Integrity

Integrity

James 5:12

All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.”

Do You Go To Church? 

A lady was sitting in her beach chair on a Florida beach when the little boy, in his swimming trunks, and carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” Then he asked her: “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again, her answer was “Yes!” He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?” Again she said, “Yes!” She began to wonder where the question were leading to when The little boy gave a sigh of relief and said, “I finally found the right person. Will you hold my quarter for me while I go in swimming?”

Trust and integrity are huge issues. Today we are going to look at one simple verse that James uses to challenge the 1st century church to a life of integrity, honesty and straightforwardness.  If you are able, would you stand as we read God’s Word from James 5:12.

Read Passage – James 5:12 

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.” 

Let Me Sum It Up For You 

In the greater scheme of things when you look at this verse James is trying to drive home the point he has emphasized in the this chapter about the importance of our relationships and our words and how those impact our walk with God.   He starts the verse with the words:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters…” vs.12a

“Above all…” In Greek that is pro panton.  That word is not one that is used to denote coarse of profane language but one that says, in light of everything that is said, “pay attention” to this or even, “but finally…” He wants the readers to realize that his letter is about to come to an end and they really need to pay attention to the end and not lose track or lose heart.  When you read something its easy to skim past the end or hurry through it. He wants them to realize the importance of this and really hear what he is saying to them.

Trying to Get God Involved

Again, this is not a passage about using profane language. It’s about the oath’s we take and the trustworthiness of our words. Can people trust what we say and do they find us credible. In fact, James is probably thinking about a passage he would have memorized as a kid when going to the temple for school from the laws found n Leviticus, more specifically, Lev. 19:12:

“Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” Lev. 19:12

This passage is really a bridge of two thoughts; the ones that come in verses 7-11 about the patience we need in tough times and verse 13-20 about our prayers to God. Commentators disagree which section it goes with but I would suggest that is does very well standing on its own and bridging the thoughts about our relationships with others and our relationship with God. In either relationship, we need to be trustworthy and honest.

The warning that comes at the end of this verse in Lev. Is meant to caution us about bringing God into our oaths, especially when we know they are not true. When you make a false oath and you try to bring God into your lie, you are mixing oil and vinegar.  They don’t mix.  Neither do lies and God because in God there is only truth.  So don’t bring God into your lies. You don’t because as is says at the end, “He is the Lord.” You are not deceiving God but you might be bringing dishonor to his name. So don’t!

James and Jesus Teaching on Integrity

James also does an interesting thing here, he uses the very words of Jesus to drive this point about integrity home.  He actually almost word for word uses the teachings of teaching from the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:34-37. A close look at these two passages together help us understand James message much more clearly.

One thing that may have crossed your mind is that you don’t see the word integrity in either passage.  That’s true.  But let’s look at how integrity is defined and that will help us launch into this passage.

Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. (Dictinary.com)

In a word, James is directing us toward two moral values that should be evident in our life: honesty and truth. Those are also two Godly character traits. So, what do we need to know about integrity?

  1. Be Aware of Dishonesty

First, it is important to be aware that dishonesty is out there and more directly, we can have a propensity to be dishonest, especially if we are trying to build ourselves up, get an advantage, or even defend ourselves. James says in 12a:

“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else.” vs. 12a

As we saw in previous passages, notice that he is talking to fellow believers and the church because he addresses this to “brothers and sisters” and he personalizes it by saying “my brothers and sisters.” Dishonesty and lies are not to be part of the church but as we see in the headlines often, the church has often been thought of and found to be dishonest and not trustworthy.  Now notice how hjesus put it in Matthew 5:34-35a:

“But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne;or by the earth…” Matt. 5:34-35a

Earlier we studied how James taught that words are important.  We like to think that words are just words but they really are important and we need to be aware of our words, the weight they carry, and the potential for good and destruction that they carry. Often Jesus would say things like, “Truly I tell you…” (Matt. 5:26)

Ex. Most all of us have at one time or another been duped by someone’s dishonesty. Scam’s by phone callers about taxes, lost grandchildren, etc.

How does that feel.  You feel used, hurt, taken advantage of, etc. So when the world hears the church being dishonest, it experiences those same feelings and hurts. The church is meant to bring healing and good news to the world.  Dishonesty bring just the opposite.

  1. Live In/With Integrity

The second point that James beings to our attention about integrity is that we should be living in and with integrity. There is a simple way to do that, he says it in verse 12b:

“All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” vs. 12b

These words are almost word for word the exact words of Jesus.  I have put them next to each other for you to see.

“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” Matt. 5:37a

The point here is clarity. There should be no doubt about our words to others so that they can find us trustworthy and honest.

Ex. Every so often my wife will ask me a question and I will answer with— (a question) or (a vague answer)> So here is what Claudia says to me; “Answer me yes or no” She lives this passage and hold s me to it too.

The world looks to the church for answers to life’s issues and wants to know if we are honest and truthful.  Too often we have not been and then when they find the truth, and it’s different from what the church has said, they won’t hear the other things we say.

Ex. I recently was watching TV and saw a preacher telling the viewers that God wants you to be well and if you’re not, it has to be sin.  He also said that the solution was to buy his “healing water” and you could wash away your sin and be healed. Those kind of things mislead people. Yes, God does want you to be well but to promise healing through this “special water” or to say it’s your sin that is causing your sickness is not Biblical. Job did nothing wrong and his issues were not because of sin.

When we are untruthful and misleading, the world will not listen to us anymore and they will not hear the Good News of salvation through Jesus.

  1. Honesty Is a Serious Matter

And finally, third, James reminds us that honesty, trustworthiness, and integrity is a serious matter. James says in verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Those are hard words but Jesus words are even stronger in Matt. 5:37:

“…anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matt. 5:37

Here is what James and Jesus are both getting at: you have to decide who you are aligning yourself with. If you are aligning yourself with God, God is truth. John 3:33 says:

“Whoever has accepted (Christ) has certified that God is truthful.” John 3:33

So this is a hard choice we have to make; to follow God or to follow Satan. If we follow God, we choose not to lie and on the occasion that we do, we don’t try to bring him into it by saying things like “I swear to God.” Then we are bringing him into something that is totally foreign to him and has nothing to do with him. On the other hand, when we lie, we are aligning ourselves with Satan. John 8:44 says:

“When he lies, (Satan) speaks his native language, for is a liar and there is no truth in him.” John 8:44

Satan is the Father of lies.  The question is: Who’s your Father? God Almighty or Satan? Speaking the truth and living in integrity is so important, so serious, that it tells others who we are living for and who is our Father.

Hope and Confidence

So it is important to note two things about integrity, honety, trughfulness and the oaths with take;

  • If we are always truthful, we will never have to “swear” or take oaths because there is never a reason to doubt our integrity or honesty.
  • But…more importantly, two, it may appear at times that evil prevails. That people who lie get ahead, that dishonesty has its rewards. But go back to verse 12c:

“Otherwise you will be condemned.” vs. 12c

Look at that last word. Condemned. A judgment day is coming. A day when we will stand before God and have to give an account for what we have done. It’s at that point that we realize why Jesus came and died on the cross; for our forgiveness. If we align ourselves with God, accept Jesus gift of salvation, there is no condemnation for us. But if we align ourselves with Satan, the Father of lies, though we may get away with things now, we will not at the judgement seat.

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Let Love Prevail

Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas

This week we lived through some of the most discouraging and frustrating times as a nation. We saw the senseless killing of people and the struggle with understanding any of it. We see opposite ends happening; people being pulled apart by what is going on and people being united by what is going on.  You might be surprised this morning because you thought we were going to continue our study of the book of James. I was surprised too because I felt God calling me to address this issue and that to bring some peace, some understanding and some perspective to these times.  A quick review of the weeks events:

July 6th – Philandro Castile and his girlfriend were pulled over for a traffic violation. He tells the officer he has a gun but has a permit to carry it. The officer tells him to get the permit and when he reaches for it, he is shot 4 times while sitting in the passenger side of the car, while his girlfriend is witnessing and recording the whole event.

July 7th – Alton Sterling was selling CDs early Tuesday outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, when a homeless man approached him and asked for money.

The man was persistent, and Sterling showed him his gun. “I told you to leave me alone,” Sterling told the man, according to the source. The homeless man then used his cell phone to call 911. The police came and apprehended Sterling and while laying on the ground subdued by police was shot and killed.

July 9th – While protests were taking place in downtown Dallas over the killings of Castile and Sterling, an ex-military trained — shot into crowds of protesters at police who were monitoring the event killing 5 policeman and wounding 7 more.

We need to understand that the world needs to hear the message of Christ  more than ever; that if change is going to take place, one of the first places it needs to happen is with the church. We need to be in the world, bringing the message of the love of God to all people and see this senseless killing stop. For direction, we are going to read Jeremiah 22:3 this morning. If you are able, please stand.

Read Passage – Jeremiah 22:3

“Do no violence to the stranger, fatherless nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.” Jer. 22:3 KJ21

Killing and Murder

Some people think this is a new epidemic.  It’s not. Unfortunately, our nation has had a history of abuse of people; Native Americans, Asian, Hispanic, Black, and the list goes on. I think on a greater scale with technology, understanding and education, and with the perspective of God, our nation is now being held more accountable and greater change is need for us to move forward.

It is important as we embark on this subject, that we understand God’s Word and what it really says. So let’s go back to Exodus 20:13 to begin, it says:

“You shall not murder.” Ex. 20:13

So the first thing to be clear about is God’s command that we not murder.  In fact, God even put in place regulations and laws about those who murder. For example in Genesis 9:6 he states:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.” Genesis 9:6

God early on established the sanctity of life and the need for us to be held accountable. He also made it extremely clear that we are not to be murdering others. One of the main reason is that we are made in the image of God and we will touch on that a bit later. So how do we define murder? Here is the definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

Murder: the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought

That sounds pretty clear but it might make us ask the question; “Then what is killing? It is also important to note that there is a difference between killing and murder. Let me give you this statement:

All murder is killing but not all killing is murder.

So let me explain by giving you some aspects of killing that are not murder.

-Unintentional

You’re out hunting with some friends and you think you see an animal in the bushes and you shoot. You kill someone. You didn’t mean to do it, it was unintentional, an accident. Even God understood that accidents happen and when he established Israel he provided “Cities of Refuge” for people to go to and live and be safe if they killed someone unintentionally. This way the relatives could not take revenge. Now you couldn’t leave the city, if you did, you were fair game, but a way to protect those that killed unintentionally was provided.

-Self-Defense

Someone breaks into your house and is assaulting you and you know it is your life or theirs and you kill the intruder. It wasn’t planned or done with malice, it was self-preservation.

-Capital Punishment

Now there is some debate on the next two and some of you may agree or not agree with these next two. Capital punishment. Someone is killed because they have taken the life of, murdered, someone else and the consequence of their actions is to have their own life taken. Again, I realize some of you make think capital punishment is wrong so realize that there is some disagreement here.

-War

And with this reason as well, war. When someone is called upon to defend their country and have joined the armed forces, and they kill, many consider that an act of killing and not murder. Again, I realize some of you make think war and killing in war is wrong so, again, realize that there is some disagreement here.

I hope these have helped you be able to tell the difference of thought between what murder is and what killing is.

Why The Commandment “Do Not Murder”

In light of what has happened this week, we need to talk about these things. I believe God told me to talk about them. And…I believe God has strong feeling about this to and we really need to understand what His Word tells us and how it guides us in all of this. I focused on 3 areas that are important to God and, as the church, we should look at them as important too.

  1. Murder Lessens the Sanctity of Life

Now first, I have touched on it briefly but let me do a little deeper with this, murder lessens the sanctity of life.  God from the beginning established that every life is important and that every person has value and is valued by him. Part of Jesus discourse on the Sermon on the Mount was just that, that we are valued by God and that he cares for each of us.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:26:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matt. 6:26

Now God cares for each of us and the question might be; “why?” Two reasons:

  • We are his creation. When I make something, I am proud of it and I want to take care of it. Even if it’s not all everyone else thinks it should be. I made it. It’s of value to me.

Ex. I made a painting and some people laughed at it. It’s not professional, not going to be in a museum, but it’s mine and I am proud of it.

  • We are made in his image. You and I are made in the image of God Almighty. We were fashioned after God himself.

And let’s not forget John 3:16:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

 

Jesus died for all people, everyone. Not some, not just the good, not a selected few, but all. Whoever believes in him. All are welcome.

  1. Murder Usurps God’s Authority

Secondly. Murder usurps God’s authority. Usurps is a fancy way of saying that we are trying to take the authority away from God and assume it ourselves. Let’s go back to the beginning in Genesis 2:7 where it says:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7

God made us. He decides who has life and who does not.  It’s his creation not ours. And it’s not ours to take away from him. When we murder, we have moved God out of the picture and put ourselves in his place, and it’s not our place. The Bible is very clear that God is the one who gives life and that God is the one who determines how long we live.  We want desperately to make those decisions ourselves and yet it is not our decision to make. We have gotten to the point that we feel we have the right to make those decisions. No! Job in Job 14:5 says:

“A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” Job 14:5

We want to assume the control and yet it is not our control to have. We have to stop playing God. When someone decides to shoot innocent people and take lives, whether they are law protectors, civilians, someone with a grudge, someone who has been wronged or hurt, etc. they are playing God. Even revenge, God says “Revenge is mine.” We are not to put ourselves in God’s place.

  1. Murder Reflects Your Heart

And third, murder is reflective of what is in your heart.  This is a harsh one because we all want to believe that we would never do such a thing, but it seems many people have the capability of this and they don’t realize it. Jesus said in Matt. 15:19:

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” Matt. 15:19

I look at that list and I go; “No, not me.” But I have to realize that I am capable of any of those things. Pastors say a lot of things sometimes without really fully explaining them.  One is: Have Jesus in your heart.  SO here is the explanation of why we need to fill our heart with Jesus; because if we don’t, it can be filled with things like murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. I don’t want those in my heart. And if what is in my heart comes out, what better thing can you fill it with than Jesus, his words, his example, his way of doing things.

Let Love Prevail

That is why we land here this morning on this issue: we, the church, need to let love prevail. I was really proud of Philandro Castile’s girlfriend.  She had just witnessed one of the most horrific things a person could, someone she loves killed right in front of her. Listen to her words in a statement made the next day:

“Not just blacks, not just whites, not just Asians, everyone, this affected everyone.” No one deserves to be taken away.”

We, the church, need to be in that place.  That all lives matter. We do that by living like Jesus. We do that by following God’s Word.  We do that by adhering to Godly principle like the following:

Kindness and compassion

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Eph. 4:32.

Love, joy, peace, kindness and goodness

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.” Gal. 5:22-23

Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col. 3:15

Jesus not only taught it, he lived it. 1 John 5:11:

Jesus

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

1 John 5:11

That’s how we are to roll in this life, how we are to live in a world that is lost and confused. We move in love not hatred. We live in peace and kindness and with God’s peace ruling our hearts. We need this because the only way our world will change is to realize that we have the chance to live forever with God in eternity and that the only way to have that assurance is through Jesus Christ because he died for us and covered our sin.

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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and Stones
James 4:11-12
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

Hurtful Words
There are companies that make their money using hurtful and untrue words; that make their living putting things out there and dealing with the consequences later. I was reminded of this the other day when I was in the store and I saw a pretty famous tabloid and right as I was reading the headline and thinking if anyone would buy this publication, the lady in front of me turned around, grab one, and threw it onto the belt with her groceries. It was almost like she could hear my thoughts. Well, it got me thinking about lawsuits and people who have to dal with that kind of stuff. So, here is a list of the top 5 celebrity lawsuits. (taken from insidecousel.com)
5. Cameron Diaz – Sued a tabloid because it claimed she was having an affair with another celebrity when, in fact, both were in relationships of their own and were not having an affair.
4. Robin Williams – Williams sued his celebrity look-alike who, with the help of his agent, was pretending to be the actual Robin Williams. Under false pretenses, the look-alike was cheating charities under Robin Williams’ name and causing serious damage to his reputation.
3. Kiera Knightley – The Daily Mail published accusations that Knightley had an eating disorder and had been responsible for the death of a young lady with anorexia. The actress went to court and was awarded several thousand dollars which she handed over to a charity.
2. Sharon Stone – Plastic surgeon Renato Calabria let two U.S. magazines know that Stone had received a facelift. Stone claimed the accusations were false and had defamed her resulting in difficulty in finding work. She sued the surgeon for damages and won.
1. David Beckham – A magazine printed an article claiming that Beckham had hired a prostitute, so he sued. Since Beckham could not prove the magazine acted maliciously, he lost the court ruling and his $25 million lawsuit was tossed out.

The most famous libel lawsuit is…Hulk Hogan. You know, it’s hard when someone says something about you that is not true and really is out and out a lie. But it happens, and probably more often than we care to admit. As we continue through the book of James, he addresses this very subject and how we, especially within the church, should not be a part of such things. If you are able, please stand as we read James 4:11-12.

Read Passage – James 4:11-12
“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

It All Comes Down to 2 Laws
James is really taking the thoughts and ideas of Jesus here and asking us to put our faith into action by considering how we are treating one another. God has always been concerned about how people are treated. We are God’s creation and he doesn’t like seeing his creation treated improperly. God helped us by giving us the 10 Commandments as a rule and guide for living. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy those laws are expanded so that we have guides for almost every kind of situation in life. And if that wasn’t enough, he sent prophets to help along the way in the O.T. as well. There is a period of almost 400 where God was silent but then he broke that silence and sent his son Jesus Christ. In Matthew 22 the religious leaders are trying to test Jesus by asking him which is the greatest commandments to follow. (Really God wants us to follow all of them.) But Jesus, he tells them that it all comes down to 2 laws:

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matt. 22:37-39

So Jesus really simplifies it for them, he says it is all about two laws or ethics; one, your relationship with God, and two, your relationship with others. They were trying to trap him but Jesus wasn’t falling into their trap, he just simplifies things for them, and for us too. You might recall Jesus words from Matthew 5 right after Jesus had given the multitudes The Beattitudes:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matt. 5:17

Jesus wants to make it clear that he is not contradicting anything from the past or changing what God has previously given, he was coming to fulfill the law and was showing us what it looked like to live out those laws in our lives.
Ill. Can you imagine if they had tabloids back then? The Jerusalem Star – headline: Jesus Claims; “I fulfill of the Law of God” 🙂

The Pitfalls of Slander
James stresses very strongly in this passage that slander should not be part of who we are. So let’s make sure we have a good clear definition of slander so we can apply what he is saying.

Slander: to make a false spoken statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone (Meriam-Webster Dictionary)

Notice the two aspects of slander; 1) it’s a false spoken statement; and, 2) it’s having a bad opinion (How we view people in our head)
Let’s be clear as well as to whom James is saying this, verse 1a:

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” vs. 11a

Be careful here and notice; James is talking to the church! He is using the term brothers and sisters because he is addressing those within the church. It would be best if we didn’t have this kind of attitude at all but even more so, this should not be something that is part of church life. As family, God’s family, false statements and bad opinions should be checked at the door. This is so important because as family we are to love one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11) as Paul says. God loves us and we are his children. We should not be tearing each other down, period! It’s important to know why; because we are not acting as God’s children or as family when we do so and it stops s from having unity and effective worship.
Ex. A parent saying “That’s not how we act in this family!”

*It Puts You Above Others
James point out three pitfalls of slander. The first pitfall is that when we slander, you put yourself above others. James says in verse 11b:

“Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” vs. 11b

It’s interesting that in our culture today we have a high value on “no judging.” You often hear people say things like, “I’m not judging you,” or “We are not to judge others.” It’s more severe in the church. When we judge, we are telling our brother or sister that they don’t belong in the church. That’s not our call. God already made it clear that is not our job to decide who is in and out, that’s his call. In a sense we are saying that we are better than you and that God’ wants us more. No! God’s law is that all are welcome.

*It Puts You Above the Law
The second pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above the law, verse 11c:

“When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.” vs. 11c

There is a subtle yet import thing to grasp here, that when we slander we are declaring that we know best, that we know better and that our way is the way. God didn’t give us laws to pick and choose which we think are correct and which we want to follow. No, we are to follow the whole law and Jesus, as we stated earlier, came to fulfill the law meaning that we need to be even more intent on keeping his word.
Ex. Do not lie. He didn’t say don not lie when it is convenient or when you think it is best or when it is for the greater good. No, we are called not to lie and many people try to justify their lies.

Don’t put yourself above the law.

*It Puts You Above God
And the third pitfall is that when you slander, you put yourself above God, verse 12:

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” vs. 12

This is harsh but very true, when you slander, we have put ourselves in God’s place and we are assuming power. God has the power not us. We somehow live in this illusion that we have the power. That goes back to Satan’s words to Eve in the garden where he entices her and says that “you will be like God.” We fall into that thinking that we are like God. We are not.
Ex. My call to the phone company and asked to speak to a manager. The operator aske dhow she could help. I asked “are you a manager?” She said no. She was assuming the power but she didn’t have the power. We should not be assuming God’s power.
Steps To Avoid the Pitfall

In order for us to put James’ words into action, we have some big decisions to make so I challenge you to make some tough decisions this morning.

1. Desire Peace Not “Winning”
First, what is more important to you, having peace with each other, or winning? Many of us can be competitive and stubborn. We are more concerned about being right and getting our way, winning, than we are about having peace. God’s message to us is to get along and to build each other up and ultimately to live in peace with one another. Romans 12:18 says:

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

I have at times been approached about being a mediator of sorts for people. Sometimes it is a married couple, sometimes a parent and child and sometimes just two people who are in disagreement. Here is usually the way I’ve been asked to mediate; “Pastor we have a disagreement. Will you listen and tell them I am right? Within the church, we should be more concerned about peace yet “winning” has become more important. And this isn’t just in individual cases, this is in churches as a whole and denominations.
Ex. Last week we talked about the top causes of disputes in the church; worship style, decision making, length of service, etc. Isn’t sad that we are more concerned about winning and having our way than having peace within the body of Christ?

2. Remember God Loves All People
The second decision is to decide if you are going to love all people or just the ones you decide to love. Now don’t get me wrong with this, we are not called to be best friends with everyone. And, there are some people that you just don’t click with. That’s okay. It is important to remember that God makes it clear that he loves everyone. This took me back to some verses I memorized as a kid, John 3:16-17:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:16

The challenge is to remember that Jesus died for anyone who will take his free gift. He doesn’t die for just a few, just for the good people, just for the rich, etc. He died for all and when we slander, we lessen the work of Jesus Christ. Remember this is written to the church and if the world sees the church back biting, slandering, talking behind each others back, etc. They will not want to be a part of that church. That’s why James starts with the question in verse 1 of this chapter what causes quarrels and fights among you? People see enough of that in the world.

3. Commit to Personal Integrity
And the third decision is really one that is a tough one that you have to make internally, are you going to commit to personal integrity? They thing about slander is that it tears you down and it becomes a stumbling block to worshipping God and to being the person God created you to be. In fact, slander can lead you away from God and make you miserable. You need to commit to personally being committed to God and his ways and allow him to lead you and change your heart. Jesus is addressing a crowd in Mark 8 and he challenges them with this thought in verse 36:

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Mark 8:36

See our decisions and the way we live have eternal consequences. Personal integrity is being fair and honest with yourself and it’s a state of being complete or whole. We are only whole when we allow God to lead and when we follow his ways.

Get Out of My Chair
Let me challenge you with this thought about that? Whose in your chair? We all have a heart and soul and we have this space there. Some call it a hole or a void or something like that, but for our purpose today I am going to call it a chair. (Kind of like a throne) Who is sitting on the chair of your heart and soul? Is it God? Is it you? God is asking us to allow him to be the one that sits on the chair. Let him guide, direct, etc. His ways are the best and he only wants the best for us and when we let God sit in the chair, He can change even the worst of people to someone beautiful. Many of us refuse to get out of the chair. We like being in charge and in control. In fact, when it comes to our brothers and sisters, we are called to allow God on the throne and tell us how we are to handle those relationships. His way is found in Col. 3:13:

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13

We are called to bear and forgive. There is only one reason why we need to do this; he did for us through his son Jesus. Because Jesus died and rose again, God has forgiven us. Because of his grace and gratitude, we are called to do the same. Lead into communion.

Communion

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Changing the Direction in Your Life

Changing the Direction of Your Life

James 4:1-10

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8

Two Sides 

One of the things I love about our church is the openness and mutual love and concern we have for one another.  It’s not that way in all churches and that’s a shame. In fact, I think disagreements, arguments, and church splits are occurring at an alarming rate and that really is puts the church in a bad light in the view of our communities.  They see the church as a place of contention rather than an accepting and loving community.  I did a little research. Can you name the top 5 issues of conflict in the church? I got this list from Thomas S. Rainer website which is dedicated to growing healthy churches.  This report was put out in July 2014.

  1. Worship style
  2. Decision making – who makes the decisions
  3. Length of worship service
  4. How to deal with clergy and moral failure
  5. Worship service time change

Other notable things that are struggles in the church: volume, pastor’s salary, how big the church should be, attire, role of the Pastor’s wife and/or children.

It’s sad that these things occur but the reality is that they do and it affects the role of the believer. Some become disillusioned with their faith or even just disillusioned with the church and it has resulted in many who choose not to go to church. As we continue with our study of the book of James, he addresses this issue in chapter 4 verses 1-10. If you are able, please stand as this passage of God’s Word.

Read Passage – James 4:1-10 

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

Problems in the Church 

James doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to this subject.  He hits it right on. He wants our faith to be reflected in how we live. Here is the bottom line, if we want the world to change and to see Christ, it has to start with the church and what that means is that it has to start with each of us, individually. So he asks a question in verse 1a:

What causes fights and quarrels among you?” vs.1a

The early church was used to fighting. They were constantly at odds with the Romans and unfortunately that attitude had spilled over into the church. They were so used to being in conflict that it carried over into he church to the point it was affecting their worship. Conflict can get so bad that it could bring the church to a standstill and cause it to become ineffective. James doesn’t list a specific incident of what was going on but he does tell us the problems they were dealing with:

-Selfishness You desire but do not have…” vs. 2

First, selfishness. He says in verse 2: (read). Selfishness is wanting everything the way you want it. It’s not concerned with others or the whole but only about yourself. In fact, the very definition of selfishness is excessively concerned about only yourself.

-Cravings  “You covet but you cannot get what you want…” vs. 2b

The second problem they had was that they coveted, he says in verse 2b: (read). Covet, that deep desire to want what others have and keep it all for yourself. You want it so bad you crave it and are not satisfied until you have it.

-Impure Motives When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with

     wrong motives” vs. 3

And, the third problem, they had impure motives, verse 3: (read). Now get this, the  impure motives were directed at God. Oh they asked, but they were in a sense deceiving God only to get things for themselves.

Ex. The way that the world sees the church as only out for money.

Does this sound like the kind of church you want to belong to? Probably not.

Looking Like the World 

You might be wondering why James makes this jump from chapter 3 about the use of our words to this issue within the church.  It’s pretty simple, we use our words to fight and quarrel and to put down others while at the same time build ourselves up. I asked a question: Is this the kind of church you want to belong to? The obvious answer is “no.”  The reason behind the question is when we act this way, when we take on these traits of fighting, quarreling and only wanting our way, we are looking like the world.

Ex. Current elections happening on national and local levels are full of fighting, back biting, name calling, and candidates telling us their way is the best way. I’ve heard many people say they don’t know who to vote for or possibly not even wanting to vote. We should vote.

But we don’t want people to look at the church and not see that it’s different than the world.  If it is not, they won’t see the love, peace, and hope that God offers. There is actually a tragic consequences to living this way; it comes in verse 5:

Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” vs. 5

This is hard to fathom but the reality is that when we are acting in these manners and the church is selfish, coveting, and living in impure motives, we are not that bride of Christ and the beauty and love of God, no we are in danger of being the enemy of God. Wow, what a drastic shift.

Changing the Direction of Your Life 

So the challenge from James here is to change the direction of your life. To look and act differently than the world and to be so in love with God that the world would want to be in the church. Now I love this next verse, it has such a great message for us, verse 6:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” vs. 6

You should circle “But he gives us more grace.” What an amazing thought.  Despite ourselves, our selfish desires, despite our divisive ways, God operates on grace. Grace: the unmerited assistance and forgiveness of God. This changes the direction of our life. God’s grace causes you to want to live differently. James tells us what that look like in three different ways.

  • Submit 

The first thing that we can do is submit to God. He says in verse 7a:

Submit yourselves, then, to God.” vs. 7a

Many people don’t like the word submit.  It carries a lot of negative connotations. The word for submit carries with it the full range intended by the term repentance. In fact, it actually has two aspects to it, to turn away, and then to humble yourself. So from what James mentioned earlier, we turn away from selfishness, coveting, and impure motives and then choose to humble ourselves by putting ourselves under God’s authority.  I’ll be honest, this doesn’t come naturally to us. Submitting to god means we trust his plan, we choose to follow his word even though we might want something different, and we trust that his way is always the best way for us.

Ex. Jesus, his willingness to only do what the Father tells him to do and to be obedient, even to the point of death.

The thing about this is that it’s not a one time decision.  You have to make this decision everyday. Jesus did and he tells us the same in Luke 9:23:

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

Circle the word daily. I can tell you that you can make this decision one day and struggle with it again the next. But let me remind you what James tells us about this: But he gives us more grace. Grace says I can fail everyday and still be forgiven and loved and start all over.

  • Resist 

The second thing we need to actively do is resist and he is specific in what we resist, the devil. Verse 7b:

Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” vs. 7b

 

Notice he says that when we resist he will flee. This is not a maybe. He will flee. But I know I struggle with this because he doesn’t flee as quickly as I would like.  And because he flees, doesn’t mean he won’t try and come back. Here is a great example of fleeing.

Ex. “Like many sheep ranchers in the West, Lexy Fowler has tried just about everything to stop crafty coyotes from killing her sheep. She has used odor sprays, electric fences, and ‘scare-coyotes.’ She has slept with her lambs during the summer and has placed battery-operated radios near them. She has corralled them at night, herded them at day. But the southern Montana rancher has lost scores of lambs—fifty last year alone.

“Then she discovered the llama—the aggressive, funny-looking, afraid-of-nothing llama. ’Llamas don’t appear to be afraid of anything,’ she said. ‘When they see something, they put their head up and walk straight toward it. That is aggressive behavior as far as the coyote is concerned, and they won’t have anything to do with that. Coyotes are opportunists, and llamas take that opportunity away.’”

Barry McGee, Denver Post

Think about this as you consider resisting the devil; you don’t have to do it on your own. Not only do you not need to but in many ways you can’t on your own. But listen tot the promise of God that comes from 2 Peter 2:9:

“…the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials…” 2 Peter 2:9a

Isn’t this awesome news? YEA! Here is the challenge in our attempts to resist: identify the areas you are trying to do it on your own. It’s in those areas that you will get attacked again and again and again.  (Encourage people to write them down, find accountability partners, be open and honest with who you are not only to God but to yourself.)

  • Come Near 

And finally, the third thing you can choose to do is to come near to God, verse 8:

Come near to God and he will come near to you.” vs. 8

We must look at our lives and ask ourselves if we are living in a way that we willing put ourselves in a position to experience God in a more intimate way every day.

Ex. Think back to when you were dating or interested in someone. For me, I remember being interested in Claudia and I would purposely go places or hang out in places where I could see her and interact with her.

We have to be willing to put ourselves in places that we see, experience, and are interacting with God.  Many times we live our lives and hope God shows up somewhere. No, we have to be proactive in including God in our lives.

Ex. Think about what you can do to draw near to God.  It might be putting more Christian music in your life, or more Scripture, or prayer, etc. But realize it might not happen if you leave it to chance. Don’t over complicate it but make it a purposeful part of you day.

David says in Psalm 72:28:

But as for me, it is goodtobenearGod. I have made the SovereignLordmy refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”  Psalm 73:28

Don’t just include God, make him the place you run to, your refuge, your home base, and your strength. Make him your default (the place you turn to first).

Give God Room to Work 

So James ends by encouraging us in the last verse of this passage, verse 10:

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” vs. 10

He says humble yourself. He ends by showing the stark contrast of those who are selfish, who covet, and who live with impure motives; the contrast is humility. The ways that bring problems are reckless and self seeking. Humility is having the control to realize that you can’t do it yourself but that God can. Notice the last phrase: “He will lift you up.” The bottom line is you don’t have to build yourself up, God will lift you up. That’s why God sent his Son, so you don’t have to be in a struggle of trying to prove yourself and earn his love. We willing accept the gift God gave us in his son and that changes who we are.  We are no longer selfish, greedy and egocentric. This is who we are:

-Co-heirs with Christ

-A child of their King

-The bride of God

-Loved, cared for, and valued

Not because we demand it or earned it, but because of god’s great grace, we are lifted up and valued by God.

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The Power of the Tongue

The Power of the Tongue
James 3:16-12

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings…” vs.9

The Change in Word Use
Put on your thinking caps for just a moment and think about this; according to Graph.net there are 6.8 billion people in the world who speak over 7,000 languages. That’s a lot of different languages but, of course, there are some languages that are more prominently spoken around the world. So…can you name the top 5 spoken languages in order of the most spoken. As you guess them they will appear on the screen.
Top 10 spoken languages in the world
1. Chinese 1.2 billion speakers
2. Spanish 329 million speakers
3. English 328 million speakers
4. Arabic 221 million speakers
5. Hindi 182 million speakers
Honorable mention of 6 through 10
6. Bengali 181 million speakers
7. Portuguese 178 million speakers
8. Russian 144 million speakers
9. Japanese 122 million speakers
10. German 90 million speakers
So projections by graph.net says this is going to change. By 2050, here are the projected top 5 languages that will be spoken:
1. Chinese
2. Hindi
3. English
4. Spanish
5. Arabic
The interesting thing about this is that if we want to communicate effectively with people and those of other cultures, it may be important to know the right languages and their cultural background. As you know, you can use a word that may be fine in one cultural and not so fine in another. Today we are going to look at the importance of our words. James gives us some food for thought on this in James 6:6-12. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word.

Read Passage – James 3:6-12
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Limited Control
Since the beginning of time, God gave us our tongue to glorify him and to have a limited control of things on earth. Genesis 1:26 states:

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26

So we are made in God’s image and likeness but our control was always intended to be limited. Adam even had the privilege of walking and talking with God. That must have been cool. The control we were given was over the animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures. We have distorted that control and extended it to be over ourselves. As God never intended Israel to have a king, he wanted to be their king, so we were never intended to control each other and even ourselves but to have God be over us. Part of that “ruling over” is that one way we can control the animals is through our words. God even gave us the authority to name them in Gen. 2:19. Verse 7 of our passage today talks about us taming the animals:
“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind…” vs. 7

One of the ways that taming comes is through our words. So, we feel a bit of control and power that comes with the idea of taming things like the animals.

Untamable
Ever been to the circus or sea world or a zoo? I love to see how those trainers can work with animals and train them and tame them. They teach them to do tricks and acts that I am amused by and stunned by. But there is some bad news that James gives us here in verse 8, he says:

“…but no human being can tame the tongue.” vs. 8

We can tame and train a lot of things but James makes it really clear here, we cannot tame our tongue. Sounds a bit hopeless. Here is what I believe God is trying to get us to consider through this statement, we cannot totally tame our tongue but we still have some choices to make on how we live our life. We also want to live in such a way that we are wanting to live more like Jesus.

The Choices of Our Words
Here’s what James does for us. He gives us three word pictures that are also choices that we have to make when it comes to how we use our words. These are important choices and need to be considered carefully.

  • Praise or Curse
    The first choice comes in verses 9 and 10:

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” vss.9-10

The picture here is our conversation and interactions with others and ultimately with God himself. Remember I mentioned that Adam walked and talked with God in the garden. I believe that some of that conversation must have been praise. I could just hear Adam saying something like: “You created that God? Wow! That is beautiful. God you are so incredible.” But here is the thing, sin entered. Satan was right when he told Adam and Eve that eating of the fruit would make them like God. We were created in his likeness. Yes, we are “like” God but the reality is that we are not God. God could use his words and call things into being, we cannot. God used his words to instruct and guide. We may be made in his image but we are not God. Satan on the other hand, he used his words to manipulate and mislead and to drive a wedge between God and man.
We have the same choice in our lives today. We can recognize God’s wonderful creation and praise him. But…do you know the opposite of praise, yes, curse. We were created to praise but we have chosen to use our words to curse. David encourages us in Psalm 66 to let God’s praise be on our tongue:

“I cried to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue.” Psalm 66:17

We cannot be in union with God and be on the same page as him if we are using our words to curse others. God is saying: “I created him/her, I made them in my image. And you are curing them? No, I love them.”
Ex. One thing I love is my wife and kids. Now I know my kids faults and I know just as well if not better than anyone their short comings. But here is the thing; you better not talk bad about them around me. Why? Because I get defensive. Those are my kids. God has that same sense and even greater when it comes to his kids.

Exercise: Turn to the person next to you and just say one thing you appreciate about them. How did that make you feel? How did it make them feel? See, wew need more of that in our life.

  • Refreshing or Bitterness
    The second picture he gives us concerns water, and he says in verse 11:

“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” vs.11

The choice is pretty clear through the illustration, we can choose words that are refreshing and life giving or we can choose words that are bitter and destructive.
Ex. After a workout – So refreshing to have a big glass of ice cold water Can you think of a time when you would want to have a big glass of salt water? As a kid my mom made me rinse my mouth with salt water to avoid or get rid of sores in your mouth. Oh, I hated that.

James points out that these two waters can’t come from the same source the same spring. This reflects or deeper person, that we can be people that use our words to bring refreshment to others lives or we can bring a bitterness that hurts and is repulsive to people.
Ex. Don’t really try this but do you know what happens when you take a big gulp of salt water? You choke. You gag. Literally, if we are using words that are bitter and harmful to people we are choking them and making them gag.
Paul writes in 1 Thess. 5:14

“And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with one another.” 1 Thess. 5:14

If you are taking notes, circle “encourage the disheartened.” We live in a world where we have people using their words to tear down and oppress.
Ex. The increase in bullying in our schools and even worse with internet.

  • Fruitfulness or Fruitlessness
    The third choice comes from the illustration of tress, and more specifically fruit trees. Verse 12 says:

“My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?” vs. 12

Our choice is that our words can bear good fruit or bad fruit and in some cases no fruit at all. Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. The idea is that you are what you are. You cannot change what you are in your heart and your words will eventually reveal what is in your heart.
Ex. Animals like a dog. They can be friendly, loving, and the greatest pet but at some point they will always remind you they are a dog. Right? They will do something like eat of sniff something disgusting, etc.
Jesus reiterates this same concept in Matt. 7:17 when h e says:

“Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.” Matt. 7:17

This goes back to one of the things that we talked about earlier, that we were created to praise and worship God. At the core we have that in us. Our words should reflect that and show that to the world.

Challenge: To make the choice to use words that bear fruit.

Important Words To Hear
The difficult thing about this is that we cannot do it on our own. Remember James teaches us that our tongues are not able to be tamed. But…we still have choices to make and we need to make every effort to be people that praise, refresh and bear fruit. Now we cannot tame our tongue but there is one that can. God asks us to trust him and to trust in his Son. Jesus showed us through his words that the tongue can be tamed and that our words can make a difference; with his help.

I thought it would be good to end with some important words. Word we need to hear and words that speak to our life. Words of Jesus.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” John 10:10

“And surely I am with you always…” Matt. 28:20
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28

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Just Make Room

Just Make Room

2 Kings 4:8-17

You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you?” vs. 13

The Talking Parrot 

A wealthy Texas man was in the habit of giving his mother an extravagant gift each year for Mother’s Day. He made it his goal to give her something more expensive and unique each year.  One year he gave her the entire collection of – music.  Not to be outdone the next year he gave her hang gliding lessons. Well he got to the point where he thought he may have out done himself and was at a loss of what to give her until he ran across this unique and gifted talking parrot. The parrot could speak in five languages and the topping on the cake was that it could sing her favorite song, The Yellow Rose of Texas, while standing on one foot. The bird cost $10,000.00 but that made no difference to the man. Well the man was thrilled with his gift and gave it to his mom on Mother’s Day. About a week later he called his mom to check in on her and maybe gloat a bit over his gift. He asked his mom how she liked the bird. She replied “It was delicious!”

HA! I guess it is good to make sure you give your mom the right present and that she is clear on how it is to be used. If you are able, please stand as we read God’s Word from 2 Kings 4:2-17.

Read Passage – 2 Kings 4:8-17

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.” 11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’” She replied, “I have a home among my own people.” 14“What can be done for her?” Elisha asked. Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.” “No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” 17 But the woman became pregnant, and break and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

Finding a Friend 

We have been working our way through the book of James but being that it is Mother’s Day, I couldn’t resist taking a break and doing a Mother’s Day story. In 2 Kings 4 Elisha is the main prophet in Israel. Israel is on a downward spiral. Elisha goes from town to town proclaiming the Word of God and in chapter 4 he goes to the city of Shunem, which he has been to before, and stays at the house of family he has stayed with before. We know little about the woman introduced as the woman of the house but we do know she is childless and that she seems to have control of her household and the trust of her husband. She is one who lives out another famous verse that we read often on Mother’s Day in Proverbs 31:11:

Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.” Proverbs 31:11

We can see how her husband trusts her and has confidence in her and in her decision making

Old Testament Hospitality 

Now the OT cultured had a different view of hospitality than we do.  Our culture is very protective and guarded. We have extensive lock systems, security system and video surveillance, and all kinds of things to protect ourselves. We rarely hear of taking someone in unless we know them or know someone they know and can vow for them.

Ex. A good example is last week when we got away for a for days, we booked an Airbnb room but the owner went on Facebook to check us out and determine if he wanted to rent to us. The owners can check out your profile and decided weather or not to rent to you.

In the culture we see in 2 Kings, a traveler could go to the main town square and hang out in a particular place and if people saw them there, they were letting others know they needed housing for the night. The people of this time were used to taking people in.  Many of their homes had a “chamber” or porch area toward the front of the house where they could put a bed and some simple necessities for strangers go spend the night. It was somewhat protected from the rest of the house because it was in the front and part of the main living quarters.

In our story today we see the Shunammite woman actually go a bit further with this idea of hospitality, she designates a room on the roof for Elisha so that when he comes by, she is prepared to welcome him and his place is secure.

Her Character… 

What kind of woman would do this? The answer is a woman of high character and one who was confident in herself.  This woman has a quiet dignity about her We can learn from her noting she has three important traits that we take note of and that speak into our lives as well. These traits all have to do with her making a room for Elisha and that speaks about the rest of her life as well.

-Made Room for Others 

The first thing to take note of is that she makes room for others in her life. She didn’t have to designate a space for Elisha but she wanted to. This shows her gift of hospitality and acceptance of others.  We read in verse 8:

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.” vs. 8

This shows the importance of giving food to men of God! Ha! No, just kidding. The first thing to note is that word “urged.” Circle that word. What this really shows us is her open spirit to others and her gift of serving. She wanted him to come to her house. Would you agree with me; a person with an open spirit to others is an attraction and a joy to be around? When you open your spirit to others and are inviting in your soul, there is a certain beauty to it. Verse 9 specifically notes that Elisha is a “holy man of God.”  She goes the extra mile for this man who is God’s representative. He’s a prophet, one that speaks the word of God and this woman shows through her actions how important she sees his presence in her community. People who have that open of a spirit are rare but great to be around.

Ex. Maria at Raley’s. Always welcoming, helpful, etc. You wait in line at the store just to get her. (Do imitation)

Proverbs 11:25 says:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Prov. 11:25

There is a refreshment that comes from being around someone who is so welcoming and warm. You tend to like those people and you tend to remember them as well.

Ex. Last week I heard Bob Goff  the author of Love Does. He is that kind of guy. He loves people, welcomes them, sees the good in them. He told the story about how he loves cake pops. I’ve always wondered why people like those things but he does.  He told this story about a guy he was having a struggle with so he buys a cake pop and send it to him in the mail. Ha! Turns out that a simple act like that eased his heart to love the man even more.

We are so guarded in our culture. Why not have a heart that is open and welcoming. Buy someone a cake pop, a cup of coffee, etc.  Having issues with someone, buy them a simple gift and I’ll bet your attitude will change.

-Made Room for God 

A second trait to take note of is that this wealthy woman made room for God. Obviously from the text we note that Elisha had been there before.  It’s interesting that she wanted to be prepared anytime the man of God came to town. We know that God is at work and around us but many times we haven’t prepared for God. This woman wanted to carve out a niche in her life so that whenever God showed up, she was prepared.  Verse 10:

Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him.” vs. 10

It’s interesting to think about, she didn’t go to extremes here, she didn’t get all this fancy stuff and make this room that was extravagant. Nope, she made it a functional simple space that Elisha could use. In this room she put a bed, table, chair and lamp.  This was a place Elisha could use for study, for rest, and that would have just the basics.

But note: she created a space for God. So many times we get caught up in life in general. We fill our lives with work, the kids, with the gym, hobbies, internet, technology, etc., all these things that take our time and energy and we haven’t left room for God. Many of those things are good and needed in our life. But…you know the first area we cut back on?  Our spiritual life.  God just wants a simple place to dwell, just the basics, one that he can use for His purpose and one that is set aside just for him. It’s important to have a place for God.

Ex. Tuesday, got my hike, did my puzzles, built some planter boxes, etc. but never read my Bible. I cut the wrong thing out.

David wrote in Psalm 51:10:

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10

Circle “create” Many people want God in their life but have not created a space for him or prepared a place for him.

Ex. How can you do this?
-A Specific time of prayer

-A walk and talk with God everyday; and it doesn’t have to be long

-A verse card strategically place (Fil’s computer)

-A armband, bracelet, etc. that reminds you about God during the day

-Made Room for God’s Call 

And, the third trait this Godly woman displayed was that she made room for God’s call. You might be thinking, “Didn’t you just say that?”  No. Making room for God and making room for his call are two different things. Let me explain. Many people invite God into their lives. There is a saying that goes,

“Many people want to serve God-but only in an advisory capacity.”

Making room for God’s call is making room for God’s plan for your life, even when it seems your life pattern is set, even when it seems impossible, even when it doesn’t match your plan. For this Shunammite woman, her life plan seemed set.  She wasn’t going to be a mother and the text lends us to believe that she was past the point of having children. Not only that, but she carried around the stigma of being a woman who didn’t have children, which made her of lower standing in her society. In some senses, she was prepared just to finish out her life as a good wife, but not a mother, grandmother, etc. and possibly alone because at some point her husband would probably die before she did. It all seemed set and inevitable.  So, when she is told she will have a child by the same time the next year, her reply in verse 16:

“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” vs.16

Although we don’t have the inflections and tones in her voice, we can pretty much assume based on her character that this wasn’t disbelief, this was that she just didn’t want to get her hopes up. She was guarding against the stigma and shame she felt from her society.  Think how she would feel if she told everyone that God promised her a son and then it didn’t happen. She would be ridiculed even more.

People of character leave room for God’s plan even when it doesn’t match their plan or situation. We can get to the point of missing God’s plan when we base it on our ways and what we feel is going to happen.  David put it this way in Psalm 95:7-8:

“…for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice,Do not harden your hearts…’” Psalm 95:7-8a

Circle “Do not harden your hearts.” When we accept God but not his plan we have hardened our hearts. We need to make room for God’s call, for the impossible, for the unexpected, and for the things that we haven’t planned on or considered.

Challenge: What area of your life do you feel is so set that it would take an act of God for it to change? Or, what area of your life have you given up on because you feel it will just never happen? Now ask yourself, have you left room for God’s call?

Fulfilled Promises 

This story ends on a high note.  From verse 16 to 17 it jumps ahead a whole year and we read in verse 17:

But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.” vs. 17

God fulfills his promise to the Shunammite woman. This is so exciting and encouraging. God’s ways will always work. Not one of his promises will go unfulfilled. You might be thinking that this is just another Bible story. No, this is God’s assurance that he provided for us too.  You might be thinking that the extraordinary doesn’t happen to you. That your life and your plans are set and that there is nothing that can change them.  Not true. Just the opposite. God sent his Son to this earth to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).  Jesus came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly. You may have given up on a dream or a plan. Jesus shows up when you least expect it. But don’t forget to make room for him and to make room for his call.

Fun Saying 

Some people make room for God but it’s in the waiting room

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Words Are Important

Your Words Matter

James 3:1-6

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” vs. 6

 

Telephone

All of us have played the game telephone. It’s that game where you are in a line and someone starts by whispering a phrase in someone’s ear and they turn and whisper it to the next, and so on and so on until it gets to the end of the line. Usually the end result is no where near what was started with. So here is a cartoon from Leadership magazine that shows a line of pews and the same sentence being passed from person to person.

1st pew: My ear kind of hurts
2nd pew: The pastor has an earache
3rd pew: The pastor got a hearing aid
4th pew: The pastor is having trouble hearing
5th pew: The pastor got a double earring
6th pew: An old lady with a cane is walking out and says”: That does it, I’m outta here! The pastor’s got a double earring.

 

There is a general sense in our world today that words are just words.  They don’t mean much in some instances; things like Twitter, Facebook, in emails and texts, and maybe to some extent even in our normal everyday regular conversations. But in other circumstances, we know they mean a great deal; i.e. bullying, on TV and movies, and most currently in the political realm. We are listening to our politicians words very closely right now in the campaigns for President that are happening. The Bible has a great deal to say about words. James talks about this in chapter 3 of his book.  If you are able, would you stand as we read God’s Word from James 3:1-6.

Read Passage – James 3:1-12

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Christians Are Judged

Did you know that when we get to heaven we will be judged? Jesus talked often about the Day of Judgement. Read Matthew 10, 11, and 12, and you hear Jesus words that there is a day of judgement.  That day is coming and many people better think again about their eternal destiny before that happens.  In verse 1 of James 3 he says:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” vs. 1

Somehow many people have not realized that there is the Day of Judgement coming. But listen carefully now, judgment is different than condemnation.  We’ll be judged at whether we did well with what God gave us or whether we did not do so well. So don’t think, I’ve accepted Jesus as my Savior, I don’t have to worry about standing before God on Judgement Day. No, you will.  But there is good news. Jesus took our condemnation on the cross so we won’t be condemned…but we still are accountable for how we act. We will be held accountable for our actions.  So we need to get this right.  We need to see our words and our actions do have consequences.  There is no condemnation which means we can’t lose our place in the kingdom but we also get a crown and that crown is full of jewels based on our works and actions. And it gets better, we get to throw that crown back to God at his feet because we recognize that all those good things we did, he accomplished it through us. We give him the glory.

Here’s the Good News 

You might say that this doesn’t sound much like good news.  Well, here’s the good news. Lets read verse 2a:

“We all stumble in many ways.” vs. 2a
Huh? You might be going, wait, that’s good news? Yes.  Turn to the person next to you and say “I stumble.” See, we are all in the same boat.  None of us are exempt.  We all stumble. Not one of us is really better than the other, So don’t even worry about how bad you might think someone else is and better yet, don’[t worry how bad you are or even how good you might think you are, we all stumble.

This is true with our words too. Everyone has had that moment when they say,

“Oh, I didn’t mean to say that” or that moment when we’ve said “I wish I could take that back.” But it’s okay, we all stumble. So, let’s do something about it. Let’s learn what God show us about our words and how we can get better at living in a  way that we don’t have to say those things or better yet, live in a way we look back with regret.

Lessons About the Importance of Words

James us a really practical book. In these 6 verses he give us some lessons on the importance of the words we use. I see three of them here.

  • Learn to be Careful

First, when it comes to our words, we need to be careful what words we use. Again let’s look at verse 1:

“Not many of you should become teachers…” vs. 1a

James uses an illustration here that everyone can relate to. Anybody here ever had a teacher? Sure, we all have.  Ever had a teacher tell you something wrong? Ok, don’t answer that. Some of us have had teachers that have given us the wrong information.  What do we say and think? Yeah, they should have known better. We expect teachers to know what they are talking about.  Even more when it comes to those who teach God’s ways. We have to be careful because our words can lead someone astray or down the wrong path. I sure don’t want that on my conscience.

But even more so, teachers need to be careful what they say which tells us to we need to be careful too. Some well-meaning people have said things to those who don’t know god and turned them away from him forever. See our words can drive people away from God or our words can help them see God as a loving Father who loves them and cares for them.  But you know what, this applies to us too.  Jesus said in Matt. 12:37:

“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matt. 12:37

Our words can save us or condemn us. Paul said in Romans 10:9:

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Ex. At a conference this week with 4000 others and we sang and declared Jesus is Lord. What a great sense of joy and encouragement.

  • Be Willing To Be Led

Lesson 2, we have to be willing to be led when it comes to our words. You’ve probably heard “You can’t tell me what to say!” Well, maybe not, but that might be the sign of a person who is not willing to grow, to learn, and who is willing to be obedient to God. I know that is hard to hear but listen to the illustration James uses in verse 3:

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.” vs. 3

Bits are a tack that is put in a horse’s mouth and rests in an area of the mouth where there are no teeth. Now get this, they work on pressure, not pain.  They are not meant to cause the horse pain, just enough pressure for the rider and horse to communicate effectively enough to work in line with each other.

So get the picture here, the bit is meant to be useful and helpful for the rider and horse to work together. Now I am not saying any of you look like a horse, but…well you fill in the blank. J  We give our lives to God and the analogy is that he is the rider and we are horses.  We try to control the ways we go, the things we do, the things we say.  God is trying to guide and direct us, not with pain, but sometimes it takes a little pressure. Lots of people are like horses trying to steer themselves. If we a rider and horse are in sync with each other, it’s a smooth process and a thing of beauty. But…we have to be willing to be led. Solomon wrote in Prov. 1:5:

“…let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance…”

Prov. 1:5

Notice it’s the wise who listen and learn. We have to want it and be willing to follow even if there is a little pressure.

  • You Can Use It for Good or Bad 

And the third lesson James teaches us about our words is that you have a choice, you can use them for good or bad. We have probably all been on the wrong end of some bad words at one time or another. We might forget but James makes is really clear, our tongue is just a small part of who we are but it has a lot to do with who we are.  He says in verse 5:

“Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.” vs. 5

It’s interesting here that he uses the idea of boasting. You know, it seems that boasting never has the effect that we think it will.  We try to boast about what we’ve done or boast about some accomplishment and most of the time people are more critical of us and unimpressed.  Yet, somehow we are sure it is going to have the opposite effect. James says it’s like a spark that burns a whole forest down. One small spark has the potential to burn down a whole forest of trees and our tongue, and a few choice words, has the potential to ruin our life.

The opposite is true as well, our words can bring healing and joy to someone who needs the love, peace, and joy of our God. Proverbs 16:24 says:

“Graciouswordsare a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Prov. 16:24

Ex. Trip to Colorado and I left my hip-pack with my wallet, credit cards, and id in SF airport.  I luckily prepaid my taxi ride to the hotel.  I get there, explain my plight to the woman at the front desk, and her words, “Don’t worry, I will help you and make sure you are taken care of.” And she did.  My words later, a letter to her boss and hotel chain president about her professional manner and going the extra mile for me.

Famous Last Words

Let me finish with some famous last words. Word that will change your life. You’ve heard them before. Close your eyes. You know them, Hear them again.

“Father, forgive them, don’t know what they are doing.”

“Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

“It is finished.”

Jesus said those words for you. He forgives you. He died for you. Nothing you’ve said or done will ever condemn you if you accept him and his free gift. We are moving into communion.

Communion

Prayer of salvation

Prayers of confession

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