Understanding the Journey
* My sister and brother were born with web fingers. Sis had 3 fingers webbed while my brother had 2. To separate these fingers would require expensive surgeries and we were not a financially wealthy family. The obvious answer to this dilemma was to have them seen at the Shriner's Children Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana. When my parents took my sister, they always found me a place to stay because as a little kid, I didn't ride well. But one time I begged them enough that they relented what they knew was best and allowed me to go. Here is what I'll tell you; I didn't understand the journey we were about to take. It didn't matter how many time Mom and dad attempted to tell me how long this trip was, I simply didn't know. Out of THIS trip, I became the original author of those famously repeated words, “Are we there yet?” The truth is, even though I was on the journey and had been told about the travel, I didn't have a good perspective on all that was entailed in that 'pre-I10 trip.' Today, after having even lived in the Shreveport area for several years, I not only understand the journey but I know the best way to get there.
* Of all the journeys that we take, the journey of life is the most critical to understand. Most people never discover the best path for this journey. How do I know this? Because the wide way, which most folks choose, ultimately leads to destruction; while the way or journey to life is narrow and few will actually find it. The starting point for real life is found in a personal relationship with our creator, Jehovah God. And no one begins this journey EXCEPT by coming through Jesus, His only Son. Now, we’ll try other methods, but they never work. Candidly, to begin our journey on the right road we must understand the starting point which is Jesus.
* Once we trust Jesus with our soul’s salvation, we have only begun a journey which seems to make little sense to this world. Almost everything in the journey of a believer is opposite of what our humanistic thinking tells us. Human reasoning tells us that we need to be all about self that is, we need to take care of our own; while the journey of a believer is to become like Christ and ‘think more highly of others than self.’ Everything about walking in and toward the Kingdom of God is in direct opposition to our thinking. If you want to be first, be last. If you want to be exalted, become humble. Kingdom principles are not the same as human reasoning. Also, Jesus teaches us about CHOICES. Adam made the choice about the fruit, David about Bathsheba, Nicodemus about eternal life, and Jesus (in His humanity) about the cross. Never forget that God’s ultimate goal for our journey is spiritual maturity, which is becoming like Him.
* Our text today lays out some of these values in term we can understand. Admittedly, we may not like it, but we get a clear word about it. When James uses the words ‘humble circumstances’ and ‘rich’ there can be little doubt that he is speaking of our earthly wealth. And he has much to say about our money, our earthly wealth, and our view of it. (3 thoughts)
1. The Delights of Poverty – Does this seems a little beyond reasoning? It is for human reasoning. What delight could be found in poverty? Exactly how can we be exalted? Let’s remember the first reader of James. He wrote to the ‘scattered saints’ who had basically lost everything because of their faith. Literally many had gone from ‘Riches to Rags’ because they trusted Jesus. Paul is the poster boy for this. He was well off as a Pharisee and as a believer he was supported by churches. Yet, he found solace because of his inner peace. No longer did he depend on His earthly wealth for his security, his security was found in his inner peace. Now, he knew where he was headed, knew how to depend on God, and knew God’s blessings.
* For the person who lives in an impoverished state, ‘up’ is the only way to look for help. From around 1850-1955, this country went through one struggle after another. Out of those years, today we are the recipients of some of the greatest songs dealing with ‘heaven’, “Beulah Land”, and eternity. Why is this? Because everyone was looking for a better place. Just take one song writer, Albert Brumley and see his list of popular songs. “I’ll Fly Away”, “I’ll Meet you in the morning,” “This World is not my home,” “I’m bound for that city,” and many more. In the sad state we found ourselves in, we were looking for God to ease the suffering and pain. We were looking for that blessed hope.
* The way a person in poverty can be exalted is that his focus turns to the Lord. When things really get bad is the very time we get good. In our earthly poverty, we look to him and know the delights found in him. Paul writes, “Whatever state I find myself, I have learned to be content.” The Psalmist tells us to “Delight ourselves in the Lord, and He will give.”
2. The Danger of Plenty – (Read verse 10) Do you remember what was just said about ‘opposites?” Exactly what can be so dangerous about having plenty? Most of us have plenty and we’re okay. Our Lord and His word have much to say on this subject and we would do well to listen & hear.
* Jesus had so much to say about the problems of the rich and their walk with God that He was asked, “Can a rich man go to Heaven?” His response was, “With men, it is impossible, but not with God because all things are possible with God.”
* What are the dangers of plenty? First it tempts us to be compromised. You may ask, “HOW SO?” It impacts our thinking. For the person who has plenty their focus can be to protect what they have. When our minds become consumed by our earthly wealth, the question becomes, “What lengths will we go to, to protect our investment.” Could this mean that when we cast our vote for official, that we choose to vote with our bank account rather than our beliefs? Wealth has the ability to tempt us to misplace our priorities. If we sought the Lord with the same passion we seek to have ‘things’, what would be different in our lives? Having plenty tempts us to want more. Do you remember the story Jesus told in Luke 12? He was blessed with great crops and instead of sharing, he hoarded, built bigger barns because he was taking care of His own!! God called that man a “fool” & went on to say, ‘You have spent your life building barns? Now who will enjoy them? You are dying to-night! Jesus ended that story with a simple statement, “That how it is with the one who stores us treasure for himself & is not rich toward God.”
* The American culture is a case study. For the last 60 years we have lacked for nothing and wanted little. Today, our country is disintegrating before our very eyes because we have depended on our wealth & power while dismissing God from the public arena. This is the God whom our founding fathers depended on and who, on more than one occasion, divinely led this new country. The church in America has more resources than ever before and today is more lukewarm than at any time in American history. Reading the paper, the internet news, or any news magazine with the eyes of faith and you’ll discover an angry, paranoid, and self-centered culture which is the result of having too much.
* We work so hard to get what we want & when we finally get what we want, we don’t necessarily want what we get.
3. The Disaster of Perishing – (Read verse 11) Picture with me the Syrian Desert. It’s dry, parched, and has little vegetation. An infrequent rain comes and briefly the ground comes to life which produces a few green sprigs which pop up very quickly. Then the sun comes up, dries out the sprigs of grass, and they wither away. Now, recall the parable of the sower. The seed is sown on the ground that is rocky and filled with thorns. The seed sprouts but has no where for the roots to grow and when the sun comes up, the plants die down.
* Now think about the life which begins to attend worship. They hear the gospel, possibly they take the preacher’s hand and say a prayer, but there is no real repentance, no admission or confession, and no real change.
* Perhaps this person has an enormous amount of talent, yet there is no change in his/her life. At the first sign of the sun, that means heat (I.E. trials, troubles, difficulties) he falls abandons the faith. Why? No root in Jesus. Caution: He doesn’t have to leave a church to abandon his faith, rather, he can get a 10 year perfect attendance award but his life has no spiritual power or passion. Why? No root system. In fact, when there is no internal change, our root system is in our old life.
* Let’s end with a few sobering thoughts: To rightly understand this journey of life,
> You must begin it right. The only way is Jesus.
> You must know the rules of the road. Just like you have to know the route to take and the speed you can make, we must know what the Bible says about every step we take.
> You must spend time with the road map. God’s word will give us every principle of life and we can’t stand on promises if we don’t know what they are.