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Showing posts with label Pastor Chris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pastor Chris. Show all posts

Monday, June 17, 2024

Warning! Do Not Judge! | A Sermon on James 4:11-12

Today, we continue our series on the book of James.  Last week, we learned about choosing God's way over our own selfish desires.  Today, we'll look at James 4:11-12 and talk about the power of our words.  James says a lot in this short passage about how we speak to and about others.  Let's see what we can learn. 

James 4:11-12
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Don’t Slander One Another (James 4:11)
James starts out by telling us not to slander one another.  Slander means speaking falsely or maliciously about someone, damaging their reputation.  When we talk badly about others, we hurt them and ourselves.  We are all part of God's family, and He calls us to love and support one another, not tear each other down.

Let me give you an illustration.  If you are on a baseball team, it's important for everyone on the team to support each other and work together to win.  But if someone is spreading rumors about their team mates, it creates division and distrust in the team and makes it much harder to work together and succeed.  Well, as Christians, who is on our team?  Everyone in our church is on our team.  We aren't competing against eachother, but against the powers of darkness among us.  So we should not slander and spread rumors because it creates distrust and makes it harder to work together and succeed in bringing God's Kingdom on earth.  

And if you think about it, there are other people on our team even outside our congregation.  Everyone in a Bible believing church is also trying to make disciples of Jesus and bring God's Kingdom on earth.  So, we are not competing against other churches in our community.  We all have the same goal.  If they succeed, we succeed.  If we succeed, they succeed.  So let us not bring division in God's universal church or spread rumors and slander.  Let us root for each other and pray for each other to all succeed.

And if we have a broader definition of success, we could include our whole community and our country as being on our team.  Don't we want our community and country to succeed?  Then let us not tear each other down, but build ach other up as much as it is in our power to do so.

What are some ways Christians may be guilty of slander?
Gossip – Sharing unverified or private information about someone else's personal life.  Talking behind their back about their mistakes or failures.

Spreading Rumors – Passing along information that may not be true or is exaggerated, which can harm someone's reputation.  Speculating about someone's actions or intentions without knowing the full story.

Criticizing Leadership – Speaking negatively about church leaders or decisions they make without understanding the full context or offering constructive feedback.  Undermining authority by questioning leaders' integrity or abilities.

Judging Appearances or Behavior – Making negative comments about someone's clothing, appearance, or lifestyle choices.  Criticizing how others raise their children, manage their finances, or conduct their marriages.

Undermining People’s Faith – Questioning the sincerity of someone's faith or relationship with God based on their actions or struggles.  Making disparaging remarks about someone's participation or lack thereof in church activities.

Complaining About Others – Expressing frustration about the behavior or habits of fellow church members in a way that is unkind or unfair.  Creating division by speaking negatively about different groups or cliques within the church.

James says, "Don't Slander!"

Judging Others (James 4:11-12)
James goes on to talk about judging others.  He says when we judge others, we put ourselves above God's law.  "The law" is the moral and ethical teachings given by God, particularly the command to love one another.  Remember, Jesus said the greatest commandment (law) is to love the Lord your God.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). 

 James 2:8 mentions this "royal law" found in Scripture: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  When we speak against or judge others, we are not acting in accordance with this law of love.  Rather, we act as though we are above than the law.  In essence, we are saying God's law of love does not apply to us, or that we know better than God.  We put ourselves in a position to judge the holy law of God itself, which is both presumptuous and wrong.

Judging vs. Discerning
Now, whenever I talk about not being judgmental, I need to remind us of the difference between judging and discerning (or between being judgmental and making good judgments). 

There’s a difference.  For example:  We are currently searching for a new children’s minister for our church.  We are taking applications and trying to choose the best candidate.  How can we hire the right person unless we interview and “judge” the candidates? 

The kind of judgment James speaks against is a condemning, self-righteous attitude that looks down on others and assumes a position of moral superiority.  This leads to thinking or speaking negatively about others, spreading rumors, and causes division.

This is not the same as discernment, which provides constructive guidance with love and humility.  When we interview people we exercise discernment and wisdom.  This includes evaluating a person's character, qualifications, and behavior.  But the goal is to find the right person for the job, not to tear anyone down.

But what is someone is not acting right?  What if their behavior is clearly wrong?  What then?

If we have someone in our church whose behavior is unacceptable, we go to them in love to hold them accountable to build them up and help them be more like Christ.  Jesus even gave instructions for addressing sin among believers in Matthew 18:15-7.  He taught us to:

  • Go to the person privately and gently and respectfully point out their fault.
  • If the person doesn't listen, take one or two others with you to help mediate and confirm the issue.
  • If the person still refuses to listen, bring the matter before the church. The goal is always restoration and reconciliation (not proving you are right by tearing someone else down).
So there is a clear difference between being judgmental and making good judgments.

Humility is Key (James 4:12)
Remember, there is only one true Judge.  Our role is to love and serve one another with humility.  Humility is the key.  It reminds us we have our own faults and need God's grace too.  When we speak with humility, we build others up instead of tearing them down. 

How we speak to and about one another is important.  We are called not to slander or judge,
but to speak with love and humility. By doing this, we honor God and build a stronger, more united community.

It’s Our Job to Build a Better Future
It breaks my heart to see so much division and slander being thrown around in society.  The ignorance, disrespect, and vitriol that characterizes our public discourse is troubling.  It is ungodly, unholy, and unhealthy.  What kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren?

If it concerns you too, then I invite you to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Christians are called to be different than the world.  We are called to be salt and light—to be a positive influence on our broken world.  And we can, because we have the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside us.

The way we make a difference is to live differently, to speak differently.  We are called to be holy as God is holy, to love as God loves, to act with humility and to treat people with dignity and respect.  The way to change the world is not to gripe about it, but to be the change we want to see.

Baptism of Joshua Kirk Ikerd
In just a moment, we are going to baptize baby Joshua, the son of Kelsey and Chad Ikerd.  Whenever we baptize our children, we promise to do all in our power to support their life of faith.  It occurs to me today this includes doing all we can to make the world they inherit a better one.  One of the chief ways we can do that right now is to act with humility and to treat people with dignity so the world becomes a more positive and loving place to live.  Will you do that?

Monday, June 10, 2024

Submit to God, Flee from the Devil | A Sermon from James 4:1-10

We’ve been working our way through the Epistle of James.  Let me review a few important points to remember about this letter.

James is Jesus’ biological half-brother; Mary was mother to both James and Jesus.

James wrote his letter to people who were already Christians, who had been driven out of Jerusalem and scattered abroad by persecution. These were committed Christians who had already suffered for their faith.

The vast majority of Christians at this time were Jewish. They knew the Jewish faith and the Old Testament of the Bible. (The New Testament was not formed yet.)

Our Scripture today is James 4:1-10, but we will take it in three sections.

James 4:1-3
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

I am a Christian, but I Still Struggle
The first thing that strikes me from this section is how Christians still struggle with sin and envy.  Remember, James is writing to Christians, not unbelievers, and these were hardcore Christians whose faith had been tested by persecution and they remained faithful.  And Christians still struggle with sin—both in Bible times and today.

People often mock Christians because we don’t always live up to our own standards—we struggle with sin just like everyone else and sometimes we have bad attitudes and even do horrible things.  Just because we are forgiven and saved from Hell doesn’t mean God has fully healed our sinful nature yet.  That takes time.

But that doesn’t mean we get a pass to just live however we want.  We need to let the Holy Spirit reform our character.  And we should be getting better and better, day by day.  James is very blunt—calling out the jealousy and selfish motivations of Christian and naming the evil it leads to:  quarrels and fighting, even killing in order to get what we want.

I cannot help but wonder if James was thinking of a Jewish story from the Old Testament all of his readers would have known:  the story of Joseph and his brothers.  Do you remember the story?  Jacob gave his son, Joseph, a beautiful coat of many colors.  But Joseph's brothers were jealous when they say it because it reminded them their father loves Joseph more than them.  So they planned to kill Joseph, but his brother Reuben convinced them to sell Joseph into slavery instead.  That's how Joseph ended up in Egypt where he eventually rose to power as second in command to Pharaoh.  God used the brother's terribly evil plan to save Egypt and the whole middle east from famine.  Now the Jewish readers to whom James wrote would have known the Joseph story like the back of their hand.

The Joseph story is the story of humanity—jealousy, envy, and using power to take want we want.  Why does one nation attack another nation?  Because they have something we want and if we have the power, we will take it—by force if necessary.  And even so-called “Christian” nations throughout history have acted this way.  Even though they claimed to act in Christ's name, they were doing thing s Christ would have called despicable.  This is not God’s way.  And Christians must give up our love for the things of this world. 

James 4:4-6
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?  Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?  But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

Friend with the World or Friends with God?
James says being friends with the world means being enemies with God.  What does that mean?  It means if we love the things of this world more than we love God, we're not choosing God's way.  God wants us to be faithful to Him.  He gives us grace to turn away from our selfish ways. 

Think about Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus' twelve disciples.  Judas was close to Jesus, saw His miracles, and heard His teachings.  But Judas loved money more than he loved Jesus.  He chose to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  In doing this, Judas chose friendship with the world over friendship with God.  His love for money led him away from Jesus, showing us the danger of putting worldly things above our relationship with God.  Do you see how dangerous it is to flirt with worldly desires?

Now, you may say, “I would never do what Judas did.  I would never betray Jesus.”  Listen, if you love the things of this world, your desires will drive a wedge between you & God.  A wedge starts out small, but it gets wider and wider.  Who knows what evil you might be willing to do if you let those dark desires grow inside you.

That’s why James bluntly calls out our sin with strong language in verse 4, “You adulterous people…”  “…anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  James doesn’t pull any punches, because he wants you to know what you must do.

James 4:7-10
Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.  And remember, Jesus is talking to Christians.

Make A U-Turn
James says, “Submit yourself to God.”  Submission doesn’t sound fun—especially to Americans.  We Americans are a proud people.  We are proud of our independence.  We founded our whole nation on the idea of not being subservient to a king!  And we proud Americans want to hold our heads up high and not submit to anyone.  So, it can be a foreign concept to be submissive to God.  We just don’t like to do it.

Imagine you're driving to a new place and you make a wrong turn.  Soon, you realize you're lost.  You have a choice:  you can keep going in the wrong direction, hoping it will somehow lead you to your destination, or you can admit you made a mistake, turn around, and go back to where you messed up. 

I do that sometimes—make a wrong turn.  I hate turning around and going back.  Maybe that’s a sign I have too much pride.  I will often let the GPS re-route me so I don’t have to turn around.  Usually, it only adds a few minutes to my commute.  I can deal with that.  But even as much as I hate to turn around, if my GPS says it’s going to take an extra 30 minutes or an hour if I don’t turn around, then even a stubborn old man like me is willing to humble himself and turn around.

Submitting to God is like admitting you made a wrong turn.  It's recognizing that going your own way isn't working and deciding to turn back to God.  When you submit to God, you let Him guide you.  Just like turning around and getting back on the right road will help you reach your destination, submitting to God and following His ways will lead you to a better life, a more holy, Christ-like life.

James also says, “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.”  That doesn't mean we have to fight the Devil ourselves (we could never win).  No, we resist the Devil by drawing near to God.  We recognize that the evil, selfish desires in us--the way we “love the world”--are actually attacks from the Devil.  So don’t indulge those desires.  Turn away from your love of the world and you are turning away from the Devil.  “Come close to God, and God will come close to you.”  And this makes the Devil flee.  

Repent of your sin.  Mourn for the ways you have turned your back on God and God will forgive you. 
You don’t have to live in sin and you don’t have to be overwhelmed with shame.  Our God is a God of grace.  He never gives up on us.  We can never sin one too many times.  God always welcomes us back when we turn around and come back to him.  Therefore, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

Conclusion & Challenge
James teaches us the importance of turning from our selfish desires, choosing God's way, and submitting to Him.  We've seen how fights and quarrels come from our desires, how loving the world more than God makes us His enemy, and how we need to humble ourselves, resist the Devil, and draw near to God.  Now, I want to challenge each of you to take a tangible step this week to put this message into practice.  Here's what you can do:

Practical Steps This Week

1.     Identify a Struggle:  Think about an area in your life where you are struggling with selfish desires or where you feel tempted to go against God's will.  It could be a relationship, a habit, or a personal goal that is leading you away from God.

2.     Pray for Strength:  Take time each day to pray about this specific struggle.  Ask God for the strength to resist the Devil and the wisdom to make choices that honor Him.

3.     Seek Accountability: Share your struggle with a trusted friend, family member, or someone from our church. Ask them to pray for you and to help keep you accountable. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else is there to support you can make a big difference.

4.     Actively Resist: When you feel tempted, remember James' words: "Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you." Take practical steps to avoid situations where you might be tempted and make conscious decisions that align with God's will.

5.     Draw Near to God: Spend time each day reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping. The closer you are to God, the stronger you will be in resisting temptation and living according to His ways.

Closing Prayer:
Dear God, thank You for Your Word and the wisdom we have learned from James.  Help us to turn away from our selfish desires and to choose Your way in every area of our lives.  Give us the strength to resist the Devil and the wisdom to draw near to You.  Guide us, Lord, and help us to support one another as we strive to live in a way that pleases You.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Building on Rock vs. Building a Life That Lasts | Matthew 7:24-29

The Introduction
I have now preached twenty-three sermons from Jesus Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7.  Leave it to a Methodist preacher to take one of Jesus’ sermons and turn it into 23 sermons.  But Christ’s teachings are so important it was worth soaking in each one.

Let's list Jesus' lessons from the Sermon on the Mount:

  • He said you are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
  • And Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the Old Testament Laws but to fulfill them.  So therefore, we should live righteously—just as He lives righteously.
  • We shouldn’t murder, but we shouldn’t even be angry or curse at people.
  • Not only should we avoid adultery, we shouldn’t even lust in our hearts.
  • We should be faithful to our spouse, not take revenge, and go so far as to love our enemies.
  • We must be generous and help the needy, not in order to impress people with wealth and generosity, but do it privately so no one even knows we are giving.
  • With that same attitude, we should pray and fast privately, so no one even knows we’re doing it.
  • Store up treasures in heaven where they won’t be corrupted or stolen.
  • And don’t worry about anything, but trust God to take of you.
  • You shouldn’t be judgmental, thinking your are better than anyone else.
  • But don’t throw your pearls to pigs.
  • Treat others as you would like them to treat you.
  • Because the gate to heaven is narrow and the path to life is difficult and few ever find it.
  • And we have to be careful of false prophets, because many will sneak up like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing saying things people like to hear.  But we can tell who is a true prophet by the fruit they produce—because bad trees can’t produce good fruit.
  • And we should produce good fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Because these are the fruits of a true disciple.  
  • Not everyone who cries out “Lord! Lord!”  will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Only those who did the will of God the Father. 

These are the foundational teachings of Jesus Christ.  If we say we are Christians, these are the core teachings we follow.  And here’s how Jesus finished his sermon—Matthew 7:24-27.

Matthew 7:24-27
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

The Solid Foundation
Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  Now, we’ve just finished 23 sermons based on Jesus’ core teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  They are challenging, but not difficult to understand.  If you build your life upon these teachings, your life will stand against anything. 

We will all face many trials and tribulations in this life.  But if your life is built upon the solid rock of Christ, you will not fall even when rains and floods and wind beat against you.  Now, you know we’re not talking about rain and floods and wind.  We’re talking anything that life can throw at you:  grief, divorce, depression, unemployment, alcoholism…  You can think of hundreds of trials and tribulations you might face in your life—whether they come in your own life or in the lives of people you love.  But when these trials come against you, you will not fall if your life is firmly build upon the solid rock of Christ’s teaching.

Even when cold, dark death comes to visit you (as it comes for ever person), you will not fall if your life is built firmly upon the rock of Christ’s teaching.  For everyone “…who believes in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.”

But I must also point out that Jesus says, “Any who listens to my teachings and follows is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock.”  You’ll notice he says, listens and follows. 

There are many people who come to church every time the door is open.  They love the experience of being at church.  They love the music.  They love the people.  They may even love to hear the words of Jesus preached and read from the Bible.  But you can’t build a solid foundation on hearing alone.  You also have to follow.

James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  Many people listen to the Word of God week after week, but never do the Word of God.  They are only fooling themselves.  It is critical we listen and follow Jesus’ teaching.  It is the only way our lives will be able to remain standing when the troubles of life assail us and when death finally comes to visit and we must face Jesus on our last day.

Sinking Sand
Jesus teaching is a solid foundation that can support your life and even lead you into eternal life in Heaven.  Everything else is sinking sand.  There are a lot of people who build their life on things beside Jesus teaching.  But it’s not a solid foundation.  It cannot stand.

You cannot build your life on a foundation of feelings, but so many try.  They base everything on how they feel.  Some even choose to follow Christ because of an emotional religious experience.  Maybe they went to a revival and heard the Word of God or some great spiritual music and it moved them and made them feel something wonderful and the experience led them to follow Christ.  But that cannot be the foundation--because the feelings change and sometimes fade.  We have highs and we have lows.  Feelings are good and can be (should be) part of our walk with Jesus, but they cannot be the foundation.

Some will say they found their faith on traditions instead.  They say traditions last generation after generation and are more permanent that feelings and emotional experiences.  Traditions can be a helpful part of our walk with Christ, but they cannot be the foundation.  Traditions change and sometimes they are wrong.  Sometimes we find our traditions are contrary to Scripture and must be discarded.  Other times our traditions lose their value when they now longer serve to connect us to Christ and the mission of His Church.  So tradition cannot be our foundation.

Others will say the build their life on ideas, reason and philosophy.  They want to use their intellect to build a reasonable foundation that doesn't rely on tradition or religion or superstition.  Some may even subscribe to the best ideas and knowledge of the modern era.  But these also are an inadequate foundation.  For we soon find we were wrong.  And the morals and values and philosophies of today are soon found by another generation to be out dated and rejected.  These too are sinking sand.

What about family?  Surely family is a sure foundation upon which we can build.  Well, family is very important.  Maybe it should be the walls or the roof or the carpet of our life, but it cannot be the foundation.  For our family is only human.  They cannot fill the void in our life that only God can fill.  And family members will disappoint, reject, or die (for they are only mortal).  Family cannot be a truly solid foundation.

Nor can the pursuit of pleasures, our careers, wealth, status, popularity, or anything else other than Jesus' teachings be the sure foundation we need to stand against the storms of life.  Everything else is sinking sand.  If you try to build your life and your faith upon them, they will fail and you will fall.

Believe in Jesus
We are told often in Church (and in the Bible), “Believe in Jesus and you will be saved.”  This is true.  I can quote many Scriptures that say this and I preach it.   But what does it mean to believe?

To believe Jesus means to trust Him enough to leave behind your life of sin and follow His way of living.  Jesus’ way of living is spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount (as well as the Gospels and the teachings of His people in the Bible).

James 2:14 puts it this way:  “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?”  You see, saving faith is listening to Jesus’ teachings and following them.

We all fall short, but God is gracious and forgiving.  In 1 John 1:8-9, it says:  “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.  But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  

So, as we end the message today—as we end this series of messages on Jesus Sermon on the Mount—I invite you to join me in a confession of our sins.  The words to this confession are taken the new Methodist hymnal "Our Great Redeemers Praise" on pages 738-739.  This is part of the Wesley Covenant Service.

The Confession
Leader:  We are those who seek to live as true disciples of Jesus Christ, but sometimes we fall short. Let us now examine ourselves before God, humbly confessing our sins and submitting our hearts so that we do not deceive ourselves and cut ourselves away from God. Let us pray:

People:  Father God, You have set forth the way of life through Your Son Jesus Christ, whom You love dearly. We shamefully confess that we have been slow to learn of Him and have been reluctant to follow Him. You have spoken and called to us but we have not listened. You have revealed Your beauty to us, but we have been blind. You have stretched out Your hands to us through our friends, but we have passed by them. We have accepted Your gifts and offered little thanks. We are unworthy of Your unchanging love.

Leader:  We now confess to you our sins.

Please forgive us for the poverty of our worship…

for the selfishness of our prayers…

for our inconsistency and unbelief…

for the ways we neglect fellowship and Your grace…

for our hesitation to tell others about Christ….

for the ways we deceive others…

People:  Forgive us for when we waste time and when we misuse the gifts you have given us. Forgive us for when we have made excuses for the wrong things we have done and when we have purposefully avoided responsibility.

Leader:  Forgive us that we have been unwilling to overcome evil with good and that we have not been ready to carry our cross. Forgive us that we have not allowed Your love to work through us to help others and that we have not made their suffering our own. Forgive us for those times when instead of working for unity we made it hard for others to live with us because of our lack of forgiveness, inconsiderate judgment, and quick criticism.

People:  Forgive us for when we have not tried to reconcile with others and when we have been slow to seek redemption.

Leader:  Forgive us also for these sins that we silently confess to you now.

Leader:  God, the Father of all mercies, is faithful to cleanse us from our sins and restore us to Christ’s image. Praise and glory be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Amen.