Summary: 1st in a 5 part series from the book of James on making practical application to real problems.
RELIGION THAT REALLY WORKS - Week 1
INTRODUCTION TO SERIES:
Do you believe in God? According to a Fox News survey, 92% of Americans say they do. And since you’re here in church today it’s probably not too big a leap to think that most of you believe in God too. In fact, the people I talk to who are seeking or checking spiritual things out don’t ask “Does God exist?” But they do want to know if Christianity or the Church has any application to their lives. They want to know if it’s possible to discover a “religion that really works,” that is relevant, that can provide meaning and actually be used in life. Well, there is probably no book in all the Bible that answers that question better than the book of James. This small book towards the back of the Bible is said to be the most practical book in all of Scripture. It had been called "Wisdom that Works," and it is referred to as the "blue Jean" book of the Bible. The real plus in this book, is James not only tackles the problems of life but gives answers, Here in these pages is a Godly prescription that will help us have better relationships, healthier lifestyles and stronger souls.
Let’s begin, very briefly, with some background about this book. The author is recognized by most every scholar to be the "step-brother" of Jesus. Now I say step brother because although they had the same mother, Mary, they did not have the same father. The Bible tells us that Jesus was conceived not by the seed of man but by the Holy Spirit while James was born of an earthly father, Joseph. The journey of James’ faith is fascinating. At first the Bible tells us that none of Jesus’ brothers believed in Him. In fact, Mark 3:21 describes an incident where his siblings wonder if Jesus has lost his senses. But after the resurrection Jesus’ family recognized who their brother really was, because Acts 1:14 lists them with the early believers. But something about James must of been special. Paul tells us that James was one of those select few to whom Jesus appeared individually, after his resurrection. And James became a great leader of the early Church. Both Peter and Paul refer to him as the Pastor, or chief elder/administrator of the Church at Jerusalem.
Yet with all the prominence that James has, he is obviously a humble man. Here’s how he describes himself as he begins his letter. “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: Greetings to all God’s people scattered over the whole world.” That word "servant" in the Greek, is "doulos" which means slave. Jesus, who at one time was his older brother, is now his master and Lord. Jesus dictates his behavior. He could of identified himself as "a pillar of the Jerusalem Church," or as "a leading Elder in the Church," or "the very brother of Jesus." But instead, he calls himself a servant. He writes to “God’s people scattered around the world." So he’s writing to anyone who believes in God, but everyone, no matter where they are on their spiritual journey, can benefit from his advice. (Pray)
INTRODUCTION OF SERMON:
James begins by giving a prescription for handling the trials of suffering. Didn’t your heart go out to the families of those miners in West Virginia? What a roller coaster of suffering they endured. And this life can hand out some hard knocks. Well, those who believed in God in the 1st century were also undergoing great trials. In fact, theirs was in the form of persecution, they were being imprisoned, tortured, even beheaded. They had to wonder why the things that were happening were happening to them. Have you ever wondered that? Well, James says that although our suffering is not caused by God, God can use what we go through for positive purposes.
I read the other day that jewelers use a "water test" as one of the surest ways to identify a true diamond. An imitation stone is never as brilliant as a genuine stone, but sometimes the difference can’t be determined with the unaided eye. Jewelers know that a genuine diamond placed in water sparkles brilliantly, whereas the sparkle of the imitation is practically extinguished. And the trials that we experience go a long way in showing the genuine sparkle of our character. Early 20th century scholar G.K. Chesterfield stated the same idea when he said, "I see the advantage of getting into the hot water of suffering, because it’s only in hot water that you can be really clean." One of the truths of this life is this: how you react to adversity reveals more about your character & your faith than months of ordinary living. James says in these first verses that if our character and belief is genuine, it will prove itself in times of trouble.