Day #34

The last day of devotions from James. I pray this has been useful.

James 5:13-20 (NIV) Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. 14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. 19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back,              20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

v. 16 “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” The word “prayer” is mentioned seven times in this passage. That’s what it’s about.  Prayer.  James had a reputation for being a man of prayer.  His nickname was James, the Camel Knees, because he had such big knots on his knees from spending hours and hours in prayer.  There is tremendous power in prayer. Prayer is the greatest privilege of the Christian life, being able to talk to God, and it’s the greatest power in the Christian life.  What prayer can do is what God can do.  Anything that God can do can be done through prayer.  Jesus said, “The things that I do, you’ll do also even greater works.” How do you do greater works than Jesus?  Jesus said in the verse underneath that, “It’s by prayer”.  Anything you ask, you pray for.  It’s our greatest responsibility.  It’s probably our greatest failure in the Christian life.  We talk a lot about prayer, we study about prayer.  A lot of us are not too satisfied with our prayer life.

HOW CAN I PRAY EFFECTIVELY?

#1. I must ask. That sounds simple but in a lot of our prayers we never ask for anything. We say “Thank you for…” and “Bless…” and that’s it.  We never pray specifically.  The more specific your prayers are the greater you’re going to be blessed in the answer.  When I was in college I taped a huge sheet of butcher paper up on the wall.  It had four columns:  Date, Prayer Request, Promise to base my prayers on, Answer and Date.  That was a real faith building time in my life.  I saw God answer in little things and I saw him answer in big things.  I trust Him for great things.  James 4:2 says, “You do not have because you do not ask.” Be specific.  Throw away all your cliches.  I love to hear new Christians pray because they don’t know all the language, and they’re so honest.  It’s refreshing.

#2. Have the right motive. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” If you’re going to ask in prayer, make sure your motives are right. Not for selfishness but for a genuine reason — the glory of God.

#3. Clean life. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 . Notice the word “righteous”. If you’re a Christian you are righteous.  We’re not talking about perfection. We’re talking about righteousness.  Righteousness is your standing before God when you became a believer.  It has nothing to do with your perfection.  If God only answered the prayers of perfect people, how many prayers would get answered?  None.  But God does want us to have a clean life.  Psalm 66:18 says, David said, “If I hide [regard, conceal] iniquity [sin] in my heart then the Lord will not hear.” If I am willfully and knowingly doing something I know is displeasing to God and say, “God, I’m going to continue doing this but, by the way, help me out.”  It’s like saying “Dad, will you loan me the keys to the car, but I’m never going to do a single thing you ask.”  We need to have a clean life before Him.  Proverbs 28:9 says, “He that turneth his back from the hearing of the law, even his prayers are an abomination.” Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your sins have separated you between you. Your God has hid His face so He cannot hear.”

#4. Ask in faith. Expect an answer. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” When you come to God, believe that He wants to answer your prayer.  Trust Him.  Don’t doubt.  Really believe.

 

 

 

How important is your prayer life to you? I struggle with this more than any other area in my life — this area of being consistent in prayer.  I talk to the Lord all the time, but I don’t really have the prayer life I want to have.  I’m never satisfied with it.  I want to know Him in a deeper way.  I want our church to be a miracle.  I want it only to be explained by the fact that God did it.  I want our church to be an embarrassment to the devil.  I want people to look at our church and say, “Only God could have done that.”

Day #33

From James 5:7-12. WHY BE PATIENT?

#1. Because God is in control. “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” v. 8.  Three times in this passage, James says, “The Lord’s coming is near, Jesus is coming back.  That is the ultimate proof that God is in control.  Nothing can stop it.  The Bible talks more about Jesus’ second coming — when He comes back to judge the world — than it does about His first coming.”  God is in control of history — “his story”.  He’s got it all planned out, everything is on schedule, nothing is late, it’s all moving toward a climax.  God is in control.  God’s purpose for your life is greater than any problem you’re facing right now.  God is in control.

Phillips translation, “… resting your hearts on the ultimate certainty…” Though a situation may be out of my control, no circumstance is out of God’s control.  Although I can’t control everything that happens in my life, God can so I ought to trust Him.  Because God is in control and everything is working out, be patient. Job persevered. God’s timing is perfect, He’s never late.  Some of you are experiencing a real delay right now but God’s delays never thwart His purpose.

#2. God rewards patience.V. 11a “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.”  Notice the word “blessed”. The second half of Job’s life was more blessed than the first half. God doubled everything he had.  It pays to be patient.  There are all kinds of rewards. Your character grows, you get along with people better, you’re more happy, you reach your goals.  There are lots of benefits of being patient.  God rewards it.  You’ll be honored by others. They’ll say, “He’s a patient person.”

But not just on this side of eternity, but on the other side you’re going to be rewarded. Matthew 5:13-14 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”  When people put you down, when they criticize you, be patient, because there’s going to be a reward in heaven.

It is our natural tendency — one of the strongest desires in life — that when you’re hurt, you want to get even. You want to retaliate, get revenge, take matters into your own hands.  When you get criticized, you want to criticize back.  If you get insulted, you want to insult back.  Revenge, retaliation are the natural thing — but that’s the opposite of patience.  James says that the next time someone criticizes you, before you strike back, think about this, is it worth giving up the reward I’m going to have in heaven?  I’m going to enjoy that a whole lot longer than the temporary pleasure of revenge. You need to be patient because God is in control and He’s going to reward patience.

#3. Because God is working things out. Often behind the scenes, things we don’t even see, He’s at work but we don’t see Him at work. v. 11b “You have heard of Job’s perseverance, and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  God was working, all the time that Job was not knowing what was going on, what was happening.  God was working.  A delay does not mean a denial. If you’ve been praying for an answer to prayer and you haven’t gotten it, you think God doesn’t want to give it to you.  No.  A delay is not a denial.  We have to learn the difference between “no” and “not yet”.  Big difference.  We want and we want it now. But we have to be patient.  God is at work, even when we don’t see what’s going on.  God was at work in Job’s life, even when he didn’t know, “Why is this happening to me?”

Story of Phillip Brooks, a famous pastor of the last century. One day he was in his office, pacing the floor, frustrated. Somebody walked in and saw him and asked, “What’s the matter, pastor?” He said, “I’m in a hurry and God isn’t!”

God says, “Be patient because I’m working things out.” While I am waiting, God is working.  You need to remember that!  Your hands may be tied and the situation may be uncontrollable but it is not uncontrollable in God’s viewpoint. In advance, thank God because He’s working things out. He gives the illustration of the farmer.  When the farmer plants the seed, he’s waiting for that seed.  While he’s waiting, God is working behind the scenes to cause that plant to sprout.  He’s creating the conditions so at the right time, in the right way there will be a harvest.  The farmer waits, God works.

Philippians 2:13 “God is at work within you.” Maybe you can’t see it, but He is.  Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things, God is working.” In every circumstance in your life, God is working.  Be patient.  I don’t know what kind of problem you have this week, but regardless of the problem you’re going through (financial, relational, health) God is working in that problem. Be patient and trust Him.

Day #32

A lot of your life you spend waiting. As a little kid, I waited all my life to start school, then I couldn’t wait until I got out of school, then I couldn’t wait to fall in love, then I couldn’t wait to get married, then I couldn’t wait to have kids, … we spend a lot of our lives waiting.  There are many things in life that test our patience:  freeways, supermarket lines, doctor’s offices, irritating people.  We hate to wait.  We are the Now Generation.  We do not like to wait.  I am a very patient except when I’m hungry.  Then I lose my character.  Have you noticed that the more expensive the restaurant the longer you wait? There are actually five different waits when you go to a restaurant.  You wait to get a seat, then you wait to get the menu, then you wait to order, then you wait to get the food back, then you wait for the bill.  And they have the audacity to call that guy the waiter! Today we’re going to look at what James has to say on “How to Develop Patience.”

James 5:7-12 (NIV) “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! 10 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. 12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.”

WHEN SHOULD I BE PATIENT?James isn’t saying we have to be patient all the time but there are three special times when you need that extra dose of patience:

#1.When circumstances are uncontrollable. Have you figured out that a lot of life is beyond your control? You cannot keep your thumb on everything. James uses a farmer as an example of when circumstances are uncontrollable.  v. 7 “Be patient then brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is …”  Don’t go into farming unless you’ve got patience.  Part of the job description of being a farmer is you do a lot of waiting:  waiting to till, waiting to plant, waiting to prune… there are a lot of factors in waiting.  Yet more than the factors of waiting on things to do are the factors that the farmer has no control over — weather, rain, heat, the economy, labor practices…  If you have a lot of faith you can be a farmer but if you don’t have a lot of faith don’t be a farmer, because it takes patience.  You deal with a lot of uncontrollable factors — circumstances — in life.  Even in Palestine, where James is talking about, it wasn’t the best of farming land, so they needed extra patience.

#2. When people are unchangeable. When people won’t change. When they won’t make a difference.  He gives an example of the prophets.  “As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.”  What was the duty of prophets?  To help people change, bring them back to God, to be different in their behavior.  Have you noticed that people resist change?  When you make any little tiny suggestion, they resist you!

Do you have anybody in your life right now who refuses to change? Do you know how difficult it is to live with that kind of person? We need patience with people. Joyce Lander calls these “irregular people” — they are people who only see their own way. They may never change.  What are you going to do about it?  James says to have patience.

The word “patience” in the Greek is the word “macrothumos” — “macro” meaning “long” and “thumos” (from which we get the word “thermometer”) meaning “heat”. It literally means “it takes a long time for you to get hot”.  You’ve got a long fuse, you don’t blow up, you don’t get overheated with people.  If you’re going to be a success with people, you have to learn patience.  If you’re going to be successful parents, you have to have a long fuse.  You don’t get overheated. James says you need to be patient when circumstances are uncontrollable and when people are unchangeable and won’t cooperate with us

#3. When problems are unexplainable. The classic example he gives is in verse 11, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance …”  Job played in the Super Bowl of suffering.  He won the championship.  He was the wealthiest man that ever lived.  He had everything going for him.  In a two-day period, everything fell part.  He went bankrupt, his children were murdered, he got an incurable, deadly disease that was very painful.  You think you’ve got problems, had a rough day!  He lost his family, his friends, his finances.  He was suffering materially, physically, socially — every kind of way.  One day his wife comes to him and says, “Curse God and die!”  Now that’s a support system!  God allowed the devil to take away everything in his life except a nagging wife.  The worst part of Job’s suffering was that he had absolutely no idea why it was happening.  For 37 chapters in the book of Job, God doesn’t even talk to him and tell him why it’s happening.  There was no apparent reason for his misfortune.  Of all people, Job had the privilege to say, “Why me?”

Life is not fair! That is true.  God never said it would be fair.  A lot of things in life just don’t make sense.  Maybe we’ll never understand on this side of heaven.  Job didn’t understand. In all of those unexplained problems, Job maintained his faith. Sometimes we just can’t figure out our problems. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about why we need patience.

Day #31

I know we’re not done with James. But we are done with the month of July. If you’d like to keep going, shoot me a response on this blog site and share that. I’m thinking we need 10 folks to respond affirmatively to keep moving forward. We shall see.

James 5:1-6 (NIV)
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.
6 You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

Many people wrongly believe that the Bible teaches that it’s wrong to be wealthy. They think that the Bible says that “Money is the root of all evil”.  It actually says “The love of money is the root of all evil.” God is not opposed to wealth, in fact, many of the people in the Bible were extremely wealthy.  Abraham was probably a millionaire in our terms.  Job was the wealthiest man of his time.  David and Solomon were both the wealthiest men of their time.  We know that Barnabas made a lot of money because he was able to give it to the church.  Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave Jesus his tomb, was extremely wealthy.  So God is not opposed to wealth, simply for being wealthy.  But God is very much opposed to the misuse and abuse of wealth.  He wants us to use our wealth wisely, no matter how much or how little we have.

In New Testament times, there was no such thing as a middle class. The people in the entire New Testament times were either very rich or very poor.  You were either a have or a have not. The system caused the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.  The rich tended to manipulate and oppress the poor people, who were continually abused.  James lashes out at non- Christian use of money by the wealthy.  He gives a rebuke  — probably one of the most negative passages in the entire New Testament.  He devastates them with his words.  He condemns them with four specific abuses they were guilty of.  Although we may not commit these sins to the same degree, this passage is a healthy warning to us to make sure that no matter how much money we have, we use it wisely.

James mentions four common abuses of wealth. Let’s look first at the wrong uses of wealth and how to avoid them and then we’ll look at the right uses of wealth over the next few days.

THE WRONG USES OF WEALTH. The first key issue that James talks about is the ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH. James says, “don’t hoard it.”  V. 3, “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” Of the four errors James points out that these people are guilty of, James says, “You’ve hoarded wealth.”  God says that money is not to be stockpiled, collected in piles just for the sake of having it.  God wants his money in circulation.  He’s not talking about savings.  There’s a legitimate place for savings.  God encourages us to save money. But He’s referring to getting more and more simply for the sake of getting more — so you can have it.

Once in a while you’ll read in the newspaper of an elderly person who died. They were in obvious poverty.  When the bed mattress was moved, they found hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This isn’t somebody who saved their money but who had hoarded it.  Why did they do it?  They were afraid of loosing it.  Money had become an end in itself.  Accumulating money had become the goal of life.  They were so afraid of loosing money they wouldn’t spend it.

Wealthy people showed off their wealth in New Testament times this way – if you had money you would show it by having a lot of food, clothes, and precious metals and jewels. You would flaunt it. Rub peoples noses in it. Show off. Listen to how James speaks to this…

V. 2-3: “Your wealth has rotted, moths have eaten your clothes and your gold and silver are corroded.” Everything you’ve gotten (the food has spoiled, the moths have eaten your clothes, the gold and silver is rusting, corroding) — the point he’s making here that whatever you simply accumulate, deteriorates.  What you accumulate will deteriorate.  God doesn’t want us to get wealth just for the sake of getting wealth.  He wants us to put it in circulation.

He says your clothes get moth-eaten. Which clothes get moth-eaten?  The ones you wear all the time or the ones you keep stockpiled in the back of your closet?  The ones that you hoard. Your food has gone rotten. Which food goes rotten?  The food you eat everyday?  No, its the stuff in the back of the refrigerator that’s been there for three months.  We’ve created new life forms in our refrigerator!

Wealth is to be used not hoarded. It’s a selfish use of wealth.  James says the wrong use of wealth, number one when it comes to accumulation, don’t hoard it.

 

Day #30

From James 4:13-17. MISATKE #3. PUTTING OFF DOING GOOD.                            v.17. “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it sins.” 

James is talking about the issue of procrastination. “I’m intending to do it.”  Ever met somebody who is always “aiming to do it.”  I often want to say, “When are you going to pull the trigger?” Have you ever read the little poem below?

Procrastination is my sin, It only caused me sorrow. I know I ought to change my ways, In fact I will — tomorrow.

Every time I read that, I laugh. Many of us love to put off stuff we could do and should do today. James says that’s a trap.  Don’t do it. In my teenage years, I was a procrastinator. Then Sharon and I got married at 19. The Lord changed my ways quickly. I found out that you can’t be the person God created you to be, the husband God desires you to be, the father you must be – if you keep putting off until tomorrow the things that ought to be done today. When I learned to follow through and complete the tasks of the day I’m in now, I learned I was freed up to tackle all the opportunities God would bring my way tomorrow. I was freed up to bless people and serve people tomorrow because I took care of my business today. Make sense? Some people never learn this life lesson and it haunts them. It dogs them.

How do you define sin? We think of evil activities:  murder, adultery, cheat, lie, steal.  Those are sins of commission.  But there’s another kind of sin — sins of omission. “To him who knows to do good and doesn’t do it, it’s sin.” I can do nothing and still sin.  Because there are things I ought to be doing.  You can be a part of a legalistic church.  “I don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew… run around with girls that do.” And still sin. How? Why? You are not doing the things you should be doing. Folks, Christianity is more than simply avoiding evil.  If all that the Christian life was, was a bunch of “don’t”s — don’t do this, don’t do that, then everybody who is dead would qualify as a Christian, because they don’t do anything.

Procrastination is a subtle trap — it’s the land of “Someday I’ll…”One of these days …”  and you never do because we presume upon tomorrow.  “One of these days I’m going to get serious about God.  One of these days, I’m really going to get committed. One of these days I’ll ask God to make me more urgent about today.”  God says you don’t have any guarantee of tomorrow, none at all. Make hay today, while the suns still shining. And if you’ve got a laid back personality, know this – God will still hold you accountable to get done the things He gave you to do. What’s the solution?

“Do it now”. Proverbs 3:27-28 says, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, `Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’ — when you now have it with you.”  If somebody comes to you and asks you a favor, don’t say “tomorrow — later”. Don’t procrastinate.  If you can do it now, do it now.

Here’s the unvarnished truth – whatever you intend to do for the Lord, do it now! Not next week, next month, next year.  Thinking about witnessing to a friend and inviting him to church?  Do it now!  Thinking about teaching a class and getting involved in Bible study?  Do it now! Thinking about starting to tithe and giving?  Do it now!  Do your giving while you’re living.

2 Corinthians 6 says, “Right now God is ready to welcome you. Today He is ready to save you!”  When is the best time to get it together with God? Right now. Today. Stop putting off things that should be done today, so you can be ready for what God brings you tomorrow. Deal?

 

Day #29

From James 4:13-17. MISTAKE #2: PRESUMING ABOUT TOMORROW.                         v. 14 & 16 “Why you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  As it is, you boast and brag.  All such boasting is evil.”  There are a couple reasons we shouldn’t presume about the future and assume that we’ve got tomorrow.

1) Life is unpredictable “you don’t even know”.  None of us know what’s going to happen tonight much less next year.  All we can do is make guesses.  Life is so unpredictable.  A war could start, the economy could tank, your friends could leave you.  None of us know what’s going to happen in life.  Life is so unpredictable.  Many of you work on commission, or you are self-employed.  You go from feast to famine in your income.  One day it’s great and the next day it’s the pits.  You don’t have any assurance.  There is no guarantee of perpetual success.  None of us do.  Realize that you can’t presume on tomorrow.

We shouldn’t let that frighten us, that life is uncertain. Don’t worry about it or be afraid. Just let it cause you to trust God more.  Let it cause you to be more dependent on God.  You don’t know what’s going to happen in your life or your business. It just forces you to trust God more.  Life is unpredictable.

2) Life is brief. “you are a mist” “Mist” in Greek is “atmos” where we get the word “atmosphere”.  Your life is like fog; it rolls in, in the morning but it burns off by noon.  Who knows how long we’re going to live?  None of us do. How does the Bible describe your life?  It uses phrases like a leaf, grass, shadow, cloud, puff of smoke, vapor.  I’m only one heartbeat away from eternity.  I don’t know how long I’m going to live.  Life is short.  It goes so fast from hot wheels to wheelchair.  Diapers – Dignity – Decay.  Life’s brief.  Watch out and don’t presume you have the rest of your life.  Don’t take tomorrow for granted.

Isaiah 56:12 says “`Come,’ each one cries, `…Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even better!'”  Do you know anybody with that kind of attitude?  Life is great! Let’s party!  Let’s get drunk!  Bring on the beer!  The person who has the attitude – we’re going to live forever.  James says that’s a dumb attitude toward life.  You can’t presume that tomorrow is going to be just the same as today.  You can’t presume that you’re going to live to be 100. Proverbs 27:1 says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” This was the very first bible verse I ever memorized. I was having my QT, reading through the book of Proverbs, and this verse popped out at me. God brought it to my attention. God has brought this verse to my mind and heart hundreds of times over the past 39 years of following Him.

We love to announce our plans, to make our goals and declare them.  Next year I’m going to double my income!  Next year I’m going to take over three territories! Announcing a goal can either be a statement of faith or it can be a statement of arrogance.  What makes the difference?  Your motive.  Why are you saying what you’re saying?  God says it’s great to have goals but check in with Me first.  Let me share with you what I think your goals ought to be.  Don’t presume on tomorrow.

What’s the solution? Matthew 6:34 (LB) “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow — God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.”  Live one day at a time, that’s how God says to face the future.  The future could be overwhelming but fortunately it comes in bite-size pieces, a 24-hour segment at a time. Plan for the future but you can only live now. I can’t live the future, I can only live today.  Plan for the future but take advantage of the present.  “Life is what happens to us while we’re planning something else.”  We’re always planning what’s going to happen in January and miss Christmas. Don’t let this be you. Tomorrow, mistake #3 we make when planning for the future.

 

Day #28

James 4:13-17 (NIV)
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.

James in this passage talks about how to face the future. How to plan for the future. He says there are three mistakes that are commonly made that we should be aware of.  He gives us a warning.  He says plan for your future, prepare for the future but be aware of these three mistakes.

MISTAKE #1: PLANNING WITHOUT GOD. There’s not a single mention of God in this entire business plan. The man knew what he wanted, he knew how to get there, but he didn’t check it out with God first.  Don’t misunderstand.  The Bible talks about planning. “No man goes out and builds a house without first considering how much it’s going to cost.” And the book of Proverbs says over and over again that if I don’t plan I’m a fool.  It’s wise to plan.  He’s not talking about planning, he’s talking about presumption without God.  It’s great to have dreams, it’s great to have goals — as long as you include God, as long as you pray about it.  There’s nothing wrong with what he did — all of these things are fine.  It’s what he forgot to do. He forgot to include God.  His attitude was one of self-sufficiency. Thinking about a career change? Job change? What college should you attend? Should you date a particular person? First, check in with God. Seek out His will for your life.

You can be a believer and forget God in your daily life. I know a lot of people who love the Lord with all their heart but when it comes to planning their business or career or their school education they are practical atheists.  It’s sad to meet somebody who says, “I don’t believe in God.  I don’t believe He exists.”  It’s sadder to find somebody who says, “I believe He exists,” but then acts like He doesn’t exist.  He doesn’t make any plans involving the Lord.  He just goes off on his own as if all depends on him.

What’s the solution? Include God in your goal setting.  v. 15 “Instead, you ought to say, `If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” Notice the word “if”.  Have you realized that even the best laid plans of mice and men often fall through? There’s a thing called Murphy’s Law.  If things can go wrong, they will.  Count on it!  Life is just one big if.  Right in the middle of LIFE is IF.  Life really is pretty if-fy.  I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, you don’t either.  I can make an educated guess.  But planning without God is presumptuous. The starting point in facing the future is to say, “God, what do you want me to do. What do You want me not to do.”  Planning without prayer is presumptuous.

Christians for hundreds of years used to write the initials D.V. at the end of their letters. They’d sign their name and then write D.V.  They stood for the Latin phrase “Deo Valente”“Lord willing”.  James says that ought to be our response to life.  It’s good to plan but include God in your plans and goal setting – always maintain the attitude that says –  “Deo Valente”“Lord willing”. 

Proverbs 16:1 says,  “We may make our plans, but God has the last word.”                      Proverbs 16:9 says, “We should make plans – counting on God to direct us.” Stop praying “God bless what I’m doing”.  Don’t pray that anymore.  God, I’ve made my plans. I’ve worked them all out now You bless them.  Instead pray, “God, help me to do what You’re blessing.”  God is doing a lot of fantastic things in the world.  I just want to be in on them. Help me to do what You’re blessing.  I don’t want my plans.  I want Your plans in my life because Your plans will provide success in my life. Planning without God is the first mistake. You overcome it by including God in your goal setting. Tomorrow, mistakes 2 & 3.

Day #27

From James 4:1-10. The Cure for arguments is humility. The cure for defeating pride and selfishness and self-centeredness in your life is humility. V. 6 & 10 “God … gives grace to the humble. Humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

What is grace? Grace is God’s power to change.  What would you like to change about yourself?  Whatever it is, you need grace to do it.  What do you want to change about your relationships, your marriage, your family?  Whatever you would like to change, you need grace.  You can’t change it on your own.  You need God’s power and that’s called grace.  Grace is the power to change, and there is only one way you get grace.  You humble yourself.  God doesn’t give grace to people who are full of pride and think “I can do it on my own.”  He gives grace when we come and say, “God, I need your help.”  And that’s where we get the power to make the changes we’d like to see. What does this look like practically?

V.7 “Submit yourself then to God.” Let God be God in your life.  Give Him control.  Put Him in charge.  Yield yourself to Him.  This is the starting point.  Quit trying to run your own life.  In v. 1 it says “…your desires that battle within you…” James says that conflict that happens with other people happens because you have conflict on the inside.  You don’t get along with other people because you’ve got a civil war in your life.  This is the real issue.  The starting point is making peace with God first. When God is in charge of your life, you don’t need to win every argument. When God is number one in your life, you’ll find you want what is best for others. You’ll have a new desire to serve. You’ll find new empathy for others who irritate you. Make peace with God. Let God be God in your life.

And there’s one more thing – if you want to stop the conflicts in your life, if you want to get along with other people, avoid arguments, learn to ask forgiveness from God and from those you hurt. v. 8 “Wash your hands … purify your hearts…” Our hands represent our conduct and hearts represent attitudes.  He’s saying, clean up your act. v. 9 (LB) “Let there be tears for the wrong you’ve done.” Don’t minimize what’s happened.  Take it seriously.  Be sorry for your self-centeredness.  It is a big deal when your wife’s feelings are hurt.  Take it seriously.  If someone says you’ve hurt them, you’ve hurt them.  It may not be a big deal to you, but it was to them.  Be willing to ask forgiveness. Be willing to go back to that person you’ve hurt and make things right. Think about someone you’re in conflict right now.

Would you like to begin to resolve the conflict with that person?  How do you do it?  Are you willing to go and apologize for your part?  Maybe they are 95% wrong and you’re only 5% at fault, but you take care of your 5% and let God handle the other 95% in their life.  Their response is their response.

Maybe you say something like this – “I know we’ve had our differences and I know I haven’t always been thoughtful.  A lot of times I’ve thought more about myself than your needs.”  How humbling that would be!  Right!  Because God gives grace to the humble!  If you want to change, the only way you’re going to change is to be humble,  and the only way to be humble is to go and ask forgiveness.  It’s hard but do you want to change?  Do you want to reduce the conflict?  Maybe the way you do it is by cracking the door open by you taking the first step even if they are primarily at fault.  Admit what you’ve brought into the relationship that was wrong.  It’s humbling, sure, but God gives grace to the humble.  Maybe this week you need to write a letter, make a call, make some restitution even to that person who’s wronged you, hurt you, irritated you. Not a sermon, just a thought.

Day #26

James 4:1-10 (NIV)
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

As I talked with couples over the past 35+ years, one of the most common things I hear is –  “We just can’t seem to get along. We argue so much.  We love each other.  Why is it we have major blowups over such minor issues?”  I talk with parents who say, “With my kids there is constant tension.  I don’t understand why we’re always in fight mode.” Can you relate? James talks about this from James 4. James tells us how to avoid arguments, the reason for argument and the remedy.

James doesn’t beat around the bush. He gets right to the point. He doesn’t waste any time.  Long before modern psychology came along he had some profound insights on the cause of conflict. 4:1 “What causes fights and quarrels among you. Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”  What desires are doing battle within you? The Bible makes very clear here and other places in Scripture that there are three basic desires we have that cause conflict.  What are they?

#1. THE DESIRE TO HAVE. We want to have things. Materialism.  Possessions.  v. 2 “You want what you don’t have … you long for what others have.”  God created things to be used and to enjoy.  That’s what they’re there for.  We use things and love people.  The problem is when we start loving things more than people we get the equation backwards.  We start loving things and use people — manipulating them, controlling them, moving them around to get what you want because things become more important in your life than they should.

#2. THE DESIRE TO FEEL. I want to feel good. I want to be comfortable.  I want to have my senses satisfied.  v. 3 “You want only what will give you pleasure” It’s not wrong to enjoy life.  But when pleasure becomes the number one goal in your life — if it feels good, do it — you’re asking for conflict.  It’s going to cause problems in your life.  When my pleasure takes the place over what is needful, then we’re in trouble.  The fact is, if I’m more interested in my comfort and my pleasure than I am in yours and all I think about is what makes me feel good.  The desire to feel good creates conflict.

#3. THE DESIRE TO BE. This is pride, power, prominence, popularity. I want to be number one.  It’s the desire for “me first”.  Frank Sinatra summarized this desire in a song, “I Did It My Way”.  This is the “ME” decade.  The “ME” generation.  Get on top.  Be the big shots.  Strive for success.  We walk around saying “Watch me”. Little kids say, “Watch me, daddy”, we say “Watch me, everybody” but we say it in subtle ways — Watch me by the way I dress. Watch me by the kind of clothes I buy. Watch me by the kind of car I drive. Watch me by the kind of things I stock my house with.”  It’s a desire to impress.  It’s the desire to be number one, to impress. Pride appeals to our EGO. And you know what EGO stands for, right? Edging God Out.

Pride not only ruins my relationships with others, it causes conflict with God. v. 6 “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God declares war on selfishness and self-centeredness. God hates pride.  Have you noticed that God has a unique way of engineering circumstances to break you of your our pride?  Just about the time you think, “I’ve got it together!” He puts you in your place if you think you don’t need Him – if you think you can do things on your own without Him.  And folks, you must get this – to be in opposition to God is a dangerous place to be.  You’re on a collision course.  There’s no way you’re going to win.

So, if pride is the cause of arguments — and that’s the case James is making “I’m going to have my way when I want it, my time, my place” — What’s the cure? That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow.

Day #25

James 3:13-18 (NIV)
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.      16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.      18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Every day you encounter many different kinds of people. Some are very delightful.  Some are very difficult.  Some of them are inspiring.  Some of them are irritating, fascinating, intimidating.  The fact is, a lot of the problems we have in life are because of personality conflicts.  We don’t get along with people.  When your relationships are bad, life stinks.  Life is miserable.  You may have lots of money and lots of opportunities but if your relationships are bad, you’re miserable.  It’s very important that we learn how to get along with other people.

James gives some practical advice. Today we’re going to look at what he has to say about, “How do we relate wisely to other people”.  v. 18 is the key verse, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.” James says, every day in every relationship, you’re planting seeds. Seeds of anger, jealousy, peace, confidence, insecurity, many different kinds of seeds.  So you will inevitable reap in your relationships.  How can I plant seeds of peace?  How can I be a peacemaker?  How can I have peaceful relationships?

Wisdom. We need to learn how to be wise in the way we act toward people.  Often we treat people in very foolish ways and we provoke the exact opposite behavior of what we would normally like to see in them.  Common sense is not so common.  A lot of smart people are not too wise.  They may be educated but they don’t have wisdom.  They may have all kinds of degrees but they’re a washout with relationships.

The first thing James says in v. 13, is that wisdom is a lifestyle. It has nothing to do with your intelligence. It has everything to do with your relationships and your character.  “Who is wise and understanding among you. Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.”

Wisdom has more to do with character in relationships than it has to do with education and intelligence. Wisdom creates humility. Knowledge causes pride, but wisdom causes humility.

How do I get wisdom? How do I become one of those wise people in relationships so that I have that peace that everybody is talking about?  Do I just make a New Year’s Resolution — today I’m going to be wise!  No.  This is the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge comes from education.  Wisdom comes from God. To get knowledge you read a book or go to a class. Maybe attend a seminar.  To get wisdom you look up to God. Knowledge comes from reason.  Wisdom comes from revelation. Knowledge is something you learn.  Wisdom is a gift.

James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God.” Wisdom is a gift from God.  I sometimes ask 50 times a day, “God, give me wisdom.”  I want to be wise more than anything else.  If I’m loving and I’m wise, I’m going to make it in life.  If you’re loving and wise you’re going to make it in life. “Ask of God who gives generously.” He loves to give.