Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Christmas in September

Christmas in September!
James Series
James 1:16-18

            We’ve just exchanged, at least in theory, a bunch of terrible gifts. We all know what it is like to open up a present that you weren’t expecting, or don’t like at all, and you have to act like you love it. A few years ago my aunt was hoping to play a trick on my uncle. She wrapped up a hideous little stuffed cat figurine that was standing on its hind legs and wearing some renaissance outfit. It was the ugliest thing you’d ever see. She wrapped it up and put my great-grandmother’s name on it, so when he opened it up he would have to pretend that he liked it so not to offend the old grandmother. Unfortunately, my great-grandmother was sick that day and wasn’t able to spend Christmas with us. A good joke spoiled.
            When I think of bad Christmas presents, I think of Ralphy and that pink bunny costume that he had to try on. Remember Ralphy’s reaction? He was like “Are you kidding me? I’m not a six year old girl.” Randy, his brother, was rolling on the floor crying he was laughing so hard. Sometimes we feel exactly the same way with the things God gives us. We want a Ferrari and we get a Pinto. We want a corporate job in a high rise and we get a job as a window washer. We want an Ipad and we get a piece of cardboard with Scooby-Doo on it (true story).
            But James says in 1:16-18, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”
            “Do not be deceived.” It may seem like it’s not a good gift but it is. Everything we get, big and small, is channeled through God. Philippians 4:9 says, “My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches and glory.” For example: I have a job. I work very hard for my dad at David Koppin Home Improvement. At the end of the week I receive a pay check. Where does the paycheck come from? It may have David Koppin Home Improvement on the check but it comes from God. God just funnels what I need through DKHI. If I lost my job, God would funnel what I need through another source. So everything is from God. So what if I stumble across some pornography. Is that a good and perfect gift from God? No the pornography isn’t, but what you become after overcoming your addiction is a good gift. (Same thing with tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.) Your parents get a divorce—that’s bad; you have a friend who is going through the same thing and you introduce her to Jesus to help her with her grief—that’s good. I have heard numerous stories of people who have had accidents, or even failed suicide attempts that resulted in the loss of their use of legs. When asked if they could take a magic pill and go back to what they were before the accident, they have all said, “No,” and that they were actually happier now. (Mark Zupan; Kristen Jane Anderson for example.)  
            There are so many examples of what we think are bad things today that will turn out to be good things tomorrow. Do you know how many stories there are of people who were supposed to be in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 but weren’t because they had car trouble, lost their keys, took a different way and got stuck in traffic, or some other terrible thing that ended up saving their lives? Hundreds and hundreds. They were probably worried about getting fired, maybe even cussing out God for making them late. But God was sitting in Heaven thinking, “Yeah, but you’ll see. This is for your own good.” I worked with a guy who’s wife was dying of breast cancer. She eventually asked him to stop coming to her doctor’s appointments because it was hindering her from sharing the love of Jesus with the other women in the room. She turned something very bad into something very good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” He works bad things into good things for those who love Him.
            I love verses 17 and 18 of James 1. “There is no variation, or shadow of turning” with God. The way He is, is the way He has always been, and will always be. If He has been good to His people in the past, He will be good to His people now and forever. We can trust in Him. Verse 18 explains why He will be good to us. He created us out of His own free will and loves us. He wants us to be His first fruits, or the best of the best offering, from all of His creation.
            Essentially it all comes down to trust. Are you going to trust what you can see and perceive right now? Or are you going to trust the creator of the world, the creator of your circumstances, and the One who has been around from the beginning and has planned out the ending? Remember my pea and the watermelon illustration. Set the pea and the watermelon side by side. What can the pea tell you about the watermelon? Only what it can see. It can’t tell you about the bottom, top, the two sides, or even the inside of the watermelon. It is very limited in its perspective. We are also very limited in our perspective.
            Our first step in trusting God is believing in His son Jesus Christ. Without that relationship nothing else matters.       

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Whose Fault Is It?

Whose Fault Is It?
James Series
James 1:12-15
            It all started about 6,000 years ago with a young couple who lived in a garden. Their names were Adam and Eve. God gave them some very simple instructions. He said, “Hey this place is paradise, but there are few ground rules. Number one: Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That’s it.” We don’t know how long it was before they broke the only rule God had given them. It could have been a day, a week, or ten years. We don’t know. All we know is that one day the serpent (Satan in animal form) made a suggestion to Eve that if she ate from that tree she would be like God. She noticed the fruit did look good to eat so she took a bite. Then she gave some to Adam, who was standing right beside her. That is precisely when all hell broke loose—literally. Immediately their eyes were opened and instead of being like God, they noticed that they were both naked. So they made some coverings out of fig leaves. Has anybody here ever touched a fig leaf? They are very itchy--kind of a weird choice to make your underwear from. Later in the cool of the evening when God usually walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, He couldn’t find them (because they were hiding) and asked the first question recorded in the Bible, “Adam, where are you?”
            Have you ever noticed when you’ve messed something up, you’re hard to find? My uncle set his barn on fire when he was a kid, so he ran inside, grabbed his father’s belt and hid. Usually it’s not because the offended party is hunting us down, it’s because we feel guilty, or ashamed, and don’t want to be around the other person. I broke the trust of my college coach. It took me a long time to not feel guilty or ashamed around him. Every time I was with him, subconsciously I had my tail tucked between my legs.
            Back to the Garden…God eventually found Adam, which probably didn’t take much effort because…well because He’s God. Adam said, “Well, you see, I hid because I was naked and I didn’t want you to see me in my birthday suit.” God said, “Who told you you were naked? Hey where did this core come from? Aww snap! You’ve been eating from the tree I told you not to eat from!”
            Then what did Adam say? “The woman You put here with me gave it to me to eat.” Who did he blame? Eve and God. What did Eve say, “The serpent made me do it.” Or, “The devil made me do it.” What did the serpent say? Nothing. He just laughed as he introduced sin into the world.     
            So not only has sin been around since Adam and Eve, so has the blame game. Let’s jump right into our scripture passage—James: 1:12-15, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”
            Tonight we are going to be looking at three things: 1) What is temptation and what is a trial? So far up to this point in the chapter James has focused on trials—“Count it all joy when you fall into various trials;” and then the trials of the poor man compared to the rich man. In verse 12 it switches from trials to temptations. 2) Who is to blame for our temptations? And 3) What is the progression of temptation?
            #1) What is a trial and what is a temptation? A trial is something that tests you, something that if you withstand it successfully will make you stronger. For example—weightlifting. I don’t do it myself, because those things are heavy, but those who do lift weights put their muscles through a trial and make them stronger in the end. Now, if someone has never lifted a weight in their life decided that they were going to break the world record for the bench press, they would probably get hurt, tear some muscles and have less strength than when they started. If God puts you through a trial and you succeed, you will come out stronger and better equipped to handle the next trial God sends your way.
            Every trial has an opportunity to become a temptation though. When I am in the midst of a trial, I can either use it to exercise my faith, trust God, and become stronger, or I can doubt God, do things my way, and take the easy way out. If I disobey God and do things my way, the trial has become a temptation leading to sin.
            Some examples of trials you might be facing: Big test that you aren’t prepared for; You want something but can’t afford it; You heard something really interesting about somebody else; Your boyfriend/ girlfriend is encouraging you to do things you know is wrong; Your parents told you you couldn’t do something or go somewhere that you wanted to; You or someone you know is pregnant. Each one of these trials can be a strength builder, or could lead you down a very sinful road.
            #2) Maybe it’s because I have seen too many movies like Evan Almighty, or Bruce Almighty, but when I think of God and heaven, I think of everything being pure white—whiter than the best bleach in the world could get something white. When I think of sin, I think just the opposite—everything black, muddy, and disgusting. What part does pure white and disgusting black have together? They don’t have and never can have anything in common. The Bible repeatedly calls God “holy.” The angels even sang a song about Him saying, “Holy, holy, holy.” Saying it three times dramatically emphasized how holy he was. The definition of holy is, “Living according to a strict or highly moral religious or spiritual system.” God in His perfect white suit is not playing in the mud. He is not playing really close to the mud but not getting in. He is not having anything to do with the mud. He is strictly staying as far away from it as He can get.
            Verse 13 says “Let no one say when He is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” In the phrase “I am tempted by God” or put another way “I am tempted of God” the word “of” needs to be looked at. In English “of” means “of.” In Greek there are two different words that can mean “of”--Apo and Hupo. Apo means directly, as in “I am tempted directly by God. God is right here enticing me to sin.” Hupo means indirectly as in “I am indirectly tempted by God. He is not right here but He has created the scenario, as well as my sinful desire, and has placed me smack dab in the middle of it.” The word James used was hupo, which means indirectly. It is not common for people to directly blame God for being tempted, but it is common for people to indirectly blame Him for the situations they are in when they do fall into temptation—“If God allowed me to have more money I wouldn’t have had to steal.”
            James doesn’t even consider the possibility that God could be responsible for directly tempting someone. That would go against everything that He stands for. His entire relationship with us has involved His molding us into His image, leaving our old sinful nature behind. Why would He then tempt us to do evil? It makes no sense. But then James goes further and says, “Don’t even say that God indirectly caused you to sin by creating the circumstances that you find yourself in.”
            Just in case you find it in your Bible, remember what I taught here tonight, and think I was wrong, and discount what I have to say, there is a story in Second Samuel 24. Verse 1 of that chapter says that the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel and He enticed David to take a census. You might think, “What’s the big deal about taking a census?” Instead of trusting in God’s protection, David wanted to count how many fighting men he had in case he needed to defend himself. Even in verse 3, his top advisor tried to talk him out of it. Verse 1 clearly indicates that God was the one motivating David to take the census, a sin that cost the lives of 70,000 people. This passage would destroy James’ entire argument if it was the end of the story. First Chronicles 21 tells the exact same story but from a different perspective—both inspired by God, except in verse one it says, “And Satan stood up against Israel….” Who stood up against Israel? Satan. Is Satan God? No, of course not. The only explanation then is that God allowed David to go through a trial, a chance to take the high and more difficult road and trust Him for protection, but David became tempted, chose to doubt God, and take matters into His own hands.
            Then we have Jesus. Immediately after His baptism He was led up by the Spirit (capital “S” means God) into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was led into the trials by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He did not succumb to the temptations, and therefore, grew in His faith, if that was possible.
            To answer the question “Who is to blame for our temptations?” we need to look at…
#3 The progression of our temptation. James uses a very vivid image of the life cycle to describe temptation. James says God is not to blame, “but each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” Yesterday, at my day job, I had been working in an attic. It was a very tight attic with lots of duct work making it almost impossible to move around. We had decided that due to the distance we would have to travel and the amount of obstacles we would have to cross that it would be easier to take the vent off the side of the house and pass the material up that way rather than try to carry them through the attic. This would take longer, and require us to sit in the extremely high temperature longer. As I was sitting there looking out the vent I saw the homeowner walking with a can of Coke, and two cans of Mountain Dew. I knew that the cans just came out of an ice cold refrigerator because I could see the condensation dripping off of the can. I also knew who they were for—me and my two co-workers. I could taste the Coke and the Mountain Dew as I poured it in my mouth. I could feel the carbonation burning my throat. I was being put through a trial. Every fiber of my being wanted to drink that soda but I had made a vow to not drink soda for the entire year. Was God tempting me? No, He was putting me through a trial that if I succeeded would make me stronger the next time. (You’re probably thinking “What kind of trial is that?” Well, if I could resist something I wanted when I was physically worn out, overheated, and dehydrated, I could certainly find the courage to resist it when I wasn’t in that circumstance.) Was the homeowner tempting me? No, he had no idea about my vow. If he did, then it might be a different story. I was tempted by myself when I desired the ice cold beverage. I was not drawn away, however, and overcame that particular trial. By the way, it would not have been a trial for me if I looked out the vent and saw him carrying a jar full of olives no matter how cold they were. Each of us have our own set of desires that the devil uses to draw us away from God. The reason why I overcame the trial was because I had made the decision months ago not to give in if I ever had the opportunity.
James says we are drawn away by our own desires and enticed. I picture a sheep wandering away from the rest of the flock—he is being drawn away by his own desires enticed by something, whether it is a fresh clump of grass, some shade, or water. “Then when desire is conceived it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown brings forth death.” A single thought, based on our own desires draws us away from what God would have us to do. That desire, that falls outside of God’s will for our lives, conceives sin. That sin, if it is not taken care of will bring forth death.
How can sin bring forth death? It depends on the sin. If your sin is drinking, death could come about through any number of things: an accident, health failure, or alcohol poisoning. But what about lust? Your lust might cause you to sin through pornographic websites, or inappropriate relations with your boyfriend or girlfriend. You might contract a life threatening STD, like AIDS, but for the most part the death James is speaking of here is a spiritual death. If you never take care of your sin problem, it will lead to what the Bible calls a spiritual death, or in other words you’re going to hell. By taking care of your sin problem I don’t mean making a commitment to never sin again, or doing extra chores at God’s house to appease Him. It doesn’t work that way. Once you’ve sinned, that’s it—you’re done. Remember God’s perfect white heaven? You now have thick black tar-like stuff all over you, and you can’t get it off. There’s only one way to deal with your sin problem and that is making Jesus your Lord and Savior. What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.              


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems
James 1:9-11
The James Series

            How many of you all would like to be rich? Richer beyond your imagination? Banks come to you for a loan? Now how many of you would like to be poor? Broke as broke can be? If it cost a nickel to travel around the world, you couldn’t get out of sight? You’re so broke you go to KFC to lick other people’s fingers? So broke that if you threw a pity party you couldn’t bring the snacks? Most people, if they were able to choose, would choose to be rich rather than to be poor. “Money can’t buy you happiness,” right? Can it rent it? Have you ever seen a sad man riding a jet ski? No, money can’t buy you happiness. It can’t even rent happiness. You can have fun for a short period of time, but once that time is over you’ll go back to your previous level of happiness, or even worse, you will become more depressed because you have found one more thing that didn’t satisfy. Money can’t buy you happiness but neither does poverty. In fact poverty can’t buy you anything. You will have a tough time finding someone who used to be broke, became fabulously wealthy, and then all of a sudden became happy. Just as you will also have a tough time finding someone who was fabulously wealthy, who then became broke, and suddenly became happy. What this means to me is that money is not a contributor to happiness. I know people who can’t pay their bills and they are perfectly happy. I also know people that have money coming out of their ears that are perfectly happy. I know rich and poor people who are absolutely miserable.   
So what do the rich and the poor have in common? Well according to Proverbs 22:2 it is that the LORD has made them both, but there is something else, too. As the Notorious B.I.G. and Puff Daddy so eloquently put it, “The more money you come across the more problems you see.” The Lord has made both the rich and the poor, and He also made us both to have problems. Proverb 30:8-9 says, “…Give me neither poverty nor riches—feed me with the food allotted to me; lest I be full and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of the Lord.” The author of this Proverb was wise enough to see that there were rich people who completely lost touch with the reality that they are dependent on God, as well as to see that it is not good to be so desperate that you take drastic measures just to feed yourselves.
Let’s take a quick poll:
-How many of you have ever filled up a glass of water, drank part of it, and then left it sitting around, or drank what you wanted and dumped the rest out?
-How many of you have ever went to the sink, cup in hand, and prayed earnestly that clean drinking water might come out when you turned the water on? And secondly, how many of you have ever thanked God after drinking that clean water?
-How many of you have at least one car in your household? Two cars?
Review time:
-In America, for the most part, we don’t have to be concerned with the quality of our water unless we live near a factory, or a dump site. If that is the case, call Erin Brokovich. Therefore, since we rarely have to be concerned about clean drinking water, we rarely think about it. If we rarely think about it, then we certainly don’t pray for or thank God for it on a regular basis. In fact, we get pretty agitated during hurricanes when we have to boil our water.
-Because water is so plentiful in America, we take it for granted drinking only what we want, or need, and occasionally forget about it and leave it on the counter for the cat to drink out of and eventually knock over all over your school books.
-If you, or someone in your household, owns a car you are in the top 8% of the richest people in the world no matter what size, shape, condition, make, or model. If you own two cars, you are in the top 1%.
Now…how rich do you feel? You may not feel rich but you are. If you spent a week in Haiti, or lived in a shack in South Africa for a few days you would come back thankful for all of the blessings you have. So why don’t we feel rich? For one, we are so blessed that we rarely need to think about our daily necessities (food, water, clothing, shelter) and therefore, we focus on what we don’t have. Secondly, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.” The rich have problems. The poor have problems. We think that once we reach a certain financial level that all of our problems will go away. Some will go away, like, “how am I going to pay rent,” but they will be replaced with “How am I going to afford to send my kid to college now that they don’t qualify for financial aid?”
Today’s topic is not about money. It’s not about rich versus poor. It’s not about the benefits of being rich or the benefits of being poor. By the way, being poor is not a spiritual discipline, just like being rich is not a sign of God’s favor. Today’s lesson is about problems—we all have them.
James 1:9-11 “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, 10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away. 11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.”
In Israel, there is a grass that will grow at night and then burn and wither each day as the sun rises. Reading this passage, I always imagine a growing, beautiful plant in a pot sitting right next to a potted dead plant. The first plant is beautiful but no sooner than the sun rises it’s going to wither and die and look exactly the same as the other plant. Oprah Winfrey, the richest woman in the world will eventually pass away. When she does her skeletal remains will look very similar to Mother Theresa’s, a woman who took a vow of poverty.
So what is this passage saying? Don’t try anything? Ambition will get you nowhere? Not at all. There are two characters in this passage: the rich and the poor. Let’s look at the poor first. James says for him “to glory in his exaltation,” or glory in his being lifted up to an elevated state. But I thought it wasn’t spiritually beneficial to be poor? Yes, but in James 1:2 it says, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you fall in various trials….” James is telling the poor man to glory in the fact that God is putting him through difficult situations in order for great things to come from it. Verse 4 says that doing so will make him “perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
Then there’s the rich man. It seems the rich man has more problems because James goes into greater detail describing all of the bad things that will happen to him. Perhaps it is because the rich are used to fixing every problem with money and have a harder time believing they need God. Maybe James spends more time trying to convince the rich that, like that grass, they to will burn away. In summary James says for the rich man to “glory in his humiliation.” The rich man and the poor man will go through different trials and problems but the end result will still be the same—God making us “perfect and complete lacking nothing.”
So what’s the point? What are we supposed to be getting out of this? You are going to go through trials, whether you are rich or poor, white or black, male or female. The question is, “How will you respond to those trials?” Will you cave under the pressure? Will you seek another source other than God to get you through—like a new car, new girlfriend/boyfriend, new cell phone or other gadget? James says to count it all joy. Take it all in and embrace it. Ask God when you are going through various trials, “Lord, what am I to learn from this?” It may seem like I’m blowing off trials like they are nothing, but I am not. Trials are tough. Maybe you have lost a friend, or a loved one. Maybe your parents are divorcing, maybe you’re failing your classes, or you’re pregnant. God wants to talk to you. He wants you to be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Maybe the one thing he wants to teach you is, “Hey, my grace is sufficient for you. I’m all you need.” Maybe God is trying to get your attention for the first time and accept Him as your Lord and Savior.