A God for All Seasons

John Calvin once said, “There is no time in life when God does not invite us to Himself.” He is our God for all seasons. However, placing God in one compartment of our life is so natural for us. We come to Him at a particular time and place. God wants more of our time than that. So to correct this error God uses the pruning knife to help us with those bad practices that limit our prayer life. That is what James is talking about in our text.

Was today a bad day? If your answer is, “You can say that again! I pack too much into a day. It gets on my nerves and then I become irritable with everyone including our dog. My little girl tried to get my attention, and I barked at her, ÔWill you please shut up?’ Then I hate myself. I question whether I am a Christian. How can I be this way?”

What have you done about your problem of irritability caused by a full schedule?

If your answer is, “Nothing. I just hope tomorrow will be better,” will it be better? Probably not if you have done nothing to adjust your busy schedule.

Our Father in Heaven who loves us is telling us to come to Him with that busy schedule. Set better priorities. What can be left out of the daily routine that is not very important? Where might you say no to the requests for your time? Are you afraid of offending someone and worrying this person will think less of you? While you do not want to be offensive, maybe these words (first spoken to Paul and now to you) will help.

Paul learned it was a small thing to be judged by people. Not every invitation that people extend to you has to be accepted just to keep their favor. Spending all these hours trying to please people can tire you out. Then you come home in the evening with a bad attitude, and your family has to live with a mean-spirited mother, dad, wife, or husband.

Remember that God is always there to listen and to counsel you through His Word.

Let us go on and ask, “Is anyone happy? If so, let that person sing songs of praise.”

Did you have a good weekend? “Oh, yes,” you reply. “We had a great time with family and friends! The weather was beautiful. We had some wonderful food.”

Did you thank God for these gifts? You do not have to wait until Thanksgiving Day to say thank you to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The doxology is not to be sung only in church.

James, the writer of our text, continues presenting this God who is always present.

“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”

God tells us to let Him in on our health problems. If someone is sick, consult the best medical people available to you, and then pray for God’s healing. These medical people are God’s gift to us. They use their skills, but God does the healing. Then remember that if the healing does not take place, God will give you the grace to accept this big disappointment.

Are you worried about your health? Why not place this big problem in God’s hands and let Him help you with your health problems?

Just one more question in thinking about this God who is always there to help us with our problems: have you had a conflict with another person lately? If so, James counsels us with these words: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.”

What did you do about this bad blood between you and another person? Did you tell a second friend what a louse this person is? Did you talk about his unkindness and insensitive toward you? Why did you talk to another person about your struggle with this person? If you sit down with your Savior and tell Him about the strife, he will give you some good advice that will deal with the problem. Jesus will tell you, as He has told millions of people through the years, if you know your brother has something again you, go to him, talk it over. In that way you will win a brother, and the problem will go away. How sad that so many people carry their gripes and ill will toward another person for many years. God wants to help you.

God is a God for all seasons, and it is His desire to prune the mistake in our lives that has compartmentalized Him. Remember, He once said, “Pray in all seasons.” This means that wherever we are and whenever we stand in need of help, we turn to God for counsel. This will make us children whom God loves to show to the world Ð children who know what it is to partner with their Savior Ð children who know that Christ is always present.

The writer of that great hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” said it so well:

“Oh, what peace we often forfeit;

Oh, what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry,

Everything to God in prayer.”

Just think of it: our Father invites us to His throne of grace. He is the God for all seasons.

Tomorrow Is Conditional

When God’s Word says, “You don’t know what will happen tomorrow,” it is not seeking to create fear in our hearts. It is only reminding us that the future is not ours, but is in the hands of God. I believe this truth is one of the most important lessons of life, and the sooner we learn it the richer each day will be for us. All too many people live in the past or the future, and they miss all of the good things that are happening today.

One of the men in our golf group had a bad day and threatened to quit the game. “I remember the day when I could shoot two or three over par. Today I am lucky to play bogey golf, and it is getting worse. It’s best to quit before it gets too embarrassing.” Another player, hearing this man’s remarks, said to me, “If he had spent a month in the hospital like I have just done, he would appreciate this beautiful morning and the privilege of being out here on the course no matter what his score is.” This man has learned the meaning of each day. Sometimes it takes a severe jolt to make us appreciate the present and realize that we are not in control of tomorrow. That is what James is telling us in today’s text.

While this text is not given to make us fear, it is neither given to discourage us from making plans for tomorrow. James was the head of the church in Jerusalem. It was a lively city, and all around Jerusalem new cities were springing up. This meant great business opportunities for those who were so inclined. James heard them making plans to go to a certain city, establish a business there, and make money. He warns them when he says, “Instead you ought to say, ÔIf it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that.’ What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

He is not discouraging them in their planning. He is simply reminding them that tomorrow is conditional. This is a fact. All we have to do is read the obituaries and we soon learn that here we have no lasting city.

Enjoy today and make plans for tomorrow, but make them conditionally. Isn’t that a pretty good agenda? I think so.

I love to be around people who continue to plan. A few days ago my wife and I attended a wedding reception for a woman who is eighty-five years old. She has been a widow for many years. When we wished her well, she said, “Some of my friends think I am crazy for marrying at my age, but we are going to take one day at a time hoping that we will have a few good years. Sometimes it gets lonesome sitting by yourself. Now we will have each other with whom to share the time.”

I have another friend who is in the process of developing a housing area. He bought some farmland, and now it is being subdivided into large housing lots. A project like this is a lot of work for a man nearly eighty years of age. When he was showing me his plans, I asked him why he did it. He certainly did not need the money. His reply was simple. “I do it to keep alive. I’d die if I just sat around.” His plans keep him alive, but I hope he is planning conditionally.

How do you feel about life? I confess this is not an easy question for me to answer. It is so natural for me to live in the past. It was so much fun to get up and busy myself in a dynamic ministry. It was thrilling to watch people’s lives take on new meaning as they received Jesus Christ as their Savior. It was thrilling to watch my three children receive their degrees in medicine, law, and education. Then they got married and established strong, Christian homes, and grandchildren began to arrive. Wow! What days they were!

Sure these are memories to be enjoyed, but we can’t live in the past. This is a new day. We live today and make plans for tomorrow realizing that tomorrow is conditional. We will do this or that if the Lord wills.

I meet two types of depressed people. There are those who have no plans and are bored to death. They are depressed and sitting around waiting to die. Then there are those whose plans have never materialized, and they feel cheated. A husband and wife who had worked hard looked forward to their retirement. They were going to see Europe, walk the beaches of Hawaii, go south of the border, and explore Alaska. Then the spouse died.

Another couple looked forward to the Golden Years, but illness put one of them in the nursing home. It was so disappointing to have to settle for a travelog rather than to visit some of the historic spots in Europe.

Plan conditionally. If you can make some of these trips today, don’t wait until tomorrow. Today is the time to do it. It’s all the time you have.

Jesus Christ makes all life not an easy but a pleasant journey on the way to the Homeland. He forgives the sins of the past making it pleasant to recall. He provides strength for today, which gives us courage to face the good and the bad. He assures us that, through trusting Him, there is an eternal home awaiting us that will far exceed anything we have experienced here on planet earth.

The only way to live today and face tomorrow is to trust Christ as your Savior realizing that He holds the whole world in His hands. I recall the day I stood by Roy’s bed. He was soon to be wheeled into surgery for a major operation. I assured Roy that the Lord was with him. He looked into my face and said, “I am the winner. If I live, there will be more good days. If I die, Jesus will take me to be with Him.”

The surgery was successful, but two hours later he was given the wrong type of blood by mistake and soon passed away. He was a winner.

The Bible says, “You don’t know what will happen tomorrow.” These words were not given to frighten you, nor were they given to discourage you from making plans. They were given to remind you that tomorrow is conditional. Amen.

Rev. Homer Larsen

Christian Crusaders

Watch Your Tongue!

We had a neighbor who used to send a powerful warning to her boys when they smarted off to her. “Watch your tongue or I will wash it with soap!” That got their attention and quieted them for a little while.

James, the bishop of the church in Jerusalem, must have felt the same way when he listened to Christians speaking. He writes to them: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

This is another text where Jesus is showing the need of pruning some undesirable characteristics in the lives of his children. This sermon deals with pruning the misuse of the tongue. While these words were applicable to the people in Jerusalem, they are also important for us to hear, for all of our education has never helped us to control our tongues.

James uses verbal pictures to describe the tongue. He writes that the tongue is like a spark that sets a whole forest on fire. Just a few words of gossip about a person can set a rumor into motion that will ruin the person’s life forever. Even if the hearsay is not true, or it is partially true, humans seem to like this kind of news and the person being talked about will forever be guilty. This is the power of the tongue, and for that reason God gives us a law: “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Luther writes an explanation to these words. It says, “We should fear and love God that we do not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” It might be well for us to sing each morning that song we learned in the primary department of our Sunday school: “Be careful little tongue what you say.”

The tongue can also be used in other ways to do harm to God’s Kingdom. James writes, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (vs. 1).

These teachers are the professionals Ð professors at our theological seminaries and others who preach to congregations in a pulpit each Sunday. These people are teaching men and women who serve as lay teachers in our Sunday schools and small groups. They are also parents who instruct their children in God’s Word.

St. Paul wrote, “The day will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (II Timothy 4:3-4).

This is happening today. I recently heard a theological professor tell his audience that we must interpret the Scriptures in light of what our culture is thinking. If we do not do this, people will not take the Bible seriously. He was making the point that, since society is taking a more lenient view of the homosexual lifestyle and same sex marriages, the Church must change its interpretation of the Scriptures, which declares such behavior as sin.

Hearing the professor’s statement, a layman in the group rose to his feet and, with his emotions showing, he rebuked the theologian. “All of my life I have been taught that God’s Word is to change culture. Now I hear you saying that we must allow culture to change God’s Word. That is wrong! We cannot change Scripture to win the favor of people!”

The professor illustrates how a tongue can be used to lead masses of people away from what the Bible teaches. Tongues that have distorted the teachings of God’s Word and weakened the message of the Church have always been around. We have them today. Therefore, it is only natural that, if a denomination is going to remain true to its confessions and ethical convictions, not even academic freedom can allow a teacher to lead students away from the historical understanding of the Bible.

The fact remains that, try as hard as we may, humans cannot control their tongues. The mother I referred to in the introduction could quiet her boys for a while, but it did not take long before they were back at it again. How often have we been told to control our tongues, but soon forget the great advice others have given to us?

James talks about the horse that can be controlled by the bit, and the ship that is controlled by a small rudder, but until the person’s heart is changed, the tongue continues to be out of control. When Christ controls the heart, the tongue is brought under control. Now that same tongue that once cursed God is used to praise Him.

This was the case with a man I spoke to a few weeks ago. He spent sixteen years in prison. During most of that time, he was profane, loved to pass on dirty stories, and lied as often as he told the truth. Then Christ met him and his life changed. His tongue was used differently.

The tongue can only speak words dictated by our emotions and thoughts. So we pray, “Take away those thoughts, Lord, which are the source of a bad use of the tongue.” Amen.

Father I Believe; Please Work on My Unbelief

As we continue the series of sermons on pruning, James reminds us that much pruning has to be done on our faith. You might response, “On my faith? Isn’t that a done deal? You either believe or you do not believe, right?”

Hardly. We never get beyond the prayer of the father who brought his sick child to Jesus with these words: “I believe, Lord. Please work on my unbelief.”

The question is still debated by both professional and lay theologians. Are we saved by grace through faith alone, or do good works have a part in our salvation?

The scriptures make it abundantly clear that our salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” St. Paul, battling the heresy of works righteousness, writes to the Ephesian Christians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul makes it clear that we contribute nothing to our salvation. However, once we trust Christ as Savior and Lord, there is a driving force to live for Him, which results in good works.

This is the Gospel, the unique message of the Christian Church, which is difficult for the human mind to comprehend. It seems natural that one should contribute something to his or her salvation. Therefore, many good church people have concluded that a compromise is right. They believe we are saved by grace through faith, but only by contributing something ourselves. This is not so, and such a heresy robs us of the assurance that we can live in a personal relationship with God now and forever.

It is with this clear teaching on salvation that James confronts us with a disturbing question: “What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?”

James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem, was frustrated. The Church was now more than twenty years old. People confessed Christ as their Savior, but little in their lives showed their faith. To make his point clear, James writes, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

It is easy for us to be confused about faith. Some believe that if we know the Gospel story, and from an intellectual point of view believe it is true, we have faith. Let me illustrate.

Years ago, I visited a Rotary Club in Norway. I was seated with a man from Denmark and our host, a member of the Oslo club. In order to become better acquainted, we told about our families. The Dane proudly showed us a picture of his wife and three beautiful children. You could see he was proud of them. As the conversation continued, I asked if they had been in church Sunday. Neither of them had attended a worship service for a couple of years. I then asked, “Are you a Christian?”

This irritated the Dane, and he said, “You decide. I believe in God the Father Almighty. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that he died for my sins and was raised from the dead. Now I ask you: am I a Christian?”

As we left the meeting, the Dane said to the Norwegian, “I want to thank you for the lovely hotel you arranged for me, and for the woman who made my nights exciting.” This man claimed to be a Christian! It is this type of behavior that James was called into question and declared that it had no place in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.

James then says to the Christian who might need a little help with his faith: Do you want a good example of faith? Look at Abraham.

God had chosen Abraham to be the father of a great nation. “One day, Abraham, you will have a son, and your descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heaven.” Abraham had trouble with that promise, because both he and his wife, Sarah, were old. Nevertheless, the day came when Sarah gave birth to Isaac. He was the joy of Abraham’s life. When the lad was older, and a delight to his father, God told Abraham to take Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah and there sacrifice the lad. Abraham could not believe what he was hearing. It did not make sense. Yet, God had spoken. So after many sleepless nights, Abraham and Isaac, with some servants, set off on a three-day walk. When they arrived at a particular location, Abraham told the servants to remain there while he and his son went on alone.

As they approached the place where the sacrifice was to take place, Isaac asked his father, “Where is the lamb we will off to God?” Imagine the torture Abraham was experiencing. He answered, “God will provide the lamb.” Together Abraham and Isaac built the altar and placed the wood on it. Then came the crucial hour. Abraham stooped down and took Isaac in his arms. He tied a rope around him, and placed him on the altar. When he reached for his knife to kill his son, the angel of the Lord spoke: “Abraham, stop! Do your son no harm, for now I know that you place nothing before me. You acted in faith.”

Having reminded his readers of this story, James said, “This is faith.”

However, Abraham had not always had this strong faith. When God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, nothing happened for a very long time. Sarah grew impatient and had a suggestion for her husband. She said, “Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abraham agreed to do what Sarah said – He slept with Hagar – and she conceived. (Genesis 16:1-4).

Here we see Abraham’s unbelief. Over those ten or fifteen years, Isaac was born and Abraham’s faith grew so that when the command came to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham acted obediently. Nothing, not even a much-loved son, stood between Abraham and God. God controlled his life.

Well, where do we stand in this question concerning faith versus good works? Is the Bible so confusing about how a person enters a personal relationship with God?

The answer is, no. God’s Word teaches clearly that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. However, once we are in a relationship with God, there is a life to be lived. Paul and James are not in conflict. They are speaking to people at different times in their spiritual life. When Paul says, “You are saved through trusting in Christ alone,” he is speaking to the person who has no relationship with God, but is seeking one. When James says, “What good is faith without works?” he is speaking to the person who is a Christian, but needs help in living the life of a believer in Christ.

James is asking believers in Christ Jesus some uncomfortable questions. What effect does our Christian faith have on our language, behavior, attitude, and priorities? In these parts of our lives, God comes to us with His pruning knife to cut away the profanity and gossip, the self-centeredness and hatred, the greed and longing for more and more of the material things of life. He uses his pruning knife in love.

My wife and I enjoyed listening to the U.S. Marine band in the city park a few nights ago. There I met a brother pastor who, only a few days before, had lost his wife. He was grieving. When I put my hand on his shoulder, he looked into my face and said, “You do not know how difficult being here tonight is. Nevertheless, I just had to come. My wife always enjoyed this evening in the park listening to the band, but do I ever miss her.” God is using these very difficult times to do some pruning. He is showing my friend that His words, “I am with you always,” are true. When this torturous, grieving period is over, he will be stronger in the faith, for he will have a new experience of God’s faithfulness. Then he can help another person who finds himself grieving over the loss of a loved one. This is where we see good works as a fruit of faith, and not a contributor to our salvation.

Our faith is never perfect, but our Lord keeps strengthening it as He shows us His faithfulness through the truths of the scriptures. Amen.