Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and it’s exciting to worship with you here this morning. We started Journey Church eight years ago to be a church for people who are just starting out on their faith journey with God – or maybe you are restarting your faith journey after a long hiatus. We speak each week to people who are skeptical about the existence of God, or maybe cynical about the church, because we truly believe that when you discover the true Jesus you will find him irresistible. You will want to follow him.
He is the most brilliant teacher who ever lived. People who heard him couldn’t get enough of him. Crowds of people were crushing one another to get close to the guy. And not – by the way- religious people. The religious people in Jesus day criticized Jesus because he was a friend of “notorious sinners” – people who slept around too much, drank too much, partied too hard – they had a reputation – and some of you are like, sounds like my kind of people!
Well good! I hope so! Because you are going to hear some good news this morning that could change your life. Or set you on a path that could change your life. Because not only does Jesus love you- He likes you. He likes you, man! And if your brain just popped like a Champaign cork in your head – then just wait because the news keeps getting better.
This morning we are continuing a study about the book of James in the bible. We started it a few weeks ago, but if this is your first week, don’t worry, you will be able to follow along just fine.
Although we call it the book of James – James is actually a letter. Written by a guy named James. He was a leader in the early church, a pastor, and one day he sat down and wrote this letter and sent it to a church, (This picture is a picture of what it would have looked like. Written on papyrus – this is a picture of a fragment found that is one of the earliest manuscripts of the book of James. – This one is in Oxford – to date there is something like 24,000 fragments of manuscripts of these letters) – What would happen is a church read it – made a copy of that letter – sent the copy down the road to the church that met in the next town over so they would know what James was teaching.
Other leaders and pastors in the church also wrote letters, and the same deal – make a copy and see if the church in Elkhorn has heard from John. or Peter. or Paul.
And over time these letters were compiled and became the goto resources for churches trying to figure out life. Eventually the church meets together and says, these are the books are going to be the standard we will all follow – for life, for conduct.
By about 200 AD the church leaders get together and say these 27 letters/books are the official standards. Why did they do this? Well, by this time Christianity was growing, and one of the problems that occurred were fake letters, fake stories about Jesus – often done by groups of people who wanted a piece of the action. Paticularly the “Gnostics” – And so they create fake gospels – and stick a bible persons name on it. And they were fakes, and obvious at that.
Unfortunately, many people think the DaVinci code was a biography, and not fiction. And so there’s this idea that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Thomas were written at the same time, and that there was this huge church struggle, in a fight for the riches of the church. And one side won.
No – let’s remember that in 200 ad – Followers of Jesus are still being fed to lions. They are being lit up – used for torches in Caesar’s garden parties. True story. What riches?
The fact is that these other so called gospels were blatant forgeries – and you can read them right now – google gospel of Thomas – you can read it for yourself and then read Matthew, or Luke – and compare – and it will not take you long to come to the same conclusion the leaders of the early church came to – these are the real deals – let’s make it official.
Well, you might object – that doesn’t mean what we are reading today is the same thing they read in James’ day. They didn’t have copying machines – people make mistakes. It’s like a game of telephone. And I’d say – it is, but they were super careful in how they transcribed – or copied – these letters. How do we know?
Well, one day in 1947 there is this beduin shepherd out in the desert, and he’s throwing rocks to pass the time – and he’s aiming to try to throw the rock into one of these caves. Well, he throws a rock into one cave and he hears pottery break. He climbs the hill to discover dozens of jars filled with old scrolls. So he takes a few back to town and sells them in the market – somebody gets them into the hands of an archeologist who opens it up to discover that it’s actually the book of Isaiah, an old testament book.
He dates what became known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls” and it turns out to be dated back around 200bc. So basiclly what they find is a time capsule – these scrolls have been in a time – unread and untouched for 2200 years. So they compare. Does today’s version of Isaiah read the same as the 2200 year version? And low and behold it’s like 99 percent the same. There were insignificant changes – like one version says he sacrificed three bulls, and the other says one bull.
What does that tell us? Great care was taken in the preservation of these original letters. And so when we read James chapter 3, we can be sure that we are reading the same words, translated from greek, of course, that they read in the year 54ad, which was when James was most likely written. The bible has been reliably transmitted. You are reading what they read in 54.
And what does Pastor James tells his church, then and now?
13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it…
Today we are talking about living a wise life. And James is going to compare two different kinds of wisdom. God’s kind of wisdom, and, as he says in verse 15, there is a kind that is not God’s kind of wisdom.
For help in understanding how these two kinds of wisdom play out in life, I think we need to understand what wisdom is first.
Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. It’s not just knowledge. There are plenty of really smart fools. There is no shortage of educated dummies. They have knowledge, they don’t apply it properly.
But even more importantly, you must be applying the right kind of knowledge.
I have up here two water pitchers that represent the two systems of knowledge – and I would say these are the only two systems – cisterns, if you will, from which we drink. Reality itself is found in one of these two cisterns of knowledge.
The first cistern of knowledge is the one this broken world most believes to be true. And it is summed up in the idea that “If it is to be – it is up to me.” It is the idea that ultimate reality is that I am on my own. This is the cistern from which most of humanity drinks. It is the cistern from which what we commonly call wisdom is founded.
This worldview is summed up in common phrases such as, look out for numero uno. Only the strong survive. It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Kill or be killed. Every man for himself. Treat Yoself! Because, although you are no more than the accidental collision of atoms over a few billion years, you deserve a break today! Get ya some! Take care of yourself!
So we spend most of our lives drinking from this cistern of knowledge – self protection – self reliance. We build our own little kingdom. Where we rule, and try to extend our rule into the lives of others. We go home to our own castle – that’s what we call our home, right? Why? Because I’m the king of my own little kingdom.
We fight to be heard, respected, noticed, applauded, lauded, glorified, magnified – we are fighting for our peace of the pie. Protecting our turf.
And so if that worldview is what has filled your cistern of knowledge, then the application of that knowledge is what the world would call wisdom.
So I am wise with my money. What does that mean? I make my money work for me. I invest well to get the most bang for my buck.
I am wise with my time. Meaning I guard it to make sure I have enough time to do what I want to do.
But what if we have it all wrong? What if we’ve lived our whole life drinking from the wrong cistern? What if we’ve been living a life properly applying wisdom that is not based on reality?
What if we’re all wrong? What would you do if one day you woke up to realize that everything you thought was true about the world was in fact wrong?
Well want to know what Jesus calls it? He calls it good news!
See Jesus comes along to introduce us to reality. Knowledge. He wants us to understand that it’s not a dog eat dog world. In fact, we have the choice to leave that behind.
The bible says in 1 Corinthians 3 that 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.
Don’t you love it? Stop drinking from this cistern – come over to this one. This one is summed up in the phrase -The Lord is my Shepherd. I lack nothing.
When God is your shepherd you have it all over here. Everything belong to you. Not in a selfish way – but in the way that provides us with great assurance that no matter what path God leads me down, the Lord is my shepherd I lack no good thing.
I can leave behind the striving, the futility of trying to force the world to notice me. I can be, and be used and useful in the kingdom of God.
Drinking from this cistern of knowledge leads to a wisdom – That will be proven when we apply it to the days of our life.
Paul knows it, James knows it, Jesus knows it – this cistern of knowledge is in fact filled with bitter waters.
Jesus came to announce good news. We no longer need to fend for ourselves. We can surrender ourselves to Him and He will be our good shepherd.
Jesus came to help us understand what God is like – that he is near, and powerful and good. And that He wants us to trust him with the governance of our lives. Drink deeply from the cistern of the knowledge that God loves you enough to die for you – he fell on the grenade of sin – he absorbed it’s deadly blast – and now we can live wise lives based on the true reality of God’s goodness and nearness.
So back to James. I’ll read the entire passage for today and we will break it down. He writes… 13 If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. 18 And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
What is James saying here? How you live your life will be evidence as to which of these cisterns of knowledge you are drinking.
So let’s start with the results of a life lived believing that you are the center of the universe. Summed up with “If it is to be it is up to me. Drink enough of this and it’ll show. How?
Bitterness. Why would drinking from this well make you bitter? Bitterness occurs when you don’t feel you are getting the recognition you deserve. People aren’t lifting you up to the degree you feel it is owed you. You become bitter.
Jealousy. – Why? Jealousy is the anger that results from someone else getting the credit YOU deserve. Why are they being treated better than me, when I am so obviously better than they.
Selfish ambition. Now – there’s nothing wrong with ambition. Solomon was ambitious. David was ambitious. Paul was ambitious in bringing the gospel to the whole world.
But selfish ambition – well that’s different. Why? You gotta step on people to get to the top. But one way or the other I will reach the top.
Ultimately, the kind of wisdom that comes from believing you are the captain of your own destiny – is discord. (Disorder) The result of selfishness is always discord. You spend your life tooting you own horn? well, there’s discord. no harmony. Your life clashing against other lives. Keeping your distance. no harmony. Only discord.
How hard is it to find these results in your life? Any contacts in your phone who fit this bill? Does it describe you?
We like to use other words – I’m not jealous – I just know my rights! I’m not selfish – I’m just driven! We don’t like to apply these words to ourself – to do so would be treason against the king. We are naturally bent to protecting our own kingdom -but freedom awaits – a new life awaits the person willing to come to terms with the idea that everything they thought they knew about the world was wrong.
So let’s move onto the wisdom that comes from drinking from the knowledge God.
Let’s see the words James uses.
Peace. Why peace? Once we understand that God is in control, what do we have to worry about anymore? We can have peace even when God leads us into the valley of the shadow of death – we have peace when faced with illness, or lack of money -or out of work, we can have peace – and these people don’t understand it – the bible says it’s peace that passes understanding. peace when it feels like anxiety should reign.
We do good works. No granted – people over here can do good works, often do – but what is the motivation. People here regularly do good because they have come to understand that God has a role for them within his kingdom. He’s turning us loose in the world – slat and light – doing good works in God’s name.
We regularly think of others ahead of ourselves. Which is why James says that this life is gentle. Why? We don’t have to have our way.
We are willing to yield to others because we understand that the world isn’t going to end if I don’t get my way.
Jim and I were driving on Friday together and Jim was trying to merge to get onto the highway at 108th and Maple – but there was this guy who was having none of it. He slams his foot on the gas the close the gap between he and the car in front of him. No way was he yielding. It was comical really. I mean the guy could have asily moved his ankle the other way- it was more work for him to press down on the gas than to let up on it.
But when you are drinking from this cistern over here – no way you getting in front of me – back of the line mister. Because yielding is a sign of weakness.
Once we embrace reality – that God is with is and will never leave us, we are free to be gentle. We can yield without freaking out. We don’t have to have our way. Our face will not fall off.
The bottom line for James is that a life that properly applies the knowledge that God is our good shepherd, is that we will live honorable lives. Authentic lives. A life of integrity – oneness.
Now a couple of questions you might be asking. You might say – I know people who live honorable lives who would call themselves atheists – I’d say that I am not saying you cannot live a pure and honorable life apart from Christ. But it’s not the norm.
Indeed some people – moralists – live great lives because it’s important that they be better than you. Not saying that’s always the case either.
But once we step across the line of faith and say we are ready to live for God, then these things begin to grow naturally – they are fruit of the spirit of God living inside of us.
And in fact, some say this list we read today is the first list of the fruit of the spirit. Paul comes along after James with his own version in Galatians, sounds alot like this list here.
Now others might say – I know people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are full of discord and jealousy – what’s their story?
Well, it could be that they prayed a prayer thinking it is their ticket to heaven but have never actually left this world. They just added some spirituality to it – but they aren’t any different because they don’t want to be different.
Others are half hearted – james calls them double minded people and these people are unstable in all they do. They jump in here and there and they aren’t quite sure where they belong, and so the result is the worst kind of discord – two-faced double mindedness.
There is another reason why people who claim to follow Jesus is because they are in process. They have spent much of their life drinking from here – and they are learning that it’s safe to leave themselves completely in the care of God.
And so they aren’t faking – they are just failing. And for the record – Jesus was fine with failures. His own disciples failed all the time. But fakers were always on the outside looking in.
And maybe that describes you. You are making a go of this Jesus thing but you can’t seem to stand long before falling.
And so what do you do?
I remember hearing this story – and I’m not the hugest fan of it but I think you can understand it – it’s the story of a man with two dogs – and the dogs are pulling like crazy in opposite direction. Who is going to win? The man says, whatever dog you feed.
If you are here, then you must learn to feed your mind on the knowledge of God. And honestly a 25 minute talk on Sunday isn’t going to be enough.
We are renewed by the transforming of our minds. And that means taking some time to intentionally immerse our minds in what is our new reality. The real reality. That God is all powerful, all good and so close.
Baptism? Let the world know from which cistern you are drinking. That you’ve said goodbye to this way forever and are ready to move forward with God in control and at my side.