Faith Work Out: "Knowing My Place" – James 4:11-17

One of the things that my father wanted to make sure I understood was my place in the working world. One of the jobs I had in my early years was in the labor pool at Mobil Oil’s refinery, then in Paulsboro, New Jersey. The job was exactly what it sounded like…labor. I have to admit that I was very tired by the end of the day, but it was GOOD TIRED. The second summer I worked there I was assigned to my father’s section. Though he was an electrician, he was upgraded to a “boss” and I was one of a few dozen men assigned to do his bidding. Working for dad was not as challenging as I thought it would be, because I understood what he wanted. Some of the bosses I had were not communicators. They knew how to do the work, they just didn’t explain the job very well. My father made sure that I learned early who to address with questions, and who to stand silent before when receiving the work for the day. It was important for me to remember the vast responsibilities of some of the men, and not pick away at small issues when they were facing real problems that needed their leadership energy. I needed to know my place. My issues weren’t the most important ones the man in charge was dealing with, and that was important for me to consider.

In recent generations American education has focused on building up the self-image of students. They have been encouraged to think for themselves, and to see themselves as capable. Some in scholastic circles pressed the case that a healthy self-image was essential to a healthy citizenry. In most ways, the theory has proven to be somewhat helpful – as students can dream bigger and engage hard tasks more adeptly if they don’t defeat themselves before they try. At the same time, it has fed something within the national ego that has reminded us of the battle of deep pride in self within fallen men. It has made the American student consistently rank highest in self-image while sinking in other scores. It has covered over a pride that manifests itself in arrogance of speech and the clear certainty of the uncertain. For many of us, we have come to expect things to be as we plan them, as if we can control wind, sea, weather and outcome. We have become quite excellent judges of one another. All of it shows a heart problem within. All of it echoes a heart filled with its own song of praise.

In the early church, such arrogance already showed itself. Believers are not exempt from the arrogance. In fact, because they have tasted the goodness of God, they may be tempted to think His goodness had something to do with the object of His affection. They may have actually begun to believe that God saved them because of something about them – and they would, of course, have been dead wrong. As they grew in their faith, some would have learned the truth and believed it – while others would have politely kept their judgmental spirit under wraps. Under pressure, sometimes we say the thing we would not say had the day been a bit lighter.

Key Principle: Our mouths sometimes betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that demonstrate we do not truly know our place.

In effect, James argued that the early believers were being UPPITY. They didn’t seem to “know their place” in God or in the world. I suspect James would say similar things about modern believers if he were writing today. Some of truly think we are able to mock others because we are better than they are, and many of us speak of our plans ahead as though we are in control of the days ahead – and neither are true and both reflect an arrogant heart. James is on target with another precision strike against the tongue. Take a look at the end of James 4:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

An overview of James 4 uncovers the notion that people were walking in pride and self-willed pursuits of business, fighting in the flesh with one another! God longed for them to come to Him humbly and tearfully! The chapter can easily be divided into three parts:

• Understanding the source of our striving – pride and self-centered will; These impulses lead us to heartache! (1-6)
• Calling out believers to come close to God in humility; He will bring victory! (7-10)
• Using the mouth as a demonstration of God’s truth in both relationships of the spiritual family and plans for the future; knowing my place before God and others! (11-17)

It is the last one that we will look at today. James demonstrated in two ways that believers quickly forget their place…

The first way our mouths show we have placed ourselves too highly is the way we speak of PEOPLE.

I am going to be very deliberate in taking apart of each of the verses in this text, because they are being used almost daily in our day in a way that misrepresents the author’s intent. In fact, whenever we are in a debate of right and wrong in America today, someone naively whips out these verses, or some popular paraphrase of them to suggest that Christianity only speaks in tolerance terminology, and real Christians make no value judgments about right and wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that ISN’T what the passage truly teaches. James wrote to early believers in Jesus – so the language is intended to be by believers and to believers. The term “brothers” or “brethren” here refers to brothers in Christ, not primarily to physical family members.

When we mock our brother, we show the arrogant thinking of self-importance.

The instruction is as follows:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. (katalaléō from katá, “down, according to,” intensifying laléō, “to prattle on” – properly, speak down to in a hostile, deriding way; to mock (revile), detracting from someone’s reputation by “malice of speech directed against one’s neightbor” in order to defame or slander.

The issue is NOT one that blocks people from having honest disagreements – The issue is intended to remind us that mocking and malicious words are out of bounds. Disagreements about ideas close to us may bruise our ego, but that is not the same as mocking. Polite but firm disagreement may be necessary, and that is NOT UNCHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR.

The issue is NOT about the world – Again we recognize the issue is between believers. We may critique actions and words, but we must keep the discussion both civil and kind. How we say what we say is terribly important.

The text continues. James 4:11b: “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother…

What does that truly mean, to “speak against” a brother? Properly “he who mocks or derides his brother” or “he who separates out his brother for condemnation before others”…The term judgment or “krino” is used in two ways:

• J. Thayer comments that “the proper meaning of krínō is to pick out (choose) by separating” and refers to making a determination of innocence or guilt, especially on an official (legal) standard.

• The term is used in contemporary literature for “bringing to trial” (the trying of fact) in a court of law. (The problem is that it implies a superior position of authority of the person bringing the defendant).

James was concerned that believers were disagreeing in unbiblical ways. Unfortunately the quote gets lifted out of context to suggest that we cannot be both CRITICAL and CHRISTIAN.

Here is the problem- Our culture has accepted two huge lies… The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle or choices, you must be living in fear of them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do – or that what they do makes no difference to you. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. Real caring feels pain from another’s bad choices. The uncaring don’t care what you do, because they don’t really care about you.

Sometimes we are accused of arrogance when the issue is Biblical, not personal judgment – and that isn’t a fair analysis. There are two totally different standards in God’s Word on judgment – one for the believer about the believer, and one for the believer about the unbeliever.

These get blended and confused, but must be kept distinct when studying God’s Word. When a believer is thinking about the actions and ideas of another believer, there is considerable tolerance that must be employed, and there must always be politeness and civility in our tone – especially when we disagree. There is no other choice. We can disagree wholeheartedly, but speak tenderly. We can stand powerfully opposed, but speak thoughtfully.

Let us say it clearly: A brother can disagree with another brother – but they are in no place to condemn them – only the ideas they espouse or deeds they do.

A brother can determine the path of another to be unbiblical as judged by the Scriptures, but they cannot stand as the ultimate judge over another’s heart or destiny – for they do not see the whole picture. God looks at the heart; He alone knows the motives and recognizes the reasoning within. Let’s say I have a friend who is pro-choice. They are a believer, but they are wrong about this issue. I am not unsure about God’s view on caring for the unborn, but they don’t agree. I am to be respectful, not strident and uncaring. Loving words will do more than rebukes. If I am not their Pastor, I need to even MORE careful about my approach, because I have no spiritual charge over them before the Lord.

The case of the believer’s treatment of the unbeliever is somewhat different according to the Word and here is where young believers, in particular, get into confusion. A Christian is STILL (and always) to be kind and respectful in our deportment (speaking the truth in love), but we need not be so uncertain about the position we take on ultimate issues before an unbelieving world. If an unbeliever challenges our right to “judge them” just because they have chosen to publicly hate Jesus and the Gospel, we have recourse – turn them back to the Word. We do not judge, God does. At the same time, when God has been clear, we should not be unclear. We are NOT being judgmental when we declare the LOST as being LOST – we are called to do that!

The point is that you can be both Christian and critical of actions and ideas. You cannot truly be Christian and sit as mocker or judge over another’s eternal destiny unless the Bible itself already CLEARLY does that for you.

I don’t need to hem and haw about the eternal destiny of some people in an effort not to be a judge of an unbeliever. The Bible is clear: if you die rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior, there will be no other chance in the future to turn things around in the afterlife… “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment” the Scripture teaches. The conditions of the gift of God for eternal life are carefully marked out in Scripture.

The matter gets even worse when we encounter in Scripture that some lifestyle choices are choices of NON-BELIEVERS – no matter if the person SAYS they know Jesus or not – so says the Scripture.

• 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

• Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

How does this work exactly? We know the Bible believer does not take those verses to suggest that stealing keeps a person from Heaven, or that coveting another somehow “slams the door shut” on future eternal bliss. Some of those listed works of the flesh are part of the ongoing battle with the flesh that we face as believers – so how can they block one from Heaven? That’s a fair question! The issue of both these passages is this: real believers DON’T find living in A LIFESTYLE of opposition to God’s Word comfortable – and if someone IS comfortable in these practices – living as though they make no difference to God – they ARE NOT to be considered a real believer, no matter what decision they think they made at some emotional moment in the past. Real believers know that God is unhappy with things that violate Scripture, and they are actively seeking the Spirit’s work in them to be freed from these practices. I don’t have any magic glasses to know who is IN or who is OUT, but I do have the command to consider people comfortably rooted in those activities as unsaved. It is God’s job to decide who is in and who is not – it is my job to place boundaries around my participation with them as a brother or sister.

The Bible clearly says that people who live comfortably in violation of the Scriptures and argue for the right to do so are probably not believers at all – no matter whether they were raised in church and know all the “God words” or not. We are not being judgmental when we deem them outside the Kingdom, we are being Biblical. We can’t know if they are or aren’t one of the Lord’s people – because they are acting badly.

• Parents aren’t wrong for limiting access of some other young people in your life, teenager, if they deem them harmful to your moral growth. That isn’t intolerant – it is responsible parenting.

• Churches aren’t being mean when people who want to continue in a pattern of sinful practices feel uncomfortable in the pew – unless they are treating people with disrespect in the way they are sharing truth. It isn’t our job to raise your self-image at the expense of your obedience. We can be nice about making the standard clear, but we don’t get to make the standards – that is God’s job. Ours is to pronounce them with a broken heart to those who forsake God.

Here is our problem today: People will drift out of a Christian family or Bible teaching church (or both) because they are in conflict with Biblical morality. Maybe they want to live with someone outside of wedlock, or abuse a substance that causes the family or church to get involved and attempt to redirect their behavior, and they resent that as an intrusion. They don’t want the constraints and they walk away. Soon after, they go shopping for affirmation and acceptance. They may find a church without Biblical standards, or perhaps find themselves surrounded by some of the most “forgiving and accepting” people in the world – others who are continuing to make life choices contrary to God’s Word. Because their new friends don’t want to be judged, they don’t judge others. They don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable so our wanderer then begins to feel as though THAT is real righteous behavior – and their parents or their church were just JUDGMENTAL people.

Our prodigal finds others who have equally misshapen values and begin to rail against God’s standards as MEAN and unnecessarily restrictive. They see Biblical Christians as judges and godless pagans as good people. They have made the whole transformation into the darkened logic of the fallen world, and they feel empowered and licensed to do so. Wrong is now right and right is now wrong. They become incensed when those harsh and judgmental Christians try to uphold truth and see them as somehow more hypocritical than all others – even when those followers of Christ espouse truth that has been a part of their faith since the first century. Any attempt to say any behavior is wrong, brings out deep anger and stirred hateful speech in their mouths. The difference now is they think they are actually right for being verbally hateful and defending tolerance by their intolerance toward Christian thinking. They will bully believers and call it forbearance – when it is nothing of the kind.

Remember: Our passage is not about unbelievers, only how we handle one another in the kingdom of God. In that regard, let’s be careful. We need to be careful about thinking it is our job to pronounce judgment on people and NEVER mock them. There are times that leaders were called on to “mark out” an individual to the community – Paul did it and it was the right thing to do. Yet, our propensity to judge can also be a sign of our arrogance inside – and that is the tragedy of it. We may not see all there is to see in regard to the person in question.

Remember that in human laws, there is little or no separation between the person and their actions. In our faith, because we are all guilty of holy infraction – there is. We can be utterly against one’s idea (because we believe it to be morally wrong or Biblically flawed) but absolutely for them (because they are another person for whom our Savior died). Ours is a people centered faith. It was PEOPLE Jesus came to save – not just a vague morality or judicial right. He loves people, and He is the judge – how can I not love people and make myself out to be a judge?

When we mock our brother, we display that we don’t know our true place in God’s Kingdom.

We are acting like we are better than our brother, or have more authority over him… James continues with a complicated sentence structure. James 4:11b “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother… speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

The complication of the end of this sentence sounds like legal jargon! When we draw a brother into the sights of our condemnation, we are playing a role we were not given. The police officer is not the judge and the messenger is not the Master. If we place ourselves in the position of ultimate judge over a brother, we are taking a place above the law as a final arbiter of it – and not a fellow citizen bound by it. There is POWER in the place of judgment that we do not possess, because we have not been granted it. We do NOT decide the value of one Scriptural rule over another – that is above our station as a spiritual citizen of the Kingdom. That is the work of the Judge above all of us. We must know our place and live within it in our relationships with our brothers.

When we mock our brother, we show that we think our faith is about US, and not about our Master.

James goes on (James 4:12) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

God gave the Law and God judges man – because He is in the position to do so – we are not. He can create and He can destroy and I have neither power. I am not above my brother, I am one of the flock created by and for God –and judged by God. I must demote myself in my heart before I speak about a brother – careful to critique only action while ever being gracious to his person.

Our mouths can so easily betray a heart that is not right. We can so quickly take on a role in the lives of others that neither God nor they have offered to us. Because we are Facebook friends, does that mean I have earned the right to speak about everything they post? Probably not.

The second way we place ourselves too highly is seen in the way we speak about our PLANS.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Again there is sufficient reason to be careful with this simple teaching, since we can take what James is saying in a completely WRONG WAY. It is not wrong to PLAN for the FUTURE. There are dozens of Proverbs that urge planning ahead. Here are just a few:

• “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” (Proverbs 4:26).
• “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
• “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5).

James 4:15 clarifies the issue before us. The issue is PRESUMPTION not PLANNING. The objective of the passage is not just to get us to say “Lord willing” in our mouths, but to believe it in our hearts.

James was concerned about their presumptive living, and I believe he would be SHOCKED at ours. We don’t even HIDE our presumption involved in much of our lives. We have come to believe, not only that things WILL work, but that things SHOULD work out well for us. We seem DERAILED by sickness and setbacks – as though God was somehow not doing His job, because life was supposed to go well for me!

In Catholicism there is a “sin of presumption” that is sometimes explained as deciding to sin because one can always go to confession and receive a remedy. In Protestant circles, our way of living presumptuously is probably easier explained as the mistaken sense that we were made for peace and prosperity – and all that hinders this is somehow wrong. That isn’t really true when you take into account that we live in a fallen world, surrounded by a groaning creation that longs for ultimate redemption.

James 2:16 calls living with such presumption “BOASTING” – because we do not demonstrate in our thinking that we are ever subject to God’s plan. The Proverb writer says: “The mind of the man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps.” At the center of surrender is the notion that “He is in control, and I am not!” Living as a believer that is in control of his own life and destiny is not living as a believer at all. It is a hard lesson to learn and learn and learn – but He is God and any attempt I make to seize the throne of my life is met with failures that grow from my arrogant heart. Maybe an illustration will help…

Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for deer hunting. They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six big bucks. The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up. They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six deer. But the pilot objected and he said, “The plane can only take four of your deer; you will have to leave two behind.” They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard. The plane was the same model and capacity. Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted them to put all six aboard. But when the attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and they crashed into the wilderness. Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, “Do you know where we are?” “I think so,” replied the other hunter. “This is just about the same place where we crashed last year.” As a man I recognize that there are times in my life where I have had a hard time learning from my mistakes. Too often as men we are rely on our own strength and our self dependence gets us in trouble. (sermon central illustrations).

Our mouths betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that show we do not truly know our place.

Strength for the Journey: "Designer Travel" – Numbers 2

In all of my travels I have learned a few very important tips. I know where to shop in Paris when my luggage gets lost. I know where to get leaves from old C16th books in Istanbul. I know where the best sunset view is on Mykonos in the Greek Islands. One of the most important tips is this: Never use new or beautiful luggage on an overseas trek – it is sure to be abducted, lost or damaged. Occasionally I see people with brand new and very expensive designer luggage on the journey. I wonder if they have any idea how that nice piece of personal expression is about to get beaten up.

Today’s lesson is about God’s design for a society that is about to go on a journey – a nation on the road. Their nation was one that wanted to walk with Him – at least in its leadership. Though we don’t live in such a nation, we once did, and the desire to spread His Word and teach it to our citizenry marked a high point in our progress and expansion of the nation. It may be possible that we will have such a privilege again – we pray for such a thing. At the same time, we will always need to understand what God thought was most important to organizing a nation that would walk with Him – and that is one of the purposes of the Book of Numbers.

If you are an organizer, if you love the “container store”, this book is for you. If you find yourself frequently making lists, enjoying filing or organizing closets – this is your stop in the Bible. It is a book about God’s prescribed organization for the journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Amid the biographies and stories of the journey, this book gives a peek at the priorities of God, through His organization. Look in the cabinets of a friend’s kitchen and their organization will clue you in to what they like to cook, and what they eat. Look into the Book of Numbers and you will see what God’s priorities for the nation to move forward were, and how believers were to organize the daunting journey ahead.

Don’t forget this critical connection point: You are also undertaking a journey from redemption to Promised Land – and your journey is through the harsh desert of life. There are friends and companions for this journey. There are oases of refreshment, and palms of joy to hide under for a season. At the same time – the environment is increasingly HOSTILE to the child of God. As the temperature rises and evil men dominate, a plan for movement through this plain will become more and more essential. Around what priorities did God shape the believers long ago as they faced the journey ahead? Here is our story…

Key Principle: God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education).

In our first lesson from Numbers, we saw that preparation for any serious journey had to be undertaken with care and forethought. What should be packed? What is essential for safety? There is more to it than just a few band aids and a water bottle. The journey for the believer from the point of God’s rescue from darkness to the Promised Land will require a careful plan, meticulously executed.

• They heard God and knew it was essential to take HIS WORD on the journey.
• God told them to build the TEAM – for the journey cannot be taken alone.
• He instructed them to be prepared for a FIGHT – the journey would include battles.
• They were commanded to search diligently for current and future LEADERS from their ranks.
• They recognized, early on, the need to carefully OBEY God’s commands –not just discuss and learn them.
• And finally, they were to keep the WORSHIP OF GOD close to every step – journeying with the heart monitored.

A step closer to leaving Sinai, both the CIVIL leader (Moses) and the SACRED leader (Aaron) were called upon by God and told to order how the believers were physically arranged in their society.

• Numbers 2:1 makes the point that a proper society that honors God is led by men and women that HEAR from God. They are NOT embarrassed to say they know Him, nor are they embarrassed to suggest that He is knowable and speaking. We need leaders who will give us more than the “touchy feely” Hallmark card God – we need them to direct us to a God who SEES and REQUIRES things of us.

• The same verse makes another point –community leaders should not hesitate to stand on God’s priorities and call on people to follow them. We need bold leaders that are unapologetic about their core values – not timid leaders who choose right and wrong by the popular polls. Evil will get more brazen as time moves forward – but we cannot be bullied into backing away from truth. The most serious compromises happen when people represent something and then fold under pressure.

We saw it recently with a fast food chain. In July, Chick-fil-A came under fire when its president, Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press:

We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives.”

Almost immediately came an unbelievable bullying by the “tolerance world”. Mayors weighed in and said they would deny the franchise a right to have a site in their city. In a quiet way the government message to businesses with Biblical views was unmistakable: “Open your mouth about your views in the public sector and we will punish you for your position.”

An openly rude and crude display flared across America. People formed protests that destroyed property and impeded business in thousands of restaurants. Christians rallied on Facebook and came back with a purchasing spree. Chickens across the country wept as sales skyrocketed. Finally, the company decided to pull its support from organizations that support a Biblical family agenda, and the company apologized in its new statement on “Who we are”, suggesting they wanted to stay away from any “social policy debates” in the future. Analysts say the company’s chances at expansion were curtailed by their public perception, making it sound as though they changed course for the sake of bottom line growth. Many supportive Christians were hurt, and felt betrayed.

Let me ask a question: “What was the agenda that they were supporting?” What is the Biblical view of family that was so threatening to modern Americans? Why was their support desired, and what was its importance. Do we really lose anything important when we sit quietly and fail to engage in prayer as the redefining of the family by bullies takes place? We lose a basic structure of blessing for our children. Let me explain by continuing to look at Numbers 2…

God wanted to underscore the importance of identity by FAMILY (2:1-2a; 3-31).

God identified people and their place according to their family. If you read much of Numbers 2, this is unmistakable:

Numbers 2:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households…

• 2:3 “Now those who camp on the east side toward the sunrise shall be of the standard of the camp of Judah, … 5 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Issachar… 7 “Then comes the tribe of Zebulun, … 9 … They shall set out first.

• 2:10 “On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben … 12 … next to him shall be the tribe of Simeon, …14 “Then comes the tribe of Gad…16 … And they shall set out second.

• 2:18 “On the west side shall be the standard of the camp of Ephraim …20 “Next to him shall be the tribe of Manasseh, … 22 “Then comes the tribe of Benjamin, … 24 … And they shall set out third.

• 2:25 “On the north side shall be the standard of the camp of Dan … 27 “Those who camp next to him shall be the tribe of Asher, … 29 “Then comes the tribe of Naphtali, … 31 …They shall set out last by their standards.”

When God was preparing to move the people toward their destination in the Promised Land, he helped them to understand their IDENTITY. This is a key to understanding the Biblical importance of the FAMILY.

When you take into account that the core laws of the so called “Ten Commandments” (in Exodus 20) deal first with the relationship of a man or woman with God (in the first four commands) and next their relationship with one another (in the last six commands), it is striking that the opening command of relationships is found verse 12: “Honor your father and mother …” Before God addressed how to treat people, He addressed the family.

God began relationship law with the family because He created the family as the basic building block of a society. The health and progress of any society is contingent on the success of its family units. The enemy has declared war on it, because the defeat of the family unit, or the convoluting of its components is key to swaying people quickly and violently away from all things of God. It is a true statement, the old adage: “A family can survive without a nation, but a nation cannot survive without the family.”

God’s Word made this clear through the Apostle Paul’s writings to Timothy of the “last days”: “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents …” (2 Timothy 3:2). I remember as a youth thinking that seemed out of place in the list. It seemed minor to me then, because I did not understand the bigger issue: Kill the family and you will kill the nation. You will tear down each person’s foundational identity. Natural bonding processes will break down. Mothers will no longer see the nurturing and protection of their children as their highest goal. Fathers will no longer see the blessings that come from remaining in difficult places and pressing through with God’s promises to victory. Children will grow up angry and unattached to their parents, uninformed in morality, and uninterested in God.

It is worth pointing out that Moses was used of God to simply offer: “Honor your father and mothernot honor your “baby daddy” and your “Monday momma”. The complications to modern life that have been caused by the casual commitment to marriage and the social policy of open divorce for $99 have left our country spiritually impoverished. Connect the dots. No clear understanding of “father and mother” and you will have no clear understanding of self.

The movement to “redefine” marriage and family is endorsed by Washington, but led by media. The call to normalization of homosexuality is not for the purpose of growing a tolerant nation that truly desires to follow a moral path – it is for the removal of boundaries that will take us to head-spinning and degraded positions as quickly as “open divorce” led us to where we are in my lifetime. This is not simply an issue of politics – it is at the heart of God’s agenda.

People will say to you: “If two people are in love in a committed relationship, why shouldn’t they marry?” Here is the bottom line to our view: Homosexuality is outside of God’s order for life, and that pattern is clearly and unmistakably pronounced in His Holy Word, the Bible. God is not “anti-gay,” He is “anti-sin” – and sin is defined by HIS VIEW of what HE DESIGNED and for WHAT PURPOSE He designed it – plain and simple.

One Pastor suggested: “The next time someone calls you “homophobic” for your position, call “Bibliophobic” for theirs.” Our position has been around since the Bible itself. Sharing our view were kings and former Presidents for generations and millennia. We didn’t make up biology, nor did we write the Bible. Lest you be tricked, Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6 are painfully clear about God’s use of sexuality and His definition of right and wrong.

God’s explanation for the acceptance of the gay lifestyle is that men and women wanted to overwrite His rules on use of their bodies and He let them. He “turned them over” to their shameful desires. His order for the family is ever to be a man and woman, covenanted together before Him as husband and wife. The modern culture can mock this narrative, they can denigrate the place of both a man and a woman in the child’s formation – but they cannot replace the biological necessity that is so terribly obvious. In sex, a man and woman are both essential to the product. Biblically stated, in child-rearing – the same is true. Children need men and women in their formation. They need the commitment to one another through hard things that a marriage should demonstrate. Without it, they will lack something that will take deliberate replacement. I am not arguing that they will be ruined – I am arguing that doing it differently will take specific and targeted effort to make up for the lack of what was intended. It will be harder to raise them well, and easier for the system to fail.

I am deeply thankful to the Lord for the committed Christian couples who have clung to Jesus and each other through the storms of life. I believe wholeheartedly that their commitment and sacrifice to remain faithful will have an impact for generations to come. Make no mistake – God’s intent for the journey of the Christian life was to begin with those who saw the necessity of organizing around the FAMILY UNIT.

What if I came to Christ from a really messed up family? Good question. First, let me say this: “Join the club.” There are many in the family of God like you. Second, let me urge you this way: “How you came in is NOT your responsibility, but how YOU CHOOSE to behave in light of God’s commitment to the design of the family IS your responsibility.”

We must see the importance of what is being re-written in our time. God organized through the family and there are spiritual lessons that can be most easily be understood when we have the stability of a God-fearing family around us. The move forward was organized around the family in Numbers 2, and it is in our churches as well.

• Be the man or woman of God that will pay any price to take care of your parents, your spouse and your children.
• Don’t pawn off the moral education of your children to a state provided agency.
• Don’t take the easy way out when your marriage gets in rough waters. Generations from now, your descendants will be glad you stuck with it.

God wanted the whole society to recognize the central place of WORSHIP:

A second basic lesson of Numbers 2 can be found in the place of WORSHIP in the community. Again, our world is answering the generations that founded churches with a harsh voice. Remember this: the hospitals of our country were begun by believers to help people. The educational institutions of our country were begun to help people know Christ and His Word. The original charities of the country were designed by men and women with a heart for God. These facts of history are not being taught, but they haven’t vanished. They are facts of our country’s formation. WORSHIP OF GOD was at the center of our nation’s founding.

The cornerstone of the Capitol building was laid by President George Washington in 1793 but Congress moved into the building in by November of 1800. Congressional records on December 4, 1800, show that Congress approved the use of the US Capitol building as a church building. When you hear in school that someone says: “The Founding Fathers believed in separation of church and state”, tell them the phrase came from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to a church group two days after he again attended church at the Capitol listening to his friend, Rev. John Leland, on January 3, 1802. James Madison attended church in the Capitol as well. In fact, from Jefferson through Abraham Lincoln, many presidents attended church at the Capitol; and it was common practice for Members of Congress to attend those services. For a time the US Marine Corps Band participated in the early Capitol church services. The rostrum of the “Speaker of the House” was used as a preacher’s pulpit; and Congress purchased the hymnals used in the services. Don’t get DUPED by the re-telling of our history. Our Founding Fathers believed that there was NO CONNECTION between the use of public buildings and the establishment clause of the Constitution. You would be hard pressed to find any teacher that acknowledges what is still a matter of public record in the Congress. Once we were a nation that was unembarrassed to call ourselves Christian, and put the worship of the Living God at our center.

Go back and look at two places where you can see this truth in God’s Word:

• Worship was to be the focal point of all the nation (2:2b).

2:2b “… they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance.

• Worship was to be chiefly protected by the nation (2:17).

2:17 “Then the tent of meeting shall set out with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; just as they camp, so they shall set out, every man in his place by their standards.

If I were the enemy, I would attack the family – and I would attack the notion that WORSHIP was anything more than a scam of religious sounding hucksters trying to get your wallet in their offering plate.

The purpose of our worship is for a believer to glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and meet God in a way that is pleasing to Him. It is the shrinking of self before the greatness of God. Because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6,10) – and because the process of worship calls on man to “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up“, the center of worship cannot be filled a stubborn, willful, self-reliant follower – God will back away from such a place.

What pushed God from the center of America is what pushes God from the center of my life – the notion that He is a luxury and not the very air I breathe, the very food I eat. Ironically, prosperity was part of God’s blessing, but also part of our societal departure from the God that blessed us. When we see God as non-essential to our survival, we have enthroned ourselves. We have embraced our own image. We have bowed to our own self will to determine our future and our choices. We have believed a lie –we can provide for ourselves a great future based on our own ingenuity – but we cannot. The dark nature within each of us will eventually twist every step forward to an entitlement to feed the fleshly and base desires. In a short span of years we will warrant one lust after the other. Eventually we will exhaust our resources on self-oriented “rights bound” thinking – pushing responsibility on others while indulging self. Man cannot sit on the throne of his own life and not end up self-consumed. It is only a matter of time.

Much mystery in the modern church has been placed on the idea of WORSHIP. It is probably worth recalling what worship IS, and how the Bible frames the subject.

Worship is NOT teaching the Bible, though that can be part of it. Worship is NOT singing, though music can be a vehicle to help it be accomplished. It is NOT giving money in an offering plate, though that can be an act out of a heart that is worshiping.

Our most simple definition of worship is the “Recognition of God’s place in our lives and our celebration of that place.” Let me offer a well-known example from the life of Isaiah:

Isaiah 6:1 “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!

A quick skipping of the stones across the top of the pond of this passage offers the simple outline:

1. Worship begins with seeing the person of the Lord – exalted and enthroned (6:1). He is high above.
2. Worship focuses me on the place of the Lord – in His holiness and elevation of God (6:2-4). He is not like me.
3. Worship tunes me in to the power of the Lord – enveloping not only Heaven – but earth! (6:3b). He is at work in the here and now.
4. Worship forces me to move my eyes from the perfection of God to the perverseness of self – the stains of my heart and life (6:5). I am a sinner.
5. Worship reminds me that purification from God is available. He alone can cleanse, and I can be made whole by Him! (6:6-7). He will wash my sin away when I ask Him to do it.
6. Worship pulls my heart to listen to the plan of God – His voice is speaking (6:8a).
7. Worship, real worship, is met by my opening of the will to follow the purposes of God in my life when His appearance has faded into memory (6:8b).

Remember, our Master told the woman at the well that God loves worship. John 4:23-24, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Jesus reminded her that worship is PRESCRIBED – not anyway we want, but “in spirit and in truth”. His followers can worship God only in the ways He deems acceptable to Him.

• Worshiping in “spirit” means that there is HEART involved. It is not sterile and cerebral. We worship on the inside, where our breath and our spirit live. It is not simply an external issue – it comes from authentic surrender and celebration within.

• Worshiping in “truth” means that there is CONTENT involved. It is not all emotional and spontaneous. We worship from the inside OUT, but it has expression from propositional truth. We don’t just FEEL IT, we LEARN IT. We grow in it. We understand God and life better because we grow in His truth.

God built into the camp a DISCIPLESHIP STRATEGY (2:32-34):

He designed the camp to have those who were trained to know and follow God most closely spread out among the people:

Numbers 2: 32 These are the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households; the total of the numbered men of the camps by their armies, 603,550. 33 The Levites, however, were not numbered among the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 34 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so they camped by their standards, and so they set out, every one by his family according to his father’s household.

Levites were not given a single area to live in the camp – they were to spread out. In the land later, they were commanded to “spread out” and live in every area of the land. They could not follow God and end up in one “holy huddle”.

We have to remember that following God in Israel was still a minority affair.

• Extract from Christendom the indwelling of God’s Spirit.
• Now take away the Word of God – all the Bibles that we have in our homes – both real believers and people who drop by every Christmas and Easter to say they are Christian.
• Now take away the hymnal and common culture of the Bible statements that float around the internet and Walmart sale calendars.

One of the great ironies of the Bible is the name LEVI is the word “ATTACHED”. When he was born, his mother Leah was trying to get Jacob to LOVE HER, and thought mistakenly that having his babies would attach the man to her. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. She called him “attached” as a statement of HOPE – but it didn’t work.

Interestingly, the sons of Levi were to “attach” themselves to people all over the land, and work to continually “attach” the people to God. It was the work of the Levitical line, and especially those from the lines of priests, to intercede for the people, to encourage a walk with God among the people, to show the people they were God’s special inheritance.

One of the great privileges we have as believers today is to represent God to people in our lives, and help them find Him. We are signs that point to Him; we are representatives of what a walk with Him will do in a surrendered life. It is the reason our TESTIMONY is such an issue. Our generation’s path back to God largely depends in the human frame on our clarity of lifestyle and commitment to common mission. Ours is a great privilege – to open the door to people beaten down by sinful lifestyles and unattached cold selfishness – and expose them to connection, love, acceptance by God and joy with one another.

We must be grown to full strength, that we can spread out and stand for God in our offices, our communities, our families. They may not know it, but they NEED us – because they NEED GOD. Remember, we will never reach the world in a church service – we will only get ready to do the heavy lifting it will take in the training and worship involved in such a service. The field is outside the door – and we are called and commanded to get out there and do the work of connection between God and man. It is not just a responsibility – it is a great privilege!

God organized the nation around three critical priorities: identity and strength of family, centrality of worship and necessity of training (education). We would be wise to try, as much as is within our power, to do the same.

Faith Work Out: "Life Sifted" – James 4:1-10

I began telling my students this week something that brought up a strong feeling from my past – so I have to cleanse my soul of a bit of bad feeling… You see, I don’t really like camels all that much. It isn’t that I haven’t tried, I have spent significant amounts of time in the heat, traipsing through the southern deserts of Israel, and the eastern deserts of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula. I just don’t like them that much. I can’t say that I enjoy their smell very much, and their temperament is worse than their smell!

We had a camel when the children were younger – his name was Fred. He lived beside the Wilderness Tabernacle, and his job was giving rides to the tourists. It wasn’t much of a life, but Fred didn’t seem to mind. Fred was simple – and he lived life with simple objectives. You know, camels will eat virtually anything – right down to the leather straps of your sandals if you leave them outside the tent – ask me, I know! They aren’t fussy about food. With three stomachs, they can digest anything by sheer endurance of acids – if they don’t get it on the first one, they will on the next two! Fred had a particularly bad habit when it came to his drinking… Fred loved beer. He would sing, he would bellow, and I believe he would tap dance for a beer. There was something about the taste of beer that evidently reminded him of digestive juices. That alone should put you off of the taste! As much as I tried to tell him about his weight gain and heightened cholesterol, he liked dark beer – the kind that really packs on the pounds. So it was that Fred lived life going around a circle with tourist on his back, and waiting for the sun to go down and Abdullah to bring the feed bag, and on some nights of the week, a few beers. That was his life. Sunrise, sunset…sunrise, sunset.

Fred was separated from a herd because he didn’t play well, or should I say “work well” with others. Camel caravans have a specific pecking order, and camels know where they “line up” in that order. They know which camel they are stronger than, and which camel has greater power than they do. If a camel driver mistakenly puts them in the wrong order on the line – it will not take five minutes on the trail before the caravan is disrupted and the problem is addressed. Camels want their place in line – and they won’t tolerate not getting what they want.

While I understand that may be the life of a working camel in Judea, what truly saddens me is when I see Fred’s life played out in some of the PEOPLE. They live life, one day at a time, between work, a little relaxation, and an occasional refreshment. They don’t seem to have much more going on, and when I ask them about goals, they seem to think that a new car or a new TV is the high water mark for the coming year. I get sad around people that remind me of Fred.

You know the type. They don’t dream about much more than the next thing they want to buy, eat, consume or enjoy. They are in a world filled with needs, but they seem to feel they didn’t get a fair share, so they are exempt from caring about other people’s issues too much. Their relationships are poisoned with problems, strife and anger. Life around them is both simple and tumultuous – dull and disturbing. They don’t seem to have enough and they sometimes get mad about those who seem to have more. They have in their wake damaged people and relationships – but they don’t really focus on that much, since they can’t figure out why life has treated them the way it has. That condition would be fine, but far too many of them call themselves, Sunday after Sunday – Christians. They are an awkward combination of eternal hope and temporal dissatisfaction. They know they will be in Heaven, but live like God isn’t very kind of good or very good at management when it comes to life on earth. Their goals seem mostly about THIS WORLD, their theology about THE NEXT. They are often filled with worry, yet sing “Trust and Obey”. They are unhappy now, but speak lofty words about “the sweet by and by”. They look forward to an eternity with the very ones they can’t seem to get along with in this life! Sadly, stirred up and troubled believers have always been a part of the church. James dealt with them all the way back in the first century.

Key Principle: There is a conflict resolution toolbox provided to believers, but resolution requires knowing how to use the tools inside.

He asked some of them to reflect on why they were constantly so stirred up, and that opens our passage for this lesson in James 4:1-10.

James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

There is a reason believers fight with one another.

“Why are believers fighting?” That seems like a fair opening question. James is quick to supply the God-given answer. The primary source of interpersonal conflicts between believers is selfish and sensual desires that have been strengthened in the sin strongholds within the hearts of believers.

James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels (from pelomai: to bustle– battle, fight, war.) and conflicts (from machai: strife, contention; quarrel) among you? Is not the source your pleasures (hedones: pleasures of a sensual nature) that wage war (strateúomai – properly, to contend, fighting like a soldier in war; from stratos: a army encampment) in your members (melos: a bodily organ, limb, member within)?

If you peel the answer James offered by the prompting of the Spirit, it comes down to this: Struggles happen between us because of the struggle that goes on INSIDE of each of us. There is not supposed to be any “i” in the spelling of “we”, yet in the concept of relationships it is unavoidable – there ARE at least two individuals there. Each is fighting a war within – between our old man (who was positionally removed – crucified at our salvation), and the tentacles of his remaining control that still haunt us (practically). It should become clear to us that peace will come between us only when we submit to the Spirit’s work of dominating the old man’s voice inside us.

When struggles, contentions and strife are evident among believers, we can put a stop to them. God has provided in the Scripture a tool box of specially made gear to fix what’s broke. I want to painfully clear on each point – because time spent here will save time in the battle zone:

• First, when troubles arise, we must identify those involved in the struggle. We dare not include more than need be involved – for the troubles spread as more are brought into the issue. Remember the rule: If they are not part of the problem when you find it, and they cannot bring about a solution – they should not be included in the issue. If you are talking to people about things they have no business knowing – you are the source of more strife – even if you don’t see it. Even if they promise not to tell anyone, and not to let it bother them. You are feeding the ego as one “in the know” and they are feeding theirs as well. Egos don’t need feeding, they need quelling. The Spirit is at work to quell the very thing you are busy building in both you and the hearer. Remember: gossip fans the flame of discord, just at the time when we most need it to calm. Identify the parties and keep the circle closed – as much as possible.

• Second, when the parties are identified, each must be carefully encouraged to look within BEFORE trying to solve problems WITHOUT. James 4:1 is clear that is, at the very least, part of the source of the trouble. One party or both of the contentious ones are reacting rather than responding. Let’s be clear: reactions are about PROTECTION of self, responses are about HONEST ASSISTANCE to another. When I react – it is because you hit a nerve that I feel I must instinctively cover that nerve to protect myself from further disruption. When I respond, I think about how what I am going to say will HELP you, without being caustic to you. Even parents struggle to do this well. If our adult children say something unwise, we must consider carefully our response to them, and not react because we took personally their foolishness. Response is about the other person and real help. Each party must be honest and quietly evaluate inside their role in the strife. Remember that we will need to apply intense prayer to introspection – because we are not simply wrestling against FLESHH, but against those that want to see the flesh win in the spiritual world.

• Third, in our self evaluation, we must be willing to identify the encampments we have constructed within, and what improper pleasures they are nurturing. Look for the things that have dominated your mind… the things that keep popping up. If you keep replaying something in your heart, it is probably the key to the stronghold you are protecting. Inside the strong place you are protecting a lie.

Let me give you an example: John and Sue were really at odds. For months, they were both working on the outreach project, but there was always tension. Each had friends that subconsciously “sided” with them – and each had “opposition” – though it was never spoken out loud. The other night the whole thing blew up at a committee meeting. They exchanged words and their faces clearly showed they were really disgusted with one another. The committee chair wanted to keep peace and move ahead, but this wasn’t going away without some kind of intervention and resolution.

If it follows the pattern of most conflicts, when you address John or Sue – both believe the other person is at fault. A certain number of Christians on the committee are willing to deny that they think the dissention is even a problem – because they are peace keepers and don’t want a problem to exist. Denial is never a good strategy in conflict – it often emboldens the strife stirrers. If real intervention is to be successful, the leader must prayerfully and carefully get each of them to do a careful self examination. They must understand why they are reacting the way they are. Very likely EACH are partly responsible, and neither are fully mature. Mature people resolve conflict, immature live in conflict. They haven’t the will, or they haven’t the tools to defeat it.

Light must be shined exposing the lies within – like one that is harboring fugitive thoughts that must be found and confined. What do I GET from this struggle? What energy am I adding to my life through the ANGER underlying it, and why do I want that in my life? At the heart level, we must recognize that there is an inner yearning of an unbridled lust or feeling that keeps leading to painful disharmony and disputes. Each of the parties must honestly evaluate: “Am I harboring ungodly and selfish desires that are driving the conflict with another?”

Notice that in handling our conflict resolution with James 4:1 in mind – most was handled by each party dealing with themselves. If this can be done effectively, each will take responsibility for their part, and most of the strife will ease without interaction between them. This isn’t all there is to resolving the conflicts –but it is the largest part. When I understand and confess my role in strife – I react less to another and things settle down in my heart. When my heart is calm within – tensions drop on the outside.

There is a reason some of us are at the source of the conflicts.

The strongholds were formed by a believer allowing his or her focus to remain intensely and increasingly on jealous yearnings while they observed what other brothers and sisters had been given by the Master.

2 You lust (epí, “focused on” intensifying thymós, “passionate desire”) – properly, to show focused passion as it aptly builds on (Gk epi, “upon”) what a person truly yearns for) and do not have (echete: to possess); so you commit murder (phoneuo: kill). You are envious (dzaylo:become jealous or hunger over) and cannot obtain (or acquire); so you fight (machesthe as in v. 1) and quarrel (polemeite as in verse 1).

Before even investigating how the sin camps take up position in our minds, it is necessary to connect the notion of envy and murder. Jesus said the command “Thou shalt not kill” was intended to be something much greater than what it presents on the face of the command. He said:

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you are thrown into prison. 26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

The issue was that Jesus saw contemporary Jews as limiting the Scriptures to their WORDS and not their broader PRINCIPLES. He argued:

1) It is about a PRINCIPLE. The law forbade murder, making it punishable (21) but the restriction was actually intended to make men aware of their responsibility to maintain and grow relationships (22).

2) It is about a PRIORITY. The relationships were so important to God, that He would prefer right relationships over Temple presentations (23-24).

3) It is about PEACE. Reconciliation should be very important to a believer, making every effort to contain the problem and resolve it before it grows to a larger court of judgment (25-26).

James defined the violation of the MURDER statute in the same way as his Master did – to divide, denigrate or demean another was a form of killing. Proper relationships are a key to reflecting godliness, and are part of the standards of obedience. We are SUPPOSED to care about the feelings of others, and about the welfare of others.

James 4:2 makes the case that once it is clear I am in the struggle with fellow believer, I need to be willing to examine my heart for an encampment or stronghold of desire that I have allowed to build there. I must identify any area that may have become a camp of selfish longing. What is the heart of this conflict for me? Is it an unbridled mind? I should be able, with the help of the Spirit’s conviction, to recognize that ambition for what it is – an enticement that has become so dear that I am willing to sacrifice a good relationship with others for it.

Most often, the desires of our hearts are NATURAL and INBORN. It is a work of the enemy to torque those desires and warp them into something fallen and base. For instance, a desire for companionship is natural, but a desire to hold someone back from growth that would move them from a close place to us is warped. In another case, a hunger for physical intimacy is natural and God-given, with the purpose of sharing life with another. When the enemy grabs that hunger and warps it, the expressions of intimacy become SELFISH and SELF GRATIFYING – no longer about relationship but rather about entertainment. The issue is not the original root need, but the replacement of the original God-given purpose of that need with a self-focus that changes the essential nature of the responses to the need.

When I take the throne of my life, my needs become the most essential thing. All else becomes less significant. I no longer truly see the needs of others- except through my own cravings. In time, I will no longer even truly distinguish between needs and desires – all hungers must be equally met for my impatient sense of happiness. In this state I will allow any feeling of lack to dominate my mind, and grow into an insatiable hunger – becoming greater than its natural place of importance in life. My will to resist any tug toward pleasure is substantially weakened. With each passing day, the need dominates more of my thinking – for sin is a seed that is watered by the flesh and fed by the fallen world.

As I think more about the need – It grows in strength. As I nurture it, the lack grows and becomes a powerful stronghold of the mind. I begin to judge others through the window of a darkened mind, and any who challenge my imbalance are judged harshly and found wanting. From this self-dominated mind I argue and complain, because others seem to be in the way of my satisfaction. If they experience some good, I experience misery and jealousy. If they experience some misfortune, I find myself less and less caring – for the troubles are their problem. This is the life of self, and it never gets enough to be truly happy. It cannot be reformed…like a cancer it must be scraped away and thoroughly removed by a skillful surgeon. Fortunately for me, such a Healer stands ready in the person of my Savior.

There is a reason some of us don’t seem to be heard by God.

We want things for the wrong reason. Though the inflicted believer hungers for what they do not have, they don’t ask God, Even if they did, they would not get their desire, for the whole focus is on something they will consume on selfish desires.

2b “…You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

They left purity for personal indulgence. They have left their cause to join the enemy, reveling in self-filled moments on earth in exchange for eternal honor to their Father in Heaven.

4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We act like our problem is a mystery. The burning desire should not have taken them by surprise – because God warned us concerning this in the past.

5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?

This verse is tough to discern from a scholarly standpoint, and there is much disagreement about its intention.

• First, we are not certain what scripture James references – though there are many opinions in various sources. Among them, some have suggested places like Genesis 6:5 : “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

• Second, we must look without further word from James as to his point, for he moves on to another quote that is known immediately after, but does not follow the same line of thinking.

Though we may not know what the specific reference, however, the truth that in our fallen state man is prone to envy, is clear in the Word. Consider the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 4:4, “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” Proverbs 14:30, “envy is the rottenness of the bones” and Proverbs 27:4, “who is able to stand before envy?” offer a tone from wisdom literature. There is, Biblically speaking, a strong pull in the fallen heart to yearn with envy. Such yearning exists as to draw from deep within a hatred of the prosperity of others, and a burning jealousy of their fortunes that we may even feel entitled to ridicule, or even worse – to take it from them if such an advantage should arise.

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

The proud resists God; in his understanding he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the laws of God; in his passions he resists the providence of God; and therefore no wonder that God sets himself against the proud. Let proud spirits hear this and tremble-God resists them. Who can describe the wretched state of those who make God their enemy? He will certainly fill with same (sooner or later) the faces of such as have filled their hearts with pride. We should therefore resist pride in our hearts, if we would not have God to resist us. 2. The honour and help God gives to the humble. Grace, as opposed to disgrace, is honour; this God gives to the humble; and, where God gives grace to be humble, there he will give all other graces, and, as in the beginning of this sixth verse, he will give more grace. Wherever God gives true grace, he will give more; for to him that hath, and useth what he hath aright, more shall be given. He will especially give more grace to the humble, because they see their need of it, will pray for it and be thankful for it; and such shall have it. For this reason,

There is a path back to peace.

How can I gain God’s grace in the face of my inclination to rebel? How can I experience the GRACE of God and the PEACE of God in the world of struggles and contentions?

1. Take second place.

Place myself – my desires, my yearnings, my hungers – beneath in importance the pleasing of my Heavenly Father. The term “submit” is hupotasso – to place beneath. Some translators say “in God’s arrangement” which is the SAME as saying: “I am second, He is first”.

James 4:7 “Submit therefore to God…

2. Take your stand.

The idea of resist is found in the Greek word “anthístēmi” (from antí: opposed or against” and hístēmi, “to stand”) – properly, take a complete stand against. Do not be surprised if each time you back away from truth and God’s way in your life, the enemy gains strength over you.

James 4:7b “…Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

3. Take hold of Him.

The term “draw near” is from the word “eggízō” (from eggýs: “near”) – it is properly, has drawn close (come near). In the fourteen times it is used in the NT it expresses “extreme closeness, immediate imminence.

James 4:8 “…Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

4. Get cleaned up.

The term for “cleanse” is the one from which we get catharsis – the term “katharízō” – to make pure and clean by removing all filth. The last part of the verse communicates the same idea with “purify your hearts” – from ‘agnos; to make clean or sanctify (ceremonially or morally). There are two senses to this truth – an active one, where you are ridding yourself of impurity, and a passive one – where “He is faithful and just to cleanse us”. Not ot overthink the intent – it appears James is focusing on actively pursuing the former expecting God to do a work in the latter.

James 4:8b “…Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Don’t be so quick to point out that God alone can cleanse you – because it is often a subtle way of removing responsibility from changing our behavior. Grace is not a safe harbor for continual rebellion – it is the expression of God’s goodness in the life surrendered…the lavish gift after God is welcomed within. We have no right to ask God to pour out His grace where we intend to use it as a license to mutiny.

5. See clearly your heart.

James uses terms like “Be miserable” is talaipōréō –afflict yourself and show a wretched condition – like callouses or scars from sustained beating or wear (used only here in the NT) and “mourn” is penthéō (“the deep grief expressed over a death ” and “weep” is klaíō – cry aloud inconsolably. The second half of the verse expresses the same idea: Face how serious your deep allegiance is to the wrong world and wrong king!

James 4:9 “…Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”

You cannot help but hear the echo of Jesus’ voice in Matthew 5 as He first called out the desired heart of a disciple: Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

6. Don’t end looking in – move to looking UP!

The answer is NOT fully solved WITHIN – that is preparatory to bowing down and looking up to God. Real surrender is not just about getting off the throne of my life, it is about asking Him to be ON the throne of my life.

James 4:10 “…Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

There is a conflict resolution toolbox provided to believers, but resolution requires knowing how to use the tools inside. Even on days when things aren’t going well, you need to remember something else… It is true that we live today in conflicts – both within and between us. It is true that on many days recently it has appeared that evil in coming over the walls and we are under siege. In the short term, we may have set backs that are real and deep – but the longer view tells a different story:

Imagine a city under siege. The enemy that surrounds the city will not let anyone or anything leave. Supplies are running low, and the citizens are fearful. But in the dark of the night, a spy sneaks through the enemy lines. He has rushed to the city to tell the people that in another place the main enemy force has been defeated; the leaders have already surrendered. The people do not need to be afraid. It is only a matter of time until the besieging troops receive the news and lay down their weapons. Similarly, we may seem now to be surrounded by the forces of evil, disease, injustice, oppression, death. But the enemy has actually been defeated at Calvary. Things are not the way they seem to be. It is only a matter of time until it becomes clear to all that the battle is really over. – Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, pp. 149-150.

Strength for the Journey: "A Full Pack" – Numbers 1

Years ago I served in Israel with a great teacher of the land of the Bible, Dr. Jim Fleming. He was a mentor to me in many ways, and continues to be a friend to this day. I met Jim when I was a student in Jerusalem, and he was looking for some help in the study center he built inside Damascus Gate. Those were great years of learning for me, and I had one of the best in the field as my teacher. He used to give lectures to groups in our classroom, and I would set it up, clean it up, and prepare for the next group. As a bonus, I got to listen to the whole repertoire of his teaching over those years.

To one small group, in particular, Jim lectured about the monasteries of the Judean wilderness. He included historic overviews of the monastic movements – both Jewish and Christian, and archaeological details about places the students were going to visit on their field study with him the next day. I was fascinated. Some of the group asked questions about distances in miles of one place to another, and neither Jim nor I understood what they were really saying. You see, they were planning, a few of them, a hike in the desert. They wanted to see some of the sites not included in their field study, and they thought by knowing the mileage from one place to another they could get a sense of the time it would take for the hike. They were terribly WRONG about that assumption.

The wilderness is a perilous place, and the ravines formed by fissures in the earth and later erosion make passage through the desert hazardous – even before you factor in the intense heat and fracturing geology. A few miles can take a day if the terrain is tough enough. Because of a faulty assumption, our little group left for a hike without sleeping bags, sufficient water for a two day journey, and food. What looked like a simple few miles on a map was actually a two day trek that was arduous and dangerous. In the end, the Israeli army had to assist them back to civilization because they were not adequately prepared.

I mention this story because I am meeting many believers that don’t seem to really recognize the journey that they are on, and the perils of that journey. They don’t work diligently at preparation for the journey ahead, because they somehow think it will be easier that it is. A good beginning point to look at this truth is the opening chapter of Numbers, and its key principle.

Key Principle: To get from slavery to the land of promise, we need to heed God’s careful direction about what will be required for the journey.

Believers are on a journey. They were slaves to sin and darkness, but they have been set free. We LOVE that truth and are encouraged to celebrate it when we walk like we are still enslaved. At the same time, we need to recognize that the journey from slavery to the land of promise passes THROUGH the desert of pain, heat, attack and uncertainty that we call our present life. It isn’t all heavy and hard – there will be dancing and singing. At the same time, we are mistaken if we believe the deliverance from slavery has placed us ALREADY in the place of peace. It has not. Life is hard, and the atmosphere around us is not always encouraging to bolster us in a peaceful walk. God is journeying with us, but His purpose is for us to learn of Him during the journey, and follow Him in confidence regardless of the circumstances.

What should I take on the journey? How do I know which way to go? Am I to “go it alone” or lock arms with others? All this and much more has been instructed in the visual model provided through our “older brother” Israel, and their journey. God has provided in snapshots from his past, six requirements to pack for the journey – because all six will be essential to safe arrival in the Promised Land.

Six Essentials to Pack for the Trip

1: Don’t forget your Bible.

Our journey begins with God’s Word defining the priorities and parameters of everything we need to be concerned about (Numbers 1:1).

Numbers 1:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,

A month had passed since the Tabernacle was set up, and God again spoke to Moses – that is the beginning of the journey from Sinai. The The beginnings of the CIVIL CODE of the Law were given. Exodus 20-23 were etched out and in the box. For those who wonder why Leviticus is placed in our modern Bible after Exodus – it is because that CRIMINAL CODE or “Atonement Law” was also given largely at Sinai. Interjecting the book of the priests after the dedication of the Tabernacle in the end of Exodus makes sense. In Numbers 1-10, the preparation to leave Sinai got underway.

The people of God were not ready to successfully navigate the harsh desert with the simple message of salvation in the Passover – they needed more guidance on walking together. They needed God’s Word on how to LIVE, not just how they were RESCUED. It is often the temptation of those with evangelistic hearts to try to push very quickly to get people sharing their faith, and that is a proper and good focus. At the same time, we must train them on how to walk in a dangerous world. God kept them idle and away from the world for a time to transmit and get them familiar with His words about WALKING.

I have often noted that the Bible contains in about 15% a message on “How to find God”. The balance of its pages are about “How to follow God”. I find it interesting that a conscious and encouraged shift in a fifty year period on the Gospel and “getting people saved” has led the American church to a low point in moral standard of living among believers. More people claim Jesus as Savior that are walking in open opposition to moral statements of Jesus than ever before. They may have satisfied themselves in the 15% of Scripture, but they are either unfamiliar (which is often the case) with the balance of the Word, or they live in defiance and rationalization of it. I still am constantly hearing arguments in the ranks about the value of knowing large portions of the Word of God. On a popular preacher’s website I can find a thousand sermons on the Romans Road to salvation, but a mere nine messages on Numbers 1, and NONE of them about the principles at the heart of the passage. How can this be?

We have been tricked into thinking that only a small portion of God’s truth is really essential. Remember, the Bible itself offers the answer:

When Paul told Timothy in 2 Tim 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” … he made it clear that the whole of Scripture was essential for the whole of equipping. Our enemy has so convinced the church of the non-essential nature of much of the text, they are wholly unfamiliar with parts of God’s essential training manual. The Word of God on HOW TO WALK is 85% of the book – and you will need a manual because desert animals are unfamiliar and desert landscape is treacherous.

If you are in a church that does not deliberately cover the whole of the Bible – if that is NOT its focus – choose a different church. From time to time people have said to me things like: “Why do you spend so much time in the ‘Old Testament’?” The very question presupposes that God is less at work in one part of His Word than the other. Does that sound like 2 Timothy 3 :16, which was written at a time when much of the Word was the “Old Testament”? You need God’s Word on the journey – keep it close and know it well. It will save your life. It will warn you of the dangers. It will comfort you in the blazing heat of the day and the cold nights of the desert. It will light your path in the dark and become your sword under attack.

2: Don’t go alone.

The journey to get to the Land of Promise requires a TEAM – it was not made to be an “individual” experience (Number 1:2).

Numbers 1:2 “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head

On the leadership level of Moses, I have in mind that he formed his team around the families, and didn’t walk back alone. At the same time, before we move into that idea, I think it is worth mentioning that God told Moses to pull the people into ranks by families, and by men that are ready to fight FOR their family. The work of God in history has often rested on the shoulders of men of character who were prepared to defend their family in the face of adversity – and it is still the call of God to His people.

We need men that understand the toughness of the journey, and have decided to go forward with God and their family. They are men who are willing to be counted on to DO the tough work of defense. Adam’s passivity killed the promise of godliness for many in the Garden. Abraham’s passivity drew the family into a raging conflict that is still wounding the planet. Lot’s passivity nearly ended his family line…

God has called on men to be GUARDIANS of the family. I suspect the passivity of men is not an occasional anomaly in Scripture – but rather stories of warning regarding a man’s natural temptation to be cared for, instead of showing active care. Scriptural warnings, found in the models of the men that failed to guard, must become a bugle call to men of our day to learn to reason – to think seriously about the issues we face. We must push our minds to grasp the issues and consider how best to defend our sons and our daughters from the immoral onslaught. We must see ourselves, with all our failings, as men that God can use – but only if we take up our posts. Your child’s teacher is NOT the one God gave primary responsibility to educate your child – you are. Your government is NOT the one God charged to care for the health, nutrition and safety of your child – you are. Programs can help – but YOU must be engaged or you will succumb to passivity.

Face the truth: the world is full of moral poison. Authorities in education, celebrities in entertainment, and pundits in politics have drifted from reason – their moral compass utterly askew. Real men will be more diligent in this generation to watch the attempts to spoil the innocence of their children than in days past. We will watch more closely than we do at the cheating of their family budget by erroneous billing. We must understand that the next generation of children is COUNTING ON the current generation of parents. The children aren’t conscious of it. They cannot verbalize the need – but it is a dire need nevertheless. Real men will step up and defend their families by walking with God and keeping a keen eye on the attempts to assault the values of our families. We cannot, we will not, we must not be passive.

We must teach our sons and daughters to live as the few, lovingly and compassionately but in an unyielding way to the will of the many. The broad way is not Jesus’ way – and it leads to a different place. The narrow way is not to be “narrow minded” by “narrow in moral judgment” because of their committed Biblical world view. We must recognize that peer pressure of our generation has now given way to an unending number of perverse groups that can woo the hearts of our children into darkness through the flat screen of world interface. The “net” is a place where just as many are being trapped and tangled in it, as are being connected and “networked” to good purpose. It is not an inherently evil place; it is the reflection of the world which is already a fallen place. We, therefore, fathers and husbands, mothers and wives – must become the diligent guardians of the next generation. It is our holy calling and God’s blessed trust placed in our hands. Don’t waste more time on self while your son and daughter slip away –pay attention to their spiritual, emotional and educational growth needs above your own hunger to have fun and enjoy life – and save our future nation one child at a time.

We do not neglect our children in passivity – we DESTROY THEM. We leave them in the cold before the hungry wolves and predators of moral thinking – and it is time we remember our commitment to defend our common future.

Ravi Zacharias put it well when he said, “In an attempt to be reasonable, man has become irrational. In an attempt to deify himself, he has defaced himself. In an attempt to be free, he has made himself a slave. And like Alexander the Great, he has conquered the world around him but has not yet conquered himself.” (Bible Illustrator #2139, 12/1997.1255). That is my generation, but it need not be the next one – of men will rise up and be counted to defend their children and their homes.

Moses was told to count heads of households, because they would face opposition. I want to ask you very pointedly:

• Can we count on you to stand by your spouse?
• Can we count on you to walk away from situations that would compromise your purity?
• Can we count on you to stand with the Gospel and lovingly take a stand when it counts at work?
• Can we count on you to show respect to those in authority, but reject any attempt to subvert the place of our faith in public life?

We need a team to move forward, and we are counting on men stepping up to lead.

3: Don’t go unarmed.

The journey will be a BATTLE, and preparation is essential (Numbers 1:3).

Numbers 1:3 “…from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.”

The term “tsva-ot” is the term for “hosts” or “armies”. We are foolish to think the enemy of God will give the people of God a free pass to get to the safety of the Promised Land. He will not. We will need to fight.

• We will need to be kind and compassionate, but pointed about attempts by our schools to wipe out the truth about the Christian past and influence on our Constitution and our key documents. We don’t need to be harsh or cynical – but rather “wise as serpent while harmless as doves.” That isn’t a suggestion – it is a command.

• We will need to be respectful and competent, but diligent to see the reading books that are being placed in the hands of our students. I have now confronted two teachers (both kindly, but directly) with the kinds of reading assignments students have been given in our own schools. Classics have been, on several occasions, replaced with trashy immoral products. Teachers, in an effort to engage marginal students, have introduced debased works, poorly written, and called it literature. Many are the good teachers – but smart are the inspecting parents. I am not knit picking – I am talking about serious moral darkness that came into homes of our children through assignments from school. Pay attention. Don’t wait until your child is walking away from truth. An educational system was founded in this country to bring young people to godliness. It is no longer focused in that way, and we must stand up when darkness parades as light.

The journey through the wilderness should NOT be taken on with the attitude that is will be a leisure stroll. It is a battle. Good people will be hit, and good families will be wounded. Know that God provided us with His Word and EACH OTHER – to walk in lines and stand at one another’s back.

4: Don’t go with your ears closed.

The journey will require LEADERSHIP (Numbers 1:4-16) – and leaders have to hear well.

Numbers 1:4 “With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5 “These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6 of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7 of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10 of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16 “These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.”

God instructed Moses to know the names of each ranking head. He would need that team for consultation, and for the execution of both civilian and military direction. God wanted Moses to mark well those that were the leadership net of the children of Israel. He was not to attempt to lead the people with only HIS VOICE. He was to circle about him others who were God-designated leaders. He would give special attention to developing THEM – and they would work with the people.

I had lunch the other day with a young missionary couple who were here from Central America waiting on VISA renewals. I questioned them about the work they were involved in – and many of you are familiar with it. They labored at a café, working to present Christ in what has turned out to be an effective ministry of both evangelism and discipleship. I asked them about what they learned. One of the key concepts they were experiencing was MULTIPLICATION. As they focused on building the ones that came to help and assist at the café, those workers became more productive in ministry. They were able to run the place more effectively, while discipling others to do even greater work.

Moses was supposed to do that very thing – because it is essential to progress in the extreme environment of the desert journey. I believe that developing leaders IS developing the future. We are making a mistake in any movement if we believe otherwise in my view. Jesus left no buildings in the wake of His earth walk – He left trained men. Paul left disciples and disciplers – from which we all came to Christ.

I remember when I was in high school wrestling. One of the exercises we used to train was a simple game. The wrestling mats has a circle in the middle, a bit more than a dzen feet across. In this game, you were to attempt to off balance your opponent and get some portion of his body to touch outside the circle. The exercise was an attempt to strengthen the team member to “stand his ground” when pushed. That is what leadership training must be. We are to deliberately identify future leaders and teach them that the enemy of their soul will work to push them off balance and step outside obedience to God. They must learn to stand – but not in their own strength. They must learn how to use the power and provision of God in practical ways. They must learn to lead others to do so.

5: Don’t go with only theory.

The journey will require OBEDIENCE to God’s commands – not just knowledge of them (Numbers 1:17-46).

The longest part of the chapter is given to the NUMBERS of each tribe – hence the English name of the Book. The Hebrew name is simply: “B’midbar” or “in the desert”. Look at the display of the 603,550 men that could string a bow to fight – twenty years and older.

Numbers 1:17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18 and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19 just as the LORD had commanded Moses. So he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.

1. 20-21 “…sons of Reuben … 46,500”.
2. 22-23 “…sons of Simeon … 59,300.”
3. 24-25 “…sons of Gad, 45,650.
4. 26-27 “…sons of Judah, 74,600.
5. 28-29 “…sons of Issachar, 54,400.
6. 30-31 “…sons of Zebulun, 57,400.
7. 32-33 “…sons of Joseph, namely by Ephraim, 40,500.
8. 34-35 “…sons of Manasseh, 32,200.
9. 36-37 “…sons of Benjamin, 35,400.
10. 38-39 “…sons of Dan, 62,700.
11. 40-41 “…sons of Asher, 41,500.
12. 42-43 “…sons of Naphtali, 53,400.

44 These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45 So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel, 46 even all the numbered men were 603,550.

Why was this account ordered to be taken and kept? The old commentator Matthew Henry offered some ideas that I refreshed to make simpler:

1. First, it helped to graphically illustrate the way God kept His promise to Abraham to multiply his seed abundantly. The promise was renewed to Jacob (Gen. 28:14) and the children of Israel could see that God kept His promise literally.

2. Second, Moses was a shepherd and he knew that shepherds always counted their flock before moving on – to see if any were missing.

3. Third, it was to mark out a difference between the Israelites and the mixed multitude that were among them. Scripture reminds: “The Lord knows those that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19), “He knows them by name” (cp. Phil, 4:3); but he will say to others, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”

4. Finally, it made easier the administration of justice and movement of a military force. Uncounted, it was more a rabble than an army.

Don’t lose the point in all the details. Moses was told to count, and Moses counted. God told him to do hard things, and he obeyed. The life of the believer is to be a life of obedience, not simple a self indulged life of theological theory. We are to KNOW what God has said, but we are to DO what God has instructed. Obedience is the hallmark of faith.

6: Don’t forget your heart matters.

The journey will require God-pleasing worship (Numbers 1:47-54).

Numbers 1:47 The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. 48 For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, 49 “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. 50 “But you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51 “So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. 52 “The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. 53 “But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54 Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the LORD had commanded Moses, so they did.

More than an army will be required – leadership in worship and growth in the Lord will also need to be organized and appointed. One group, a small one, will be tasked with overseeing the worship and intercession to keep the people on track. They will lead us in seeking God. They will prod us to hasten to obedience to His Word. They will draw from our hearts praise, and speak into our ears words of transformation. They are NOT for themselves, they are for God’s people and their growth. They have been given a great privilege – to serve the King by serving their brothers and sisters.

At the end of the day, we can learn God’s Word and keep God’s Word – but that will not be enough. We must be called to fall in love with God’s PERSON. We must be led to WORSHIP His majesty, celebrate His kindness, joy in His provision, trust in His protection. The best Bible teachers I know have no desire to be remembered as a teachers that led students to THEMSELVES – but as a vessel that pointed constantly and joyously to the Savior. It is the desire of such a heart to have those who join the journey do so longing not so much for the streets of gold and the echoes of grandma’s voice long gone – but to see the Savior’s eyes, and the Father who sits on the throne.

We do not simply walk this life to grit our teeth and wince at the pain of darkness. We walk this life through a desert awaiting time inside the walls of our King’s castle. It is not just the delight of comfort to come – it is the joy of His Presence that marks the mature believer’s anticipation!

We must see the journey ahead and take it seriously. To get from slavery to the land of promise, we need to heed God’s careful direction about what will be required for the journey.

There was a king who had all his world could afford. The thing he loved most, however, was to laugh. Once while being entertained a jester came along wishing to join in the festival of activities and also wishing to perform for him. His opportunity came and he put the best comical show together he had ever done and the king never laughed so hard. Once the activity was all over the king wanted to hire this jester to be his personal jester. Once hired the king in humor handed him a small stick and said, “You are the most foolish man alive. When you find someone more foolish than you, then you give them this stick,” and the king laughed heartily. After many years had passed by the king lay sick on his death bed ready to go at any moment. He called for his jester, for he wanted to laugh one more time before he died. When the jester was through he asked to speak to the king personally. Once alone with the king the jester asked, “king where are you going?” The king responded, “on a far journey.” The jester asked again, “and how do you plan to get there?” Again the king responded, “I don’t know.” Then the jester pulled the stick from his back pocket and handed it to the king. The king was stunned and asked why he had given him the stick. The jester replied, “King today I have found a more foolish man than I. For you see, I only trifled with the things of life, but you have trifled with things of eternity!” (sermon central illustrations).

The Faith Work Out: "The Confession" – James 3:13-18

I am getting ready for a war – because it is coming! You can feel it all around you. Domestically, we are facing continuous and unrelenting attacks on any who take the Bible seriously. Our nation has shuddered off its foundation and appears sagging in places that once stood firm and secure. Abroad, we are feeling the effects of an ill wind that we cannot seem to harness – no matter how much money we pour on the regions afar. Christians that I know well are incensed, exhausted and feeling marginalized. Many are angry and most are pessimistic. Before you give in to those feelings, I want you to join me in the coming fight. I want you to take all the hurt, all the anger, all the pain – and bring it with you to the recruiting office where we will sign you up to fight. Be patient with me, and you will understand what I am talking about. Listen closely to the Scriptures I read to you, and you will leave with weaponry and a pack that has been significantly lightened of all the weight some of you are carrying.

James is my hero in the call to fight. He understood what it meant to hear the rising call of negativity and anger. His writing tipped his hand that he was neither deaf to the cries of believers nor ready to given in and join them in their whining. He argued very forcefully that believers have a mandate, a manual and a mission – and it all ends well. He lifted broken down people and enlisted the angry and weak to fight back – and I want to do the same. He offered by the power and guidance of the Spirit and incredible truth I want you to consider carefully in the few verses we are looking at in this lesson. He stared straight into the faces of hurting and beleaguered followers of Jesus and told them to stop talking the way they were. He shared this important truth…

Key Principle: God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I want to warn you of something as we share a teaching from God’s Word today. This lesson may feel a bit unusual – different from the norm. In part, this is because I need to include in the instruction a personal confession. I am uncomfortable with sharing the personal side of my own inner life, but I am compelled by God’s Spirit to do so. Because of the nature of the morning, I am asking you to be particularly patient with me, as I work through something in front of you that is both personal and painful – because I believe it will bring out God’s intended direction and truth to us. If you will hear me out, I believe you will fully understand both the problem, and the solutions. I will ask for the prayerful support of my friends as I open up my heart along with opening up the Scriptures…

First, let’s set the passage in the letter from which it is drawn. In the lessons we have already shared in James, we have been paying attention to the way James addressed issues of the tongue, particularly as it was set in the life behaviors of one that desired to follow God.

  • We noted that a careful reading of the beginning of the letter by James forced us to conclude that some of the early believers were complaining about the weight of troubles in their lives, perhaps feeling like God wasn’t sufficiently caring for them in the midst of trials.
  • Still others of that corps, blistered by the harshness of the troubles of their lives, felt God may have even been responsible for dangling temptation in front of them – as if to entrap them. The pains of the time were causing them to slip into a view of God that was incorrect, and James laid the matter to rest – God uses weight of troubles to train us, but not bait of temptations to ensnare us.
  • As he continued, James showed that the preferential treatment of people was a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – verbally trying to “curry favor” with people they believed had the means of adding to things their flesh hungered for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. Their flesh driven heart showed through in their attitudes and actions offering favor to one, but distance to another – and that just wasn’t right. Poor and rich – people should be cared for because God loves them, not because they can help out our quest or cause.
  • James became even “prickly” to some of us as we kept studying, and he noted growing trend of SPOKEN FAITH that was not backed up by surrendered life – we exposed the fake faith of some. James argued those who decided to speak one way but live another were not authentically part of the Kingdom. Many of us simply said, “Ouch!”
  • By our last study together in the first part of James 3, it became obvious that some people wanted to teach, but they didn’t have control over their tongue – and that is a problem that I personally understand very clearly! When you speak and teach as much as I do in a week – it is a constant feeling of inadequacy and lack of control.

The letter by James systematically exposed a central truth – words weren’t the CAUSE of the problems of the early believers – they illustrated where their hearts already had gone. Over and over we see it illustrated… the mouth is the window to the heart and its condition.

Then my eyes fall on the words from the end of James 3, and they hit me like a hammer. I confess that I was not happy reading these words this week, because they came at a time of intense, personal struggle for me. Let’s first look at the text, then I will explain the struggle a bit more:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

As I read the words of James about real wisdom, peaceable wisdom, productive wisdom…I was not at all happy with this passage of Scripture, set in the week we have just experienced as a nation. Let me explain:

Reading from the New York Times published on September 12, 2012: “Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring. The ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense, four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault.”

The next day, Politico published this on September 13, 2012: “TIME magazine switched from a science cover to “THE AGENTS OF OUTRAGE: An embassy attacked. Diplomats murdered. The new calculus of violence against America … A chain of violence from Cairo to Benghazi raises the question, Did the Arab Spring make the Middle East more dangerous?” (The writer Bobby Ghosh continued): “As the Obama Administration struggles to contain the fallout of the ­killings-and even to piece together exactly what happened-there’s an increasing apprehension that this attack may herald a new genre of Middle East crisis. The Arab Spring replaced the harsh order of hated dictators with a flowering of neophyte democracies. But these governments-with weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties and poor security forces-have made the region a more chaotic and unstable place, a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith. [T]hese hatemongers form a global industry of outrage, working feverishly to give and take offense, frequently over religion, and to ignite the combustible mix of ignorance and suspicion that exists almost as much in the U.S. as in the Arab world. Add to this combination the presence of opportunistic jihadist groups seeking to capitalize on any mayhem, and you can begin to connect the dots between a tawdry little film and the deaths of four American diplomats. … The new normal in Egypt and Libya is not as perilous as in Pakistan. … But as the fledgling democracies of the Middle East struggle to cope with the genies unleashed by the Arab Spring, you can count on the industry of outrage to work overtime to drag the Middle East in that direction.”

Maybe you are just beginning to catch a glimpse of my problem, and hear the faint beginning echo of my confession. Brothers and sisters, I get worn out in the face of the coming darkness.

  • I get angry when I see a mob mentality descend on people as they ignorantly pummel innocents in the name of their religion. I get angry inside at them, and I want to find someone to blame for it all.
  • I get angry at my fellow Americans, that seem more intent on justifying the hatred against my country then addressing the unjust and outrageous behaviors perpetrated against it.
  • I am disgusted when I see a photo of a dying young man, who served his country and then became a simple political football for the current news cycle.
  • I hurt for his family, and I am sickened by the parade of happy barbarians that took pleasure in his death – and I don’t care why they did. Their hollow religion never looked more hollow than when they were happy killing someone.
  • I become incensed when the argument shifts from the policies of the country to which candidate said what about events and when did they say it – because minutiae of a process story quickly overtook a sincere discussion about why we have sent men and women into harm’s way and poured out their blood and what we hope to achieve in all the blood and dollars poured into the region.

We haven’t even moved to the domestic side of the street, where a Christian science professor in a state university is removed from his position for “admitting in response to a question raised by a student that he believes in the Bible and Jesus” though he offered no further details to his students at all, and specifically did nothing to try and make them believe what he did. Simple belief in the very things that Senators and Presidents get elected saying they believe now gets one summarily tossed into a review board as our freedom of speech is reduced to ashes when it includes anything Christian.

  • I could rant all morning and many I suspect that many of you would not only agree with the feelings, you may volunteer to chant beside me. I know you feel it, and I know you are disgusted by it all.
  • I want to blame Islam, because I cannot accept any statement of defense of a religion that is defended by violence.
  • I want to blame my government, because they are borrowing money, spending my children’s America into oblivion over blind greed. They claim to want to help me, but take the equity of all that I have worked hard to build and squander it on Wall Street and helping banks to recover – those same banks that jack up our interest rates when we are most vulnerable and try their best to empty our personal prosperity into their stock portfolios.
  • I want to blame my President, because he has replaced by executive order a proud military tradition, reducing the United States Marine Corps to a gay pride parade.

If I tried, I think I could get a political rally going here. I think I could get some of you to believe that we accomplished something together by ranting and yelling and anger and outrage.

But then I recognize the problems:

First, we don’t all see the political world through the same lens–  and this isn’t a political forum – it is a church where we study God’s Word.

Second, ranting won’t help. It will stir us up, but it won’t actually change anything! What’s more, it won’t yield what we WANT or NEED from the future.

Thirdly, and here is the part that made me struggle so – it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t wisdom from above. It isn’t reasonable. It is fleshly, and angry and wrong. I will show you this in Scripture should you doubt that.

Before I do, let me say that the enemy has DIGITALLY DUPED US. He has sapped our strength and halted our progress by a trick so slick that most believers are infected, but few are aware of the symptoms.

  • To the younger generation – they have been “digitally duped” into setting aside enormous numbers of hours of real life interaction and accomplishment by believing they are accomplishing something in a fake digital world. Instead of learning honor and standing for their country, they are shooting at digital enemies in a game that lacks any moral concept upon which such violence can be understood. Instead of training their bodies to grow strong and be disciplined, they are making “Madden” passes on a digital screen and feeling like they are “playing football”. The inborn God-given desire to accomplish and work is fast being replaced in this passive generation by people that think their score in a game online is an actual sign of achievement. They have satisfied a need to accomplish within, but fill it without accomplishing anything in the real world.
  • I know parents and grandparents reading this that will agree with me. They see it. They are worried about it. At the same time, they have also, many of them, been DIGITALLY DUPED. The older generation may not be wasting effort and energy on DIGITAL GAMES but they ARE burning up many hours on DIGITAL SPARRING. Instead of helping in a shelter, they are raging about the inequity of society on Facebook, acting like saying more about it, posting more about it, finding cute pictures about it – are the same as DOING something about it. They will chide their grandchildren  for lack of activity as they sit in a chair for hours on end blaming Islam for world instability, blaming the government, blaming Hollywood, and anyone else that MSNBC, CNN or FOX will help them blame. They will feel justified posting angry rhetoric because they feel that writing about it so much is tantamount to real change.

Here’s the truth – It isn’t. Posting about Roe vs. Wade isn’t the same thing as the young woman that spent yesterday outside the abortion clinic sitting quietly praying for the girls that were going in. Four babies were saved as they spent their own money to have an ultrasound van sitting across the street, and they quietly counseled young women and provided real and tangible help to them. Most Christians yelled at them on Facebook or tried to preach at them on T-shirts. These ladies, armed with real wisdom, went out and made a difference. They fought the war, and they saved four children.

I have talked around the text a lot. It is time to look straight into the text and see if we can understand what James was saying about real, productive and godly wisdom. James opened with a simple and profound question:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? There are two words that are related in the question – wise (Sophia) from which we get words like sophistry and philosophy from, and understanding (epistimos) from which we get words like epistemology – the term for that branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limitations of human knowledge.

After telling them that:

  • God is training them but not baiting them (James 1),
  • That currying favor with their mouths is wrong (James 2),
  • That speaking one way but living another is WRONG (James 2),
  • That controlling the tongue was nearly impossible, and too many people wanted to teach but hadn’t nearly mastered it…(James 3):

They were probably pretty beat down. Then James said, “Who ACTUALLY is valuable as a teacher? Who has truth that can change our understanding of the problems around us and the Spirit within us?

Then came the answer it two segments. On the one hand, James shared what wisdom IS in James 3:12. On the other hand, James showed what real wisdom IS NOT in James 3:14-16. Finally He drew a picture of wisdom in eight characteristics – lighting the room of the wise with eight windows.

What Wisdom Is (James 3:13b)

James wrote: 3 :13b “…Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

  • Wisdom is practical – it is behavior and work not simple theory and word. It is something people can SEE in action, not just hear in word or read in print.
  • Wisdom is persuasive because it is invested. The term “behavior” (anastrophe) is actually two words combined – the word UPWARD and the word CHANGE. The idea of good behavior in the passage is behavior that pulls others upward toward positive change. It isn’t ranting – it is acting.
  • Wisdom is polite because it is informed. The term “gentleness” is the term for consideration. To consider is to look carefully at. It is not to send out the email that has our political bias without checking the facts contained in it. That isn’t wise and it isn’t right. The world has PLENTY of propaganda, and we need to be careful not to pass it on. Be informed, and you may seek to inform –  but let the information be handled with great consideration to others.

What Wisdom Is NOT (James 3:14-16)

James went on to make sure that the reader completely understood what wisdom was NOT.  James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

Wisdom from God is not SHARP TONGUED (the term bitter is both sharp and bitter – but has the same idea). In consideration, we dare not ‘fire back’ and think we are doing God’s work. We can hold the line on truth, and we are called to ever be diligent to show what is RIGHT in God’s teaching before men – even refusing to get revenge (cp. Romans 12:17).

Wisdom from God is not SELF TOUTED (the term selfish ambition is two words that mean “self promoting strife”. The purpose of sharing godly wisdom isn’t to win the argument and look better than the other – that is just an EGO exercise. The purpose of godly wisdom is to bring God’s truth into the situation and settle the people with it. It doesn’t mean that men in darkness won’t oppose God – it means that you are not trying to get the to agree with you – you are striving to offer them the real hope that comes with TRUTH. It is for that reason the text goes on to say that when we hide our ego in the argument, we are being arrogant and lying (the actual word is pseudomai) – impersonating godliness.

Wisdom from above is not SOULISH THINKING (the word earthly in verse 15 is “physical”; the word “natural” is (pseuchikos) physical world minded. The idea is that godly wisdom comes from the spiritual realm of truth, and that sees BROADER than just the physical world. The values of a believer are NOT rooted in what is BEST on earth for him or her. Think of the sacrifices our mission partners make to be far from home and family. They do it because they are not thinking about pleasing themselves in this life, but in living for Jesus and celebrating in the next life. SOULISH THINKING chooses a career based on salary and perks. Godly thinking chooses a career based on where God can best use you for Himself. It can be a janitor or a greeter, a doctor or a gardener – it only matters WHY the choice was made – not WHAT the choice became.

Wisdom from above is not SATAN TREATED (the term “demonic” is from the underworld beneath. Pass the anger on. Don’t try to be considerate – just say the thing that cuts back. Even if your cause is just, a caustic deportment and an angry tongue provides the demonic world with a delight. Yell about Islam – it is a lot easier than spending time praying for that part of the world, and trying to support those who are reaching into it with the Gospel. Yell. You will feel better. So will the enemy beneath your feet.

Wisdom from above is not SENSELESS TANTRUM (the terms “disorder” and “every evil thing” are actually “instability” and “worthless deeds”. The enemy is using literally millions of Christians to spend their energy in arguments, draining and distracting them from PRAYER. Do you want to see people changed? Gather for prayer. Don’t just chat and throw a prayer on the end – PRAY. Spend time asking God for the right information to become an informed prayer partner. Adopt a missionary to the unborn, or to some part of the world. Take an issue and become its advocate before the Father. Don’t take them all – you will burn out and give up. Take one, maybe two. Invest your time, talent and treasure in making a difference in ONE AREA – you will get more done than the news media can inform you of after five continuous hours of nonstop noise.

Let me say it clearly: We can take one hour of prayer for our public schools and our dedicated Christian teachers and accomplish what we cannot do in ten hours of raging about the curriculum and its faults. We can sit with a young pregnant girl and offer real help to her – and that may save a life.

  • We can visit an elderly person and take them a flower or a card, and that will do more for them than getting mad at the latest thing AARP supported that you don’t agree with.

Go to war with me. Pick up the armor and the sword. Call the Master to direct you from anger to accomplishment, from posting rants to praying relentlessly. Those deeds won’t be fruitless. They won’t be empty. They’ll change your perspective. The war always looks different when you are actually in it.

Don’t be duped into thinking your helping when you cannot see any real work you are accomplishing. You aren’t! You are just getting “crusty for a cause” or “grumpy for God”.

What Wisdom LOOKS LIKE (James 3:17-18)

Here is a picture of godly and productive wisdom: James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

It is PURE –which means untainted, innocent, free of stains. You don’t go to the clinic to serve Jesus and also get a date. You find a cause that is on God’s heart, and you follow through without SELF as a primary concern.

It is PEACEABLE – that is the word for seeking resolution. Don’t just kick up dust about a problem – do something about it that will help. If you can labor – do it. If you can’t – sit in a chair, learn about the issue, and pour over it in prayer.

It is PROPER – that is the word “gentle”, but it really means EQUITABLE. Handle all that God lays on your heart in a balanced and loving way. “Fair and balanced” shouldn’t be a news slogan – it should be your deportment, your behavior.

It is PERSUASIVE – that is the word translated “reasonable” but the term is two Greek words that together are “good” plus “persuade or have confidence”. It is reasoned, reasonable and draws people into understanding.

It is PASSIONATE – in the sense of the word “COMPASSION”. The term “full of mercy” applies to our desire to go out of the way to be fair to people. We can call wrong what it is, but we should not be unduly harsh. Calling names is not compassionate. Slamming someone’s intentions is out of bounds – since you cannot read their heart. You may disagree, but not denigrate.

It is PRODUCTIVE – it focuses on positive outcomes. The term “full of good fruits” means focused on actually offering productive insight and practical help.

It is POSITIVE – in the sense of certainty and surety. The term “unwavering” is a building term, and includes the idea of being settled and sure, but also RIGHTLY SETTLED. Our focus must be on offering HELP, not just WINNING AN ARGUMENT.

It is PURPOSIVE – it serves a PURPOSE. It is a marker of your authenticity and genuine caring. The term “without hypocrisy” carries the idea of sincere. It isn’t just a passing whim or irritation that causes us to “weigh in” – it is because we are invested deeply in that problem and its solution.

As James ends his tutoring on godly wisdom, he offers a PROVERB of how wisdom should be injected into the world: James 3: 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

There it is: God said that real implanting of His wisdom that will produce JUSTICE and RIGHT is placed by people who have PEACE reigning within and desire to see PEACE triumph without.

There is no place for stirring up trouble to get things settled – that is fleshly thinking. We have seen that God’s wisdom comes a different way – and pushes us to prayer. It leads us to care. It beckons us to share. It brings CHANGE because it comes on the back of authentic personal investment. It can’t be sending money from afar – that won’t do. You cannot simply pay for missions in dollars, it must be paid for on the back of a vibrant seeking of God for the people in prayer. Programs can’t do it – prayer can. Shouting won’t do it – care can. Theory won’t cut it – sharing can.

 I can’t just yell about the Muslim world, I must be informed about them, pray for them, and if I can – find a way to show God’s love to them. I don’t have to agree with their behavior, as they don’t have to agree with mine – but I will win more hearts and minds with loving care then fiery posts about distant problems and anonymous faces. God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I am ready to fight on my knees. I am calling on you to cry out to God for the people of Libya, and the pagans next door. I am pleading with you to spend more time helping than hearing, caring than cursing, loving then lashing out. There is a war on – and I am excited about where it is going.

Grasping God's Purpose: "Full House" – Exodus 40

An old house sat near a creek that was a subsidiary of the mighty Mississippi River. For many years, since the early part of the 20th century, the plain once prone to floods was spared by a levy system built after the Second World War. The house was built on a raised area of that plain, and had survived numerous storms in the decades that followed the building of the levy system – completely unharmed by nature’s forces. This time was different…

It was the Spring of 1991, and the rains had been particularly heavy, stressing the levy system beyond its normal tolerances. For the owners of one little house, it started as just a trickle of water, seeping through the lower cracks in the foundation walls of the house. The occupants of the house noticed as the swollen stream crept over the embankment out back and the level of the water eventually reached above the sills of the small three-paned venting side windows of the basement, pushing through every crack and filling up the basement with water. As the water pushed in around the wood frames, cartons and plastic bags began floating about in the small pond that was once the basement floor… one foot, two feet. Pilots lights were snuffed out on the gas hot water heater and the furnace. A loud “POP” sounded as the power shut down to the house. The people inside scurried about gathering belongings in an attempt to rescue what they could…. But it was all for nothing. Moving fast, the water pushed up the stairs, as the family retreated into the attic, shoving a few boxes of picture albums and fine silver onto the ledge of the roof. The water began to push up through the floor boards and into all the living space. At the very same time, the water of the stream, now entirely surrounding the home, began to press like a flattened fountains through every crack in the house. In what seemed like moments, the rooms went from dry to filled with water.

“Cracks” and “pops” could be heard as the old house shuddered against the pressure of the flow of water buffeting the north side of the house. Several large limbs, swept along by the flow, crashed into the side of the house. With each, the frame shook. The house moaned and murmured as if gasping for air and struggling to cling to its block foundation. By now, the small family had punched a hole in the roof and moved onto the top peak of the house. Rescue teams were making their way to save families that were unaware of the levy break and this family could only hope they would arrive in time. When the helicopter spotted them atop the house, the pilot knew the house was minutes from collapse… because houses were not made to withstand that kind of pressure. Rooms that were normally filled with sweet, fresh country air would not hold up to the crushing weight of swampy water.

Seeing a room filled with water is unnatural, and in a case like a sudden overflow flood, even scary. Living rooms weren’t designed to become fishing ponds, and since the Fall of man nature hasn’t been a consistent friend to man. It is powerful, because the God that created it is powerful. It can be punishing, as if fighting us from trying to subdue the landscape around us. Unleashed and uncontrolled, it can be devastating. In the face of it, one feels the “smallness” of man – our inherent vulnerability and the limits of our intelligence and power. All that can be seen by rooms filled by a river.

I mention the awesome view of that day because of another scene of a room filled with a powerful and unnatural flow that rightly made men feel small. Tucked in the very end of the Book of Exodus, but still only a small portion of the way through the desert experience with God, there is a story of the day God filled the tent of meeting with His manifest presence – His glory.  It was a day of celebration, and a day well prepared for – but it was not a day that men controlled. God showed up at the door, and when God makes an entrance into the room – it is unmistakable. His power created nature. His might flung the stars into place. No room contains Him, and His mighty presence forces man to feel tiny and undone. The hard truth is that God didn’t show Himself in these powerful manifest ways on a whim– these were carefully planned events that had specific settings. If you think we stage the arrival of a President – you haven’t seen anything yet!

Key Principle: There are special times when God’s moves are obvious and powerful – but they are not haphazard – they are prepared and planned.

Before we seek to understand the conditions of God’s manifest presence, can I ask you something? Don’t you WANT God to do that in some place where you are in your life. Don’t you really, honestly, want to see His power so profoundly moving on your life, your family, your church, your community, your country, your Congress, your company – that NO ONE who stands near can attribute the marvelous presence to anything but a GOD THING in your midst?

It happened many times before. If you went back to 1620 and read of the Pilgrim diaries of William Bradford, Edward Winslow, Robert Cushman, John Robinson you would see one of the times when men huddled in prayer and saw God’s hand. The diary called Mourt’s Relation reflects death and hardship, but commitment to Jesus Christ and His message – and the power of God that flowed in the lives of the early arrivers. That story is largely snuffed out of our secular dominated histories of the day – but the primary sources are stubborn, and they reflect statements of the earliest arrivers like this one from William Bradford:

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity, etc. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.”

Bradford argued: Don’t let future generations of Americans celebrate their founding fathers strength – tell them, tell them that these ordinary souls were famished and nearly defeated – and it was the hand of God, the provision of His power that saved them!

That should lead us to a foundational understanding of one truth: Even if God shows up and saves dramatically people, the story will be adjusted in time to the heroics of men. God will eventually be marginalized in the story, and the men that experienced Him will be elevates.

Moses experienced that. He became a mythical “super Jew” to many – but that is NOT his true story anymore than the tales of “mighty self dependent and faithless Pilgrims”. The stories that pass for history in many a classroom now are the myths – for the TRUTH we must go back to the primary source material. For the Pilgrims it was the diaries of the journey. For Moses it was Exodus and Numbers.

Five Conditions

Look at Exodus 40, and you will quickly understand that God made an entrance according to a very specific set of five parameters He declared in advance. God set the terms of His arrival. The five conditions were these:

1: God made the CALENDAR – the TIMING of the events were in His hand.

Exodus 40:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.

2: God chose the STAGE – the BACKDROP of the events were His choice.

Exodus 40:3 “You shall place the ark of the testimony there, and you shall screen the ark with the veil. 4 “You shall bring in the table and arrange what belongs on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and mount its lamps. 5 “Moreover, you shall set the gold altar of incense before the ark of the testimony, and set up the veil for the doorway to the tabernacle. 6 “You shall set the altar of burnt offering in front of the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 7 “You shall set the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it. 8 “You shall set up the court all around and hang up the veil for the gateway of the court.

3: God picked the CEREMONY – the SPECIFIC OCCASION of the events were specified.

Exodus 40:9 “Then you shall take the anointing oil and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and shall consecrate it and all its furnishings; and it shall be holy. 10 “You shall anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, and the altar shall be most holy. 11 “You shall anoint the laver and its stand, and consecrate it.

4: God picked the CONDITION – the PREPARATION of the men in the scene was commanded.

Exodus 40:12 “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.

5: God picked the COSTUMES – the ENTIRE APPEARANCE of the men in the scene was carefully planned.

Exodus 40:13 “You shall put the holy garments on Aaron and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister as a priest to Me. 14 “You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them; 15 and you shall anoint them even as you have anointed their father, that they may minister as priests to Me; and their anointing will qualify them for a perpetual priesthood throughout their generations.”

It is absolutely clear from the reading of the first fifteen verses that God staged His arrival by sending ahead full instructions of what He wanted to ready men to experience His manifest presence. That is CRITICAL to see if we WANT to experience that in our own lives. Don’t forget, God was already IN THEIR LIVES, just as He is already in ours. This isn’t about getting God to pay attention to us – this is about a powerful manifestation of God in our lives.

  • This is about falling to our knees over the broken homes of our community and asking God to heal the wounded hearts of those who need Him to powerfully do a work.
  • This is about crying out to God on behalf of a government that is now forcing those of us who believe that abortion is murder to begin to pay for the procedure.
  • This is about pleading with God on behalf of the darkness of Islam that has covered over a third of the earth with a stirring caldron of anger and bitterness – that can flash out of control with an offense at all.
  • This is about weeping before God’s throne for a nation hell bent on removing God from every public center until planes crash into buildings, and then in hypocrisy praying on the capitol steps and singing the request: “God bless America.”

This is about God showing up because His people took Him seriously and looked thoughtfully at the place they prepared for His coming.

  • Don’t ask God to come into your home and deal with your wayward teen while you are hiding pornography on your hard drive.
  • Don’t expect God’s hand to heal your economy when you have decided to borrow and not repay, to promise and not fulfill. Excuses are the seed bed of rejection of God’s principles.

Instead, ask what God WANTS to stage a mighty entrance of manifest presence in your life! Don’t just assume that the problem is on GOD’S SIDE. He may be willing, but you may NOT TRULY be willing to do what is necessary to have Him perform an incredible work.

One caveat: God can decide to do a work at any time. He doesn’t NEED us to do anything for His power to mightily change situations. MANY are the times when God has dramatically worked and NO ONE was asking Him to work that we can discern from the record. I am NOT limiting what God CAN do, I am suggesting that His Word provides a pattern of WHAT HE CARES ABOUT in preparing the room for His work! Let me say it in clear and unmistakable questions:

  • Are you ready to so desire and long for God’s work in you and through you so much that you will take out a calendar and seek God for a special time in the days ahead where you will ASK HIM to move on your life? That’s the pattern from Exodus 40:1-2.
  • Are you ready to then begin to prepare by staging your life in a way that everything you are saying, everything you are watching, every hunger you are feeding is ALL yielded and appropriate for God’s arrival? That is the pattern of Exodus 40:3-8.
  • Are you ready to take your TV, your computer, your cell phone, your couch, your car, your clothing and scour them to be clean for every good purpose? Will you delete from your life the books that are tainted, the movies that cling to a flesh feeding frenzy, the songs that call for your old man to emerge and be heard? That is the pattern of consecration in 40:9-11.
  • Are you ready to get clean yourself. Are you willing to place yourself in the position of Divine inspection so that God can challenge every thought, every relationship, every desire – and wash it with His right ways? That is the pattern of the cleansing of 40:12.
  • Are you willing to set aside all the clothing and settings of your personal life that once were a part of your old way? Are you willing to check your tongue for words that are true and clean and encouraging? That is the pattern of the costume fitting in Exodus 40:13-15.

These may be the real reasons you have felt God wasn’t moving powerfully in your life. God is willing to powerfully work, His Word is FULL of places where that happened. Could it be that an occasional nod to His Word is insufficient for a powerful move in your life?

Three Responses

Let’s look at three ways Moses RESPONSED to God’s direction:

First, Moses OBEYED at the SPECIFIED TIME – he did what God said WHEN God said it.

Exodus 40:16 Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did. 17 Now in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected.

Second, Moses OBEYED in the SETTING – he arranged and assembled everything as God directed.

He used everything God told him to use, and nothing BUT what God told him to use.

He set up the place of meeting: Exodus 40:18 Moses erected the tabernacle and laid its sockets, and set up its boards, and inserted its bars and erected its pillars. 19 He spread the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 20 Then he took the testimony and put it into the ark, and attached the poles to the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. 21 He brought the ark into the tabernacle, and set up a veil for the screen, and screened off the ark of the testimony, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

He arranged each piece as God commanded: Exodus 40:22 Then he put the table in the tent of meeting on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil. 23 He set the arrangement of bread in order on it before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 24 Then he placed the lampstand in the tent of meeting, opposite the table, on the south side of the tabernacle. 25 He lighted the lamps before the LORD, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 26 Then he placed the gold altar in the tent of meeting in front of the veil; 27 and he burned fragrant incense on it, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 28 Then he set up the veil for the doorway of the tabernacle. 29 He set the altar of burnt offering before the doorway of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the meal offering, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 He placed the laver between the tent of meeting and the altar and put water in it for washing.

Third, Moses OBEYED concerning the CONDITIONS – he washed everything completely in preparation for the arrival of God’s powerful manifest presence.

Exodus 40:31 From it Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and their feet. 32 When they entered the tent of meeting, and when they approached the altar, they washed, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 He erected the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the veil for the gateway of the court. Thus Moses finished the work.

The GLORY fell on the “Tent of Meeting” when the specific details of the OBEDIENT WORK were carefully completed. It is as though God tested Moses’ willingness to surrender BEFORE God showed Moses the benefits of that surrender. The MOST IMPORTANT commitments of our life ACTUALLY WORK that way: If a man promises his wife he’ll be faithful to her 364 days each year, but on one day each year he’ll visit another woman – is that faithfulness? He claims he is mostly faithful, but what is he really? Nearly faithful is unfaithful. Nearly pure is impure. Nearly responsible is irresponsible.

Do not the benefits of faithfulness normally follow the actions of faithfulness? Promises made in a church are not the same as faithfulness lived outside its four walls. That is true of our marriage commitments, but it is also true of our other commitments to God. If we want His powerful presence evident in our lives, we will want to strive for obedience and keep short accounts for the sweet smell of His cleansing of our failures. The only requirement God has for cleansing is man’s willingness to let Him do it. The only requirement God has for His powerful work is man’s preparation by opening his heart and submitting obediently to God’s staging in his life. We have as much of God as we choose to have – and we allow His work through us as much as we are willing to allow Him to take control from us.

We live in strange days, where men and women profess to know Jesus but desire to live as those who do not. They want to read the same books, watch the same movies, laugh at the same jokes, revel in the same parties – but somehow still share an intimacy with God. I am not calling for legalism and its lists – I am strongly urging us to understand that relationships have rules, and intimacy can be destroyed by willful disregard for them. We cannot want God to show up at specific intervals and deliver us from excessive lives and pagan choices as a plan for our lives.

It is the prayer of the young woman as she stares at a pregnancy test begging God to have it be negative, because she is outside of a marriage. Let me ask you this: Is this a good strategy to use in your walk with God? Should you decide to do in your life things He has told you NOT to do, but then beg Him to show up and fix the RESULTS of those choices? I am not saying he won’t – I have seen Him in mercy do it for me, and do it for some of those I minister amidst. I am just saying that is a dangerous and unbiblical way of thinking.

We have seen that God knows what He wants to set the scene for His powerful work. We have seen that Moses DID WELL to get ready in obedience for God’s work. Here now, is the FUN PART.


Exodus 40:34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

Notice that God’s presence wasn’t a CLEAR VIEW but a CLOUD – you do not ever get to truly understand WHO God is and WHAT God is like. You see the fuzzy edge- but this side of Heaven you don’t get a clear view. God works in the physical world in ways that are CLEARLY HIM, but outside of the constraints of the hard lines that define any exacting edge of identity. We cannot shape God. We cannot limit God. We cannot define Him into any category – He is beyond human comprehension. We do NOT understand all His ways. His shape is like a cloud to us.

Yet, from the cloud the manifest presence of God is WEIGHTY – one of the meanings of “kavod” or glory. When God moves He leaves an impression. Evidence of His touch is obvious. The maker of every color, every texture, every flavor, every shape – is NOT subtle in His approach. He doesn’t SLIP into the room – He comes in POWER, He comes with ANNOUNCEMENT, He comes in MAJESTY. Even the baby in a manger was surrounded by the announcing Heavenly Host over Bethlehem, as they stood guard over the child Savior.

Men on distant hills had no idea that God was showing up in that tent. Midianites may have been doing laundry that day. Egyptians carried on as though nothing unusual was taking place – because they were far from God’s appearance, and didn’t observe His entry into the Israelite camp. God showed up for those who planned for His coming, and sought His presence.

Should we do less? I love the story of the day God showed His glory, because I want to see it happen again. We hunger for God’s manifest presence in our lives. We hunger to show peace and stability in a deteriorating world. We long to stand firm in truth while lies fall like acid rain about us. We want to smell of the sweetness of the presence of the Holy One and have His goodness noticed amid the stench of a fallen world run amuck. Though God’s presence is within us, and ever available empowering is ours –that is NOT what I am talking about. I am speaking about the rare times – the times when God’s presence cuts through the veil from the spiritual world into the physical world and leaves a mark of His powerful hand. I am talking about when the miracle becomes so obvious that Divine fingerprints are left on everyone and everything in the room.

Moses had several experiences with the glory of God that were like this. He was so thoroughly exasperated with the people’s sin before the golden calf in Exodus 32 that he cried out in despair to see God’s manifest presence in Exodus 33 – and God showed up. Stuck in the cleft of the rock, God showed His hinder parts. We recalled the scene in our study of those verses lessons ago.

We saw it clearly once again: God meets men who want to meet Him. He moves toward those who move toward Him! Moses had a heart to KNOW God, to walk in daily intimacy with God. You cannot read these words any other way: Exodus 33:17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

It wasn’t the persuasiveness of Moses’ words, but the sincerity of Moses’ heart that drew God’s response. That is ALWAYS how it is. When God saw a hungry heart to KNOW HIM, to be SEIZED BY HIM, to REFLECT HIM…God didn’t leave Moses hungering – because that just isn’t His way.

Jesus said that He was seeking those “who hungered and thirsted after righteousness” – but that wasn’t the END POINT – it was merely the ENTRANCE EXAM. The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t about completing the course of discipleship – it was about admission to the school that allows one to be trained by the Master! We may BEGIN by seeking right choices and behaviors – but that isn’t our final destination. We aren’t a faith that is all about performance. Many people can live moral lives – and yet they will not end in the Master’s arms. The heartbeat of God is about relationship. We find our real rest, our supreme peace, in truly seeking HIM. It is in HIS ARMS we are finally satisfied. It is in the smile of His approval that we find joy. Christianity is NOT about falling in love with the rules in order to control our lives and those around us. It is not a dictation of rules in order to somehow smother the effects of Eden’s woes. Our walk with God, our real faith is about the gentle submission to our Father’s will, deliberately offered to bring Him joy – because we love Him so.  Nothing is as powerful as the tight hug of the Creator when we KNOW we have shed our selfishness in some area of sin and have been gathered in His embrace.

If we hunger for Him – He meets us where we stand.  John Piper said it well: ‘The weakness of our hunger for God is not because he is unsavory, but because we “keep ourselves stuffed with other things”’.

I have said it before, but in bears repeating…Brothers and sisters, when we are not hungry, we do not seek Him. When we do not seek Him, we do not hear His mighty by gentle voice say:

  • I will come with you this week. You are favored and loved by Me.
  • I know your name, your trials, your pains, your uncertainties – and you can lean on Me.
  • I recognize the size of your journey and the strains it has placed upon you – and I will sit with you. I will smile at you.
  • I feel your awkwardness as you move through the room. Come! There is a place beside Me.

You will never open your heart to God, and have Him leave you standing there wanting. His Word is clear: “Draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you!” (cp. James 4:8).

There is another text where God came in manifest presence to His people, in a very similar way to the one in Exodus 40, and that was at the ending of the placing the ark in the midst of the First Temple, erected by Solomon and his men:

2 Chronicles 5:11 When the priests came forth from the holy place (for all the priests who were present had sanctified themselves, without regard to divisions), 12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, and their sons and kinsmen, clothed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps and lyres, standing east of the altar, and with them one hundred and twenty priests blowing trumpets 13 in unison when the trumpeters and the singers were to make themselves heard with one voice to praise and to glorify the LORD, and when they lifted up their voice accompanied by trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and when they praised the LORD saying, “He indeed is good for His lovingkindness is everlasting,” then the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, 14so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.

I point this other incident out to remind you that another element is linked with God’s presentation of Himself in glory – and that is praise. Complaining lips don’t draw God into the scene – praising lips do. Whining is the way to get God to show up – celebrating His goodness is. It does not matter the circumstance, the very breath we breathe is God’s current gift to us. We were MADE to exalt Him. We are made to know Him and declare His mighty deeds and loving acts before the cosmos. He will pay attention, He always does.

Now here is the excellent news for those who prepare, obey, and see the powerful manifestation of God’s glory – He doesn’t leave in an instant… He continues to LEAD His people.


Exodus 40:36 Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; 37 but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. 38 For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

Will God lead you as He did in days of old? That is not a serious question. Isaiah recorded God’s declaration to walk with us:

Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the high and exalted One, Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit…”

The real question is NOT will God walk with ME, but will I walk with HIM? There are special times when God’s moves are obvious and powerful – but they are not haphazard – they are prepared and planned. Are you willing to do what it takes to have God powerfully manifest Himself in your life?

Grasping God's Purpose – "Suit Up!" – Exodus 39

When I was young, my parents had a house full of kids, and a limited budget. I remember a time, though my concept of how long it was is probably inaccurate, that we didn’t have a television. The old one had broken and we didn’t have the money at that time for a replacement. I recall the short-lived joy we shared when my grandmother gave the money for us to buy a little black and white set to put on a table top in the place of the old set. I thought having a TV was great, but I couldn’t really understand the value of watching football on a TV set that was so very small and without any color. The problem was that in those days, the TV broadcasters loved to show the whole stadium from above, or show a long shot of an action play. When you have under 13” of diagonal viewing space, and that real estate on the screen is a palor of colorless grey- things are going to be difficult to see. Add to that, when it is being viewed by a room full of people so that you cannot get within ten feet of the set – and what you have is a hopelessly bad viewing experience. You can’t tell where the ball is. You can’t tell who has it. If you could, you couldn’t tell what they were doing with it.

The ONLY hope you could possibly have of trying to follow the game was found in paying some attention to the depth of the grey on the uniforms worn by each of the teams, and recalling which side of the field was which team. In those long bygone days I was (and I cannot emphasize the WAS more) – a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Remember, I was but a child – unaccustomed to the nuances of the game, like playing fair, etc. I would look at the beginning of the game to see who was wearing the LIGHTER grey uniform, and who was wearing the DARKER grey uniform – and that is how I would be able to figure out which team had possession of the ball…it was my only hope to follow the game.

If you look closely at the uniforms of NFL teams, you will see they are not only decorative – they are also functional. The pads are strategically placed – not so much to scare the opponent, as to protect various parts of the body of the wearing player. In some cases, pads are reduced, or even missing, according to the work each man had on the team. Every part of the uniform design is for the purpose of making the work more possible and easier to complete. The uniforms are fitted to the player, and designed for maximum movement within their assigned task.

Why do I mention this? Because the same truth applied to God’s ministry team in the Tabernacle long ago. The uniform was carefully described in the Word because God wanted to reveal and explain the FUNCTION of the offices, while allowing creative people to reflect beauty and skill in their workmanship. God’s servants needed to be prepared to FUNCTION in their role, enabled by special provisions of God.

The text of Exodus 39 is divided into two parts, each with their own lessons:

  • First, the bulk of the text is dedicated to the record of the making of garments for the priests – all made according to God’s instructed design (39:1-31). God wanted to explain the role of the priests by recording the clothing of the priests.
  • Second, the inspection of Moses was performed on each of the Tabernacle furnishings and coverings (39:32-43). God wanted to remind us of three important end points for preparing people to accomplish a ministry for God.

Key Principle: Though assets make things possible – people make things happen. God used parts and pieces to enable worship and praise, but in the end PEOPLE do ministry.

1: The garments were beautiful and meaningful to the men who wore them (39:1a,5)

Exodus 39:1a “Moreover, from the blue and purple and scarlet material, they made finely woven garments… 5 The skillfully woven band which was on it was like its workmanship, of the same material: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

It is much harder to appreciate the uniqueness and beauty of the colorful garments of the priests today, then it would have been in the Sinai desert long ago. When you first visit the deserts of Sin, Paran and Zin – you can easily see them as lifeless and dull looking. With time in the region, if you are able to camp out in those desert areas, you will see the magnificence of the colors of the rising and setting sun, and you can appreciate how it impacts the landscape color as well.

When I was young I loved the Galilee, with its beauty and well-watered lushness. With each passing year I appreciated the desert more. Its stark midday sun was only one cast of the images of it could show. There is a very special purple color that you can only see in the mountains near Wadi Ram on the east side of the Aravah. There are slight shades of brown, red and blue in the morning twilight. About the time you think you have seen the beauty of it all, get a snorkel and mask and look beneath the Red Sea at the astounding colors that abound on the coral reefs. The plainness of the mountains contrasts with the kaleidoscope of colors as you raise and lower your head – above the sea and below the sea.

My point is that ten generations of Israel lived in a desert rim of Egypt. The next generation walked the dusty plains of the wilderness of Sin, Paran and eventually Zin. In all that time, the colors were beautiful in the early morning – but they were limited to the desert palate. The tents were not colorful. The clothes were largely plain. The sashes on some garments were about as color-filled as people were willing to expend the effort to make in the intense heat of the long desert days. These uniforms for the priests were both colorful and specially made to reflect the honor of the office and the importance of the task of these men. The work that God called them to was an honor to them. The needs of the people were real, and their tasks were nothing less than spiritually essential.

Can you hear the honor of the priest in the words of Peter directed at believers of the church? Peter said:

1 Peter 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

God calls believers to be His priests. The passage is rich, and cannot be brushed off. The church is made up of people that were called by God from many peoples and nations. No one saw us as a cohesive group before God made us a family. We were brought in – not because of our outstanding nature or humble holiness – quite the opposite. We were given undeserved mercy of God and placed in His priestly ranks. We should feel HONORED to be called and HONORED to serve. Our service is specifically requested in testimony before a lost world. It is a service of RIGHT BEHAVIOR. It is a service of abstention from the indulgence of the lusts of lost men. It is a service active in DOING GOOD, so that our testimony will secure us from false accusations of an enemy. We are to HONOR GOD by pointing to His character is OUR LIFESTYLE.

None of these acts is to earn our place, they are merely to HONOR our King, who gave us our place!

Here is the job of the priests of our time: Live distinctly. Walk honorably. Give Generously. Treat the setting aside of old habits as a badge of honor and privilege. Priests of the Tabernacle dressed with honor and view the uniform as a reminder that the work was special – we should do no less.

2: The garments were patterned for the work of the men who wore them (39:1b)

Exodus 39:1b: “…for ministering in the holy place as well as the holy garments which were for Aaron, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

The priests did not use the garments for tending sheep or daily chores – but for the specific work in the service of the King. God commanded that His workers LOOK THE PART to serve Him. One important aspect, from the day the priest was inaugurated into ministry, was the idea that they were to be circumspect about their appearance. They were to wear the uniform for HOLY WORK in a HOLY PLACE where people came to deal with their distance from God.

Can you imagine how important it was for them to keep their garments spotless? Can you imagine how carefully they hung up, stored and moved the garments when not on their body? Can you imagine how meaningful it was to carefully dress in a garment with the label “Designed by GOD” on the inside! The pattern of the garment was distinct – just as God says the look of the believer is to be. We aren’t called to BLEND IN. Jesus said it in the Sermon on the Mount – a follower of His is forced to become a city set on a hill, and a lamp that is lighted. Our work isn’t to comfortably blend but to boldly stick out. Our peculiarity is our secure and growing relationship with God in a world that has their spiritual umbilical cord severed from the Fall in the Garden that left man utterly depraved.

Do people see a distinct pattern in your life? Can they tell by what you spend your money on, that you are NOT at home in this world, and care more for lost men than your own comforts? Can they see a difference in your sense of humor, your caring nature, your life choices? If not, what happened to your garment that it became so much like all others?

3: The garments were functional in the work of the men who wore them (39:2,4,7-10a).

Priests were not men with no jobs, standing around haphazardly waiting for people to sin so they could help them. They were men that functioned in the daily work of the society on a number of different levels. One of their important roles was HELPING PEOPLE FIND GOD’S DIRECTION FOR THEIR LIVES. How do I know? Look at the description of their garments:

Exodus 39:2 He made the ephod of gold, and of blue and purple and scarlet material, and fine twisted linen…4 They made attaching shoulder pieces for the ephod; it was attached at its two upper ends…7 And he placed them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as memorial stones for the sons of Israel, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 8 He made the breast piece, the work of a skillful workman, like the workmanship of the ephod: of gold and of blue and purple and scarlet material and fine twisted linen. 9 It was square; they made the breast piece folded double, a span long and a span wide when folded double. 10 And they mounted four rows of stones on it… 14 The stones were corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they were twelve, corresponding to their names, engraved with the engravings of a signet, each with its name for the twelve tribes. 15 They made on the breast piece chains like cords, of twisted cordage work in pure gold. 16 They made two gold filigree settings and two gold rings, and put the two rings on the two ends of the breast piece. 17 Then they put the two gold cords in the two rings at the ends of the breast piece. 18 They put the other two ends of the two cords on the two filigree settings, and put them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod at the front of it. 19 They made two gold rings and placed them on the two ends of the breast piece, on its inner edge which was next to the ephod. 20 Furthermore, they made two gold rings and placed them on the bottom of the two shoulder pieces of the ephod, on the front of it, close to the place where it joined, above the woven band of the ephod. 21 They bound the breast piece by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it would be on the woven band of the ephod, and that the breast piece would not come loose from the ephod, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

A profoundly beautiful part of the uniform of the High Priest was the breast plate, with an embroidered flap covered with twelve precious stones. The High Priest was, on the appropriate occasions, to wear this in conjunction with the work he was charged to do. The gold, purple and blue weaving onto the linen six stranded cloth base was fastened to the outer garment by should straps and rings. The stones were etched with the names of the tribes and used to tell specific directions from God, as He used them to lead His people.

Be careful when you read the term ephod in the Hebrew Scriptures. The term is used differently in Judges and kings than in Exodus in relationship to the Tabernacle. The term in the historical books refers to an idol or talisman – whereas here it is an item of holy clothing. When Micah the Levite in Judges 18 had one made of gold, it was not like this one – it was a free standing idol of a sorts. The one in the Tabernacle was a kind of “chest bib” with a fixture of the breastplate over it and a pocket beneath that stored the Urim and Thumim – two stones used by God to help direct people.

Vital to the life of the community is the priestly work of offering God’s direction to people. We have no bib and no stones – but we possess as God’s priests the marvelous principles of God’s Holy Word today. Here is the problem: people won’t ask YOU to help them with a marriage if you are unhappily in YOUR MARRIAGE. People won’t see God’s directions through you if they don’t see Him living IN you. They won’t ask YOU how to follow God in issues of work if you are lazy, money if you are borrowing and drowning in debt, faithfulness if you are falsely calling in sick, positive outlook if you are incessantly complaining… you get the idea. A priest has to walk like a priest to be of any value to God in caring for the community.

We have strayed too far in leadership without character. We have thought that we could tolerate loose living in one area while demanding discipline in another. If a President couldn’t stay away from lust and be faithful to his wife, should he be trusted with the nuclear launch codes? Why do we think that someone who will not tell the truth in one area to those closest to him will remain faithful in other areas? We need to rethink the value of character over pedigree when selecting leaders in our country. The same is true in the priestly offices of the modern believer.

4: The garments were valuable to denote the work of the men who wore them (39:3,6).

Exodus 39:3 Then they hammered out gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the blue and the purple and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skillful workman…6 They made the onyx stones, set in gold filigree settings; they were engraved like the engravings of a signet, according to the names of the sons of Israel….10b The first row was a row of ruby, topaz, and emerald; 11 and the second row, a turquoise, a sapphire and a diamond; 12 and the third row, a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 13 and the fourth row, a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They were set in gold filigree settings when they were mounted.

Look at the money the people put into the making of priestly garments! Look at the value of those stones and the delicate beauty of the gold filigree. These were precious by any definition! God wanted the men to KNOW they were of essential value to their people. He also wanted the people to value them.

If this were about clergy, you would think I sounded self-serving – but it is NOT. The priests I am referring to today are all over my town – believers called by God to intercede in prayer for their neighbors, their office partners, their co-workers and their friends. They are called to represent God’s Word in their life choices. They are to be loving, caring examples of a God follower and Jesus lover to people who know little of either. Do you recognize the VALUABLE ASSET that God has placed in your plant, office, apartment complex or family by placing YOU there as a believer? You are HIS emissary, His ambassador, His example and His servant. You are not a salesman as much as a healer. Your life is His display case in which He can show how He lavishes on undeserving men and women His mercy and love!

5: The garments were distinctive to the men who wore them (39:22-31)

22 Then he made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue; 23 and the opening of the robe was at the top in the center, as the opening of a coat of mail, with a binding all around its opening, so that it would not be torn. 24 They made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet material and twisted linen on the hem of the robe. 25 They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around on the hem of the robe, 26 alternating a bell and a pomegranate all around on the hem of the robe for the service, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 27 They made the tunics of finely woven linen for Aaron and his sons, 28 and the turban of fine linen, and the decorated caps of fine linen, and the linen breeches of fine twisted linen, 29 and the sash of fine twisted linen, and blue and purple and scarlet material, the work of the weaver, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 They made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and inscribed it like the engravings of a signet, “Holy to the LORD.” 31 They fastened a blue cord to it, to fasten it on the turban above, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

The garb of the priests included a turban, a torsel, trousers and a tunic. The trousers allowed the men to move up and down the steps in appropriate modesty. The turban held their hair back from the hooks of draining sacrifices. The tunic covered the upper body. The torsel – or sash, held the clothing close to allow for the work of sacrifice without getting the garment stained with blood.

The High Priest had bells and decorative pomegranates sewn to the garment – making a noise that warned people of his approach. The whole community would have cleared a path for High Priest, and nothing untoward would have come into his path or in his line of sight. People WANTED him to maintain a high walk with God. People NEEDED him to keep himself clean and ready for the work of intercession.

People counted on their priests to walk distinctly, and to be careful in their choices. Do we do that? Do we feel the pressure of making decisions knowing that a lost world is watching us? Do we feel we are free to make any decision we want in what we read, or what we entertain ourselves with, or what we wear? Every garment reminded the priest that they were to be careful, and that God had a special work for them in their community. They were BORN into that role…. And so were YOU.

After the garment completion, the final presentation of the Tabernacle was made to Moses – and all was as it was supposed to be.

39:32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 They brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars and its sockets; 34 and the covering of rams’ skins dyed red, and the covering of porpoise skins, and the screening veil; 35 the ark of the testimony and its poles and the mercy seat; 36 the table, all its utensils, and the bread of the Presence; 37 the pure gold lampstand, with its arrangement of lamps and all its utensils, and the oil for the light; 38 and the gold altar, and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense, and the veil for the doorway of the tent; 39 the bronze altar and its bronze grating, its poles and all its utensils, the laver and its stand; 40 the hangings for the court, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court, its cords and its pegs and all the equipment for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 the woven garments for ministering in the holy place and the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests. 42 So the sons of Israel did all the work according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses. 43 And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done. So Moses blessed them.

God wanted to remind us of three important end points for preparing people to accomplish a ministry for God:

  • Accountability: Before the work commenced – leaders needed to be careful to see that God’s commands were followed in assembling of the team. Short cuts in building the team will show up in the ministry functions. Short cuts in laying out the work according to God’s commands will cause problems of function and repair. The text says they brought the work for inspection –and it was all done as God commanded. Ministry leaders don’t flinch at the idea of accountability – they seek to be held to a standard – provided the standard used is the Word of God. If people chose by preferences – there would be a never ending battle that had no real Biblical resolution.

One of the most important parts of shaping ministry is inspecting the work of others, and yet it is clear to me that fewer and fewer men in ministry WANT someone looking over their shoulder. Mentoring is a two way process. People have to both WANT someone to offer them direction, and the one giving the direction has to WANT to be personally engaged in the process.

I fear that we have, all too often, rewarded headstrong stubbornness and called it “strong leadership”. We have placed ministry people in key positions without making sure they were properly accountable to others in their life. It is a dangerous trend. Accountability is not simply someone who you can tell that you failed – but someone who can “tag you out” of ministry for a time if you are going off the rails. Fewer and fewer men seem to appreciate the need for that kind of relationship – but it is both helpful and necessary.

  • Inspection: Moses carefully examined all the workmanship and saw it was done well. That was no small statement. The men prepared everything as they were told – but the leader took the responsibility to see to it that instructions were carefully followed. No leader can EXPECT what he does not INSPECT. Proper inspections took the leader TIME and CONCERTED EFFORT – more than a simple quick look.

No general would take men into battle simply by assembling a rabble and lining them up to move forward. To be effective, they must be divided into smaller numbers, and given specific functions. They need to understand the specific objectives they are given. They need to recognize who is in authority over each situation they will engage. Most of all, they need to learn THE BOOK – the rules used by their respective branch of service. The same is true of those God is using to fight against the enemy’s darkness and reach lovingly to rescue lost men and women. They must learn the BOOK – and they must be organized to follow its commands.

The BOOK will give them ways of advancing, armor to wear, ways to resupply the lines and even proper ways to flee in retreat – should that be strategically necessary. Failure to learn the BOOK leaves the force open to heavy damage, and can sap the energy from a sharp advance in wasted effort of tumultuous confusion. If we want people to know the book, we will have to teach them the book – and we will have to test their knowledge of it. We dare not place people in strategic ministry and assume they have built what they were instructed without inspection.

Let me be clear: If you are working in a ministry – expect someone to be checking on what you are doing. That isn’t because you aren’t trusted – it is because that is the Biblical way to build, advance and sustain God’s work. Inspection is part of the ministry, just as it was with Moses.

  • Affirmation: Moses blessed the workers for both the product, and their faithfulness. He acknowledged the obedience, care and quality of the work of the men. His words were not fluff – because he spent time really looking at their handicraft. It was essential that everything be sized correctly, made in appropriate numbers, and made from the proper materials. When he saw that they were – he didn’t hesitate to call the work ready by offering a blessing to the workers.

The inauguration of a new work is always a sensitive time. God’s inspection would follow Moses – and God missed nothing! Think about the beginning of the Temple in 1 Kings 8, or the beginnings of the church in Acts 1-5. There is a sweetness about the purity of those days – but there is a stark truth of God’s inspection – ask Ananias and Sapphira about trying to scrape by cutting corners on one of God’s inspections.

I believe that we affirm too little in ministry in our day. Faithfulness is tough in a distracting world like ours. Deliberate verbal blessing is often too little too late. Let me take a minute and say out loud what we should say often as part of the family of God.

To those of you who are working HARD at honoring Jesus in your daily decisions – THANK YOU for serving the Master and honoring Him according to His Word.

For those who are staying married, working out your struggles and facing your difficulties rather than shattering your children and hanging out a testimony that God can save you, but he cannot sufficiently change two people to reconcile their differences… THANK YOU. Thanks for being an example of a believer when you could easily find a way out and a group to affirm your unbiblical choices.

To those of you who believe that signing your name means something and you refuse to simply toss away your credit commitments because of the change of home values – THANK YOU for standing by your word. Plenty will tell you that your yes didn’t need to be a yes, but from those of us who are steadily paying our way back out of upside down mortgages because we believe integrity demands living up to our word in contracts – THANK YOU.

For those who go out of their way to pray for brothers and sisters who serve Jesus at home and on foreign fields, in missionary and chaplain services, in local churches and clinics – THANK YOU for your prayers, your sacrificial gifts and your loving care.

The Tabernacle was beautiful but useless without the priesthood. Though assets make things possible – people make things happen. God used parts and pieces to enable worship and praise, but in the end PEOPLE do ministry.

The Faith Work Out: "Leading Role" – James 3:1-12

Every actor wants one – the leading role in the movie. It is a time when their talent as an actor will be showcased. They will be the hero or heroine of the show – and all eyes will watch them. It is heady stuff. We understand, because we all grew up in a fame hungry world. Most of us, at least at one point, played “air guitar” in front of the mirror, and imagined ourselves playing before thousands of adoring and applauding fans. We know WHY people want to be up front, and what part of their ego fame feeds.

Before we know the Lord, many of us had our favorite music group, and perhaps even our favorite actors in posters on the wall. When we came to Christ, we may have left the world of lost celebrities– because they lost their appeal. We took down our old posters, put away our old CDs, and deleted some of our favs off the iPod music directory. Sadly, in a short time, we probably found that Christians had celebrities too. They had their own posters; their own heroes. If we were gifted to be “up front” people – teachers, leaders and the like – we probably started to want to be ONE of them – the noticed Christian famed leaders. We may have become enamored with the idea of leading people. Among youth, they often express the desire to lead a ministry among young people – perhaps as a Youth Pastor or Worship leader

There is no problem with wanting to use our gifts – that is as it should be. The problem comes when we misunderstand the nature of the gifts, and misplace the value of certain kinds of service to the Lord. An immature believer can easily end up thinking that what we SAY is the most important part of our testimony… when it is NOT. Speaking that isn’t backed up by living detracts from the clarity of the Gospel message to a lost world.

Key Principle: Serving Jesus is about how we discipline our lives- especially in the area of the tongue. The grand mark of maturity is the consistent ability to control the use of their tongue. Since the old man is ever within, mature believers limit the old man’s access to the microphone of the mouth.

Taming the tongue has always been a struggle, and James is clear to express it is a necessary one for maturity and testimony. We dare not think that our appetite for fame and affirmation will not creep up at a moment’s notice to grab control of our words – it will. How many of us were already embarrassed as we heard the words leaving our mouths on more than one occasion?

James has been addressing “thing people say” all the way through his letter – and this page will be no different. This short book has merely five short chapters but offers powerful and practical wisdom for life in “sound bite” style. As we have seen up to this point in our study of this letter, James was a man on a mission. God directed him to deal with loose lips of early believers. Reports were brought to his attention of the types of problems that came up in the early church, and God used his simple candor to communicate both the issues and the principles that would answer the problems caused, at least in part, by the tongue.

  • Reading through the first part of the Epistle, it appeared that there may have been some bitter complaining about the troubles that surrounded the early Jewish believers scattered in the Roman world. Reading even further, some in the congregations were apparently beaten down to the point that they even blamed God for enticement in the intense temptations they experienced – as though He was willing to test them to the point of entrapping them. They were beat, and their mouths bore evidence of the pain. James pressed the believers to understand that trouble was not an enemy, nor was it always sent from one. Trouble could have been a sculpting tool of God to prepare and condition them for the future He planned for them. On the other hand, not a word of blame, said James, could rightly be aimed at God for the issue of succumbing to temptation – that was surrendering to the old man, or the flesh inside. God didn’t tempt them – He never does that.
  • By what we now call chapter two, James showed another way their mouths were a window to their needy and fallen hearts. He exposed the inner root of preferential treatment of people. Privileged treatment of people was a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – verbally trying to “curry favor” with people they believed had the means of adding to things their flesh hungered for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. (James 2:1-13). Because of that inner fleshly hunger, their mouth offered favor to one, but distance to another – and that just wasn’t right.
  • In our last lesson we concluded the mouth also exposed the fake faith of some. James argued those who decided to speak one way but live another were not authentically part of the Kingdom. As in so many cases – the words didn’t CAUSE the problem – they illustrated where the heart already was.  Over and over we see it illustrated… the mouth is the window to the heart and its condition.

As we open James 3, we find another example of the things people were saying that exposed a heart problem. In fact, on quick inspection, it sounds in James 3:1, like the author was somehow discouraging people from being teachers of the faith because there was something wrong. James wrote: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.”

When we look carefully at the letter, we can easily see that James was not ANTI-TEACHER. He wasn’t trying to stop the exercise of the teaching gift that God gave to some believers as a byproduct of the Spirit’s indwelling. Teaching God’s truth is a deep privilege – but it is also a definite responsibility. It is paired with a discipline that is very hard to master, which is what James emphasized. Perhaps a clearer reading of the text would be something like this:

Do not be so quick to desire to be teachers, for they will be judged under more stringent rules. The more you say to others, the more possibility you offer to cause them error – and that can be devastating. The one who is able to harness every word that they utter is completely mature, since the hardest discipline of the body is the tongue.”

James highlighted is a critical truth: we must be careful about the way we consistently communicate so that we converse in a Christ-like way. In his world, that was PRIMARILY VERBAL. In our world, words are more often shared in writing. In either case, we must take full responsibility for our words.

When we say things like, “I only said that because I was under pressure” or “You made me so mad, that is why I yelled that!” we betray our own lack of discipline, and perhaps even our own desire to relieve personal responsibility. We are ALWAYS responsible for the words that come from our mouths. When the flesh tugs downward at the heart to share some bit of dirt about someone else – we are responsible. When outbursts of anger flare up within the flesh and we blurt out some hurtful sentence – we are responsible. The tongue is the window to the heart – and the heart shares the voices of both the Spirit of God and the old man within.

Let me apply this idea even further: Only recently did I begin to understand that some in the next-gen culture view words on a page in an entirely different way than the generations that preceded them. As I was growing up, we placed much more emphasis on anything you WROTE, even to the point that we avoided signing papers that were not thoroughly a representation of what we believed to be true. Yet, I am discovering that for some that sense has been badly eroded and is no longer a given. I confronted someone about a post they put on their Facebook page that did not represent what I thought they truly wanted to show to the world. They replied: I ONLY wrote that – it isn’t like I SAID it. I was stunned. You WROTE it but you thought that was LESS WEIGHTY than your words. “Of course” they replied.

When I thought more carefully about it, I think I began to understand where they could get that mistaken behavior. You see, my wife and I get a periodic updates to our credit cards in no less than eight pages, sometimes greater than sixteen pages – usually drafted in a number five font (small writing) to describe the routine changes my bank or lender is making to the terms of our agreement. Every software I install gives me  an “I agree” checkbox to pages of legal agreements as if I had any idea of what they may be truly saying. I sign my name entering a hospital claiming I will take ‘FULL RESPONSIBILITY’ when I don’t have a clue whether the bill will be $1000 or $1,000,000,000. We regularly are forced to sign things that are beyond our comprehension just to keep vital services in our lives. The written word has been diminished in its importance, and the younger people of our time have noticed.

Let me say this clearly: Whether in writing of in speech – your words are, as best as you are possibly able – to reflect a heart surrendered to Jesus Christ. To the extent that is NOT happening – there is a submission issue that must be dealt with before God. James illustrated the need carefully as he shared examples of one truth found in James 3:5a: “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

James offered three mistakes we make about our tongue that are perhaps more clearly seen through visual examples. He wants to focus on underlying mistakes of judgment that keep us from dealing with discipline of the tongue:

Example #1: The bridled horse (James 3:3)

James 3:3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

Misunderstanding of destructive power: When we don’t discipline our tongue we demonstrate that we don’t understand how powerful a weapon it can be in the old man’s control.

The sheer size and strength of the weapon is aptly illustrated in the HORSE. Many people in the ancient world were familiar with few machines, but they knew of the damage a frightened runaway horse could cause in a marketplace. We can easily forget what a damaging effect our words can have on the heart of another – and it comes from an unbridled tongue. Controlling the outcome is made possible by controlling the tongue.

Example #2: The ship’s rudder (James 3:4)

Jame 3:4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

Miscalculation of directive power: When we don’t discipline our tongue we demonstrate that we don’t really understand the significant effect our tongue can be on changing the direction of our lives or other’s lives.

The effectiveness of a tiny rudder against what seemed a limitless sea was highlighted in this argument. We can be duped into thinking that our words, because they are so small and come from one who is not so important, don’t matter much. We don’t take seriously their power to direct our thinking, other’s thinking and our collective direction. Future direction can often be charted by present speech.

Example #3: The forest fire (James 3:5b)

5b “…See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

Misjudgment of distinct purpose: We don’t discipline our tongue because we don’t truly recognize what it was made for and how its usefulness is also its greatest danger.

The tongue is in its nature a match. It was designed not only to express our thoughts, but to illicit assistance, evoke response, and even gain a reaction. It is the verbal equivalent to a lighter or match.

James completed the essay on the tongue with two ideals that form the goal of every believer:

Principle #1: The tongue requires…Absolute Control:

We seem to be able to subdue the earth and its animal kingdom, but not the tongue. The tongue requires complete control because it can do enormous destructive damage.

James 3:7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

It is clear in these verses that the tongue can be terribly destructive, and that it is incredibly hard to get control over. How can we get control of our tongue? Are there any truths from the Word that will help us? Fortunately there are:

First, fear a loose lip – respect the power of your words.

I don’t mean one should fear that in speaking something it will come true – you don’t have the power to create reality with your voice. If you said a harsh word to a friend, only to have harmed in an accident, you didn’t cause the accident by your words. You cannot do that, and you musn’t walk around with that guilt in your heart. At the same time, you do have the power to create a perception in someone’s mind with your words. Your tongue is but three inches long, yet it can reduce to tears a man more than six feet tall.

Whoever taught us, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?” was an idiot! It is a statement disconnected from reality – what the word “idiot” originally meant in Greek. Words can break our hearts. Broken bones can heal with time, but a broken spirit caused by words of death, is not quickly repaired. David never had a stone more deadly than the sling some people have for a tongue – don’t forget that.

A child can be built up or torn down with your words. A struggling friend can be lifted with a few simple and honest encouragements. A room of strangers can be cleared quickly with the shout of “Fire!” People DO respond to our words, and we need to remember that. We must learn to have a healthy respect for the damage we can cause will we be careful about what we say, how we say it, and who we say it to.

Proverbs 18:21 reminds: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Don’t simply fixate on the negative – the statement concerning death – because the author is trying to say something positive. He argues: “People who love the power of the word will use it to create positive fruit and enjoy that!” Words don’t only KILL… they also BUILD.

The tongue can express or repress; release or restrain; enlighten or obscure; adore or abhor; offend or befriend; affirm or alienate; build or belittle; comfort or criticize; delight or destroy; be sincere or sinister. The tongue can Xerox the good or X-ray the bad. (sermon central illustrations).

You have the power to encourage someone today with your words. You can keep someone from making a wrong decision that will scar them forever with a confident and loving word to them.

After Karen Carpenter died of heart failure at the age of 32 brought on by years of fighting an eating disorder, it came out that her fatal obsession with her weight was triggered by a single reviewer’s comment. When referring to Karen, this man called her “Richard’s chubby sister.” While I’m sure there were other factors attributing to Karen Carpenter’s struggles, this one comment unleashed a flurry of self-doubt, which led to her eventual disease and death. (sermon central illustrations).

In fact, I wonder if you ever considered that your words can make you guilty of MURDER. Jesus made that point in Matthew 5:21

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Jesus was on a mountain north of the Sea of Galilee, early one morning. I know it was early, because you can fry an egg on a rock in midday out there, so if people sat down, it was early in the day. He argued that an disciple of His would need to recognize His call back to the Law in its original context. He did not desire to uproot the Law of Moses (since He wrote it 1400 years before), but rather to set it back in context with His original design. The passage above shows that WORDS were part of the formula for keeping that law. He argued: You would like to think you avoid violating the design standard of murder, but you cannot make that claim if you assassinate others with our mouth and leave destruction in your wake.” What we say matters in life and death – just as Proverbs reminds us.

Jesus said it many ways in His teaching: Matthew 12:34 and 15:19: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lies and slander.” The tongue is no friend when not monitored constantly and carefully.

Here is a practical tip I got from a Sunday school teacher and wrote down years ago: THINK before you speak by asking these five questions in an acrostic before you speak.

  • Is it Truth? Especially in this political season – don’t pass it on if you are not sure.

A bus load of politicians were driving down a country road when the bus suddenly ran off the road and crashed into an old farmer’s field. The old farmer heard the tragic crash so he rushed over to investigate. He then began digging a large grave to bury the politicians. A few hours later, the local sheriff was driving past the farmer’s field and noticed the bus wreck. He approached the old farmer and asked where all the politicians had gone. The old farmer explained that he’d gone ahead and buried all of them. “Were they ALL dead?” asked the puzzled sheriff. “Well, some of them said they weren’t,” said the old farmer, “but you know how them politicians lie.” (Sermon central illustrations).

A little girl asked her father, “Daddy? Do all Fairy Tales begin with ’Once Upon A Time’?” He replied, “No, there is a whole series of Fairy Tales that begin with ’If elected I promise’.” (Sermon central illustrations).

  • Is it Helpful? Will your words offer a solution to their problem?
  • Is it Inspirational? Will your words lift someone to think in a new way?
  • Is it Necessary? Do we have to respond?
  • Is it Kind? Is it based on a desire to genuinely help?

Second, limit your words.

Talk less than you do now in the future. Mature believers know that our chances of misusing the tongue are directly proportional to the amount of time we keep our mouths open. Former presidents have recognized the need to limit their words:

  • Abe Lincoln said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
  • Calvin Coolidge said, “I have never been hurt by anything I did not say.”

Proverbs 10:19 puts it this way: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

One Pastor wrote a simple story that helped me:

A woman had a very serious throat condition. The doctor told her that her vocal cords needed total rest ­ she was forbidden to talk for 6 months! With a husband and 6 kids, this seemed impossible, but she did what she was told. When she needed the kids she blew a whistle. Whenever she needed to communicate she wrote things on pads of paper. After six months, her voice came back. When asked what it was like to communicate only in writing, she said this: “You’d be surprised how many notes I crumpled up and threw into the trash before I gave them to anyone. Seeing my words before anyone heard them had an effect that I don’t think I can ever forget.

Remember, “If you don’t say it — they can’t repeat it.”

Third, choose your words.

I loved this story:

Pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who could speak in eight languages, once told this story on himself: Some years ago he had a stubborn case of hoarseness. The newspapers were full of reports about smoking and cancer; so he decided to consult a throat specialist. “I searched his face for a clue during the 30 minute examination,” Rubenstein said, “but it was expressionless. He told me to come back the next day. I went home full of fears, and I didn’t sleep that night.” The next day there was another long examination and again an ominous silence. “Tell me,” the pianist exclaimed. “I can stand the truth. I’ve lived a full, rich life. What’s wrong with me?” The physician said, “You talk too much.”

Sometimes we MUST speak. The mouth was a GIFT of God that we share to move hearts. It can be beneficial, and we should actively seek to use it that way! James 1:19, 26: “…Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” He couldn’t be clearer – our faith’s power hangs on our ability to control our tongue- and we are on the planet to share our faith with others.

Proverbs 12:18 says: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Who can I heal with words today – because I want to do it! The world is wounded and hurting people. They have been wounded by the verbal arrows shot from the bow of angry hearts. The pliers of truth can remove the arrows of harm. The salve of encouragement can ease the sting of past wounds. The bandage of loving and inspiring comment can cover the scars and keep them from becoming scabs. I want my breath to heal, my words to comfort, my verse to inspire.

Remember that it is not simply the words you choose, but the relationship you have had that gives the words power. If you know someone well, the words of encouragement root more deeply. Your richest appreciation should be liberally poured into the heart of the people closest to you. Don’t let someone else tell your parent how much you love them – YOU tell them. Don’t let someone else share how much your spouse means to you based on the things you say about them when they aren’t around – YOU say them direct to the person that you love. If they aren’t near, get a phone. Buy a card. Send a text. Tell them. Everyone needs sincere cheerleading in life. Encouragement is being drowned out by loud voices of blame, guilt, doom and despair. YOU have the power to help someone by verbalizing encouragement.

Years ago I heard Chuck Swindoll preaching on the tongue. He told a story that I am sure I will not get all the details perfect on – but it was a powerful story to me. He spoke of a friend he had who had a son with a large birth mark that was embedded across his face. It was an unmistakable mark that made Mikhail Gorbachev’s purple mark look tiny. There was no hiding it, and the boy didn’t seem to mind a bit. One day Pastor Chuck spoke to the young man about the mark, and asked him directly why it seemed to have so little negative effect on his self-esteem – although it was different than everyone in school. The boy told him that ever since he could remember, his father told him: “Son, that birthmark is where an angel kissed your face. You have it so that I can always pick you out of the crowd.” The young man surprised him as he continued, “You know, I almost feel sorry for those who don’t have a birthmark.” There was a dad who breathed life into a situation that could have devastated his son. Acceptance is powerful. Affirmation is securing. Love verbalized is empowering.

Fourth, improve your thinking – since that is where the words come from.

I once heard someone say “the first screw that gets loose in a person’s head is the one that controls the tongue” – and he longer I live, the more I am beginning to believe it. It is sad, in my view, that some who have known the Lord for many years still regularly lose to a wagging tongue. We can try to keep quiet, but for some of us, that probably won’t happen. Maybe a better strategy is to fill our minds with greater vision. Maybe by learning and growing, we will be more apt to speak words of positive encouragement.

Someone has said that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” I want to be known as an IDEA GUY. I want to lift those who listen to greater aspirations of following God and walking in truth. I want to pull people up – not push them down.

William A. Ward wrote: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” That has surely been true of the best of my teachers. They inspired me because they helped me to see from a higher plane. They helped me recognize areas of danger in my choices without robbing me of the choices themselves. They offered positive reinforcement but were not warm and fuzzy –they were crisp thinking and they wanted me to be as well.

The best way to grow others around us is to keep growing ourselves. Don’t get stale. Read things that are hard for you to grasp at first. Flex the mind muscles. Learn… Dr. Howard Hendricks told of a professor who made an impact on his life. He passed his home many times, early in the morning and late at night, and often saw him pouring over his books. One day, Hendricks asked him, “Doctor, I’d like to know, what is it that keeps you studying? You never cease to learn.” His answer: “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than from a stagnant pool.”

The plain fact is this: We do what we do because we think what we think. If we want to change what we do, we should change how, and about what, we are thinking. When pressure comes upon us, the inner well of thoughts springs forth – for better or worse. What are you reading? What are you studying? What are you watching? A lazy mind will lead to a barren life.

James closed the passage with another important principle that we are all sure to agree is essential in relation to our mouths…

Principle #2: The tongue requires…Absolute Consistency:

We seem to be able to use it well at times, but not consistently. The tongue requires complete consistency because God didn’t make it for both good and evil.

James 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

God created trees and plants to bear singular fruits. An apple tree was not designed to produce an orange. Grafting aside, the natural process is clear – God made things distinct from one another. Just as there are olives from an olive tree, grapes from a grape vine, figs from a fig tree, fresh water from a fresh spring – MIXED is not God’s way. The same truth should be applied to our mouths.

When a child is raised in an environment that is inconsistent – one day encouragement, the next day biting sarcasm and hurtful slander – they are misshapen by the sheer duplicity of it all. They don’t know what to expect when the parent begins to speak. Reliability is about predictability.

What do they hear us say? Do we bless people to their faces and bad mouth them at their backs? What should our child believe about us when that is what they see and hear?

Years ago I was at a party for a man retiring from a long time teaching in a Bible school. I did not know the man well, but I was impressed with his humility, especially in light of the way his teaching had dramatically impacted so many people I knew. He was teary and quite during tributes of his colleagues. It wasn’t until his son spoke that I saw him truly begin to cry. His son got up and simply offered this tribute to his dad:

You all know a man that wears a public face. He teaches with authority and humility. I am here to tell you of another man – the one at home. He sounds, in every moment that I can recall – exactly the same. There is no guile in him. He is a man of integrity at home and authenticity outside – and I have never met another man like him. When I was young, I was proud of him. Now, I am a man that must begin to measure up to the standard he has lived before me.” I remember the room went quiet. We were all touched. We were all probably also a bit challenged. “Is that what my children would say of me?” I thought.

Serving Jesus is about how we discipline our lives- especially in the area of the tongue. The grand mark of maturity is the consistent ability to control the use of their tongue. Since the old man is ever within, mature believers limit the old man’s access to the microphone of the mouth.