Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tuesday Sports Short: When the 2nd inning is too late

Have you ever had that dream where you are supposed to be somewhere important, then you look down at the clock and realize you are late? Then comes the revelation that you are in your PJ's. Add Atlanta traffic, a language barrier, and one confused pitcher and you have the story of Pascual Perez.

On August 19th, 1982 the Atlanta Braves called up Perez from the minor leagues. The animated Dominican born pitcher was soon to become a fan favorite in Atlanta. And it was all supposed to start against the Montreal Expos. He was penciled in as Atlanta’s starting pitcher.

That same day the 25-year-old, who spoke little English, had qualified for his Georgia driver’s license. On top of the World with a new license in hand and a major league debut at hand Perez began his commute to the Ball Park. However, as he tried to navigate his way around the Atlanta area he got lost. Perez drove around, and around, and around…

Three times Perez circled Atlanta on I-285 each time missing the exit for old Fulton County Stadium. He drove for so long that he actually ran out of Gas. Realizing that he had no money, he convinced a gas station attendant to loan him 10$.

Finally Perez made it to the Stadium, and just in time to see the 2nd inning. In his stead, Atlanta legend Phil Niekro was called on to pitch. Niekro, with his knuckleball, won the game. The following night Perez finally made his Big League Debut. He made it to the park on time, pitched all the way into the 10th inning, and won 2-1.

Perez’s teammates never let him live down the incident. In a manner typical to rookie hazing the Braves made every effort to make sure that no one else would ever forget the start that never was. The Braves players presented Perez with a brand new warm-up jacket to use for the rest of the season. The back of the jacket read: “I-285.”

Monday, August 29, 2005

Our Good and Gracious God: James 1:18

It is clear that God has not brought about this ugly cycle of sin and death (vs15). In fact, By His will the opposite has been made possible. Here we have an even better example of God’s goodness. God’s gift of salvation is even better than the “dome of the heavens.” James is not really speaking of our creation, but rather our re-creation. Through the work of Christ we can be regenerated, and made anew. Our regeneration is a very real part of our salvation. In Ezekiel 36:25-26 we see what regeneration is:

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Finally, through God’s grace, we can live the way God intended for us to live from the very beginning. Here James has given us the remedy to our sin problem.

Do you want to stop the cycle of sin in your life? Do you want to live the way that God created you to live? Do you want to be made anew? The remedy is God’s Word of Truth. The word of truth is the means that God uses to regenerate us. But what is this word of truth? It is the Gospel, the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation. God’s will is not to tempt man unto evil; rather God’s will is to regenerate man through the work of Christ so that man can resist evil. We must not excuse sin, and place the blame for sin somewhere other than ourselves. This will only leave us vulnerable to further sin. Our sin-prone heart must be acknowledged. It is when we acknowledge this sin that we will finally depend upon God’s grace. And through this grace God will bring forth in us a new life where sin no longer rules unbridled, and where glorious life not death is the prospect.

God made all of this available to us through his will. Remember, God does not change, nor can anything change him. It was by His will, not influenced by anything (including works), that He chose to save us. God acted freely to save us from our own sin. And so if God providing for the lilies, and the birds was not proof enough to you that God is good then this should be. God freely choosing to save us is completely inconsistent with him tempting us to evil. The seed of sin and death is found in man’s desires. The seed of righteousness is found in God’s word.

James tells us that God is working for our salvation so that we might be a kind of first fruits. That leaves us with a couple of questions. What are first fruits, and how are we first fruits? In the Old Testament God established this system of first fruits. In Deuteronomy 18:4we see this law:

You shall give him the first fruits of your grain, your new wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep.

The Israelites were to give the first fruits from their yearly crop as a sacrifice to the Lord. The first fruits were usually the best crops, and would serve as an indicator of what the rest of the crops would be like. Do you see what God was doing? The people were to give those first fruits to God to show that new that these first fruits were from God, and that they were just the first installment of what God would provide for them.

But how are we the first fruits among what is created (NASB translates this as “creatures,” but it could also be “what is created.”)? We are as excellent as the first fruits because God’s image has been renewed in us. If we have identified ourselves through faith with Christ then when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteous sin sacrifice instead of our unrighteous sin. And so we have become the first fruits among all that is created. There are a couple ways that we can interpret what James is saying here. First, the Jews to whom James was writing were some of the first Christian. They were the first installment of God’s new Creation, the Church. In the second way that we can interpret what James is saying all Christians are the first fruits. We as Christians are the first phase in God’s re-creation, and ultimately God is working to re-create the heavens and the earth. Our salvation has been assured of, but it has not been completed. We await our ultimate adoption, and the redemption of these sin cursed bodies. And Romans 8:23 tells us that we can be assured that this will happen because we have already received the first fruits of the Spirit. The existing manifestation of the Spirit in our lives is only a first fruit in comparison with what shall be in eternity. We know that Christ is returning, and that he will complete the re-creation that He has begun in us. Look at what Paul says in Philippians 1:6:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

God is coming to finish the work, and we cannot even begin to fathom the greatness of this work.

The God who is redeeming creation is a gracious God. Such a gracious God is incapable of sin, and is not leading his people into sin. Rather, God is providing us with good and perfect gifts so that we might be preserved until the end; so that we stand approved before God despite our sin; so that we might be just the beginning of the redeeming work that God is doing in creation. God is the potter and He is trying to mold you into a useful tool for His work, will you let him do that work. Or are you going to blame him for your failure?

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Father of Lights: James 1:17

James 1:17

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

James does not want us to be fooled. He does not want us to get in the midst of a trial and loose sight of who God is. Remember, God sends trials into the life of a believer as a holy work meant for sanctification. Yet, because of our sin we are tempted to doubt God in the midst of a trial. And even more, we are prone to blame God for out situation (1:13). This is what James is guarding against.

Rather than blame God for temptation, we should carefully examine our situation. When we start to look around we will soon realize that God did not cause us to be tempted, but He did provide a remedy for our temptation. James uses two different adjective to describe God’s gifts: good and perfect. These two adjectives distinguish to two aspects of God’s gifts. God’s gifts are good in that they are useful and beneficial. And God’s gifts are perfect in that they are complete and lacking nothing to meet the needs of the recipient. All of this can be found in God. Even a trial is good. A trial can be useful in our lives, and when God sends us a trial it is completely the trial that we need in our lives.
Christ spoke of the goodness of the Father in Matthew chapter 6.

Matthew 6:27-34 27 :
"And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. "But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! "Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' "For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

If God feeds the birds of the air, and clothes the lilies of the field shouldn’t that be enough to prove to us that He is a good God. It is when we understand that God is a good God that we can seek HIs kingdom first. God makes so much available to us, and yet we still try to blame Him when we do not take advantage of His grace. We must see that the work that God has done in this world from the smallest speck of dust, to Christ’s death on the cross is good. God’s gifts are marked by kindness, and helpfulness. God’s gifts prove that He is a good God, not a destructive God.

God is the Father of lights. The Father of lights was an ancient Jewish title for God. Lights referred to the heavenly (i.e. sun, moon, and stars) lights (But not only is God the creator and sustainer of the heavenly lights, he is also the Father of spiritual light. 1 John says that there is no darkness in his at all. In God all perfection, and righteousness is fully illuminated, and there are no shadows of sin.). God is called the Father of heavenly lights to show His excellence and highness, but James continues the metaphor so that we may not measure the greatness of God by the brightness of the heavenly lights. He is the Father of the heavenly lights, but more than that he is better than the heavenly lights. As the creator and sustainer of the lights he is not to be identified as equal to them. James says that there is “no variation or shifting shadow” in God. The sun may move or be blocked from our view by the earth, but God never changes. The moon may be eclipsed by the earth, but there is nothing that can change God. He is the eternal source of perfect light. James says all of this (God neither changes nor is changed) to remind us that God will always be the giver of good gifts. God is the Father of the heavenly lights, but unlike the shifting shadows that are created by the sun, moon, and stars God does not change. God is always the giver of good gifts, and nothing is able to change that. People may fail to see God’s wisdom and even accuse God for their own failings, but God will always be the giver of good gifts who cannot be blamed for man’s evil.

As I read this verse in James I cannot help but sing to myself the wonderful hymn "Great Is Thy Faithfulness:"

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest no, thy compassions they fail not;
As Though hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by Morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness Lord unto me!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Don't be fooled: James 1:16

James 1:16

"Do not be decieved, my beloved brethren."

There are a lot of things that the World tells us about God, don’t be fooled. God is not what the world makes him out to be. As we can clearly see in the previous verses God is not to blame for our temptation. When God sends a trial into our lives we cannot blame Him when, by our own lust, we are tempted to doubt him. God sent the trial to do a holy work in us, but we turned what God meant for good into an opportunity for sin. God is not the author of this rebellion.

James' warning here, “do not be deceived,” is a warning against viewing God as the author of our temptation to sin. To harbor this false conception that God is tempting us (working to bring sin into our lives) is to cast a grave suspicion on God's holy character. The world is telling us that it is not our fault when we sin. They want us to leave the responsibility for our sins on the shoulders of someone else, and eventually God (this was Adam's course of action in the Garden). And why? So that they can do the same thing. Do not let the world around you shape your view of God. Look at what Luke 21:8 says:

"And He said, "See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not go after them."

The world’s view of God is so skewed that they can not even recognize the Savior. Do not be fooled. Rather, let Scripture shape your view of God.

When we look to Scripture to see who God is we see a very different God than the god the world sees. In Scripture we see the God of goodness. We see the God who created the world, and the God who is working for our redemption. This is the focus of James in verse 17 and 18 of this chapter:

"Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures."

God is the good God of creation, and re-creation. The root of our sin-problem does not lie with God. The root of our sin problem lies within. Our sin problem begins with our sinful heart, and its desire to seek satisfaction in sin rather than God. The problem is that instead of glorying in the innumerable blessings, which we receive daily from God, we seek satisfaction elsewhere. Let us stop this sinful circle and be so affected by God’s goodness that we can think of nothing but his Glory.

In the next couple of days we will look at James 1:17-18 to follow James' encouragement further.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tuesday Sports Short: "The Strangest Scorecard Ever"

For those of you who have ever kept score at a baseball game try this one on for size.

Dale Holman was at one time a top minor-league player. Holman played for numerous teams, and was never able to establish himself as a big-league ball player. Holman, the eternal prospect, always hit well at every level of the minors. Every year teams would talk about Holman, but all of his potenial never materialized. Why you ask would anyone care about Dale Holman? Well, Holman is the central figure of one baseball's most unusual stories.

On June 30th, 1986 Holman was playing for the Syracuse Chiefs, then the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Chiefs were playing the Richmond Braves (In a game that the NCAA executives would not approve of), the AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, in an International league game. Early in the game Holman came up to bat, and with two men on base laced a double that would plate both runs. A short time later the game was suspended and scheduled to be completed at a later date.

Following that nights game, in appreciation for his 2 RBI's, Holman was released. Holman was then signed by, you guessed it, the Richmond Braves.

Several day later, when the game was scheduled to be completed, Holman was inserted into the outfield to complete the game as a Brave. Holman would single and double in his 2 trips to the plate for the Braves that night. When the final Box Score was compiled, it showed a very rare statistical oddity: Dale Holman had collected a hit for two opposing teams in the same game!

The Bat used by Holman to record his two infamous hits.

Monday, August 22, 2005

No Time

Today there is little time for posting. I spent a good part of my morning at the County Tax Collectors office trying to get the tag for my truck. Unfortunately I left empty handed with an elevated blood pressure. Tomorrow is another day, and tomorrow I will try again.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Don't forget our Poll

It has been quite interesting to see your comments and votes in our poll. I have had a lot of interesting feedback, and a lot of you have told me that you don't know what to vote. Right now the majority of you don't know what to vote, so at the moment "I don't know is winning." Keep thinking, and then vote.

Friday, August 19, 2005

What If?

As I am sure most of you have done in the past, today I am playing the what if game. You know how it goes. "What if this had happened instead of this?" "What if I had this and..." Lets try one out.

What if I had not blown my shoulder out playing baseball right before my Junior season of college ball? Man do I love baseball, what if I could just have those two seasons back? I was only getting better, and would have without a doubt improved.

What if my wife and I had a little more money? We could use that money for so much good. If only I did not have to work a second job I would have so much more time for ministry. Not mention I would be able to actually spend a little time with my new bride (7 months last week).

What if instead of moving into my rattrap apartment my wife and I could have our own home? You know we could be building up equity, and establishing financial security for our kids (whom we have not met yet). We also would not have to live in an apartment complex that has its own sheriffs deputy assigned to it. No more thumping music at 2am and more rest.

Three what "ifs" seem sufficient, I better stop there.

But before I leave maybe I can at least answer a couple of these "what ifs."

First of all I know what would have happened if I had not blown my shoulder out playing baseball. If I did not have to have the surgery that effectively ended my playing days I would not be married right now. And I would not be working at the church that I am working at right now. I can look back and see the providence of God now (of course when it was happening that was not the case). Two of the greatest tools that God has used for my sanctification (my wife, and my ministry at the church) came about in my life because I had to stop playing ball.

As to the other two "what ifs," they are still going on. I cannot look back and see what God did yet. But I can trust that I have no money, two jobs, and a crummy apartment for some reason. Because of this I love having my two jobs (right now, check back on Monday), and my wife and I will always look back on our time in this apartment with fond memories. God is doing some work in my life. And if I would just put the American dream out of my mind, and let God accomplish His purpose in my life I would be all the better for it.

Romans 8:28-29

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

New Poll

Over the next couple of weeks I would like to feed my own curiosity. For the first time ever I have put a poll on “CupofCoffeeTalk.” I am interested to see what you view the most dangerous movement in the Church to be. I will not give you my answer; quite frankly I don’t know what I would answer. Don’t feel offended if you made the list. I tried to include quite a few different perspectives with some broad-stroke labels. And just in case I left anyone out I included an "other" category. If you choose "other" leave a comment somewhere to let everyone know what that other is. We all need to have our spiritual antennas up, but what are we looking for.

The question is...

"...which movement within professing Christianity is the most dangerous right now to the true Church?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The age we live in

Some times I cringe when I hear what people in the church have to say about the world we live in. I am not sure if it is because of my youth, or my ignorance, maybe it is just good old fashion pride; but whatever it is it really bothers me when people talk about this age being worse than any other time period. You’ve heard it. “There has never been an age with so much sin.” “As long as I can remember things have never been this bad.” “The Lord is going to have to come back soon; things are getting out of control.” This attitude lacks any kind of historical perspective, and seems (from my experience) to be limited to the American Church. And so, when people make statements like the above statements they are not talking about world history, rather there are speaking of the American culture. I just have a problem with saying that sin is increasing. At this point (subject to change with more experience, understanding, and humility) I am only willing to say: the effects of sin are compounding as creation waits for the immanent return of Christ as a mother experiencing labor pains. That being said…

…The world that we live in today, as was true with other time periods, has some definite flaws that can be reflected in the church. Lets use as a sample of this the emergent Church of the post-modern era, and the seeker church of the modern era (the tail end of the modern era, transitioning into the postmodern era). The seeker church was all about the oil-change experience. Come to church and you can get the full service and be out the door in 30 min or less (guaranteed or your giving will be refunded). The idea was to make a church so big and non-confrontational that people would feel comfortable. This post is not about the inherent flaws in the seeker movement, and so I will leave that investigation to you. But what the seeker church did was take the community aspect away from the church. Evangelism became watered down, and fellowship became non-existent. Take for instance what is going on right now in N.C. There is group of people working to distribute a film made in 1979 through the mail to every person county by county. “[T]he project is often described as an unobtrusive, nonconfrontational way to fulfill Jesus' command to his disciples to spread his teachings.” But look at the impact that this evangelism is making.

“In Iredell County, it was difficult to find anyone who objected to the mailing. Matt Adams, 31, who teaches music in Statesville, the county seat, said that although he was a Christian, he did not plan to watch the video he had received. Living in the Bible Belt, Mr. Adams said, "I have a strong Christian viewpoint pressed on me at least three times a day. So having something mailed to me, that's probably less intrusive." Saul Gordon, 77, the oldest brother in a Jewish family that runs a metal yard in Statesville and attends the county's only synagogue, had a similarly mild reaction. "I gave it to my maid," he said. It was also difficult to find anyone who had actually watched the DVD, although many people said they planned to do so.”

This is an example of the non-confrontational mush that the seeker church calls the Gospel.

But look at the newest movement, the Emerging Church (even the name of the movement gives me the willies). The emergent church has decided that what the seeker church lacked in community it will more than make up for. In fact, you can’t do anything without community. The premise behind the emergent church is to embrace post-modernity. In some respects this is not so bad. We live in a post-modern world and so (especially us young guys) we are going to think more in that box than any other. However, the emergent movement fails to rejects the sinful parts of post-modernity. They have failed to realize the difference between being in the world, and not of it. This is seen in no better place than their de-emphasis of Scripture. Scripture and doctrine have become important to them, but only in that they are part of this discussion of life. I have a lot of questions about this new movement. And there are many different strands of “emergers” that are our there. But for now, I will have my antenna up.

From these two movements we can really see a good example of “the pendulum of history.” One mistake pulls the pendulum one way, and in a reaction the pendulum gets pulled all the way to the other side. Unfortunately the truth of God’s Word is in the middle with a remnant. In every age there are different problems, but all of these problems go back to one sin.

We are all born into sin, and this world we live in has been subjected to the crushing effects of sin. Thank God for that glorious gospel, and the hope of Christ’s return.

Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tuesday Sports Short: "The Other Fred"

Four years after Fred Merkle took the blame for costing the Giants a Pennant another Fred was blamed for costing the Giants a World Series. What is a little strange is that Fred 1# mistake led to the Cubs last World Series win, and Fred 2# mistake led to one of the last Red Sox World Series (before last year). I am not sure what to make of this, but there is not doubt that it add lure to the great game of baseball.

Fred Snodgrass’ mistake, in the 1912 World Series, was dubbed the $10,000 mistake. This, of course, was referring to the bonus money that the World Series champions received. But in reality the team actually lost the substantial sum of $39,000 dollars in Snodgrass’ mistake. Snodgrass’ error came in the final game of the 1912 World Series. With the series ties at three games apiece, the Giants led Boston 2-1 in the bottom of the 10th inning. Boston pinch-hitter Clyde Engle hit a fly ball to center field. Snodgrass went for the ball, but became distracted when a fan threw a bottle at him. Understandably Snodgrass missed the ball and Engle, the tying run, stood safe on first. After Harry Hooper failed to reach base Steve Yerkes walked. With runners on 1st and 2nd Hall of Famer Tris Speaker came to bat. Tris singled to right field plating Engle, and tying the score.

Now, with a tie score the Red Sox were back in it. Duffy Lewis, the next batter, walked to load the bases up with one out. Larry Gardner followed Lewis with the most exciting play in baseball, the sacrifice fly. The Red Sox were the champions.

Snodgrass was blamed for the loss, even though he rejected taking the blame. Forty years later Snodgrass would say: “I certainly did drop the ball. But it happened on the first man up in the 10th. I did not let in the run that gave the championship to Boston.” Some Giants fans were willing to let Snodgrass off the hook. Many felt that it was not Snodgrass’ error that was to blame (someone threw a bottle at him!). Many thought that the play that cost the Giants that series occurred during the Tris Speaker at bat. Prior to Speaker’s game tying RBI he hit a pop-up in foul territory that should have been an out. Unfortunately for all the Giants fans out there it fell between two fielders. Those two fielders who missed the ball were catcher Chief Meyers, and you guessed it first baseman Fred Merkle. Amazingly Merkle escaped much of the blame that was placed upon Snodgrass.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Man is tempted by his own evil desires: James 1:14-15

If you want to find the source of your temptation to desert God in the midst of a trial look no further than yourself. Being tempted, and succumbing to that temptation is an individual matter. You cannot through the blame for your sin on someone else. Our lust draws us away from God. We are tempted into thinking that something else is better that what God has for us. So in the midst of a trial, a trial God has promised to help us through, we forget the God who made salvation available to us. The two words that James uses to describe the effect of lust (carried away, and enticed) have their origins in fishing. Our lust is attracted to sin like a fish to bait. It grabs our attention and diverts our focus. So it is by our lust that we are be lured into sin, and when we are hooked by that lure we will be dragged away. Too often the desires that seek gratification are aroused and lured to seek satisfaction in things that are not approved by God. But there would be no attraction to sin were it not for man’s own sinful lust. Man’s lust makes evil seem more appealing than righteousness, and it makes the things of this world seem more appealing than the things of God. This is why we must be so careful with what we surround ourselves with. We must not dangle bait in front of our desires. When you go to a movie that has inappropriate things you are dangling sin in front of your lust, and putting yourself in a position to choose sin over the God who offers you salvation. When you put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a member of the opposite sex you are dangling sin in front of you lust, and putting yourself in a situation to choose sin over God. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our sin. And knowing this should make us all the more careful about what we dangle in front of our lust.

When we put ourselves in a position to be tempted our lust will inevitably choose sin. If a person welcomes temptation rather than resist then desire gives birth to sin. Our maturity as Christians is not indicated by infrequent temptation. We are all going to be tempted by our own desires. Our maturity as Christians is indicated by infrequent succumbing to temptation. We will always be tempted because within us we have the desire to sin. And when we let that desire be lured out then we will deceive ourselves into taking the bait (it is not my fault, God put me in this situation). Ultimately if we do not stop the process and run back to God for grace and forgiveness then we will find ourselves deep in sin. And we don’t have to look around long to see the negative results of sin. James tells us right here that when sin becomes a fixed habit (full-grown) it leads to death. Sin results in physical death (separation of soul and body), spiritual death (separation of soul from God), and eternal death (separation of soul from God forever). This is not hard to understand. Sin is failing to obey God, and missing the true meaning of this world. And if we spend our whole lives failing to obey God, and failing to see this world in light of eternity it is easy to see that we have never accepted the saving work of Christ. This is why it is so important to examine ourselves. This is why it is so important to stay away from sin.

Are you depending on God no matter what you situation is? Are you letting God put you in a situation to succeed, or are you rebelling against God and putting yourself in a position to fail? Do not blame God for your desire to sin. God wants to work in your life through His Spirit to accomplish His purpose. Put yourself in a situation were there in no bait hanging in front of your desires. Do you want to have an escape from temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)? Then get into God’s Word, and let the Spirit of God work through the Word of God to bring a lasting change in
your life.

Friday, August 12, 2005

God cannot be tempted: James 1:13b

The question that James’ deals with in James 1:13-15 is: Can God be blamed for our struggles with sin?

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James makes it clear in verse 13 that we cannot blame God for our propensity toward evil. One reason why God cannot tempt man, which we will look at today, is that God himself cannot be tempted by evil.

We know that we are responsible for our own sin because God cannot be tempted by evil. We cannot even question God in this matter because of His character, and His activity. We cannot point to anything in his character that is prone to temptation, and we cannot point to anything He has done that shows a propensity to evil. His holiness is eternal, and is unmixed with anything less than absolute righteousness. There are so many examples that we could look to and see God’s holiness. But I think it would be good to look at the life of Christ. Remember, Christ is God and He went through all that we go through while he was on earth. In fact, the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that Christ was tested in the desert by Satan himself (see Matthew 4:1-11). But here in James 1 it says that He was not tempted to do evil. This may seem like a contradiction to say that God cannot be tempted and that Christ was tempted by Satan, but upon further review I think that we can make sense of this. The Greek word for testing, and temptation is the same word (peirasmoj). So, the difference between testing, and temptation must be examined. Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. But the remainder of the account makes it clear that although from Satan’s perspective the experience was intended to be a temptation to sin, from Jesus perspective it was a test; a test which he passed without a single flaw. Despite Satan’s cleverness he was unable to entice Jesus into the thought of sinning. This is the difference between testing, and temptation.

We may have a trial that God intends to use for our good, but instead of letting Him accomplish His purpose in us we doubt His work. Christ on the other hand let the Father accomplish His purpose in his desert testing. God (as seen in the work of Christ) is not susceptible to temptation. And because temptation is an impulse to sin God cannot be seen as desiring that temptation be brought about in a man. God would not desire something in your life that His holiness would not allow.

Our belief in God’s own character, purity, and holiness make it impossible for us to suppose that it is from Him that our temptations proceed. His temptation of us would imply a delight in evil. God is impervious to evil, and in no way would desire those temptations to be in your life. God does not tempt men. It is the corrupt human nature that turns that which God intended for good into a temptation to sin. God may put you through something to test (or refine) your faith, but it is not His intention for you to sin. You cannot make the claim that God has enticed you to further evil by leading you to deny through trials. You cannot say: “this is God’s fault for putting me in this situation to fail.” The truth of the matter is that God always puts us in a situation to succeed. Don’t believe me? Look at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 has to say:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

We always have the means to succeed in the midst of a trial because we have grace through Christ. God sends trials our way to bring us closer to him, but our sinful nature turns it into a temptation to doubt God. Matthew 6:13 is an important text to look at when speaking about this subject.

"Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 'Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 'Give us this day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'

Here we find what is commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer. Christ, in teaching us how to pray, tells us to ask God “not to lead us into temptation.” Why would Christ say that if God does not tempt man? Because the idea here is that we should ask the Father not to lead us into a testing of our faith, that because of our weakness, could become temptation to evil. Yes God allows us to go through trials in which temptation can occur, but it is to move us to greater endurance not to make us sin (1:2-4). God is not the author of sin within us. His purity works in our favor, for He is working to conform us to His own image. His purity means that He cannot tempt us, and it means that He can be a source of strength in the midst of testing if we would only depend on Him.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Is God to blame for our struggles? A look at James 1:13a

Question: Can God be blamed for our struggles?

There is nothing more common among human beings than to lay the blame for a mistake on someone else. And this is exactly what James is dealing with in this verse. Whenever you lay the blame for your sin on someone else you are really blaming God. If we look at the very first sin we will see a good example of this. We are all familiar with the account, but take a close look at what Adam says in Genesis 3:12.

"The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate."

Adam not only blames Eve for his sin, but also blames God for his sin because God gave him Eve. Do you see what Adam was doing? Adam was willing to do anything to avoid taking responsibility for his sin. He went so far as to blame God for giving him a wife (the same wife that he was so thankful for in 2:23: Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." ). Adam tried to justify his own sin, and in the process his left the responsibility for his sin on the shoulders of the Holy God. Don’t do that! Take James’ advice, and let no one say that God is the ultimate cause of my sin. When we are tempted in the midst of a trial that God has brought into our lives it is not God’s fault.

The temptation that James is talking about here is the temptation to abandon the faith because of earthly trials (these is seen clearly when looking at the context of James chapter 1). Are we not just like Adam if we blame God for our temptation? God gave Adam a good thing, Eve, and Adam used that gift from God as an excuse for his sin. God has given us trials as a gift so that we might grow closer to him. He has ordained trials for our good, yet we want to use these gifts from God as an excuse for our lack of faith. Although the trial itself is ordered by God for our good the inner temptation to evil come from within. When we are being tempted it is not because God has put a trial in our life. When we are being tempted it is because we are willing to disobey God.

James has no patience for this kind of attitude that tries to justify sins. We have all heard the excuses: I had to steal to feed myself; my turbulent marriage led me to alcohol; my parents put me in a situation where I had to disobey them; etc. This is the wrong response. The truth of the matter is that our own sinfulness if the cause of our temptation. What God meant for good, our sinful minds turned into a temptation to doubt God. What follows in verses 13b thru 15 are clear reasons why God does not tempt man.

In the following days we will continue to look at James 1:13-15. We will see that God cannot be tempted by evil; God does not tempt men to evil; man is enticed and carried away by his own lust; and man's lust result in sin which leads to death.

If you want to see how God has given the gift of trials for your good look no farther than 1 Peter 1:6-9:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thank God...

Where is your faith?

I know what my faith is built on, I know what the object of my faith is, and I know the content of my faith. But there are times when it seems as though I have misplaced my faith. Sometimes I find my faith in the bank, and my money in my heart (phrase borrowed from Derek Webb). Sometimes I forget my faith in the Sunday school room. And for the life of me I cannot figure out why it is that my faith can be the easiest thing to forget. Why is it that when I face a difficult situation, or a trying time that I have to work to remember the work that Christ has done for me? If I could only force myself to hold onto my faith with white knuckles while everything else in the world is flying past me. Thank God for the vast resources that have been provided to me as I run this race, and do my best to hold onto my faith.

Thank God for the Gospel. The Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation for men. In this Gospel my sins can be covered, and my spiritual void can be filled with Christ righteousness. In this double imputation I am justified. When God looks at me he does not see my weakness, or my foolishness, or my sin. When God looks at me he sees the strength of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, and the righteousness of Christ. God sees my sin punished on the Christ. Just as through Adam sin entered the world, so also through Christ salvation entered the world. Because God sees Christ when he looks at me I have been adopted into the divine family.

Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Thank God for his Word. The Word which has been revealed to man through the
Inspiration of the Spirit. The Word which is just a powerful now as it was when God spoke creation into existence. God has given us His written Word so that we may glorify him. If you want to get serious about your faith, if you want to see the world upside down, if you want to rejoice in trials, then get into God’s Word. Dive deep into the depths of Scripture and only come up for air to pray for wisdom. But do not immerse yourself in Scripture unless you are ready for a change. If you are anything like me you do not like change, but God wants to change us through his word. It is the Spirit of God through the Word of God that will bring a lasting change in your life. A change that will bring you closer to the image of Christ. A change that will bring glory to God’s name. If you want to know God’s will for your life, look no further than the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and
or training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good

Thank God for the Church. How beautiful is our Savior, and how beautiful is our Savior’s body. God has not isolated us, but rather he has made us His community. We have been brought together from every race, every country, and every class to edify each other as we serve the Lord. The Church is the only place where every tribe, tongue and nation can meet together in love with one commonality, Christ. What a great blessing and responsibility God has given us in the Church.

Ephesians 4:1-7
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another
in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one
Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was
given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Hall of Fame Manager John McGraw led his New York Giants to ten National League championships in his time with the ball club. But for years McGraw was always reminded of the “one that got away.” McGraw would often say: “I won 11 pennants. 10 of them are in the book, but the 11th was stolen from me in a National League meeting room.”

For those of you who do not know, McGraw was referring to the events of the 1908 season. McGraw’s Giants entered the final stretch of the season in a close three-way battle with the Pirates, and the Cubs. When the Giants hosted the Cubs, in the Polo Grounds, they held a slight lead in the standings. On September 23rd 23,000 fans packed in to see the pivotal game with the hopes of seeing their Giants move closer to clinching the pennant. But what they did not expect to see was Fred Merkle.

Merkle was a rookie infielder for the Giants who had not played in a single game all season. Merkle was inserted into the lineup only after first baseman Fred Tenney, the other Fred, was forced to miss the game due to an illness. The game lived up to expectations, and went into the bottom of the ninth tied 1-1. In the 9th Merkle came to bat, and delivered with a base hit putting runners on first and third with two outs. Giants regular Moose McCormick was at third, just 90-feet from winning the game. Merkle was at first with the hopes of being a part of the heroics. What happened after Merkle’s hit has never really been settled, particularly in the minds of Giants’ fans.

The Giants’ All Bridwell came up to bat after Merkle. Bridwell proceeded to hit a line drive to center field, and McCormick trotted home with that looked like the winning run. The home crowd went wild, streaming onto the field and creating a seen of mayhem. But Cubs second baseman, Johnny Evers, knew that the game was not over yet (Those cubbies can be tricky.) Amid the chaos around him Evers frantically called for Cubs center fielder Art Hoffman to throw him the ball. At the same time Evers was shouting to the umpire that Merkle had never touched second base. Apparently, to avoid being caught in all the chaos Merkle headed straight for the dugout after Bridwell’s base hit rather than to second base. This was not unusual, however according to baseball rule Merkle could be forced out at second base if any fielder touched the base prior to Merkle’s arrival. Such a force out, with 2 outs, would nullify the run.

Hoffman threw the ball to second base, where a mob of fans had encircled Evers and other players still on the field. No one is sure who caught Hoffman’s throw, but witnesses reported that Giants pitcher Joe McGinnity wrestled the ball away from whoever it was, and promptly threw it into the stands. Merkle, now aware of his mistake, frantically attempted to touch 2nd. In the chaos Chicago fans draped over Merkle to keep him off of second base. By this time someone had evidently thrown a new baseball into 2nd base. And when Merkle arrived at 2nd Evers was standing on the bag, holding the new baseball. Umpire Bob Emslie had already retreated to the dressing room, so the remaining umpire (Hank O’Day) was left to make the call. Surrounded by frenzied players and fans O’Day called Merkle out, and declared the game a tie.

In the aftermath both teams protested the game to the National League President, Harry Pulliam. Pulliam called a special meeting, where it was decided that the ruling on the field would stand. It was also decided that a one game playoff would be played after the season ended if necessary. Well wouldn’t you know it…

…the playoff game proved necessary with the Giants and Cubs finishing the season tied in the standings for first place. On October 8th 35,000 fans packed the Polo Grounds (the largest crowd in baseball history up to that point) to see the game. Unfortunately for Merkle, the Giants lost 4-2 thus cementing Fred’s spot in baseball history.

Friday, August 05, 2005

James 1:12

I know that in yesterdays post I said that I would do a few more book reviews today, however something else has come up in my mind. To be honest with you it has really been one of those crazy weeks. One of those weeks where you are not even sure what day it is, but you know it should be later in the week than it is. But everything has happened on schedule. And it just happen to be that as I have been living in this week (as I trust most of you are) that I have been preparing to teach on James 1:12 Sunday. Oh the joys of expository teaching. What a wonderful thing God has done in my life, if I can only hold on to his glorious gospel with white knuckles I know that I will be ok. If I can just put away this silly American dream, remember that God doesn't plan the ends without the means, and see things from God's perspective...

Well this is my first draft on James 1:12. All of you English teachers out there please be merciful, it has been one of those weeks (see above).

James 1:12

In this first chapter of James we have talked about some pretty radical things. We are to consider it a joy when we go through all kinds of trials. We are to glory in being poor, and consider our lowness in human riches. What James is saying is that we should view see the world upside down. Poverty = Riches! Wisdom = foolishness! Weakness = Strength! This is a pretty amazing way to see the world. We as Christians are to see the world as few in its history have. If at any point you have wondered why James was able to write these remarkable things, this is the reason. His view of the world was so consistently Christian that trials did not worry him. At the risk of sounding extreme, we should have this same view of the world. Do you really want to do this Christianity thing? Do you want to stop playing around with Church, and commit your life to Christ? If you really want this here is what will happen: you will gain all the riches of eternity and the freedom of a relationship with Christ. However, be fore warned, you may loose everything else that you have ever held dear in your life. But the point is that it does not matter. We have an eternal inheritance, and full hope that should not only counterbalance our loss of earthly things but tip the scale over on its side. When you really think about it I am not encouraging you to see the world upside down, actually I am encouraging you to stop seeing the world upside down. This world is not about this world. There is an age to come and this is what James has been talking about this entire chapter.

Notice here that James’ language resembles very much the language of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount passage. Blessed is the person who endures trials. Have you really wrapped you mind around this idea? No matter what you are going through right now you have a life of joy available to you. You have the offer of wisdom through trials, and glory in highness or lowness. What a joy it is to know that you have a savior working in your life. What a wisdom that comes from seeing the difficulties of this world in light of eternity. This is the eschatological blessedness that we spoke of last week. This blessedness comes to those who wait for God’s salvation to deliver them from their trials. Look at what Romans 4:7-8 say. The person whose sins have been forgiven is the blessed person. Are you depending on God’s salvation in your trials? Do you even remember God’s salvation when you go through a trial? If you can somehow figure out a way to flip the way you view the world upside down you can be the blessed person. You can have an inner quality of life, a joy, which is not dependent upon your circumstances. Job 5:17 tells us that the man whom God punishes, and disciplines is happy. He is happy because he knows that God is doing a work in him, and correcting areas of his life that fall short of God’s holy standards. Do you hate to be punished, or are you like the man who understands the work God is doing and is joyful about it? If you are anything like me you are thinking of all the times in your life that you got into a difficult situation and forgot the salvation that God had provided for you. Thankfully failure can be repented of, and reversed. Thankfully God will give us another opportunity to go through a trial. The person who consistently endures is blessed because he has been made righteous through the blood of Christ. Do you struggle with a feeling of unrest, do you have a lack of joy in your life, do you feel lonely, anxious and fearful? Maybe you struggle with these things because you are not taking full advantage of the trials that God has put in your life. For when we endure through a trial, depending on the ever present Grace of God, a work is being done within us and we will be the recipients of God’s favor.

When we read verse 2 again after this verse we realize that a trial is an occasion for joy because it is an opportunity to endure. The blessed man is the one who does not give up when he is confronted with trying circumstances, but remains strong in faith and devotion to God. A good example of this can be found in the contrast between Peter, and the followers of Christ described in John 6:66. It is important to understand that those who endure a trial are blessed, not those who go through a trial. We can really look at this from two different angles. 1) If someone is a true believer like Peter he may mess up in the midst of a trial, but ultimately he will remember the salvation that he forgot in the midst of the trial. In this sense all true believers will endure in the long run. If you will, take notice that those disciples who left Christ when he began to face opposition are never heard from again. 2) There is another way that those who endure trials are blessed. The believer who, in the midst of his situation, sees God at work and allows God to accomplish his purpose will be that man of Job 5:17 who is happy with the correction of God. This person will be blessed because he is allowing God to work for his sanctification. Unless you have this attitude you will be like the child who continually is punished for the same thing until there is change. Are you enduring?

This man who never relinquishes his faith is a true believer. Through God’s Grace he will persevere, and ultimately stand approved before the throne of God. His willingness to remain in the midst of trials proves that his faith was real, and that he was not a pretender. He has been put through the fire, and his faith has withstood the test. Look at what Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3-5. Peter makes it very clear that the heavenly inheritance of the saints is secure. There is nothing that can destroy it because, unlike the riches of the world, it is imperishable and undefiled. Perseverance may be the most important of all the doctrines concerning our salvation. If we can loose our salvation what good are all the other doctrines? If Christ’s sacrifice was not enough to save us; and God’s promise of an inheritance not enough to assure us of heaven what good would is it to believe any of it? This perseverance is the reason for our blessedness. Because God has made a provision for us in Christ we can be certain that He will fulfill His promise when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The endurance of this man is proof that God has done a work in this man’s life. For apart from the work of God no man could endure. The testing has effectively demonstrated his character as firm and reliable. Each new test proves fidelity to God, and contributes to his approved faithfulness.

As a man approved before God, preserved until the end, this man will receive the crown of life. This man will receive the eternal life that is promised to those who truly love God. Look at what Romans 8:28-29 say about this. If you are one of God’s children then he is working in you life, and will not stop working until you have been glorified in His eternal kingdom. This is the focus that James wants us to have in the midst of trials. Even if you are not wise enough to see it God is working in the lives of those who love Him. And, in James’ thinking, love for God is displayed by what we do not what we say. 1 John 4:8 teaches us what true biblical love is. Before we get confused lets take a minute and think this through: we are saved by faith not of our works, and we receive God’s grace when we identify ourselves with Christ’s work through faith, our faith will result in our endurance (perseverance). So our endurance is a byproduct of God’s work in our life, and our love for God is the external proof of God’s work in our life.
James does not say that God will give us eternal life because we have endured. James tells us that when we stand approved before God we will receive the crown of life. Eternal life is not earned through human effort, but our endurance in the midst of trial is proof that we have eternal life. Our perseverance attests to God’s work in our life, and God’s work in our live proves his approval, and God’s approval brings the crown of life.

Do you realize how amazing this verse is? Not just this verse, but the whole Gospel. Because of the work that Christ has done we will stand approved before the throne of God. We have been declared righteous, and our future reward is yet to come. If we can just fathom a fraction of this glorious message we can turn our world upside down and see things the way God does.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Book Reviews

Here are a few books that I have read recently:

"Father, Son, & Holy Spirit," Bruce Ware: A great little book put out by crossway. It is based on a series of lectures on the Trinity Dr. Ware gave in March of 2004. It is a quick read (150 plus pages) and well worth the time you will invest into it. There are some lofty thoughts in the book, and you may have trouble falling asleep at night when you stop to think about eternity past. There are some very practical thoughts in the book that will have an impact on your daily life, particularly how you pray.

“The Murder of Jesus,” John MacArthur: This is a great read. If you want to take a break from some very deep reading this is a great book to pick up. MacArthur does a great job of recounting the Bible narrative of Christ’s crucifixion. If for no other reason than the subject matter this is a profitable read. I would highly recommend this book to students.

“Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament,” Stanley Porter: Do not buy this book, or read this book unless you are a “Greek nut” or teaching a Greek class. This highly technical work will drown you with research, and linguistic jargon. However, Porter is pioneering the study of Greek verb tenses. If you want to know what is happening in the world of Verbal Aspect and discourse analysis this is a must.

“Famine in the Land,” Steven J. Lawson: If you are a pastor pick this little book up and give it a read.

“City on a Hill,” Philip Graham Ryken: If you are at all interested in Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia’s philosophy of ministry pick this book up. I recommend this book with one caveat: do not be afraid to do things differently than Ryken. Ryken is not afraid to share his methodology, so do not be afraid to disagree with his methodology. Be biblical in your ministry, and learn from a wise brother like Ryken.

“Stop Dating the Church,” Joshua Harris: Not a bad book for a student to read. This is not an intensely biblical book. I do not mean that in a necessarily bad way. What I mean is that in a style that is typical to Harris the book is based primarily on his experiences with some basic biblical principles applied. It is a little over 100 pages.

“New Testament Exegesis,” Gordon Fee: A necessary book for anyone new to ministry. Fee does a great job of outlining simple steps that will help your preaching to be regulated by the text. It requires some basic knowledge of Greek.

“God’s Outlaw,” Edwards: A biography of William Tyndale. This is one of my favorite historical characters, and one of my favorite biographies. This book has a special place in my heart, because it was a graduation gift from a dear professor in college. This is a book that will help you with your church history, and encourage you in your own spiritual walk. I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever read an English Bible.

More reviews coming tomorrow…