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James 1:16-21 New International Version (NIV)

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Listening and Doing

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, 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.

Full Service May 3, 2020

James 1:16-21 New International Version (NIV)

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Listening and Doing

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, 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.

The Lord Receives Sinners

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19th Sunday after Pentecost
James 4:7-10

Introduction:

Some time ago, back before I attended MLC.  My pastor at my home congregation and I were working with a prospect member.  She was a younger woman who had come in with her boyfriend, he was a member of our church.  It was a rather simple straightforward meeting.  My pastor had asked if I would walk her through the great exchange presentation with her and that he would be there to answer any difficult questions that might come up.  Are you all familiar with what I mean when I say “great exchange?”  It’s a simple explanation of Law and Gospel.  What a sinner deserves v. what God gives us in Christ, how our sins were put on Jesus and God exchanges our sin for Jesus righteousness freely as a gift!  And we are declared not guilty.

Anyway, we got to that part of the discussion – that pure gospel message of sins forgiven in Christ – and instead of nodding in agreement, instead of smiling, her eyes well up with tears and she put her face in her hands.  Then straining to hold back the tears she said, “I can’t believe that, I’m sorry.”

My pastor sitting there asked if there was some reason why.  At which point she began to cry harder.  Her boyfriend put his hand on her back and said, “It’s ok, you can tell them!”  She collected herself a bit and said, “I had an abortion.”

See this young woman had gotten an abortion some years ago before she was dating the man who was a member of our church.  She did so for all the obvious reasons – because she didn’t want the responsibility of a child.  She wanted to continue to live life as she wanted to live it – recklessly and without accepting the consequence for her actions.  So, she must have buried the guilt.  She must have listened to all the voices that said, “It’s not human life, it’s just a collection of cells.”  She joined the chorus of those voices that shout out against and try to drown out our natural human conscience that says taking a life is wrong.  For years she buried that guilt she hardened herself to it and now that voice of rebellion against God was echoing in her head so loud that it was virtually impossible for her to hear that Gospel promise that The Lord receives sinners.  So submit to him, and then beyond all reason he accepts us!    

PART I – He Seeks Us

Like the young woman I used as an example, for all of us, it is often our first reaction and seemingly the easier route, to bury our guilt.  Admitting wrong doing or sinfulness of any kind would require us to be knocked down a few pegs.  We don’t want to be found out for our sin.  Especially if it is a sin that we take some enjoyment in. Especially if it’s a sin that is a part of us, ingrained into our personality or our psyche – if our tongue isn’t tamed, if we are prone to anger, if our eyes are not tamed and linger where they should not.  If our hands work only to glorify ourselves and if our feet go where they should not go – What does Jesus say in the gospel for today?  Cut them off, pluck them out get rid of them!  He’s calling for a drastic change.

James writes,Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil.”

Admitting our guilt, submitting to God, cutting off that sinful limb of our souls – resisting the devil.  That’s hard!  There is no doubt about that here.

You know what an addict goes through when they are on the road to recovery, especially if its one of the harder drugs?  The withdrawal symptoms are painful and often unbearable – the temptation is to slip back into use of those drugs just to ease the pain.  Or what a homosexual person goes through when they abandon their former sinful lifestyle – yet they still struggle with that same-sex attraction.  Or when a young man or woman realizes that their partner wants to live together before marriage – The temptation can be overwhelming and oppressing!

But James doesn’t just say submit and resist because, well it’s the right thing to do, it will build character or make you a stronger person – No James says, Submit to God resist the devil!

Resist the devil and He will flee from youDraw near to God and he will draw near to you!  Trying to hide our sin is a futile attempt and altogether pointless.  For God is God and he sees us anyway!  There is no where we can hide – Except in him!  We cannot run to far afield, there is nowhere we can run except back to him.

These commands, submit, resist, draw near, humble yourselves – these are not cold hearted commands!  James is urging us to do this, pleading with us to do so.  Because in the end there is nowhere else to go, there is no one else to submit to, that is worth submitting to or humbling yourself before.  Because there is a promise connected to these commands to submit and resist!  The devil will flee from us!  God will draw near to us – not as an overbearing judge waving his gavel in anger.  But as a loving father who sees his child when they are along way off!  He rejoices, and runs down the path to find us he seeks us out that his daughter or son might return home.  And the roaring lion the devil will not approach our fathers house.  When we go to God in repentance he seeks us with the comfort of the Gospel message, put’s his arms around us and sets a watch over us.  The devil cannot harm us.  That evil prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done and one little word can fell him.  Do you know what that “One little Word” is?  “Liar!”

PART II – He accepts us

When the devil tries to convince us that our sin is too great.  That the divide is to far.  That our hearts and our minds are too stained with sin for God to love us.  One little word can fell him.  “Liar!”  Devil you lie!  What kind of strange pride does Satan try to fill us with?  That we would ever think that our sin is to great for God to forgive!

It’s just like the woman I began talking about today.  She said, “How can God forgive me, if I can’t even forgive myself?” This is what was holding her back from seeing the Gospel message!  This is what held her back from seeing God as a loving father, that rejoices that his daughter would return.  She, herself, was getting in the way!  She wasn’t grasping that she is not her own judge, we are not our own judges!  God is judge.

Humble yourself before the Lord and he will life you up!

I am not my own judge.  We are not our own arbiters.  Humble yourself before the Lord.  Turn to God in repentance, abandon your sin yes – but also realize this involves throwing off this notion of am I good enough, or am I not good at all.

Our own opinions of ourselves don’t really matter.  I’m a sinner I know, I have failed in 10,000 different ways – and yes, the process of humbling ourselves, the process of resisting the devil, submitting to God and repenting – this can often Turn our laughter to mourning and our Joy to grief.   Because the process of turning from sin and repenting can often leave us feeling like we don’t deserve the love of God because it causes us to deeply reflect on our own sinfulness and failings. But we are not the ones who determine whether we, or anyone else for that matter, is acceptable in God’s sight – He is.

Believers are humbled by the gospel message and realize that God accepts us not for our own sake but for the sake of Jesus his son.  Jesus, who in every sense of the word knew what it meant to submit to God and be humble before God.  As Paul says in Philippians, Jesus, Who, being in very nature[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness.And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

When God looks at us, this is what he sees!  This is the submission and humility he sees – that of our Savior Jesus.  Of course, this is not an excuse to go on sinning, as though it didn’t matter!  Rather it’s that we recognize that not even the sin of murder, abortion, slander, lust, lying, covetous, or pride can overshadow what Christ has done for us.

CONCLUSION
There is no reason then to bury guilt, to hide our sin – there is no reason to act as a judge over ourselves, to look inward and focus on every way that we’ve failed.  Rather, right along with St. James, look to the Lord and see that he has sought you out with the Gospel, to comfort you. And that he accepts you for the sake of Jesus.  So, submit to the Lord, resist the devils lies, and humble yourself before the Lord, because he receives sinners.  Amen.

 

Be a Peacemaker

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18th Sunday after Pentecost
James 3:13-18

Upset equilibrium:

James was not there the day that the disciples quarreled and argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest.  He wasn’t there that day to hear Jesus step in as peace maker and say, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

The author of our epistle reading for today was not one of the 12.  The James who wrote the words of this letter was James, the son of Joseph, that is Jesus half-brother.  He identifies himself as James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Although he was not an active follower of Jesus during the three years of Jesus’ ministry.  It was only later, after Jesus death and resurrection, when Jesus appeared to many that he became a servant of the Gospel in the manner of St. Paul.

Now while he was not there on that particular day, I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t present on different occasion.  A time early on in his brother’s ministry where there were huge crowds gathered around to hear the message of this new Rabbi Jesus.  I wonder if he wasn’t there to hear his half-brother’s words when he preached the sermon on the mount.  Because the words of James epistle, that I just read, bear some striking similarities to great to ignore.

In that sermon from the hillside Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

I wonder if James wasn’t there to hear those words, of his half-brother who claimed to be the Christ, the messiah the savior of Israel.  I wonder if they didn’t strike him as they must have struck many Jewish people who heard them that day. I wonder if these words of Jesus were a reason for James NOT to follow Jesus.  Meek? No, I am a Jew and proud of it!  Merciful? Jesus you want me to be merciful to others who don’t deserve my mercy!  These Romans and their governors and their legions have brought untold pain on our country and to our people! Pure in heart?  The only thing that is pure in my heart is my desire to get rid of these invaders!  A peacemaker?  I want peace through strength! I will only have peace when the romans are gone.  You claim to be the messiah, Jesus?  Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do?    I am none of those things!  Nor do I want to be!  I want to be the master of my own destiny!  I want to be empowered to live the life I want to live to do the things I want to do.

Those feelings would have been common to any Jewish person living under roman rule.  They saw the Romans as dogs to be driven away from where they were not wanted.  This was certainly common to the disciples, who argued amongst themselves as to who would be greatest in the “New Kingdom of Jerusalem,” on earth!

But for James, these words must have resonated in his mind, in order for him to eventually write, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

It must have taken some serious soul searching to be able to write that.  It must have taken a change of heart that only the Savior, his half brother Jesus could have brought about in him.  Beacause James is no mere moralizer, telling everyone how they should live.  It’s evident from his words that he has thought deeply about the human condition, the natural inclination of the heart – because they were the natural inclinations of his own heart!

Expose the problem:

This is what James is talking about when he says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”  People are no different now than they were back then.

We realize with James that the conventional wisdom of the world says that it isn’t wise to be a peace maker.  Conflict is profitable and empowering.  Will not selfish ambition and jealousy reap tangible rewards? Isn’t this how we get ahead in life?  Isn’t this how we make a buck? Isn’t this how I improve myself? Today we hear these words thrown around like empowerment – becoming stronger in one’s own right, claiming your rights, being the master of your own destiny.  Who doesn’t want to hear that?  Who doesn’t want to be empowered to do the things they want to do to be the person that they want to be.  This is attractive to us.  By all that we can see and touch in the world around us this is indeed wisdom!  The obvious problem is that this love of self, selfish ambition or envy, is an ingrown love.  It’s one that only ever points inward.  And like an ingrown nail, in the end it becomes destructive and painful.

As James says, 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”   For example, world of business or the world of politics is dog eat dog.  A peace maker in the world of politics?  No way!  It’s a realm fueled by envy and selfish ambition.  Where the mentality is to turn the opponent into nothing more than a face and a name?  Because it’s far too difficult to humanize your enemy. Is this one where a Christian feels comfortable?  A brother of mine in the ministry said this the other day, “Your soul is not healthy if your politics don’t allow you to feel empathy for your opponent!”  Because, at the end of the day the opponent, “the enemy” is a real person just like we are.  A person who has a family, and interests, hobbies, cares and worries.  A person who has a heart, and a soul, someone who draws breath just like us.

And most importantly, a person that God loves!  They are not just a face and a name or a caricature to be made fun of or attacked.  They are a person who God has called us to make peace with, just as he has made peace with us.

As I said before, James is no mere moralizer commanding the way that people live.  He is not advocating for a virtuous lifestyle for the sake of virtue alone!  He is saying look at who my brother was!  Look at what he came to do!  Look how he made peace with me – a man who thought he was crazy for saying he was the messiah, the savior of Israel.

GOSPEL

James, the servant of his brother and his Lord Jesus, wants believers to emulate our savior, because his love was anything but self-centered or ingrown! He was the polar opposite of selfishness, or enviousness.  He had the wisdom from heaven because he was from heaven!  Truly the love of Jesus was – first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 

Even so much so that he, one so selfless identified with the selfish as he hung with two thieves on the cross.  Jesus who lacked envy of any kind, died for envious.  He took on himself the punishment for our own ingrown love, selfish pride, vain ambition and hatred of our enemies.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us!  He took those sins of Jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition and nailed it to the cross with him.

And in so doing, Jesus made peace with us.  We who are by nature his enemies, and hostile to him.  Jesus made peace between a holy, just and righteous God and sinners like you and me.  As Isaiah says, the punishment that brought us peace was on him!  Christ is the ultimate peace maker.

 

Anticipate consequences:

And so this has a profound effect on who we are in this world.  It effects how believers view the world and the people around them.  It affects how we act and think about who we are in life.  As James says in the first verse for today.   Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. The wise and understanding person that James is talking about is one who sees what their savior Jesus has done for them.  That just as he saw that our greatest need was him, the only way we would have peace is through him. Christians have been called to be sowers of peace – not to convert people to our political views whether republican or democrat or green party or socialist or whatever – but to see that their highest and greatest need – the only way that they will really have peace, is through seeing the peace that their savior Jesus bought them – the peace of sins forgiven the peace in the hope of heaven.

There is a prayer in the front of our hymnal that sums all this up nicely – that peace makers who sow in peace will reap a harvest of righteousness.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  Be a peacemaker. Amen.

Lie: Life Should be Easy

10th Sunday after Pentecost
James 1:2-4

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus who bore His cross to rescue and save each one of us, dear friends in Christ, All I have to do is push one button on my smart phone and I can instantly call any phone number I want, I can read a text message and have it sent to anyone, I can tell it to navigate me to anywhere in the United States and within milliseconds have the fastest route there. It can look up any information that I want it to. I can go home and have fresh coffee made within minutes, I can warm up any leftovers within seconds in my microwave. I can flip a little switch and instantly have light in my house. More and more it becomes a bit uncomfortable for us to be out of cell phone range, to have the battery in our electronic gadget die, or to lose electricity for hours or days (as some of you did this past week). We live in a world where trillions of dollars and countless hours are spent in finding ways to make life easy. But there’s a caution. We can become so accustomed to an easy life that we begin to feel that life should be easy. Do you think that?

Or, perhaps you’re looking at this lie that, “Life should be easy,” and you’re thinking to yourself, “Now this one, I surely don’t believe. I know that life isn’t easy, trust me. I have many personal reminders of the difficulties and sinfulness of life. All I have to do is watch the evening news and see the problems and difficulties in the world. All I have to do is look at my yard that perhaps is covered with trees that were knocked down or damage or debris. Or, I’ve lost a loved one, I’ve endured sickness, I’ve experienced the stress and frustration at work, I’ve experienced marriage difficulties or tried to parent my children – believe me, I know how difficult life is, I know that life isn’t easy.”

But consider this, even though we know we have difficulties and should expect them, do we want our life to be easy? Do we want things to just work out for us? Part of falling into the trap of this lie is when we see other people who seem to have better lives than we do. Maybe a friend tells you about their wonderful family or a coworker fills you in on all the intricate details of their incredible vacation or your neighbor tells you about his perfect job. Or maybe you begin to think that everyone else seems to have it put together, “why does this always have to happen to me!” No one else has marriage problems like I do, no one else seems to experience the parenting struggles like I do, no one else is as stressed as I am, no one else seems to have as bad of money problems as I have. Other people are smarter, skinnier, have more money, a better spouse, a better job than me. Maybe once I retire I can finally live life like those people, once I get that new job I’ll finally have an easy life like those people, once my children are grown up I can finally enjoy life again. So, while we might say that we know that our life is not going to be easy, is an easy life something that we strive for or live in envy of? Or maybe we’re just plain tired of dealing with all our problems and just wat a break, we just want an easy life. We think, “Life should be easy.”

The effect of believing the lie that life should be easy is bitterness, resentment and envy. Think about it, what are we really saying to God when we’re not content with what He’s given to us and want more to be like someone else? What are we saying to God when we’re envious, resentful of others, and harbor bitterness maybe toward God or to other people for the difficulties that we’ve been through, that we’ve suffered, that we’ve had to endure which seem far worse in comparison to other people. Aren’t we really saying, “Life should be easy”? And perhaps the worst effect of believing this lie is that although we know in our heads that God is loving, powerful, and wise, in our words and actions to we give the impression that God isn’t loving or he wouldn’t have allowed this to happen, that God isn’t wise, otherwise he would have done things this way, or not powerful , otherwise he would have prevented this horrible thing from happening.

Our text this morning is a difficult pill to swallow. God is essentially saying that we should rejoice when problems and trials come into our lives. How in the world is that possible? That’s about the last thing we want to do. Typically we think it’s good if we just deal with the problems we face, let alone rejoice in them! The only way that we can rejoice even in the midst of difficulties and hardships is taking the promises of God that we know in our heads and driving them down into our hearts so that God’s promises have an effect on both on our emotions and our faith.

The writer James addresses this book to “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations.” So, he’s really writing this letter to Christian Jews scattered all over the place, they weren’t living in Jerusalem any more. That gives this letter somewhat of a unique characteristic. He’s not addressing Christians in a certain city with certain struggles, but he’s addressing Christians in general with general truths from God. And one of the things that he takes for granted is that the Christians will experience trials and difficulties. And that’s no surprise. Jesus told us, “If anyone wants to come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” And in the book of Acts the apostles said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

So, the truth is not “life should be easy” but really the truth is “life should be difficult” – that’s what we should expect. We should expect a world full of disease and death, stress and money problems, terrorism, persecution, crime, hate. Not only in world but also in our lives. Notice what our text says, we will face “trials of many kinds.” We will face general difficulties in life, but even more, we’ll face trouble because of the fact that we’re Christian. Notice what the first lesson said, “In fact everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So God promises that we will experience problems and difficulties and trials in life.

But along with the promise of problems, God promises something else- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” In other words, God’s promise is that the trials we face are for our good. They make us stronger, they cause us to persevere. God’s promise is that He actually does work all things out for our good. A classic example of someone who experienced many trials was Joseph. He was sold into slavery in a foreign country, then thrown into prison, then was forgotten about in prison. There was plenty of opportunities for Joseph to become bitter, angry, resentful and envious or he could choose to trust God and serve God even in the midst of the difficulties.

Problems will come, but God has promised to make them work for our good- so when problems come, “Consider it pure joy.” It’s one thing to deal with problems, it’s another thing to be joyful about it. How can we find joy when we face sickness, when our car breaks down, when work or family problems increase? Most of us have a hard enough time to just deal with the difficult things of life let along “consider it pure joy.”

God wants us to have ultimate joy but in order for us to have ultimate joy the reality is, we must have pain. Think about Jesus. Why did He have to go to the cross? If God loved His own Son so much, why would He send him there? Jesus went through pain and torment far more than we could ever imagine on that cross- both physical and spiritual as God punished him for our sins. Why so? “For the joy set before him he endured the cross scorning its shame.” So that we could be with God permanently. Yes, we have pain and difficulty and it may be hard for us to think that things could be worse, but they could have been. We could be going from pain here to ultimate pain and suffering in hell, but God spared us from that! Instead of God directing his wrath and anger for sin at us, He directed all of it at His own Son on the cross.

So, that means that when we’re experiencing problems or difficulties in life we know they are for our good. When you suffer you KNOW that God is not punishing you for something that you did, because he already punished Jesus for your sins. So there must be another purpose for our suffering. What does God say? The “testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  You are being made “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God doesn’t send pain in anger, but in love making sure that He doesn’t lose you for eternity.

So, all that’s left is rejoicing – even and especially in suffering. That doesn’t mean that we have to jump up and down when we get sick or lose our job, but it does mean that we can rejoice that we have a God who doesn’t just want us to have a comfortable life here, but an eternity of comfort with him. We can rejoice that God loves us like a father enough to discipline us to make us stronger in our faith. We can rejoice that God has the power to even use the sinful things of this world for our good. We can rejoice that God has the wisdom that He can even turn our own mistakes into a way to help us and maybe even others. We can rejoice when we face problems because it’s a reminder that this world isn’t our home.  True rest, true joy, true happiness for our souls is found only in Jesus, not in our outward circumstances.

There’s a neat illustration about two trees. One tree was out in the middle of a field and the other tree was growing right next to stream. Through dry spells and droughts the tree in the middle of field had to struggle to get water it had to put its roots down and deep to find water through difficult seasons. The tree by the stream, however, had it really easy, had a constant supply of water didn’t have to struggle much. But then a storm came – like the storm we had this past week- and the tree in the middle of the field that struggled through dry spells and droughts withstood the strong winds because it had deep roots. But the tree that had it easy by the stream was uprooted by the wind.

No, life should not be easy, life is difficult, God’s promised that. But God also has promised to use every difficulty and trial for our good, to strengthen our faith and drive us closer to Him for He is our God who is all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving and with him as our God we can be content and even consider it pure joy when we face many kinds of trials. Amen.

Persevere with Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Day
James 5:1-11

This is the day the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it!  In the name of Jesus, the most important gift to be thankful for, dear friends in Christ, being thankful is a good thing.  December 7, 2001, just before my 17th birthday, I can’t remember being more thankful in my life up until that day.  On that day I made the biggest purchase of my life up to that point.  I had worked long and hard and saved and saved so I could get it.  On that day I bought my first car, a pick up truck, a 1995 Dodge Dakota slt with the off-road package and only 195,000 miles on it.  It was great.  I remember driving it home and parking it in my parents garage and just spending hours looking it over.  I was very thankful.  But then a few months down the road I replaced a thermostat, a water pump, a radiator, a fuel pump, a catalytic convertor, but hey it was still my truck.  But after a couple years, the tie rod ends were bad, the ball joints were bad, the suspension was bad, and, the rust started settling it, and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get rid of that rust!  So about 3 and half years after I bought it, I traded it in for something else.  What happened to that thing that was so, so, precious, that I dreamt about, and I was so, so thankful for?  That happens to us, doesn’t it?  We can be so thankful at one point, so thankful for something in our life, but then the problems come, the disappointments come, and our entire attitude can change.

The word of God we’re meditating on this Thanksgiving morning is from James chapter 5.  James, who was likely the half-brother of the Lord himself, wrote to early Christians who were in a situation that would have made it difficult for them to be thankful.  Yes, they knew the Lord, yes, they knew they were heading to heaven, but the meantime was difficult.  Particularly because some of them were being mistreated by some wealthy unbelieving people.  Apparently, these wealthy unbelievers would deny their Christian workers their honest pay and live in luxury while others struggled for the basic necessities of life and as wealth often does, it gave them power, so they could win their case in court and even have innocent people executed.  So, James has some sharp words for these unbelieving rich people: (read 1st part)

Now, remember James is speaking about unbelieving rich people.  People who are unbelievers even though they are rich are ripe for God’s judgment.  In selfishness they have fattened themselves with earthly stuff like cows who continue to eat even on the day they are slaughtered.  And yet it’s also important for us to remember that it isn’t a sin for a Christian to be rich, likewise it is not a virtue to be poor.  In His wisdom God has determined to give people unequal amounts of wealth and goods.  Some have more, some have less, that’s just the way it is.  And we often have our own conceptions about who is rich and who isn’t.  Perhaps we think someone with millions or billions of dollars is rich.  Yet, someone from the jungle of Africa would look at every person here and say, “You are all incredibly, extraordinarily rich!”

And there are temptations for both.  James’ point in speaking such strong words against these unbelieving rich people was also a warning those Christians who are rich.  Literally, the end of verse 5 says, “You have fattened your hearts.”  That’s where the problem is.  The temptation for the rich is to trust in their wealth, to find their security in life in their riches, to treasure the gifts and forget about the Giver.  And as James points out, and as I found out with my treasured truck, earthly stuff has a way of falling apart, of rusting, corroding, becoming moth-eaten and in the end all of this earthly stuff is just food for the flames on the Last Day.

And yet there are just as many temptations for the poor person too, just like there were temptations for me when my treasured truck started having all kinds of problems.  I’m sure some of the Christians to whom James wrote were envying the riches, the wealth, the earthly stuff of their unbelieving oppressors.  “If only I had money, I would do all this good stuff.”  “If only I had money, then I could really show them who’s boss.”  Or there’s the temptation to complain or grumble when things aren’t working out the way we want.  So, James also wrote to encourage the believers: (read 2nd part)

So what does God tell us today about being thankful this thanksgiving day?  How can we remain thankful whether we have more than enough to know what to do with or we’re barely scraping by?  How can we remain thankful whether we just bought a new car or are car is having problem after problem?  How can we remain thankful whether everything is going well or we’re experiencing hardship and difficulty?

The Lord puts all of our stuff into its proper perspective.  Yes, He’s given us stuff to enjoy here on this earth, but one day all the stuff we own will perish in the flames when Jesus returns on the Last Day.  So, we don’t get lost in it.  The be all and end all of our existence isn’t in stuff.  We don’t complain or grumble when we miss that black Friday special, we aren’t envious or greedy because someone else has more stuff than we have, we don’t gripe or grumble when life isn’t easy, God is in control and Jesus will one day return.

Secondly, we realize we have everything to be thankful for this Thanksgiving day and always.  Whether we have a lot or a little, whether life is easy or life is difficult, whether someone is mistreating us or not, whether our car is breaking down or not.  Why?  Because “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.  In His compassion and mercy he rescued you from sin with his blood on the cross and because of that you are eternally rich.  Think on that this Thanksgiving day and you’ll see you have every reason to keep thanking the Lord again and again and again no matter what!  Amen.