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Showing posts with label overcoming challenges. Show all posts
Showing posts with label overcoming challenges. Show all posts

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, April 22, 2024

Trials and Temptations

We’re working our way through a study of the Epistle of James—lesson by lesson.  Last week, we discovered the writer of James was the brother of the Lord Jesus.  He was the biological son of Mary and Joseph and grew up in the same household as Jesus.  At first, he didn’t believe in Jesus.  But after Jesus died and rose from the grave, James believed and became one of the leaders of the early Christian church. 

The Epistle of James is short—only 5 chapters—but it is packed full of powerful, practical wisdom.  The reading today is a perfect example.  In just these few verses, we have several words of advice.  Let’s go back through each of them.

James 1:2-4
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Joy is not the emotion most of us would associate with trials.  Yet, James suggests that trials are not just obstacles but opportunities—opportunities to grow in faith and endurance.  These difficulties test our faith, and through perseverance, our character is refined and strengthened. And a mature faith equips us to handle life's challenges with a steadier hand and a more hopeful heart. 

James is not suggesting we become masochists—who seek out and derive pleasure from painful ordeals.  We’re not happy about the trials, but can be overjoyed about the fruit we gain when we trust God in the midst of our trials.  James says they make us perfect, complete, needing nothing.

And consider this:  You will never get to go through the trials of life ever again in eternity.  We often talk about how great eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven witll be, where there will be no more sickness or suffering or pain.  But we often forget, God put us on this earth for a reason.  And we only get to experience life in this way (broken as it is) one time for maybe 80-90 years.  We never get to do this again.  Let's not miss this once in an eternity opportunity to learn and grow from the struggles we face.

Slides – James 1:5-8
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking.  But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind.  Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

2 Points
James gives two points of practical advice here.  First of all, when you’re going through trials:  ask for God’s wisdom.  That’s not what we normally do.  We may ask for God to take away the challenge; heal us; make the problem go away; etc.  But James says, “Ask for wisdom.”  Proverbs 3:14 says wisdom is better than silver and gold.  In other words, it one of the most precious things you can gain in life.  Don’t miss the precious chance to gain wisdom through your trials just because you want God to make your life easy.

The second point James makes is a warning.  Make sure you’re putting your faith in Jesus alone and not the world.  People have a tendency to want to hedge their bets.  Let’s take an example:  suppose you are facing a huge trial—maybe you have cancer.  So you pray for Jesus to heal you.  But while you’re at it, you decide it can’t hurt to pray to the Muslim god, Allah.  And you figure, you might as well pray to the Hindu gods of India and the native America gods and African gods of animism.  You figure, “I’ll take all the help I can get.”  James says, a person like that shouldn’t expect to “receive anything from the Lord.  Their loyalty is divided between God and the world…”  And he says, “They’re unstable.”  Let us never forget, there is only One True and Living God.  And He will not share you with any other supposed god.  You must be loyal to Him and Him alone.  You are either all in with Jesus Christ—who is Lord of all—or you are not in at all.

James 1:9-11
Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. 10 And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. 11 The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.

Let Go of Worldly Concepts of Wealth and StatusVerses 9-11 reminds everyone, regardless of your social or economic status, put your hope in God alone. The poor are reminded to take pride in their high position—because the Lord Jesus Christ lifts them up.  The rich are reminded of their vulnerability—like a wildflower, their wealth will fade away.  They could lose it in the blink of an eye.  In fact, they will lose it all when they die.  For whatever wealth you have in this life will be gone forever in the next.  You cannot take your possessions with you.  In heaven, we will all be on equal social and economic footing. 

This passage calls us to embrace humility, recognizing that our true value comes from our relationship with God, not our earthly status or possessions.  It’s a liberating mindset—reminding us all to live authentically and with compassion, appreciating our blessings and empathizing with others regardless of their or our circumstances.

And then in verses 12-15, James tells us the blessings that will last forever actually come from the trials of this life.

James 1:12-15
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 13 And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.

Tests and Temptations
While our earthly wealth and treasures will fade away like flowers in a field, the blessings we inherit from testing and temptation will last forever.  These become a crown of life if we endure and are faithful. 

God is the giver of all good things.  God does not tempt us.  Temptation comes from the Devil and from our own selfish, internal desires.  God uses both the tests and temptations we face in life for our own good—to expose and root out the ungodly attitudes and characteristics inside us keep us from being all we are meant to be.  And when we endure trials, our faith grows stronger and we learn endurance.

Slides – James 1:16-18
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

Today, we've explored how trials can be a source of joy, how wisdom from God is our priceless aid,
how humility guides our conduct, and how perseverance leads to divine rewards.

This week, I challenge each of you to reflect on the trials you are facing.  Can you see them as opportunities for growth?  Seek God's wisdom in prayer, approach life with humility, and strive to persevere.

We say we believe in Jesus.  We believe He faced the cruel cross of Calvary.
We believe He rose from the grave.  His death and ressurection won our freedom and eternal life.
Now, let’s do more than just say we believe.  Let’s put our faith into action.
Let's live out our faith, embracing each day with courage and hope,
counting all trials as joy, because they lead to eternal rewards that we will possess forever.