The Issue Isn’t the Issue

James 3:16 – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 

James 4:1-2 – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 

A husband and a wife get into a big bruhaha over how and where to spend the holidays. Each is convinced he or she is right and the other is outside his or her mind. The line is drawn in the sand, feet are firmly planted in his or her position, and it turns into a knockdown-drag-out fight.

Let me ask this, was the real problem for that couple where to spend the holidays? Was the “issue” over which that couple fought really the issue? Can you see that there is another problem that has nothing to do with where to go for Christmas? In the Scriptures above, James tells us that if there is disorder and fighting, then something is underlying the current “issue” we are fighting about.

The nation is always divided, we just have a  new issue that comes across the scene over which we can fight. And the same goes for families, churches, organizations and businesses. You have a meeting at work that goes sideways, and tempers flare as you discuss a new project or declining sales projections. Was the “issue” the issue, or are there underlying attitudes that are clearly the problem?

Here are a few things I’ve learned about the “issue”:

  • We will always have “issues.” There will always be things that we will disagree on, and will have the potential to turn into a major fight. Those “issues” are never going away.
  • The issues will change. This is probably the same as the previous point, but we may think we settled an issue, but then a different topic comes along and exposes the same underlying problems. New issues…same relationship and attitude problems.
  • We can agree on an issue, and still not be united. You can see this concept played out in Scripture, in politics, in the church, etc. Folks in a church may all agree on certain doctrinal stands, but are they united? We will find out when other issues hit the fan. You and I might find an issue upon which we can clearly rally. But when the “next issue” comes along it may expose that we were never really united.
  • We have to pray and calmly seek God’s guidance to look past the current issue. May God, the Great Physician, help us to see the real sickness and problem underneath instead of treating the symptoms. I may sneeze because I have allergies, you may sneeze because you have a virus. We have to understand the root problem, otherwise our treatment of the symptom may not work. In fact the treatment of the symptom could be dangerous.

For our meditation today, we can remember that when there are fights and quarrels, there is something underneath the surface that has nothing to do with the current issue.

The Religion God Wants

When you think of the word “religion,” what first comes to mind?

James 1:25-27
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

When we think of the word “religion,” what first comes to mind? Worshiping a god or gods? A belief system? A church building? Traditions and rituals?

If you were to ask God what “religion” is, what would He tell you? James 1 gives us the answer. In this passage we see what “religion” is and is not.

A person may be religious, James says, but that religion is worthless if he doesn’t control his mouth. So in thinking about that, if we do all the religious things that we think please God and make us feel religious, but we do not restrain our tongues, then God says, “That isn’t My religion…that’s yours.”

James also says that there are two main indicators of what God calls “pure and undefiled religion,” and that is:

  1. Taking care of the helpless, especially the fatherless and those whose spouses have died. Take a look through the Bible and see how many times God emphasized the care of the helpless (widows, strangers, orphans, poor, etc.). Jesus, in his parable in Matthew 25, says that this is what kind of heart he is looking for when He returns in judgment. Did we care for the “least of these” children of God?
  2. Keeping ourselves unstained by the world. Moral purity. Restraining our tongues, and using our speech for edification. Going to a church building and performing our “religion” is not what God is looking for. Again, look through the Bible to see what God has to say about those who go through religious services and perform traditions and rituals, but do not restrain their passions and tongues. What God wants is purity. What He wants is for us to live in holiness before Him in our hearts and mouths.

So, if you and I want to be “religious,” God has consistently told us what kind of religion He wants. It’s pretty simple!

Micah 6:6-8
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

God’s Anger in the Psalms, My Anger in the Proverbs

Today’s MDB is a follow-up of yesterday’s article about fierce anger. My friend, Geoff, sent me a great note reflecting on the “why” of anger, meaning “why am I angry?” He also pointed out that when Jesus was angry, it was mainly because of how others were being hurt, not how He himself was being hurt. At the same time, I was listening to a sermon where the speaker was saying pretty much the same thing about Jesus’ anger. So we are going to dive deeper into the anger of God.

God’s Anger in the Psalms, My Anger in the Proverbs

In preparation for this, I started searching the word “anger” and started looking through the references. It was interesting that in the Psalms, a large majority of the references were in connection to God and His anger. The same search in the book of Proverbs revealed that most of the instances of the word “anger” is connected to man and his anger.

It’s as if God wants us to reflect on His anger first, and then consider our own anger in comparison.

God’s anger in the Psalms

  • Psalms 6:1 O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
  • Psalm 30:5For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
  • Psalm 77:9 – Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah. (The answer to that is in the Psalm, no…God has not forgotten to be gracious, and no He did not shut up His compassion in the midst of his anger.)
  • Psalm 78:38Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. (You can see in Psalm 78 that God was rightly angry for their sins, see verses 21,31,49,50,58. However all of that “anger” of God was couched in atonement, restraint and compassion).
  • Psalm 85:3 – You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
  • Psalm 86:15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
  • Psalm 103:8-14The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
  • Psalms 106:37-40 – They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds. Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;

So, what have we observed about God’s anger? Here are some things I saw, and I know you all will see others.

  • God’s anger is for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Man’s anger is for a lifetime, while our favor is for a moment.
  • God is slow to anger. Man has a hair trigger for his anger.
  • God knows we are but dust. We with our anger blast other people into dust.
  • God’s anger is often focused on how others are treated. Our anger is often focused on how we are treated.
  • In God’s anger, he was compassionate, and did the atoning for our sin. He often restrained His anger/wrath, and refused to keep stirring it up. How about us? Are we seeking for others’ sins to be covered? Do we put a seat belt on our anger, or do we let it loose? Do we keep a “anger spoon” in our hands at all times, stirring the pot of our anger?
  • God does not deal with us according to our sins. He punished us far less than our iniquity deserved. We, on the other hand, are like James and John who want to bring fire down from heaven on the person who cuts in front of us in traffic.

There’s a lot more to consider on this. We’ll continue on Monday, Lord willing, and consider our anger as taught in the Proverbs.

Remember that the “wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20).

Lost The Power Forever

I’ve never read, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, so we ordered it. We are currently reading this short story. We’ve watched a lot of movie versions of the book, the kids’ favorite is the Muppet Version.

As we were reading it the other night, we came to the part where Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old friend, came from the dead to visit Scrooge. As Jacob Marley is about to depart, Scrooge sees tons of spirits moving through the sky, moaning and crying. They are crying because they had the opportunity to do good for their fellow man and did not do it. Now they are dead and they have to roam the earth to see all the misery they could have helped to relieve.

Here is a quote from the book:

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power forever.

Think about that statement, they sought to interfere in human matters but had forever lost the power. While they were alive they had the opportunity to intervene in the human suffering around them, but chose not to do so. Now it is too late for them. Sad, isn’t it?

What about us? We have today, and we have opportunity.

James 4:13-17 – Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

James and Fathers, Part 2

Last Wednesday, we began a look into the book of James and some things we learn about God as our Father. Here are a few more thoughts.

As a Father, He wants us to bless Him, but He is also deeply concerned with how we talk about our brothers and sisters. As dads, remember to keep a check on how your kids talk to each other. That’s a big lesson they will learn and hopefully translate into other areas of life.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

We can always trust that God’s intentions and purposes for us are good. Even when we don’t understand why things happen or why God asks certain things from us, we can trust He loves us and know that in the end my soul’s salvation is first on my Father’s mind. This is important for us, dads. My end goal is not being “right” on a matter. My end goal is not having my child be perfect in every way. My goal is to keep my heart as a Father in line with the heart of the Father in heaven. If my heart is line with my Father’s, then that will affect everything I say, do and think when it comes to my kids.

We may think too much about the training and instruction we are giving our kids, and all the investment we have poured into them, but fail to think about some very important things. Sometimes we lose sight of the working of God in our sons and daughters. We also at times lose sight on the transformation that God is working within us as well. Our Father loves us very much, too, and He is transforming us every day as dads so that we will imitate our Father as dear children (Ephesians 5:1)

Overcoming Our Ego, Part 2

Last Tuesday, we took a look at our egos, and some signs our egos are getting in the way. You may call ego something like “pride” or “selfish ambition” from a Biblical perspective.

Here are some additional thoughts about our desire to get the credit, the praise and the approval.

We are complete in God through Jesus Christ, period (Colossians 2:10). If man’s praise, acceptance and approval have become our obsession, it is a sign that we are not truly and safely resting in the grace and shelter of God’s arms. Yes, it is great to have the acceptance and approval of others, but that must not be our end goal, because that is such an empty, vain and painful way to live. It will make others around you miserable, too. What are you and I lacking in our relationship with God that we seek to fill with the praise of others?

At a practical level…today:

  • Pray for God to keep our big mouths shut. Enough said. Keeping it shut when we are right. Keeping it shut when someone tells us something we already know…aargh, this is tough.
  • Do things around the house and for our wives without telling them we did it. Yikes, is this possible? Read Matthew 6:1-4, 16-21.
  • Have a chat over coffee and in prayer with a wise godly man who can help you navigate these thoughts. Find a mature man who is comfortable in his own skin because of Jesus.
  • Let’s do some meditation, prayer and study on the grace of God, and that in Him through Jesus Christ we are fully accepted. “The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.” If we never feel good enough, we will seek man’s praise, but if our sufficiency is truly from God, then one day man’s praise won’t be so attractive to us.

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(2 Corinthians 3:1-6)

Moving in Two Directions

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(James 4:7-8)

In this passage we see the Lord and the Devil moving in two different directions. The Devil is fleeing and and Lord is drawing near. This explains why the Devil flees, because God is coming!

We see all the Devil is doing in this world, and what he has done in our own lives, and he can be pretty scary. He is described in Scripture as the adversary, the prince of the power of the darkness, the enemy, the accuser of our brethren, a dragon, a serpent, a lion, the god of this age, the evil one, the father of lies, a murderer, the tempter, and the ruler of this world (Matthew 4:3; 13:38-39; John 8:44; 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9-10).

When I think of a lion, a ruler, a god, and a dragon, the thought of those beings fleeing anything is foreign to me. But when the Lord is coming, that great dragon and roaring lion runs away! The Devil is powerful, he has brought the whole world under his influence (1 John 5:19), but He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

If you submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God, the Lord promised two things: He would come near, and the Devil would run away. That’s a promise. God doesn’t lie. Sometimes we get too caught up in the power of the Devil and forget how much more mighty the Lord Jesus is.

He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
(1 John 3:8)

James and Fathers, Part 1

The book of James has been on my mind a lot lately as we are preparing to be part of a camp next week where the theme will be from the book of James.

Today (and also for next Wednesday), I wanted to look at a few passages from James that give us a picture of the God we serve. He is our Father, but what kind of Father is our Lord?

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
(James 1:5)

He gives generously, and doesn’t hold it over our heads after He gives. Of course, God does remind us of what His gifts have cost, but He doesn’t do it like a lot of us dads do. The result of dads reminding kids repeatedly of how much they “cost” is guilt and feeling like a constant inconvenience. Our Father does not do that for us. He gives and gives and gives and gives. One of my favorite verses on this is Romans 8:32 – read it. The result of God’s giving to us is praise, gratitude, and a desire to come to Him for everything! The reason sometimes people feel guilty asking the Father in heaven for things, is because they have been conditioned by their dads on earth to feel bad for coming AGAIN to ask for something.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
(James 1:17-18)

He is a gift giver, who gives good things with the best interest of His children in mind. He is also a Father who is not a different dad each day. There is no variation within Him. As we mature in Jesus, we become more stable and there are less “variations” in our thinking and behavior as Fathers. God “gave birth” to us through His word, and that is the same way we as dads will bring life and growth to our children is through the power of the word.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
(James 1:27)

God has made it plain as a Father what He really wants. Yes, there are other details to “religion,” but there are the main things He wants us to focus on. As dads, we must have to keep focused on what the big things are, and what God really is looking for in them. It can get really easy to get lost in the weeds of all the little things our kids are doing that are either wrong or need to improve, but keep focused on the big things first.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.
(James 3:9)

More on this next Wednesday, Lord willing.

Overcoming Our Ego, Part 1

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
(James 4:1)

Here are a few questions about what we call the ego. This article is not intended to answer all these questions fully. 

  • What is the “ego”? (It is not a pre-made waffle that you put in the toaster, that’s spelled EGGO).
  • What is a biblical way of describing the ego?
  • How does my “ego” and the need to care for and tend it affect my marriage?

When do we see our egos raise their ugly heads and cause problems?

When we feel insecure or not good enough. Your wife is complimenting someone else in an area where you are not as strong or talented. How you deal with that? Her father is really good at something that you’re not very good at, and it isn’t that your wife is reminding you of that, it’s just that you are having a hard time with your own insecurity.

When we are criticized or corrected. Certainly criticism and correction can be done in a way that really hurts and stings, but what if the correction is done in love, do you receive it well? Do you have to remind the one correcting you of his or her faults so that you can feel better (or so that we can all feel equally awful/guilty)? Is always being right or always looking good more important than our spiritual growth and having healthy relationships?

When someone else gets credit for your idea/work. If our egos are in the way, we can really let this destroy us. Because of our pride, we are driven to be noticed and credited for our good ideas, designs and accomplishments. But can we be okay if we do not receive the kind of accolades we long for? Jesus said if we are looking for men’s praise, then we have the reward we are seeking (Matthew 6). It is not a good thing, though, because like any addiction we will keep seeking that praise and the good feelings it brings, but it never truly satisfies.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
(Philippians 2:3-5)

More to come next week, Lord willing.

James’ Words for the Rich and Powerful

Today’s words come from the book of James, and the focus is those who have power and possessions. There are some blunt words and clear warnings given by James to those with the funds and the status.

Read these words of wisdom and reflect on what God has to say to those of us in positions of authority. What is God saying to us when we have the blessings of material goods in our lives? Authority and money are great tools and wonderful blessings that can be used for God’s glory; they don’t have to be used like most people use them (abuse them).

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
(James 1:9-11)

The rich man must remember that all those “pursuits” will fade away. Use them, enjoy them and share them, but remember they are all going to perish.

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
(James 2:5-7)

Being affluent doesn’t mean anything to God when it comes to salvation. In fact many times it gets in the way, because the rich often are too proud and self-sufficient to see a need for salvation. We may be rich in funds, but we must become poor in spirit.

For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(James 2:13-17)

One of the very reasons we work and get wages is to have funds to help others in need (Ephesians 4:28). If you have this world’s goods, remember to look around for those who are lacking those goods, and share your blessings with them. Don’t do it out of guilt, do it out of gratitude. Show your faith by how you use your cash.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
(James 4:13-17)

Plans and life itself all change in a millisecond. James bluntly calls us arrogant when we make all our plans without regard for God, His will, or the brevity of life.  Are you doing the Lord’s will today? Tomorrow may not arrive.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.
(James 5:1-6)

Finally, God pays attention and knows very well who is being oppressed and abused. Those who use authority, status and money to hurt other people will be judged by a holy and just God. If the workers cannot cry out to their bosses for mercy, they can certainly cry out to God for mercy and He will hear them. Use your power, status and money to be a protector and provider of others. You know it shouldn’t have taken unions, lawsuits and riots to force businesses to do the right thing for the workers. If those who are running businesses and managing employees would honor God and read James, then they would naturally work to create a safe working environment and pay fair wages.