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!

 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!

 

A Distinctly Christ-Centered Home!

-It’s Counter-Intuitive To The Majority Culture!

(PART II) In so many ways, keeping step with Jesus and Scripture is counter-intuitive to the majority culture! The culture will often tell a woman to divorce her husband if they don’t share the same values! But, the Apostle Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired words tell us that a husband, who is disobedient to the Lord, “…may be won over without a message by the way their wives live…” 1 Peter 3:1.  She doesn’t need to NAG! It’s possible that the Spirit can use her life, in such a dramatic way, that her husband may be “won over WITHOUT A MESSAGE.” She doesn’t need to PREACH at him!

-Internal Adornment & Beauty!

And, Peter builds on that point in the verses that follow:  “…when they observe your pure, reverent lives. Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” 1 Peter 3:2-4.  If you’re a wife, who’s a follower of Jesus, your life should be marked by an internal adornment and beauty! And, let’s be clear, Peter is not teaching that women should refrain from makeup and jewelry! What he’s saying is that your life should consist of more than the “paint” and “bling” on the outside! How shallow! Live pure & reverent lives, he says!

-Have A Beautiful Heart!

Focus on making your heart beautiful by yielding to God’s Word & his Spirit! Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you should! Don’t give your husband a piece of your mind that you can’t afford to lose! My girls are familiar with a verse of Scripture that I often quoted to them:  “A beautiful woman without discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout” Proverbs 11:22.  Your hope ought to be placed in God’s Sovereignty—  “…in the past, holy women like Sarah PUT THEIR HOPE IN GOD as they submitted…” 1 Peter 3:5-6.  Go back and read the Genesis account of Abraham and Sarah’s life. It’s interesting that she was never present when God gave Abraham His instruction; but, she submitted to Abraham by putting her hope in God’s Sovereign control of the situation.  She let God work out the kinks in her husband’s head! She didn’t nag!

-Husband: Know Your Wife!

Let me finish by drawing your attention to Peter’s words, to the Christian husband: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” 1 Peter 3:7. Your life, as a husband who follows Jesus, will be marked by an understanding of your wife! Now, I know that some of you men, reading this, are laughing inside— “You really think we can ever understand a woman?” No, I don’t! And, this is a subject I have a really hard time preaching on because I personally stink at it so badly! But, what it seems Peter is saying, in part, is that “…AS you LIVE with your wife, gain an understanding of her…” Study your wife! What causes her tension & frustration? Serve her in those areas! Be a help to her!

 

God Deserves All The Glory!

-Who Else Would Deserve It?

There’s a wonderful passage, in the Old Testament, that relates to the Glory that God deserves.  Here’s what King David says:  “Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!” 1 Chronicles 16:28-29.  In my previous post, I talked about how God’s Glory is a really big deal to God! And, rightly so! David is also inspired by God’s Holy Spirit to declare God’s “strength.” Declare the Lord’s “…glory and STRENGTH…” I find it interesting that David would point to God’s “strength” in the context of His “glory”! Why?

-Let’s Dig Deeper!

Whenever we ask that question “why”—-of a biblical text—it ought to serve as our cue to dig deeper! To study the verses surrounding it! So, if you look back at the preceding verses, David says that, “…YAHWEH is feared above all gods…” (little “g”) because “…all the gods of the peoples are IDOLS…”; and, here’s the CONTRAST—”…BUT, the LORD made the heavens…”; end v.27, “…STRENGTH & joy are in His place.” So, compared to false gods, YAHWEH is all-powerful; or, OMNIPOTENT! It is to His Glory that, by His STRENGTH, He created the heavens! So, DECLARE His STRENGTH! Someone once asked me that old philosopher’s question: “Can God create a rock so big that He can’t lift it?” I think the answer is “YES” He can create that rock! And, “YES” HE CAN LIFT IT!

-Glory In God’s “Name”!

It’s to His Glory that He is able to do anything and everything! Then, David tells us to declare God’s Glory in His NAME! There’s really 2 thoughts in that phrase, “…give to the Lord the glory due His name…” The 1st thought relates to His “NAME.” There’s a lot going on with a person’s NAME—if I say the name, “ADOLPH HITLER”, that name evokes thoughts related to his CHARACTER, doesn’t it? That name conjures up thoughts like dictator and anti-Semite and murderer! The name of God, however, brings to mind thoughts of His love, mercy, grace, benevolence, etc. All that’s in His “NAME”; or, His character! Those traits describe who He is! He is just & righteous in everything He does! So, declare the glory related to His NAME!

-Stealing God’s Glory!

The 2nd thought, in that phrase, “…give to the Lord the glory due His name…” is this: He ALONE DESERVES all Glory!  The Apostle Paul wrote: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be Glory forever” Romans 11:36.  He’s saying that, in fact, God HAS all Glory! He alone had all glory before creation, right? There was nothing else until He created it! So, any glory that the creation has was given to it BY GOD! The “glory” of a sunset is God’s Glory! He gave the sunset it’s “glory”! It’s because of God’s Glory that He hates pride—”pride” is man’s attempt to STEAL God’s Glory! Whenever we’re PROUD of our work we’re stealing glory from God who gave us the gifts & talents to do the work we do! Pride is acting like you didn’t receive it from God! Any praise we receive must be redirected to God for His Glory!

 

God’s Glory Is A Big Deal!

-He Alone Deserves The Glory!

God deserves all glory because He alone has designed everything & His Name is ON everything! It’s His Name that adds value to humanity & to the rest of creation! So, when we speak about God’s Glory we define it as, “the essence & beauty of His Spirit.” We’re not referring to His material or aesthetic beauty—like we typically define human beauty—but, to the beauty of His Character—to all that He IS! John Piper defines God’s Glory as, “the manifest beauty of His Holiness.” Holiness points to His absolute “uniqueness.”

-One-Of-A-Kind God!

He is ONE-OF-A-KIND! He is in a totally separate “class” all by Himself! There is no other God like Him! “O nations of the world, recognize the Lord, recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong. Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor” 1 Chronicles 16:28-29 NLT. God’s Glory is a really big deal to God; and, it’s a big deal in the Holy Scriptures! The GOAL of ALL things is God’s Glory! And, I’m not overstating that one iota! Let’s not forget that there is GOD & there is “everything He created!” That’s it! There is nothing else! And, in the original creation—before SIN—God declared that all of creation was GOOD! Why? Because ALL of creation reflected God’s beauty;  so, it ALL brought Him… GLORY!

-Redirecting All Praise!

In similar fashion we say that an artist’s painting is a reflection of the artist & the artist’s work brings him a certain “glory”! God has blessed humanity with certain creative abilities; but, they’re all SMALL “c—creative” because ALL mankind’s creative abilities were received from the CAPITAL “C—CREATOR” God. So, every “artist”—who is a true disciple of Jesus—will redirect all praise received to CREATOR God! In part, that is one way that we bring God Glory—by redirecting all praise & compliments received to God who created us with those abilities! We acknowledge that whatever TALENT or ABILITY we have is ON LOAN from God! It ultimately belongs to Him! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory because that’s our reason & purpose for existence!

-Mandated To Give God Glory!

Here’s an observation from the 1st Chronicles 16 text—“the writer, King David, was inspired by God’s Spirit to offer this MANDATE regarding God’s Glory.”  This is an imperative or a command to “…declare God’s Glory…” v.28.  When David became king, he determined to make worship a priority again in Israel! And, one of his 1st acts was to return the Ark of the Covenant, which had been neglected under King Saul, back to Jerusalem! And, in the process, David preaches this great message that is included as the inspired Word of God. That means it’s AUTHORITATIVE—NOT because David said it; but, because God INSPIRED him to say it! So, “…DECLARE God’s glory,” he says! Don’t just study it and keep it to yourself! We’re commanded to declare it; and, that’s a general statement that means to declare it EVERYWHERE to everyone!

 

Worship Rejects All Competing Loves!

-It Impacts Your Life Like That!

According to the Apostle Paul’s urging,  to the Church of Rome,  when your worship is genuine it will impact your life, in such a dynamic way, that God will use it to produce perpetual change in you— “…I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual worship…” Romans 12:1.  As we worship God, He is redeeming our lives—as we intentionally present them to Him—to “remake” them into the image for which we were created before sin ruined it all! That’s why Paul wrote the Church of Corinth, “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body” 1 Corinthians 6:19,20.

-You’re Not Your Own!

Don’t you know, Paul asked, that if you’ve accepted Jesus, as your Savior, that you’re NOT your own! He BOUGHT you—that word carries the idea of “redemption.” He redeemed you! He reclaimed you! He’s in the process of restoring you by sanctification! So, we must intentionally present our bodies to Him as a “living sacrifice” to glorify God with our bodies! But, there’s a 2nd point, that Paul ties to our worship, in the next verse—“Do not be conformed to this age”; or, this “world” as some translations render it! (Romans 12:2) I like how the Philips Translation puts it—“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold…

-Only 2 World Views!

In other words, “worshiping” God involves an intentional rejection of the world’s demand to conform! There are really only 2 “world views” or philosophies. There is the philosophy of the world that is self-centered, self-pleasing, and self-indulgent! It’s promoted in advertising, books, movies, video games and most social media. It’s constantly pinching us & squeezing us into it’s mold—“If you don’t conform, you’re out of touch,” the world says!  The opposing “world view” submits to Creator God & His word! Paul continues, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Worship transforms & renews your mind!

-Intentional Transformation!

Genuine worship includes an “intentional transformation” of the mind to think like God thinks—those thoughts that are “…good, pleasing, and perfect…” and align with God’s will! What a contrast, Paul presents, between being conformed & pressed into the world’s mold; or, being transformed with a renewed mind—all within the “context” of worship! Worship is way bigger then singing songs to Jesus for 20 minutes on a Sunday morning.  This passage paints a picture, of worship, that’s all about God doing a work in us! As we humble ourselves, in brokenness, before Him; and, intentionally offer our bodies back to Him, He begins to change us in ways that make us more & more usable for His Kingdom’s purposes! He is re-making us to be what we were meant to be; and, His Spirit works with our spirit by transforming our minds!