Monthly Archives: April 2015

Just Do What I Say

When you read the book of James you need to ask, “Who is this man named James?” He was the second born son to Mary and Joseph which means he was the younger half-brother of Jesus. Have you ever heard of the “second child syndrome?” James was probably known more as “Jesus’ brother” than just James. Sort of always existing within the shadow of the older sibling. So here was Jesus as the older brother who never sinned. But James did. James was born of a sin nature just like all of us and he was living in the shadow of a big brother who was God in the flesh. With his sin nature and being far from perfect, James had a built-in problem right from the start.

When Jesus left home James was probably happy to see Him leave home when He did. But then his “different” older brother came back to their town claiming to be the long awaited Messiah. How do you think James felt towards his older brother then? We don’t have to wonder. The Bible tells us His brothers didn’t believe Him. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5). The word there means “siblings.” It also says they thought He was crazy. “And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21).

Throughout Jesus’ ministry we see James in a state of unbelief and skepticism when it came to Jesus. But everything eventually changed for James. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:7 about Jesus appearing to James after His resurrection. When the disciples were gathered together in the upper room after Jesus’ resurrection James was there. “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (Acts 1:14). When Saul (who became Paul) came to know Christ as his Savior was finally accepted into the Church he tells us in Galatians 1:19 he sought out James.

James came to believe in Jesus as His personal Lord and Savior after his brother had died, was buried, resurrected and ascended. In AD 49 James went on to write the very first book of the New Testament. This book we call James is a very short but practical manual on Christian living. The theme of the book of James is “putting feet to your faith.” The main idea throughout the book of James  is . . . Take the faith on the inside and display it on the outside! Your inside must match the outside.

Think about the difference between a Hershey’s Kiss and a Reese’s Cup.  I will admit that my favorite of the two is definitely Reese’s Cup . . . I love peanut butter! But spiritually that is not the right answer. The right answer spiritually is Hershey’s Kiss. Spiritually speaking what is inside must match the outside. You must allow God’s Word to change you on the inside. Make that change obvious on the outside by how you live, what you say, what you think and what you do. You must live what you say you believe!

James was writing to a very specific group. “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.” (James 1:1). The Jews had been dispersed or scattered at this time due to various persecutions from the Roman government. They had established Jewish communities throughout the Roman world and many of these Christians had even been kicked out of their own communities because of their faith in Jesus as their Savior. These hurting and persecuted believers were the ones James was writing to. That is why he penned a letter to them about how to live an authentic faith in a hostile world. As you read through the book of James, you need to always be asking yourself, “How can I internalize what I see here and let others see it in me?”

If you have your Bibles turn with me to James 1. We are going to begin in James 1:19. You can tell James is writing to believers when he says, “19 Know this, my beloved brothers . . .” (James 1:19). He is acknowledging that they already know what he is about to say. He is basically saying, “I know you are aware of what I am about to say, but you need to hear it again. You need to review and revisit some of the basics.” He is giving them a reminder but he is also giving them a rebuke. In telling them to remember he is also telling them they have forgotten.

This entire section is about how we receive and respond to God’s Word. His first reminder of how to approach God’s Word is Be Humble. “19 . . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (James 1:19). “Quick to hear” (James 1:19) is basically saying, “Hurry up and listen.” Hidden within this word for “hear” is the thought of genuinely receiving the Word. It is listening with the intention of learning and obeying. “Slow to speak” (James 1:19) is another way of telling us to be quiet. Be humble as you approach the Word. “Slow to anger” (James 1:19) means don’t come with your defenses up because all that does is lead you to anger and resistance to God’s Word.

James knows so often we approach God’s Word talking and not listening. So often we come to God’s Word thinking, “Here is what I want it to say.” We are looking more for justification than modification! We prefer justification because that speaks to our pride and doesn’t hurt like modification. Modification always calls for change and adjustment and those can be painful and we are made to avoid pain. “20 . . . for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20). If we don’t come to God’s Word humbly listening and being quiet, we are like people who are in an argument. Anger is all based on raw emotion and blocks your ability to be rational. Now be honest, most of the time when you are in an argument instead of listening to each other, you are consumed with formulating your next response.

Then James says Be Repentant. Be willing to get rid of anything and everything in your life that is not of God. “21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21). When he speaks about “filthiness and rampant wickedness” (James 1:21) it is talking about all of our sinful and selfish desires. The only way we can truly receive God’s Word is to first get rid of all the sinful stuff we tend to hold onto. “Putting away” (James 1:21) is literally the idea of “taking off a garment.”

Many of our ideas and habits from the world confront and contradict God’s Word. The Word thinks so much differently from the world. “Filthiness” (James 1:21) in life plugs your hearing like wax in your ears. Like your air filter that is completely clogged with dust and debris. “Wickedness” (James 1:21) slows down your response time. All of this can lead to pride that will keep you from exposing your true selves to the light of God’s Word. But humility allows you to submit to whatever the Word tells you. Humility is the only right response. Humility is being ready to put aside all the thoughts and actions of your sin nature and enthusiastically embracing the attitudes and actions of your new nature in Christ.

After you have shown true humility and a repentant spirit, then James says Be Eager. “Receive” (James 1:21) here in James has the idea of eagerness. It’s the image of the person who can’t wait and can’t get enough of God’s Word. This person craves it and knows he can’t live without it. It’s like with your favorite meal or favorite dessert. You always want it and you can never get enough of it. For me it’s the old-fashioned banana pudding. As soon as somebody mentions it, my mouth begins to water and I could eat the whole thing.

Peter illustrates this when he compares us to newborn babies. “2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” (1 Peter 2:2-3). Babies are quick to let you know when they are hungry. They love to eat and can’t seem to get enough. We should be the same way with God. We should love God’s Word and always feel like we can never get enough. The question is, “Do you value Scripture?” Do you value it more than you value your reality TV shows, your songs downloaded from iTunes, your favorite sports teams, etc.? The definition of value is what you crave and desire more than anything in the world.

After James reminds us how to approach God’s Word then he gets to the main idea of the entire book . . . Take faith that has changed you on the inside and show it on the outside. Put feet to your faith! He reminds us to Be A Doer. “22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22). Do you want to know what you really believe? Look at your behavior, your lifestyle, your language, your desires, your actions, your reactions, etc. These are a true indicator to what you believe. We hear a lot of stuff but we will only act on what we truly believe in. So, you want to know what you believe? Then, how do you act?

There is so much we have heard and probably a lot we can even quote from memory, but has it changed how we live? For many Christians God’s Word fails to make it from their head into their heart! A.W. Tozer said, “An intelligent observer of our human scene who heard the Sunday morning sermon and later watched the Sunday afternoon conduct of those who heard it would conclude that he has been examining two distinct and contrary religions. It appears that too many Christians want to enjoy the thrill of feeling right but are not willing to endure the inconvenience of being right.” James is telling us if we have heard God’s Word but are not living according to it we are fooling ourselves.

The bottom line is the Word always produces and demands action. If there is no action from the Word, then there has been no acceptance of the Word. James goes on to illustrate it. “23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.” (James 1:23-24). Mirrors back then were not like today’s glass mirrors. They were polished metal of bronze, silver or gold. But they did enable them to get a good look at themselves. When he says “his natural face” it means “the heart of our birth.” In other words you are looking into God’s Word and the reflection you see is your sin nature. You see yourselves for what you really are.

This is not a casual, passing glance. But he says he, “looks intently” (James 1:23). It is an attentive look and a scrutinizing look. It is the idea of critically analyzing it and studying it. As they say, “the mirror doesn’t lie.” This person sees it all but rather than deal with it and change what they see, they walk away. Whether out of fear, stubbornness, pride or laziness or whatever they choose to ignore what they saw and do nothing. You see it, you acknowledge it, you know things need to change but you choose to be disobedient.

When God’s Word confronts, challenges and convicts we put it aside and forget it refusing to put it into action. We choose not to put forth the effort to change. It’s the principle of Conforming vs. Transforming in Romans 12. “2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). Conformity is a process that means “fitting into a mold.”

It is allowing outside forces to shape you. Like when you take Play Dough and make it into something. Transformation is a process that takes place from the inside out. That “implanted word” (James 1:21) inside of you pushes out against those outside conforming pressures of the world and transforms you into what God wants you to be. If you have accepted Jesus, you will obey Jesus!

Remember the guy in our video today? You need to see both what you actually are, what God wants you to be, and be willing do something about it. “25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25). The “perfect law” (James 1:25) is God’s complete, inerrant, infallible Word from Genesis to Revelation. “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Being a doer means when you are confronted, challenged and convicted by God’s Word you submit to it and choose to change.

James says the way to blessing is by doing. “25 . . . but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25). Often we say Jesus loves you just the way you are and He loves you no matter what you do. When it comes to Jesus saving you from your sins and loving you when you have nothing in you to deserve this love is very true. But Jesus also requires obedience. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” (John 14:23). And, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14). The result of that obedience is blessing. This is not a “name it and claim it” kind of material blessing. It is the promise that if you are a doer and act on what Jesus shows you, you will be genuinely happy doing what is right.

The question is, “Are you just a hearer or are you a hearer and a doer?
When you look in the mirror of God’s Word, what do you see?
When you see what you see, what do you do?
Do you ignore what you have seen and continue just like you are?
When it comes to God’s Word, do you just hear it?
Or, do you take action and do something about it?

Maybe God has shown you something from His Word in the past. And because of your unwillingness to change, you walked away ignoring what He showed you. Maybe God is showing you something today? Are you taking what is on the inside and showing it on the outside? Are you putting feet to your faith?

This Changes Everything

Have you ever had one of those special days that had lots of anticipation, excitement and build up to it? You just couldn’t wait for it to get here! Last day of school . . . Vacation or Trip like Disney World, Cruise, etc. . . . Graduation . . . Prom . . . Wedding Day . . . Birth of a Child . . . First Job . . . Career Change . . . etc. Today is one of those days. Easter is the most anticipated, most exciting day in the life of a Christ-follower. Without a victorious and resurrected Savior there is no Easter. Without Easter and an empty tomb there simply is nothing known as the Christian faith!

Have you ever heard the phrase, “That is a Game Changer!” A game changer is something that radically changes the way things were going before that something happened. Easter is a Game Changer! Easter is one of those days that changes everything! All the great religions of the world, apart from Christianity are about “Do.” “Do this and you might go to heaven,” “Do that and you might find nirvana,” and so on. Christianity is all about “Done.” God has taken care of your salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He cried out, “It is finished!” He purchased your ticket to heaven at the cross. He finished the process when He rose from the grave to show us He has won and is not defeated by death.

Go to the grave of any other leader of any other world religion and you will find the remains of a dead body. With Christianity we find an empty tomb! Easter gives us hope in the face of despair. It gives us victory in the face of defeat. It gives us power in the face of powerlessness. Easter changes everything! When we go back to that first Easter morning what Jesus’ followers experienced at the empty tomb set in motion changes within them that would forever change the world around them.

Right after the crucifixion the disciples were all huddled together behind locked doors hiding afraid they might be next on the list to be crucified. What they saw that morning transformed them into men and women who were not afraid. They were unashamed from that point forward to proclaim their faith in Jesus. An example of this transformation is Peter and John later in the book of Acts. “13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. . . . 19 But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.’” (Acts 4:13,19-20).

On that first Easter morning there were several of Jesus’ followers who ventured out of their self-imposed prison to visit His tomb. In John’s biography, he lists Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. What they saw that morning set in motion a life transformation that would transform the world forever. We call it the empty tomb! Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty.  There were things in there that were proof Jesus had risen from the grave.

There were other women who went to the tomb that day but Mary Magdalene is the one John lists because she was the first to get there. It says she went “while it was still dark.”( John 20:1). This means she was there between 3:00am and 6:00am. There was a reason Mary was so eager to go to Jesus’ tomb. Jesus said the person who has been forgive much will love much. Mary had been forgiven of a lot. Mary Magdalene was also known as “Mary of Magdala.” She was the Mary in Luke 8 who was tormented by demons and Jesus was the only one who could and did set her free.

When Mary arrived at the tomb she saw the stone had been rolled away and she obviously thought of the obvious. She made an assumption based on the external evidence. Assumption is the tone of voice you put to an e-mail or text that might or might not be true. Assumption is the motive you attach to someone’s silence . . . “They didn’t call me back or write me back.” An assumption is where we take a few facts and fill in the blanks. She saw the stone rolled away so she immediately thought Jesus’ body had been stolen.

She said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” (John 20:2). She says, “They” (John 20:2). Who is the “they” she is talking about? We really don’t know but it’s probably like when you say, “Well, you know they say . . .” She probably didn’t know the “they.” But she did know people who had it out for Jesus like the Pharisees, Romans, etc. Basically she is forming an opinion. Mary is saying, “Based on what I see I know what has happened. They have stolen His body.”

Grave robbing back then was a common crime. It had become so common that Emperor Claudius made a law of capital punishment for anyone caught robbing a grave. If a grave was robbed . . . If a body was moved . . . If a stone meant to seal the tomb had been moved it was capital punishment. Mary comes, she sees and she assumes. She is connecting the dots, but she is totally wrong.  In her panicked and emotional state she runs to find the disciples to tell them what she has seen.  Peter and John don’t waste any time. They fly out the door running toward the tomb. “The other disciple” (John 20:4) is John’s way of talking about himself in second person. I think it is funny that John mentions himself as the “other disciple” beating Peter to the tomb. Why would John mention this? Just so he would be known throughout history as the one who beat Peter. “I beat Peter! I beat Peter!” Maybe but I really don’t think so.

I do think I know why John might have beat Peter to the tomb. Peter was loaded down with guilt at this point. Since the last time Jesus and Peter were together Peter had denied Jesus. Even though he told Jesus, “I will never deny you,” he denied him three times. Peter has mixed emotions about going to the tomb. He wants to go but yet he doesn’t want to go. His emotions are all over the place right now.

When they finally get to the tomb look at the different responses.  Mary looks at the situation and makes the wrong assumption He has been stolen. Peter looks inside the tomb and is puzzled by everything. John looks inside the tomb and based on what is there it says, “he saw and believed.” (John 20:8).

In the English it says several times they “saw.” But there are different words used for this word in the Greek. When Mary saw and John saw but didn’t go inside in John 20:1 and John 20:5 it is a word that means “take note of.” In John 20:6 when it says Peter saw it means “to study because something unusual has caught your attention.” When John goes inside the tomb and “saw” in John 20:8 it means “to see with understanding and comprehension.” John looked at what was in the tomb and it all made sense to him. He looked at the evidence and said, “It all makes sense. There must have been a resurrection. I believe.”

I said earlier Jesus had resurrected and He wasn’t in the tomb but the tomb wasn’t totally empty. So what was in the tomb? What was it that they saw inside the tomb that caused John to believe? “6 He saw the linen cloths lying there, 7 and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:6-7). Literally, he saw the linen cloths lying in their folds undisturbed and in order. They were not in disarray or piled up. They were neat and orderly just like when the body was in them . . . but the body was gone!

What would we have seen if we had been there at the moment Jesus was raised from the dead? What we would not have seen is this. We would not have seen Jesus open his eyes, sit up and begin to struggle out of the cloths. That would have been a resuscitation and not a resurrection. That would have been as if he had recovered from a “swoon”. Some people have falsely put out there what is called the “swoon theory.” It means that Jesus really didn’t die on the cross. He “swooned” or “passed out” just giving the appearance that He had died.

Then when He was put in that cold tomb, He was shocked back to life. Think about how much that doesn’t make sense. Beaten like He was beyond recognition, nailed to the cross, having a spear thrust into His side, taken off the cross after all that time and wrapped up in all that cloth like a mummy. Then Jesus would have the strength to break free from all the linen cloths and roll the stone away from the entrance. Sound logical?

It simply doesn’t make sense but what John saw showed him that Jesus did resurrect from the grave! It showed him that Jesus’ body wasn’t stolen. Something about the grave cloths drew John’s attention. First of all, they were all there. Because what grave robbers would steal the body without the linen cloths? They would steal the body and if they wanted to they would ditch the clothes somewhere else.

Also, the clothes were undisturbed. The word John uses is a word used to describe things that are carefully placed in order. John noticed there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Also, had it even been possible they would have thrown the grave clothes into a pile in the corner. They would not and could not have kept them intact like John saw them.

One glance at these grave clothes was proof to John that there had been a miraculous resurrection. It wasn’t a stolen body and not a “swooned” resuscitation. It was a resurrection! What you would have seen that morning had you been in the tomb at the very moment Jesus resurrected from the grave would have been this. It would have been almost like His body being vaporized and transformed into something new, different and wonderful! Jesus passed through those grave clothes like He would eventually pass through walls and closed doors. What the disciples saw was everything in order, but the body was gone. Jesus was resurrected in a resurrected body!

John would have probably explained it all to everybody else like this, “Don’t you see? No one has move the body or disturbed the grave clothes. They are lying there exactly like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea left them on the eve of the Sabbath. But the body is gone. It has not been stolen. It has not been moved. Clearly His body must have passed through the cloths to leave them like they are now. Jesus has definitely risen!”

One of the last verses in this passage can be confusing. it says earlier that John believed. Then you read where it says they did not understand the Scripture. “9 . . . for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.” (John 20:9). In that moment they knew the stone was rolled away. They knew the tomb was empty of a body. They knew the grave clothes and face cloth was still there intact and orderly just like they had been with His body inside. At that moment what they believed was based on their experience. But when John is writing all this he then knew the Scripture and was able to put it all together.

Look At The Evidence. During that first Easter morning and ever since that day Christianity finds itself “on trial.” As with any case when it goes to court, the evidence is presented, testimony is given and a verdict is given. The first disciples found the evidence. Jesus’ body was obviously gone but the grave clothes were undisturbed. The face cloth had been carefully folded by itself. It stands to reason the body had not been stolen because the grave clothes would not be left undisturbed. After all He had been through Jesus didn’t just “swoon” or “pass out” and then wake. Besides that He couldn’t have pushed the grave stone from the opening.

Once you look at the evidence then Let It Change You. From that point forward you have followers who were cowards become bold in their faith. After what they had seen, experienced and put together with Scripture, they were forever changed. So much so that they were willing to face beatings, torture, and even die as martyrs for what they “had seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20). I ask you, “Who would die for a lie?” People will not die for a lie, but people will die for conviction and truth! I would not die for a lie, but I will die for a truth that has changed my life forever!

Just like the disciples that first morning we have all come to an empty tomb today. Maybe you came out of curiosity. Maybe it’s skepticism that brought you here. Maybe guilt drove you here. Maybe emptiness motivated you to come and check all this out. Maybe it was belief that got you here. Whatever the reason, you are here! That is why you came. We have the evidence.  We have the eyewitnesses giving testimony.  We have the changed lives of the disciples that transformed them and motivated them to sacrifice their lives.  The question that remains is, “How are you going to leave?”
Are you going to leave still checking it out?
Are you going to leave believing?
Are you going to leave convinced and changed?
Are you going to leave unashamed and ready to share?