Radical Transformation

Here in America, we value transformation, remember that TV show called Extreme Makeover Home Edition? It came on ABC on Sunday nights. They take this deserving family, someone really making a difference in the community, or someone with special needs or a health condition, and they have this really run-down and unhealthy house. Then within one week they rally the whole community and totally transform the property into something very usable. It’s extraordinarily entertaining, and sometimes it’s pretty emotional. These people are so grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of these sponsoring companies and the community’s volunteerism, encouragement and support. It really makes you feel good about people again.

Perhaps you remember the original Extreme Makeover show, the one where they took average looking girls who get the “ultimate package;” a transformation of clothing, hairstyle, veneer teeth, new makeup and perhaps even a nose job, face lift or “some other sort of lift” or augmentation. Then there are the “before and after” pictures of women who got the makeover. Not to be judgmental, but some of these girls were pretty “homely” until they got a new hair style, makeup and an outfit. Now they look like a supermodel.

These days, in order to keep up with the culture of America, there’s now a show called Extreme Makeover, Weight-Loss Edition. Well, season 2 is here. Recently we saw that Tony wants to lose weight before his wedding, and he’s nearly 400 pounds. We learned about his food addiction and unstable family life since he was a kid. At age 14 he worked at shoveling snow and at a fast food restaurant, where he would overeat because he did not know where his next meal was coming from. At 21, he and his first wife had a severely handicapped child where stress pushed him toward food for comfort. After a 30-year career in food service management, he decided to quit because his weight had gotten out of control. Now we all can pull for this jobless and divorced 49-year-old as he struggles and works to lose weight before his 50th birthday and his upcoming wedding.

[kaltura-widget uiconfid=”535″ entryid=”1_uhb2wvz1″ width=”400″ height=”255″ addpermission=”” editpermission=”” align=”center” /]

I think Americans like a good transformation story, but when you think about it, these examples of physical transformation are only temporary. These homes can burn down, get destroyed in a storm, or have termites cause tremendous damage. These new bodies that people get, through artificial means or through a year of extremely hard work… they can get ill from diseases or die from anything from cancer or homicide or an accident.

As believers in Christ, we are more interested in spiritual transformation, which is permanent. That’s what I want to talk about today.

Ezekiel the Prophet: Only two verses in the Old Testament identify Ezekiel by name (Ezekiel 1:3; 24:24). The prophet Ezekiel was raised in a priestly family in Jerusalem and educated to become a priest himself, but this was not to be. He was taken into exile with other high-ranking Jews at the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. While there, in his thirtieth year (593 BC), he received a powerful vision from the Lord and his call to be a prophet. Between this first exile and the final fall of Jerusalem (in 586/587 BC) many Israelites hoped to throw off the yoke of Babylon, often looking to Egypt for help (rather than God). Ezekiel’s prophecies against Jerusalem and some other nations take place in this context.

Ezekiel was given tremendous visions of God; and he also was called to act out God’s messages to the Jewish captives. He does some of the weirdest things you’ll read in the Bible!

Chariot-Throne of God: One of the most striking and memorable visions of the book is the throne of God, which is placed above a kind of moving revolving chariot (Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:3-22). This is where we get that old folk song, Ezekiel Saw the Wheel. How to understand this vision has long been debated, some have even connected it with a UFO!

The Valley of Dry Bones: This odd scene has God asking Ezekiel what he sees, a valley full of very dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). “Can these bones live?” God asks, and he eventually is told to prophesy to these bones. They begin to come together to form skeletons and soon flesh is again on them. We have sung about this too, Dem Bone, Dem Bone, Dem Dry Bones…

Extreme One-Man Dramas: As part of his prophetic vocation, Ezekiel engaged in a large number of extreme activities; he was to dramatize and symbolize his message of doom from the Lord. These activities strike us as odd, eccentric, or even weird. They include:

  1. Building a model of the city of Jerusalem and laying siege to it, part of which meant being tied up with ropes and lying on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for forty days (Ezekiel 4:1-15). He was to live on a daily ration of eight ounces of food and a pint of water. It represented the starvation diet they would experience in captivity.
  2. Shaving his head bald, dividing up his hair and striking part of it with a sword all around the city model (Ezekiel 5:1-4). Each third represented the fate of Jerusalem’s inhabitants when the city fell.
  3. Packing up his belongings every night in a mock exile, busting a hole in the wall rather than going through the door (Ezekiel 12:3-7).
  4. Trembling and shaking when he ate his food and drank water (Ezekiel 12:17-20).

Ezekiel’s wife died suddenly (Ezekiel 24:15-27): The prophet was called to do more than act out the fate of others. He was also called to experience the pain of judgment. Ezekiel was warned that his wife, “the desire of your eyes,” & “your dearest treasure” would die. God told His prophet, “You shall NOT show any sorrow at her death, don’t weep or even shed a tear. Sigh in silence, NO wailing at the grave; don’t uncover your head, or remove sandals from your feet; do NOT perform any mourning rituals, and do NOT accept food from your mourning friends” (Ezekiel 24:16-17).

While seemingly very strange, they may have been very effective, memorable ways, like using an object lesson for children. All this introduction, let’s take a look at Ezekiel 47.

After seeing the kitchens in the temple (Ezekiel 46:19-24) the prophet noticed a trickle of water running out of the holy of holies, past the altar on the south side. Ezekiel’s guide leads him out of the north gate (since the eastern gate was closed) and around the temple to the eastern gate where he saw the water running from under the south side of the gate. The guide measures the depth of the water four times and the river becomes so deep that he couldn’t swim across it.

Ezekiel learns that the river flows to the Dead Sea where it brought life to that forsaken area. The water from the temple would heal the Dead Sea as well as all the rivers. The water creatures would multiply wherever the waters went. Trees on the riverbank would bear fruit every month, and their leaves would be used for healing. What we see here is that life comes from the Temple of God, not from a king’s palace or from the government.

Jerusalem does not have a river in it, like we have the James River. These verses speak of this river as a literal body of water that accomplishes the life-giving work of God. Ezekiel is describing a literal river, yet it also has spiritual significance for us today. Think about the headwaters of the James River, which are not all that impressive, but the river gets much bigger by the time it gets to Hampton Roads. Ezekiel’s river gets water out of the temple into the Kidron Valley and to the Mount of Olives, and represents the transforming power of the gospel; life is growing wherever it goes.

Jesus saw the river as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39)
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory).

The apostle John saw a similar scene in the heavenly city (Revelation 22:1-2)
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

This river is an important part of the story of God, which begins in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14)
A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.

It appears that this river starts in the Garden of Eden and flows into the heavenly city of God. Let’s get back to Ezekiel 47. I see a couple of significant truths in this passage:

1. Radical Transformation Advances and Does Not Remain Stationary: The water is measured in four different places, getting deeper in each spot. At the beginning, he is in ankle deep water. I believe this represents a time when someone first comes to Christ. It’s sort of like young children swimming in the kiddie pool. Just as the river moves along and gets deeper as it goes, it makes no sense for an adult believer to swim in the kiddie pool. After several months of being a follower of Jesus, we need to be growing and learning. Hebrews 6:1, tells us to press on toward maturity. This is done in two ways:

  1. Obedience: This is simply doing what Jesus says we are to do. If you love me, you’ll keep my commands (John 14:15). “One step forward in obedience is better than a year of study about it.” -Oswald Chambers
  2. Discipleship: after walking in obedience, we must be intentional in our growth. We need a plan, perhaps even mentoring, in order to become all that God desires for us to become.

I love Ezekiel 47:6, this guide says, “Do you see this?” Can you imagine the scene? THIS water? The Bible says Ezekiel was led through the water, so “Yeah, I’m standing in it; I’m really wet here, Michael Phelps couldn’t swim across this river, so yep, I’ve seen it.” Are you sure? So Ezekiel is led back to the riverbank for a closer look.

Notice the waters run toward the Dead Sea. Did you know that the water in the Dead Sea is 30% salty? The ocean is 3.5% salty. The Great Salt Lake is about 18%. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea. Once any water gets to the Dead Sea, there is nowhere for the dead water to go. But notice the dead waters are made fresh, which really means HEALED. This river brings healing to the people and the nations.

2. Radical Transformation Takes You to Unattractive Places: If we are to grow spiritually, we must go to some pretty unattractive places.

Perhaps it will be on a mission trip to Haiti, working with orphans in a hot, dirty, diseased place, working among people who smell bad, flies are everywhere and you don’t understand the language.

Perhaps you are called to feed homeless people at the Union Mission, or Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, or some other place that is uncomfortable, hot, at times full of rough or intimidating people.

American cities have a low percentage of Christians. Look at NYC. NYC is only 4% Christian. People visit there every day to see Wall Street, Broadway, Museums, Statute of Liberty, Freedom Tower, but how many people head for the Bowery area of NYC. There are believers who go there in spite of the smells, burdens, drug addicts, thieves, the homeless, and the hungry, to pray for and ease suffering of forgotten people. Downtown missions attempt to transform lives.

God values the afflicted. My very first sermon was when I was 19 years old. Since I sensed God calling me into the ministry, my church asked me to go to the Jimmy Hale Mission, in downtown Birmingham. They fed homeless people all week and since they were a captive audience, they had to stay for the preaching if they wanted to eat!

I love the words of Psalm 9:18, But the needy will not be ignored forever; the hopes of the poor will not always be crushed.

Here in Norfolk, how many of us would rather drive through rather than stop at a traffic light? We LOVE worship here, and our gathering HERE, but radical transformation often takes you to unattractive places, dirty places, even dangerous places.

Ezekiel 47:10 tells us about fisherman standing at the Dead Sea. No one would do this; to catch what? But there will be such a variety and amount of fish, from the western side (Engedi) all around to the east. Why? Because this river makes all the salty water fresh. Wherever the river flows, there will be swarms of living creatures in it. Where the river flows, everything will live (Ezekiel 47:9)

Notice the marshes will remain salty, so practically, as a domestic product, people still need salt. But spiritually speaking, some people will refuse to be transformed by this life-giving river. Some people desire to remain stuck in the mire of their own sinfulness and choose NOT to be healed.

The life is transferred from the water to the riverbank; fruit bearing trees will produce every month, on both sides of the river. This life comes from the sanctuary (from Almighty God himself). This is just like John 15:5, to abide in Jesus and allowing his words to abide in you, for apart from ME you can do nothing.

3. Radical Transformation is a Catalyst for Real Change: Everywhere the river went, it made a difference. How about YOU? Like in your neighborhood, is it different in the neighborhood because you live there? What about adopting a missionary and his UPG? A catalyst for change means praying and going. UPGs are in the Dead Sea, spiritually. They need an advocate praying for them, and people going as they are able. Missions is about church planting, starting with Bible storying groups in their homes. Many people around the world are coming to Christ, and they are the FIRST EVER believers in their tribe or region. God is saving people all around the world. He is bring life and light to dark places. How can we be a part of that?

4. Radical Transformation Comes When We Allow God to Transform Us: Place your faith in Christ, NOW. No more waiting. Paul said it like this,

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16)

Removing the veil and understanding happens only when you come to Christ. At the bottom of your outline, look at that statement. What are we to do? Step out of the kiddie pool, be a disciple and disciple others. It is always inappropriate for adults to pretend to be spiritually mature while hanging out in the kiddie pool. The Bible says to “grow up” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Let me tell you about Rosie Ruez: She appeared to be the female winner of the 84th Boston Marathon on April 21 1980. Her time of 2:31:56 would have been the fastest female time in Boston Marathon history as well as the third-fastest female time ever recorded in any marathon. Only eight days later, the title is taken away. She actually jumped into the race in the last mile to cross the finish line. They went back to look at tapes and found what had happened. This was not even the first time. During a NYC marathon, she took a subway and jumped out toward the end of the race.

On the other hand, Bill Rodgers won his 3rd straight Boston Marathon that day. He paid the price and trained long and hard to achieve his record-setting victories. But all his work and effort was overshadowed by the pretender.

What can this church be like when we impact our community and the world for Christ? Do the hard work, no more posers, pretending to be in the game.

We must be a people who desire Radical Transformation. No business as usual, because we want to make an impact on the world around us.

  1. We will NOT remain stationary, but advance the cause of the kingdom.
  2. We will go to the unattractive places in this city and world for the cause of the kingdom.
  3. We will be the catalyst for real change in our society and circle of influence.

God help us to make a difference.

[print_link] [email_link]

The Biggest Troublemaker

This is a continuation of my Bible study class on Sunday mornings. We made it to chapter three. The littlest organ is the biggest troublemaker. Why is it that the mouth gets us into more trouble than anything else? Here is a brief outline of what we find in this section:

  1. The Importance of the Tongue (James 3:1-2) anyone who can control his tongue is perfect, totally mature, able to keep the whole body in check.
  2. The Illustrations of the Tongue (James 3:3-5)
    1. How it can control (James 3:3-4)
      1. A bridle to the horse (James 3:3)
      2. A rudder to the ship (James 3:4)
    2. How it can consume (James 3:5) a spark that can destroy a great forest.
  3. The Iniquity of the Tongue (James 3:6) it is set on fire by hell itself, destroying the owner.
  4. The incorrigibility of the Tongue (James 3:7-8)
    1. People can train wild animals (James 3:7)
    2. People cannot train the tongue (James 3:8)
  5. The Inconsistency of the Tongue (James 3:9-12)
    1. The contradiction (James 3:9-10) it tries to do things simultaneously.
      1. Praise God (James 3:9, 10)
      2. Curse others (James 3:9, 10)
    2. The conclusion (James 3:11-12) it cannot do things simultaneously.
      1. Fresh and salt water (James 3:11, 12)
      2. Figs and olives (James 3:12)
      3. Grapevine and figs (James 3:12)
  6. The Instructions for the Tongue (James 3:13-18)
    1. The path it should follow (James 3:13, 17, 18) control requires wisdom.
    2. The path it should flee (James 3:14-16) don’t allow Satan’s influence.

Let’s get into the beginning of the chapter. James chapter three starts out with a couple of warnings:

  1. Against too many people becoming teachers (James 3:1-2)
  2. About the untamable tongue (James 3:3-12)

I wonder if these teachers engaged other people in verbal abuse, or perhaps these were self-proclaimed teachers who got involved in all sorts of heated religious discussions. Let’s dig into what James writes:

The Warning About Not Becoming Teachers (James 3:1-2)

James does not say, “Let not many of you be teachers” but rather, “Let not many of you become teachers.” I wonder if this future orientation is James’ point. This passage is not just a rebuke of those who try to be teachers before they are ready, but a warning that many should not even become teachers in the future. Wow. I think it is a mistake that everyone should become a teacher at some point in their service to Christ. So, here is the biblical proof.

Paul often illustrated that the body of Christ has many members, and not all members do not have the same
function (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Notice especially 1 Corinthians 12:29, where Paul with a rhetorical question implies that not all are to be teachers.

Peter also taught that God’s grace toward us is multifaceted and that we should exercise our respective abilities accordingly (1 Peter 4:10-11). In view of what Paul, Peter, and James wrote, we should be careful before we apply Hebrews 5:12-14 to mean that everyone should one day be teachers (the author of Hebrews may have been writing to a select audience, whom he knew ought to have been teachers).

So, Why Should Many Not Become Teachers?

Sometimes it is easier to follow the rules when we understand the reasons why the rules are there in the first place. Consider this:

  1. Teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1)
    1. There is a serious responsibility involved in teaching others.
    2. Teachers can lead people to truth, but teachers can also lead them to error.
    3. Just as with elders (Hebrews 13:17), those who teach will be held accountable if they mislead others.
  2. Because we all make many mistakes (James 3:2)
    1. Since everyone makes mistakes, the improper use of the tongue is a major issue.
    2. Teaching the truth and living in error is hypocrisy.
    3. Damage will be done when Christians don’t walk the talk.
    4. The relationship between words and deeds? Words can normally lead to actions. Remember that “loose lips sink ships.”

So James cautions against many people trying to become teachers. This should not discourage any from trying to find out if teaching is a gift that they might have if nurtured along, but one should proceed with humility and caution. The point for me is that with responsibility comes great accountability.

The Power of Speech

James lets us know that the person who does not control his mouth is not really religious (James 1:26). Earlier we are told to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). The power of speech is one of the greatest gifts we have. We can praise God, preach the word, communicate with others, lead someone to Christ; but we can also ruin a reputation, break a heart, tell lies and hurt others with the same mouth.

The Power to Direct (James 3:2-4)

  1. The rudder and the bridle: both illustrations are used to demonstrate that the lesser object can control the greater.
    1. They both overcome contrary forces. (bit controls a horse and a rudder controls the ship).
    2. They both need to be under the control of a strong hand.
    3. They both affect the lives of others.
      1. Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball, went into a Boston shoe store on April 21, 1855, and lead a young man to Christ, who became one of the greatest evangelists (Dwight L. Moody).
      2. Peter preached at Pentecost and 3000 came to faith in Christ.
  2. Our tongue controls the body:
    1. Biblical support.
      1. Solomon warned that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
      2. David prayed that God would set a watchman over his mouth (Psalm 141:3-4).
      3. Jesus tells us that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).
    2. Practical support.
      1. If you speak a lie, it won’t be long before you find yourself living a lie.
      2. If you speak suggestively in an immoral manner, it won’t be long before you begin acting immorally.
  3. The power of the tongue to direct is easily applied to the dangers of teaching. The teacher’s words can easily set the mood of the class or congregation, in an uplifting way, or just as easily direct the class in a discouraging way.
  4. This power to direct using the tongue should humble those who teach, and caution the spiritually immature.

The Power to Destroy (James 3:5-8)

  1. A small fire can easily cause great destruction.
    1. Rremember the Great Chicago Fire? It started in the barn at the O’Leary farm, October 8, 1871, killing hundreds of people and destroying four square miles.
    2. How many times do we read about a forest fire in California getting started by a discarded cigarette?
  2. The tongue causes destruction, too. A loose tongue can ruin one’s reputation, and can destroy fellowships, families, friendships.
  3. In describing an uncontrolled tongue, James uses very vivid terms to make his point (James 3:6):
    1. The tongue is a fire.
    2. The tongue is a world of iniquity.
    3. The tongue corrupts the whole body.
    4. The tongue sets your whole life on fire.
    5. The tongue is set on fire by hell.
  4. Should not this power to destroy and defile both ourselves and others caution us in becoming teachers?
    1. As a fire burns, so our words can hurt and burn.
    2. As a fire burns, it spreads the more fuel it gets.
    3. As a fire spreads, it destroys.
    4. When you control fire, you get power rather than destruction.
    5. Despite being able to tame wild animals, man is unable to tame the tongue (James 3:7). It is full of poison, like finding venomous snakes in your path.
      1. With God’s help, we can tame it (as David prayed in Psalm 141:3).
      2. With God’s help, we must tame it (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6).

The Power to Delight (James 3:9-12)

  1. Blessing God and cursing from the same mouth (James 3:9, 10).
    1. Our words are deep waters (Proverbs 18:4).
    2. The mouth of a righteous man is life (Proverbs 10:11).
    3. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
    4. Bless and curse: something we are likely to do, especially on Sundays.
      1. We spend time in worship, blessing God.
      2. But in driving home, we might curse men (other drivers who pull out in front of us).
      3. Racists and bigots are often guilty of “blessing God and cursing men.”
  2. The illustrations of a spring, a fig tree and a grapevine, James shows our inconsistency.
    1. Water.
      1. What comes forth is a true indication of what is inside, just as Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-23.
      2. Water gives life: but not when the flood waters rise
      3. Water cleanses: like the basin in the temple, the Bible is like spiritual water (John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26-27).
    2. Tree and vine.
      1. Trees are important to our economy, holding down soil and providing wood and shade.
      2. The most important part of a tree is the root system: they must go down deep for the tree to be healthy (Psalm 1:1-3).
      3. Nature always produces after it’s own kind: we expect a spring to provide good water and we expect a fig tree to produce fruit.
  3. The problem is not really the tongue, but the heart (Matthew 15:18). Warren Weirsbe suggests 12 words that, when from your heart, can transform your life:
    1. Please, and thank you: these allow you to treat others as people ansd not things.
    2. I’m sorry: for breaking down walls and building bridges.
    3. I love you: not the romantic version but the “I love you anyway” type, that even loves our enemies.
    4. I’m praying for you: when you talk to God about people, then you will be able to talk to people about God.

Application:

These examples of the misuse of the tongue should humble and caution all those who would become teachers, but they should also serve as a warning for us all, whether we teach or not, that we need to seek God’s help in controlling the tongue! May David’s prayer be our own:

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

The Dangers of Self-Deception

This last part of James chapter one is really about the dangers of self deception; we must stop kidding ourselves (James 1:22). If a Christian is deceived by Satan it is one thing, it is something totally different when a Christian deceives himself. Sometimes people are deceived into thinking that they are saved or spiritual when they really are not. Jesus spoke about this in his sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:22, 23). The immature person claims to be rich and in need of nothing; not realizing his poverty (Revelation 3:17).

Spiritual reality results from a proper relationship to God through his revealed Word. The Bible is God’s truth (John 17:17). James states three responsibilities toward God’s Word, and if we fulfill them, we will have an honest walk with God and others:

Receive the Word (James 1:19-21): here it is the grafted Word, which mean implanted. Jesus talked about the parable of the sower (Matthew 19:1-9, 18-23) comparing God’s Word planted in the human heart.

  1. Test of the Soil: the human heart is compared to the soils; notice the same seed was soil to each piece of ground.
    1. The hard heart did not understand or receive the word and was fruitless (Mark 4:4, 15).
    2. The shallow heart was emotional with no depth and bore no fruit (Mark 4:5-6, 16-17).
    3. The crowded heart lacked repentance and permitted sin to crowd out the Word (Mark 4:7, 18-19).
    4. The fruitful heart received the Word and it took root and produced a harvest (Mark 4:8, 20).
  2. Test of Salvation: fruit, which means a changed character and conduct. Fruit can be:
    1. Winning people to Christ (Romans 1:16).
    2. Growing in holy living (Romans 6:22).
    3. Sharing material possessions (Romans 15:28).
    4. Spiritual character (Galatians 5:22-23).
    5. Good works (Colossians 1:10).
    6. Even praising the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).

Religious works can be manufactured and have no life in them, and they do not bring glory to God. Real fruit has in it the seeds to bear more fruit.

The Word cannot work in our lives unless we receive it the right way.

  1. Take heed what you hear (Mark 4:24)
  2. Take heed how you hear (Luke 8:18).

Is it the fault of the teacher if they hear yet do not understand (Mark 13:13)? Maybe, but it may be the hearer becoming dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:11).

If the Word is to be implanted, James says we must obey God’s instructions:

  1. Swift to Hear (James 1:19): If someone has ear to hear, let him hear (Mark 13:9). Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17). Here is a great illustration of hearing and obeying (2 Samuel 23:15).
  2. Slow to Speak (James 1:19): we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Sometimes we argue with God’s Word; like the lawyer in Luke 10:29 by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”
  3. Slow to Anger (James 1:19): don’t get angry with God or his Word.
    1. When the prophet Nathan told King David, “You are the man,” David confessed and said that he had sinned (2 Samuel 12:7, 13).
    2. When Peter was in the garden with Jesus, he was slow to hear, swift to speak and swift to anger (John 18:10).
    3. Godly anger is not a sin (Ephesians 4:26) but man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20)
  4. A Prepared Heart (James 1:21): James saw the heart as a garden; if left to itself it would develop weeds. Yet when a field is prepared, the Word is planted and takes root. If we don’t receive the Word implanted, we are deceiving ourselves. So how can you prepare for this implanting?
    1. Confess sins, and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
    2. Meditate on God’s love and grace asking him to plow up hardness in your heart (Jeremiah 4:3).
    3. Have an attitude of meekness (James 1:21), which is the opposite of wrath (James 1:19-20).

Practice the Word (James 1:22-25): it is not enough to just hear the Word, we should do it. Hearing a sermon or attending a Bible study is not enough, it is applying and doing what we learn. James give us three ministries of the Word of God as a mirror:

  1. Examination (James 1:23-25): this is the main purpose of a mirror. As we look into God’s Word, we see ourselves for who we really are. James mentions a couple mistakes we must avoid when looking into God’s mirror:
    1. They merely glance at themselves: this is not studying or examining themselves. A casual reading of God’s Word will not reveal the deepest needs in our hearts.
    2. They forget what they see: if they looked deeply into their hearts, they would not forget what they see. Isaiah had a great attitude toward being in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:5). Peter had the same reaction (Luke 5:8). Even Job (Job 42:6).
    3. They fail to obey: they think hearing is the same as doing. We are good at substituting reading for doing; talking for doing; attending for doing. Our education far exceeds our obedience. Look intently into the Word, not just a quick glance (James 1:25); and blessing comes from doing (literally “blessed in his doing”). Why is the Word called the “perfect law of liberty?
      1. Because when we obey it, God sets us free Psalm 119:45).
      2. Because when we commit sin, we are slaves to it (John 8:34).
      3. Because when we obey the Word, we know the truth and it sets us free (John 8:31-32).
  2. Restoration (Exodus 38:8): the tabernacle had something called the laver or basin (between the altar and the most holy place), where the priests would wash up before going inside.
    1. Washing with the Word is an image of its cleansing power (John 15:3).
    2. The church is sanctified through the Word (Ephesians 5:26).
    3. Christ once and for all washed us clean (Titus 3:4-6, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
    4. When David fess up to Nathan, he did not stop there, God forgave the sin and David would not die (2 Samuel 12:13). He was assured of forgiveness and cleansing.
  3. Transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18): let’s not confess sin, accept forgiveness and then go right back out to commit the same sins all over again. Let’s conquer sin. Second Corinthians three is a contrast of the old covenant of the law and the new covenant of grace. The law was external and written on stone; but salvation means that his Word is written on our hearts.
    1. Moses and the veil: he came down from the mountain and his face shone (Exodus 34:29-35). He did not want the people to see the glory of God fading away so he veiled his face; it was a veil to hide.
    2. Jesus and the veil: when he died, the veil in the temple was torn and nothing was between God and man. We are to have an unveiled face, no hiding. Take it off (Psalm 139:23-24).
    3. When a child of God looks into the Word (the mirror), he sees the Son of God, and is transformed by the Spirit of God. This change is metamorphosis, a change that comes from the inside out.

Share the Word (James 1:26-27): religion here means the outward practice or service of a god, used only five times in the New Testament (James 1:26-27, Acts 26:5, Colossians 2:18, where it is translated, worshiping). Pure religion practices God’s Word:

  1. Speech (James 1:26): the tongue reveals the heart (Matthew 12:34-35). A controlled tongue means a controlled body.
  2. Service (James 1:27): Isaiah saw the Lord and then he saw himself, and then he sought to go to the people (Isaiah 6:8). Words are no substitute for actions (James 2:14-18, 1 John 3:11-18). James mentions two groups needing special attention, orphans and widows. These are the most vulnerable of our society.
  3. Separation from the world (James 1:27): the world means “the society without God.” It is the domain of Satan (John 14:30).
    1. We are to be in the world but not of it (John 17:11-16).
    2. We are sent into the world (John 17:18).
    3. Be aware that friendship with the world (James 4:4) can lead to a love of the world (1 John 2:15-17).
    4. If we are not careful we can become conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) allowing it to squeeze us into its mold.
    5. The result will be our condemnation with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).

Jesus remained spotless (1 Peter 1:19) even though he got involved with sinners and outcasts. When we go out into the world, it is important to go in pairs, like Jesus did with his missionaries (Luke 10:1). There is strength, safety and accountability is numbers.

Becoming Holy, Becoming Ourselves

The primary passage for today is from Ephesians 1:3-6, focusing in on holiness. I listen to K-Love radio here in town and I love this song by Jason Gray. Here are a few lines from his song:

Now I won’t deny the worst you could say about me.
But I’m not defined by mistakes that I’ve made,
Because God says of me

I am not who I was, I’m being remade; I am new
I am chosen and holy and I’m dearly loved, I am new

Too long have I lived in the shadows of shame
Believing that there was no way I could change
But the one who is making everything new
Doesn’t see me the way that I do

Holiness is not talked about much these days, but the Bible is clear that God is the holy One who desires for us to be holy as well (Ephesians 1:4) and even Peter gives an imperative to, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). In many people’s minds, holiness is more associated with an attitude of superiority, like saying someone has a “holier than thou” attitude, which is actually found in the Bible (Isaiah 65:5), where in the King James says, “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou.” The NLT puts it this way, “Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you.”

Perhaps the single most important attribute the Bible gives for God is his holiness. The most familiar may be found in Revelation 4:8, where “each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” So what does it mean to become holy?

First: I read recently that to be holy in a Christlike way, is in fact to become more truly ourselves.

  1. The point is that we should become the person God intends for us to become; no masks, no deception, no hypocrisy.
  2. We are to be people of integrity, be the same person on the inside and the outside, always being real and authentic.

Second: When we use Jesus as our example, we discover that he was a holy servant who relates to others.

  1. He mingled with people
  2. He hung out with sinners
  3. He knew lost people
  4. He made outcasts feel relaxed
  5. He accepted people unconditionally

The relationships he had developed with others were characterized by awareness, insight, and responsiveness:

  1. He noticed Zaccheus hiding in a tree (Luke 19:4, 5)
  2. He heard the passionate cry of a blind beggar in a noisy crowd (Matthew 20:29, 30)
  3. He took time for a foreign woman in distress over her daughter being cruelly possessed by a demon (Matthew 15:22, 28)
  4. He felt power leave him as a hurting woman touched the hem of his robe (Matthew 9:20-21, 22).

To become holy is to be less concerned with self, and more focused on the needs of others around us.

Third: Jesus also has a devoted closeness with the Father, and his single passion was the kingdom of God. The Bible teaches that Jesus was concerned with one thing, to do the will of the Father.

  1. Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house (or about my Father’s business)? (Luke 2:49)
  2. I can do nothing on My own initiative As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 5:30)
  3. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:24)
  4. “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
  5. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:4)

Without developing our intimacy with God, holiness will always be out of reach. Holy people are the ones who have made God and his mission first place in their lives.

How to Become Holy:

H – Heaven

  1. Presence: we will live in God’s presence. Focus on the spiritual discipline of solitude.
    1. Jesus retreated to the desert for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-2)
    2. Spent the night in prayer before making a huge decision (Luke 6:12-13)
    3. Sought the Father in a time of stress (Luke 22:41-42)
  2. Preparation: for heaven. Focus on the spiritual discipline of Bible study.
    1. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
    2. Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. (John 17:17)
    3. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13)
    4. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it. (Luke 11:28)
    5. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)
  3. Pursuit: being blameless and spotless. Focus on a bride being presented to her groom.
    1. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (2 Peter 3:14)
    2. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4)
    3. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2-3)
  4. Paul: he called himself the chief of sinners. Focus on the worst person, yet still forgiven and made ready for heaven.
    1. No one is perfect, yet we have a new motivation for right behavior.
    2. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15)
    3. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

O – Obedience

  1. Commands: of Christ, his conditional statements: Here are some awesome results for our obedience.
    1. Showing Our Love for Christ: If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)
    2. Abiding in God’s Love: If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, as I have kept my Father’s commands and abide in his love (John 15:10)
    3. Perfecting God’s Love: But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 John 2:5-6)
    4. Having God Live Within Us: If a man loves me, he will keep my words (John 14:23)
    5. Experiencing God’s Love: Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them (John 14:21)
    6. Knowing Christ Intimately: And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments (1 John 2:3)
    7. Being a Truthful Witness: If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth (1 John 2:4)
    8. Being a Friend of Jesus: You are my friends if you do what I command (John 15:14–15)
    9. Having Prayers Answered: And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him (1 John 3:22)
    10. Bearing Much Fruit: When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father (John 15:7–8)
    11. Loving One Another: We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2–3)
    12. Being a True Disciple: I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:34–35)
    13. Demonstrating Ultimate Love: This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12–13)
    14. Obeying the Great Commission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19–20)
  2. Confirmation: evidence of a changed life. Focus on metamorphosis, like the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly (Romans 12:1, 2).
    1. And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice–the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
    2. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

L – Lordship

  1. Confidence: about Christ. Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws. (Matthew 7:21-23)
  2. Crucified: with Christ. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
  3. Compassion: of Christ. Think of a heart transplant. Jesus had compassion:
    1. On the multitude without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)
    2. On the hungry (Mark 8:2)
    3. On the ill (Matthew 14:14)
    4. On the blind (Matthew 20:34)
    5. On the demon possessed (Mark 9:22, 25)
    6. On the lepers (Mark 1:40-41)
    7. On the bereaved (Luke 7:12-13, John 11:33)
    8. On the lost (Luke 15:20, 1-2)
  4. Conviction: fire insurance in one’s spiritual life may be when we say yes to escape hell but are not really that interested in the things of God. Check out these lyrics by Jason Gray.
    1. More like falling in love, than something to believe in. More like losing my heart, than giving my allegiance. Caught up, called out, come take a look at me now, It’s like I’m falling in love…
    2. Remember that we do not make Jesus Lord of our lives, he is already the Lord; will we submit to his lordship?

Y – Yourself

  1. Conversion: Take off the old self, put on the new self. Make sure that you add this part to your story. Become the person God intends for you to become. He doesn’t save us for us to go right on living the same old way we did before encountering Christ.
    1. This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
    2. Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6)
    3. In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted (Ephesians 4:22)
  2. Conforming: to the imitation of Christ. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son (Romans 8:29)
  3. Conduct: yielding to the Spirit’s leadership. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. (John 14:17)

Self evaluation is an essential component as we live the Christian life, to always make sure we are of the faith (1 Corinthians 11:28, 31).

There is security in Christ because our salvation does not depend upon our own efforts, but there is an element of being in partnership with God. Check out this verse:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).

Our challenge today is to become holy. At the beginning I mentioned that when we become the people that God created us to be, we become like Christ, and therefore please him beyond anything else, that we are walking in the truth (2 John 1:4, 3 John 1:4).

MercyMe has a song called, So Long Self:

So long self
Well it’s been fun, but I have found somebody else
So long self
There’s just no room for two
So you are gonna have to move
So long self
Don’t take this wrong but you are wrong for me farewell
Oh well, Goodbye, don’t cry
So Long Self

Become the person God has meant for you to be. Look over the list in the bulletin again. Decide today that your goal is holiness.

[print_link]  [email_link]