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!

Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

Experiencing True Happiness!

-Everyone Wants To Be Happy!

I’ve spent the last couple of posts breaking down Psalm, chapter 1. And, we’re not finished! There’s so much to glean from this text of Scripture.  The writer tells us that the more consistent we are in adhering to his counsel, the happier our lives will be! And, since everyone wants to be happy, everyone should follow his advice. Beginning with the 1st verse, he says that your happiness depends on where you get your advice:  “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.”

-Who’s Your Source For Advice?

I think it’s significant that he doesn’t say,  “Don’t be wicked; or, don’t sin; or, don’t mock!” It seems that the contrast, he wants to draw on, is our receiving advice from one source vs. our advice from a competing source. We are shaped by the advice we receive! So, take great care, he says, that you’re not getting advice from sinners! That word that’s translated “advice”— or, some of your versions translate it “counsel”— is referring to persuasive words or ideas that someone shares intending to get you to go in a specific direction that they recommend! The “advice” is meant to change your thinking in such a way that your behavior is altered; and, the very course of your life is modified!

-Taking The Path Of Sinners!

When you listen to the advice of wicked people, the Psalmist says, you take the path that sinners take & you become a mocker! There’s a progression here. Based on the advice you receive, your thinking affects your actions affects your character! So, turn your ears away from the advice of the wicked— whether that’s friends, people, books, music, TV, video games, websites, or social media platforms! Choose wisely who you listen to because your happiness depends on it! The writer is saying that your life will only be happy or blessed or fulfilled when you turn a deaf ear to the advice of the wicked!

-Who Are The Wicked?

And, who are the wicked? They are everyone on the path of sin, he says! Everyone who is disobedient to God’s Word & mock anyone desiring to obey God’s Word! Don’t be fooled by their deceitful, enticing words! Notice, in v.2, that the Psalmist says your happiness also depends on what you delight in:  “Instead, (or, in contrast to accepting bad advice from the wicked) his delight is in the Lord’s instruction.” Don’t let the wicked; or, the scoffer influence the way that you think; or, you’ll begin to “delight” in their ways! It starts by looking at & listening to all the stuff the world produces; until you think about it so much you begin delighting in it!

-Delight In God’s Instruction!

Beware, the text says; because you’ll find no happiness there! The genuinely happy person does NOT do something; DOES do something— the happy person does NOT take advice from the wicked; and, DOES delight, instead, in God’s instruction; or, the “Law of the Lord.” The Apostle Paul warned the Church of Rome:  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” Rom. 12:2.  That word “conformed” carries the idea of being pressed into a mold— ”Don’t let the world press you into its MOLD with all of its wicked advice & counsel.”  Instead, delight, Paul says, in God’s instruction so that your thinking is transformed! Test the advice you receive by comparing it against the grid of God’s Word!

Lessons Learned The Hard Way!

-Last Post Until September 16! Vacation Time!-

 

-Experience, The Great Teacher!

Some lessons in life are learned the hard way. For example, putting a can of soda in the freezer, to get it cold, may sound like a smart idea! It’s NOT! Also, if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur! Cheaper isn’t always better, is it? Some lessons are hard and painful to learn! I’ve watched kids, at the zoo, learn one of life’s lessons the hard way— don’t mess with the geese! I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen a kid chasing after a goose; only, a little later seeing him run the other way with the goose in hot pursuit! I love what someone said about learning lessons the hard way: “Experience is a great teacher; and, a fool will learn no other way!”

-Gaining Wisdom!

Don’t be that guy! I big part of the wisdom gained, from reading Scripture, is learning from the hard lessons others learned the hard way! I don’t want to sound arrogant or be overly critical of Israel’s constant failures because I’ve been equally as guilty of falling into sinful patterns in my own life. But, don’t you just wonder sometimes if they’re ever going to learn some of the lessons God puts in front of them? Over and over they fail to listen to God’s Word & the results are never good!

-Don’t Be Foolish!

I want to challenge you, in this post, to learn God’s lessons well! Don’t be foolish & hard-hearted & stiff-necked like Israel often was! Be committed to reading God’s Word! To hearing God speak! And, determine to trust whatever God says! With your whole heart! A devotion to obeying God’s word will keep you from sin; but, sin will keep you from obeying God’s word! You can have no better life than the one spent in obedience to God! Don’t be the fool that finds out the hard way! God is good! He is gracious! He is merciful! He promises to forgive every sin when you trust Jesus’ work on the cross to atone for your sin!

-You Reap What You Sow!

But, you will reap what you sow! That is a principle in God’s word! He will forgive the sin of the drunkard who weaponizes his car & crosses lanes, killing someone driving in the other lane! But, God doesn’t give him back the arm that he also lost in the crash! Though God offers grace to endure the terrible consequences of our sin, He doesn’t always remove the consequences! I’ve found it deeply disturbing to read the account, in Joshua chapters 7 & 8, of Achan’s sin.  God had commanded Israel to set apart, for destruction,  all the plunder from a military victory over Jericho!

-What If He Had Repented?

But Achan disobeyed; and, he had done so secretly! I’ve often wondered what might have happened if he had quickly acknowledged his sin? What if he would have come running to Joshua with the stuff he had taken; and, confessed his sin & asked God for forgiveness? In the epistle of 1 John, it’s recorded, “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). I can only imagine that the story, for Achan & his family, would have had a happier ending if he had only confessed his sin & repented quickly! But, he did not confess until he was caught! Until he was found out! And, his sin resulted in the death of himself, his family, and 36 men in Israel’s next battle! God’s judgment for unconfessed, hidden sin was harsh! God, help us to learn well this lesson; and, not to learn the hard way!

 

Don’t Be Deceived!

-How To Approach Your Faith!

To beware of something is to be wary; to be cautious; to be careful! It means you can’t assume anything! You take all the necessary precautions. And, that’s how Scripture tells us to approach our faith! Beware that you’re not deceived! Be aware of the genuineness of your faith. Be sure it’s not counterfeit.  “Test yourselves,” the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians,  “to see if you are in the faith. Examine yourselves. Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless you fail the test” 2 Cor. 13:5. Put your faith to the test, Paul says! Examine it! Compare it with Scripture! Does it match up? Is it authentic?

-The Holy Spirit’s Work In You!

The Apostle Paul also wrote the Church of Rome and told them, that, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16. God’s Holy Spirit indwells every believer! I know when He’s there! You know it too! And, He Himself will convince you that you belong to God because you’ve denounced your own worthiness & you’re clinging to the righteousness of Christ to save you! Numbers 16 unpacks the story of Korah; how he incited rebellion against Moses because of his desire to hold a more prominent position of leadership in the Jewish nation. This raises a red flag in regard to the genuineness of his faith.

-Desiring To Lead!

A desire to lead is, in itself, not evil! It’s not necessarily evil to be a leader! In fact, one of the qualifications, of an Elder in the church, is that they hold a “desire” to actually be a leader. It’s really the rest of the Biblical qualifications that either confirm or deny that the person is fit to be a leader in the church.  What is the motive behind that desire to obtain a position of leadership? That was Korah’s issue!

-Rebellion Against Leadership!

The Scripture gives us a peek into his motives in the first 3 verses of Numbers 16:  “Now Korah son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took 250 prominent Israelite men who were leaders of the community and representatives in the assembly, and they rebelled against Moses. They came together against Moses and Aaron and told them, ‘You have gone too far! Everyone in the entire community is holy, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’” Korah sought a higher level of leadership by rebelling against the legitimate leader; who was God’s choice to lead— Moses! His desire, for Moses’ position of leadership, was illegitimate! It was motivated by a lust for power & a desire to be recognized! His evil motive was exposed by his methods!

-Undermining Legitimate Leadership!

And, then it says he set off to undermine Moses by gathering 250 prominent men, who were also leaders in the camp. Rebels always seek to gather a crowd when they oppose leadership because that gives the appearance that they’re right & the legitimate leader is wrong! No doubt he did so by whispering, spreading rumors & back-biting the current leadership. But, the one true God is more than capable of righting the wrong; and, He will right all wrongs Romans 12:19 tells us! Moses doesn’t defend himself! He puts the situation in God’s court (vs.6,7); and, God judges Korah severely! The earth opens up and swallows up Korah and all 250 rebels with him! That’s intense! The application? It tells us to submit to God’s sovereign plan & to submit to those leaders He has placed in our lives!

 

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!

Favoritism Hurts!

-A Devastated Family!

There’s a story, in Genesis ch.25, about a family that was devastated by the sin of favoritism.  It begins with Abraham; and, it reveals how “playing favorites” is a learned behavior that Abraham passed on to his children, who passed it on to his grandchildren, who passed it on to his great-grandchildren. Each generation continued the same destructive behavior.

-Playing Favorites!

The chapter begins:  “Now Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah, and she bore him…” (6 kids, if you count them; and, the text lists the names of the generations that followed); then, v.4 “…All these were sons of Keturah.” And, then v.5 “Abraham gave everything he owned to Isaac. And Abraham gave gifts to the sons of his concubines, but while he was still alive he sent them eastward, away from his son Isaac, to the land of the East.” Notice, Abraham gave everything to Isaac; and, some token gifts to the kids & grandkids of Keturah, his 2nd wife.  And, then, he sends them away! Really? What’s up with that? That’s FAVORITISM!

-What Is Favoritism?

Favoritism is showing partiality toward one person or group over others with equal claims! It’s the state of being the “favorite.” Favoritism is prejudice! It’s discrimination! And, it’s favoritism that can escalate into racism or sexism! It’s something that is absolutely devastating to relationships; especially, within families! Abraham passed on this sin, of favoritism, to his kids. When you get to Genesis 26 after his son Isaac married Rebekah, they have 2 boys & the text tells us that Isaac played “favorites” with Esau; while, Rebekah played “favorites” with Jacob. Then, mom helps her favorite son, Jacob, deceive dad; and, his favorite son, Esau, out of the family blessing that should have been Esau’s by birthright.

-Esau Held A Grudge!

What resulted? “Esau held a grudge,” v.41 says, “against Jacob…” because of his deceit! In fact, it says that Esau “…determined in his heart…” that he would kill his brother Jacob after their father, Isaac, passed away. That’s how deadly favoritism can impact a family. It produced envy; and, hatred; and, can lead to murder! But, Jacob didn’t learn from his father, Isaac’s, mistake; who didn’t learn from his father, Abraham’s, mistake. Instead, in Genesis 37, we see Jacob playing favorites with his own children.

-He Loved Him More!

It says, “Now Israel (after God changed his name, from Jacob to Israel) loved Joseph MORE than any of his other sons…”; and, what did that produce? Just what you’d expect that playing favorites produces in a family:  “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him” Genesis 37:4. I’m not justifying their attitude; but, their envy & jealousy & hatred, toward Joseph, was incited by the fact that dad loved ONE KID MORE than the others! Children know unjust behavior, by their parents, when they see it & experience it! The rest of the children had “equal claims” to their father’s affections. Favoritism destroys family harmony!

 

Broken Relationships!

-The Way Of The Transgressor!

During the early years, of my kid’s lives, I often quoted one verse of Scripture, to them, more than any other. It was from the Old King James version; and, I quoted it whenever they had gotten themselves into some kind of trouble. It’s Proverbs 13:15; and, it says “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Many times I gave them no additional words of correction! I just shook my head & repeated those words, “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” It means that there are consequences for sin & disobedience! Sin is HARD! Sinful actions reap painful, cruel results!

-Hard Circumstances!

And, my wife and I would speak to our kids from our own experiences. We’ve experienced the hard circumstances of transgressing against the Word of God. Nothing good ever comes from disobedience to God! Never! Only pain and suffering! And, one of the most painful circumstances we endure is the broken “relationships” that lay scattered in the wake of our sinful conduct. Some relationships will never be reconciled because the damage is perceived as being too severe.

-The Toxicity Of Sin!

The Scriptures, from its early chapters in Genesis, with Adam & Eve’s sin, expose the toxicity sin brings to our human relationships. Just flip back to Genesis chapter 3 for a moment. God confronts them after their sin; and, demands an explanation for their disobedience.  “What is this you’ve done,” God asks Eve in v.13. And, Eve shifts blame, “It was the serpent.” She avoids the question. God asked her, “…what have YOU done…” And, she shifts blame to the serpent. But, she wasn’t the 1st person to shift blame! She had just heard her husband, Adam, respond to God’s question, “It was the woman YOU gave me— she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

-The Ultimate Blame Shift!

Did you catch that? Who is Adam ultimately blaming? GOD, right? He shifts blame to God, “…the woman YOU gave me…” So, Adam & Eve’s relationship, with God, is broken! And, their marital bliss also came to a very abrupt end because of their sin. In outlining the curse, because of sin, God told Eve v.16, “…your desire will be for your husband, yet he will RULE over you…” Sin would forever mar their relationship; and, though God, by His indwelling Holy Spirit, will work to sanctify our marriages, it’ll require work & great effort to overcome the harmful effects of our sin.

-What A Nightmare!

And, what a nightmare, that we pass our sinful nature on to our children, who in turn, make many of the same sinful decisions we made; and, also make up a few of their own. We read, in Genesis chapter 4, of the tragic history of humanity’s 1st murder; and, incredibly, it happened within the family, as one brother (Cain) murdered his brother (Abel).  We bear, as the human race, the consequences of our sinful natures. You can try & deny it or ignore it; but, “…be sure about it, your sin will catch up with you” Numbers 32:23. Also, “…don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap” Galatians 6:7. Why? Because “…the way of the transgressor is HARD.” Only God can fix the mess we’ve made!

 

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!