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.

What About Pain & Suffering?

-Can People Change?

There’s a scene, from the 2005 movie “16 Blocks”, starring Bruce Willis, where a prisoner that Willis’ character has to escort to trial, at the courthouse, tells him that, “People can change,” whereupon Willis’ character responds, “Days change. Seasons change. Not people.” So, what do you think? Can people change? Is it possible for people to change? Can we lose weight & keep it off? Can we do a better job at the job? Can our spouse ever change some of their ways?

-Hoping Church Will Change You?

I have found, through the years, that people often come to church wanting to change! To get better! To kick some old, bad habit! They’re hopeful that God might help them change! I’ve also watched people get frustrated & impatient when the change isn’t enough; or, it doesn’t happen fast enough! And, they begin to question whether faith, in God, really works! Back a couple of years ago I watched the trailer for a movie titled, “An Interview With God.” It dealt with perhaps the most difficult of all difficult questions:  “Why does God allow pain, suffering & Hurt? If He’s all-powerful, why doesn’t He stop it?” The Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, was inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to address, in part, that difficult question.

-An Interview With God!

Think of it as a kind of interview with God, as we note what God has to say about pain & suffering! In no way is this meant to be an exhaustive message on the subject; but, hopefully helps us put together a bit of a Biblical theology on pain and suffering. Here’s what Jeremiah’s inspired text has to say about it:  God intends to train us, through life’s painful events, to trust His faithfulness & to look forward to redemption. Now, that’s certainly not the way Satan plans to use suffering! The enemy intends to use painful circumstances, in our lives, to destroy us. But, if you’ll trust God THROUGH the painful events, He’ll use those things to change you & to make you more like Jesus, our suffering Savior!

-No One Was Coming To Help!

At the time Jeremiah wrote down the words of his book, the end was very close for Judah & Jerusalem. King Nebuchadnezzar & the armies of Babylon are at the gates of the city! Jerusalem has been under siege for more than a year & they’re experiencing severe famine. It says that there was no bread to be found anywhere in the city; and, there was no relief in sight! There was no one coming to help them! That’s the background to Jeremiah, chapters 30, 31, and 32. Here’s why this is important to us:  because the response, of the Jewish people, is so similar to our response to pain. Our default response to pain, suffering, and, struggles is to blame shift! And, all too often, we shift blame to God! We curse Him for our difficulties! That’s true, isn’t it?

-In Time You’ll Understand!

Here’s God’s response:  “Why do you cry out about your injury? Your pain has no cure! I have done these things to you because of your enormous guilt and your innumerable sins “ Jeremiah 30:15. Get the picture? In a modern translation, God is saying, “Why are you crying? Stop it! I’ve done this to you! But, it’s not what I wanted to do to you! I wanted to bless you! But, you’re guilty of so much sin I can’t even count ‘em all!” The chapter finishes like this: “Look, a storm from the Lord! Wrath has gone out, a churning storm. It will whirl about the heads of the wicked. The Lord’s burning anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come, you will understand it” (30:23-24). So, God intended to unleash His wrath, against sinful Jerusalem, until they, “…come to understand…” that they were the problem, NOT God. Until they’re broken over their sin! We’ll get into this a little deeper next time!

Clay In God’s Hands!

Who Was Jeremiah?

Jeremiah, the author of the Old Testament book bearing his name, has been called the “Prophet To The Nations” because God gave him an Oracle— or, a word from the Lord— to speak to 9 different Gentile nations; in addition to Judah! Through Jeremiah’s words, which were inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, God reveals Jeremiah’s heart more than any other prophet! From his introduction, in the 1st chapter, v.6, we see that Jeremiah was a “reluctant” prophet— questioning his ability to lead God’s people spiritually. He was also known as the “weeping” prophet— which perhaps proves he was qualified to lead because he wept over the sins of the people; and, over God’s judgment of their sins! He was also a “lonely” prophet because God had told him not to marry (ch.16) because of the dread over the judgment that God was bringing on Judah & Jerusalem; and, he also became known as the “persecuted” prophet as he was rejected, ridiculed, beaten; and, falsely accused; all, because he was faithful to proclaim the truth of God’s word! The key phrase in the book of Jeremiah?

-The Word Of The Lord!

“The word of the Lord” is found more than 50 times! And, the “word of the Lord” was this— that God’s judgment was coming! The patience & long-suffering of the Lord had finally been exhausted! Israel’s idolatry & sinful rejection of God’s word had reached its climax! And, her leaders were arguing with Jeremiah that God would NOT turn His people over to Babylon & King Nebuchadnezzar. And, so, in chapter 18, God gives Jeremiah a parable to deliver to Israel’s leaders:  “This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  ‘Go down at once to the potter’s house; there I will reveal My words to you.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter’s hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do” (18:1-4).

-God Is The Potter!

Have you ever seen a potter at work? It’s quite fascinating! In the parable, God is the potter; and, Israel is the clay! It’s an illustration that God inspired numerous authors of Scripture to use. The potter and clay illustration is also found in the Psalms, in Isaiah; and, in Zechariah. The Apostle Paul also uses it in the New Testament; and, so does John in the last book of the Bible, the book of the Revelation. The concept that God wanted Israel, and us, to grasp is His Sovereignty; or, His absolute, supreme power & authority over His entire creation! That God has the absolute authority to do whatever He wills to do with His creation in the same way that a potter has absolute jurisdiction over the creation he fashions out of the clay! Without the potter, the pottery fashioned is nothing more than a lump of wet dirt; and, that’s true of us as well as Israel.

Molded By The Master Potter!

We are like clay, which has little value until we are molded by the Master potter into the likeness of Jesus! That is a foundational truth that Israel needed to apply! And, that is a foundational truth that we need to apply to our own lives! If you don’t grasp God, the Potter’s, purpose for your life you’ll waste it! You and I are not the Potter! Ultimately, we don’t have any right over our lives. Our lives belong to God who gave them to us! We are a lump of clay & that symbolizes the “potential” we have to be useful to the Potter! But, God, the Potter, has the ultimate right over our lives, to use them as He purposes them to be used! We need to spend some serious time in prayer & meditation on this truth! Will you ask the Potter if He finds you to be moldable in His hands? Will you ask Him to show you where you’re not being pliable; so, that you can repent? That’s God’s point in the parable. Would Israel repent? And, will you repent?

Relationship Humility With God!

To Know Him Better!

So, God began to reveal Himself to us in the very beginning, Genesis chapter 1. And, as each page of Scripture is turned, we come to know Him better! It follows that we have to be in the Scriptures if we have any hope of really knowing Him & becoming intimate in a relationship with Him! As we come to the Old Testament of Isaiah, we learn that, for us to have a relationship with God, requires humility on our part! We have to humble ourselves before Him! We need to properly assess ourselves—He is God! I am not! You’re not!

We’re Not That Awesome!

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God tells us that:  “All humanity is grass, and all its goodness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fade when the breath of the Lord blows on them; indeed, the people are grass. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever” (40:6-8). Huh! That means we’re not as awesome as we think we are! God compares us to grass that withers & blows away! We can deceive ourselves with our sense of personal sovereignty; but, only God is ultimately Sovereign! Only God calls the shots!  “Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,” Isaiah continues, “or who gave Him His counsel? Who did He consult with? Who gave Him understanding and taught Him the paths of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?” (40:13-14). Those are all meant to be read as rhetorical questions. The answer, in other words, is obvious! No one has taught or given God anything!

No Counsel Needed!

God doesn’t need our counsel! Nor, does He need our permission to do anything! When we lift ourselves in pride we become as insignificant as dry grass to Almighty God! But, when we humble ourselves as Jesus did, we enter into a relationship with the Father. Jesus asked the Father to remove His death, on the cross, from His earthly path. But, He ultimately submitted to the Father’s will in humility! God also gave these words to Isaiah to record:  “I am Yahweh, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth; who destroys the omens of the false prophets and makes fools of diviners; who confounds the wise and makes their knowledge foolishness” (44:24-25). We need to humble ourselves before Almighty God! Don’t be so sure of yourself! Rather, be sure of Him; because a relationship with God requires His help. We can’t even relate to God without His help! Our sinfulness & depravity get in the way! We’re hopeless & helpless without Him! Be humble about that!  We can neither save ourselves; nor, can we keep ourselves saved! He is our help! He is our strength when we admit that we are powerless.

-The Everlasting God!

Inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, Isaiah also wrote:  “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint” (40:28-31) God never sleeps nor slumbers! He never takes a day off or goes on vacation! He’s always available to help! He is the Creator and the Sustainer of everything! Why do we insist on living for ourselves; and, trying to fix life’s problems all by ourselves? That’s faithless! God is big enough to carry our load; and, the other 7 billion people circling the sun with us! Throw your weight on Him! He is the everlasting God!

Struggling With Depression?

-Let God Be God!

It’s incredibly freeing when you stop trying to be your own savior; and, everyone else’s savior too! To just let God be God! To admit you don’t know what to do next! To feel the helplessness of being out of control! Only then can you fully abandon yourself to the only One who can part the Red Sea; to the only One who can use 300 weaponless soldiers to overthrow a vast Midianite army; to the only One who can knock down a giant with a little stone; to the only One who can feed 5000 with a piece of bread and a few small fish; to the only One who can raise a Messiah from the dead to save a people from their sin!

-Thank God For Failure!

I can honestly thank God for all the times of failure in my life! I praise Him for allowing me to fail! Be honest with God! Admit you’re not big enough or strong enough or smart enough! Admit you’ve tried! But, praise him when your strength fails! Thank Him for it because your failure is the only thing that drives you back to the only One strong enough & beg enough & wise enough to fix it! Be honest with God when you’re afraid! King David wrote this Psalm during a time of fear:  “I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him from all his troubles. The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them” Psalm 34:4-7. 

-Fear God! Not Circumstances!

Be honest with God when you’re afraid! Fear Him instead of your circumstances & He will deliver you from them; or, He will deliver you THROUGH them! Sometimes He removes them; but, sometimes He grows you THROUGH them! Be honest with God when you’re struggling with depression! And, praise Him anyway! I love Psalm 42:5. It’s a Scripture that has so impacted me that I’ve put it to memory:  “Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God.” The writer is asking himself why he’s so depressed! Why is he struggling with turmoil inside?

-Sing About Your Depression!

Do you ever feel that way? It’s okay to admit that to God! In fact, it was God who inspired the writer to include it in Scripture! And, let’s remember that the book of Psalms contained songs that Israel sang to God! So, they sang about depression! And, while I truly believe that, at times, depression needs to be treated medically as an illness, there are times in life when we just feel “blue” over the weariness of life!

-Overcoming The “Blues”

The best way to overcome those “blue” feelings is to place your hope in God & begin to offer Him praise for all the blessings He has given you! Praise Him because He alone can satisfy your soul! King David also was inspired by God to include these words in Psalm 63— ”My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live; at Your name, I will lift up my hands. You satisfy me as with rich food; my mouth will praise You with joyful lips” vs. 3-5.  Oh that God would bring all of us to that place where we would see that He is all we need! That we would truly live like we believe that His faithful love is really better than life! That our souls would be satisfied with Him alone! That all the other created things that we enjoy in this world would pale in comparison to the beauty of our Great God!

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!

In The Beginning!

-In The Beginning!

That’s how Genesis, the 1st book of the Bible, begins! “In the beginning…” there was CREATION! Contrary to the majority “opinion”, our world & the universe did not evolve! If it did come into existence, the result of a “Big Bang”, it was because God spoke; and, “BANG” the world’s exploded into existence! Take a look at Genesis ch. 1, v.3 “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and THERE WAS LIGHT.”  V.4 “…God separated the light from the darkness.”  V.5 “God called the light ‘day,’ and He called the darkness ‘night.’  Evening came and then morning: the first day.” So, light & darkness were God’s idea.  He created them!

-And It Was So!

And, He created the 1st day ever; v.9 “Then God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ AND IT WAS SO.”  V.11 “Then God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.’ AND IT WAS SO.” Every time God spoke, things happened! IT WAS SO! He has universe-changing authority! Nothing happened! No world! No universe! No galaxies with stars & planets… until God SPOKE!

-God Already Was!

Before anything else began, God already WAS! He is the eternally present being who is outside of & transcends over His Creation! “Before the mountains were born or You brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God” Psalm 90:2.  So, Genesis is God’s account—His TESTIMONY—of how everything came into existence! No one else was there to observe it or record it! I’m continually amazed that people believe the “theory” of the evolution of it all! They hold onto the supposed “facts” from billions of years ago that no one witnessed!

-Science “Facts”?

The “facts” of science are constantly CHANGING! Go, try this one yourself—just Google “Scientific Facts That Have Changed Over Time.” When I did it, that query prompted 417 million hits in 0.47 seconds. For real! Here were some of the titles on the 1st page alone:  “18 Science Facts You Believed In The 1990s That Are Now Totally Wrong”;  “8 Scientific Facts That Have Changed Since You Were In Grade School”; and, “25 Science ’Facts’ That Were Proven Wrong.” Science, by its nature, is a moving target!

-It’s Human Pride & Arrogance!

By contrast, God inspired the writer, of Hebrews, to conclude that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” Hebrews 13:8. And, the next verse says, “Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings…” It’s human pride & arrogance that rejects God’s testimony of the “GENESIS” of all things & accepts the unfounded, unprovable theories of an evolutionary process. No one was there to offer visual testimony… but, God! No one saw it… but, God! Are you going to place your “faith” in a constantly changing Science or God’s testimony? Neither can be observed or repeated! As I’ve often concluded, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to simply believe that God created everything!

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!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “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. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Pure Religion!

-An Orphan’s Story!

I married the granddaughter of an orphan! When my wife’s grandfather was a young boy, his father died; and, his mother remarried.  Unfortunately, her new husband out NOT to be the kind of man she thought he was.  He held no regard for her children; and, when she died, he considered them disposable; and, had them removed from his home. My wife’s grandfather was a 14-year old boy when the authorities placed him in an orphanage where he was physically abused; until it was discovered and he was removed and placed in a foster-care home where he was loved & cared for. Eventually, he came to faith in Jesus Christ, married my wife’s grandmother & they established a Christian home together. A home that produced a legacy of faith with children, grandchildren & great-grandchildren who’ve grown up loving Jesus. What a great story, right! An “orphan’s story” with a happy ending!

-An Orphan Crisis!

Unfortunately, that’s the exception. There is an orphan crisis in our world! I was shocked to discover that there are more than 153 million orphans worldwide! That’s staggering! If orphans were a country, of their own, their population would rank 9th in the world, ahead of Russia! 100 million of them live or work on the streets. They survive by selling flowers or cigarettes, by watching cars; and, many sell their bodies, for sex, or engage in criminal activity. Many, of these street children, are subjected to abuse, neglect, exploitation; or, in extreme cases, are murdered by “death squads” paid by their governments to “clean up” the image of their cities.

-It’s Easy To Become Hard-Hearted!

So, why am I sharing all this with you? Why should you care? It’s so easy to become hardened to all the images, isn’t it? We’re bombarded with the infomercials! The sad faces. The sad music. The compelling stories. All meant to move us to reach into our wallets ad pay up! And, we can try and rationalize that so many of the agencies out there, who claim to be helping the orphan population, are just siphoning off huge amounts, from the giving, to support elaborate lifestyles for their big-name CEO’s. So, let me tell you why this is important to you! Because we can’t just ignore what God’s Word says about it! God has an opinion & we need to listen!

-Look After Orphans!

It’s a statement inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— “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 1:27.  What was that? “PURE RELIGION” is looking after orphans & widows? Is James supporting a salvation of good deeds? No, he’s not! The book James authored dovetails quite nicely with Paul’s book to the Romans. James is NOT saying that your good deeds, like caring for orphans & widows, will result in salvation! Rather, that the result of genuine, saving faith, in Jesus—or, “pure religion” he calls it—is to love others! Like orphans, widows & the marginalized of society! God gives us a heart to love & serve them!