Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin, Part 2

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Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin (Pt. 2)

As we conclude this brief study in James 4, let’s recap what James has previous said (and if you missed my former post, click here). First, please read the passage again:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)

As he wraps this chapter up, James is speaking to Christian businessmen who have compartmentalized their faith. In other words they were presumptuously making plans for tomorrow, and even a year in advance, in order to have profitable businesses, without any regard for God whatsoever, and in the midst of it all, boasting about their successes. A shameful yet accurate summary of this can be seen in v. 16: “but now you boast in your arrogances . . .” This piercing indictment demonstrates these Christian men were glorying in their own greatness, and James appropriately concludes in v. 16 that all such boasting is evil.

Consequently, after James first reminds the people that Jesus is Lord – over all (see previous blog), he then proceeds to remind them of two more indispensable truths.

Second, in the grand scheme of things, life is short and of little consequence! (V. 14)

 In many ways, in vv. 13-14, James could be restating Proverbs 27:1 – “Do not boast about tomorrow, because you do not know what a day may bring.” (NIV). But James goes further with v. 14. He reminds the businessmen that life, especially a life that fails to acknowledge God, is fleeting, and ultimately inconsequential.

In v. 14, James declares, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In the original language this rare word for “mist” can also mean “vapor” or “smoke”, therefore the image should be of something that is fleeting and yes, as a whole, of no consequence: here for one moment, and gone the next.

Yet observe that James isn’t reprimanding the people, but simply reminding them of a fact they were failing to heed: although they were bragging about all there great achievements, in reality, all their trifling successes were nothing compared to the actions of an eternal God on a mission to save humanity for eternity!

And, as a corollary, what makes life “consequential”? It’s true that running a profitable business can be good, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with planning and devoting time to that, but better as a Christian businessman is not to be presumptuous and arrogant but to involve Jesus in your plans and business, and give all glory to him for the successes.

Furthermore, as to what is truly consequential, Jesus taught to seek the things of his kingdom and his righteousness, or in the context of this passage – the good (see Matthew 6:33). While life may be fleeting, it is in pursuing these two noble goals, that it will be of substantial consequence as eternity is changed.

Third, sin is both the wrong you do, and the good you don’t do! (V. 17)

This might be one of the most ignored verses in all of Scripture. To begin, read this enigmatic verse one more time:

“ If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

What a bold conclusion to James’ discussion! In essence he reiterates, “Now that you know, do it!” But let’s further investigate this telling verse. There are three points to discern in this verse:

  • If you know (the truth, or in this context the good to do) then go and do it!

This is obvious when you see this sentence in the original language because the first word is “to the one knowing”. In short, James asserts once you know something, then you should go and do it!

  • We are meant to do good acts and/or works!

I love how Paul expresses this later in Ephesians 2:10:

“For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (HCSB)

Notice what this verse, as well as James 4:17, does not say: “For you were created to not do this, not do that, not say this, not say that . . .”

Often, it seems Christians think Christianity is nothing but “don’t do this” and “don’t do that.” As Paul and James remind us, true Christianity is unequivocally concerned with being free to do the good we were created to do! Anything less is not Christianity but legalism!

  • If you fail to do the good you know, it’s sin

Behold the logic: once you know, you’re expected to go and do the good you know. If you don’t, then you’re held accountable, and since you failed to do the good you know, logic dictates that it is sin.

Another way to express this is in The Book of Common Prayers. It beautifully summarizes this thought:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

As stated in the previous point, we have to stop thinking that sin is only the wrong we do; it’s also the good we fail to do!

What a way to close Chapter four! If I may, let me leave you with two thoughts to pray about and to dwell on as you go through your day:

  • Do I truly understand Christianity has liberated me to do good (works), rather than hindering me with a list of things I can’t do?
  • Is there a good I know I need to do today?

To God be the glory!

RA

Randy’s Weekly Reads (4/24/15)

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Hard to believe we’re already at the end of another week! I actually had trouble picking through all the great articles and essays I read this week. But at last, here are my picks from this past week. I hope you enjoy them and I look forward to seeing you next week as we continue our study of James!

8 Lies Christians Believe About Success

I needed this post by Emily T. Wierenga. In a brief essay, she dispels many of the false beliefs about success in our current culture. I especially needed to read point seven – check it out!

3 Reasons You Aren’t Allowed to be Theologically Dumb!

Amen, and Amen! This articles by Chris Martin reminds everyone, not just Millennials,  that they are a theologian whether they want to be or not! And what a way to close an article: “It’s about time Millennial evangelicals start loving the God who created them more than a god they’ve created.” Again, amen and amen!

7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Wailing Wall

I know this is different from most of the articles I usually recommend, but I love history, especially when it concerns Jerusalem! Notice what they do with each prayer that is written at the Wailing Wall.

Have a great weekend!

RA

Bragging and Lessons on Life and Sin

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I love the book of James for many reasons. As several scholars have declared, the book of James can be described as the “Proverbs” of the New Testament. By that, they mean it’s a book of practical wisdom written to guide us as we navigate the Christian life. Unfortunately, most of us don’t spend near enough time reading and studying this treasure!

With that in mind, today I’d like to examine James 4:13-17. Please read what James says to those Christians:

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (NIV)

As I have studied these verses, I’ve discovered James is encouraging his fellow Christians with three crucial truths all Christians should know. For today, I’d like to discuss this first truth – an obvious point, yet still important and worthy to examine.

First: Jesus is Lord – over all! (13-16)

While this is incredibly obvious to every Christian because we say Jesus is our Lord and Savior, James offers encouragement in what this means practically. Here’s how James encourages Christians to keep Jesus Lord over all aspects of our lives:

  • Beware of compartmentalizing your faith

Naturally, all of us are prone to do this, and honestly, this is what many secularists in 21st Century American culture want and expect Christians to do! The secularists stipulate it’s fine if we’re Christians on Sunday, but don’t dare bring that faith to work or school when the week begins. That is a private, spiritual matter and needs to stay that way.

But we can’t abide by their wishes! In the Bible, there is not a secular sphere and a spiritual sphere to life, as some try to force us into. This dichotomy does not exist!

C.S. Lewis reaffirmed this when he wrote: “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

Think of it like this: it’s easy to think of life as putting on hats. At work, I have my “boss hat” on, and I act appropriately by leading my team, balancing my budget, and being accountable to my boss. At home, I put my “husband hat” on by spending time with my wife, helping with chores, and so on. Then when the kids get home, I put my “dad hat” on by helping with homework, making sure they complete their chores, and things of that nature.

The dilemma arises when I attempt to do this with my faith: it’s Sunday, so I’ll put my “church hat” on or my “Christian hat” and smile all the time, say everything is great, and even pick up my Bible and read some verses.

The problem is our faith was never meant to be a “hat” – it’s an entire new wardrobe! You are a new creation because of the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, and his work in your life permeates everything you do. It reminds me of the words of a famous scholar: “If Jesus isn’t Lord of all, then he’s not Lord at all.”

As we heed James’ warning, we should evaluate our faith to make sure the Lord is indeed Lord over all in our lives.

  • Beware of making plans and living as if the Lord doesn’t exists

Go back and read v. 13-16 and notice what happens when we try to compartmentalize our faith: we always leave God out of our plans and eventually out of our lives. That’s what James was admonishing the people for, particularly the businessmen: stop planning and living as if God didn’t exist!

I love what James says next – read v. 15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

This was a delicate reprimand to stop leaving God out of their plans, and a not so subtle reminder that they owe their health, life, money, and in essence everything they possess to God!

Yet what did they do? Multiple translations exist for v. 16 but the original language states they “boast in their arrogances” (as I have above, the NIV translates this “you boast in your arrogant schemes”). So since they were living during the week as if God didn’t exist, they took credit for their accomplishments and subsequently bragged about them and even made more plans without divine involvement!

Can you relate to this? Unfortunately I can. What’s the problem? As James declares, all such boasting is “evil” (v. 16). Why? It treats God as if he doesn’t exist and it presumes we know what will happen tomorrow. In essence, we pretend we are God!

  • Beware of bragging about ourselves and instead boast in the Lord and the cross

This is the remedy – let Jesus be Lord over all aspects of our lives, and stop bragging about the miniscule accomplishments we attain, which are only possible because of the gifts God has blessed us with. Once we recognize this, then we should brag about what truly is worth bragging about – the Lord and what he did on the cross for us (see Galatians 6:14 and 1 Corinthians 1:31)!

Next week we’ll finish our study of this bold yet critical section in James.

RA

Randy’s Weekly Reads (4/17/15)

education-548105_1280 It was another great week of inspiring and encouraging articles. Here are a few of them that are worth your time:

Jesus Wept!

I always enjoy reading good articles that focus on the theological significance of John 11:35! Enjoy!

Fasting is Feasting on God

My wife and I just came off a fast a couple of weeks ago, and I was riveted by this article by Pastor Sam Storms. I marveled at this statement: “Fasting is not something you do for God. It is instead your appeal that God in grace and power do everything for you.”

An Analysis of Hebrews 11:24-26

This was the best thing I read (actually saw and heard!) last week. When you have about eight minutes to spare, click the link, turn the volume up, press play, and marvel at what a gifted Bible teacher can do by the power of the Holy Spirit (and with access to a cool software program!).

Have a great weekend!

RA

What Does It Mean to be “Fit” to Follow?

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Jesus never called anyone to be a “Christian”. He called people to be a “disciple”.

Why? A disciple is a “learner,” and to learn from Jesus you must be with him, and follow him as you obey him.

And what did that call to follow him look like? What were the expectations when Jesus called a person to “Follow me”?

Let’s read Luke 9:57-62 to find our answer:

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (NASB)

Upon initially reading this passage, many typically respond with a comment such as, “Man, Jesus is harsh!” But that response alone reveals the influence of culture and letting others tell us about Jesus and what it means to follow him, instead of letting the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus himself influence and define that call.

Honestly, Jesus isn’t being harsh, but truthful. Instead of deceiving us, or playing on our emotions, as some do today, Jesus is describing what it takes to be an effective follower of his.

And what does he say?

First, based on verses 57-58, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to comfort but a call to sacrifice!

Why?

Animals such as foxes and birds naturally have a place to rest, which brings a measure of security and protection.

A disciple of Jesus is not promised this.

Why?

It’s not that you can’t have comforts, or even nice things, but you’re not here for those nice things! The comforts of life can distract us and consume an exorbitant amount of our time as we seek to gain more and more of them.

A disciple of Jesus has another purpose for being here.

Second, based on verses 59-60, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to cultural obligations and religious rules, but a call to proclaim the Good News of Jesus!

In Judaism, a son had a crucial responsibility to fulfill his obligations when his father passed away. It was such a sacred obligation that the son was exempt from all other responsibilities to the Torah (the Law) until that was complete.

Is Jesus saying those responsibilities don’t exist anymore? No. All Jesus is stating is as crucial as that task is, the son now has a more pressing responsibility: “[G]o and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”

In other words, as important as a funeral was with celebrating and explaining the significance of the life of the deceased, now a disciple is to go about celebrating and explaining (that’s what “proclaim” means) to all who will listen what the reign of Jesus is like.

Consequently, this potential disciple discovered you can’t let cultural dictates or even religious rules supersede the call of God.

Lastly, based on verses 61-62, a disciple realizes the call of Jesus is not a call to make Jesus a priority, but a call to make Jesus the priority of your life!

Undoubtedly, relationships are an important part of life, if not the most important part. But again, Jesus has something to teach us about relationships.

Jesus declares it’s not that we can’t have relationships and fulfill our responsibilities, but in comparison to our relationship with Jesus, all other relationships are subordinate, or to be blunt, it’s as if they don’t exist!

And to close, Jesus gives a beautiful picture of what’s he’s asking of each disciple, using imagery everyone would have been familiar with back then – a farmer plowing his land. Israel could be a rocky land, and to plow a field, it took one hand on the plow, one hand guiding the animal, and continuously looking forward to get those lines straight.

Total dedication, not looking back but forward, and guided by one Master is the picture.

Only that kind of person is “fit” or “well-placed”, and truly “useable” in the kingdom of God.

We don’t know what happened to these three individuals, but it’s unlikely that they followed Jesus. The first person probably was unwilling to renounce the comforts and securities of this life. The second and third individuals came to Jesus with a “but first” request. After Jesus’ discussion, we know a “but first” request is never “fit” for kingdom life.

What’s your response?

Here’s what I believe the challenge is: don’t just be a Christian who is satisfied with their ticket to heaven and attending church as a spectator sport, but be a disciple: one who is willing to go on an adventure with our Lord, putting nothing before Him.

Let’s stop trying to redefine the nature of the call, and just start obeying.

That’s what a disciple does.

RA

Randy’s Weekly Reads (4/10/15)

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As we wrap up another week, here are a few of the wonderful articles that inspired me this week.

6 Things Jesus Does With Sin

A great reminder by blogger Jared C. Wilson of what Christ has done for us.

Must Christianity Change Its Sexual Ethics?

This is the best article I read this week! It’s historical, and yes prophetic as it seeks to encourage the Church to stay true to its teachings in the face of an ever-changing culture.

Sometimes Flight is the Best Fight

I found this to be a thoroughly biblical, even philosophical (there are allusions to Plato throughout!) and highly creative article by Jon Bloom describing the nature of temptation, and how oftentimes the best way to fight it is to run!

Have a great weekend!

RA

You Said It, Part III

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From time to time, I like to share with you quotes I’ve found in my research that have sincerely challenged me. In most cases, these timely quotes point me to the relevant scriptures they are based on. I hope you enjoy these, and more importantly, that they challenge you also.

 

“No man has a right to be idle . . . Where is it that in such a world as this, health and leisure, and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate?”

                                                                                                            William Wilberforce

Have you ever acknowledge how boring and vain life can be? Have you ever concluded life can’t just be about seeing the next movie, playing the next video game, or going to the next thrill whatever it is? And then, have you ever wondered what is your cause to fight for?

William Wilberforce, the 18th-19th Century British politician and reformer who steadfastly worked twenty-six years for the abolition of slavery in England, is your medicine for finding that encouraging word. I love to read and learn from trendsetters, who although they may face persecution, lead others to where we need and should be as a people.

That is what Wilberforce demonstrated, and that’s why I love this quote from him. He chastises those who would think we are here merely to consume entertainment, and he reminds all of us that part of the reason we’re here is to make a difference. As Wilberforce says, certainly there is:

  • Some ignorance to instruct;
  • Some wrong to redress;
  • Some want to supply;
  • Some misery to alleviate.

So go, and make a difference, even if it takes twenty-six years! (see Galatians 6:9)

“I had always thought that a lost soul referred to the soul’s destination, not its condition . . . We are not lost because we are going to wind up in the wrong place. We are going to wind up in the wrong place because we are lost.”  

                                                                                                                        John Ortberg

This profound quote is from Ortberg’s Soul Keeper, which came out last year. When I first read it many months ago, this statement just lingered with me, forcing me to ask a series of questions:

  • What does it really mean when we say someone is “lost”?
  • Can the lost know they are lost?
  • How can we best help the lost?
  • Is the worse part about being lost where you’ll end up, or how your life is now?

After much prayer and study, I came to realize the best and most effective way to help the lost is to stop trying to “get them to heaven” but focus more on helping them to realize how lost they are right now without Jesus!

That seems to be a better strategy, and I believe one that began with Jesus. (see Luke 19:10)

“Nearly all that we call human history . . . [is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

                                                                                                C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I was reminded of this somber yet candid quote from Nancy Pearcey’s new book Finding Truth. In her book, which I’m still reading, she presents the claims of the Christian worldview and delineates a five-fold criterion in which to measure and evaluate competing worldviews.

Lewis’ quote should be a stark reminder of how much we actually have in common with each other. All of us are simply searching for a purpose and happiness – or better, true joy. We just don’t know how to find it!

And then . . . “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son . . .”

Were there ever any more beautiful words said or written?

RA