Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - The Misery And The Madness (James 5)

James is writing his letter to believers who had been forced to flee their homes because of persecution.  They had left everything, and were now poor and vulnerable to exploitation.  In chapter 5, we find out that rich landowners, some of whom were attending church meetings, were withholding wages from their poor workers.  What does James teach in these circumstances?

1. The misery and the madness (v1-6)

James tells the wealthy people that there is a day of misery coming, a day when they will weep and howl (v1).  Why would they be miserable?  Much of their wealth would have been tied up in their crops - James says that this wealth will have rotted!  Expensive clothes were a sign of riches (2v2), but their clothes would be moth-eaten (5v2)!  

In other words, a day was coming when their goods would have no meaningful value.  They would discover that their treasures were temporary, and they had made no provision for eternity.  Just like the rich man in the parable Jesus tells (Luke 12v13-21), they had planned for days they could not predict, but failed to plan for the one day they could not avoid - that last day, when they would face eternity.

James continues by stating that their silver and gold would also have no value.  Instead it would be corroded, and the corrosion would eat at their flesh and condemn them (v3).  As an illustration, have you ever been tidying one day, and found a voucher for something, only to discover it had passed its expiration date?  You kick yourself for wasting something valuable, and it eats at you.  The more valuable it was, the more it eats at you!

James tells the wealthy that they will discover they wasted a lifetime accumulating treasures that had no eternal value, and this will condemn them - the corrosion will be evidence of a wasted life, and will eat their flesh like fire (v3).

James now points out their madness - he writes "you have laid up treasures for the last days!" (v3)  They were hoarding as though they had forever, but actually time was running out!  They were like turkeys enjoying extra food in the weeks leading up to Christmas (v5)!  Their behaviour was causing the death of people, and those being exploited could not resist them (v6).

But they could not hide their sins from God - he heard the unpaid wages crying out to him, and the cries of the exploited harvesters(v4)!  It is madness to hoard temporary treasures when facing the eternal judgment of God.  

James now turns his attention to the poor believers, whom he refers to as his brethren.

2)  Be patient and persevere (v7-11)

James encourages them to be patient - the Lord is coming, and there will be justice.  As field labourers, they would have understood James' illustration of the patience of a farmer who waits for the seasonal rains (v7)

In Britain, we might respond, "You can't trust the weather!"  However, the return of Christ is more certain than the seasons.  He is not temperamental - he will not fail his people.  So James tells the believers to establish their hearts (v8).  The faithfulness of Christ is to inspire our faithfulness.

So this is not a time for fighting each other.  We are brothers and sisters, not judges.  The Judge is coming - he is at the door (v9)!  James warns: if you don't behave as a member of God's family, you might discover you aren't one!  If you behave as a judge, you may be the one judged!

James then tells the believers to persevere (v10-11) and uses the prophets and Job as examples.  We can see that their perseverance leads to the fruition of God's purposes and promises (v11).

It's not easy to persevere.  Often, it involves a lot of unspectacular obedience - simple, daily disciplines such as praying and reading the Word.  But let's not forget the example of Christ.  He lived for about 33 years on earth, yet there is very little we know about most of that life!  He was about 30 when his ministry began, and people asked: "Isn't that Joseph's son?"  They didn't know him as the Creator of the universe, but as the son of a construction worker.

Christ lived 30 years of unspectacular obedience before 3 years of spectacular ministry: 30 years without being noticed; perfectly steadfast and obedient, but in unspectacular ways.  If you trust Christ as your Saviour, you are clothed in his righteousness - not just those 3 years of teaching, healing and ministry, but also those 30 years of unrecognised, unspectacular but absolutely unwavering perseverance!  

Let us not dismiss the importance of unspectular obedience.  Often, it is unspectacular obedience that leads us into the spectacular plans of God.

As we trust in the perfect perseverance of Christ, let us patiently persevere, knowing he will one day return.  We will all face a final day.  James writes that for some, it will be a day of rejoicing at the harvest.  For others, it will be a day of misery because of what they have wasted.

What kind of final day are you anticipating?

Monday, 27 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Out of Hiding

I've been enjoying listening to the album "The Undoing" by Steffany Gretzinger recently.  This song, called "Out of Hiding", reminds us that we find everything we need to be accepted by God in Jesus Christ, and calls us to stand firm in our faith.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - He will hold me fast

An old hymn given a fresh sound, "He will hold me fast" by Matt Merker reminds us of the unswerving faithfulness of Christ.  

The album which this recording is taken from is called "Amazing Love" and is available for purchase on Amazon as a digital download.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - A Peacemaker, Not A Peacekeeper (James 3)

We're continuing our series in the letter of James, having looked last time at James' instruction: "Not many of you should become teachers" (3v1).  He gives three reasons why this is the case:

a) The high level of scrutiny - "You will be judged with greater strictness" (3v1)
b) The high level of difficulty - "No one can tame the tongue" (3v8)
c) The high level of responsibility - "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things" (3v5)

So the question we might then ask is: Who should become a teacher?  I believe James anticipates this question, and asks it in a different way: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (v13).  He then goes on to describe the person who should be considered for the role of teaching the church.

1) What you hear is what you get
James describes the characteristics that a person with wisdom will demonstrate.  He says "let him show his works" (v13).  Wisdom is not just invisible head knowledge - it is visibly applied understanding.  In other words, when God gives us wisdom, the purpose is not simply to give us the answers that are needed, but to make us into the people that are needed - needed in the church and in the world.

Godly wisdom has a sanctifying effect upon a person.  It makes them more like Jesus.

James writes that the first characteristic of this person is that they will be "pure".  In other words, the teacher should not be like the fountain James describes earlier, producing both fresh and salt water (3v11).  Rather, he should only produce fresh water.  This person will not change when they step out of the pulpit - he will not be a compassionate preacher, but an unapproachable person.  He will aim to live what he teaches.  In other words, what you hear is what you get.

The Christian writer, E M Bounds, puts it this way in his book The Power of Prayer: "The man is the message.  It takes 20 years to make the message because it takes 20 years to make the man."

The wise teacher will have no hidden motives.  There'll be no jealousy or selfish ambition (3v14).  If someone only wants to promote himself, he should not be teaching the church.  The effect of his teaching will be the opposite of what God wants for a church community.  There will be disorder and every kind of evil practice (3v16)

What does James mean by "evil practices"?  Consider the sinful activities he's already mentioned in his letter: being double-minded; avoiding responsibility for sin; hearing the Word but not acting on it; favouritism; ignoring the needs of others.  These activities won't make the headlines of the local paper, but they will greatly hinder the work of the church.

2) You'll find a door, not a wall

James goes on with his list: "peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (3v17).  A teacher will be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" (1v10).  They will be someone you will not only want to listen to, but also feel able to talk to.

The teacher's purpose is to "equip the church for ministry" (Ephesians 4v13) so that the church can mature as a community.  He will help people to explore new responsibilities and opportunities.  When you approach him, you'll find a door that reveals possibilities rather than a wall that discourages you.  The status quo is not an option for a church - change is a necessary part of maturing.  A wise teacher will support the church to embrace that.

3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

We have four children in our family.  One way to avoid conflict between them is to "divide and conquer".  If you keep them apart, they can't argue!

But that's not a great model for family life.  It's great to have a peaceful mealtime, but not if everyone is sitting in different rooms!  Ideally, you want your children to learn not only how to tolerate each other, but also to appreciate each other and even enjoy each other's company.

"Divide and conquer" is also not a good model for church life.  Sometimes, a church leader will keep people apart to keep the peace.  But a wise teacher doesn't keep the peace; he makes peace (3v18).  He is able to draw people together as he draws them to a better knowledge of God.  This is so that, as a body, the people are able to grow together.

What is the result of this?  "A harvest of righteousness".  The fruit of wise teaching is righteousness, or holiness.  We looked last time at holiness, and recognised that it describes the boundaries within which our relationship with God flourishes.  So the fruit of wise teaching is a community of people whose relationship with God is flourishing.

What does this fruit taste like?  It tastes like peace (3v18): a community of people at peace with God and with each other.

So how do we recognise a wise teacher?

1) What you hear is what you get
2) You find a door, not a wall
3) He'll be a peacemaker, not a peacekeeper

Monday, 13 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds

I heard this hymn, "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds", being sung to a new tune a few weeks ago while meeting with Newtown Evangelical Church, and we sang it together yesterday at our church gathering in Welshpool.  

Friday, 10 June 2016

Friday to the Father - 10th July 2016

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

We're grateful that the Lord continues to encourage us and provide for our needs.  Over the last couple of weeks, I've felt that we have "settled in" as a church, and we're now to start "looking around".  This means we need to begin considering how we bring the gospel to the community around us.  Please pray that the Lord will direct us in his will.

We're having an open house this Sunday afternoon, and inviting a variety of people.  Praise God that we have a home so suitable for giving hospitality.  Please pray that we'll have confidence to share the gospel in love as we share food and conversation.

Please pray for our church family: that the Lord would restore health to those who are unwell; give wisdom to those who are facing complicated situations; and provide work for those who are seeking it.

We're grateful to God for help that we'll receive this Sunday morning from Newtown.  Please pray that God will bless those leading and teaching.  Pray for me as I'll be meeting the elders on Monday evening to update them on WCC.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Monday, 6 June 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - I have decided to follow Jesus

Sometimes all you need is a chair, a guitar and some simple words to make a profound declaration.  

The hymn is based on the words spoken by a believer in India prior to being executed for his faith in the late nineteenth century.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Not many of us should become teachers (James 3)

James is writing to "the Dispersion" - believers who had been scattered by persecution.  They had left their homes, and were now poor and vulnerable to exploitation.

James begins chapter 3 by stating: "Not many of you should become teachers" (3v1).  Within a church, there are recognised roles, often called "offices".  One of those roles was elder or teacher.  The elder was recognised by the church community as having been gifted by God to teach the whole church.

James writes that not many of the believers should become teachers in the church.  Why did people want that role?  Perhaps they wanted to make the church more like the one they had left behind.  Perhaps they didn't want the church to change with the arrival of new believers.  Whatever the reason, James clearly felt he had to discourage people from taking this role.

James gives three reasons for his statement.

1) The high level of scrutiny (v1-2)

James writes that teachers will be "judged with greater strictness" (v1).  He mentions being judged a couple of other times in his letter, and both times involve people making negative comments.

A teacher/elder is scrutinised because if he teaches it, he should live it!  Hence James says that if you have perfect doctrine, you should have a perfect life (v2)!  After all, how can you expect to persuade others if you haven't persuaded yourself?

But everyone stumbles in some way, and it will always be possible to find faults in a teacher.  You'll always be able to find some way to judge or criticise a church elder.

So how does a teacher respond to that?  By toughening up?  Of course not!  The apostle Paul writes that if you speak like an angel, but you don't have love, you're no more useful than a clanging cymbal (1 Cor.13v1)!  A teacher must love the people - he must have a tender heart.  If his heart is armour-plated, how can he speak the truth in love?

A teacher's heart will not be covered with armour, but with scars.  Hence James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."

2) The high level of difficulty (v3-5)

A small bit controls the direction of a horse.  A small rudder directs a huge ship.  In the same way, a few words can have a massive impact on a situation.

As an illustration, think of the canal in Welshpool.  If you sat in a boat on one side of the canal, and someone asked you to row to the other side, you would probably be able to do it.  It's not a huge distance, and a slight error in your direction won't have a big effect.

However, if you sat in a ferry at Dover, and someone asked you to direct the ferry to Calais, you would probably panic!  You would know that if there's a slight error in your direction, you'll end up in completely the wrong place!  The further the distance, the greater the impact if you get it slightly wrong.

It's the same with the role of teaching a church.  Over the course of a lifetime, getting it slightly wrong will have a bigger and bigger affect upon the church.  A small flame can cause massive damage (v5)!  To avoid causing that damage, a teacher must study hard like a labourer (2 Tim 2v15).  

He must learn how to handle different texts correctly.   He must sacrifice time praying and meditating over the Scriptures.  He must teach to help rather than harm.  In Ephesians 6, the Word of God is a sword.  But this sword is not to be used to hurt people, for "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood" (1 Cor. 15v50).  Instead, it should be used to liberate people from untruth.  

A teacher must train in spiritual swordsmanship, and the training is costly.  Hence James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."

3) The high level of responsibility (v6-12)

Our words can harm like a fire.  They can affect a person's reputation, their "whole body", and words can affect someone's future, the "whole course of life" (v6).  A teacher must handle his words carefully, not recklessly, and James tells us how difficult this is (v7-8).  Careless words can make the teacher a hypocrite, a source of blessing and cursing (v9-12).

So consider carefully if you want the role of a teacher or elder.  I remember my pastor from Bristol, Mr. Clarke, saying this about becoming an elder: "If you can do anything else, do that instead."  He considered the calling to eldership was such a responsibility, you should consider every other option first.

So James writes: "Not many of you should become teachers."  However, just as there is a fire that harms, so there is also a fire that heals.  When the resurrected Jesus meets his followers, and helps them to understand the gospel, their response is: "Did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?" (Luke 24v32).

There is a fire that harms, and a fire that heals: a fire that wounds, and a fire that warms.  The teacher must seek to ignite the fire that heals and warms; that only burns away the impurities; that inspires, motivates and equips the listener for ministry.  It is a difficult task, and only possible with the help of God's Spirit, but it is the only fire worth kindling.

So how do we recognise who should become a teacher?  We will consider that next week, as James answers the question: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" (3v13)