didn’t intend, you will suffer the consequences.  Someone once said that lust is what develops with the second look.  First is desire, then…
Decision  (James 1:15a)  
These desires give birth to sinful actions.
Once the decision is made in the heart to abandon what is known to be right (that which is approved by God), the line is crossed between Satan’s work, and our receiving sin into our lives.  David saw Bathsheba, and it was only a temptation.  The minute he began inquiring about her, wanting her, (knowing she was married, and therefore outside of God’s approval), the desire was intensified to lust.  There is a play on words in this verse and verse 13 – desires is like the cravings of a pregnant woman.  They are exceedingly strong, as any husband and father who has ever made a 2am trip to WalMart for pickles can tell you!  A woman great with child can exert great control over a man of average intelligence and reasoning.  It is that way with our God-given desires.  If Satan places a temptation before you – something outside of God’s approval – and when you stay, lingering, wondering, the lure has a hook attached, and you are very close to being reeled-in!  The hand’s disobedience is only a thought removed from the heart’s disobeying!  Desire, Decision, then…
Disobedience (sinful actions)  
The word in this text for giving birth is actually a military word; it means take prisoner.  The long look created lust; the lust carries you away and you are its prisoner!  Satan’s work is successful.  He handed off the temptation, you accepted it, and are now running down the field.
Annie was our American Pit bulldog/lab mix.  She was only about 65 pounds, but when the bulldog mentality in her took over, she had the strength of Samson!  Our daughter Carrie and her husband Shannon had a young Rottweiler named Magnum who outweighed Annie by a ton and a half.  Once when Elizabeth and I stayed at their apartment to dog-sit, I was told to walk the dogs.  Just like an unsuspecting child, I accepted the leash from that temptress I’ve lived with for over 50 years.  Bulldog and bad-dog in tow, I never saw the lady coming, the one with the two Huskies, the ones Annie really didn’t like!  Magnum decided to join Annie’s attitude, and when they took off after them I was dragged along like a sack of dirty laundry.  I couldn’t have held them back with a brigade of Storm Troopers.  Now, the analogy is clear.  The leash was offered to me, and I accepted it.  But once I had the leash it was mine; or so I thought!  Sin is always like that.  You start off thinking, Man, this is great, I willthen, the hook sets, and you get dragged along; you get reeled in, scaled and cooked!  Desire, Decision, Disobedience, and…
Death!  James 1:15b   
And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. 
It’s the payoff!  The payoff for King David’s sexual affair was the blowing-apart of his family and the kingdom God entrusted to his leadership erupted in civil war.  The leash led him to places he never intended to go!  And we don’t have a leg to stand on either.  The Devil SUGGESTS sin; he cannot MAKE us sin; that is our choice.
For You Today
James has the last word: 

Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.  James 1:14-15(TMNT)

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
                          Unless otherwise noted, Scripture used from The New Living Translation©

Life Spinning on a Dime

·      The test the doctor gave you for AIDS or a myriad of diseases is positive
·      The extra in your pay envelope is a notice to clean out your locker
·      The drunk driver that hit your car head-on (coming close to making your husband a widower) has no insurance
·      You find out you should have read the fine print on that paper you signed
·      Your child announces he’s gay, and doesn’t believe in God
But that stuff is all hypothetical, right?  I mean, nobody here has had any of those problems…that stuff only happens to other people.  Except when it happens to you!  Life turns on a spinning dime all too often; Puerto Rico had three different governors last week and is now considering a fourth; their dime is whirling!
Ask the families of 29 people in Dayton and El Paso, or the families of nearly 3,000 who died in 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the families of countless soldiers who went marching off to war, but were carried back home.  Measles immunity is possible; all the other stuff is on the table, all the time.  Life turns, spinning on thin dime.
Life at the United Methodist Church charge of Mt. Zion and Pleasant Hill also spins regularly, like when the D.S. informs the PPRC Chair they will have a new pastor next year.  You hear all about the new guy and you’re just getting used to the idea of change, and the superintendent calls again to say he can’t come, so you’ll have the same old pastor.  Just when you were getting used to the idea of a break from Brownworth you’re back in the same old harness.  This is church life, itinerancy spinning on a thin dime; an ecclesiastical/denominational spinning dime! 
I can tell you it feels much the same from either side of the pulpit.  Whether it’s 60 people getting used to one new pastor, or a pastor’s family trying to get used to 60 new people, and a whole new town to live in, the spinning of the dime can cause a run on WalMart for Tums™ and Rolaids™.
What can ordinary people like us do when life comes at you this fast?  Let’s take a bit of wise advice from the war room…there are at least two certain things we can do; we can PRAISE THE LORD AND PASS THE AMMUNITION. 
Praise the Lord

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.  My victory and honor come from God alone.  He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.  Psalm 62:5-7

For those who are trusting in Christ, there is nothing which can touch our life.  Remember the song Martin Luther wrote:  A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  In the final verse it says, the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; his kingdom is forever.  Luther must have been reading Psalm 62 to pen those words…your life and whole eternity are untouchable by any earthly spinning dime.  Praise him!
Pass the Ammunition

Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.  Philippians 3:13b-14

What Paul said about pressing on is a matter of keeping your foot to the pedal in God’s Kingdom at whatever He’s called you to do and be.  He is the general; we are enlisted troops.  Life may spin on a dime at times, but your home is in the heavenlies, and you’re not there yet…so, press on!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…Amen!

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[i] Title Image Thanks to my dear and talented daughter and sister-in-Christ ,Jennifer Klim, original drawing by Illustrator.                                             All Scripture quoted is from The New Living Translation (unless otherwise stated) 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

James the Just - Part 4 - Advice to Both the Rich and Poor

Friday, August 16, 2019

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them.  They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away.  In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.  James 1:9-11

I have never been in danger of being included on the Forbes List of the richest people anywhere.  I was stationed at Fort Knox for the last six months of Army service, but I never even saw the gold (they never let you get too close!). 
On the other side of that coin I was born a citizen of the United States of America; that immediately placed me in a category of wealth compared to most of the world’s people.  Being a rich person is always relative based upon to whom you’re being compared.  Compare my bank account to a homeless man, and it appears I struck the mother lode; re-focus the comparison to Donald Trump or Warren Buffet, and that contest is a joke.
James says the poor are honored by God.  In our culture, with its emphasis on owning stuff and building a life on the stuff you can acquire, that is a startling statement.  But, startling statements are nothing new when you’re turning the pages of Holy Scripture. 
James started off his epistle talking about faith being tested with tough times, and he’s elaborating here on the wise exercise of faith.  The apostle says acting in faith means making decisions which affirm the fact that my relationship with God defines the meaning of my life, not the size of my portfolio.  Jesus nailed that down neatly for us:

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”   Then he told them a story:  “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops.  He said to himself, ‘What should I do?  I don’t have room for all my crops.’  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.  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!”’  “But God said to him, ‘You fool!  You will die this very night.  Then who will get everything you worked for?’  “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”  Luke 12:15-21

Besides building bigger barns, rich and poor alike have always tried to build bigger monuments to what they have done in life.  This, if you believe Solomon, is also vanity, or emptiness.  James says the achievements of which we boast will fade like our hairlines, waistlines, and lifelines.  I have read the stories of many rich people in history, including Hughes, Rockefeller, Gates, Jobs, Onassis, Kennedy, and even King Solomon.  Ultimately it is not the balance sheet that impresses me about any of them, but rather the faith that connects creature with Creator, and how it impacted what they did. 
Jesus didn’t own a thing.  Even the robe he wore got repossessed and became the prize in a dice game.  Jesus’ true legacy shows up in the hearts and decisions of millions of believers every day. 
For You Today
If you were the rich guy in Jesus’ story, would you have the wisdom James talks about to change the ending of that story?  And would you?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
                          Unless otherwise noted, Scripture used from The New Living Translation©

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

James the Just - Part 3 - When the Just Trust

Thursday, August 15, 2019

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.  Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.  James 1:5-8

There is a certain abandoning of ourselves – putting-aside our options when it comes to really trusting God.  The Lord is pleased to give us wisdom and all the help we need.  Did you know that God isn’t into making us guess; He wants us to have His wisdom.  The King James Version says God won’t upbraid when you ask for wisdom.  Literally translated from the language of the New Testament, that means God won’t make fun at you when you ask.  However, receiving that wisdom does come with a price.  If we are going to have His wisdom, we must trade in ours.  That means setting-aside our prerogatives and agenda, and being obedient to Him, because trusting God, is all about Christian (Christlike) living.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The personal cost of trading your wisdom for God’s is total trust; and THAT is no small price!  It’s easy to “trust in the Lord with all your heart” when everything’s going your way.  But there are times when things come unglued, and you want to fall back into a nice, safe, “hidey-place” all secure, safe, warm, and comfy. 
Now, some of us even get that way before our world comes apart.  For me, it’s the limbo place of not-knowing what’s coming; I just hate not knowing!  Just tell me it’s the worst…or the best; just don’t tell me to wait!
Many of you are aware that the throat cancer I went through two summers ago qualified me for Veteran’s Benefits.  It seems “Agent Orange” in Vietnam caught up with my vocal cords, and while I was going through 28 rounds of radiation we started receiving a temporary benefit until they could categorize my status.  Nearly a year went by and then Uncle Sam called me in for that evaluation.
I was nervous about the limbo of not knowing what they were going to say…maybe it would be that since the radiation worked, I don’t need a pension?  Or, were they going to open Uncle Sam’s arms and pocketbook, making my retirement plans a lot easier?  This is the kind of thing about which I normally obsess.  I go to sleep wondering.  I wake up every hour worrying and get up in the morning moody and distracted.  Oh, and by the way, that’s really good for a pastor who is supposed to be an encourager to the flock to have faith; cast all your cares on Him…take it to the cross and leave it there!
Well, here’s what happened.  I confessed my unbelief to God; I gave it to the Lord with a promise that I would take a deep breath and allow Him to take over my worries.  The appointment with the VA happened, and the doctor told me that since this type of cancer, caught this early, rarely returns, my disability had disappeared.  Now, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but you don’t have to have an interpreter for this one.  No disability means no pension…thank you for your service; you’re on your own!
After the appointment Elizabeth and I went to lunch at Panera Bread and thanked God for His kindness to us and how He has provided for us through the thick and thin of 5 decades of life together.  Now that doesn’t sound like the success story that usually goes along with a sermon; except for the fact that success is not to be found in having a pension or not having pension, easy retirement or pinching pennies.  Success in this answered prayer was that I didn’t think about the situation the rest of the afternoon and night.  In fact, I didn’t think about the pension or no pension thing until the next afternoon when I was trying to think deeply about what I’d tell the congregations I serve about trusting in the Lord.  That’s when it hit me square in my dull little mind that I had just lived what we all need to hear.  I trusted Him, and he overcame the biggest spiritual battle I ever have…my own lack of faith.  He gave me faith to rest in His promises!  So much better than any pension!
For You Today
Let’s let apostle Paul have the final word today:

 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6-7

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road; have a blessed day.

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[1] Title Image:  Courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons
                          Unless otherwise noted, Scripture used from The New Living Translation©