Hope In Suffering!

-We’re Permitted To Grieve!

We opened our Bible to the O.T. book of Lamentations, in our last post; and, discovered that the Prophet Jeremiah & the nation of Israel were in a world of hurt! Jeremiah feels it personally; and, for his people! And, God’s word tells us that there is a place for that. The N.T. book of Romans tells us to, “weep with those who weep.” We’re permitted to grieve! But, we’re also told not to grieve in the same way that unbelievers do; like, those with no hope! Lamenting is appropriate in times of pain & struggle. But, we’re also instructed that the pain & struggle should give way to repentance & hope!

-God’s Faithful Love Offers Hope!

Because of God’s faithful love, there is hope in suffering! “I call this to mind,” Jeremiah writes, “and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:21-24). And, let me remind you that “hope” in Scripture is completely different than the cross-your-fingers kind of “hope” that the word means in today’s culture. The “hope” in God’s Word is a “confident expectation.”

-A Confident Expectation!

Jeremiah— inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to write this— has “hope”; or, a confident expectation despite his suffering and pain; because, of God’s faithful love. He chooses to focus on God’s character rather than the circumstances of his pain & suffering. “I call this to mind,” he says; that, “God’s love is faithful.” He refuses to live under the circumstances! To neither dwell on the past or the current suffering; but, to be forward in his thinking; that, God’s love is faithful! Whatever our current state of life, God’s love is not negated! The ESV translation says, “…the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” The MESSAGE paraphrases it, “God’s loyal love.” God is loyal to us!

-Don’t Doubt God’s Loyalty!

Don’t let the undesirable events in your life give you any cause to doubt God’s loyalty! If you’ve believed in Jesus you’ve been adopted into God’s family. And, while the enemy hopes to crush you under the struggles of life, God is acting like a loving Father & He’s acting on the junk in your life, intending to grow your faith & give you “HOPE”—a “confident expectation” that He will continue to come through for you! The Apostle Paul wrote the Church of Rome that “hope” is produced through our suffering:  “…we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” Romans 5:2-5.

-Rejoice In Afflictions!

God is showing us His faithful love toward us by choreographing the painful struggles into our lives, Paul says; because they are for our good! He uses them to help us grow spiritually; so, rejoice in the “affliction” because it produces “endurance” which produces “character” which produces “hope”—that “confident expectation” in God’s ability to use the struggles to strengthen our faith! So, don’t fight Him! Enduring the struggles will always eventually produce hope if we’re submitted to God’s Spirit because that’s what the Spirit produces in us; and, He uses the painful stuff in life to generate it. But, then, Jeremiah says that there is hope; or, a confident expectation, even in suffering, because God’s mercy never ends (v.22). Some translations say, “…through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not…” This is what Jeremiah called to mind! We need God’s help to call these same truths to mind.

An Epidemic Of Biblical Illiteracy!

-Only 19% Read Their Bible!

A recent survey, of churchgoers, revealed that only 19% read their Bible every day! The writer of Psalm 119 uses 176 verses to describe the Word of God. He uses 8 different words throughout! He calls Scripture:  God’s PRECEPT, God’s STATUTE, His COMMAND, His JUDGMENT, His PROMISE & God’s WORD! So, when he finishes the Psalm with the words, “I wander like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commands” (v.176), he intends for us to understand that his “wandering”, like a lost sheep, is from Scripture! That’s the context! We, here in the west, resemble that remark!

-Ignoring The Compass Of God’s Word!

The American church has wandered away from God, like a lost sheep, because we’ve ignored the “compass” God has given us in His Word! God’s Word is the only GPS that will help us navigate this lost world & keep us on course following Jesus! But, many of us have ignored it! We sing the song, “Come Thou Fount, Come Thou King” from time to time in our church worship service. And, there’s that familiar verse that goes like this:  “O to grace how great a debtor; daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, Lord take & seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” We can identify with that verse, can’t we?

-Wandering Away From God!

By the way, this is not the first time that the writer of this Psalm has talked about wandering away from God. Look at these very familiar verses:  “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word. I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands. I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You” (vs. 9-11). Notice how sexual purity is attached to God’s word! It’s no wonder that even professing believers are caught up in sexual sin if 81% of churchgoers fail to read the Bible every day! And, what is the writer’s hope & prayer? “…(God) don’t let me WANDER from your commands…” is preceded by a seeking after God with all his heart! We can’t be nonchalant or cavalier in our attitude toward God; or, we’ll wander away from Him! I have to search for Him with all my heart! He has to be the only One or thing that I pursue with all my heart! Let’s be clear here—the Psalmist is not making a promise that if you read your Bible every day that you’ll never wander away from God! What he’s confessing is that he’s prone to wander! He’s prone to cave into his flesh! He’s broken by his sin!

-Our Heart Can Deceive Us!

The writer is saying that our failure to read God’s word regularly is evidence that we’re in danger of wandering away from God! Look back at that last verse, verse 176, of Psalm 119. Notice the middle phrase— “…seek Your servant…” We live in a church culture that constantly focuses on US seeking after God! And, clearly, Scripture does say: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” Jeremiah 29:13. But, Scripture also says that “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” Jeremiah17:9. There is tension there! Our heart can deceive us, God says! We can think that we’re doing OK spiritually; but, we can be deceived! We tend to think, “Oh, I hope so-and-so is listening to this message”; when, God has intended it for you! But, you’re missing it because your heart has deceived you! So, ask God to SEEK you & to reveal to you your spiritual condition!

Your Greatest Happiness!

-Right Relationship With God!

Your greatest happiness will come only when you are in the right relationship with God, your Creator! You were created for Him! And, only in Him will you find your ultimate fulfillment! If you’ve cracked the Bible, you may have noticed that the book of the Psalms takes up quite a chunk of space in the Bible. The word for “Psalms” in the original Hebrew language means “praise”; and, most of the Psalms were poetic “Songs Of Praise” to Yahweh; although, one-third of the Psalms are prayers! So, it contains both songs & prayers that Israel used in their worship! Also, most students of Scripture believe there’s significance to the order in which they were placed.

-Psalm 1: The Stage Setter!

So, Psalm 1 is meant to be understood as an introduction to the rest of the Psalms. It’s like the “stage setter” because it vividly points out the radical difference between the “believer” and the “unbeliever.” According to the writer of the Psalm, your life will be blessed or happy if you live it sincerely for God; and, it will prove to be miserable & unhappy if you rebel against God! Those are your only 2 options! It’s funny how the world sees the life, that follows Jesus, as boring & blasé! I think even many believers suffer from some big-time misconceptions about the Christian life.

-Earthly Hedonists!

It’s been my observation that many believers just endure the Christian life! Secretly, they still pine for the pleasures & fleeting happiness that they think the world enjoys. In their heart, they’re earthly hedonists! They’re like the children of Israel, during the Exodus, still looking back with longing for the old life they left behind in Egypt. Somehow, we’ve come to the erroneous conclusion that life’s just not going to be fun or happy as a Christian; but, we put up with it because, well, we get heaven in the end! But, the 1st Psalm debunks the notion that the life that follows Christ & adheres to the Scriptures is boring! What this Psalm says is quite the opposite.

-Setting The Record Straight!

The writer sets the record straight— we don’t just endure the Christian life, putting in our time here until we get to heaven & hang out with Jesus forever & ever! No! This Psalm tells us that it’s the life that submits to God & His word that provides us with the greatest fulfillment & the most happiness possible in this life! Happiness & prosperity in this life & eternity follows only the God-centered life; not, the life that is centered & focused on the stuff of this world! Does it surprise you that God is concerned with your happiness? Some believers even debate between “joy” & “happiness.” Joy is the fruit of the Spirit, they say; and, that’s what we should concern ourselves with!

-Is Happiness Fleeting?

Joy sounds more spiritual than happiness, doesn’t it? Happiness seems like it’s dependent on circumstances! It comes & goes! Joy is based on the eternal, the argument goes! But, this 1st Psalm seems to play the contrarian:  “How HAPPY is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction…” (vs. 1-2). It seems like we don’t have to choose between joy & happiness! Instead, life in Christ offers us both— JOY & HAPPINESS! But, there is a caveat. Genuine happiness, in life, is contingent on some things! That’s where we get the idea that happiness is dependent on circumstances. But it’s not so much that happiness comes & goes as much as it is that our walk with God is inconsistent! That’s what we’ll talk about next week!

A Book Worth Reading!

-The Bible Not Worth Reading?

Perhaps you remember when GQ magazine came under fire for saying that the Holy Bible wasn’t worth reading! It was back in their April 2018 issue, which ironically was dubbed the “Style Bible” on the cover. The Bible actually came in #12 on their list in the article titled, “20 Books That Aren’t Worth Reading.” Jesse Ball, who authored the article, wrote:  “The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it”—Unfortunately, there’s some truth to that, isn’t there? He goes on,  “Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” Well, #1 he’s mistaken in giving “man” credit for writing it! The authors don’t claim to have written their material by their own inspiration!

-Inspired By God!

Rather, God miraculously inspired some 40 different authors to write the 66 books, of the Bible, over 1500 years. What Mr. Ball writes is pretty subjective! It’s opinion! It’s conjecture, on his part! He added:  “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned…” I would address that comment by quoting the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:14. He absolutely nails the reason Mr. Ball sees the Bible the way he does:  “But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.” To the unbeliever, the words of Scripture seem foolish because they can not understand them.

-The Unbeliever Can’t Understand!

It’s impossible for anyone to grasp the meaning of Scripture unless God’s Holy Spirit is their Teacher! Unless the Holy Spirit indwells them as a believer! “…he is NOT ABLE to understand it…” Paul says; and, because of his lostness, he “…does NOT WELCOME it…” But, I could get testimonials from believers in our church; and, from other Jesus followers, in every corner of the world, that the moment they placed their faith in God to save them from their sin, their eyes were opened to the Scriptures! Their ears were unplugged! They could hear the truth & it resonated with them! It became their life line! They know that God communicates with them through His Word! So, we do not read it like we read any other book; because, it is unlike any other book. I would always encourage you to pray before reading it! To ask God to transform you supernaturally, by the power of His Holy Spirit, as you read it! To open your eyes to all the eternal truths it contains!

-Ask Questions!

As you read the Scriptures, learn to ask questions:  “God, what does that mean? Please teach me!” That’s how I work through every Bible message or lesson as I prepare it! I don’t assume that I am able to plumb the depths of Scripture with just my human reasoning! For example, why did the Spirit of God inspire the Bible writers to include much of the same material the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles contains in 1 & 2 Kings? A section of Scripture that Mr. Ball, the author of the GQ article, perceives as repetitive; and, therefore boring! But, that’s the way an unbeliever would view it. If you’re a believer you should wonder what motivated God to include similar material twice! Perhaps, it is so important that God wanted it included again! So, what is there here that we don’t want to miss? That we should meditate on it! Revel in the mysteries of God!

Calling All Actors To Repent!

-Who Is A Hypocrite?

It’s from the Greek term for “actor” that we get our word “hypocrisy.” We think of a “hypocrite” as one who acts in a manner different from one’s stated belief. In ancient Greek theatre, the “hypocrite” was an individual who “wore a mask”—someone pretending to be someone he’s not! Hypocrisy is called sin in the Bible; and, usually shows up in a person’s life in one of two forms: first, to profess belief in something while acting in a manner totally contrary to that belief; and, second, to look down upon others for their sin while at the same time committing the same or worse sin.

-Hypocrisy Condemned!

The Prophet Isaiah condemned hypocrisy, saying, “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men’” Isaiah 29:13 The Apostle Paul wrote that “love must be without hypocrisy” Romans 12:9; while, the Apostle John said we cannot say we love God if we do not love our brother in 1 John 2:9. In our day, there’s been a misuse of the word “hypocrisy” by many claiming that it’s “hypocrisy” to call out; or, take a stand on sin. But, it’s only “hypocrisy” to call out a certain sin if we’re guilty of committing it.

-When Is It Hypocrisy?

It’s not hypocrisy to call sexual immorality sin unless we’re living in sexual immorality ourselves. That would make us an “actor”; and, in need of repentance! If we’re “in Christ” we’re called to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:16); to “hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). We must live our lives in such an honest way that we avoid that label of “hypocrite.” So, with God’s help—through the work of His Spirit—let us commit to rooting hypocrisy out of our lives! Let’s leave “acting” in the movie theatre; and, bring honesty & truth into our Church!

-Is Christianity Invalid Because Of Hypocrisy?

Christianity does not stand or fall on the way Christians have acted throughout history or are acting today. Christianity stands or falls on the person of Jesus, and Jesus was not a hypocrite. He lived consistently with what He taught, and at the end of His life He challenged those who had lived with Him night and day, for over three years, to point out any hypocrisy in Him. His disciples were silent, because there was none. Since Christianity depends on Jesus, it is incorrect to try to invalidate the Christian faith by pointing to horrible things done in the name of Christianity”—(Quote from: McDowell & Steward, Answers To Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About Faith)

Beware Of Yourself!

-Evil Appears As A Friend!

Philip Yancey is a popular Christian author who used “Chinese Opera”— in his book, A Skeptic’s Guide To Faith— to help illustrate a point.  “In Chinese opera,” Yancey points out, “Heroes wear a certain color of face paint with a few simple strokes, while villains wear a different palette in complex patterns. In real life,” he continues, “unlike Chinese opera, we cannot always tell the heroes & the villains by the color of paint on their faces. More often, evil appears as a friend with a smell like perfume.” In real life, he said, it’s not always easy to tell who the hero is and who the villain is.

-Heroes & Villains!

When we read through the book of Numbers, in the Old Testament, we’re introduced to Korah, who rebelled against Moses until God opened up the earth and it swallowed up he & his followers! We also read how Moses struck the rock, to produce water in the desert when God had commanded him to speak to the rock; and, how Israel failed to fully trust that God would go before them, into a battle & the consequences of their disobedience. We also read about the Prophet Balaam’s talking donkey; or, more accurately how God used Balaam’s donkey to speak to him because he wasn’t listening to God. In each of these instances, there was a hero & a villain; and, the text of Scripture is pretty forthright about who was who!

-Blindly Believing We’re Right!

Today, I’d like to encourage you to look at each one of these stories through a little different lens. I want you to look at them through the eyes of the villain! Here’s why! Because each of us has more in common with the antagonist, in the story, than we really want to admit. I don’t believe that any of them started out being the scoundrel! But, they deceived themselves! And, just like each of them, we have the ability to deceive ourselves! We can blindly believe that we’re in the right; and, everyone else, in our story, is in the wrong!

-Worthless Religion!

Let me tell you why self-deception is such a critical subject for us to talk about— because God has included multiple Scriptures to warn us about deceiving ourselves! In other words, it’s something we sinful humans are prone to do! We are prone to deceive ourselves about a lot of things; but, we’re especially inclined to deceive ourselves spiritually! In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked those, who were listening to Him, “Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” And, James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.” In other words, you can deceive your heart about your faith!

-Not Everyone Who Calls Him Lord!

Jesus also said: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me” Matthew 7:21-23. Let me paraphrase Jesus’ words— the person you are most easily deceived by is yourself! Beware of yourself! That’s what Jesus is really saying there, isn’t it? Self-deception is so serious that you can think you’re a believer & a follower, of Jesus when you aren’t; and, by the very definition of “self-deception,” you wouldn’t know it because you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re saved! But, the truth will one day be revealed!

Set Free From Sin!

-God’s “Rest”!

God is relentless in His determination to deliver His children from the slavery of sin! That’s really the backdrop to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. In Scripture, Egypt pictures slavery to sin.  And, the “promised land”, for Israel, was deliverance from Egypt’s bondage. To enter the “promised land” was to enter God’s “rest.” No one can block God’s plan to deliver His people from slavery! And, I’m not just referring to Israel & the Exodus.

-Sin Enslaves!

We’re all slaves, to sin, from birth! Satan’s goal, for your lives & your fleshly desires, is to remain enslaved to the short-lived pleasures of this world. And, if you remain enslaved, to this world, you’ll also die with this world. The Apostle John wrote:  “And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever” 1 John 2:17. Jesus said,  of those who came to faith in Him, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you are NOT of the world, but I have chosen you out of it, the world hates you” John 15:19.  God was relentless in His deliverance, of Israel, from the slavery of Egypt; and, that serves as a metaphor for His relentless delivery of every believer from the slavery of sin.

-Sin Harms Others!

In Genesis, chapter 40,  Joseph was sold into slavery, by his brothers, who hated him, you may remember; because, Jacob, their father, played favorites & loved Joseph more than the other brothers. Eventually, Joseph ends up in a prison, in Egypt, as he’s falsely accused of sexual assault. But, God blesses him with a supernatural gift of interpreting dreams. Eventually, God uses that ability to get Joseph out of slavery & prison because Pharoah had some troubling dreams that needed interpreting; and, Joseph was able to interpret them for him. The Pharoah elevates Joseph to the leader, in Egypt, 2nd only to Pharoah himself.  A 7-year famine sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt, looking for food; where, they unknowingly come into contact with Joseph, whom they fail to recognize as their brother.

-Sin Repented Of!

By now, his brothers are repentant. They think that God is punishing them for the sin they committed against Joseph; and, eventually, Joseph reveals himself to them; and, there’s a great family reunion as the brothers go home, to Canaan, and bring their father, Jacob, and the rest of the family to live out their lives in Egypt under Joseph’s care.  The book, of Genesis, ends with Joseph’s prophetic words that God will keep His promise to Abraham, Isaac & Jacob; and, deliver Israel. After Joseph passes away, a new Pharoah enslaves Israel.

-God Hears Their Cries!

God hears their tortured pleas for relief; and, raises up Moses to lead them out of Egypt, to the promised land, by many great signs & wonders to demonstrate His power. No one could block God’s plan to deliver His people from their slavery. While these are great action adventures, we totally miss God’s purpose, for including them in Scripture, if we see nothing but action adventures. There are principles that thread their way through these stories. One such principle is that of God’s Sovereignty. The doctrine, of God’s Sovereign control over the affairs of man, is one of the most important principles in all of Scripture. When we speak of God’s Sovereignty we mean that nothing happens anywhere without God’s permission!

 

God’s Plan Is Relentless!

-His Program For Restoration!

Genesis is the book of beginnings or origins; and, that’s an appropriate title because it unpacks the “genesis” of Creation and life! It also reveals mankind’s first sin and how it messed up the perfect world God created. Thankfully, we’re also introduced to the “genesis” of God’s divine program to restore His broken world & our broken lives, to the greatest fullness possible, through Jesus.  Genesis announces God’s relentless plan to restore fellowship with humanity & fulfill His purpose for Creation.

-Objections To God!

One of the most frequent objections— to God— that I hear, is in regard to all the pain & suffering that goes on in the world. “If God is capable of doing something about it,” the argument goes, “Then, why doesn’t He?” And, my answer is that He DID respond & He CONTINUES to respond; and, I can understand your anger over all the injustice & inhumane activity in the world! But, if you’re directing that anger @ God, then it’s misguided! You need to look in a mirror! WE ALL DO! Because, WE are the reason for all the evil, the suffering, the injustices, the wars, the slavery & human trafficking.

-He Is Relentless To Forgive!

It’s the book of Genesis that reveals where it all went wrong! Genesis also reveals God’s anger over all the perversity in the world; and, He’s devised a flawless plan— in eternity “past”— to restore His fellowship with us & His purpose for His Creation.  And, that’s the thread that runs throughout the entire Biblical narrative. From Genesis— the BEGINNING— to the last book of the Bible— the Revelation of the END— God is relentless in His commitment to love every man, woman, boy & girl who’s ever walked this earth; or, ever will walk it! He’s relentless to forgive the sin of every man, woman, boy & girl who will humble themselves before Him! He saves everyone who confesses their sin & unworthiness; and, accepts His plan for their lives!

-An Assumption That God Exists!

The very first verse, of the Bible, says:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, the Bible begins with the assumption that God exists. It doesn’t try & prove it. It just says, “THERE IS A GOD!” The New Testament book, of Hebrews, says, “Now without faith, it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” Hebrews 11:6.

-Pleasing God!

According to the author, of Hebrews, the 1st step, in pleasing God, is believing He exists. In the beginning, there was God! There was nothing else. He existed before the universe! He TRANSCENDS the heavens & the earth. He’s OUTSIDE of it! That means He created time & space. He created all the physical laws of the universe; so, He’s not subject to them! Rather, the laws, of the universe, are subject to HIM! That’s what we mean when we say that God TRANSCENDS creation. The 1st verse, in the Bible, also makes it clear that God is the main character in the Bible! That may crush our little human egos; but, we’re NOT the center of the universe! GOD is at the center of it all; and, His infinite worth & value is the ultimate value in all the universe!

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

Compassion Ministry Validates Faith!

-What Does Faith Look Like?

If you’re one that believes your salvation is solely about what and whom you believe in, James epistle has to be a bit unnerving for you! I say that because James lays down 3-part evidence for what genuine saving faith looks like; and, it includes (1) Self-control over one’s speech; (2) A Ministry of compassion to the needy; and, (3) Practical Holiness. I am alluding to the words, written by James’ hand while inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— ”If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26-27.

-Compassion Ministry!

James places the ministry of compassion on an equal plane as living a holy life & getting rid of your potty mouth! Unfortunately, many believers tend to separate them and elevate one area over another! Many think that becoming HOLY— or, “…keeping oneself unstained by the world” as James says here— is more important to God than taking care of widows & orphans! God doesn’t see it that way! Each one plays an equal part in living out our faith in Jesus, which is exactly what James means by “pure religion.” Ignore the chapter break— which isn’t inspired; but, added by well-intended individuals— and; discover something even more scandalous! James declares it “favoritism” to look past the needs of orphans & widows.

-Pure Religion Shows No Favoritism!

See how it flows without the chapter break:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:27-2:1. Failing to minister to the needs of orphans & widows is FAVORITISM! Don’t do that, he says! He then goes on to illustrate favoritism, for us, in ch.2. So, I think it’s biblically accurate to say that the “pure and undefiled religion” in 1:26,27 is the same thing as “faith in Jesus” in 2:1. So, is this how you would define genuine faith? If not, perhaps you need to redefine faith the way that God does! It’s His definition that counts!

-Let God Define Genuine Faith!

That may seem obvious to those of you who are passionate about serving Jesus! But, unfortunately, that’s not the case with many in the church who claim to be Christians! I’m referring to the authority, of Scripture, to dictate every area of our lives! EVERY AREA! There is not one part, of my life, that I can claim authority over! God & His Word have complete authority over every area of my life— my thought life, my work life, my sex life, etc. God’s Word has complete authority over all of it! What “I think” and what “I believe” have to be submitted to the Revelation of Scripture; and, repented of & changed when what, “I think” & what “I believe” doesn’t match up with it! Are we in agreement? That is a fundamental of authentic faith in Jesus Christ! It’s no longer a Holy Bible when we start cutting out those parts we don’t like!