Turning Back

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

The summer I was about 6, my friend, Stevie, and I rode bikes to the park at the end of our street. The park was a wonderland worthy of Christopher Robin. The woods along one side of park were full of mystery. Behind them was a creek where we’d catch turtles and have all sorts of adventures. On that day, standing next to a clump of trees at the edge of the woods, I saw a large, burnt black hose that curled out from under some brush and went back in again. I bent down to get a better look at it. As I reached for it, the hose suddenly moved – snake! I screamed, jumped on my bike and raced home, Stevie trailing me, in a confused blur over what had just occurred.

I still shudder to think what might’ve happened if I’d picked up that hose/snake as I’d planned. The result could’ve been deadly. Nor did it matter what I’d believed the snake to be. It was a snake. Had I grabbed it, it would surely have grabbed me. Even if it hadn’t been poisonous, its sheer size meant that it could’ve inflicted a serious bite with potentially devastating consequences.

To stray from the truth is no small thing. It’s a matter of eternal life or death. Either we live in the truth of Christ’s righteousness or we will die in our sins. There’s no middle ground. No one is sort of saved or a little lost. James used a word that meant to be severed from the truth. It bore the idea of being deluded or deceived. To err, wander, or stray from the truth meant to be led away into error, heresy, and sin. We play a dangerous game when we pretend that some sins are “peccadillos,” minor offenses that just aren’t very serious. “The wages of sin is death” – period (Rom. 6:23).

In the body of Christ, we’re to look out for one another. When we see a brother or sister in Christ straying from the truth, we’re to love them redemptively. We’re not to gossip about them and call it prayer. Nor are we to snub them or beat them down and call it discipline. We’re to seek to bring them back to the truth of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

To bring back means to convert. Conversion is a change of heart that only the Holy Spirit can accomplish. We can’t actually convert anyone, but the Spirit of Christ can and does use Christ’s disciples to accomplish His work of conversion and restoration.

I recently had the privilege of witnessing to someone who was struggling with faith in Christ. He later told me he’d started attending a Bible teaching church and was growing in the faith. I was simply an instrument that God used to work His grace in his life.

When someone plants a beautiful garden, no one praises the rake, the hoe, or the shovel. Instead, they praise the gardener. When God saves and sanctifies someone, He gets all the glory, but what a thrill to be a tool in God’s hand.

It’s important to note that our role is to turn them to Christ, not ourselves. We don’t bring someone simply to church, but to Christ. If all we do is get them to church or to ourselves, we’ve failed. We must bring them to Christ. He alone can save and sanctify them.

We don’t actually cover anyone’s sins. Christ alone does that by counting His righteousness to the one He restores. Again, we’re simply the instrument that God uses to accomplish His ends.

“A multitude of sins” conveys the idea that sins rarely travel alone. A single lie is often easily spotted. So, we tell other lies to cover up the previous ones. David began by indulging in a simple lust and ended up committing adultery and murder.

I wonder what would happen if we took seriously the command to restore Christ’s straying sheep to their rightful place in His flock; not making excuses for sins, but genuinely restoring people to fellowship with Christ. It’d surely be a new day in the body of Christ.

By grace,

Chris

The Effective Prayer of a Righteous Man

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16-18).

I had breakfast one morning in a local restaurant with a friend. When the waitress brought our meals, I told her we were going to give thanks and asked if there was anything specific in her life for which we could pray. She was stunned as though no one had ever offered to pray for her before. Then, she shared some needs she had and stood at the table as we prayed. Whenever I saw her after she’d shared updates on her situation and thank me profusely for praying for her.

Prayer is one of the great underestimated weapons in the Christian’s arsenal. Have you ever said (or thought), “Well, all I can do is pray”? Prayer is all a Christian can do. Prayer was never designed to be a last resort – “When all else fails, pray.” Prayer is always to be the Christian’s first line of defense.

We resist temptation by drawing near to God – in prayer. We encourage and minister and serve one another in prayer. Now, that’s not to say that we don’t ever have to get our hands dirty in ministry to others, but we must bathe whatever else we do in prayer. Some of the most undervalued members in a church are the senior adults who can no longer get out much. So, they spend copious amounts of time in prayer and reading Scripture.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed with saints like that. They’re no longer too busy, too tired, and too occupied. I love to visit with those dear treasures of grace and invite them to pray for me. They don’t just say the words, “I’ll be praying.” They mean to pray. Every pastor would do well to seek out those earnest prayer warriors and elicit their prayers early in ministry.

The Christian who’s unaided by the mutual prayers of Christ’s church will inevitably suffer the fate of Uriah, the Hittite whom David had murdered. After committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, David tried to cover his sin and sent a note to Joab, the captain of the army, that read: “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (2 Sam. 11:15).

The Christian who stands in spiritual battle stripped of prayers might just as well accept defeat. God designed Christians to walk together in communion and fellowship. There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ.

Prayer is more than seeking healing for hangnails and muscle aches. I sometimes wonder what God must think when a pastor invites prayer requests and meets a barrage of bunions and joint pains. To hear most prayer meetings, you’d think that God is little more than a cosmic aspirin dispenser. What a blessing to join in prayer with God’s people who pray for the salvation of their friends and family and who seek the glory of God before their own comforts and conveniences.

When James said to pray for one another “so that you may be healed,” he wasn’t talking about the simple aches and pains of life. Those things matter too, but salvation refers to the completeness and totality of healing. We suffer illnesses and die because we’re fallen, depraved creatures. Salvation is the absolute removal of all sin and our introduction into the perfect joy of our Lord. That’s what we’re to seek.

We shouldn’t be content with the temporal cessation of suffering, as if all that matters is Aunt Bessie’s head cold. We’re to labor relentlessly before God for her salvation.

James encouraged us with a principle: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” What makes prayer effective is learning to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10). Prayer is effective when it conforms to God’s will. Instead of treating prayer as a means to get the things we want from God, we need to see that prayer’s main purpose is to bring us in line with Christ and His purposes for His glory.

James illustrated the principle with the history of Elijah the prophet and King Ahab. Elijah told Ahab there’d be years of drought in Israel (1 Kings 17). Then, after confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah prayed and it rained greatly (1 Kings 18:36-46).

We tend to think that God answered Elijah’s prayer because the prophet was a great man, but James begged to differ. “Elijah,” he said, “was a man with a nature like ours.” In other words, we should expect God to hear us when we pray not because we’re so important, but because He is God.

Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Our first thought is often to tell God what we want. We ought to begin by seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness and desiring to know His will and ways. The effective prayer is that which brings us before God’s throne of grace so that we begin to understand His purpose and results in our bringing glory to God.

May Christ build His church for His glory. May He teach us to pray as we ought for His name’s sake.

By grace,

Chris

Confessing Our Sins to One Another

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit” (James 5:16-18).

The church where I grew up had a Coke machine in the hallway of a building that housed Sunday School classes and administrative offices. The machine had a long, thin door on one side with stacks of Coke bottles pointing at passersby. One day, the pastor’s wife bought a Coke, pulled out a bottle and popped the top. To her dismay, someone had filled the bottle with black coffee and put a cap back on it.  I learned about what had happened when the pastor called my brother and me into his office and demanded that we confess. He was certain we’d done it. Eventually, he released us, without confessions, still under suspicion, though.

By the way, we hadn’t done it, but we could have.

Confessing sin is never easy, but it’s necessary to our spiritual health. More than just clearing the air or admitting a “mistake,” confession means to agree, literally, “to say the same thing.” When we confess our sins to God, we agree with His assessment of our sins without offering excuses, blaming others, or trying to mitigate our responsibility. The same humility is essential to confessing our sins to one another.

Christ’s Spirit fosters in the church a culture of laying down our pride, our lust, and our greed, which is vital to our dying to sin. It also cultivates an ethos of forgiveness and restoration, which is essential to our sanctification. Unfortunately, human religiosity can’t reproduce the unique work of the Spirit.

Do we have to confess our sins to one another? Isn’t it enough to confess them to God? We’ve said before that, ultimately, all sin is against God. Still, we do sin against one another and we have to deal with our sins and the fruit they bear regardless.

Confession means owning our sin and calling it what it is. In terms of our salvation, only Christ’s righteousness can right the wrong of our sins, but in terms of each other, we can take steps to rectify our sins. By the way, just saying that we accept responsibility isn’t accepting responsibility. We have to call our sin what it is without offering excuses. If I randomly throw a rock that happens to break a neighbor’s window, the fact that I didn’t mean to do it, doesn’t undo the deed. Once I know what’s happened I have to own up to what I’ve done and make it right.

Confession is just half the battle, though. Notice that James said, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (emphasis added). Many problems in churches would go away if only we’d pray for one another. It’s hard to carry a grudge while praying to God for someone. Perhaps if we were more willing to forgive, others would be encouraged to confess.

Just as confession requires a lack of self-justification, forgiveness requires the absence of grudge holding. To forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to lend them more money, but it does mean that you hold them no longer responsible to pay a debt. Once a debt’s cancelled, you can’t go back and pick it up again.

To be healed is to be made whole, which is a picture of salvation. So, James reminded us that confession and forgiveness are essential to our salvation. Not that they make us “savable,” but that they validate our salvation. If we’re truly saved, we’ll want to confess our sins and to forgive those who’ve wronged us.

We won’t want anything to stand in the way of our fellowship with Christ.

By grace,

Chris

The Prayer of Faith

The Prayer of Faith

“Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him” (James 5:14-15).

The prayer of faith is born in love for Jesus. It isn’t a product of ritual or the fruit of liturgy. It doesn’t have to express the surgical precision of a seminary professor or the depth of a theologian. It simply conveys a profound love for Christ.

Faith is not a super power the Christian uses to gain the upper hand with God. “If you have faith,” some say, “you can tell God anything you want and He’ll give it to you,” as if He were little more than a cosmic vending machine waiting for you to drop enough quarters. In addition to insulting God’s authority over His creation, that view misses the point entirely. Faith, however is believing what God says, not telling Him what we think. Paul said it this way in his commentary on Abraham:

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:19-22).

Now, James did say, “the prayer offered in faith will heal the one who is sick,” or did he? Actually, he said, “the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick.” The word translated “restore” in the NASB is the Greek word “save.” Salvation is healing – of the most radical kind – but what specifically did James mean about the one who is sick? Was he talking about a head cold or someone succumbing to sin? The word rendered “sick” can refer to illness, but it can also address the weak, powerless, needy, or poor.

The point seems to be that we’re to pray about everything. We’re to bring every need to God, whether physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, or whatever the case might be. And we’re to trust God for the outcome. We’re not to demand our way as little children tend to do. We’re to approach our heavenly Father and seek His will and grace, His provision and outcome.

And what if I pray and God doesn’t give me what I want? After David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband murdered, God told David that the child she’d conceived would die. As long as the boy lived, David prayed and fasted before the Lord. Once the child died, though, he accepted the Lord’s answer.

Faith isn’t about getting what we want from God. Faith is drawing close enough to God to see what He wants. Faith rejoices in God’s provision, even when it makes no sense to our little minds. Mature faith learns to accept from God’s hand the very thing we prayed against.

It’s okay to weep and grieve when God says, “No.” We often take time to process God’s will, but He’s patient with His children.

Faith begins with a question, “What is Your will?” Then, faith sets out to pray for that which the Father has promised. Therefore, the Lord will grant the prayer offered in faith.

May God grant His children the faith to love the Lord and to seek first His will and His ways.

By grace,

Chris

Are You Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired?

“Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him” (James 5:13-15).

Quote rock band, R.E.M., “Everybody hurts.” Not deep, but true. Pain and suffering are part of life in this fallen world, but they do serve a purpose beyond just reminding us of the consequence of sin. According to James: “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray.” Suffering drives us to the throne of God’s grace in Christ. The suffering Christian is not an orphan, even though it might feel like it at times. Instead, pain quickly brings us to the end of ourselves and shows how much we truly need Christ.

Sometimes, especially when things are going our way, we can get the idea that we sustain the universe. Then, when opposition, struggles, or just pure, raw pain comes along, we realize how frail we really are. At the same time, for those who love Jesus, anyway, the sufficiency of His grace becomes abundantly real.

Now, James didn’t promise a quick-fix for every traffic jam or a miracle cure for every stubbed toe. Rather, he told us to pray. We’re to commune with God about everything. We’re to draw near to Him to find grace to help in time of need. God doesn’t guarantee that He’ll snatch us conveniently out of the jaws of death, but He promises to see us through our sufferings.

When we’re cheerful, James tells us to sing praises. Singing that involves more than our mouths or the words. It expresses our hearts. When a Christian sings out in heartfelt worship, God smiles. He delights in the genuine praises of His children. I wonder if the reason Paul and Silas could sing so boldly in the Philippian jail after suffering so unjustly was that they had become so accustomed to expressing their love for God in song that it had become second nature to them.

When we’re sick, James says we’re to call for the elders of the church. In fact, he says so rather emphatically: “He must call for the elders of the church” (emphasis mine). Here’s a case for having a plurality of elders. Unless the church is extremely small, it’d be impossible for a solo pastor to keep up with his church in such matters. Having a team of elders to divide the responsibilities, would multiply the church’s ministry resources and encourage numerical and spiritual growth.

The elders of the church are to engage in intercessory prayer for ailing members. They’re to pray fervently and specifically for the sick, even anointing them with oil. Oil seems to have symbolized the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It had no magical properties. Some people use it today, but we must never let our symbols and rituals supplant the reality of the Holy Spirit. The elders are to call upon the Spirit of Christ with boldness and humility befitting their office, to intercede on behalf of the ill person, seeking mercy and favor.

I’ve heard some people exclaim, when the elders prayed but the person wasn’t healed, that he or she lacked the faith to receive their healing. Such an attitude belies the real fault. James said that “the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick,” but whose prayer and whose faith is he talking about? Well, the one praying, of course. And who’s that? The elders!

James placed the burden of faith squarely on the elders’ shoulders. Now, we don’t make God do what we tell Him. Faith responds to what God has said. Someone wisely said that if you don’t know what God is telling you to do next, go back to what He clearly told you last and wait until He clarifies the next step for you.

Again, James hasn’t given us a formula to make all our ills and ailments go away. He has told us how we’re to minister to one another in the body of Christ and how we’re to turn to God in good times and bad.

I pray that the Lord will show you His grace in the midst of your pain as well as your joys.

By grace,

Chris

I Swear!

“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).

My mother had x-ray vision. She could always see through my childish deceptions. Too often she’d catch me getting into something I wasn’t supposed to do. (I wonder why she never told me not to wash the dishes or make my bed or clean my room.) When she’d grill me over an infraction, I’d invariably try to wiggle out of it. Somehow, she always seemed to know the truth, regardless of my clever excuses and insistent alibis. She’d whittle the truth out of me every time. Eventually, I just learned to tell the truth and be done with it.

Have you ever noticed how often people begin a lie with words like: “To be honest” or “To tell the truth” or “Trust me”? As children, we’d often seal a statement with, “Cross my heart.” I never really knew what it meant, but when someone drew an “X” over their heart with a finger, I knew I was supposed to trust whatever they’d said. Oddly, it seems that the more someone argues for a lie, the more ardently they invoke such platitudes.

To swear is to promise by invoking the authority of a greater power. In James’ day, a common practice was to invoke the formidable authority heaven or the earth to validate the truth of one’s claim. We do the same thing today. Many people will “swear to God,” while Christians reduce the pledge to a simple, “I swear!” The intent is the same.

When we swear, we claim to have some ownership or power over the thing by which we swear. How could we swear by something over which we have no say? So, to invoke the name of God is to raise ourselves above Him.

James advocated a simpler, cleaner principle: “do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no.” He agreed with Jesus’ command not to swear at all (Mt. 5:33-37). The point is to be such people of integrity that merely to give our yes or no is sufficient. We should require no greater authority because our very lives exude the kind of honesty and uprightness that leaves no room to question our motives.

The Christian doesn’t need to invoke God’s name to make a pledge because the very fabric of his or her life is woven into God’s ordained design. The Reformers coined the phrase, “Coram Deo,” meaning, “before the face of God,” to convey the idea that their lives were in full view of God’s watchful eye.

If my life lays bare before God every moment, then I don’t have to call on any special privilege or authority to give my word. I just give it, knowing that He sees me and knows the truth. The reason I can give my word, yes or no, without appealing to a superior force is because I answer to God. If I’m living to please and honor Him, I need no other authority.

The threat of judgment arises in the face of falsehoods. If I swear or appeal to some higher power and then am found in a lie, I can be sure that God will deal with me accordingly. The unregenerate faces God’s eternal wrath. While Christ’s grace protects the believer from God’s wrath, His corrective discipline is a dark providence that’s never pleasant.

May God give His people grace to live openly before Him and to speak the truth in love without evoking artificial means of substantiating false claims.

By grace,

Chris

Beloved, A Farmer Waits

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:7-11).

The first church I pastored was a small, country church in Nocona, Texas with salt-of-the-earth folks, who knew how to do a great many things with very little. They measured time differently than I had seen. Instead of counting seconds, minutes, and hours, they counted events, seasons, and years.

They even had different seasons than I was used to: plowing, planting, harvesting, and canning. At the start of plowing season, Byron would drive his tractor around the county and plow acres for people. During planting season most of the members would miss church a good bit as they were filling their farms (anything under an acre was just a garden) with plants and seeds that would produce that year’s treasured harvest.

As soon as the fruits and vegetables started to ripen, harvest season began. Canning season followed immediately after the harvest had begun. As the men brought in the crops, the women would put up the produce in jars to store for the coming year – and whatever they couldn’t use, they gave away to families, friends, neighbors, and the pastor.

Between planting and harvest, there was a time when not much was going on. Of course, in the country something always needs repairing or replacing. So, there’s really no down time. Still, folks would wait for the plants to come up. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to make the plants produce any more, or faster, than they would. So, people just waited – not frantically, worriedly, or hurriedly. The crops were in God’s hands. Whatever He gave them would be fine.

Harvest and canning were a different game – Everyone jumped into high gear and set Olympic records in okra, tomatoes, green beans, and onions – but during the wait, life slowed to a near halt. Of course, we prayed for the crops – they were the life of the community. Getting upset wouldn’t produce a single ear of corn. Worry never caused one bell pepper to sprout sooner.

Truth is, no one just waited. They prayed and did other things. They used the time to catch up on other chores they couldn’t get to the rest of the year, because as soon as the harvest was ready, there’d be no time for anything else. But as they waited, they watched to see what kind of harvest the Lord would provide.

Here’s the lesson about patience: we aren’t just waiting for someone else in line, or for the light to change. We’re waiting to see what kind of harvest the Lord will provide in us. To borrow from the parable of the sower, will we yield thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold?

Patience is the calming of our hearts while we wait for something. It’s intentionally resting in the Lord as we watch for change. Patience is threatened when we look to the temporal and immediate instead of seeing the eternal and the spiritual. When we adjust our vision to set our hearts on things above where Christ is, patience is born in us.

Remember Job? He learned that God was doing many things he could never see or comprehend. Just because we don’t know what God is doing, doesn’t mean He isn’t working in our situation. Faith leads us to trust in God’s providence even when He seems to be absent.

May God grant His children the eyes to see that “the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.”

By grace,

Chris

A Wealth of Misery

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you” (James 5:1-6).

Seems odd that, while writing to Christians living in exile for their faith in Christ, James would launch into a diatribe against rich people. Either he was addressing, hypothetically, the unregenerate wealthy among whom the believers dwelt, or he was directing his attention to one of the remaining sins in the church.

Many early Christians had money or property. Before Saul launched his persecutions against the church in Jerusalem, for example, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

Wealth, on its own merit, isn’t a sin. The love of money is. Loving money isn’t a rich person’s sin either. Greed and coveting belong to us all. So, James was likely confronting dependence on wealth – or the desire for it – as a sin that’s common to many believers.

James specifically confronted those who were prone to abuse the wealth they possessed. When they were able, they cheated workers out of their wages. They indulged in prodigal excesses on the backs of their dependents. They bought favors in the courts at the expense of others. They used and disposed of people as chattel with no regard for human worth or dignity.

The love of wealth is a form of idolatry – an idolatry of self. We love money because of what it can do for us. With it, we can buy beauty, power, favors, and toys – even people. Again, the problem doesn’t lie in the money itself; it’s in our hearts. As we fall in love with money, we lose our first love for Jesus Christ. The more we love money, the less we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The more we love wealth, the less we care for one another.

The love of money leads us to commit all kinds of atrocities against others. Ironically, many abuses are committed in the name of love. Many people think, even as they destroy the lives of others, that they are committing acts of kindness.

The endgame of loving money, though, is a wealth of misery. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man had indulged in every imaginable extravagance during his life on earth. When the time came for judgment, however, he stood condemned. None of the comforts to which he’d given himself came to his aid. None of his luxuries defended him against God’s immeasurable holiness. None of the pleasures he’d enjoyed could bail him out of the eternal misery in which he now found himself.

If we are wise, James’ warning counsels us to drop our attachments to anything that takes our eyes off Jesus. Anything in our lives that compromises our standing with God is to be rejected outright. Such counsel is difficult because our sins so easily beset us. Yet, the Christian’s life is a struggle to renounce sin and to embrace Christ.

Thankfully, our salvation is all of grace and not of our own works, worth, or wishes. If you love the Lord Jesus Christ with your whole heart (not just a Sunday heart), let your joy be fully in Him. If you still think you can make it on your own, apart from Christ, I pray that the riches you love will fail you before it’s too late.

By grace,

Chris

If the Lord Wills

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:13-17).

Christians speak in platitudes and clichés: “Be blessed,” “Praying for you,” “God love you,” “In Jesus’ name,” “Lord willing.” There are biblical grounds for many of our expressions, but they can become trivialities that convey little more than religious sentimentality.

In the text above, James told the displaced believers to couch their plans in terms of, “If the Lord wills,” but we aren’t to cite the phrase simply like knocking on wood or rubbing a rabbit’s foot. We don’t say, “If the Lord wills,” for good luck. Instead, the phrase has everything to do with building our faith.

Today, we hear expressions like, “Just do it” or “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” The idea is to take matters into your own hands and do whatever you please. Unfortunately, the indiscriminate nature of such self-indulgent wisdom lies back of much of the world’s ills, as abortion, genocide, and a host of other evils.

Some preachers today tell us that God wants to give us all greens lights and cupcakes and fairy dust. They’d have us believe that anything negative is of the devil and God only wants our happiness – always. The help-yourself, do-it-your-way gospel has gained much ground among religious folk.

To think “if the Lord wills” teaches us to put our plans in proper perspective. Instead of pursuing our own ends, “if the Lord wills,” or “as the Lord allows,” expresses faith in God’s providence. It confesses confidence in God’s provision and guidance. James’ instruction corresponds to Jesus’ counsel to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and Paul’s advice to “keep seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1). So, we who confess faith in Christ must rest in His wisdom and leadership. We learn to respond in faith to God’s direction and instruction to us.

Resting and trusting in God’s will also produces patience. At times, God’s providence can seem rather dark, as when He leads us “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). Many of the saints in both Testaments walked faithfully through devastating valleys because they were obedient to the Lord’s providence. Scripture, though, is rife with examples of God’s finest disciples following Christ into the mouth of death itself. God’s Word teaches us to wait upon the Lord and to trust His timing.

In learning to wait on the Lord and to rest in His providence, we discover that God is always right. His timing and provision are impeccable. He always gives us what we need the way we need it. We may not grasp the significance of His timing and manner of granting our request, but He’s always right and His ways are always good and glorious.

By grace,

Chris

The War Within

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you” (James 4:1-10).

Ever watch children in a nursery? Those precious little embodiments of human innocence and disarming cuteness toddle about the room exploring, wondering, and discovering new treasures and experiences. Then, one charming little bundle snatches something away from another sweet darling and suddenly, screaming ensues. The same thing happens in high school halls and city streets, often with grimmer results. No parent has ever had to teach a child to lie, cheat, or steal.

James described a great part of the human condition with two words: “quarrels and conflicts” (NASB), or “wars and fightings” (KJV). The first word, from which derives the English term, “polemic,” has to do with controversy. A polemist is skilled or engages often in debate. The second word sounds distantly like the English term, “machination,” which conjures the idea of a plot or scheme, usually with a negative connotation.

The apostle asked rhetorically, “What’s the source of these polemics and machinations?” From where do they come? Then, he supplied his own answer, “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” The word, “pleasures,” is also rendered as passions or lusts. The term is related to the English word, “hedonism,” which is the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good. His discussion agrees with the apostle Paul: “I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).

Many of the most famous preachers today have built their celebrity on advocating the lusts of the flesh. They tell us that God just wants us to be happy, whatever it takes. To hear many of them, God must like us better today than He did that first generation of Christians. He let them suffer for the name of Jesus, but God wants us to have green lights all the way.

Yet, James brought up an important principle: “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” In other words, wanting the treasures this world offers puts us at odds with God. We hate because we lust. We fight because we covet. Our prayers go unanswered because we seek our own greed and not God’s glory.

For Christians, a war rages within us. The desires of the flesh rebel against the resident Holy Spirit. We crave this world’s delights and struggle against the Spirit. There are many hardships and tribulations in this life, but none wound so deeply as the remaining sin in a believer’s heart. The unregenerate is content with his lusts and justified in his passions. The one who desires Christ, however, engages in a constant battle to overcome the flesh.

What’s the Christian to do? Thanks be to God who gives His people the grace to seek Him and the joy to follow Him.

James counsels us to submit ourselves to God, to yield to His grace. We resist the devil by drawing near to God. We cleanse our hands and purify our hearts through repentance and contrition before God. As we seek Him and His righteousness, He encourages us by His grace. As we humble ourselves before Him, He lifts us up.

As long as we believe the world’s promises that happiness derives from having new things and new relationships, we’ll remain bound by sin’s misery. When we learn that real joy only exists in the Person of Jesus Christ, we’ll be set free from the bondage of sin.

God grant His people the grace to divorce the desires of the flesh and to cling to Christ as Lord.

By grace,

Chris