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Evidently, “interventions” are not the invention of modern psychology, as both James and Paul describe spiritual interventions in these passages.

Spiritual interventions are called for when a brother or sister in Christ allows sin, rebellion, or disbelief to dominate his or her life.  The goal of any spiritual intervention is to “bring back” and “restore” the other person.  This is to be done gently, circumspectly, and humbly.  If the intervention leads to repentance, then the sins are forgiven and a life is saved.

This is great advice that is only rarely followed.  It’s only seldom followed because spiritual interventions require courageous, sacrificial love…and, well, we’d rather not ruffle feathers.

Spiritual interventions are also risky.  Who knows how someone will react when confronted with their sin and its consequences?  People are so defensive.  Plus, people might call me intolerant or judgmental.  I mean, I’m not perfect, either.  Who am I to call out someone else? There are a lot of fears and excuses.  In the end, we often just prefer peace in the relationship now rather than take a risk for someone’s eternal relationship with God.  That may not be true of you, but I confess with shame that it has been true of me at times.

I can hardly think of a time when I have initiated a spiritual intervention; however, I have been involved in a number of them.  I seem to get dragged, kicking and screaming, into them.  Without any statistics to back it up, my impression is that they’ve fallen out about 50/50; that is, about half have resulted in repentance and about half have blown up, sometimes severing relationships permanently.

Is it worth it?

I think so. “Saving a soul from death” is hardly insignificant.  Plus, Paul commands us to bear each other’s burdens, which, in this case, probably means helping people get out from under something that is too heavy and strong for them to fight alone.

In those cases which end well, not only are relationships restored, but they are deepened.  You only confront someone with their sin if you REALLY love them.  Those who repent recognize this and are grateful.  Relationship with God is deepened as well, because it takes faith and trust to intervene.

One thing I’ve noticed is that people who are making bad choices need to hear BOTH grace and truth.  That usually requires a team, because some of us are better at expressing grace and others of us are better at telling truth.

James wrote about the “mirror,” which is the “law of liberty.”  Sometimes God wants us to be a mirror to our believing friends, helping them to see the truth about their lives.  Sometimes God wants us to be like the little kid in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” who cried out: “He’s not wearing any clothes!”  That’s actually being more honest and loving than allowing someone to walk around naked.

May God give us grace and courage to love well.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Suzanne was a stay-at-home mom who had a big concern for the arrogance she saw in her husband. Her earnest prayer was for God to do whatever it would take to humble the man she loved. It wasn’t too long before God allowed this man to suddenly lose his job. Suzanne’s prayers were efficacious because of her faith which had an intensity of the Spirit, not because of a half-hearted ritual passing over her lips.

John Calvin knew what James meant by Elijah being someone like us since he disagreed with a prominent superstition of his time that said “saints were half gods or heroes,” which was why God heard their prayers. Calvin went on to comment that James had to remind his audience, “saints ought to be considered as having the infirmity of the flesh. . . .” Yes, Elijah was a prophet, but he was just as susceptible to weakness, fear, and discouragement as were the readers of James’ letter — and as susceptible to sin as you and I are too.

Elijah was jealous for God’s honor. He hated his nation’s ongoing idolatry so he prayed for judgment and the result was the first time since Noah’s flood that there was climate change. A three year drought couldn’t be ignored, but it wasn’t until the Baal vs. God contest on Mt. Carmel that the worshippers of Baal were convinced of who is the only true God.

The lack of employment and the lack of rainfall caused uncomfortable conditions for Suzanne and for Elijah, but they didn’t allow personal comfort to hinder them from praying for that was best for those whom they loved. Until God becomes our greatest desire, we’ll experience disappointment with His deliverance of our perceived needs. I confess that I often pray safe prayers. Do I truly believe God’s grace is enough for me?

 

 

Earlier in James we read that God gives “more grace” to those who are humble.  How does that work out in real life?

I can hardly think of anything more humbling than confessing my sins to another person (especially when he or she is the person I’ve sinned against).  Strangely, I would much rather confess my sins quietly and privately to a holy and righteous God than expose my heart to another sinful human being.  Nonetheless, James clearly commands us to confess our sins “to each other.”

It takes humility and courage to confess sin.  But here’s the deal: confessed sin gets forgiven.  That’s the promise of 1 John 1:9.  God forgives sin when we confess it.  And more often than not, other people are willing to forgive a humble admission of sin as well.  That’s where the “more grace” comes flowing in.  God’s grace flows freely in our relationships when we are quick to confess and quick to forgive.  That grace usually takes the form of spiritual freedom and relational peace and unity but, when God wills, it can also heal physical sickness.

On Sunday we talked about the three “litmus tests”: how we use words, wealth, and our bodies (purity).  It strikes me that the abuse of words, wealth, and our bodies all takes place in the context of relationships.  It’s not words themselves, or money itself, or sexual pleasure itself that are the problem; it’s when we use words, wealth, and our bodies greedily, selfishly, ambitiously, or as a weapons.  The result of such sin is damaged, divided, and destroyed relationships.

When was the last time you confessed to someone against whom you sinned?  Or when was the last time you confessed to anyone about anything?  If you can’t answer those questions, you might have a problem with arrogance or fear.  And neither of those are healthy for our souls, our bodies, or our relationships.

-KC

We’re nearing the end of our James reading guide, and today we continue looking at how he wraps things up: by urging his audience to pray!

He says in verse 13, “Is anyone among you suffering?  Let him pray.  Is anyone cheerful?  Let him sing praise.  Is anyone among you sick?  Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.  And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

Do you notice the pattern there from those three verses?  All three of them mention specifically the word prayer!  In fact, in every single verse from James 5:13-18 he mentions the word prayer.  It is clear that his main thought, then, is to encourage his audience to prayer.  Remember, he’s been spending considerable time on the theme of trials and hardships, and so here he makes it clear that prayer is for any circumstance!

Are you suffering?  Is life really hard at the moment?  Then pray about it!

Are you happy?  Is life going great right now?  Praise God for that!

Are you sick?  Then call the elders of the church, so that they (and the rest of the church) might pray for you!

Note that in the latter case, James does refer to the elders (the overseers and pastors) anointing the sick person with oil so that there might be healing, but the emphasis here is not on the oil but rather on the healing of God that comes, as the elders are to anoint with oil “in the name of the Lord.”  It is not a magic formula for healing but rather a demonstration of faith in God as the great physician and healer.  Sometimes this sickness may be caused by sin, but James says “if he has committed sins,” making it clear that just because someone is sick does not mean he or she has sinned.

Again, the main emphasis of this passage is on prayer and trusting in and depending on God for our comfort, our good, and our livelihood.  I know in my life I sometimes have a tendency to only pray when things are hard or when I have sinned, but James also calls us to praise God when times are good!  There is no excuse to not be faithful in prayer. When we’re suffering and going through hard times, we take those concerns to God and trust in Him.  When we’re happy and everything’s going great, we thank God for that and acknowledge that all good things are from Him.  And when we’re seriously sick, we call the elders so that they can pray over us (and anoint us) and so that others in the congregation might pray for us too.

As we draw near to the end of this James series, may we be people marked by prayer in any and all circumstances, trusting God when times are tough and praising Him when times are good!  In all things, may we be faithful in prayer!

Friday, October 6, 2017

The book of Psalms is a favorite of many people and rightfully so. The language is poignant and speaks to the heart. We sense a close affinity with the feelings the psalmists expressed, which draws us into God’s presence.

Psalm 23, for example, pictures God making us lie down in green pastures, preparing a table before us, anointing our head with oil, our cup overflowing, and so forth. We’ve learned to read that as poetry. The words touch our emotions and warm our hearts. But we do not expect God to actually set a table, anoint us, or for us to have overflowing cups in our hands.

Turning to Psalm 103, when it says that God heals all our diseases, renews our youth, considers us dust, and so forth, we read that as poetry as well. At least we should.

Unfortunately, a Grace Seminary professor in the early 60s came to believe that God actually does heal all our diseases and it’s wrong to accept any medical assistance. (You can read about Hobart Freeman on Wikipedia, including his dismissal from Grace, the “glory barn,” and the report of 90+ adults, children, and newborns dying unnecessarily because they did not receive proper medical attention.)

Unfortunately, misinterpretations of the psalms abound. A professor in a well-known Christian college taught—based on Psalm 34:20 (“the bones of the righteous shall not be broken”)—that if someone gets a broken bone, it’s a sign of sin in their life.

Unfortunately, preachers (including in the FGBC) have proclaimed—based on Isaiah 43:25 and Jeremiah 31:34 (both passages are poetic)—that God forgets our sin when he forgives our sin. But God also says, “I will never forget any of the wrongs they have done” (Amos 8:7).

It’s essential to recognize that one of the most common characteristics of Hebrew poetry is figures of speech. Figures of speech are real but not necessarily true. That is, poetry speaks truth but it often uses metaphors to convey that truth. God doesn’t really anoint our heads with oil nor does he always heal our diseases.

The key to reading the psalms correctly is focusing on the overall point of a psalm and not turning a phrase here or there—that might be a figure of speech—into a promise or a proposition. In reading through Psalm 103 it’s not difficult to see that the theme is God’s redemptive acts. What the Lord has done for us is awesome!

Let’s read the psalms with our hearts, rejoice in God’s faithfulness, and seek to be faithful ourselves.

~ dBs

When James and Jesus talk about swearing here, it is not profanity but rather oaths and vows. (See parrot joke about profanity.) This must have surprised the Jewish listeners since people swore oaths all the time in the OT, and even God Himself swore (Heb 3:11, 4:3, 6:13). Oddly they confirmed it by placing their hand under your thigh (Gen 24:1-9). These kinds of oaths are really saying that either God is a “co-signer” or guarantor of the oath, or some kind of promise that miraculous bad things will happen to me if I break my part of the vow. The thing is that neither of these are within your power to control. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that you could no sooner turn your hair black or white than to make God do something at your bidding, even if it is to enforce a good promise. But Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, and David and those guys swore all the time! So what changed? And why would James say, “But above all, my brothers, do not swear.” “Above all?!” Above ‘do not kill’ or above ‘love your neighbor’? I do not have a good answer for that. But I do have some more questions:

1)    What about testimony in court? The new rule is that you can say, “I AFFIRM that I will tell the truth, the whole truth,” etc. Is that just semantics?

2)    What about wedding vows? What if I just let my, “I do,” be “yes,” and no further elaboration?

3)    What about presidential inaugurations?

4)    What about other people entering into business contracts with you? Should you be satisfied with their Yes, Yes?

5)    What about James earlier caveat in 4:15 – “If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that.” Does that qualify/nullify the Yes, Yes?

Bottom line: if you punctuate your promise with, “so help me God,” then you are (as they say) “writing a check with your mouth that your body can’t cash,” and that is the very definition of taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exo 20:7).

–SF

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

In the 1990s Gao Feng went on a hunger strike to get back his copy of the Bible which his prison guards had taken from him. While behind bars Feng was tortured with shocks from cattle prods, but his spirit could not be broken. Eventually Feng endured “reeducation through labor” in a northern province of China. There, after twelve hour days of working in the fields, he had to join fifteen others in a 12’ X 20’ cell. When he was released two years later Feng had this testimony, “I would prefer to be in a prison than to do nothing for God.”

Jeremiah’s suffering lasted for 41 years as he pleaded with Judah to repent. He was bitterly opposed (Jeremiah 36) by his hearers who never did repent because of hearing him prophecy.  Plus, Jeremiah’s family rejected him.

The book, Jesus Freaks, dc Talk and the Voice of the Martyrs (Bethany House, 1999), from which I took Gao Feng’s story, has 100 stories of those who died for the name of Jesus, beginning with Stephen in 34 A.D. If an updated, 2017 version of the book was to be published, would we know any of the martyrs personally? At most I receive mockery and disrespect from my unbelieving friends, but perhaps I lack enough boldness to cause me to have to endure real persecution.

Our Enemy in Kosciusko County is usually a subtle one, not armed with cattle prods, but with allures of affluence, personal pride, and whatever leads to little, gradual compromises with God’s Word. Can we be instrumental in helping the deceived apply brakes as they slide down the slippery slope?

In the moment of decision during a temptation to compromise, do we tend toward immediate gratification or do we persevere in holiness for God’s honor, knowing He is full of compassion and mercy? We can have great hope in anticipating the all-surpassing joy of seeing our Savior vis-à-vis. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20b)

ES