Tuesday, November 21, 2017

NOVEMBER 21 "CLASS WARFARE IS UGLY!"

There’s no denying, James is not that fond of “rich people”.  If it was only this reference in Chapter 5, that would be bad enough, but James has taken jabs at the rich in other chapters as well. No doubt, James did not grow up with affluence of any kind. We know from the Gospels that Joseph and Mary (James’ parents) were poor. Historians believe that Joseph died at an early age, as he is not mentioned in the Gospels; except in the early stages of Jesus’ life. Now with Joseph dead, James & Jesus (step brothers) probably had to work that much harder to make ends meet at home. Jesus himself takes a jab at rich people saying, “it is easier for a camel to get through the eye of an needle than for a rich person to get into heaven”.  I’m sure in the Church of Jerusalem where James was an elder, there were not many affluent people in that congregation. However we cannot deny that it was Joseph of Arimathea, an affluent man, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin that God used to purchase the burial place for Jesus. Mathew calls Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man. The tomb Joseph purchased was so large that a huge boulder had to be rolled in front of the entry and guards placed at the door to prevent anyone from stealing Jesus’ body. This was by no means, a poor burial. The rich young ruler Jesus did try to call to follow him, failed. However, Zacchaeus was also wealthy (though it was gained unrighteously) and he did follow Jesus.  Interesting though, that although most that followed Jesus were poor, they were not lazy non working men, they were all working men. Jesus never called one disciple to follow him that was not a “working man”. If you were to categorize my income by any economic census, I would be considered poor.  But yet I have always worked a job, as long as I can remember. Christians tend to think that if they go into an impoverished area of town, where everyone is on welfare; and preach the Gospel “to the poor”, that there is going to be an overwhelming response.  You may have a response, but it will not be for Jesus, it will be for handouts. It would be good for us to understand that being poor is not an automatic ticket into Heaven.  And we would do well to also understand, that neither is being rich an automatic refusal into Heaven.  I could write, as James wrote, just as many ugly comments about my experience in working with  “the poor” over the years, as James writes about his experience with  “the rich.”  Some of the poor people I’ve worked with used me, drained me of my money, my time, my vehicles, everything I had, they drained me and the church for all that it was worth and the one time they were ever told “no” that was their marching orders to move on to the next welfare program. All I was to them was another welfare program and because I was a Christian it was my duty to help them. All the while they never gave a dime to the church, never helped in anyway; they took, took, took, and never gave and then left. It is true that affluent, rich people, are hard to reach and are often very arrogant about their success and often do mock the Gospel and accuse Christians of just needing “a crutch”.
I have worked around people (because of my profession) like this for many, many years.  I don’t know how a rich Christian is to respond to James’ epistle, as he/she sits down to read his epistle. He/she might take offense to it. He or she might feel that James is being unfair or resents rich people. Is there anyone wealthy and/or rich that is reading this today? I think the best we can try to do is not categorize people and/or allow people do create social class wars. I have been equally blessed by well to do family’s in the church, in times of financial need, as I have been placed by middle class or poor, by their Fellowship and strong faith. Are the rich hard to reach? Yes, but so are the poor. God will bring the poor and the rich into the church and encourage them to live in harmony and not allow social classes and prejudice to divide. Each social class has their own unique (and sometimes not so unique) characteristic flaws that they must overcome, now that they have been called into the body of Christ. Don’t’ hate the rich because they are rich and don’t’ look down on the poor because they are poor. It is our duty to be no respecter of persons and not give preferential treatment to one or the other. Am I saying that James is wrong, about what he writes in his Epistle? Of course not, all scripture is God breathed and inspired by the Holy Spirit. All I'm trying to do is bring a balance, that if you were to just open your bible up to James Chapter 5, you might not get. God's not trying to get us to "hate the rich', that's class warfare and it's ugly, He is simply trying to give us perspective, which I hope you got today!

Monday, November 20, 2017

NOVEMBER 20 "DIVIDED LOYALTIES..."

James today follows up on his theme in Chapter 2 that he was touching on; he comes right out and says it now in Ch. 4, "purify your hearts for you loyalties are divided between God and the World". Loyalty is a virtue of a by-gone era. Our kids are raised watching professional athletes run from one team to another, it's all about the mighty dollar, there is no loyalty. These athletes have no loyalty to any team or any city. It's all about "me". You bring that mind set into the Church or into your Christianity, and it's a nightmare. It goes against the very grain of Christian ethics, that teaches us to "do all things without selfish ambition, but rather considering others more than ourselves". Churches today are so desperate for parishioners that we put up with this quasi Christian that is coming out, but yet Joshua confronted them and told them, "if it's to difficult to serve the Lord, make a decision today whom you will serve."  The Philistines kicked the great warrior David off the battle field because they believed he had divided loyalties. They knew David would be unreliable on the battlefield with divided loyalties between Israel and the Philistines. People with divided loyalties are definitely unreliable and unfaithful. Proverbs warns us that relying on them is like relying on a broken tooth or foot out of joint. A gentleman in our church was recently sharing that his company  has a clause that states if they are caught drinking beverages by the competitor, that they will be released from the Company. Their standard is, "If you work here, we expect that if you entertain at your home, you will be serving our companies products at best, but at least, definitely not serving the products of the competitor." They demand loyalty from their employees and are not ashamed to do so. Nobody is more despised in politics than "moderates". These are politicians that are not Conservative, but neither are they Liberals. Politicians on either side would say, "stop being so double minded, make a stand for something!". Jesus also makes mention of this in Revelations, "I'd rather you either be hot or cold". We are seriously irritated by people who just want to be "middle of the road" and apparently so is God, "because you are neither, I will spit you out of my mouth".  Moses did not try to keep his spot as Prince of Egypt and also try to function as a helper for Israel. The book of Hebrews tells us that Moses forsook the fleeting pleasure of sin that he had being the Prince of Egypt, to be associated with the People of God. Moses knew better than to try to play both sides of the fence. The irony of all this is that people who try to be moderate, or middle of the road are only doing it because they think it's the perfect compromise and will bring them the greatest joy, but ironically enough, they are the most miserable. People, Christians that have the most peace & joy are those that have made a resolute decision about whom they serve, what they believe and what church they are going to be loyal too, in the end, James, Jesus and Joshua all say, "this will be the best decision you can make, not only for you, but for those around you". How embarrassing it was, for David, such a great warrior as he was acclaimed to be, to be sent off the battlefield. And how embarrassing it will be to us,  who have undivided loyalties when we are left out of the equation, when our Church and/or our God is looking for someone to include, someone to get involved, someone to help, we will wonder and be embarrassed, at how often we are left out of the equation or even asked not to participate, but this will be your lot, as it was David's, until you make a resolute decision as to whom and what, you want to be loyal too.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

NOVEMBER 19 "PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH"

Sometimes I blame it on the State I live in....Texas!.  It is the Bible Belt of the southwest.  I came here with a preconceived notion that people would be terribly religious, everyone would claim to "know the Lord", but would they live it? I blamed it on the South West Bible belt, but as I read what James has to write in his Epistle, it makes me realize, this is a very long standing issue and has nothing to do with a particular state and/or country. According to James, over 2000 years ago, this was an issue and James was not living in Texas; America did not even exist, but yet James is having to address people who claim to be pious and religious folks, but don't have the actions and character to back it up. James mentions folks praising God and then turning around and cursing somebody. He mentions lots of talk of faith, with little action. He mentions people who can't or don't control what they say. He mentions people who hear sermons, but don't do what the sermons say. This describes the church in Texas. But then again, that's not fair. It describes the church in South Africa, it describes the church in California, it describes the church in Nebraska, Tennessee, it describes the church everywhere, not just one particular state or region (ie: the midwest).  We blame it on Catholics or Methodists or Anglicans or whomever, but it's everyone! It's Born Agains, Evangelical Christians too, it's Pentecostals, it's Baptists, it's all across the board. All denominations are guilty of having members that are not living how they should as Christians. I have heard Born Again Christians cuss, I have known Pentecostal Christians to look at porn, I have known Baptists to drink and cuss and smoke. It's unfortunate, but it is true. I would like to assume, that because James is writing the Epistle, he does not live his Christian life this way. I would like to assume, that because Paul wrote the letters to the church at Corinth, that he does not live his Christian life like they did. We can spend our days scratching our heads wondering why people who are Born Again, live and act like this? They hear the same sermons, read the same bible and some of them go to the same church, we just don't know. All we can do is not be one of them! All we can do is not be the type of Christian that prompts these kind of letters or the ones the Paul had to write. We can be an example, as Paul said he was, of what it is to be a Christian, Paul wrote, "follow my example as I follow Christ". If we have any opportunity to speak, speak, if we have an opportunity to preach, preach, if we have an opportunity to write, write, but above all, live it! You may never have an open forum in the sense of crowds, but you everyday have an opportunity to live it. As one man wrote, "the best sermon I ever saw my dad preach, was the one he lived!"

Saturday, November 18, 2017

NOVEMBER 18 "GOT PEOPLE SKILLS??"

It seems like brother James is trying to school us in some “good ‘ol fashion people skills”.  Simple gestures like not to show partiality, show mercy to one another and that “love” covers a multitude of sins. We know that according to scripture, “God has ordained that we be fruitful”, so then why are we often, not fruitful? James helps us to understand that if we want to be fruitful, there may be more to it than praying, “Lord make me fruitful, make my church fruitful”.  It’s not like a “super power” that you just miraculously get endowed with. Fruitfulness will not be the result of something you “just get”, but it will be a result of how you treat people. Obviously James has seen this in the Church, as one of the Elders in the Church of Jerusalem.  He has seen preferential treatment being giving to one Christian as opposed to another, he has seen lack of mercy in the dealing with each other and he has seen people holding grudges for past sins. “Love covers a multitude of sins” folks!  I know that we see and read about the mega churches, but the reason these churches are a phenomenon to us is simply because of that, they are a phenomenon!!!  Most churches are not satisfied with the amount of growth. Statistics show most churches in America are either stagnated in growth or declining. I know my family often talks to me in ways that I would not appreciate, someone talking to me, that was not part of my  “family”.  Can it be that as churches we become to familiar with one another and when a new member comes in we forget he/she is new and we cannot just be crude, rude, insensitive, cold as we often are with each other! Jesus is quoted as saying to the Father, “none that you have given me have I lost”.  It would have been nonsensical to make such a statement if there wasn’t the possibility of losing fruit, which the God brings in to our lives and Churches.  If we will take heed to James’ educational epistle here on how to deal and work with people, we might find ourselves more fruitful as individuals and as a Church. We might want to try changing our prayer from “Lord give me fruit lest I die” to “Lord help me to hold on to the fruit that you bring me, Lord help me to retain and not chase away those you bring my way, Lord help me to develop some people skills so I can be fruitful”.  James teaches us today, that fruitful, often times is a whole lot more practical than we seem to think, James learned from the best, his brother was Jesus so we might want to take heed to his words today!

Friday, November 17, 2017

NOVEMBER 17 "BI-POLAR CHRISTIAN ARE YOU?"

 We read today about a “double minded man”.  A divided man, or woman, you know…can’t make up his mind what he wants, she has divided loyalties, divided affections and divided interests which lead to divided and unstable commitments. I think I know a few of these people. If we like to throw around the term “bi-polar” then let’s do it! They are bi-polar Christians, bi-polar in attendance, bi-polar in commitments and as we rack our heads trying to figure them out, what makes them tick, what makes them so fleeting and unpredictable we just cannot figure it out. James give us insight that what we are dealing with is an individual with divided loyalties.  Joshua says, “stop wavering, make a decision today” David is not allowed to fight with the Philistines, they tell him to go back, David is accused of having divided loyalties (which David had whether he realized it or not). We can live in a Country, be in a Faith, attend a Congregation, each Sunday, faithfully, but have divided loyalties.  Divided Loyalties will get you killed. Some of these journalists that are being caught and beheaded in the Middle East, ironically enough are Muslim sympathizers. They are American, but have divided loyalties. I didn’t’ say they were Muslims, I said they were “Muslim sympathizers” in other words, I am of Judea-Christian belief, I am American, but just because they are not; and they are Muslim, doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong.  If I go there and let them see that I am not this harsh, arrogant American, John Wayne, “It’s my way or it’s the high way” they will see that I am a sympathizer and we can be in harmony” The reality is, no they won’t! We have seen first hand that what they will do is capture you and behead you. Why? Because they don’t have divided loyalties. Our scripture today says, “let not ANY double minded man think that he will receive anything from the Lord.”  Joshua says, “make up your mind today who you want to serve”.  Jesus in Revelations says, “be hot or cold” same message, make a decision! The bible is filled with the idea of not being double minded, but rather to be resolute, committed and sure of where you stand and what you believe. In politics nobody is despised more than “moderates”. The Conservatives can’t stand them and the Liberals can’t stand. Each party will say, “Stop being a coward and choose a side!!!”.  One thing we can respect about Islamic Extremists (okay, I respect nothing about Islamic Extremist, but for the purpose of my argument…) is that they know what side they’re on and they are sold out for the cause. Are we sold out for the cause or is our Christianity simply “the soup de jour”. A moderate politician I can tell you will never get anywhere and certainly will never get elected into office.  James tells us neither will the “moderate Christian” get anywhere. James, Jesus and Joshua, the 3  J’s all tell us, make a decision what it is you want because until you make that decision, you’re wasting everyone’s time, effort and energies and you yourself are going nowhere, make a decision today, be hot or cold!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

NOVEMBER 16 "YOU'RE JUST ENTERTAINMENT TO THEM"

This is the scripture preachers don't like to read. Every time I read it it leaves me a little unsettled. To think of myself as nothing more than mere entertainment for parishioners is not comforting, in the least. But the reality is, for many Americans, Sunday church attendance is a form of a religious, habitual ritual for many. You get up, put on your best dress, show up to church, it's very social, mingle a little, listen to the sermon (with half our minds on something else) then mingle a little more, go out to lunch and then head home and begin to wind down for the evening. The idea that your sermon is going the be the very spiritual breath in their lungs and change their course, catapult them forward is perhaps naive or overly optimistic. However, this is how the true preacher feels about his sermon. He studies, prays and tries to get the mind of Christ for that service believing that his sermon can make a difference in someone's life. God is really bursting that bubble in this text. God straight out tells Ezekiel, "they have no plans on doing a thing you are saying". Huh? Can be the response to the preacher who first hears this from God. While God has never told me that, I have read it in this passage many times, I have also read it in the Epistle of James "to be doers of the Word and not hearers only" and I have seen it with my own two eyes and experienced it with my church. So what do you do? Some get cynical and stop putting forth the effort in their sermon preparation, others just grab sermons off the internet and last, some get discouraged and just quit the ministry all together. I think as congregation members we must read this passage, check ourselves and ask the probing question, " is this me in this passage, would God include me in this bunch of people, has church become no more than just a religious, habitual ritual for me? Am I still going to hear from God or is it more about socializing, dressing up, seeing my friends, getting out of the house and getting some fellowship?" For the preacher, we must guard our hearts from becoming cynical, as it is very easy to do so. And we must continue to believe in our purpose and in the power of a sermon to help and perhaps, change someone's life.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

NOVEMBER 15 "DON'T DO IT!!!"

     THE most disobeyed thought that comes to our minds, more often than we would care to admit is, "Don't do it!"  How many times have you and I heard that voice and ignored it.  When I am angry....I'm not listening to that voice.  When I am filled with lust...I am not listening to that voice.  When I am filled with "my way"....I am not listening to that voice. When "I'm tired" I'm not listening to that voice. Isn't that dangerous?!  In the times when I need to listen to that voice the most, my feelings override every other faculty of the mind.  Don't do it! This thought, may even be screaming to some that are reading this blog today.  Everything I feel, everything I sense, everything within me (except for that thought) is urging and pressing me to doing this.  I'm tired, I'm fed up.  I'm tired of being broke, I'm tired of not having enough, I'm tired....I'm tired, I'm tired....and yet the answer is the same, Don't do it! 
     People do not rob banks because they are rich.  Most people who steal, don't steal because they have plenty, most people who do drugs don't do drugs because they are filled with joy.  Most people who get drunk don't get drunk because life is going great.  Most men who cheat don't cheat because things are going great at home.  In almost ALL cases where we are about to do something we are going to regret, we do them not because things are going well, but because we are in a crisis, but yet, God will always whisper to you, Don't do it!  And our answer back to God would be, "why not, why not!" And God's answer would be, "because you are going to regret it".  We have to be able to endure hard times, we have to be able to endure suffering.  As a good soldier (prisoner of war) is expected not to give in and give up key combatant information, but suffer torture, so is the Christian Soldier expected to suffer and not give in.  "Suffer", the Apostle Paul says.  "Suffer as a good and faithful soldier".  "I'm hungry, I'm tired, I'm broke",  Paul would say, "suffer through" don't do anything haste, it will pass.  I've lived through some excruciating pain in my life and also lived through some excruciating depression and it would have been nice just to die in those times, but I am glad I didn't because the pain passed, as bad as it was, and the depression broke, as dark as it was.  Elijah also cried out to God to let him die, but God did not grant him that request.
     We must be tough enough to suffer and not take action.  Esau reflects the opposite of all I've written.
What we think of Esau's predicament, doesn't matter.  In Esau's mind he was desperate and he was tired.  Everything within him urged him to get what he was lusting after.  Did Esau have that still small voice in the back of his mind saying, Don't do it!  Of course he did!  Endure for now, suffer through it.....would have been the right thing and why?  The reason why is because later he would regret it and later so will you regret it.  In the book of Hebrews today we read, 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done."  Remember that word....."afterward".  When you go ahead and do, what that still small voice said "not to do", there will always be an afterward that you will have to face and that day will seem and feel worse than the day you felt, you had no choice but "to do it".   Our text says "tears" could not change what Esau had done.  Regret, could not change what Esau had done.  Our text makes it clear, nothing could change the decision Esau made that day.  This is why, whenever we hear that voice whispering "don't do it" that we don't.  No matter how hard things are, no matter how much we are suffering, we must endure and not do anything haste, especially when we know better because there will always be an afterward, that is filled with tears and regret, but tears and regret, will not change, what you have brought into being, by ignoring, God's still small voice and council.  Today, if you are on the edge, you're on the brink, you're tired and ready to react, give in, do something that you know you shouldn't do, take heed to God's voice that speaks in your conscience, "don't do it" if not for the sake of simply obeying God, than at least for your own sake because you will regret it if you do and you will shed tears afterward, but you won't be able to reverse what you've done. Endure for just a little longer, pray a little harder and the cloud will pass, TRUST GOD.