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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Guest Blog - Lifted Up: Embracing Jesus' Sacrifice for Eternal Life by Noah Hunt

This past Sunday, we were blessed to have guest speaker Noah Hunt deliver a powerful sermon at Pleasant Grove Methodist Church. Noah's message, centered on John 3:14-18, beautifully illustrated the profound connection between Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness and Jesus being lifted on the cross for our salvation. For those who couldn't be with us or who wish to revisit Noah's insightful words, here is a summary of his sermon.

If you have a Bible with you this morning, or if you'd like to grab a pew Bible in front of you, the verses this morning will come from page 1,513. For those of you who brought a Bible with you, we will be in John chapter 3, reading verses 14 through 18. It is indeed a pleasure to be here with you this morning and to bring a word from the Lord. We'll begin reading at verse 14:

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God."

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we are thankful for Your word to us. It is a clear word and a word of truth. You speak to us from the pages of Scripture, the Gospel, the good news. I pray this morning that You would awaken faith, belief, and trust in our hearts, that we might believe upon the name of Jesus Christ. I pray for those this morning who have believed for many years, that You would encourage our hearts, that we might want to follow You to greater depths of faith, and that we might want to act in greater acts of service for Your name's sake. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

I don't know how many of you own pets out there or how many of you are dog people, but if you've ever had a dog and watched it grow old and gray in the face, seen its joints begin to move slower than they used to, it's sort of a sad picture. You realize the truth of the old adage: it's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I've had limited time in education—four years—but I can also say it's hard to teach older teachers new lessons. As we grow old, it's harder for us to learn, to become open to things that challenge us, to look at old truths with new sets of eyes.

In today's text, many of you who have studied the Bible for years know this passage comes from a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a wise teacher of the Bible, an older man with experience. I'm sure he was locked into his best practices and his understanding of how to communicate truth to his people. But here we have Nicodemus, an old Pharisee, coming in the dead of night to sit at the feet of Jesus of Nazareth, the Light of the World, a young Rabbi, a Carpenter's son. Who is He to you today?

Nicodemus, while old, callous, and perhaps jaded, knew there was something in the miracles and message of Jesus that he needed to hear. This morning, I invite you to turn the eyes of your heart upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face, because the concerns of this world will grow dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Jesus does not condemn Nicodemus. He does not berate him or tell him he should know more by now, though He is a little critical. Jesus begins to build on what Nicodemus already knew. He turns to what Nicodemus knew best—the Old Testament, specifically the book of Numbers, chapter 21. Jesus mentions an example from Moses: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up."

This might seem confusing at first. You might think of Moses' miracle before Pharaoh where he threw down a stick that became a serpent, but that's not what Jesus was referring to. In Numbers 21, the children of Israel were brought out of Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. They began to grumble and complain against God and Moses. In response, God sent snakes into their camp. As the snakes bit them and they began to die, the people cried out to Moses, confessing their sin and asking for intercession. God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole. Those who looked at the serpent in faith were healed.

This morning, do you need to turn your eyes upon the One who was lifted up on a cross for you, to cover your sin with His blood? Do you need to turn your eyes upon the One who did not stay in the grave but was raised for your justification and freedom from sin?

Jesus was building new faith in the heart of Nicodemus, and He can do the same for you today. You might ask, "Why should I turn my eyes upon Jesus?" I offer you two points from these verses:

  1. Jesus is God's greatest gift, given so that believers will live forever.
  2. Jesus is God's Son, sent to save believers from condemnation.

This morning, I encourage you to wrestle with the truth of who Jesus is to you. Is He someone you acknowledge in passing, a good teacher, a moral philosopher? Or is He the very Son of God? Jesus is God's final offer, the only offer for eternal life, a life that begins today and continues into eternity. If you believe this gospel, you are living that eternal life now. It's not something to wait for; it starts today.

To appropriate this gift into your life, you must believe—not just intellectually, but to trust, to have faith, to rest yourself in Jesus. This morning, if you want to believe in Jesus Christ, you are trusting in a personal Savior who will carry you from this world into eternity.

Let us pray.

Our Father in heaven, we thank You this morning for Your word to us. Convict us of our sin and show us the condition of our hearts. Help us to believe that Jesus Christ is who He says He is, and that He is Lord. If someone is making a decision of belief today, I pray they would not leave this church without confessing that belief. Go with us this day and help us to seek and save that which was lost. In Jesus' name, amen.

Thank you for joining us for this powerful message. We pray that Noah Hunt's sermon has touched your heart and inspired you to turn your eyes upon Jesus, embracing His gift of eternal life. If you have any questions or need prayer, please reach out to us. God bless you!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Controlling the Tongue - A Petecost Sermon on James 3:1-12 & Acts 2:1-4

We have been working our way through the Epistle of James.  And I think the Lord has a sense of humor, because today is Pentecost Sunday and it is also the day I have scheduled to preach on James 3:1-12.  Tongues are an important feature both passages.  For in Acts, the Holy Spirit descends on the church and appears over the heads of Christians as “tongues of fire” and James tells us we need to control our tongues.  So let’s get right into it.  First let’s read what James says about our tongues.

James 3:1-12
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. 

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The Power of the Tongue
James compares the power of our words to the three things: 
1) A bit in a horse’s mouth,
2) a rudder on a ship, and
3) a spark that sets a fire.

The first two remind us about the power of our tongue to change the direction of our lives. 
A bit attached to reigns tells a horse where to go and a rudder tells a ship where to go.

I have never owned a horse, but I have been horseback riding several times.  You always get an orientation at the beginning of the excursion about how to get up on the horse and how to direct the animals.  You push the reigns o the right to go right or left to go left and pull back to make the animal stop.  They will often tell you, "You don't have to yank on the reigns."  It's not necessary to yank or pull hard.  The horse's tongue is very sensitive to the metal bit across its tongue (that's attached to the reigns).  Just a light pressure on the reigns and the bit is all it takes to steer a horse that weighs 1,000 pounds.

Cargo Ship
And James says a small rudder tells a ship where to go.  The OOCL Hong Kong is one of the largest container ships on earth.  It is as long as 13 football fields and as wide as 2 football fields.  It can carry 330,000 tons, which is about the same as 8,000 fully loaded tractor trailers!  That's huge, yet the ship is steered by a tiny rudder. 

That’s the potential power you have stored in the words that come out of your mouth!  Your words have tremendous power to direct your life and the life of people to whom you speak.  

What you tell yourself makes a huge difference.  We all have an internal voice.  When we wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, you might say, "Man, you look awfully tired today."  Or you may say, "You can do anything God wants you to do with His help."  Or you may be critical and say, "You're just a sorry excuse for a man.  You can't do anything."  Now what you tell yourself has a powerful effect on what you will be able to do.  We have to train ourselves to speak kindly and positively and truthfully and helpfully to ourselves, because it has a tremendous impact on the direction of our lives.

What you say to a child can change the course of their life.  I was at a band banquet for the Coahulla Creek High School Band last Thursday and the band director, Mr. Dodge, told the story of two adults that said things to him when he was in college that changed the direction of his life.  What they said to him when he was just a high school student made want to be a band director.  Now he is in his mid-twenties, about to have his first baby, and he is a band director and has a whole career in music ahead of him.  All this came from words people spoke to him in his youth.  

Your words have the power to change someone's life.  What you say to your spouse, your employees, your friends is powerful.

The Tongue is Also a Fire
James says, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

You know, fire is one of the most useful and powerful tools human beings can wield.  Human beings are the only animals known to purposefully start and use fire.  It keeps us warm.  Cheers our spirits.  And can be used for many other important things.  If you drive a car, you are able to get from one destination to another because of the fire that burns in the internal combustion engine.  If you drive an electric car, it was probably charged on electricity that wsa created in a power plant that uses fire to generate electricity.

Fire is a central part of our worship service.  In the center of our sanctuary, there on our sacred altar, are two candles burning with fire.  They symbolize the dual natures of Jesus Christ: His divine nature and His human nature.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man.  Additionally, the lighting of these candles at the beginning of our service reminds us Christ is the Light of the World, bringing light into the darkness of sin.

Fire is good and useful—even holy—when it is properly used and controlled.  But when it is misused or used carelessly, it can destroy and even kill.  So it is with our words.  They can be the most powerful and useful parts of our being.  Jesus is known as The Word.  And it is with The Word that God created everything in creation.  It is with your words that you can praise God, witnesses to His goodness, and speak life to all.  But, because of sin which corrupts our words, our words can also be a deadly fire that destroys.

Some of the ways our words can be a deadly poison, or a destroying fire are:
When we gossip about people.  When we slander someone.  When we lie. 
When we are overly negative and critical.  When we are verbally abusive. 
When are always blaming others.  When we are prone to angry outbursts. 
When we are always sarcastic.  When we are verbally manipulative. 

These ways of speaking are poisonous and an uncontrolled fire that destroys.

One of the important doctrines (or teachings) of the Christian Church is the concept of total depravity.  Total depravity is the belief that sin has affected every part of human nature and all human faculties—intellect, will, emotions, and even our speech. This does not mean that people are as evil as they could be, but that sin has infected every aspect of a persons life.  In fact, sin has even rendered people incapable of turning to God on their own.  If it were not for the prevenient grace of God, we wouldn’t even realize how bad off we are and how we desperately need to turn to God to save us.

But the glorious Good News is, God pours out His grace on us—sometimes like a splash of cold water—that snaps us back to consciousness and we realize, “Oh my God!  I am a broken, sinful, busted human being!  Even my words can be a deadly fire I can’t control!”

James says in verse 7-8, “People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue.”  But Jesus words from Matthew 19:26 are the answer, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

God is the one with the power and the will to tame the human tongue.  If you will turn your life over to Him, if you will turn your tongue over to Him, He can and will transform your words.

We see this dramatically displayed in the story of Pentecost—the birth of the Christian Church
in Acts chapter 2 when God sent the Holy Spirit to inhabit His people, the Church.

Acts 2:1-4
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Tongues of Fire
The believers who followed Jesus were gathered together praying and worshiping God in an upper room.  And God did something amazing.  Before this moment, the Holy Spirit of God was primarily found in one place—the Holy of Holies inside the Temple in Jerusalem.  No one could enter the Holy of Holies, except one man—the high priest—one day a year, on the Day of Atonement.  A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple so no one would be tempted to enter or even look inside.  

But when Jesus was crucified, the curtain was torn from top to bottom.  It was torn from the top not the bottom, showing God was the one who tore it.  It was torn to show there no longer needed to be a curtain to separate God from man, because Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sin once and for all.

And then on Pentecost Sunday, the Holy Spirit of God descended on the first Christians.  No longer would His Holy Spirit live on the altar in the Holy of Holies.  Starting on that first Pentecost Sunday,
the Holy Spirit lives in God’s people who follow Jesus Christ as Lord.  The two candles you see burning on our altar are a symbol of who you can be if you will put your faith in Jesus.  But it has to be a living faith that moves and obeys.  It is a living faith that hands your heart and your tongue over to God and every other part of you.

If you do this, then the Holy Spirit of God will begin to speak through you, just as He did through those first Christian in the upper room on Pentecost 2,000 years ago.  He enabled them to speak in foreign languages so the people gathered in Jerusalem could hear the Good News about Jesus death and ressurection in their own native tongue.  If God can enable humans to miraculously speak in other languages to accomplish His plans, then He can surely help you learn to control your own tongue.
The question is, do you trust Him?  Will you choose today to let Him be in charge of your life?

As we worship here this Pentecost Sunday, let us remember the transformative power of the Holy Spirit that touched the first believers and is still active and available to us today. 
The same Spirit that descended as tongues of fire,
enabling the disciples to speak in diverse tongues, invites us to surrender our own tongues—
and indeed, our whole selves—to God's sanctifying grace.

Today, I invite each of you to consider the 'fires' your words may have kindled,
the relationships they have shaped, and the paths they have set.
Let us ask the Holy Spirit to fill us anew, to tame our tongues, to transform our hearts,
and to use our voices for the glory of God.
As the candles on our altar symbolize the divine and human natures of Christ,
let our words reflect the nature of Christ within us—words of life, hope, and healing.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit,
Grant us the courage to speak as the Spirit leads, transforming every word into a testament of Your love and power. May our lives and our lips always glorify Christ, the Word made flesh, who dwells among us and speaks through us. Amen."

Monday, May 13, 2024

Faith Moves - A Sermon on James 2:14-26

I spent the day working outside in my garden yesterday.  What a beautiful day!  The garden was full of life—bees and butter were moving from flower to flower.  Birds were singing.  And the cicadas were droning!  I thought a lot my message while I worked, because it’s about living faith.  And, in general, living things move and dead things do not.  Birds and bugs move (if they are alive)If they are dead, they don’t move.  Even the plants growing in the garden move—although slowly.  My pole beans are climbing up their trellis.  The rocks and sticks, which are dead, do not move (unless I move them). 

Today, we continue our journey through the Epistle of James and today he teaches about living, moving faith.  Remember, James is Jesus biological half-brother.  And James wrote his letter to Christians to encourage them to remain faithful in the face of severe persecution that scattered them abroad.  His readers were already Christians who professed faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah.  So James doesn’t write to convince them to convert.  He writes to tell how truly converted people live.  The title of the message today is "Faith Moves."  Let’s read the text from James 2:14-26.

James 2:14-26 (NIV)
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

Faith and Action
James starts off with a tough question: “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” (2:14 NLT)
Here, James isn’t just making small talk; he’s challenging us to look at the reality of our faith.

Faith without works is dead.  James says if we see a brother or sister without clothes and daily food, and we say to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but do nothing about their physical needs, what good have we done?
Now, I want to make something clear:  James said “brothers and sister”,
which is a phrase we use for a fellow believer, a Christian
(In the Christian church, we consider other believers family, a brother or sister.)
So we’re not talking about some random stranger on a street corner asking for help.
We’re talking about family. 
If your brother or sister is in need and you do nothing, what good is that?  That faith is dead.

A Living Faith
James knows that talk is cheap. He challenges anyone who says they have faith without deeds to show it.  He’s bold about this.  He says, “I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (2:18 NLT)

Do you remember what Jesus said about faith?  In Matthew 17:20, he said, “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move.  Nothing would be impossible.” The point is, it doesn’t take much faith at all; even a small amount of faith can move mountains.  So if your faith doesn’t move at all, it’s a dead faith that doesn’t do any good at all.  Living faith moves.  It moves mountains.  It also helps a Christian brother or sister in need.

Here are 7 Ways a Living Christian Faith Moves:

1.     It Loves Actively: It goes beyond words, showing love through actions that support, heal, and uplift others.

2.     It Serves Willingly: It seeks opportunities to serve within the community and beyond, embodying the servant-hearted nature of Jesus.

3.     It Forgives Readily: It extends forgiveness, understanding that grace is a cornerstone of the Christian experience.

4.     It Shares Generously: It shares resources, time, and talents, reflecting the generosity of God.

5.     It Prays Continually: It maintains an ongoing conversation with God, seeking His guidance and offering thanks and supplication.

6.     It Learns Eagerly: It engages with Scripture and teachings of the church, always seeking to grow and deepen in understanding and faith.

7.     It Witnesses Boldly: It shares the message of the Gospel with others, not out of obligation but out of a genuine desire to see others experience the love of Christ.

This is a living faith that moves—the kind of faith that sees a mountain in the way and starts moving it piece by piece. It’s not just believing God can do something; it’s living like He will.

Examples of Faith in Action
The Bible is full of examples of people with a living, moving faith.  And James points out two.  First, there is Abraham, who was considered righteous for what he did when he offered Isaac on the altar.  Here is a man who God told to leave his homeland and everything he knew to go to a "Promised Land" he did not know that God said He would show him.  I took a lot of faith for Abraham to obey.  And he did this when he was already an old man with a lot to lose.  And when God blessed Abraham and with a miracle child, Isaac, in Abraham's old age, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Him in obedience to God's command.  (God saved Isaac and provided a ram as a replacement--foreshadowing the salvation winning sacrifice of Christ on the cross--but the point is Abraham trusted God even with his son Isaac.)

2.     Rahab was considered righteous for welcoming the Israelite spies.  She believed God had a future for her among His people and was willing to throw her lot in with the Israelites and helped them, turning away from her life as a Canaanite prostitute.  Her faith saved her and her family and gave her a new legacy as an ancestor of Christ, the Messiah.

Since it is Mother's Day as I write this, I can't help but think of my Mom who had the faith to leave an abusive situation.  She will be the first to tell you she is shy and timid and has always lacked self-confidence and struggled with low self-esteem.  All she wanted was to be married and be a mom.  But she found herself with four children and stuck in an abusive marriage.  But what could she do?  She didn't think she could take care of herself and four kids alone.  So, for a long time, she endured things she should not have had to endure for the sake of security until, finally, her faith overpowered her fear.  She stepped out in faith, not knowing how she could do it, and left her abusive husband.  And somehow, she finished raising her children as single mother.  I have always admired her faith and it is a powerful example of how God can help people do anything when they trust His help.

Faith That Moves Mountains
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus says if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can move mountains.  This isn’t just poetry; it’s a promise that our faith, when put into action, has tremendous power.  And it’s not about how much faith you have.  You only need a little—the size of a mustard seed.  So it’s not about having enough faith.  You either have faith or you don’t.  Your faith is either alive or it is dead.

What are the "mountains" in your life right now? How can your faith move these mountains?  Perhaps it’s through prayer, service, or a courageous act of love.  Perhaps it is stepping out into the unknown that you know God is calling you to.  Whether your challenges are big or small, faith moves.  Is your faith alive and moving or is it dead and still?

As we wrap up, remember, 
James isn’t just talking to people out there; he’s talking to us, to believers.
He’s urging us not to be satisfied with a faith that’s merely intellectual or emotional,
but a faith that is dynamic, active, and alive.
Let’s be people whose faith is not dead but alive and moving.
Let’s be doers of the Word, not hearers only.
Let’s have the kind of faith that sees mountains, not as obstacles but,
as opportunities for God to show His power through us.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Impartial Love - A Sermon for Graduates (and Everyone) from James 2:1-13

Today, we gather to celebrate a significant milestone in the lives of our graduates—the completion of their high school or college journey. As we send them off to their next chapters, it’s crucial to reflect on the kind of journey they—and indeed, all of us—are called to embark upon as followers of Christ.

In the Book of James, chapter 2, verses 1 to 13, we find a powerful message about how our faith should be lived out daily. James challenges us to look at our hearts, at our actions, and at the way we treat others.  

We learned last week in James 1:19-27 that Christians must listen to God’s word and then DO IT.  
If we only listen but don’t live it out, we’re only fooling ourselves.  Today, James shares one of the simple ways people will either live out or fail to live out genuine faith.  Let's read these verses, understanding their relevance, not just for our graduates, but for all of us as part of God’s family.

James 2:1-13
1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Slide – Why is Favoritism So Bad?
Most people can see favoritism is unfair.  Suppose Hank and Jackson are both hired to do the same exact job and both have no experience.  It would be unfair if Jackson got paid twice as much just because the boss was friends with Jackson’s dad.

But favoritism is not just a social faux pas in business; it is fundamentally at odds with the way the Kingdom of God works.  In the family of God, all stand as equals—we are all sinners saved by God’s grace.  If you favor one person over another in the Church because of how much money someone has or how they dress or their connections, you are living by the world’s standards and not God’s standards.  And remember what James said last week, we can’t just hear God’s Word; we must live God’s Word.  So it is absolutely necessary that we put away the old worldly thoughts and attitudes that say:  this person is more valuable, or more desirable because they are esteemed by the worldly standards or wealth, possessions, status, and influence.


Who Do You Look Up To?
I want to challenge our graduates (and all of us) to think about who you value and why.  Who do you want to be like as grow and mature?  Who will you model your life after?

Some might be tempted to measure their life after someone who, by outward appearances, seems to be very wealthy and successful.  But I would challenge you to look beyond external measures of success.  People can easily  fool you with outward appearances.

One man has $80,000 in the bank and a paid-off $1,000 work truck.   People may assume that guy is broke because of what he drives and how he looks.  Another man has a no money in the bank and an $80,000 financed truck he can barely afford.  He is deep in debt and barely making it, but people assume that man is doing great.  It's important not to let material possessions fool you into judging someone. 

James reminds us, God chooses the poor in the world to be rich in faith.  In my 50 years on this earth, here’s what I have observed:  In general, those who are poor are required to have more faith than those who rich.  Let me explain.  The poor often have nowhere else to turn, but to God.  They have very little money to buy their way out of their troubles. 
All they have is God and prayer.  Suppose their car breaks down.  It may be a huge crisis for them.  They cannot afford a big bill with the mechanic to repair their car nor can they just buy another one to replace it.

The rich, on the other hand, often feel like they don’t really need God.  After all, they have their own resources if they run into trouble.  They might not say that out loud or even consciously think it.  But subconsciously, they are aware they have the resources to handle their problems.  If their car breaks down, it is an inconvenience.  However, they can afford to have the car fixed or may just decide to buy a new car.  So they aren't required to trust God since they can trust their own resources.

The world often teaches us to value people for their apparent wealth, influence, and outward appearances—attributes that can be easily misrepresented.  God says value people’s faith and commitment to God and their character.  In fact, you must or else you are not doing God’s Word; you are only pretending to be a Christian.

James 2:8
The royal law of love, first put forth by God in the Old Testament and later affirmed by Jesus in the New Testament is "Love your neighbor as yourself."  And Jesus showed us how to practice this kind of love when He died for us on the cross.  Jesus didn’t love us because we are loveable (for we were sinners who rebelled against God).  Jesus loved us sacrificially because that’s what real love does.

So, we are called to love others this same way.  That means treating all people fairly, avoiding discrimination, showing kindness to all, and working for justice.  I want to encourage our graduates to apply this law everywhere you go—whether at college, in the workplace, or in you community.  And this is how every Christian should live—not just our graduates.

James 2:12-13
In conclusion, let me read again verses 12-13, this time from the New Living Translation.

12 So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. 13 There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.