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Dear friends in Christ,
The natural religion of sinful mankind is “me-ism” or humanism. Humanism is all about “me.” Back in the third century Aristarchus of Samos proposed that the earth was spinning around the sun. His astronomical ideas were often rejected in favor of the geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy. People didn’t like the thought that the center of the universe was not on earth and on its inhabitants. In the 16th century Copernicus said the same thing that the earth spins around the sun. He was excommunicated from the church because of that belief. The Roman church apparently believed that since the Bible spoke about the four corners of the earth (an expression we use to this day to mean from everywhere), they believed the Bible was saying the world was flat and the sun moved across the sky rather than the earth spinning around the sun. The earth and her inhabitants were not the center of the universe. Me-ism?
In 1933 the Humanism Manifesto was written and signed by 34 of the world’s top scholars. When the United Nations was formed the Humanism Manifesto was praised and used it as a framework by which they would operate. There are fifteen articles in the Humanism Manifesto. The first one reads: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.” You can see where this going to go. The second article says, “Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.” So the manifesto says that there is no God to create and that man is a result of evolution. If there is no God there is a vacuum; man tries to fill it with an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Man is at the center of all.
Today’s reading from the book of James calls for humility. “Christianity Requires Humility:” 1) As we look at ourselves; 2) As we look at our Lord.
Recently I have seen things that bother me as a Christian man, but more importantly, as a shepherd of God’s flock. It has to do with the whole issue of healthcare for women. A red flag goes up because this always heads toward abortion. Obamacare was passed and everyone is figuring out the details. The government is telling us what needs to be in an insurance policy. Contraceptive regulations are all part of it. They are to be made available for the married and unmarried women. The contraceptives include what should be called an abortion pill. Pro-life people like we are ought to be object. I don’t want to in any way fund abortion. Pro-abortionists say that men (the majority of lawmakers are men) need to butt out of making rules on women’s bodies. What bothers me is that Christian women are getting on the bandwagon. Don’t tell me what I can do or not do with my body. It isn’t a men versus women issue; this is a human being versus God issue. Men and women, your body is not your own. Our God put it together. Our God makes the rules. It is time to quit the “This is my decision to make” when it is a decision that the Lord has already made. We need humble ourselves to listen and do what God says.
Like all things, and there are plenty of other decisions that need to be made for men and women, it is time for a lot less of me and a lot more of the Lord.
Jesus once said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” James says that here too, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” You are with the Lord or against him. Even if someone says that they are not with the Devil but don’t follow the Lord, they are with the Devil because they are not with the Lord.
Submit to the Lord. The word “submit” is what someone does when he or she goes into the military. They know that they don’t go in with the rank of colonel. There are people over them. That’s what the word means. You submit to the Lord. To submit is a humbling experience. But because it is the Lord you submit to, you can rest assured that what he says or orders or promises are always right and true.
Not so with the Devil. This is the Greek word ‘Diabolos.’ It means slanderer or accuser. His word is always a lie, his promises will always do us harm. Many times, however, it takes time to figure that out. Many times his promises begin as fun and pleasurable. Ask the alcoholic, or adulterer, or drug addict or liar. But the Bible says that will only last for a season, for a little while. Then there are the consequences to bear.
The “Slanderer” is so hard to overcome. In fact, if we try to do so ourselves, there is guaranteed failure. Paul says it like this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” When Satan hits you with temptation, he will not have any mercy on us. Come on, Mr. Diabolos, this isn’t a good time. Come on, Mr. Diabolos, I’m not feeling well. If you think that he will be considerate, I have someFlorida swampland that you might want to look at. Peter says he is a roaring lion seeking whomever he can devour. Peter knew all about it. He faced him in his arrogance and self-reliance and lots. We all have our own stories, don’t we?
Yet there is a promise that is made here. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Fight him! Resist him! How? Like Jesus did. With the Word of God! You are weak and helpless without it, but you are overpowering with it! With it you are stronger than he is. Confirmands, there is a reason you have memory work. That’s your ammunition! That’s what you use to fight. Sunday School children, there is a reason for the Bible verses! That’s the sword of the Spirit. Parents, there is a reason why you need to spend time with them and their lessons. You want your children to defend themselves. You want to defend yourself. Without God’s help from his word you are a sitting duck. The biblically illiterate make the Devil smile.
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” How do you get front row seats before God? If some of the older folks want to get front row seats at the Fox Theater when Lawrence Welk Orchestra revived come to town, you would pay a pretty penny. For all of us Baby Boomers, a ticket in the front row when the Temptations come to town might cost $500 front row and center. For the younger generation Beyonce is going to cost you $1200 front row and center.
I don’t like temptation, I do like the Temptations but not for $1000 because Judy is going with me. I don’t know of a parent who would float a loan to a child who wants to see Beyonce at $1200.
To get a front row seat before God is also expensive, but we don’t pay. Jesus did. No currency was exchanged; the blood of the Lamb was shed. The seats are free to us and they are without number. Believe it! Don’t leave your blood bought seats.
“Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James refers to sinners in two ways. He calls them sinners, people who miss the mark; he calls us double-minded.
We are sinners. No one could qualify for the heavenly Olympic perfection team. We always miss the mark of perfection. No one is a straight shooter. We veer to the left and veer to the right with life. The Bible says, “All our righteousness’s are as filthy rags.” Hey, I am not trying to make you feel bad, I am merely speaking the simple truth. Hitting the target of perfection is just not in us. No one is born with that kind of ability. How easy it is to identify with the tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
We are not only sinners but also double-minded. Paul said that as God’s children, baptized into Christ, there is a part of us that wants to hit God’s target so badly. There is also a part of us that doesn’t. No one’s perfect people say. “The good I want to do, I don’t do and the evil that I don’t want to do, that I keep on doing.” The war goes on in us daily between the Old Self and the New Self. We struggle to do right but there is an inability to carry it out. Do you feel the frustration? Do you ever look back and say, “Why did I say that? Why did I do that?”
That’s why our hands need washing. The hands are connected to the body. We just don’t do the right things. We don’t think the right things. Humbling isn’t it?
Judy and I went to a funeral of a woman who was the wife of her co-worker. Poor lady! She had a kidney transplant and was on all kinds of anti-rejection drugs. She seemed to always have swollen face. She had side-effects that caused her to be moody and even mean. At her funeral (she was not a Lutheran or even a Christian), many got up and talked about her in glowing terms. I know I am probably being mean right here right now, but when someone said she was the kindest person ever, I wanted to go out and see if I had come to the wrong funeral. The lady that I knew was one where I walked on eggs every time I was around her. I knew she was on all these drugs
The same applies to me. At my funeral, if y’all come, and the preacher starts talking about me as the perfect pastor and husband and father and friend, I know Debbie will give that roll her eyes to the back of her head look; Judy is going get up and check under the casket cover to see who is in there. Dennis Frendahl is going to bust out laughing because the preacher must be telling a joke.
In fact, James says, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Sin is serious, very serious. Grieve mourn and wail! Understand this: James isn’t telling us to be always walking around with our eyes to the ground and tears flowing from them because of the sinful lives we are leading. In fact, the apostle Paul says to us “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” Some of the first words of this book are these, “Consider it pure joy.” But, if we find there is joy in sinning, then it is time to grieve, wail and mourn. Humble yourself as you look at yourself and honestly see yourself as you are.
But don’t stop there. God forgives in Christ. That is so humbling too. It is humbling to know that James says that this is also true, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” One commentator made this statement on this passage, “There can be no spiritual health and soundness in a person until he acknowledges his sinful failures and asks God for mercy instead of demanding wages.” I like that. Don’t think that our sins don’t matter because he forgives us anyway. They do matter. They did matter. They will always matter. That’s why the Son of our Heavenly Father gave up heaven to walk in poverty on the face of the earth. That’s why he would subject himself to the very laws he gave so that holiness that was demanded was provided. That’s what Jesus did.
It didn’t stop there. With his own body he made payment for our sins. He paid the wages. He was scourged and beaten and battered by the very people he came to save. To make the payment he had to be abandoned by the Heavenly Father to suffer what we deserved and where we deserved to be.
I suppose in life everyone has a time when they say about some favor or kind act or comforting word, “That was the nicest thing that ever happened to me.” Be clear on this, whatever word that might have been said or deed that might have been done, they all take a back seat to what our Savior did for us. That my, dear friends in Christ, is so humbling.