Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Reformation Day!

As many of you might already know October 31st (today) has become known as Reformation Day. It was on this day in 1517 that an Augustinian Monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg. A closer look at Luther’s theology may leave some question in your mind, however his leadership in the break from Rome proved to be invaluable. Luther stood on the shoulders of the “pre-reformers,” like Hus and Wycliffe, and recaptured a love for God’s word.

It was in the spring of 1521 that Luther appeared at the diet of Worms to answer for his teaching. With his life hanging in the balance Luther knew the damage that a retraction on his part would cause. Would he be willing to sacrifice his own life for a re-capturing of the bible? The answer is yes. History is somewhat vague on Luther’s exact reply when asked to recant, but it went something like this:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, God help me. Amen."

Luther stood on God’s Word and persevered in the faith. Today I stand on the shoulders of Luther, and the great reformers. Thanks to Luther I am not enslaved by “the authority of the popes and councils.” Thanks to the faithful preaching of John Calvin I have commentaries on almost the entire bible to learn from. Thanks to William Tyndale, who gave his life for Christ, I have God’s Word in English. There are so many men who sacrificed, fought, labored, and even died so that I might stand on their shoulders. It is my intention, God willing, to honor these men by honoring God. By holding firm the doctrines of Grace, and loving the bible. Let us never forget the cries of the reformation:

sola fide: faith alone

sola scriptura: Scripture alone

solus Christus: Christ alone

sola gratia: Grace alone

soli deo Gloria: To the Glory of God alone

Let me try my own rendition of Luther’s proclamation at Worms:

“Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason I will continue to fight for the biblical doctrines re-discovered in the Reformation – I will not forget what these giants in the faith did for the Church, and the opportunity they gave me to study God’s Word - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not forget the Reformation for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand on the shoulders of the Reformers, God help me. Amen."

*Thank You Mr. Carver for always instilling in me an appreciation for these reformers; your thoughts can be found all throughout this post.*

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

James 2:5-6

God has Called the Poor, but You Dishonor the Poor.

God has chosen the poor to be rich in faith, and heirs to his promised kingdom.

The early church was not made up of the wealthy ruling class; it was largely made up of the poor people. God did not choose only the poor, but James point here is clear, God does not discriminate against the poor. Again James’ teaching is closely paralleled with the teaching of Christ. In Matthew 11:5 Christ echoes this same idea. Based on the words of Christ I think that we can push the principle of James’ teaching beyond just the poor. Those whom the world designated as second class citizens God chose to be heirs to the eternal kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 Paul teaches this same thing. God has chosen the things of this world that are perceived to be weak so that no one may boast. God blesses those who willingly recognize their spiritual bankruptcy, and those who are willing to humble themselves before Christ. The early church was made up primarily of the poor not because God chooses people just because they are poor, rather often times it is easier for the poor to humble themselves before Christ.
Because of this humility the poor really aren’t the poor. Through Christ the poor have become rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom. Their riches are found in a different realm. The world may only see the poverty of the poor, but God sees their exalted state that comes from his election of them to eternal glory in Christ. We could say that they are outwardly poor, but inwardly rich. If you have accepted Christ, no matter how poor you may be you now possess spiritual wealth, and you can anticipate an even greater blessing in the future. God has promised an eternal kingdom to those who love Him. This can be seen earlier in the book of James in 1:12. To those who endure, to those who have been humbled before the cross, to those who love him there is a kingdom coming.
In this kingdom there will not be any second class citizens. There will be no poor in heaven. If we are going to be a part of this kingdom, if we love God, then we must reflect God’s character. We must show His great love and care for those in need by our actions. In short, those who love him will show their love biblically through action; the kind of action that is inconsistent with favoritism.

You dishonor the poor.

It is clear that James’ readers were showing favoritism. In verse 6 James says that they “dishonored the poor man.” Maybe today we might say that they “discriminated against the poor man.” The point is that God chose the poor, and the recipients of James’ letter insulted the poor. Their treatment of the poor was very different from God’s treatment. It is becoming easy to see how inconsistent their conduct was with God’s character. God’s choice of the poor people to inherit His kingdom is evidence of his great love for them, and shows how wrong Christians are to discriminate against these poor people. It is unbecoming and disgraceful for a child of God to look down upon those whom God exalts. Clearly their inconsistent actions did not reflect the character of God.
These kinds of actions are not only inconsistent with the character of God, but they also show disregard for God himself. Proverbs 17:5 tells us that when “we mock the poor we taunt God.” This is a very serious offense of which we have all been guilty of at some point. Do you realize that when you mistreat someone because of how the world sees them you are taunting God? If we disdain the poor and fail to help meet the needs of the helpless we disdain God. Look at what Christ says in Matthew 25:45-46. How we treat others reflects how we think about God. We must work to fulfill Peter’s command in 1 Peter 2:17: “Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the King.”

You honor the rich who oppress, sue, and blaspheme.

Not only does favoritism reflect an inconsistency with the character of God but it also reflects an inconsistency with the actions of the rich. The rich were oppressing the believers; they were taking the believers to court; and they blasphemed the name of their Savior. This of course does not represent every rich person. James is speaking of the rich class in general, and he does so in this manner to discredit the idea that someone should be put on a pedestal just because they are rich. We need to understand that James is not denouncing wealth, and advocating a reverse discrimination whereby the rich are hated and the poor favored. James is simply pointing out how strange it was for his readers to show favoritism to the rich in light of the treatment they had received from their wealthy neighbors. As a class of people the rich had been the most powerful opponents of the Gospel. These people in particular were run out of Palestine by the powerful Christ-rejecting Jews. In Acts 4:1 we see the rich Sadducees were instrumental in the persecution of believers; and in Acts 13:50 we see that it was rich ruling class that played a key role in the persecution of Paul and Barnabas.
We see here that not only did James’ readers discriminate against the poor, but they did so in favor of the rich. They sided with the very people who persecuted them. Based on what James says here their sole reason for favoring the rich was their money. They made themselves a tool for persecution siding with the blasphemers of Christ against Christians. Their actions were contrary to the character of God, and they fawned over those who blasphemed the name of God. What is so strange is that most, if not all, of those whom James was writing to were poor. It makes no sense for them to fawn over the rich; perhaps they were trying to avoid further persecution, but that was not working very well. James further describes this rich class in 4:5-6.
James saves his most serious charge against the rich (wealthy class) for last. They blasphemed the “fair name by which you have been called.” This phrase that James uses here is very similar to the phrase that Amos uses in Amos 9:12. This is a phrase that was used in the OT for Israel as the people of Jehovah; or a wife taking husbands name; and children named after their father. This may very well be a reference to the title of “Christian” by which we are now known. This was a title that began as a derogatory title in Antioch, and it appears twice in the NT (Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). We are not sure if this is what James was talking about, but it is clear that the rich were slandering the name of Christ.
These were the people that James readers were showing favoritism towards. It was very foolish to repay the acts of the rich with kindness (Not to say that we shouldn’t turn the other cheek and love one another, but it is unwise to show an undue preference to the rich at the expense of the poor). James’ readers belonged to Christ and were not at liberty to practice partiality and dishonor the Glorious name of Christ.

Do you realize that it is not just the rich that you can show favoritism towards, or the poor that you can discriminate against? If you want to put this into youth group terms you could say “upperclassman vs. Jr High kid,” “well-dressed vs. 1995 dressed,” “cool kids vs. dorks,” “funny vs. slow witted.” Do you realize how petty all of these things are? You could miss out on a great opportunity for Christian fellowship if you judge people by these standards. If you want to take advantage of opportunities to minister to people, and be ministered to then you must see people the way God sees them: justly in love with grace.

*Posting for the remainder of the week will be limited. This week our Church is host to the 1st ever "Brandon Biblical Theological Conference."*

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ten things every Youth Pastor Needs

(From the perspective of a youth Pastor)

*These are in no particular order, and do not reflect the “Top Ten”
things every youth pastor needs. There are many things that could have been on the list, and probably should be on the list, but for now this is the list.*

1. A Great Wife
Can I say anything that would add to this…

2. A sense of Humor
If you can’t laugh at teenagers then you are missing out on half the fun of being a youth pastor.

3. Bluntness (kids don’t get subtlety)
Maybe this is the hardest part. Part of it is that kids don’t get subtlety, but I think that most of it is that they want you to be straight forward with them. “Don’t beat around the bush, just tell me what you think.”

4. A love for the students
If you don’t love ‘em; worry about ‘em; pray for ‘em; and long to see ‘em grow
I don’t know how you can make a difference in their lives.

5. Discernment (with something off just enough in the discernment category to allow you to do crazy things)
Students always want to do crazy things. You have to decide very quickly what is just good fun, and what is inappropriate.

6. A tight budget at home
Money is usually short, but you shouldn’t care (sometimes that is hard).

7. Leadership help
You need help. You can’t be totally involved in every kid’s life, this is where your leaders come in (see also #1 for the best leadership help available).

8. Supportive and involved Church leadership
Youth ministry is just another part of the Church ministry as a whole. You have to have the support of the Elders (or insert your church polity here). Your elders must be involved and know what you are doing. It is their job to lead you, and it is your job to let them.

9. Fellowship
You can’t do it alone. You are going to loose a lot of fellowship opportunities ministering to the youth. You have to seek it out (see #1 for best fellowship available).

10. A love for God’s word, and a willingness to sacrifice "game time" for teaching time
If the Bible is not the center of your ministry I am not sure what kind of impact you can make.

Friday, October 21, 2005

James 2:2-4: "Don't Play Favorites" Pt. II

James 2:1-4

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes,

So that his readers would know what he is talking about James gives and example of favoritism. We see that two men arrive for a meeting. James does not tell us exactly what this assembly is. It could be a type of formal hearing of church discipline; it could be the Christian Jews gathered in the synagogue; or most likely it was a Lord’s Day church service. James vagueness with the specifics of this gathering is not a problem, for his command not to show favoritism applies to all situations. This first man to arrive is dressed in fine clothes and even has at least one gold ring on (the word could be translated gold fingered, which might mean he had many rings on). This man was obviously wealthy, and based on his description could have even been a politician or official. The second man to arrive is described in opposite terms to the first man. This man was poor, and dressed in dirty (or shabby) clothes. Based on this man’s description he may very well have been a beggar. In each case the men were unknown. The Christians gathered together had no idea who they were, or what their character was like. They may have been interested visitors, or they may have been new converts (the later is the more favorable because it is unlikely that an unknown unbeliever would have gained such a trusted position in a community that had been so persecuted). It is most likely it was their first time at such a meeting because that had to bee shown where to sit.

and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, "You sit here in a good place," and you say to the poor man, "You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,"

Here is where we will begin to see the favoritism (or discrimination depending on what your perspective is). The person greeting and seating these men fawned over the rich man (Do see how the glory of Christ is de-emphasized when we show favoritism?), and the poor man is treated with distain. This rich man was ushered right to the front where he was able to gain a seat in an honorable position. The poor man was literally left in the dust. He was told: “you can either stand over there, or you can sit by my footstool.” Literally what the poor man was told was that “you can sit under my under-feet.” Can you imagine this? Not only was this greeter not willing to give up his own seat for the poor man to sit down, but he would not even give up his foot rest for the man. “I have a seat with a footstool, but I am not going to give you either.”
Maybe this example does not quite hit home with you. Let me give you an example of a similar situation that my parents witnessed. My parents had just moved and were visiting churches trying to find a new church home. On one particular Sunday the church they were visiting concluded with an alter call. During this alter call a black man came down the aisle. The church leader quickly informed this gentleman that he would have to wait in the back of the church until all the other people (white people) had been taken care of. Can you imagine this? You may be thinking well it was a different time back then, but this was in the early ‘80s. Just twenty years ago. These types of attitudes are not exclusive to race, and economic status. Churches have the in crowd, and the onlookers. Youth groups everywhere have the popular kids and the outsiders. This is the trap that James is warning against.

have you not made distinctions among yourselves,

In verse 4 we see the result of these attitudes. James asks a rhetorical question to which the obvious answer is yes. They did not want God to judge them based on anything except Christ, but they did not afford this same privilege to those around them. There are two ways that this verse can be interpreted: 1) James is restating their inappropriate behavior; 2) James is tracking the sinful behavior back to its source, a double-mind. The word that is translated here as distinction is a form of the same word that is translated as doubting in 1:6. Also this theme of double-mindedness is not uncommon in the book of James. In chapter 4 verse 8 James says: “[d]raw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
An improper division made between the rich and the poor reflects an improper division in the mind. These people are not acting consistently Christian. To display such favoritism (partiality; or discrimination) reflects a doubt in the truth expressed in 1:9-11, and later in 2:5. If they truly believed that the riches of this earth are going to pass away why did they fawn over the rich? Because their minds were divided, they were double-minded. On the one hand they saw the truth of what James taught, but they were also enticed by the riches of the world. They did not have a consistently Christian mindset; instead they were influenced by worldly considerations. We must be careful to guard ourselves against these dangers. We must constantly evaluate our actions to make sure that they are consistent with scriptural doctrine in order to avoid having a division between our faith and practice.

and become judges with evil motives?

James readers were struggling with this sin because their thinking had been defiled by the world’s thinking (1:27). To the world riches and power are of the utmost importance, but to the Christian they should be of little importance. They acted according to worldly considerations which made them show partiality towards the rich, and slight the poor. To show this kind of partiality is particularly unsettling because it is contrary to God’s character. In showing favoritism they were making themselves out to be judges, and they judged with evil motives. Think about what their motives must have been. They were treating the rich better than the poor. They must have hoped that they would receive something in return for their actions. This is so contrary to the true religion that is described by James in 1:27. They were showing favoritism to the rich, instead of the orphans and widows who could not return their favor.
They took upon themselves the rights of judge, which only God can truly exercise, and they judged based on the wrong things. Even though they professed faith in the Just God of the Universe, they made themselves unjust judges of men.

When we show favoritism, partiality, or unjust discrimination we are making ourselves out to be judges. If a judge in a court of law were to let his decisions be swayed by superficial matter rather than by the essential facts of the case, it would be a gross miscarriage of justice. It is no less wrong for Christians to base their treatment of others on such superficial matters as economic, social, or racial differences.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Final

This will be our final class from C.H. Spurgeon's book "Lectures to my Students."

Here are a few nuggets from Spurgeon:

*What follows are my notes exactly how they appear (spelling mistakes, chopped up sentences, etc.) in my notebook.*

XXIII On Conversion as our Aim

pg 336 On Conversion as our aim: The grand object of the Christian ministry is the glory of God. Whether souls are converted or not, if Jesus be faithfully preached, the minister has not laboured in vain...

-In too many cases the sublime truths are held in abeyance under the pretence that they are not practical; whereas the very fact that they are revealed proves the Lord thinks them to be of value, and woe unto us if we pretend to be wiser than He.

pg 332 We must see souls born unto God. If we do not, our cry should be that of Rachel "Give me children, or I die."

-The ambassadors of peace should not cease to weep bitterly until sinners weep for their sins.

-Since cinversion is a divine work, we must depend entirely upon the Spirit of God, and look to Him for power over man's mind.

-Where Christ is exalted souls are attracted.

pg 339 ... we must preach real bona fide substitutionary sacrifice, and proclaim pardon as its result.

pg 340 Preach earnestly the love of God in Christ Jesus, and magnify the abounding mercy of the Lord; but always preach it in connection with justice.

pg 341 Cold logic has its force, but when made red hot with affection the power of tender argument is inconceivable.

pg 345 Do not permit sinners to hear sermons as a matter of course, or allow them to play with the edged tools of Scripture as if they were mere toys; but again and again remind them that every true sermon leaves them worse if it does not make them better.

-There is something in the very tone of the man who has been with Jesus which has more power to touch the heart than the most perfect oratory...

-Fresh voices penetrate where the accustomed sound has lost effect...

XXIV Illusrations in Preaching

pg 349 The cheif reason for building windows in a house is... to let light in. Parables, similes, and metaphors have that effect...

pg 350 Let us not deny them the salt of parables with the meat of doctrine.

-Plesantly profitable let our sermons be.

pg 352 ...have pity upon these hangering ones immediately around you who must find life through your sermon or they will never find it at all.

-very beautiful sermons are generally very useless ones.

pg 353 Our house should be built up with the substantial masonry of doctrine, upon the deep foundation of inspiration; its pillar should be of solid Scriptural argument, and every stone of truth should be carefully laid into place; and then the windows should be ranged in due order...

pg 356 Our Father feeds his children alike; and the garments that they wear are cut from a royal fabric, even His righteousness.


Now that we have finished our class I think that in light of our professor there is only one appropriate celebration:

Here are some Spurgeon links that will be more than helpful:

Pyromaniac's recent post about Spurgeon

Spurgeon Archive

Spurgeon U.S.

The Letters of Spurgeon

Spurgeon's Library

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tuesday Sports Short: "You're getting warm, but it is not here."

Since baseball was invented pitchers have been working on new ways to get batters out; many times going beyond what the rule book allows. Pitchers have discovered numerous ways to doctor the ball to make it move unusually when they throw the pitch. All kinds of foreign substances have been illegally put on the ball in the attempt to gain an edge over the batter. The list of pitchers and tricks is a mile long. For instance, Roger Clemens is notorious for putting pine-tar on his glove to help him grip the baseball in cold or wet weather.

One of the most notorious “doctorers of baseballs” ever was Don Sutton. Umpires league wide were certain that Sutton was doctoring up the ball. On one particular night in 1978, umpire Doug Harvey found a foreign substance on the ball during an at bat. Harvey immediately tossed Sutton out of the game. Sutton was livid! He refuted Harvey’s claim, and even threatened to sue Harvey and the other umpires if they ejected him from the game. The truth of the matter is that Sutton had a case. Harvey removed Sutton from the game for “throwing” a doctored ball, but could not definitively say that Sutton had doctored the ball. This was the closest any umpire ever got to catching Sutton doing anything illegal with the ball.

Because umpires had never been successful actually catching Sutton in the act, they were always hesitant to waste time looking for something illegal. When one umpiring crew went to the mound to search Sutton’s glove for a foreign substance, they instead found a note from Sutton. It read: “You’re getting warm, but it is not here.”

Playoff update:
So far every team that I have been pulling for has dropped out of the picture. Although, last night Pujols kept the Cards alive with a lunar blast (excuse the Houston/NASA pun).

Monday, October 17, 2005

James 2:1: "Don't Play Favorites"

James 2:1

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism."

Obviously the recipients of this letter were guilty of showing favoritism (vs6).

-James 2:6: "But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?"

This kind of discrimination is inconsistent with true faith in Christ Jesus. This type of discriminating favoritism makes biased judgments based on external appearances such as rank, wealth, or race. This attitude is completely inconsistent with the faith that we have been called to in God’s Word (Eph 4:1-3).

-Ephesians 4:1-3: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

In fact, the only other times that this word, translated as favoritism, occurs are all references to God’s impartiality (Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25).

-Romans 2:11: "For there is no partiality with God."

-Ephesians 6:9: "And, masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him."

-Colossians 3:25: "For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality."

God’s impartiality is seen particularly in the line of Christ (Matt 1:5).

-Matthew 1:5: "and to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab; and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth; and to Obed, Jesse"

God allowed Ruth, the Moabitess, to be a part of the line of Christ. God did not judge her based on her race; God was concerned with her heart.
What James is saying is that when we accept the outside surface for the inner reality we are doing the opposite of what God would do. A just judge, such as God, must not be influenced by personal prejudices, hopes, or fears, but by the single motivation of justice. When we judge based on what a person looks like, how much money they have, or their race we are disobeying what God’s word commands us here in these verses.

When we show favoritism we are not reflecting the character of God, and we are putting something above our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith is centered around the Lord Jesus Christ. During his incarnation Christ was the glory and the image of God in human form (2 Cor 3:18, 9:4; Phil 2:6). John, in John 1:14, tells us that in Christ we see “the glory of the Father full of Grace and truth.”

-John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Christ is our glorious savior and to show favoritism to men based on their appearance or standing would be to take our focus off of our glorious savior. When the pageantry of this world becomes the churches focus it hides who Christ is, and makes it evident that our faith is weak.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Few Thoughts on the Bible

Paul's Bibliology

I believe that the Bible is the complete inerrant, and infallible Word of God. These Holy Scriptures that have been preserved by God are to be received as authoritative. God chose to progressively use the language of his creatures in order to reveal himself to mankind. However, the later revelation (NT) never corrects or contradicts any earlier (OT) revelation. The means of the inspiration of Scripture, which was done by the Spirit through the human writers, remains largely a mystery to man. This inspiration applies solely to the autographic text of Scripture which no longer exist, but by the providence of God they can be retrieved from the extant manuscripts with remarkable accuracy. And the current copies of the Scripture are affirmed to be the Word of God in so much that they faithfully represent the original autographs.

Scripture is inspired by God. It is infallible, and it’s teachings are true and reliable so that it will not mislead anyone away from the truth. The very purpose of Scripture is to instruct men and lead them to God. It is God, through the Spirit, who uses Scripture as means by which to lead men to salvation. He also, through the Spirit, uses Scripture to conform his people to the image of Christ sanctifying them unto their salvation. God has made Scripture a tool for teaching His people doctrine, and consequently how they are to live. Because of God’s nature He could not fail in his attempt to inspire a book that is infallible to teach and lead his people. Consequently Scripture is infallible just as God intended for it to be.

Also, because of the inspiration of God, Scripture is entirely inerrant and without fault.
Although Scripture is intended to be a book about the redemptive history man for the purpose of instructing, and leading men it is also free from any error of fact. Even though the Bible is not intended to be a rule for science, geography, or history it is free from error concerning these topics. Because God is the creator of truth, and the interpreter of all facts He could not inspire a book that contained errors.

Due to the infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture it is fully authoritative as our sole rule for practice and faith. The Spirit of God uses the words from Scripture to accomplish eternal results. For this reason it is necessary for the entire word of God be taught aptly with Spirit-enlightened accuracy, and a literal-historical-grammatical interpretation. It is important that various literary forms, and genres are considered when interpreting. And a specific texts must always be interpreted in light of the redemptive meta-narrative of Scripture. The application of Scripture should manifest itself in the areas of both practical living, and systematic theology. I stand upon the shoulders of the great reformers and proclaim sola scriptura.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Prayer (Pt II)

Prayer, and the Providence of God: How does it work?

As a student, when I began to grasp the great doctrines of God's sovereignty, I had a lot of questions about prayer. I could not understand why I needed to pray if God was in control, and already knew the outcome to the situation. My conclusion was that prayer was only to help us, and I did not put much emphasis on it. But as I continued to study God's word I began to see just how wrong that conclusion was. Our prayers do change us (see Monday's post), but they are also used by God to accomplish His purpose. Let me explain...

God has ordained to do some things in answer to prayer.

Even though God does not need our help He has chosen to allow us to be used to accomplish His purpose. One of the chief ways God uses us to accomplish His purpose is through prayer. Maybe the best example of this is seen in Genesis 18:20ff &19:29:

Genesis 18:20-33
Then the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know." So the men turned from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. Then Abraham drew near and said, "Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" And the LORD said, "If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake." Abraham answered and said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righ teous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?" And he said, "I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there." Again he spoke to him and said, "Suppose forty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of forty I will not do it." Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there." He answered, "I will not do it, if I find thirty there." He said, "Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there." He answered, "For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it." Then he said, "Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham, and Abraham returned to his place.

Here Abraham is found interceding for the righteous men of Sodom. Abraham prayed a godly prayer by being modest (he did not demand to know what God knew), humble (he did not think that his prayer deserved to be answered because of who he was), persistent (It looks as though Abraham is changing the mind of God, but rather God was drawing Abraham in), and finally persuasive (Abraham appealed to God’s own character and glory). At this point we may say: “Abraham’s prayer did not work because God destroyed Sodom.” But in 19:29 we see that God saved Lot through Abraham’s prayer:

Genesis 19:29
So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

This is difficult for us because it seems like Abraham changed God’s mind. This is not the case; instead God used Abraham to accomplish His purpose. Here God's purpose was to save Lot from the overthrow of the cities of the valley. God knew all along what his plan was, and he allowed Abraham to be a part of it. God informed Abraham of his plan (he did not have to), and Abraham had a proper response (prayer) that God was able to use.

(Remember what James 5:16 say: "...the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.")

Let me give you another example from Scripture. Think for a minute about salvation. Man does not have the power to save anyone. God is the one who is responsible for man’s salvation. But look at what Romans 10:14-15 says:

Romans 10:13-15
For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!"

When I look back at my salvation I know that God is responsible for my salvation, but he used my parents to bring the gospel to me. Man does not save anyone, but God uses the presentation of the Gospel by men to save. In this same way God uses our prayers to accomplish His plan.

At this point we must note that if God has ordained to do something that no one prays for He will still accomplish it. God will accomplish His purpose one way or another. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers: “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.” God is sovereign over all things. This should not deter us from praying, but instead should give us great confidence that God can accomplish what we pray for. Do not forfeit your opportunity to be used by God to accomplish His purpose; pray.

There is a perfect balance between God’s providence and our prayers. God’s sovereignty should not deter us from praying, but instead give us confidence in our prayers. Let us be diligent in our prayers. If we are sanctification will be furthered, and God will use us to accomplish His Divine purpose. So do not pray as if you are praying to a God is is powerless to answer your prayer. Pray knowing that the Sovereign God is in control of what you are praying for. Otherwise you will be like the double-minded man of James chapter one. He prays for wisdom, but cannot receive wisdom because he does not believe that there is wisdom to be found.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Blind Eye and Deaf Ear of Spurgeon: Class 3

It is class time again. Last Wednesday I shared a few thoughts from C.H. Spurgeon's book "Lectures to my Students." As promised today I will continue to share my notes with you.

*What follows are my notes exactly how they appear (spelling mistakes, chopped up sentences, etc.) in my notebook.*

Today I just want to look at one single chapter. If you want to know how to deal with gossip, and unfair criticism Spurgeon has some helpful hints. Here are a few nuggets from his chapter:

XXII The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear

pg 321 A minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear.

- You cannot stop people's tongues, and therefore the best thing is to stop your own ears and never mind what is spoken.

- It is part of the generous to treat passionate words as if they had never been uttered.

pg 323 In churches which are well established and afford a decent mantinance, the minster will do well to supervise all things, but interfere with nothing. If deacons cannot be trusted they ought not to be deacons at all, but if they are worthy of their office they are worthy of our confidence.

pg 324 Faith in God should tone down our concern about temporalities, and enable us to practice what we preach.

- The blind eye and the deaf ear will come in exceedingly well in connection with the gossip of the place.

pg 325 Suspicion makes a man torment himself and spy towards others.

pg 326 Surely we are not popes, and do not wish our hearers to think us infalible.

pg 327 It would be better to be deceived a hundred times than to live a life of suspicion.

pg 329 Listening is a sort of larceny, but the goods stolen are never a pleasure to the thief.

pg 330 Public men must expect public criticism.

pg 331 Flattery is as injurious as it is pleasant.

- Pride will not mind reason, nor anything else but a good drubbing.

pg 332 Your blameless life will be your best defence, and those who have seen it will not allow you to be condemned.

Here are some Spurgeon links that will be more than helpful:

Pyromaniac's recent post about Spurgeon

Spurgeon Archive

Spurgeon U.S.

The Letters of Spurgeon

Spurgeon's Library

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Time of Mourning

Usually Tuesday is "Sports Short" day, however I just can't bring myself to do it. I would like to say that it is because I have a deep theological burden that I must share with you, but I cannot. If I must be honest, I am still in mourning over the Brave loss on Sunday night.

How in the world...

Did that really happen...




Apparently the proverbial stars were allined or something. Without question that is the craziest thing that I have ever seen, and on top of all that I found out today that the same guy who caught Berkmans HR caught the game winner (I refuse to mention the name of the individual who hit the ball). People keep saying "well you have to admit it was a great game." But I don't buy it. 5 1/2 hours and two bottle of rolaids later I will never admit that it was a "good" game.

The worst part is that I am going to have to hear about from couple of houston fans (see
Morgan and Chris), and if UF does not beat LSU on Sat I am going to get a lot of Pix from the pulipit.

*P.S. Franco's foot was on the bag.*

Monday, October 10, 2005


“Why, and How Does it Work?”

Prayer is so important to the Christian life. Listen to what Tom Watson (the writer not the golfer) had to say about prayer: “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to be given to prayer… Prayer is a glorious ordinance, it is the soul’s trading with heaven. God comes down to us by his Spirit, and we go up to him by prayer.” But we need to make sure that we understand what we are doing when we pray. We must understand why we pray, how we pray, and we must understand how God uses our prayers.

(*Today I want to look at the first two of these questions and on Thursday we will look at the third.*)

Why do we pray?

Scripture commands us to pray.

The reason we pray, first and foremost, is because God’s Word commands us to pray. All through out Scripture we are exhorted to pray. In fact, Jesus gave us an example of praying in Matthew 6:9-13:
Pray then like this:
"Our Father 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 lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Surely this implies that we should be praying. And if that wasn’t enough, in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul tells his readers that we should pray without ceasing. That is, we are always to be in an attitude of submission to God.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

If we do not pray for something we might not get it.
This may seem like a strange or even selfish thing to say. Jesus spoke on this issue in Matthew 7:7-11. He said ask and it will be given to you. This is exactly what James says in James 4:2. His readers were unable to obtain what they wanted because they went about it in the wrong way. They used lust and fighting to get what they wanted instead of asking God. What is interesting is that James not only addresses their lack of prayer, but also their method of prayer. When they did pray, they prayed only to fulfill their worldly passions. This goes back to what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Prayer is not only action, but an attitude of submission to God. Now when we look at Matthew 7, and this passage we see that when we pray within God’s will God will answer that prayer.

How do we pray?

To the Father, through the Son, assisted by the Spirit.

Jesus instructed us to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:5-15). And we should pray to the Father through the Son. Jesus Christ is the mediator. He is the one through whom we address the Father. Through his atonement for our sins, and his provision of righteousness before God we are able to boldly approach the throne of God. And we are reminded in Romans 8:26 that Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to assists us in our prayers (This makes the doctrine of the trinity quite relevant in our prayers.).


“Acts” is an acronym used to describe the basic elements of prayer. It is not an exhaustive checklist for your prayer life, but it has been helpful to me. And because prayer changes us (Not God) we will see how each aspect affects our own lives.

-Adoration: We were created to worship, and we must use that capacity to worship God in our prayers. We must pray in truth and adoration using the facilities that God gave us for his glory (John 4:24). And no one can spend time before God in adoration and not be changed by the experience.

-Confession: Scripture tells us that if we confess our sins God will forgive them (1 John 1:4). And Paul tells us to examine our self and confess our sins before partaking in the Lord’s Table (1 Cor 11:23ff). We are not telling God what he does not know; we are acknowledging it for our own sake. And we are changed by the realization of our sin in light of God’s holiness.

-Thanksgiving: Part of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is to give thanks in all situations. In are thanksgiving we are submitting to the will of God. We are saying that even though we are going through trials we are thankful because we know it is your will. So, when we are giving thanks in all situations it is easier to see the work of God’s providence in all situations.

-Supplication: Mt. 6:11. In supplication we bring our needs, and the needs of others before God. In supplication we are participating in the “priesthood of believers.” We are imitating the work of Christ who intercedes for His people.

These are just a few introductory thoughts on a subject that should impact your everyday life. There is so much that God's Word tells us about prayer. Which tells us there is so much that we should be praying for.

Friday, October 07, 2005

"I want the truth, can you handle it?"

In today’s world we are faced with many different truth claims. One of these truth claims is that there is no truth. There are several problems with this claim (The most glaring is that it is a truth claim that there is no truth). This may seem ridiculous to us, and we laugh, but we are faced with this same claim almost every day. It may be packaged differently but it is there. For instance, have you ever heard someone say: “well it is ok for them, but I would not do it.” Or how about this one: “I know that is wrong, but in that situation…”

The problem with these statements is that they contradict God’s Word. All throughout the Bible there are claims of absolute truth. In fact the Bible teaches us that the Bible is true (Ps 119:42-43; 151, 160). We must look at truth from a biblical perspective. All truth is God's truth because he is the creator of all truth.

1. A description of Truth.

a. God is the author of all truth.
God is the creator of all things, including truth. Sometimes we have a tendency to separate what we would call secular truth from religious truth. The problem is that God is the Creator of all truth. And so, if it is true, then it is God’s truth. Think about photosynthesis… It may not seem very spiritual (For goodness sake it’s a leaf turning green), but God created it that way. Photosynthesis is a part of God’s creation and it is declaring the Glory of God to all men (Romans 1:20).

b. Truth is true.
Unfortunately there are a lot of people who do not believe in truth. This is really quite ridiculous (they truly do not believe in truth). To them the truth is that there is no truth. Now it is easy to dismiss this mindset because it is so easy to disprove it. However, this mindset has snuck it way into people’s minds in a different way. When you tell people the truth of the Gospel they will say that “it is true for you.” What they are really saying is that it is not true for them. This is called “relativism.” This way of thinking sees truth as dependent upon outside factors (i.e. where you live; how you were brought up; how something makes you feel; etc). It is relative! But we know better. Truth is dependent upon God (remember he is the creator of truth), and God never changes. And so truth is true.

c. Truth is good.
It is easy to see that the truth is good. If it were not for the truth of gravity we would be floating out in space somewhere. Most of us benefit from the many truths discovered in the field of medicine. “Truth has been good to us.” And just as truth is true because God created it, truth is good because God created it.

2. A biblical description of truth.

a. OT
There are two main ideas associated with the idea of truth in the OT (the Hebrew word ‘emet). The first is truth as we would think about it, and the second is the idea of faithfulness (to the truth; i.e. truth as a character trait).
-The OT contrasts the idea of faithfulness with unfaithfulness, or deceitfulness (Exodus 18:21). This idea of faithfulness is reflected in the character of God (See Psalm 111:7-8 for the comparison of faithfulness to truth).
-The OT also speaks of truth (‘emet; same word) as conformity to fact. This aspect of Truth can also be seen in the character of God (Psalm 25:5). This aspect of truth is also seen in God’s Word (Ps 119:42-43; 151, 160).

b. NT
The NT conveys the same message about truth. Truth is that which comes to be known by a correct perception of reality. The NT also emphasizes truth’s connection with love and grace (2 John 3). This emphasis reminds us that love and grace are attributes of God, and truth as a character trait also involves love and grace.

c. Christ
The ultimate revelation of Truth is found in Jesus Christ. Christ is true! He is the creator of everything that is true, and he embodies truth as a character trait (John 1:14). Because Christ is true we can believe his claims about himself. We know that he is the Savior and in him is the forgiveness of sin (John 14:6).

3. The implications of truth.

a. God is true.
It is easy to see that truth is true, because if we say that truth is not true we are claiming to know truth. But more important than that we learned that God is the creator of truth, and He is true. In fact, all truth is God’s truth (Romans 15:8). And for that we reason we know that:
-Gods Word is true: John 17:17b
-Christ is the embodiment of truth: John 1:14
-Those who refuse to love the truth will be judged:
2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.

b. Truth saves.
Because we know that Christ is the embodiment of truth, we also know that the Gospel he preached is true. And this truth saves us (Eph 1:13). Grace and truth come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). And so, it is the ultimate truth of the Gospel that saves us.

c. Truth sanctifies.
The power of the truth does not end with our salvation. The power of truth sanctifies us. For it is the Spirit of God (the creator of Truth) through the Word of God (the revealed truth) that brings about lasting change in our lives. The truth of the gospel sanctifies us (brings us in to conformity with the image of Christ). God has given us His Word so that we might know the truth and be affected by the truth (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16).

Christ is the Truth.

In John 14:6 Jesus not only teaches us that there is truth, but he teaches us that He is the truth. His death, burial, and resurrection are true. His claims to be the Savior of the World are true. It is true that he took our sin upon himself, and gave us his righteousness. And it is not just true for you and I, it is true for the whole world.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

James 1:26-27: There are Two Kinds of Religion in This World.

Earlier this week we took a look at James 1:26, the Bad. Today we will finish our look at the two different types of religion in this world (see Mondays post for the Good the Bad and the Ugly references). In verse 27 James describes for us what the good and acceptable religion looks like. As we begin to see the picture of God's grace, and understand this acceptable religion we see that apart from this good and acceptable religion we are doomed.

The Good

James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father

Proper religion, that is acceptable to God, is pure and blameless before the Father. This kind of religion will have a positive influence on your life, and it will be eternally useful. As we look at the two different kinds of religion it is important to see that our religion must hold up to God’s standards, and not our own. According to God’s standards religion must be more than external; it must spring up from an inner spiritual growth that expresses itself in a pure and blameless life (see Matthew 15:6b-8). James already appealed to this heavenly standard in verse 20. The genuineness of someone’s religion is not determined by his own standards, but rather by God’s. We can deceive ourselves but not God. We must humble ourselves and seek a religion that is pleasing to God. Acceptable religion must unite the inner man and outer experience of the gospel (the inner will save your souls, and result in the outer).

to visit orphans and widows in their distress

Acceptable religion must manifest itself in godly actions. If we worship the loving Father but we do not love one another then we are living inconsistently. We must care for the orphans, and the widows and this express our faith through love (see Galatians 5:6). James choose to talk only about taking care of the orphans and the widows for a couple of reasons: 1) they were the most needy in that society, particularly those who had been displaced due to persecution; 2) this would have been a familiar reference to the Jewish community. Many time throughout the OT God commands the people to care for the widows and orphans who are unable to care for themselves (see Isaiah 1:10-17). Can we be like our God who is the Father to the fatherless and the helper to the helpless (see John 13:35)? A truly redeemed heart will reach out to others in love just as the Christ reached out to them in love.
It is not about what you do, it is about why you do it. The person with the useless religion may have looked good externally, but his heart was not acceptable before God. He thought much of himself through deception. He was not exercising his faith through love because he had no faith. True religion will result in external works only after the heart has been changed. The motivation for what you do is just as important as what you do. James says that the result of true religion is that rather than patting yourself on the back for good deeds you will love one another. The example that James choose is interesting. He chose orphans and widows; in other words the mark of true religion is doing something for those who cannot return the favor.

and to keep oneself unstained by the world

The last mark of acceptable religion is that it is unstained by the world. The one who is truly religious will exhibit love to the world without being polluted by the sin of the world. True religion has a consistently Christian world view that has not been polluted by the way the world thinks. Remember, the world denies all that we hold true about the gospel (see Romans 1). We must reject the Christ-denying practices of the world, and accept the true religion of the Bible. True religion balances the need for social concerns (taking care of the helpless) with our own personal purity. We must be able to do both without hurting the other.

It is not enough to participate in formal religious activity (vss26-27), nor is it enough to listens to statements of spiritual truth (vss 23-25). The person whose religious experience is genuine will put spiritual truth into practice, and his life will be marked by love for others and holiness before God. We must examine ourselves. James says that the person trapped in the useless religion has deceived himself and does not even know anything is wrong. Be very careful; make sure that you are not this person. Make sure that what comes out of your mouth is consistent with God’s word, and make sure that you are doing the right things for the rights reasons.

*NOTE: The Braves are down 0-1, however we have one of the best big game pitchers in recent history going for us today in John Smoltz.*

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Class Two: Professor Spurgeon

It is class time again. Last Wednesday I shared a few thoughts from C.H. Spurgeon's book "Lectures to my Students." As promised today I will continue to share my notes with you.

*What follows are my notes exactly how they appear (spelling mistakes, chopped up sentences, etc.) in my notebook.*

XIX Posture, Action, Gesture, etc.

pg 274 He developed into a man to be esteemed and honoured but not listened to.

pg 275 It may happen that awkward getures arise from feeble utterances, and a nervous conciousness of lack of power in that direction.
If some of the talents are withheld the withholder knows why.

pg 279 Many men are made awkward through fear.
Practice is a great remedy, and faith in God a still more potent cure.

pg 281 We do not go into the pulpit to slouch about, and to look free and easy, but we go there upon very solemn buisness, and our posture should be such as becomes our mission.

pg 285 What force may the language of Scripture lose through the preacher's ill-delivery!

XX Posture, Action, Gesture, etc. II

pg 304 Commend yourself to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and then... posture will seldom be taken into account.

XXI Earnestness: its Marring and Maintenance

pg 305 Both great men and little men succeed if they are thoroughly alive unto God, and fail if they are not so.

pg 306 We shall be forgiven a great many sins in the matter of pastoral visitationif the people's souls are really fed on the Sabbath-day.
These who attend our ministry have a great deal to do during the week. Many of them have family trials, and heavy personal burdens to carry, and they frequently come into the assembly cold and listless, with thoughts wondering hither and thither; it is ours to take those thoughts and thrust them into the furnace of our own earnestness, melt them by holy contemplation and by intense appeal, and pour them into the mold of truth.

pg 309 Water the seed sown, not only with public, but with secret prayer.
We must by some means secure uninterrupted meditation or we shall lose power.

pg 310 Earnestness may be, and too often is, diminished by lack of study.

pg 312 If non-success humbles us it is well, but if it discourages us, and ecspecially if it leads us to think bitterly of more prosperous brethern, we ought to look about with great concern.
We must be borne onward, like ships at sea, by the constant power of the heavenly wind, or we shall make no headway.
If a man can live without preaching, let him live without preaching.

pg 314 Brother, do not begin to teach others till the Lord has taught you.

pg 316 The Spirit of prayer is even better that the habit.

pg 318 on most familiar terms with those whose souls are committed to your care.
Read men as well as books, and love men rather than opinions, or you will be inanimate preachers.

Here are some Spurgeon links that will be more than helpful:

Pyromaniac's recent post about Spurgeon

Spurgeon Archive

Spurgeon U.S.

The Letters of Spurgeon

Spurgeon's Library

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tuesday Sports Short: "I Didn't Come Here to Read."

If you didn't come here to read then you are in good company.

New York Yankee great Yogi Berra has been a beloved figure in baseball for years. Yogi is perhaps the most quoted baseball player ever. But the truth of the matter is that "He didn't say everything that he said."

Berra was not just a quote machine, he was also a Hall of Fame ball player. He was an all-star catcher, and later in his career an all-star outfielder. Berra was a solid hitter putting up lofty numbers for a career catcher. He was a 3-time MVP, and he played in 14 World Series.

For all of you young players out there Berra's hitting strategy may be useful: "you can't hit and think at the same time." This philosophy was put to the test his rookie season with the Yanks. A vetran catcher attempted to fluster the young Berra as he stepped into the batter's box. The catcher informed Berra that the trademark label on his bat was turned the wrong way (As a general rule the batter wants the trademark to be facing up when they hit. It is all about the grain of the wood, and preventing it from splintering on contact.)

Despite the vetran's best effort Berra was unruffled. Berra looked back and said, "I didn't come up here to read." He turned back, faced the pitcher, and hit a homerun on the next pitch.

*In all seriousness, the playoffs start today. I would like to let the readers know that my post today about a Yankee is in no way an endorsement of the Yankee organization (evil empire). The Atlanta Braves have received this bloggers full endorsement (since the D-rays just missed the playoffs). *

Monday, October 03, 2005

James 1:26-27: There are Two Kinds of Religion in This World.

If you are any kind of Clint Eastwood fan you remember the ending in "The Good the Bad and the Ugly.” There was that infamous three way show down where Blondie (Eastwood) guns down the Bad; and the night before took the bullets from Ugly’s gun. At the end of this great scene Blondie (Eastwood) looks at Ugly and says: “There are two kinds of people in this world, those with loaded guns and those who dig.” Much to my chagrin I am not sure that I will ever have the opportunity to use that quote, however as I read James 1:26-27 I can’t help but think: “There are two kinds of religion in this world, one that is useless and one that is acceptable before God.”

James 1:26-27
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. 27 This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

The Useless (bad and ugly)

James has already written about the dangers of hearing and not doing in verses 23- 25, and here in these verses he warns us against the dangers of religious good works that leave the inner man unchanged. This is the Useless religion.

The useless religion that James is talking about here thinks much of itself. This kind of religion thinks much of itself because it thinks that external works of religion fulfill all spiritual requirements. The problem with this is that we have a spiritual requirement that cannot be met by our own works. We have been separated from God through our sin, and based on our own deeds we will always fall short of our spiritual requirement. But thanks to God, through Christ, our spiritual requirements have been met through the work of the cross.

Religion that is focused merely on external deeds forgets that true external worship can only come through inner revival. This type of religion thinks much of itself, when true Christianity is all about thinking little of yourself. This is the Gospel! We are sinners who have fallen short, and we must humble ourselves before the cross. A religion that makes people think much of themselves is useless.

Sometimes it is hard to tell who is a trifling pretender who only does good works so that he can pat himself on the back, and who is doing good works because he is being impacted by the Gospel message. But here in this verse James gives us something to look for; James gives us a way to distinguish between the hypocrites and the true worshipers. You will be able to tell what kind of person someone is by what comes out of their mouths. The person who trusts in outer things rather that God will sooner or later reveal himself with what he says. He does not have the power to control his tongue because he does not have the power of the Gospel working in his life. A man’s uncontrolled tongue will reveal his religion to be worthless.

Someone may give the outer appearance of being religious, and in the meantime try to make himself look good by speaking poorly of another. He is seeking his own praise rather than the praise of God. He thinks much of himself, and his speech will reveal it. What comes out of your mouth is an indicator of what is in your heart (see Matthew 12:34; 37). Religion that does not change the heart, which you will see in what a person says, is useless before God.

This type of religion is very dangerous because it will deceive your heart. It will fool you into focusing on external works as the way to true religion, rather than letting a true religious walk with God change your external works. This kind of religion, which is focused on external works rather than internal revival, will always be vain and idolatrous. If you are not careful you can very easily fall into the trap of thinking that performance of external good works is all that is needed. This type of religion will fail to bring you to the goal of religion, a relationship with God.

Useless religion’s concern with external works will not bring about a change in your heart. Good works are important as expressions of personal faith but they are useless apart form the inner working of the Spirit. The person who accepts this useless religion has not faith in his life to change his heart. He has deceived himself into thinking that he is living right before God. And you cannot seek forgiveness if you are deceived into thinking that you do not need it.

*Later this week we will take a look at the kind of religion that is acceptable to God.*