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Christian Hedonism

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There are no short-cuts to maturity

James doesn’t mince words about suffering. He begins his book urging his readers to rejoice whenever they experience trials. And he wraps up his book with today’s Bible reading, urging his readers to be patient in suffering. (James 5:7-11) He fills in the gaps about suffering in between. In fact, James never refers to suffering and trials as a remote possibility. He always refers to it as a given. One can only wonder how the Prosperity Gospel flourishes given the enormous weight of consistent Biblical teaching against it.

In Western Society, we don’t like to wait. The coming modern conveniences promoted on commercials in the 1950s only left us cramming more into our days rather than the promise they made that life would be easier and we would have more free time. I’m still waiting for that.

Take the microwave oven for example. With a microwave oven, you can boil water in a matter of a couple of minutes and make a nice glass of good Southern Sweet Iced Tea in half the time compared to boiling water and steeping your tea on a cooktop. But how often have you impatiently screamed at your microwave oven, “Hurry!”? Personally, I’d rather not answer that question!

Application

James seems to indicate that suffering produces patience. And you won’t gain patience without having to wait, oftentimes experiencing some level of discomfort or suffering. Is it any wonder why some Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of patience.

The bottom line is that there are no short-cuts to maturity in the Christian life. Enduring hardship develops patience and other positive character qualities. So take James at his word when he tells you to rejoice whenever you encounter various trials. (James 1:2-4) Trust that God will use those trials for your good: That you would become more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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The gospel is never bound.

When Paul was “quarantined” by prison, his ministry didn’t stop. He simply shifted his strategy, methods, and tools.

We’re doing the same thing right now at church: shifting our strategy, methods, and tools. We can’t use one of our tools (our building) right now. But Social Media, Zoom Meetings, and phone calls are still working just fine.

And like Paul, our message will never change.

Don’t lose heart. This temporary pause — this “momentary affliction” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18) — will end. We will meet together “in-person” again. In the meantime, we will continue being the church.

  • Pray for each other.
  • Pray for our church.
  • Pray for our country and its leaders. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  • Call and text each other. Encourage each other. Pray with each other.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Bible studies.
  • Invite your family and friends to join us for our online Sunday Morning Messages.
  • Listen to and sing along with worship music.
  • Keep up with your Daily Bible Reading and Devotional readings.
  • Keep up with your monthly Scripture Memory.
  • Remember to be thankful.
  • Continue your financial support for our church. You can send your giving checks to the church or if you’re out, just drop an envelope in our locked mailbox.
Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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wheat field

My dad grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Each year my grandfather and his sons would prepare the fields for harvest by planting whatever they felt they needed to grow that year. They had to be careful not to grow the same thing in the same field year after year; instead, they rotated their crops.

One year they would plant corn. Another year, they would plant cotton. But you know what? Each year at harvest time, they would reap what they had sown that year. Never in my Granddaddy’s career as a farmer was he surprised when harvest time came. Never. If he planted corn, he reaped corn. If he planted cotton, he reaped cotton. Never once did he go out to harvest corn and find a field of cotton instead. Never.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul reminds his readers about the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He says,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10

Application

Now, when I refer to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, I’m not talking about the very popular belief of transactional religion where God is obligated to do something for you if you do something for Him. You’ll never find that in the Bible!

So what do you want to harvest spiritually? Looking back in five years, ten years, twenty years, where do you want to be in your walk with God? I can promise you that if you watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio without wisely screening what your eyes see and what your ears hear, you won’t get there. Unless you don’t want to see any growth in your walk with God. And that in itself is very telling.

If you want a close walk with God, you’ll have to do a lot of sowing of what you want to reap. Do you want to have a deep understanding of the things of God? Then you’ll need to sow a lot of time in God’s Word and prayer. You’ll need to share your faith. A lot. You’ll need to get involved in your church. You’ll need to give financially to support the work of God through your local church. You’ll have to go all-in with Spiritual Disciplines. And you’ll have to give up some things.

Whatever you want to reap in the future, you’ll need to sow. Now. And as a friend of mine once said, “This isn’t rocket surgery.”

God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.
So sow wisely. And sow generously.

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No advantage

In today’s Bible reading, Paul warns the Galatians that if they accept the requirement of circumcision, they are obligated to keep the entire Law. James says something similar, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 (ESV)

But note what else Paul says.

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:3–4 (ESV)

You may have heard of this term “fall from grace”. Normally the term is used to say that someone has lost their salvation. But in this context — and this is the only place in the Bible that mentions it — it doesn’t mean that. It means that if you choose to fall back to the Law for justifying you before God, you have fallen from grace to legalism.

The Message translation may help us to see this more clearly.

The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. (Galatians 5:3-4 The Message)

Application

Believer, if you’re concerned that you have committed some sin (or a lot of sins) and therefore have fallen from grace and lost your salvation, go back and re-read that!

“Falling from grace” doesn’t mean losing your salvation! It means that you have chosen to use a lower form of justification before God. Don’t do that!

Instead, choose the higher form of justification: grace.

Paul’s whole point of Galatians is that the Law is insufficient to justify us because we could never keep it. The whole point of the Law is to show us that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. And if we could measure up to God’s standards on our own, then Jesus wasted His life and death.

The bottom line is you’re either resting on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, or you’re working to justify yourself. Find your rest in Him. Accept the atoning sacrifice that Jesus already paid for your sin.

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1 2 3 29

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