Wednesday 11 July
This week at #Sligo18, Jonathan Rue is leading the morning Bible Teaching exploring lessons from the book of James. Jonathan is the Lead Pastor at Desert Vineyard - a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church in Southern California. Here, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his message on Wednesday morning:
If you were here last night, Simon preached an amazing message from Luke 7 and today our text dovetails a little bit. We are looking at the impact that grace has on our lives. James is concerned that we would close the gap between what we believe and how we live.
Is our faith in Jesus Christ making any real difference in our lives?
There is a true story of a zoo in China. A woman takes her child to see the animals and there was a big label on the enclosure that said “African Lion” but the “lion” started barking like a dog. She asked the zoo staff what was happening. The zoo had been having some financial difficulties so they used a Tibetan mastiff instead of a lion. And that wasn’t the only one. There was a white fox in the snow leopard’s den and there was another dog posing as a wolf. The woman wanted her money back!
This is the kind of thing that James is concerned about in our Christian life. He is concerned that we might look like a lion but we bark like a dog. There are outward trappings but no internal reality. This question is what makes us a real Christian? 70% of Americans claim to be Christian but many are not demonstrating that in their lives.
James is willing to get into the awkward spaces and ask the difficult questions. How can we tell if our Christian faith is real?
Reading from James 1: 19 - 27
James opens up with this quick description about listening and speaking. This is not his main point here. He is introducing something here about our speech which he picks up again later in the epistle. (In every human relationship, things would improve if we were quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.)
If our faith in Jesus is real, it will impact our ears - the way that we listen, our mouth - the ways that we speak and our eyes - looking intently into the word of God. When God comes into our lives, it affects the parts of our body.
In v22, James wants to talk to us about one of the core problems that so many of us have (the gap of hypocrisy) - self-deception. James warns us that self-deception is a real problem! And we need to be looking out for it. The problem is that if we are self-deceived, then we are not aware of it! Most of us want integrity but we can’t see the gaps. We have somehow convinced ourselves that everything is alright.
A one-sided evaluation of our relationship with God
We think everything is okay but we don’t ask God about it! I could say I am friends with Jimmy Fallon because I watch him on TV but that is not a real friendship. Is our evaluation of our friendship with God based on our own feelings? In relationships, we have to check in with both sides.
We can be so much more generous with ourselves than we are for other people. We give ourselves grace because we know our intentions but we judge other people only on what they do!
CS Lewis says, There is someone I love and forgive, even though he hurts those I love the most - that is myself!
We need the scriptures to speak to us about what real relationship with God looks like. James’ warning is this, “Do not listen to the word. Do what it says.” Fake Christian faith is listen-only faith. It just listens to God but doesn’t do anything with it.
I am more sinful than I ever imagined and God loves me more than I could ever imagine. We see ourselves in the mirror of scripture but if we walk away and do nothing about it. Too often we flip the switch thinking that God is judgemental whereas He actually loves us so deeply. But we also think that we are okay when we are deeply flawed and sinful!
If somebody is in authority over us then a listen-only relationship is a problem. I’m in authority over my kids and if they refuse to obey me, that is a problem. And if I don’t do anything about it (if I let them eat candy in front of the TV when they are supposed to be tidying their room) then we have reversed roles and they are running the household!
We are not in a peer relationship with God. We can swim in a cultural narrative that says God is whoever you want Him to be! We take control of our relationship with God as if He is our “buddy”. He is in authority over us. If we are going to step into relationship with Him, we have to be willing for Him to be sovereign and Lord. We submit ourselves even to those parts of His word that we don’t like!
Ice Cubes and Chocolate Milk
If you fill up and ice cube tray with water and put it in the freezer. Too often we are like ice-cube-tray Christians. We have one “spot” for God and we invite Him to speak into that but we say the other parts of our lives are off-limits. People who have this kind of Christianity were the knights in the Crusades. They were a bunch of people who had one little compartment where God was in their lives and all these other compartments that were filled with war and violence. When they were baptised, they would hold up their sword out of the water as the one thing that wasn’t given to God. Baptism is not for 90%. You don’t hold your wallet up out of the water. We need to be all in.
What happens when you squeeze chocolate syrup into milk? It becomes Chocolate Milk. You can no longer separate the milk from the chocolate. God wants Chocolate Milk Christians. He wants to speak into every area of our lives. He has plans for the whole of our lives. Are we listening to Him? Are we opening to allow God to speak into every part of our lives?
Accepting God's word
This brings us to v21, which is the main point of the text - humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. How do we cross from darkness into light, from death to life, from being lost to being found?
Real Christian faith means accepting the Gospel planted in you through listening and obeying. The salvation of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with what we do. Jesus did for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our bit it to receive and accept what Jesus has done for us. We accept the word planted in us.
Ezekiel talks about putting a new heart into us! He removes our hardness, our heart of stone and gives us a soft, tender heart. God reaches in to our heart and works transformation and change from the inside out. It comes when we humbly accept the word planted in us.
When that happens, we don't only listen but we also obey. James does not want us to miss the impact of grace. Something happens in us that makes us different. These things go hand in hand. Grace comes first but it has an impact on our lives. James is reinforcing this message that when you have received grace, you cannot go away unchanged. He is reinforcing what Jesus said in Matthew - not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter in but only the one who does the will of the Father.
In Luke 11, Jesus was preaching and this woman screams out, “Blessed is the mother who gave birth to you.” What does Jesus say in response? He says, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus cares a lot about the impact of grace and how in transforms us.
What does this look like? I was watching the news a couple of months ago. This guy named Brian Hawkins in California walks into the local TV news station and says, “I want to confess on camera to a murder I committed 25 years ago.” They sat him down, turned the camera on and called the cops.
He confessed to the murder of a man called Frank. Along with friends, he had heard that Frank had come into some money. They lured him to an isolated location. They killed him and dumped his body. The cops investigated the murder and even interviewed every one involved but no one was ever arrested.
Brian had got off scot-free so the news anchor asked, “Why are you doing this?” He answered, “I have come to know Jesus Christ and I am realising that God wants to squeeze His word into every part of my life and I have to do the right thing, even though I have gotten away with it.” This guy had so encountered God that he had to do the right thing. That is reality. That is God’s grace sinking into our hearts and our soul in a way that is making a difference. That is authentic, transforming faith.