Reflections on Preaching through the Epistle of James

Several weeks ago, I completed a verse-by-verse exposition of the Epistle of James for my congregation at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church. My faith was enriched by this personal study. And I trust my congregation was built up in their faith, as a result of hearing these messages.

I have been thinking about this series over the past several days – not necessarily the spiritual experience of studying James, but the practicalities of preaching through it. Here are some of my reflections.

Why James? I love the Epistle of James. I think it is James’ “in your face” style of writing that endeavors me to this letter. I have read it countless times devotionally. I have memorized sections of it. And I have preached several messages from it over the years, mostly from chapter 1. But I had never done a complete study of James. Likewise, I find portions of James challenging – both spiritually and homiletically. So I wanted to take up the challenge. And, above all, I believe that it would be a good study for our congregation. That belief proved true.

Preaching long sermon series. I was recently in a setting where the argument was being made that people will not listen to long sermon series anymore. When the discussion got to me, I admitted that I was preparing to preach my final sermon in James. It would be twenty-second sermon!

The prevailing notion is that a sermon series should be between 4-6 messages, no longer than 8. But many of my preaching heroes are men who preach long series, consecutively through books of the Bible. Rather treating this idea of short series as an inviolable law, I think it should be emphasized people adapt to what you feed them. I am grateful to serve a church that is willing to endure long series through Bible books.

Stop-and-go through James. If I had followed my schedule, I would have completed James months ago. But toward the end of 2010 and in the beginning of 2011 I found myself facing congregational pressures. With God’s help, I was able to preach each week. But, admittedly, it was all I could do to drag myself to the pulpit. Some weeks I pulled a file of sermon I had preached before. Other weeks I preached from passages that I found encouraging. But many of those weeks I just did not feel like talking about faith without works is dead. Or the power of the tongue. Of whatever was next in James. So I worked through James in fits and starts. But the congregation was very patient and understanding through this. Only once did anyone say anything to me about abandoning James. I was preaching through a storm. And the congregation did not mind what I was preaching, as long as it was the word of God. Praise God!

Technical difficulties. I read several solid introductions to James before I began my studies. But they did not prepare me for the textual difficulties I encountered. Many weeks, I would be faced with challenges in the Greek over which the scholars sharply disagreed. And I would have to make an interpretative judgment call. This forced me to prayerfully work through the texts with my thinking cap pulled down tightly on my head. Of course, I tried not to bring these matters to the pulpit. I believe that the sermon should reflect the fruit of your studies more than the process of it. So I did not share most of these challenges with the congregation. But being forced to consider them stretched me. Difficult texts make strong preachers!

My favorite commentaries on James. I have collected quite of few commentaries on James over the years. And I picked up a few more before I started my study. And a few more over the course of my study. My favorite, above all, is D. Edmond Hiebert’s commentary on James (Moody). It is everything a commentary should be. I also appreciated Peter’s David’s commentary. I surprised myself by using the NIV Application Commentary by David P. Nystrom throughout the study. I consulted Ralph Martin’s well-respected commentary on James. But it was not one of my favorites.

I read the Holman NT Commentary religiously each week. And, of course, I read John MacArthur and R Kent Hughes and Warren Wiersbe every week. They are old friends. I had to consider what they thought about the text. I likewise listened to audio messages by Kent Hughes, John MacArthur, Gary Inrig, and Alistair Begg each week. I also read some popular works on James by O.S. Hawkins, David Jeremiah, Tony Evans, and Joel Gregory. I found them all useful in seeing how preachers handled the texts of James.

A lot of weeks I kept reading late into the week, when I should have stopped and started writing the sermon. And it put me behind in my sermon preparation. I think this hurt the quality of some of the sermons. But at least I knew the text well.

Texts I enjoyed preaching. I enjoyed studying and preaching every text of James. Really. By the time I got out of chapter 1, I was convinced that no matter how difficult the text seemed at first glance, it would yield great treasures. I was not disappointed once. And it just got better as the study progressed. I praise the Lord for James and for the privilege of spending months immersing myself in its message.

The Lord be praised for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ!

Notes from Sunday – 07/10/11

What a great day of worship at Shiloh today!

We began the service this morning with several praise choruses that I really like to sing. One of them had I had been singing to myself all week. It was great to sing it together in worship with the saints.

As always, I am grateful for all of our guests in worship today.

As I sat in our second service today, I began to give thanks to God for all of the volunteers who serve in our congregation. The service of so many others make what I do possible. And I am grateful to God for all who serve.

I preached today from James 5:13-18. I entitled the message, “Handle with Prayer.”

I wrote seven pages of the manuscript. But I knew that I several pages to material in my head. So I just quit writing. I knew that I was going to go over time this morning. But there was nothing I could do about it.

There is so much in this text. But I hope that I did a fair job of keeping the main thing the main thing.

In both services, in skipped a portion of the text. And it was the same portion – the second dealing with mutual confession and prayer in verse 16a.

I spent a portion of the message dealing with “the elders of the church” (James 5:14). After the service, someone asked me about the relationship between elders and deacons. It never crossed my mind to address that. But here are my understanding of the relationship of elders and deacons in two sentences:

1. The elders serve by leading.
2. The deacons lead by serving.

I have one more passage to preach in James. I intend to conclude my study of James next Sunday with a message entitled “Rescue the Perishing” (James 5:19-20).

For the record, I love preaching to my congregation!

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church in our services this morning.

We went home singing, “Trouble In My Way.” I don’t know what brought this old song to my mind. But I sure enjoyed singing it! Could you tell?

Our 2011 Vacation Bible School will begin tomorrow and last all (7/11-15). Please pray for our Children’s Pastor, Lucius Johnson, our staff and volunteers, and all the children who will participate in VBS this week. May they grow as Jesus grew (Luke 2:52).

Crystal and the kids are in Los Angeles with family and friends for several weeks. I have been here on suicide watch without them. Sure, I leave them to go preach all the time. But I am not used to them leaving me. Let the church say, “Spoiled!”

It’s time for the E.K. Bailey International Conference on Expository Preaching in Dallas!

Notes from Sunday – 07/03/11

I had a great time teaching on the good news of Jesus Christ in my new members class.

We had many guests in worship yesterday. Grateful for it.

We had several families, celebrating their family reunions, in worship with us yesterday. It was good to host these guests. Hope they were blessed by the service.

Dr. William Lawson, founding pastor of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston (where Dr. Marcus Cosby now serves as pastor) was in worship with us yesterday. His family was one of our special guests. It was an honor to have him worship with us.

Thinking about and praying for our members who are traveling and vacationing over the holidays. May the Lord bless them and bring them home safely.

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper in both of our services yesterday. What a wonderful time of worship, as we remembered the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Thanks to our Deacons and Deaconesses for your service yesterday. You make it happen!

I preached from James 5:12 – “Tell It Like It Is.”

I believe the Lord gave me a good understanding of this verse. But, boy, did I have to wrestle to shape it for preaching!

I stood up to preach at my 8 AM service with only 20 minutes to preach. I think I took about 30 minutes… with a 45-minute message.

Next week’s sermon: “The Power of Believing Prayer” (James 5:13-18).

Praise God for those who were saved and added to our church family yesterday.

My memory verses these week are Ephesians 6:12-13: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

In just a month, more than 4,000 people have downloaded out Shiloh Church app. Way cool!

Have a happy and safe 4th of July! God bless.

Notes from Sunday – 06/26/11

Last week, I participated in the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.’s Congress of Christian Education in Indianapolis. It was the first time I have participated in the meeting for the full week. I had the opportunity to teach in the Laymen’s Department each day and to speak in the general session Wednesday afternoon. I was an exhausting but enriching week. Grateful to Harold Simmons, president of the Laymen, for all his kindness.

Our new Car Care Ministry began this past Saturday! More than twenty men will volunteer their services to do free basic car repairs for seniors and single mothers in our congregation. Shout out to Pastor Letson for his oversight and Donald Brooks for his leadership.

We had a great day of worship at Shiloh yesterday.

I taught a new lesson in our new members class – a new version of “What Shiloh Expects From You.” I really enjoyed the time with our new members.

Our ensemble led the music Sunday. And, as usual, they did a great job.

Thanks to all of our Greeters and Ushers for your service. You make it happen!

We had quite of few guests in worship Sunday. After the services, I had the opportunity to meet several families who have recently moved to Jacksonville and are looking for a church home. They were blessed by the service and said they would consider returning. Very encouraging.

I am praying for our many members who are on vacation. May God’s blessings be on them and bring them home safely.

I preached from James 5:7-11. I called the message, “What to do in the Meantime.”

James 5:7-11 teaches three disciplines to practice when you are forced to spend time in God’s waiting room:

1. Be patient (5:7-8).
2. Do not grumble (5:9).
3. Follow godly examples (5:10-11).

For some reason, I did not say much of what I mapped out to say and ended up saying much that I did not map out.

I have three more sermons to preach to conclude my study of the Epistle of James.

Next Sunday’s message: “Tell It Like It Is” (James 5:12).

Praise God for those who were added to the church yesterday. (Particularly, thank God for adding Brodes and Danielle to our church family.)

We had a pretty quiet evening. Just the way I like it. Now for a busy week.

Notes from Sunday 06/05/11

Great day of worship at Shiloh yesterday.

God be praised for all of our volunteers who serve in various ways during our Lord’s Day services. You make it happen. Thank you.

We celebrated the Lord’s Table in both of our worship services, which is always a special time in the life of our congregation.

Grateful for the guests who joined us for worship.

Our choir sung a song called, “I Never Lost My Praise,” before I preached. It blessed us in both services.

I am convinced that if you can praise God in the midst of whatever you are going through, you already have the victory.

I preached from James 5:1-6 – “A Warning to the Rich.”

I have finally made it to the final chapter of the Epistle of James, after many fits and starts of the past few months. I am looking forward to the last four messages I have scheduled from James 5.

James 5:1-6 is a difficult text. It is said that difficult texts make good preachers. If that is true, I am a better preacher for having worked through this challenging but important passage.

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church yesterday.

First Sundays mean I get to teach the first lesson in our new members class series: “The Good News of Jesus Christ.” I love teaching the message of the gospel!

Yesterday afternoon, I spoke at the baccalaureate service for the graduating seniors of William H. Raines High School. I am so grateful for the privilege. And I pray the young people and their families were blessed by the message.

Later in the afternoon, I spoke for the 11th Pastoral Anniversary celebration of Pastor Herb Anderson at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Pastor Anderson is a “Son of Shiloh,” a strong preacher, and a faithful shepherd. It was a joy for Shiloh family to be present to encourage him.

Our Youth Choir sung during the afternoon service at Emmanuel. They did a great job. I was so proud of them.

After teaching five times, I was ready to do it again… until I got home and ate a bite. I don’t remember anything after that.

As I slept, my Miami Heat defeated the Mavericks 88-86 to go up 2 games to 1. Two more wins to go!

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Getting Back to the Letter of James

This Sunday, God willing, I will resume my verse-by-verse exposition of the Epistle of James. This past week was Prayer Emphasis Week here at Shiloh. And I have preached on prayer the past two Sundays. I am now heading back to James.

This Sunday’s message will be on James 2:1-13 – The Sin of Partiality. It will be the first of two sermons on James chapter 2, the second will be on verses 14-26.

Interestingly, it took me nine sermons to get through chapter 1. But I plan to get through chapter 2 in two sermons.

The two passages in chapter 2 are vital to the letter. They are also difficult passages to study and preach. For instance, verses 1-13 addresses again (cf. 1:9-11, 27) the matters of poverty and wealth. Specifically, it commands us not to show favoritism toward those who are wealthy in the church. And this matter of how you treat the rich and poor is an illustration of a larger principle. There is no place for partiality in the body of Christ.

The thought of the practical implications of this text is staggering.

Please pray for me as I work through this important text in preparation for Sunday. And pray that the Lord will help me to present the message of the text in a clearly, faithfully, and accurately.

May the Lord help my congregation – and all Christian congregations to live out the royal law to love our neighbor as ourselves to the glory of God in Christ.

Notes from Sunday – 12/19/10

We had a good day of worship yesterday at Shiloh.

The choir sung my “anniversary” song: “The Joy of the Lord.” It is one of my favorite choir songs. And I was blessed beyond words to hear it in worship.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” – Nehemiah 8:10 (ESV)

Grateful for all of our guests who were in worship with us yesterday.

I am continuously amazed by the kindness of people to me. I view it as postcards from heaven that read, “I am still with you.”

I preached from James 1:22-25: “What To Do With What You Hear.”

Preaching through James is hard work – spiritually and homiletically.

I argued that hearing the word of God obligates you to do what it says.

I am still recovering from a cold. Sinus problems continue. But I am feeling much better. Can’t wait to preach again without these symptoms bothering me.

Praise God for those who were added to the church yesterday.

Next Sunday’s Sermon: “Do You Have Good Religion?” (James 1:26-27)

Our entire music department and worship team were in full concert last evening. It was a wonderful time of worship and praise. Hats off to our Music Director, Dr. Roger Sears, and all of our music team leaders and members for a job well done!

The Cowboys beat the Redskins yesterday, 33-30. I do not know what makes me happier – that the Cowboys won or that the Redskins lost. I am still offended that they benched McNabb.

Tough lost for the Jaguars against their arch-nemesis the Colts.

Did you see the New York Giants snatch defeat right out of the jaws of victory again the Eagles?

People had a lot to say when the Miami Heat were losing. Not so much now that they are beating everyone down. Looking forward to the beat down they will give the Lakers for Christmas.

I cannot believe that 100-year-old Bernard Hopkins fought two a majority draw decision Saturday night for the light heavyweight title. This guy is ageless.

Saturday was my wife Crystal’s birthday. I continue to thank God for the gift that she is to me and our children. I married way out of my league. And I am grateful to God for such a wonderful partner. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…”

God Is Good All The Time! (James 1:16-18)

In his book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome, R. KENT HUGHES tells of a dark night of the soul that he went through and how the Lord brought him out. Kent Hughes had been groomed for success. It was no surprise that he was chosen to plant a new church. Expectations were so high that there were whispers that his new church would soon outgrow the mother church. But several years later, there were very few signs of life, growth, or fruit. In a moment of weakness, Kent said to his wife Barbara, “God has called me to do something he hasn’t give me the gifts to accomplish. Therefore, God is not good.” Barbara assured her him that she still believed in the goodness of God. She encouraged him to hold on to her faith for the night. She had enough faith to believe for the both of them. What do you hold on to when life causes you to question the goodness of God? Let me encourage you to hold fast to the words of James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

The recipients of this letter from James were undergoing trials of various kinds. They needed wisdom to understand their trials and respond to them appropriately. Indeed, both misunderstanding and mishandling trials were both problems for James’ readers. They needed to know that God uses trials test the genuineness of our faith and to nurture our faith to maturity. Because they did not understand this, they were failing these tests of faith. Their trials were becoming temptations to sin. Some were even accusing God of a divine conspiracy in which God was using their trials to set them up to sin. In James 1:13-18, James addresses this matter of God and a case of mistaken identity. In verses 13-15, James argues that God is a holy God that never sends temptation or sin into our lives. Then in verses 16-18, James argues that God is a good God that only sends good and perfect gifts. In clear, graphic, and powerful terms, James makes the point here that God is good all the time. In fact, the English title, “God,” is derived from the German word for “good.” God’s nature and character and ways are all good. WILLIAM TYNDALE said it well: “God’s goodness is the root of all goodness; and our goodness, if we have any, springs out of his goodness.” God is good all the time. James 1:16-18 defends, declares, and demonstrates the goodness of God.

I. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DEFENDED

Verse 16 issues a stern warning: “Do not be deceived, by beloved brothers.” This verse is a bridge between what James says about the nature of temptation in verses 13-15 and the character of God in verses 17-18. Both ideas are closely connected. There is an insidious connection between misunderstanding God’s ways and indicting God’s character. So James issues a word of admonition with a word of affection.

A. A WORD OF ADMONITION

James commands, “Do not be deceived.” Do not err. Do not be misled. This Greek verb means to stray or wander away from truth, safety, or virtue. It is the picture of one who is on a journey that is led astray, so that he does not reach his destination. It is the picture of a sheep that wanders off from the shepherd and the flock and becomes lost. It is the picture of a ship that drifts off course and becomes lost at sea. James uses it here to admonish his readers who hold to wrong views about God’s character, purpose, and ways. His concern is more than a simple failure of judgment. It is a deviation from the truth. So James commands, “Do not be deceived.” This command is in a grammatical emphasis that forbids something that is already in progress. Literally, James says, “Stop being deceived.” Genesis 3:13 records God’s confrontation of Eve after her and Adam sinned: “Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” This is the ongoing work of the enemy of our souls. He seeks to deceive us. But in John 8:31-32, Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

B. A WORD OF AFFECTION

Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.” Notice how James blends both sharpness and tenderness as he issues this warning with love, addressing his readers as “my beloved brothers.” In verse 2, James addresses his readers as “my brothers.” As a means of address, “brothers” it is a gender-neutral term that acknowledges his readers to be his brothers and sisters in Christ. But here James fills this phrase out, calling his readers “my beloved brothers.”

This term of endearment tells us something about the recipients of this letter. They were Christians. They were saved, redeemed, born again. They were fellow-members of the family of God. They were brothers and sisters in Christ. They believed in the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Yet they were susceptible to deception about God. So are you. The peril of the unredeemed sinners is unbelief. The peril of the redeemed sinner is misbelief. In A Grief Observed, C.S. LEWIS writes, “The thing I feared is not that I’ll stop believing in God, but that I might begin believing dreadful things about him. Not that I’ll say, ‘There is no God.” But that I’ll say, ‘So what’s what God is really like.’” That can happen to you. So beware that you are not deceived about God, because your view of God is everything. Jeremiah 9:23-24 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let know the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

This term of endearment also tells us something about the author of this letter. James was clearly concerned about the truth of God being upheld. But he was also concerned about the people who were affected by error. James reminds us that our concern for what is right does not give us license to treat people wrong. You can win and argument and lose a soul. So we must speak the truth in love. James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

II. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DECLARED

Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” This verse highlights three attributes of God in which you can place your confident trust at all times.

A. GOD IS GOOD.

Verse 17a says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Where do good and perfect things come from? They do not come from below or within or around. They come from above. That is, they come from the one who is above. They come from God. God is the source of all that is good. James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” The word “every” is emphatic. Everything that good and perfect is from God. Nothing that is not good and perfect is from God. There are actually two different Greek words in this verse that are both translated gift. The terms are basically used synonymously here. But the nuances of these two terms teach us that the goodness of God is seen in his act of giving and in the nature of his gifts.

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN HIS ACT OF GIVING. When verse 17 speaks of “every good gift,” it focuses on the act of giving. Indeed, the gifts of God are good. But the very act of giving by God is good. This may be an obvious point. But it is not to be overlooked. Not everything act of giving is good. According to 2 Corinthians 9:7, one may give grudgingly or of necessity, rather than giving cheerfully. It happens during Christmas all the time. You may give someone a gift an expression of your love for him. Or you may give someone a gift because they got you one or will be offended if you do not. Matthew 7:11 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS SEEN IN THE NATURE OF HIS GIFTS. Verse 17 says that the gifts of God are both good and perfect. This is the second time James uses the word “perfect” in this letter. Verse 4 says, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” This word “perfect” refers to spiritual maturity, not sinless perfection. It is the picture of a fully developed person who has passed from adolescence to adulthood. The trials of life are designed to nurture our faith to maturity. As the recipients of this letter underwent various trials, some accused God of tempting them to sin. James refutes this error by asserting that God only gives perfect gifts. That is, the gifts of God are always given to build us up, never to knock us down. This does not mean that every gift of God is desirable, comfortable, or pleasurable. But Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A certain king placed a heavy stone in the road and hid to see who would remove it. The people simply worked their way around it, some loudly blaming the king for not keeping the highways clear. Finally a poor peasant, on his way to town with his burden of vegetables for sale, came upon the stone, laid down his load, and rolled it into out of the way. Then, he saw a purse that had lain right under the stone. He opened it and found it full of gold pieces with a note from the king, saying it was for the one who should remove the stone.

B. GOD IS SOVEREIGN.

Verse 17 states the sovereign source of all goodness: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Then it states the sovereign process by which we receive these good and perfect gifts: “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” The verb translated “coming down” is a present participle that describes a continual, never-ending flow of God’s beneficence to his children. Every good and perfect gift is from God above who pours them down in a constant stream that never ceases to flow. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Herein is wise counsel for how to respond to tests, trials, and temptations: Look up! Don’t judge God by what you see around you. Look up! Your outlook is determined by your up-look. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Verse 17 says that every good and perfect comes down from “the Father of lights.” This title, “the Father of lights,” is a typical Jewish circumlocution that speaks of God without directly mentioning his name. Yet this reverent ascription says so much about God. The “lights” mentioned here refer to the heavenly lights – the sun, moon, stars, planets, and other heavenly bodies. To say that God is the “Father” of these lights is to say that God created these heavenly bodies. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavenly declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God the Father created the heavenly lights. When scripture affirms that God as the creator, there is always an imbedded theological assumption: The one who creates a thing is greater than and thus controls the thing he creates.

When James calls God “the Father of lights,” he is saying that God reigns over these heavenly bodies with sovereign authority. In Joshua 10, Joshua and the fighting men of Israel went to battle against the Kings of the Amorites. God was with them and they routed their enemies. As the enemy fled in defeated, Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. And God caused the sun to stand still until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. I cannot tell you how the sun stood still for Joshua. But I can tell you who brought this supernatural phenomenon to past: “The Father of lights.” King Hezekiah was low-sick. Isaiah the Prophet told him that he would die and not live. But Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to God. God heard him and promised to give him fifteen more years of life. Isaiah told Hezekiah to pick what would be a sign that God would heal him: Did he want Ahaz’s sundial to go forward ten steps or backwards ten steps. Hezekiah said it is easy for the shadow to go forward. So the shadow of the sun went backwards ten degrees. I do not know how that happened. But I know who did it: “the Father of lights.”

C. GOD IS IMMUTABLE.

Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels, lived in a boarding house during college. A retired music teacher lived on the first row, with whom he had a daily ritual. Douglas would ask, “What’s the good news today?” The old man would take his tuning fork and strike the side of his wheelchair and said, “That’s is Middle C. It was Middle C yesterday, and it will be Middle C a thousand years from now. The soprano upstairs sings off-key, and the piano across the hall is out of tune. But this is Middle C.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD NEVER CHANGES. Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation…” The word “variation,” used only here in the New Testament, denotes the constant change of heavenly bodies. The sun, moon, and stars seem to be absolutely stable from out perspective. But there are actually mutations taking placing among them all the time. Variations of different kinds are constantly taking place in the heavens. Not so with God. There is no variation in God. God is immutable. Our God never changes. Malachi 3:6 says, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The reason why we have not been utterly wiped out is because God is a good God who does not change on us when we change on him. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS CANNOT BE BLOCKED BY ANYTHING THAT CHANGES. God is immutable. God never changes. God is good all the time. But the phrase “shadow due to change” further asserts that nothing that does change can block, hinder, obscure, or eclipse the goodness of God. In other words, life may be hard. But God is still good. The difficulties of life do not cancel out the goodness of God. If you stand in the sun long enough, the shadows around will move. From your perspective, it seems that the sun has moved. But in reality, the planet is moving, but the sun stays right where it is. You moved; the sun didn’t. It is the same way with God. An old couple was riding together, reminiscing about the early days of our relationship. The wife said to her husband, do you remember when we used to sit so close that people couldn’t tell which one of us was driving? Why aren’t we close like that anymore? Her husband replied, “I don’t know. But I haven’t moved.” If God seems far away, guess who moved? It was not God. God is good all the times.

GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS, O GOD, MY FATHER
THERE IS NO SHADOW OF TURNING WITH THEE
THY CHANGEST NOT, THY COMPASSIONS THEY FAIL NOT
AS THOU HAST BEEN THOU FOREVER WILL BE

III. THE GOODNESS OF GOD DEMONSTRATED

A certain couple bought their young son a new bicycle for his birthday. It was everything a boy could ask for in a bike. They could not wait to see how his reaction. On his birthday, they presented the gift, opened the box, and wheeled out the bike. To their dismay, the little boy looked at it, smiled, and began to play with the box! It took them a while to convince him that the bike, not the box, was the real gift.

James did not want his readers to be so preoccupied with outer wrappings that they miss sight of God’s true gifts. So he specifies the ultimate gift God bestows. Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” The phrase, “he brought us forth,” states the doctrine of regeneration. Regeneration is the sovereign and gracious act by which God gives new life to those who are death in sins and trespasses. In John 3:6-8, Jesus explains, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows were it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” This is what God has done for us in Christ: He brought us forth. This verb is the same word used in verse 15 where James says: “and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Sin brings forth death. But God brings us forth to new life. In verse 18, the verb “brought forth” is in a grammatical emphasis that speaks of something that has happened once and for all. That is, you are not born again and again and again. God has brought us forth into new life once and for all. The statement emphasizes three wonderful facts about the new birth.

A. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE BY GOD’S WILL

Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth.” The phrase, “of his own will,” means that God saves us by a deliberate and influenced act of his sovereign grace. This statement of the source of regeneration occupies the place of emphasis in this verse. Before mentioning the fact or means or goal of regeneration, James states the motivation behind it: “Of his own will he brought us forth.” God chose to give us new life. In John 15:16, Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not chose me, but I chose you…” Being dead in trespasses and sin, unbelievers do not have the will or the ability to choose God. A sinner cannot choose God any more than a dead man can choose to walk. God chooses us. And God did not choose us merely because he knew beforehand that we would choose him. God brought us forth by his own will. John 1:11 records a sad indictment against the people of God: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” But there is good news. John 1:12-13 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

B. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE THROUGH GOD’S WORD

According to verse 18, the means by which God gives new life is “by the word of truth.” Ephesians 1:13 says, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” God saves sinners who hear and believe the word of truth. Romans 10:13 is a wonderful promise: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Then verses 14-15 raise several dilemmas that prevent sinners from calling on the Lord for salvation: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” God brings us forth to new life by the word of truth. This affirms the primacy of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in the life and work of the church. A local congregation is a true church only to the degree it is exposed to and permits its life together to be shaped by the word of God. Likewise, this phrase also reminds us of the great privilege and awesome responsibility given to those who teach and preach the word of God. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Those who teach the truth must make sure that we tell the truth on the truth.

C. THE NEW BIRTH TAKES PLACE FOR GOD’S GLORY

Verse 18 says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” When the harvest would come, the people of the God were to give the firstfruits – the first and best of the harvest – to God. It was to be consecrated to God to acknowledge that God was the source of the harvest and to express confidence in God’s future provisions. Proverbs 3:9-10 says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.” You cannot beat God giving. And the proof of your confidence in the beneficence of God is to offer God your firstfruits. Here, James uses this familiar image to say that we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are the firstfruits of God’s creatures. God’s redemption of rebellious sinners both affirms what he has done through Jesus Christ and what he will to redeem all creation. Romans 8:19 says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” This reference to the firstfruits emphasizes the fact that salvation is for us, but is not about us. God saves us for his glory.

DOWN AT THE CROSS WHERE MY SAVIOR DIED
DOWN WHERE FROM CLEANSING FROM SIN I CRIED
THERE TO MY HEART WAS THE BLOOD APPLIED
GLORY TO HIS NAME

Notes from Sunday – 11/7/10

It was coooooold yesterday!!!

We had a good day of worship at Shiloh.

Thanks for your continued prayers and many expressions of kindness as Crystal recovers from her surgery. Please continue to cover her with your prayers.

Throughout the day, I was praying for three pastors I know of around the country who were beginning officially started new churches yesterday.

I was also praying for the Diamond family and the Abyssinia Church, who funeralized their long time pastor, Dr. Tom Diamond, Saturday morning.

I really enjoyed my time with the New Members Class yesterday. We discussed the good news of Jesus Christ. What a privilege to explain the message of the gospel of salving by grace through faith in Christ!

Praise God for the celebration of the Lord’s Table yesterday as a church family.

Grateful for our deacons and deaconess who serve in our congregation’s celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And grateful for all who serve behind the scenes in the church.

We began using video announcements for the first time. It was different, but cool. We’ll see how it goes.
It was good to have many guests in worship with us.

I continued my study of the book of James with a message on James 1:9-11 that I call, “Boasting In What Money Cannot Buy.”

I saw two main ideas in the text: (1) Mature Christians boast in spite of their poverty (1:9), and (2) mature Christians do not boast in their wealth (1:10-11).

“Any trial that weans us away from the love of passing things and sets our affections on things above is a blessing in disguise.” – William McDonald

James is a hard saying. We do not often think or act as James prescribes here. It was very challenging to meditate on this passage over the course of the week.

I introduced the sermon with one of my dad’s stories. In the 10 AM service, I abandoned by planned conclusion and closed with another one of my dad’s story. Got away with it. But I wish I could tell them they way he used to tell them.

I look forward to preaching on James 1:12 next Sunday, which announces a blessing to those who hang in there.

Praise the Lord for those who were saved and added to the church yesterday.

My beloved Dallas Cowboys lost last night to the Green Bay Packers 7-45. The free-fall continues. When will it end?

Even though the Cowboys are losing, this has been a good NFL season. I am enjoying the competition.

Notes from Sunday – 10/24/10

CRYSTAL UPDATE: Thanks for your ongoing prayers for Crystal. She still cannot move around much. But there have been no complications from her surgery. And her recovery is coming along as scheduled. Praise God.

Good day of worship at Shiloh yesterday.

Our youth and young adults led the music yesterday. Good job.

Thankful for all of our guests yesterday.

God bless the families who participated in our parent-child dedication yesterday.

I began a new series on the Epistle of James yesterday. I preached from James 1:1-4 and called the message, “Taking Advantage of your Trials.”

I have been looking forward to preaching the book of James for many years now. I hope to learn a lot from it. And I pray that my labors will bear fruit in the pulpit.

I had been working on an introductory sermon on James. I decided Thursday evening that was not the best way to go. So I had to bunker down to do an exegesis of verses 1-4. It wiped me God. But I am glad I did.

I am really looking forward to the study of James and pray that it will mark a special time of growth and fruitfulness in the life of Shiloh.

Next week’s sermon: “Praying for Wisdom” (James 1:1-4).

Praise God for those who were saved and added to the church.

Sunday afternoon, I preached for my friend Brodes Perry at the Philippi Baptist Church here in Jacksonville. Brodes is a godly young pastor and a faithful preacher. I was glad to be there. I preached Romans 8:28. Thanks, Shiloh, for your presence. You’re the best.

I did not realize it until Brodes mentioned it to me, but yesterday was the third straight Sunday afternoon I have preached.

Congratulations to my friend, John Fils-Aime, on his pastoral installation yesterday in New York.

The San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers are going to the World Series It should be absolutely boring without the New York Yankees.

It seems no one wants to be #1 in college football. But who cares, since the USC Trojans are nowhere near the top.

I am not a UFC fan. But I was absolutely shocked by the news that Brock Lesner was knocked-out in the first round of his match Saturday night.

The Jaguars were beat up pretty bad by the Chiefs.

My Dallas Cowboys MUST defeat the New York Giants tonight! Are you ready for some football!!!

Can you believe the movie “Back To the Future” is 25 years old?

How’s Lido! Lido, our family dog, got a haircut this weekend. He is feeling good and looking good.