Dear Christian friends,

            On Easter Sunday Pastor Fedke told us about all the Mary’s that are found in the Bible.  There is a fairly good number of men with the name James too.  Two of the twelve apostles were named James.  One was the brother of John; they were the sons of Zebedee.  He was first of the apostles to be killed for being a Christian. There was another apostle named James, the son of Alphaeus.  His mother was one of the Marys.  She was actually more famous than her son. She was among the group of women who saw Jesus’ grave empty on Easter morning.  This James was also called James the Less, probably because he wasn’t as prominent as the other James. There is still another James. He was the father of the apostle Thaddaeus or Judas, not Judas but not Judas Iscariot.  Are y’all following me? 

            But there is still another James, who was the author of the book of James. Jesus had four brothers.  James is always listed first.  He was probably the oldest.  None of the brothers believed in Jesus, at least at first. Jesus went home to Nazareth where he grew up; the Bible says the people were amazed at his power and might.  They asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”  And they took offense at him.”  That included his own family. Jesus said about this, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

            Follow me on this.  In I Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul speaks about many of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances. There was one when he appeared to James. I had always assumed referred to James, the brother of John. He was the first one to be martyred.  But some have suggested that this was James, the Lord’s brother, and from that time on he became a believer.  Eventually James, the Lord’s brother, became the leader of the church in Jerusalem and a great defender of the faith.  He also wrote the book of James. It is a very practical book of Christianity.  Today he writes about “Help for Those Tempted.”  He speaks about 1) the don’ts and 2) the do’s. 

            It is always important to understand the context of Bible passages. In previous passages in James chapter one, he writes about temptation. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” Hearing those words leads us all to agree.  God is not the source of temptation.  Yet we do blame God.  Adam did. “The woman you gave me!” Lord, it was your fault. You gave me that woman. 

            My wife and I go out to a local McDonald’s for breakfast two days a week. We have gotten to know the people there pretty well – the employees and the clientele who work there at six in the morning.  We hadn’t seen a man for a while. He usually wears Texas Longhorn cap and a Chattahoochee High School shirt.  He is retired, very fit and active.  He showed up this week and said he had been in the hospital for ten days.  Why?  He was crossing a road and a young lady was texting on her phone, and she hit him and flipped him over the car. 

What do people say about this?   Why did God allow that to happen?  Hey, God didn’t make the young lady text when she was supposed to pay attention to driving.  Eight people were shot execution style in Ohio in four different places but all from the same family.  A couple of smaller children have survived.  It is easy to say, “Why did God allow that?” as if he is the guilty party.   Police are looking for a suspect or suspects, but God is not one of them.  They know he isn’t guilty.  God didn’t pull the trigger.  Yet God gets the blame.  Have you ever blamed him for situations like that?  That’s “a don’t” when it comes temptation.    

Understand that the world is not one big puppet theater where he is pulling the strings and making everyone’s body parts move so we do or don’t do what he wants.  We are not robots that he has programmed to do his will.  The truth is he does allow and permit us to live through or even sends challenging moments in our lives.  But his purpose is always good.  He is drawing us closer to himself and drawing us away from this sick and dying planet. That’s what James means when he says, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

            God’s plans for his people are good and perfect.  They take us in one direction lead us to eternity. “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” James says God only gives good and perfect gifts. 

That passage has always made me wonder what the difference is between a good and perfect gift when it comes from the Lord.  Everything that is good to God is also perfect.  When God came to the end of his creation, he said it was “tov meod” – Hebrew for “very good.”  It was perfect until Adam and Eve did their thing.

The Greek word for perfect can mean complete. There are certain things God provides that we have an ongoing need for. When it comes to food we don’t need it once, we need it again and again. Clothing wears out, but God keeps supplying it.

As I said the word “perfect” also means complete.  While we know that God is a God of love all the time, we need to keep receiving a blessing of broccoli (something I will appreciate much more in heaven), but we need it every other month or so. On the other hand the blessing of salvation is complete. Jesus’ once for all sacrifice doesn’t need to have anything else added. No more needs to be done. This blessing is perfectly complete. 

            Those promises remain firm because the one who promises them does not change like shifting shadows.  The promises are not at the end of God’s yo-yo sometimes there in front of us and then so far away.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.     

            Philosophers are always trying to explain life. I know someone who many years ago tried to explain life was part of a dream God was having and we are all characters in his dream. So I pinched him.  “Owwww!!,” he yelled, “What did you do that for?”  “If life were a dream in the mind of God, and we are all playing parts a pinch wouldn’t hurt.” Life is real and it is a gift from a loving God to you.  He doesn’t dessert you in temptation. 

But there is more! Besides life, God has given us spiritual life too. “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” There is a reason we believe in Jesus.  There is a reason we treasure the cross and put it in the front of our churches and wear them around our necks and have them on our walls in our homes. God through his Holy Spirit has led us to understand that through the cross we have the comforting assurance of a never ending future with him.  The Lord has given us a heart that beats, but also a new self that is alive and loves him.  He chose to give us birth through the Word of truth.

He says that we are a “kind of firstfruits of all that he created.” Our God 101 class this week centered on the subject of creation.  In it we talk about evolution and creation.  What a bummer that people are falling for the belief that they are a high grade animal by believing in evolution which has no God. What a pity that they are accepting their purpose on this earth is merely to survive rather than to be “the firstfruits of God’s creation.” God made man last.  Man is the crown of the creation.  Man is the prize of his creation to care for what Go made.  Even when man fell into sin, man remained the prize.  God sent Jesus his Son to save.  Keep the eyes of your faith on him.  That’s a “do.”

There is another “do” he tells us about.  “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  People love to talk.  Many don’t like to listen. 

Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said as he greeted others and others greeted him. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook their hands and murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not until the end of the line that the ambassador from Bolivia actually heard what he said.  The ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming."

A spouse doesn’t listen when his or her face is buried in a newspaper or a book while the other is talking. When we are tempted we need to listen, not to the source of the temptation but to the Lord who has plenty for us to listen to. It’s not just about listening, but also believing that what it says is true and then be willing to put what it says into practice.

James speaks of three problems that God’s people when we are dealing with temptation well. 1)  We don’t listen.  When tempted are you driven to the word for direction and strength to overcome? The Bible promises “Resist the Devil and he will flee you.” What better place than to flee to God’s word!  Since temptation comes all the time, we should be wearing out the pages of Scripture.  We should be quick to listen.  

The second problem in dealing with temptation is that we talk too much.  You can’t learn things when you are talking. 

The third problem, James points out, is anger that can consume us.  Anger poisons relationships.  Anger consumes.  Anger comes from pride that doesn’t let things go when someone cuts us off at the knees.  Anger leaves no room for forgiveness and patience and kindness and understanding.  It’s time to listen.  It is time to listen to what Jesus did to pay for those sins of anger.  It is time to take a trip from the Upper Room to Gethsemane, to the Judgment Hall to Calvary.  It is time to journey through the word with the women as they went to the empty grave.  

Once we listen then it is time to do what is said. James says, “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” 

I cannot know what is in anyone’s heart. That is reserved for God.  Yet there is evidence that is left behind when faith is dying and people are succumbing to temptation.  We listen less and less to the word that saves. The church seat once occupied is left empty.  The Bible gets dusty or even lost.  The Baptism that washes clean is never on the mind.  The meal that provides the strength and renewal is never eaten.  There is an answer? James has it right here, “Accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”  That means, listen, believe and put it into practice.







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