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Monday, July 15, 2024

Patience and Endurance | A Sermon from James 5:7-12

Introduction
This 12th message in a sermon series on the Epistle of James is about patience and endurance.  I suspect we’ve all had to practice patience at some point in our lives.  And I’m sure we’ve all had to endure something.  (Some of you are probably thinking every Sunday you have to listen to one of my sermons is a act of patience and endurance.)

James shares his wisdom about patience and endurance by introducing two ideas—one very earthly and practical and the other heavenly and spiritual.  The heavenly/spiritual one is about Jesus second coming.  The earthly/practical one is an illustration of a farmer.  Listen to the Word of God in James.

James 5:7-8
Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Jesus and the Farmer
One of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church is that Christ will return again.  The first time He came, Jesus was born in a manger as a helpless infant baby.  The second time He comes, He will come as a conquering King.  Here is one thing I can guarantee you:  Jesus will come back in your lifetime.  Does that seem too bold a claim?  Either Jesus will come back for us all, all at once or He will come for you individually when you draw your last breath.  Either way, you will see Him in your lifetime.

James reminds us.  And he says, be patient while you wait.  Farmers understand patience.  They see patience for what it really is.  Good farmers are not lazy.  They are some of the hardest workers you will ever find.  And yet, a good farmer realizes there are some things they can control and some things they absolutely cannot control.  A farmer decides what seeds to plant.  That’s within their control. 

They can control how they prepare the soil.  They can control the fertilizer they put down.  They decide how long to let the crop grow and how and when to harvest it.  But there are many things they cannot control.  A farmer cannot control the rain.  And as much as farming has become a science, there is still something very mysterious about it.  The farmer sees—perhaps more than anyone else—there is a Higher Power at work beyond themselves controlling how their fields grow.  And so a farmer learns to be patient.  They know when it is time to work, you work hard and you work smart.  And when it is time to wait, you are patient and you wait.  And waiting is not lazy, it often means preparing so you are ready to work when the harvest comes.

And a good farmer demonstrates great faith.  They trust that the harvest will come.  Otherwise, why would they bother with all the hard work of planting and tending their fields?

The Word of God says:  Jesus is coming.  You will see Him in your lifetime.  Either He will come for us all at once or He will come for you personally when you take your final breath.  James says, “Be patient.”  It doesn’t mean, “Be lazy.”  There are things we must do.  Like a famer tending his fields, you need to tend the business of your life.  But be wise.  Tend the things that matter—the things that lead to a fruitful harvest in your life.

And don’t be discouraged by the troubles you must endure.  Christ will come and He will make everything that is wrong right again.  On the final day, His Kingdom will come on earth and His will will be done here too.  Remember, James wrote these words to Christians who had be chased out of their homes, run out of town because they believed and proclaimed Jesus was the Lord and Messiah.
Some of them had lost everything—their homes, their jobs, their businesses.  Some had even lost loved one who had been jailed or murdered.  But the Word of God to them is the same as it is to us: Be patient. Trust the Lord.
Jesus is coming.

And James goes on to say:

James 5:9
Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

In our patience, we remember, Jesus is watching.  So we don’t just grit and bear it.  No, we live with Joy.  In the midst of trials and suffering, we know that Jesus has already won!  We live lives of love and joy.  We can sing and celebrate!  We can be like the disciples who, one month after seeing their  Lord Jesus brutally executed and buried in a borrowed tomb, boldly preached His ressurection in the Temple courtyard, right in front of the ones who ordered Christ’s crucifixion.  And their joy and excitement was so authentic that hundreds and thousands believed their message.

Are you being joyful in your patient endurance?  I want you to hear me today (whatever you are facing):  God is doing something in your life.  Your waiting is not in vain.  The fact that you are waiting means God is doing something.  And if you are puzzled because your waiting makes no sense, then maybe it confirms even more the fact that your waiting will end with a tremendous, miraculous moving of God.  So don’t lose heart.  And don’t grumble.  Be patient.  Rest in the joy of the Lord.  Celebrate His goodness in anticipation of what He will reveal to you.

James 5:10-12
10 
For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

Jeremiah Being Thrown Into a Well
James’ words here remind us that we are not alone when we must wait or suffer or endure.  For the prophets of the Bible who came before us also suffered.  They were righteous, faithful people.  But they were rejected by the world and suffered.
Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  For not only did his own people throw him into a well simply for saying the Truth God told him to speak, he also had to endure watching his own people conquered by the Babylonians and dragged away into exile.

So if you are suffering, don’t jump to the conclusion that God is angry at you.  If you are living the way God wants you to live, be encouraged.  Sometimes God’s people suffer.  But God will make it all right one day.  So trust in Him.  Trust.  In. Him.  And be patient.

James 5:12
12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.

These words of James echo Jesus’ words
(and remember, Jesus was James’ brother who grew up in his same household).
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:34, 39), “
Do not make any vows!”  “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

I could preach a whole sermon just on this.  But for today, let me just keep it simple so we can finish up.
The point is we need to live our lives with authenticity and integrity so our word is our bond.  What’s the point in saying things like:  “I swear to God” or “I swear on my mother’s grave.”  Why should we need these useless expressions to prove we’re speaking the truth?  If you live a life of integrity, people who know you they can trust you.  And they will see your life and they will trust your word.  So live with integrity and
let your yes be yes and your no be no. 

Conclusion
As we close, I want to invite you to reflect on God’s word to you today.  What has God said to you in this Scripture and this message?  Take a moment to consider how you can apply this teaching on patience and endurance in your own life.  Is there a situation where you need to trust God more, to wait patiently, or to act with faith like the farmer tending his fields?

Perhaps you feel called to let go of something you can't control, or to work diligently in the areas where you can make a difference.  Maybe you need to find joy in the waiting, trusting that God is at work even when you cannot see it.

As we bow our heads and pray, I encourage you to respond to what God has spoken to you today.  Whether it’s a renewed commitment to trust Him, an action step you need to take, or a prayer for strength in your current situation, lift it up to the Lord.

Serenity Prayer
God, grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change,
the courage to change the things that we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Monday, July 8, 2024

A Warning for the Rich | A Sermon from James 5:1-6

Introduction
We are now in the last chapter of the Epistle of James.  Lord willing, we will spend 4 more weeks studying this letter that was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  The message today might make you feel uncomfortable.  I want you to know it makes me feel uncomfortable too.  Why?  Because James gives a stern warning to rich people.  And although I don’t consider myself a rich man, I do realize I live in one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. 

According to zippia.com, the USA has the 7th highest avg annual income in the world - $70,930/year.  Now the average income of the whole world is $9,733/year.  The average annual income in Afghanistan is only $390/year.  So maybe that puts some things in perspective for us.  And God’s Word to us today in James is challenging.

James 5:1-6
1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people,[a] who do not resist you.


A Warning to the Rich
James speaks to his 1st century Jewish Christian readers to remind them not to become like the rich and powerful who persecuted them.  Many of his readers may have been wealthy.  Many of them had suffered and lost much wealth at the hands of non-Christians who persecuted them.  And as always, James is very blunt.  He warns the wicked rich using terribly vivid imagery of the troubles the wicked rich will endure.  Your wealth will rot away.  Your fine cloths will be moth eaten rags.
Your silver and gold will corrode.  The wealth you counted in will eat your flesh like fire.
And all your wealth will testify against you in court on Judgment Day.  That makes you squirm in your seat a little bit—if not for yourself, then for anyone who faces it.

Money IS NOT the Root of All Evil
It’s important for me to correct a often misunderstood statement in the Bible.
Contrary to popular belief.  The Bible never says money is the root of all evil.

The verse people misquote to proof-text this is 1 Timothy 6:10, which says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  That’s an important distinction. 

If you know your Bible, you will realize there were many godly rich people who were part of God’s story.  Abraham is revered as a holy man by three world religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Yet Father Abraham was a wealthy nomad who had large flocks of livestock and a the large household of a wealthy man by the standards of his day.  One of Abraham's descendants, Joseph, was part of that wealthy household.  Joseph lost it all when he was sold into slavery by his treacherous brothers, but he eventually rose to power as second in command to Egypt's Pharaoh (who was arguably the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world at that time).  David started out as a lowly shepherd, but then became King of Israel and lived in a palace with the wealth and power of the nation at his disposal.  Then the Bible says David's son, Solomon, was the wealthiest person in the world.  There were also several wealthy people who supported Jesus’ ministry and the Christian church in the New testament – Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who donated a tomb for Christ burial.

There is nothing wrong with having wealth.  It’s how you get your wealth and what you do with it and your attitude about it that matters most.  James warns the rich who got their wealth by unjust means.  Verse 4 says, “Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay.”  These were people who had little power.  The landowner could promise to pay them a certain wage, but if he decided to cheat them, what recourse did they have?  (There weren't even any labor unions back then.)  And these were also people who lived hand to mouth, so if the landowner didn't pay them on time, they would certainly go hungry.  James says when rich people act like this, God hear the complaints of the people they cheat and He see the rich people's wickedness and He will judge them.

As God’s people, we are to be holy as the Lord is Holy.  What does it mean to be Holy?  It means to be set apart, to be different from the sinful world.  It means to be like God.  

God is righteous.  He does not cheat and steal.  He does not mistreat and use people.  Therefore, we must not cheat, steal, and mistreat people either.  We must be kind and generous and gracious, just as God is kind and generous and gracious  We must be fair, just as God is fair.  

My daughter is a waitress.  She usually makes a decent wage, but a good portion of here income comes from tips.  When people don't tip the customary amount, she suffers.  And I know many people say they are god tippers if the wait staff  does a good job.  I understand your sentiment.  But what if God treated you the way you treat your waiter or waitress?  What if God was watching over you looking for any mistake you made as an excuse to withhold blessings from you.  We would all starve to death because we make many mistake.  But that's not how God is.  God is gracious with us and blesses us even when we fail.  We ought to be the same with people in our dealings.  We should seek to be holy as God is holy.

If you read about the heroes of the Bible, the holy ones who had great wealth, you will find that they kind and generous and fair.  They also did not put their trust in their wealth; they depended on the Lord.  King David, who was a powerful king who wrote so many of the Psalms, wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
And Solomon, who the Bible says was the richest man who ever lived, wrote in Proverbs 11:28, “Trust in your money and down you go!  But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.”

David and Solomon were wealthy men, but they didn’t trust in the riches to keep them safe.  They knew the Lord was their strength and their shield.  As Americans who live in one of the most prosperous nation in the world, we also must hear and head James’ warning.  Don’t trust in your wealth to keep you safe.  Put your trust in God.  And be very careful not to cheat and steal to gain or increase your wealth.  Be honest.  Be fair.  Be gracious.  And don’t hoard your wealth.  Be generous.  Don’t waste your money in careless living, but also be careful that you aren’t stingy. 

Chick-fil-A vs. McDonald’s
Have you ever noticed the difference in quality between Chick-fil-A and McDonalds.  Chick-fil-A just seems to have better quality food and service.  Chick-fil-A is a company that operates on Christian values.  They make a bold statement about their Christian identity by closing on Sunday.  That means they potentially earn 1/7th less than McDonalds (who is open seven days a week).  But Chick-fil-A still manages to pay their employees an average of $0.50 more per hour than McDonalds.  Christian values lead Chick-fil-A to care more about their employees and treat them better.  

It’s not so much about our wealth, but our attitudes and values surrounding wealth.  As Christians, we must understand we are blessed so that we can be an blessing.  Our blessings are not just for our own selfish gratification.  Christians are blessed so we can be a blessing.

Hard Times
There is a saying going around that I think makes a lot of sense.  It says that hard times create strong people.  Strong people create good times.  Good times create weak people.   And weak people create hard times.  That seems to be true in my experience.  (And when I say strong or weak people, I’m not talking about physical strength; I’m referring to the strength of a person's character.)  When times are hard, people have to buckle down and live right and work hard to survive.  It builds strong character that improves society and leads to good times.  But when times are good and easy, people tend to get lazy.  And lazy people tend to develop weak character.  They live too high on the hog and their entitlement attitudes lead to hard times.  It’s a cycle I see play out in society and in families. 

Where is our nation in this cycle right now?  It would seem to me that we have been living through some very good times.  We are the 7th most prosperous nation in the world.  But we are also seeing increasing inflation and times are harder in the past couple years than they have been before.  Perhaps it is because we are getting lazy and are living too high on the hog.  It’s leading to hard times.  I certainly can see in my personal dealings with people in our town that we have too many weak characters who feel too entitled to blessings without having to work for them.  It does not bode well for our community or our nation.

But maybe there is hope!  As Christians we are called to be different, to be holy as God is holy.  We are to be the salt of the earth.  We are to be people of good, strong character and values.  Pray that you are being part of the solution and not living in ways that lead to hard times.  

Conclusion
Remember Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  If anyone was entitled to take it easy and live well, it was Jesus.  Yet Christ left the glory of heaven and humbled himself as a slave and even laid down His sacred life for us.  He came not to be served, but to serve.  And we who follow Him as Lord are called to do the same—to live selflessly, to give sacrificially, to be a gracious blessing to people (not because they deserve it, but simple out of an abundance of grace). 

Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is a reminder of how Christ laid down His life for us.  His sacrifice gives us life and strength.  Let’s remember to live for Him because He died for us.  It will make our lives and the lives of everyone around us better.