James – Favoritism

What is your favorite food, or your favorite color?  Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?  What is your favorite bible verse or what is your favorite story?  Do you have a best friend?

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.

-James 2:1 (NIV), emphasis added

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I read this as a small child after someone had told me it was a sin to have favorites.  I couldn’t believe I was supposed to love chocolate cake and broccoli the same.  I feared living in the sin of having favorites.  As I grew older I realized having a favorite food wasn’t the favorite James is talking about.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:2-4 (NIV), emphasis added

We are discriminating when we show favoritism towards certain types of people.  We are to not withhold or give glory, love, affection, hospitality, friendship, mercy, kindness, or service to people based upon their external appearance.  You can discriminate based on age, race, gender, where someone lives, what they wear, how much money they have, their hairstyle, etc.  We are not to treat only certain people as Jesus would treat them, we are to treat all people like Jesus would treat them.  James is telling us here that showing favoritism, judging someone based on outward appearances, treating someone different from others, is a sin.  He is telling us that it does not matter what a person looks like or where they come from or what they have. We are not to play favorites!

When you show favoritism, when you discriminate, you show that you do not fully understand God’s grace.  You dishonor God and you reveal you do not understand the gospel.  It does not matter what you look like, what you have or what you have done. God extends His grace to us through His Son, Jesus and promises us the riches of His kingdom to those who love Him.

When you show favorites you deny the gospel truths. You suggest something different about the God you claim to love, serve and follow. God does not play favorites. The grace of God is available to everyone!  We are all sinners and we all need God’s grace to save us.  The beautiful thing is that God does not play favorites. No matter what age, race, or gender we are, or where we live or what we wear or how much money we have, God extends His grace to all of us!

We all are sinners and we all need Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Nothing we do, nothing we say, nothing we have will get us to heaven. Because we all sin, we are separated from God and we need His grace to be saved.  Once you realize that, once you understand that without God’s grace we are dead, you begin to extend that same grace to those around you, because you know that God’s grace is for everyone.  No matter what they look like, what they wear, how old they are, how much money they have, where they come from, God does not care. He wants to save us all.

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

-John 3:16 (NIV), emphasis added

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes

-Romans 1:16a (NIV), emphasis added

Jesus came to die for all, not just you, but everyone at work, everyone at your school, in your family, everyone you see and don’t see, EVERYONE.  And we need to stop treating people like God does not love them.

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

-James 2:5-7 (NIV), emphasis added

Why would these people want to favor those who were mistreating them?!  They are dragging them to court, exploiting them, talking bad about the God they serve!  So why would they honor them? For the money?! When I read this, I could not believe that someone want to be around his abusers and treat them as if they had done no wrong.  And then I realized we do the same thing. I did it for years!

I had a best friend my senior year of high school whom I loved with all that I had.  We would go to the movies together, have sleepovers and go shopping, we’d buy each other gifts.  I cried tears of joy upon seeing her when we were reunited after I had spend the summer away.  We even had cutesy nicknames for each other. She was very popular and no one popular had ever wanted to hang out with me. I loved being her friend.

She would ask me to lie for her. She did not want her parents knowing she smoked. She would lie to me. And not just about little things. She told other people lies about me.  I had a feeling she was not being honest with me and telling lies about me, but I stayed her friend. Because I was so desperate for a best friend, a bestie, to be popular and to not be labeled as the nerd anymore. I was so desperate for someone besides family to love me, that I stayed friends with this abusive girl.

James accuses us in the middle of this text of doing what I did. He tells us, “You so want to be loved by the world, you so want to be accepted by the world, you want to be labeled as cool and popular and wanted, you want to be applauded by them, you want to be seen as normal and so you dishonor your eternal brother and cozy up and cuddle up next to those who belittle the name of your God, who mock you, and who make life difficult for you.”

I see this in everyday life.  Self-proclaimed Christians hanging out and snuggling up to the very same people who mistreat them every chance they get, and for what? Popularity? Love? Acceptance? Money? Friendship? Respect? Why put those people on a pedestal? They do not deserve it. Why put yourself through that pain? Stop pushing God away by honoring those who do not deserve it and start opening your heart to God’s love, start loving.

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.

-James 2:8 (NIV), emphasis added

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Keep the royal law, the law of God and that law is love. It is founded upon God’s love for us!  Jesus came to this earth, humbled himself by becoming a human, and serving those around him, and He gave up his life for us so that we can become sons and daughters of God.  And until you fully understand what God has done for you, you cannot truly live as we are called to live: Love God and love people!  That is the whole bible: Love God and love people!

Keep the royal law, the law of God and that law is love. It is founded upon God’s love for us!  Jesus came to this earth, humbled himself by becoming a human, and serving those around him, and He gave up his life for us so that we can become sons and daughters of God.  And until you fully understand what God has done for you, you cannot truly live as we are called to live: Love God and love people!  That is the whole bible: Love God and love people!

“The most important one [the most important law/commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

-Mark 12:29-31 (NIV), emphasis added

What James is writing, what is happening in the church, is that there are those who are deceived by whether or not they’re a Christian and they are actually not fulfilling either one of these obligations. They are not serious about loving the Lord and they definitely are not serious about loving their neighbor. So what is happening is that the name of Christ is being soiled.

Everything rests on those two commandments.  Love!

Do you love God more than anything else in life? Do you love your neighbor? I do not just mean the person living next to you.  What about those at church or at the grocery store? Do you love all of them?  Do you treat them the same as your family and friends? Are you playing favorites, discriminating, and not loving people? If you do not love people, you show that you do not love God.  I do not want you guys to be deceived. I want you to know that if you do not do what the word of God says, if you do not love God with all that you are, and in turn, love everyone around you, everyone you come in contact with, you are showing everyone, including yourself, you are not saved.

But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

-James 2:9-11 (NIV), emphasis added

So whether you lie or swear or murder or show favoritism, you have broken the law and are considered a lawbreaker, a sinner. If you commit one sin, you are a sinner.  That’s how it works in the eyes of God.  He does not play favorites with people. You are a sinner no matter what sin you commit, and every sin, no matter how big or little you think it is, separates you from God.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom

-James 2:12 (NIV)

This goes hand in hand with what I wrote last week in James – Do What It Says.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22 (NIV), emphasis added

James says the church needs to be quick to hear and do what the Lord Jesus has said. If we hear the Word of the Lord and do not do what it says, it reveals we might not have truly been saved. So if you are reading this, or your bible, and think, “I do not care, I will play favorites if I want” then you might not be saved.  But if you are reading this and are thinking, “Man, I’ve been doing it wrong.  God wants me to treat everyone as He would treat them,” that is good! If you hear the Word of God and want to make a change, want to become more like him, then you are a Christ follower.

You do not have to be perfect to be a Christ follower. I’m saying that if you do not have a desire change and you do not try to change, that equates to being a nonbeliever. If you say you are saved and do not make a change you are not a Christian.  We need to wrestle with our sinful selves and we need to work on changing. But as long as you think you’re saved when everything you say and do is says you’re not, you are not saved.

because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

-James 2:13 (NIV), emphasis added

God will judge all of us, and if you do not show mercy, God will not show you mercy.

Okay, this one is hard.  You need to know that faith without mercy towards others is not genuine faith. Faith without mercy towards others is not genuine faith.

It is not really faith. So if you’re saying, “I have faith. I trust in Jesus. I trust in His forgiveness. I trust in His mercy,” and yet you refuse to extend that to anyone else, that reveals something is broken in your heart and you do not understand;  you don’t understand Jesus, you don’t understand what it means to be a Christ follower.

We have to fight against the urge to pick favorites. I have to, our pastors have to, everyone has to! And we have to fight the urge by laying our urges before the Lord. We need to confess, seek help, and ask the Lord to work on us. So I’m not saying you need to be perfect or there is no genuine faith; I’m saying you need to wrestle with the sin in your life or there is no genuine faith.  You need to be praying about where you are struggling and ask God to work in you!

So here is the command. Mercy triumphs over judgment. So remember the mercy that was shown to you. Remember where you were when Christ found you. Remember he rescued you, remember he ransomed you, and in your remembrance of God’s forgiving grace and mercy, extend it to others.

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James – Do What it Says

Have you ever seen anyone fly off the handle over something small and insignificant? Have you ever flown off the handle? Have you ever raised your voice without thinking, gotten mad over something silly, said something you regret? Maybe it was during rush hour as you are racing to get home and someone cuts you off or you said something to your kids or spouse in a moment of anger that you can’t take back.  I see it in my own church. It’s those claiming to be Christ followers and acting out in anger. There is anger and ungodly speech running rampant and I fear that those actions are revealing that their faith in Jesus is not genuine.

I want to use James to help bring us back from our anger and into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:19-21 (NIV), emphasis added

There are two types of anger I have seen.  The first is the quick outbursts and fits of anger. This is similar to what you might see a preschooler doing when he doesn’t get his way.  It might seem weird to have an adult act this way, but I have seen it.  At first it’s funny and then it’s embarrassing and sad.

The second type is a deep-seated anger, anger that come from your heart that creates the outbursts.  Sometimes it comes out violently and others it is a passive anger.

We all get angry at one point or another.  It’s human nature.  Some only get angry on occasion and some are angry all the time and allow their anger to control them.  Even if you are an angry person, even if you have anger in your heart, God still loves you!  And because He loves you he wants to heal your heart from that anger.

because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:20-21 (NIV), emphasis added

James gets to the heart of the problem and begins to fix it at its source.   He doesn’t tell us to count to 10, take deep breaths, which I am not saying don’t work.  But there is a faster, better way to fix our human anger.

The issue is that our anger is human anger, not Godly and so our anger does not make us righteous in the eyes of God.  We are angry, and we end up speaking in a way that is ungodly.  And the best way to get rid our hearts of human anger is to get rid of all moral filth and evil in our lives and accept God’s Word, which can save you.  The Word can save us from our anger and the sin that is keeping us from God.

18But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.

-Matthew 15:18 (NIV), emphasis added

If God’s Word isn’t in your heart, if you aren’t reading your bible and talking with God daily, hourly, every second, then the things you are saying and doing will reflect that. When I focus on God, I notice a difference in my life and so do those around me.  I am a kinder, gentler person.  So how do we control our anger?

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

-James 1:21 (NIV)

Get rid of all moral filth: turn away from your sin and dig into God’s word.  Learn how God wants you to live.  I can hear some you now: “I already go to church listen to God’s Word. I’m good, my anger is going to get better because I listen to a sermon once a week.  I get my Jesus in on Sunday.” Get this: Just reading God’s word and going to church is NOT enough.  Going to church once a week doesn’t make you a Christian and will NOT help you with your anger.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

-James 1:22 (NIV), emphasis added

There are people in church, people claiming to be Christians, who are not sure whether or not they have genuine faith.  There are people who think they’re living a life that is pleasing to God, who think they are in right standing with God, but they’re not. They think they are right with God because they go to church and hear the Word of God.

There are people going to church every week, saying they agree with what is being taught, AMEN, they nod along and sing the songs, but when they walk out the doors they live a life that does not reflect what they have just agreed with in church.  They do not DO what the Word says.  They don’t show love to other, only hate; they swear at each other and get violent over the littlest things; what comes out of their mouths is filthy and wicked and if my mom heard me say those things, I’d get my mouth washed out with soap.

So what happens if we are one of those people?  What if we go to church and hear God’s Word, but we don’t do what it says?  Then your life isn’t built upon the rock that is Jesus.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice, is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

-Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV), emphasis added

When we only listen to God’s word, Sunday after Sunday, and we do not put it in to practice and begin to change our lives, the life we built will come crashing down. But when you do what the Word says and not just listen to it, you can stand firm on the rock that is Jesus and you will be blessed in what you do.

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

-James 1:23-25 (NIV), emphasis added

Imagine you look at your reflection in the mirror and you turn away and immediately forget if you have dark or light hair, the position of your nose and eyes, you forget whether you put on your makeup.  Pretty silly of you to forget what you look like.  If someone tells you not to touch a hot stove and you nod your head and listen, but you don’t do what they said you will get burned when you touch the stove.

You go to church and hear the Word, you nod along and listen to what is said,  check “Go to Church” off your weekly “Christian Checklist”, then you leave, you go home, to school, wherever, and you forget what you are taught, you don’t do what God’s Word tells you to do, you completely ignore God’s Word.  Does that sound like a Christ follower to you?

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

-James 1:26 (NIV), emphasis added

I am concerned. I see how those around me, those claiming to know Christ, speak out of an angry heart, they yell and swear, they hear what is taught and they ignore it! And I don’t even know if they are Christians. I don’t care how many of the songs you have memorized or how much of the Scripture you’ve hidden in your heart or how many Sundays you go to church, if you’re speaking like this to people who are brothers and sisters or even enemies, you may not be a Christian.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

-James 1:27 (NIV), emphasis added

The kind of faith that pleases God is the faith that is bearing the fruit of love. Love for our neighbors, for those around us in need; love and devotion to God, this is real faith. This is being a Christian.

Are you a Christian? Think about you…not your parents, not your friend, not your spouse or your kids. I’m talking about you. Are you a Christian? Are you one who has humbly received the gospel, the Word of Truth, about Christ? If the answer to that question is no, what’s keeping you even today from receiving Him? What’s the hurdle? I invite you, I encourage you, believe in Christ. He loves you. This good God, this perfect God, has made a way for you to be loved by Him and to become His son or daughter. He did it by making His only Son an enemy so you who are an enemy of God right now could become His son or daughter.

If you answered, “Yes, I’m a Christian,” is this evident in your life? Would other godly people affirm that about you? Are you even willing to ask them? Does your daily life, professing Christ, align with your profession of faith? Are you a doer of the Word when you leave church on Sundays? Would people in your family, your friends, even those at church actually be surprised to learn you’re a Christian? If you told them you were a Christian, would they be surprised? Is there any chance that you’re self-deceived about what your relationship with God is? Any chance that you might be the one who looks in the mirror and walks away and forgets what you see?

Where are you today?  Are you a Christ follower or have you been lying to yourself and God?

I May Lose Everyone I Love Over This – Part 3

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciples.

And whoever does not carry their cross and follower me cannot be my disciples.

In the same way, those of you who do not give up EVERYTHING you have cannot be my disciples.

-Luke 14:26-27, 33 (NIV), emphasis added

This will be heart to write and yet I know that if I don’t write it there will be people I know, people I love, that will go to hell.

We been told a lie about what it means to be Christ followers.  And worse than that, we lead ourselves further into these lies.  We don’t takes God’s word and read it for ourselves.  We allow our pastors and elders to interpret the bible for us and we get lead astray.  (See What Did He Say?)

Our values and aspirations are unbiblical.  We are allowing earthly possessions, fear, and people we love to cloud what Christ has told us about being His disciple.

None of the things Jesus said in Luke 14 are easy to accept.  We must hate those we love, be willing to die for Him, and give up EVERYTHING to follow Jesus.  This doesn’t just include earthly possessions, but I will cover that in another post.

I don’t see American “Christians” even willing to give up what they have to follow Jesus.

In Asia, believers walk miles to get to church, where they have to be careful to enter at different times to avoid attracting attention. The sit in a small, crowded room, fearing for their very lives, all to come closer to this God we claim to serve.  They risk it all, family, friends, even their lives, to spend hours learning about what Jesus did for us.  And we complain about having to get up early or drive to church.  We complain about the people we don’t like at church.  They struggle to learn about God while we struggle to stay awake in church.  Their families are threatened, while we gossip about other church attendees.  They cry out thanks to God for loving them and beg Him for His mercy, while we ask God to let us win the lottery or for more money or a bigger house or or or….

They risk everything to follow Christ, while we risk Christ for everything.

As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you any place you go.”

Jesus said to them, “The foxes have holes to live in, and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.”

Jesus said to another man, “Follow me!”

But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

But Jesus said to him, “Let the people who are dead bury their own dead. You must go and tell about the kingdom of God.”

Another man said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to my family.”

Jesus said, “Anyone who begins to plow a field but keeps looking back is of no use in the kingdom of God.

-Luke 9:57-62 (NCV), emphasis added.

Jesus sure has a funny way of trying to gather followers.  It seems he scares off three people who say they are willing to follow Him.

To the first: following Jesus means you could end up homeless.  We are not guaranteed shelter.

To the second: there are more important things than burying your dead loved ones.  This goes hand-in-hand with Luke 14.  We must love Jesus so much that it seems we hate those on earth.  If God called you to go help followers in a foreign land and two days before your flight your mother passes, would you stay to bury her or go do God’s work?

To the third: don’t look back.  Following Jesus demands our all; complete devotion.  Nothing else can come first and we can’t look back.

Why then have we been taught that believing in Jesus and following Him is rainbows and butterflies? Jesus Himself practically denied people from following Him. I was told admit your a sinner; believe Jesus is God’s son, died, rose again on the third day; confess that Jesus is your Lord and Savior; say a quick prayer and presto you’re saved. Jesus told these guys you could be homeless, you have more important thing then burying your loves ones, and you must be 100%, no turning back, devoted to Him! Not as easy as we are told it is. In Luke 14 He tells them to hate those you love, carry your cross, and give up EVERYTHING you have!  He tells a wealthy man in Mark 10:21 that in order to follow Jesus, he must “Go and sell everything [he has], and give the money to the poor, and [he] will have treasure in heaven.”

Jesus called us to deny ourselves, but we are being taught that being a Christian is comfortable and easy. “Pray and you’ll be saved. That’s all you have to do to go to heaven. God will keep you safe and provide all the things you need to have a large home and three cars and more stuff than you can imagine” No! We must crucify ourselves, leave the safety of our homes and country, sell all we have to help the poor! Look at the disciples; almost all 12 of them died because they followed Jesus and went out teaching others about Him.

We are teaching others that following Jesus is simple and Jesus wants you to have nice things and Jesus will keep you safe and comfortable when Jesus taught that following Him would be the hardest thing we’d ever do and it would be dangerous (His disciples were tortured and jailed  and killed for following Him and Jesus was crucified) and we might not have a place to call home.

By attempting to transform the image of who Jesus is and what he wants into our own ideals are we not molding Him to our image?! We are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and mold ourselves into HIS image.

So I ask you: Do you truly believe that Jesus is worth abandoning EVERYTHING for? Do you believe He will fulfill you even if you have nothing on this earth? Will you obey all He asks of you and follow Him wherever he leads you?

These are not yes or no questions. You have to take action to answer them. You have to commit to believe whatever Jesus tells you and then you have to obey Him. What is God telling you to do? What are you going to do about it?

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