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Showing posts with label Global Methodist Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Global Methodist Church. Show all posts

Monday, July 8, 2024

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

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, 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.  

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.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Listen and DO - James 1:19-27

We are studying the Epistle of James.  James is a short letter packed full of powerful wisdom.  It was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  We say that James is Jesus’ “half-brother” because Jesus and James both shared a biological mother—Mary.  But Jesus was the biological son of God while James was the biological son of Joseph.

Did you even know Jesus had a brother?  He did.  Matthew13:55-56 says Jesus had 4 brothers and that he had sisters too (but doesn’t tell how many).  And James was probably the oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers.  And James was the author of the Epistle of James.

Last week, James wrote that we should not seek so much to be saved from our trials and temptations, but that we pray to be saved through our trials and temptations, because God uses them to teach us enduring faith that refines our character.  But James has a new lesson for us today; listen to what he says.  Let’s read it together in our pew Bibles on page 1721.

James 1:19-27 (NIV)
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Listen and DO
James says, “My brothers and sister take note of this:  be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”  To whom is James writing?  He’s not talking about his biological brothers and sisters.  He’s talking about believers, fellow followers of Christ.  Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 12:50?  He said, “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!” 

It's important to note that James is not writing to unbelievers; he’s writing to Christians who are already following Jesus.  You cannot be saved and become a Christian by doing good deeds.  We are saved by faith alone.  We must trust Jesus and decide to follow Him.  But once we are saved, we should respond to the saving grace of God by doing something.  And James writes to remind Christians what we should do and how we should live.

And what should we do?  We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  Now this is great wisdom.  God gave us two ears and only one mouth.  That’s a great reminder God has design right into your face to listen at least twice as much as you speak.  Every time you see your face in the mirror, remind yourself, “Today, I’m going to listen twice as much as I speak.”  And don’t just say it.  DO it.  Really listen.  Don’t just hear.  Listen and try to understand people.

Sometimes that means listening to more than just the words they're saying.  It means understanding them as a person, what’s motivating them to say the things they say.  Ask for God’s wisdom every day to really listen to and understand people and where they’re coming from.  And the Holy Spirit of God who lives in all believers can reveal people’s heart to you so you really understand them.

And be slow to anger.  There are times for righteous anger.  Remember, Jesus got angry when He saw the money changers in the Temple desecrating His Father’s House while cheating people out of their hard earned money.  However, we need to be slow to anger, because our anger is rarely as righteous as Jesus’.  And human anger does not bear good fruit like God desires.  Instead, it creates wounds and dissention and damages relationships.  It clouds our judgment and can even damage our health.  So put away anger and learn grace to be patient and stay calm so you can listen and understand people and be quick to forgive.  This is what followers of Jesus do.

James 1:22-24 (NLT)
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.

When we look into the mirror, what do we see?  I don’t know about you, but I see a sinner saved by the grace of God.  God’s Word says we are saved by God’s grace.  It’s not because of the good things we do.  It’s a free gift from God through Jesus Christ.  We don’t deserve to be forgive and saved from Hell, but—in God’s loving grace—He sent Jesus to save us anyway. 

So when we look in the mirror, we should see someone that God loved so much He sent His Son to save us—to even die on the cross for us.  So we see someone who is precious to God, but who also has some serious flaws who needs saving and it is a salvation that cost God dearly.  So don’t forget that face—the face of a precious child of God bought by the blood of Jesus.

And don’t forget how you still have some things to work on—not to earn God’s love, but because of God’s love.  God already loves you completely and unconditionally, but we know we have some flaws we want God to heal in us.  So listen to God’s Word in the Scripture and let the Holy Spirit empower you to do it.

There are so many ways I fall short of God’s Word it can be overwhelming where I should start.  Thankfully, James gives us a couple places to start—some things everyone can work on.  First of all, he says:

Slide – James 1:26 (NLT)
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.

I love how straight forward James is.  He puts it so well.  Controlling your tongue—learning when to be quiet, when to speak, and what to say and how to say it—is something we all need to learn and something we all can learn.  It’s harder for some than others, but it is something we can learn and should learn.  You see, a lot of time in church, people want to worry over some deep theological question or some mysterious and obscure story in the Bible.  When what we really need to do, most of the time, is pretty simple.  Learn how to control your tongue.  

Now, some will say they just can’t do it.  But you can if you really focus on it.  And you can if you will invite the Holy Spirit of God to come in and take control of your tongue for you.  If God can creae stars that are trillions of light years away, He can control your tongue.  However, a lot of people just don't want to submit their speech to the Lord.  But James says, that's what we need to do.

And James gives another simple thing we can do—show compassion.  He says:

James 1:27 (NLT)
27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

In New Testament times, orphans and widows were the most helpless and vulnerable people in the world.  They had almost no way to make it in the world—no way to earn a living, support themselves, or protect themselves—aside from the compassion of people willing to help them.  So what James is talking about here are the most helpless and vulnerable people.

When we look around today, who do you see who are the most helpless and vulnerable people?  Widows and orphans are still on that list, but there are many others too--the elderly, the foreigner among us, and anyone else who is vulnerable who will not be able to make it if someone does not sacrificially step in to help them.  James says, pure and genuine religion in the sight of God is caring for them.  And you don’t have to be a Bible scholar to do that.  You don’t have to have all the answers.  You just have to have compassion in your heart and a willingness to do something.

So let me summarize everything for you.  And I want you to practice these things this week.
What can you do this week to practice these, because we want to be doers¸ and not just hearers.

  1. Listen More, Speak Less - Will you practice listening more and speaking less this week?
  2. Control Your Tongue - Will you invite the Holy Spirit in to start taming your tongue?
  3. Practice Compassion - What can you do this week to help the helpless, give hope to the hopeless, and protect the unprotected?
I challenge you this week to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only who deceive themselves.