What Gives is Good!

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1: 16-18

After assuring us that God does not bring upon us the temptations to sin, (those come from our own evil desires), James now reminds us that God brings good things.  His gifts benefit us rather than destroy us.  God gives us wisdom, verse 5, strength through His Spirit to with stand the trials of life and as he reminds us in verse 18, Jesus Christ, His Grace.

James reminds us that God has chosen to gives us good.  We don’t deserve that good, God in His love offers it for His glory and benefit.  What exists beneath, our own sinful desires and the pursuit of pleasures of life in this world, bring death.  But the good and perfect gifts of God, that come down from Him to us, bring life.  These gifts, like the giver, never change and are not arbitrary.  Just as God is high above the heavenly lights and unchanging, so are the gifts He lavishes upon us.  We know these gifts and the new birth He offers, not by words of men, but rather by His word of truth.  God chose to save us and  redeem us from sin and death, for His own pleasure, according to His unchanging word. When we receive the gift of His new birth in Christ, we become the first fruits of the harvest, that we might share in the resurrection of Christ.  As Paul says, sharing in His suffering gives us the hope of sharing in His resurrection as well.”

It is great to know in the midst of the ever changing tide of this world, that by God’s own will, we have good and perfect gifts given to us directly from His glorious throne.  More importantly we have grace through Jesus Christ which leads to new birth.  The gift of new birth is not dependent on our ability to achieve it, it is dependent on our willingness to accept it.

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It’s Like We Are Fish!

The life of a fish, what could we humans possibly learn about sin and death from the life of a fish?  According to James, we can learn plenty.  James 1: 13-15, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

 

OK, now your thinking, “How does this relate to the life of a fish?”  Think about a fish, let’s call him Freddy.  Freddy swims around and eats from the lake or pond in which he was born or placed.  From that lake or pond he is provided all that he needs to survive and thrive.  If Freddy stays focused on what has been provided, he will most likely be safe and live long and happy.  (OK, I know fish do not have emotions and that yes, a bigger fish may eat the smaller, but work with me a moment!).  While enjoying a great day of swimming and eating like every other day, suddenly something catches Freddy’s eye; it isn’t like anything he has seen before.  It is shiny and tantalizing, it looks pleasing to the eye and he begins to consider how this new thing might taste.  Remember, Freddy knows what he has always eaten and never had any problems with, but the way this new thing dazzles is just overwhelming.  So even though he should know better he moves toward the object and with eager anticipation…swallows it!  The moment he closes his mouth he realizes, oops, something is wrong!  As the hook he didn’t see gets set and the line attached to the hook begins to drag and entice him closer to the shore, he realizes he made a mistake.  As he is brought to shore the grip of that wrong choice, the hook, leads ultimately to Freddy’s demise, the frying pan.

 

Here’s the question, whom should Freddy blame?  Is it God or the fisherman that is at fault or is it Freddy?  Freddy knew what was right, but he was not content with what he had been given, so he chased after something that seemed more promising.  Sadly, the promise came with a hook.  The fisherman knew fish and only gave the fish what he knew would drag it away from what it knew to be right, and entice it to something wrong.  The creator provided well for Freddy from the pond he was placed in, but he wanted more.

 

That is how it works with you and me.  We have been given everything we need from God.  He has promised to love us and provide for us.  He has promised to be our Father and for us to be his beloved children.  But something else catches our eye and drags us away and entices us to leave the safety of God’s promises and follow our own appetites.  Satan knows what we desire and all he does is bait the hook.  We do the rest!  When we look at our lives, let us be careful to place the blame for our sin in the correct place, on us.  It certainly isn’t God’s fault.  God is trying to draw us to Himself, not push us away.  God may test our faith as He did Abraham, but He never uses evil to entice us away.  We need to remember that God is holy; and He uses the revelation of His holiness to draw us near, not evil to push us away.  It really isn’t Satan’s fault either.  He is a liar and deceiver, but he only uses what he knows we desire as bait to drag us away and into sin against God.

 

So then who is to blame when we sin against God?  Finding the answer is as easy as looking in the mirror.  Let’s live our lives like the “one that got away”, because we live in the contentment of what our great God and Father has generously and lovingly provided for us.

What Is Your Vision?

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

James 1: 12

 

Here is the question for us from this verse; are we farsighted or nearsighted?  Those who are farsighted see distant things much clearer than near things.  Those who are nearsighted see what is near much better than what is far.  How does this apply to this verse? 

 

Quite simply this is an encouragement to remain faithful to Christ even when it is hard.  It is an encouragement to look beyond the trial that is near to the reward that is ahead.  It is a call to remain faithful when the road is difficult and the storms are beating against you. 

 

James has already told us we will face trials that test our faith as believers, so it isn’t a matter of if we will be tested, but rather a matter of how we perform when our faith is tested.  God allows trials in our life as a chance for us to demonstrate our faith.  It isn’t enough to tell a teacher you know certain information, you must be tested on it so that you can prove it.  When we stand firm and don’t fall away in face of trials, we are proving we have faith in God and His promises.  In other words we are showing that we are farsighted.  The farsighted stand firm knowing that the joy of the reward exceeds the pain of the trial.

 

Great athletes are farsighted.  They look beyond the struggle of daily workouts and sacrifice because they have in their view the victor’s crown.  They know and are assured that their diligence and faithfulness will result in reward in the future. 

 

How about us?  Have we been born again into a farsighted vision or are we among the nearsighted who give up because it is too difficult or it is unfair.  Blessed is the man who can see that God will reward those who stand firm till the end with eternal life in Christ.  We may not experience the reward during the trial, but we have the vision to see far enough ahead to know that God, who promises, will give what He promises. 

 

What’s your vision?  Let’s pray together we will all have a farsighted 20/20.

 

In Dependence

“The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.  But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.  In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”   James 1: 9-11

We need God!  We are dependent (In Dependence) on God.  That’s how He made us and that is how we function best.  When the circumstances of this life bring us down we are humiliated.  Humiliation occurs when all of our pride, arrogance, boasting and ability to be independent have been stripped away from us.  In the previous verses James paints a picture of what this might look like.  When we find ourselves battling trials of various kinds and desperately in need of wisdom and we fall to our knees or flat out on the ground in need of God then we have achieved humble circumstances.  But rather than bemoan are lowliness James says take pride that we have achieved the highest position we can achieve before God.  James says don’t be dismayed and hurried to build yourself back up when you are humbled, but rather rejoice that God has elevated you to the place where He has always wanted you; a place of dependence on Him.  Furthermore, when you are high and all is good and the “blessings” keep pouring in, remember those are from God and you are still “in dependence” on him.  You still need to be in the low position of prayer and desperation before God.

 Here is the problem.  When we experience the blessing of God far too often we lose sight of God and begin to forget who gave us the blessing and who sustains the blessing.  We begin to look down on others; we get selfish, arrogant and lose our love for those who are lower than us.  But James says be careful!  You are like a wildflower.  You have a season of beauty and vitality where you rise above the other vegetation, but when the sun gets hot, you will be dried up and forgotten and brought down like everything else around you.

 So here are the questions for today; are we living in dependence on God?  Have we been blessed to experience the lowliness and humility that brings us in desperation to God?  Have the blessings that have made us rich reminded us that we remain dependent on God despite what our egos might tell us?  James reminds us no matter where or in what circumstance we find ourselves in… live in dependence on God.

Do You Really Want It?

“But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.”  James 1: 6-8

 

Here’s the question, do I/we really want wisdom?  I know we say we do, but do we really want true, Godly, wisdom?  We already know that God wants to generously give us wisdom, so it isn’t a matter of praying to get Him to give us wisdom.  What James wants us to be sure of is whether or not we want God’s wisdom.

James says when you ask for wisdom you better be ready for God to give you that wisdom because He will.  So then, how could receiving the wisdom from God be a problem?  Because the wisdom from God brings us to an understanding of who He is and to the truth of His holy word.  The wisdom of God runs in direct opposition to worldly human wisdom.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1: 25 that what the world calls foolish, Godly wisdom, is wiser than the man’s wisdom.  So James says when you ask for wisdom we need to ask knowing that what God gives us will be very different from what we know right now and may challenge us to think and act in a radically different way.  If we are not ready to give up worldly wisdom for the wisdom of God then we should not even ask God for wisdom.  Remember, Godly wisdom will always lead us to God and away from the pursuit of this world. 

James then makes the point that if we ask God but don’t really want to follow what He gives then we are like a wave of the sea.  We will be blown back and forth, from one kind of wisdom to the other and are never grounded in anything.  We used to call this being “wishy washy” and it is not an admirable trait.

The problem in this passage is not with God, it is with us.  God said he would give, but we may not be ready or willing to receive.  If we are not ready to receive when we ask James says don’t think you will receive anything.  In order for God’s wisdom to be useful it must be received and lived.  If we are not prepared to do that then we shouldn’t expect that we will really receive God’s wisdom.  In other words it is a problem with the receiver and not the sender.  All we will accomplish is creating a double mindedness within us and we will constantly be trying to balance the line between two very differing wisdoms.  One wisdom, God’s, that leads to life and the other, man’s, that leads to death.

 

So before we ask God to give us wisdom we need to ask ourselves if we really want God’s wisdom and all that wisdom will bring to our lives.  If not then don’t ask.

It Requires Wisdom!

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  James 1: 5

 

Ok, so, James says that the testing of our faith through all kinds of trials produces perseverance.  This, “developed”, perseverance in turn makes us mature and complete so that our faith is not found lacking in any way.  So, he says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

Here is my question, “How is that possible?”  How is it possible to be joyful in the face of suffering, when all you want is relief from it?  How can we remain focused on the big picture of building and deepening our faith, when it hurts?  According to James, it requires wisdom.  If we don’t have wisdom joy in pain is not possible.

 

First, we must seek to possess the right wisdom.  There is a human wisdom and understanding based on the nature and philosophy of this world.  However the bible tells us this wisdom leads to death.  “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”  Proverbs 14: 12  When we face trials the wisdom of the world tells us to get out of them as quickly as we can no matter what we have to do or say, just get relief.  Wisdom of the world says it isn’t fair or right that you should be subjected to trials that test your faith, because God owes you the “blessed life”.  When we labor under worldly wisdom the pain of trials will not lead to increased faith, but lead to an anemic and dying faith.

 

Here is the good news.  James says we can ask God for His wisdom if we are lacking it (which most of us are from time to time).  And the part that is amazing is God will give it to us without faulting us for not having it in the first place.  Wow!  God wants to give us His wisdom and knows that we can only get it through Him.  So when we ask, rather than begrudgingly doling it out, He joyously provides it to us for His Glory.

 

The Bible teaches us two things about wisdom:

 

1.         It is only found in God through Jesus Christ.

 

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding.  To Him (God) belong eternal praise.”  Psalm 111: 10

 

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Proverbs 9: 10

 

2.         If we want it we must desire it and ask for it.

 

“If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God…”

 

When we find ourselves in the midst of trials of many kinds let’s ask God for wisdom to endure and grow.

What happens when the water gets hot?

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”                                                                                                                                                                                          James 1: 2-4

What happens when the water gets hot in our lives?  Unfortunately, most professing believers in America have no real idea.  Too often we spend so much time trying to get the temperature down or trying to escape the heat that we never see what happens when the water gets hot.  Let’s be honest here, none us of want to be uncomfortable or unhappy or experience a loss of control.  In fact, we are all taught the “American Dream” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  We have even made that a promise of the gospel.  Come to Christ and he will meet all your wishes and you can have all that you have ever desired, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The problem is this that is not what the bible teaches.  In fact the bible tells us that coming to Christ means death, submission to God and the pursuit of holiness.  That is why passages like this don’t end up on billboards or on T-Shirts, because we want to avoid the hot water.  But James wants us to hang on when the water gets hot and wait to see what happens when the Lord allows the water to get hot.  In fact he does more than say hang on; he says “consider it pure joy.” 

James is either a mad man or he knows a little something about what God can do when the water gets hot.  What does James know that he wants us to know about the benefits of hot water in our lives?  Think about it this way, water that is contaminated must be boiled before it can be purified.  We might say it like this, “Consider it pure joy when contaminated water is allowed to boil because you know that boiling water produces purified water and purified water then is able to be used to accomplish its purpose.”  Here’s the thing, the only way we can know whether we have faith is to have that faith tested.  Trials do that work for us.  If we endure/persevere in the trials which God allows to test our faith then we know that the perseverance has done the work of demonstrating our maturity in faith. 

The next time the water begins to get hot, look forward not around or behind and be joyful that God considers you worthy of testing.  Persevere through faith in Christ as your Lord and Savior and know that this testing of your faith will produce perseverance and perseverance will lead to maturity in your walk with God.