God With Us!

-Proof He Is Who He Says He Is!

Try and imagine, with me, what it would be like to be a spy working undercover for the CIA. Imagine you’re in a hostile country; and, your assignment is to discover enemy secrets and send them to the home country. Imagine you’re approached by a man you’ve never met; and, he claims to also work for the CIA; and, he’s received new information from the U.S. government and your new assignment is to take orders from him. What do you do? You’re going to demand proof that he really is who he says he is; and, confirm that headquarters really did send him! 

-Can We Believe Jesus?

As you open the Bible to the start of the New Testament, you’re introduced to a man named Jesus; who claims to be the Jewish Messiah; the Son of God! How do we know we can believe Him? How do we know He’s not a fraud? Well, let’s return to our spy story! But, this time let’s imagine that before you left for your assignment, that you were given Top Secret instructions that you would meet a new contact; and, it included his picture and described him as 6’5” tall with one blue eye & one brown eye; that he walked with a limp; and, he would identify himself as “the mongoose.” He would give you all the necessary information you need to complete your assignment. With that kind of detailed information, you could easily identify the true agent, couldn’t you?

-Confirming Jesus Was The Messiah!

In a very similar way, God the Father has given us all the detailed information necessary to confirm who Jesus Messiah would be! And, only God is capable of formulating a plan, from the past, for the future; and, then implementing it & making it happen! Every other religious leader was born into this world unannounced, making claims about new information or revelations from God, with no way of verifying their claims! Think through that! Whether it’s Mohammed or Joseph Smith or Krishna or Mary Baker Eddy or Charles Taze Russell or Sun Myung Moon or Buddha; all of these were born first; and, then came up with their own religious movement they claimed to have come from God. It was the exact opposite for Jesus!

-Unique Details About The Messiah!

Long before He entered the world, God shared with the world, through His prophets, all the  unique details about the Messiah who would come so there could be no missing Him. The Old Testament; or, the Torah, contained all the necessary proof to either confirm or deny the one claiming to be Messiah. The only difference between Christianity & all other religions is Jesus Christ. It is the absolute uniqueness of Jesus that sets Him apart; and, makes Him distinct. Was Jesus the Messiah? That was the entire purpose for the first four books of the New Testament— the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-Testimony That Verifies Jesus’ Claim!

Each writer describes a different facet of Jesus’ ministry; so, together they provide a complete testimony to verify His claim that He was the Messiah. Matthew, especially, records the way the Jewish leaders— especially the Scribes & the Pharisees— examined the claims that Jesus was the Messiah; and, how they came to the negative conclusion that they came to. As Jesus became more & more popular, with the people, He also came under more & more scrutiny and disapproval by the religious leaders; especially, as He began working miracles & claiming that He was ONE with YAHWEH. And, by way of background, these were difficult times for Israel. Once again, as happened in the O.T., Israel had been invaded by a foreign power— this time the Roman Empire. As God promised, in the O.T., their sin had led to judgment & their hope was deliverance through God’s Messiah! We’ll pick it up from there next week!

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “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.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

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!

 

Serving Those Crushed By Circumstances!

-The Unwanted & Discarded!

I grew up, in a home environment, where I never doubted my parent’s love for me! I never felt abandoned or neglected! But, there are those, in the world, who have experienced the pain of being unwanted and discarded! Most of the 153 million orphans, in the world, have been forsaken by their parents! They’ve been shunned and left to fend for themselves! So, when James addresses this matter, in Scripture, he says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” James 1:27.  This is what “pure religion” looks like, he says.

-Look After Orphans In Their Distress!

Pure, or genuine, faith, in Jesus, takes care of orphans who’ve been crushed by abandonment! That’s what it means to “…look after (them)…in their distress.” For the orphan, they’re distressed or crushed by the fact that they’ve been abandoned by the very people who are supposed to care for their well-being at any cost! One, or both, parents abandon their children because of custom—baby girls, for example, are considered undesirable in many non-Christian cultures. Many are killed just for being born as a little girl! The fortunate ones are just abandoned! I cannot even begin to comprehend the pain and distress that would bring these precious little ones! Some have become orphans because a war has separated them, from their parents; or, their parents were killed and they were spared!

-Look After Widows In Their Distress!

Whatever the reason, these orphaned children have been crushed by the weight of their situation.  And, those who have pure, genuine faith, in Jesus, will be moved to take care of them as much as we can. I don’t know about you; but, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough! But, James doesn’t limit his description, of a pure religion, to caring for those children who’ve been crushed by abandonment! He also says that genuine faith, in Jesus, takes care of widows who’ve been crushed by spousal loss! Again, I’ve never experienced the painful loss, of a spouse, to death! I have, however, observed it enough to know that it’s a crushing blow to the spouse left behind! It’s distress, in their life, that they never quite get over! The separation is devastating for many!

-Proving Faith By Caring For The Hurting!

The church shows genuine faith, in Jesus, by taking care of the widow who’s been crushed by the loss of their mate. We may need to sacrifice our own time to spend time with them in fellowship! We may have to sacrifice financially to help meet their needs! That’s why the ministry to orphans & widows is very much like Jesus’ 3 1/2 year ministry here on planet earth. No one ever cared more for the broken & the hurting, for the abandoned & the marginalized than Jesus! So, how do we apply this? There are ministries to get involved in, especially, in the area of orphans! Become foster parents! Find something to do! Remember, pure religion is not the result of good deeds; but, results in good deeds!

 

Is Every Believer A Disciple?

-What Does Scripture Teach?

The Church, here in the west, has often made a distinction between a “believer” in Jesus Christ & a “disciple” of Jesus Christ! It’s a distinction, however, that Scripture fails to make— that you can be a saved “believer” & just live your entire life for yourself! That, if you desire, you can become a “disciple” and live out your days as a “super saint” for Jesus. No where, in Scripture, does Jesus say anything even close to that! If you abide, in Jesus, you will produce the fruit of a disciple! That’s the outcome of genuine faith!

-Grape Vines Produce Grapes!

There will always be fruit where there is genuine faith. It’s as natural as a grape vine producing grapes. That’s what grape vines do! And, there is fruit that is naturally produced, by God’s Spirit, in the life of every genuine believer who abides in Jesus! In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus says! Fruitfulness is the proof that you’re a “believer” & “disciple.” “If anyone does not abide in Me,” Jesus said, “he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” John 15:6-8.  We bring glory to God when our lives produce fruit because it PROVES that He’s saved us! The PROOF is in the FRUIT!

-Love, Joy & Obedience!

Then, Jesus expands, on that, in the next several verses (v. 9-17). Fruitfulness, He says, is measured by our love, by our obedience, and, by our joy! “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another as I have loved you.” Loving others isn’t an option for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus! If there’s no love, it’s because there is no spiritual life. Where there’s no love, there’s no “abiding in Jesus.” “You are my friends,” He said, “if you do what I command you.” We cannot pick and choose what we’re going to obey in God’s Word. Disobedience isn’t an option! If we truly abide, in Christ, we’ll repent when we disobey & realign our life accordingly with the Scriptures. And, there’ll be joy in your life— “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may full.” Our joy is linked to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ! It’s not circumstantial!

-Even When Life Is Hard!

Abiding in Christ produces joy! Even when the rest of life derails, our joy is centered In Jesus. All those grumpy, mean-spirited, haters out there who claim to be followers of Jesus must have missed that Scripture! Or… they don’t really abide in Christ! This text presents a clear case that God, the Father, won’t stand idle while His children act up! He will prune— “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 17:2. He will discipline His own! He will spank! But, He doesn’t spank the Devil’s kids! Our response, to His discipline, will either confirm or deny that our “faith” is legitimate! We will confess sin & let His Spirit clean house!