Lifestyles of the Spiritually Rich

10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

James 1:10

It’s amazing how easy it is to let a great thing be crowded out by good things. This has been an incredibly busy week for me. It has been full of meetings with people who are facing various types of crises. As I was walking into work yesterday, knowing that I had over-scheduled my day, I found myself singing a line from an old Veggie Tales song that my kids used to sing:

I’m busy, busy, dreadfully busy
You’ve no idea what I have to do.
Busy, busy, shockingly busy
Much, much too busy for you.

In the Veggie Tales video, the character was too busy for other people. I was too busy for God. That is not a good thing. So, here I am again. I don’t want to be too busy to take the time that I need to take to dig into my relationship with Jesus.

Today’s verse is James 1:10. It follows James’ teaching on those who are lowly being able to boast in their exaltation. James understood the upside down Kingdom of God. God loves to exalt those in lowly positions. In James 1:10, our attention is turned to those that the world naturally exalts. There has probably not been a time in the past several thousand years where those who are rich are not exalted by the world.

When I was growing up there was a television show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Each week, the affable host of the show would take you into the luxurious estates of celebrities, corporate moguls, and trust fund babies. I have to admit, I was a little envious at the end of every episode.

As a full-time pastor and part-time realtor, I find myself in some beautiful homes. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the annual Parade of Homes here in the Twin Cities. These are the crème de la crème of model homes that the builders here in the Twin Cities use to showcase their new communities. It is so fun to see some of the new trends in real estate and to walk through homes that I will never be able to afford. But, truth be told, sometimes it is a little sad too.

The wealth that we acquire here on earth is temporary. We can’t take it with us. It is also fragile. I’ve watched many of my wealthy friends lose everything when a poor decision, a turn in the economy, or a health crisis took them by surprise. If our value comes from our wealth, then we will eventually succumb to the humiliation that James speaks of in this verse. It might happen in this life. It might happen in eternity. But, it will happen. True wealth isn’t found in possessions, bank accounts, or IRA’s. True wealth is found in Jesus. Like a flower of the field, the earthly wealth that we acquire will eventually fade away.

Jesus said, “19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). 

A person in a “lowly” position that is storing up treasure in heaven is exponentially wealthier than a “rich” person whose treasure is simply stored up on earth. Jesus showed us what storing up heavenly treasure looks like in Matthew 25:31-40.

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’

Living our life with eternity on our minds and in our actions matters. May you lay up treasure in heaven!

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Get Low

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,

James 1:9

There is something special about the way that the Bible talks about those in “lowly” positions.

We see Old Testament heroes exalted from lowly positions:

  • Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers.
  • Moses went from being the child of slave to the palace to a fugitive to the leader that God chose to free His people.
  • Daniel and his friends were captured by an enemy army and forced to serve an enemy king.
  • David went from tending sheep in his father’s field to leading the nation as a warrior king.
  • Ruth went from scavenging grain in the fields of Boaz to being redeemed by the very same man.
  • Esther went from the harem to the queen’s throne.

And, in the New Testament, we get the greatest surprise of all! Jesus went from the throne room of heaven, where He was worshiped 24/7, to a manger in Bethlehem and world that rejected Him. This same Jesus encouraged His followers to live as servants.

So, it’s not surprising that James tells the lowly brother to “boast (rejoice) in his exaltation.”

So many times, God uses that which the world considers foolish to confound the wise. The Christian life is one in which we are called to die to self and live for Christ. It is a life where we are told to daily take up our cross and follow Him. In other words, to be exalted we have to get low. We have to, as Bill Hybels put it so well so many years ago, descend to greatness.

What does descending to greatness look like in your life?

Are there some ways that over the past week, God has given you the privilege of getting low for Him? I’d love to hear about it. May you embrace the low life. For when you do, God will exalt you!

Guard Yourself Against Double-Minded Thinking

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:7-8

I’m going to be out of town tomorrow on a little family vacation, so I decided to tackle two verses today instead of one. And, I’m kind of glad that it worked out this way, because James 1:7-8 is really just one sentence.

James is continuing his thoughts on doubt in these verses. James has instructed us to ask for wisdom and to be careful to ask without doubting. Those who doubt are like waves of the sea, which are tossed here and there by the wind. He expands on that thought in verses 7-8.

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

This seems like such a contrary picture to the God that I am used to seeing in Scripture. The Bible, and my personal experience, paints the Lord as a generous and good Father. He loves to give good gifts to His children. Why would He not want to give good gifts to a person who is struggling with doubts? Well, I think we need to remember what the doubts are about. James is warning us not to doubt that God will keep His promises. When we doubt that God will do what He says that He will do, we are attacking the very character of God. We are saying that the One who is the Source of truth, Who is the very Truth, is capable of falsehood. We are equating the very character trait that is associated with the devil (lies – the Bible calls Satan the “Father of Lies”) with God.

Why would God bless a person who is essentially ascribing a character trait of the devil to the Triune God? Such people are double-minded. They profess to believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. At the same time they doubt that Jesus is telling the truth. Jesus cannot be the Truth and a liar at the same time. Thinking this way about God is double-minded thinking and it makes you double-minded and unstable.

doubt

Meditate today on what it means for Jesus to be the Truth and how His wisdom could help you make more disciples for Jesus Christ. Thank Him for the blessings in your life, and for the gift of wisdom. Praise God that there is no falsehood in him whatsoever.

You Can Trust in God’s Promises

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

James 1:6

james-1-6

So, did you do it?

Did you ask God for wisdom?

James 1:5 encouraged any of us who lack wisdom to ask God, who gives generously to all.

Early this morning, I read the devotional that I wrote yesterday to my wife, Cyndi. And then we prayed for wisdom.

My day consisted of six back-to-back meetings, lots of e-mails and phone calls. So many times today I needed wisdom. And, after meditating on James 1:5 throughout the day yesterday, and meditating on James 1:6 today, I was more aware of my need for wisdom than I normally am.

After a day of living in awareness of my need to ask God for wisdom, I am pleased to say that I am ending my day with peace about the decisions that I made today. I feel like God gave me wisdom over an over today.

So let’s look at today’s verse.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

God’s promise of wisdom for those who ask is conditional.

We need to ask for wisdom:

  • In Faith – Whenever I think about about the word “faith” I think about the Hebrews 11:1 definition of faith, which says, “1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I find that my prayer life can be one of the most difficult areas to have faith. Do you ever pray for something, but not believe that God is going to do something about it? If we believe that James 1:5 is a promise from God concerning wisdom, then we need to ask God for it in faith, believing that God is the ultimate Promise Keeper.
  • With no Doubting – It seems like “with no doubting,” is the same thing as faith. But, I’ve found that my doubts, and overcoming those doubts, are sometimes the very things that God uses to strengthen my faith. Maybe the point that James is trying to make here is that we don’t need to doubt God’s promises. Ask for wisdom knowing that God wants to give you wisdom.

Why is doubt as it relates to asking for faith such a big deal to James?

Because the person who doubts is like a wave of sea that is driven and tossed by the sea. Anyone who has been to the ocean, or one of the Great Lakes can relate to what James is saying here. Waves are easily moved by the wind. A person who doesn’t believe that God keeps his promises in one area can be easily swayed to believe that God won’t keep His promises in other areas too.

Struggle with trusting God?

Start with trusting in His promise to give you wisdom.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 9:10 that, “10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Ask God, in faith and see what He does!

The Gift of Wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1:5

James 1:5 has always been one of my favorite Bible verses. It is one of the Bible’s most beautiful promises.

Think about what James is saying here.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

If any of you lacks wisdom . . .

If any of you . . .

That sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it? It sounds too generous. It sounds too simple. It sounds too easy.

But, that’s the thing. When God makes a promise, and when God gives a gift, He delivers above and beyond our expectations.

James has already promised us the gift of trials. Follow God, and God will bring trials into your life, that when we have an eternal perspective we’ll one day see as gifts. Now, James promises that God will give the gift of wisdom to those who seek wisdom from His hand.

And, that is a place that many people will refuse to go.

We want wisdom, but we don’t want God. Without God, we’ll never have wisdom.

Here’s the thing. When we humble ourselves and go the One who is the Eternal Source of wisdom, we’ll never be lacking the wisdom we seek.

wisdom

Isn’t it amazing that James so nonchalantly says, “let him ask God.”

Think about that.

Dwell on that.

You have access to God.

You can ask God.

You.

Me.

I can’t get over the unfettered access that we have to God.

I wonder sometimes, if the saints who have gone on before us, the ones of whom Hebrews 12:1-2 so eloquently speak of when we read,

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

 I wonder if those saints, that great cloud of witnesses, think, “Hey Brian, (Go ahead and insert your name), what are you thinking? You have access to God. You can ask God. He wants you to ask Him. He wants you to ask Him for wisdom. What are you thinking? Ask, already!”

What are we thinking?

God . . . gives generously . . . to all.

And, He does it without reproach. In other words, God will never disapprove of you coming to Him for more wisdom. It’s a gift that God longs for you to have.

May you lean into God’s wisdom today! Embrace the life of wisdom that He offers those who seek Him. Wise men and women, boys and girls still seek Him.

Perfect and Complete, Lacking Nothing

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

one-dayWhat is God producing in you right now?

It stands to reason that if God is the Creator and the Sustainer of life (Colossians 1:17), then He is constantly at work in our lives.

Earlier today I was talking with a potter, and it got me thinking about Isaiah 64:8, which says,

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

In James 1:4, we read the conclusion of James’ thoughts on trials. Remember, we are to count it joy when we face trials of various kinds, recognizing that God is at work in our trials. He is doing something. Verse three told us that “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

James encourages us to let steadfastness have it’s full effect.

How do we do that? I have never had a conversation with someone and asked, “Are you letting steadfastness have its full effect in you?”

I am guessing that you haven’t had that conversation either.

Usually when I talk about something having it’s full effect, it has to do with medication. If I am sick, and I go to the doctor, and I get a prescription to help fight whatever infection that I have going on in my body.  I need to take the proper dosage of the medication for it to have its full effect in me.

When James uses the word, “let,” in front of the words, “steadfastness have its full effect,” he is talking about a volitional act of the will. We need to embrace the work that God is doing in us and not fight it.

When I was a young boy, I used to hate getting shots. Truth be told, I still hate getting shots. I remember one particular day when my mother took me to the doctor for my scheduled immunizations. On that day, I screamed at, kicked and hid from the nurse. I hid underneath the examination table and held firmly to its base to avoid being put on the table by the nurse. I fought against my immunization with everything that I had. Finally, a doctor came into the room and helped the nurse get me on the table for my immunization. Things would have gone a lot easier for me that day if I just stopped fighting.

There are so many times in my life where I have fought what God is doing in my life through “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I need to let God’s work have its full effect in me.

Isn’t it cool what James says next? When God’s work is complete in me, I will be “perfect and complete, lacking in  nothing.”

That is something that I can hardly wrap my mind around. I’ve never met a person in my life who is “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Even the greatest spiritual giants that I have me this side of eternity are lacking something.

What are you lacking today?

Balance? Peace? Stability? Finances? Joy? Contentment? Purpose? Love? Patience? Friends? Assurance? Hope? Self-Control?

I could keep going, but my guess is that in the above list you might find at least one area that you are lacking in. It could be that you said, “I am lacking in all of those areas and then some!”

Here is the deal.

One day . . .

One day . . .

One glorious day . . .

              everyone who has trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord . . .

                                will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing!

That is the guaranteed future state of all who have been adopted as Sons and Daughters by our Lord Jesus Christ. That will be a happy day! But, it will be preceded by many days of trial. God will use your trial to bring you to a spot where you will stand before Him, perfect and complete, lacking nothing!

oh_happy_day_-_edwin_hawkins_singersIn 1969, the Gospel group, The Edwin Hawkins Singers’ song, Oh Happy Day, became an international hit. It reached number four on the U.S. Singles Chart, number two in the UK and Ireland, and number one in France, Germany and the Netherlands. The song’s lyrics are simply:

Oh happy day (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
He taught me how to watch, fight and pray, fight and pray
And live rejoicing every, everyday
Oh happy day
He taught me how
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)

May you relish in the goodness of God today! He is doing a new work in you with every trial that He brings your way. Let Him do His work. Don’t fight it. Lean into it. And, trust in Him.

For your listening enjoyment, here is a video of the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ rendition of Oh Happy Day.

Stick With What You Know

for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

James 1:3

Yesterday we looked at James 1:2, where we were instructed to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds. James 1:2 is the first part of a sentence that is completed in James 1:3.

Why would anyone count trials joy?

Because we know that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness (patience or perseverance).

Think about the trials that you have faced in your life. Does James’ claim in verse 3 hold true for you? Have you seen God use trials in your life to produce something in you?

Several years ago I invited a number of guest speakers to speak at Woodbury Community Church for a spiritual emphasis week. One of the speakers was Troy Dobbs, the Senior Pastor at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. Troy spoke on James 1:1-4. There was something he said that night that I’ll never forget. When he came to verse 3, he encouraged those in the sanctuary that night to “stick with what they know.” In other words, when facing trials, remember that God works through them to produce steadfastness, patience or perseverance in us. He is producing something good in us in every trial that He brings our way.

It’s interesting to me that James uses the words, “the testing of your faith.”

Have trials ever felt like a test to your faith? I know they have in my life. And, I have certainly seen a number of my friends go through incredible tests.

In the sanctuary the night that Troy spoke were two friends of mine who had recently lost their teenage son to a tragic death. This precious couple had undergone an incredible trial in their life. Losing a child would be the ultimate of faith tests.  I winced when I heard Troy speaking about trials, thinking that my friends might find the message too tough to swallow. Their son had died just a couple months before. I thought the last thing they would want to hear was a sermon on trials.

I was wrong. That night when the conference was over, my friends came to me and smiled. They said, “Brian, that was exactly what we needed to hear tonight.” Then they began to tell me the ways that they had already seen God working through their awful trial to produce something new in them.

Be assured, God is continually at work in your life. May you trust in His sovereign grace.