Real Christians Tame the Tongue

It must have been the fall of 1967. I was ten years old, and my music teacher asked who would be interested in playing a musical instrument. In my family, it was not really an invitation. It was a demand. My father had a great passion for music, which he passed on to my sisters, who played the flute and the French horn into college. I decided my instrument was going to be the trumpet. I chose that brass instrument for one reason. My father played the trumpet. I always felt a distance from my father and longed for his approval.

At first, I really worked at it. Without threats, I practiced. I thought I was making some progress and I felt good about the whole thing. I knew my father would be proud of me. One day, my father came down the basement stairs as I was practicing. He looked at me and said, “Do you need some help?” I was thrilled because I thought we would have a breakthrough in our relationship. For an awkward couple of minutes, he listened to me play. Without saying a word, he got up and walked upstairs. He closed the door behind him, looked at my mother and said loud enough for me to hear, “Well, he is loud, but he is no damn good!” Those words cut my heart. I placed the trumpet back in the case and never practiced again. It was on that day I discovered, I was like my mother, who had no music appreciation or talent. At best she tolerated music because she loved my father. For years to come, I seized every opportunity to communicate to him how much I hated music. It was my opportunity to hurt him, like his words had hurt me. At ten years old, I learned that words are important.

We begin today in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, verses one through nine. That chapter ends the pre-historical period in the Bible. The next chapter begins the story of Abraham. The first eleven chapters of Genesis give us the origin of many things in the world today. The first chapter explains how the world was created. The story of Adam and Eve explains the origin of sin. The story of the Tower of Babel, in the eleventh chapter, explains why there are so many languages in the world today. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are important.

According to the story, at one time everyone spoke the same language. Using this common language, mankind decided to build a city with a massive tower. It would be permanent structures made of brick and mortar. The goal was to make a bridge between earth and heaven. It was a project that was rooted in human arrogance. When God came down from heaven and saw the tower, he knew something had to be done. It is at that moment God decided to scatter mankind around the world and give each group a different language. When God does something, he does it well.

Did you know:

  • there are approximately 6,500 languages in the world today?
  • approximately 2,000 of those languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers.
  • approximately 3,000 languages spoken in the world today will be extinct by the     end of this century.
  • the most common language spoken in the world today is Mandarin Chinese,   1,213,000,000 speakers. The second most common language in the world is

  Spanish, 406,000,000 speakers. The third most common language in the world    is English, 375,000,000 speakers.

  • the English language has 1,013,913 words. That number has doubled over the past 100 years.
  • the average American woman speaks about 20,000 words a day.
  • the average American man speaks 7,000 words a day.

Let me state the obvious. Words are important! That takes us to the Epistle of James.

We find ourselves in the third chapter of James, verses one through twelve. James also recognizes that words are important too, but James also admits words can be destructive. There is a world of difference between constructive words and destructive words. Verse nine is haunting. It reminds us, the tongue is fickle. It says, “With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” Verse ten underscores that thought, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brother and sisters, this should not be.” Can I be honest with you? I hate that piece of scripture because it is so true. In the life of the church, we are much more comfortable talking about people, then we are talking to people.

When I was in the Cleveland area, I served the Hathaway United Methodist Church. It pains me to say it, but it is now closed. I had a wonderful experience with that parish. I had a good relationship with the choir because I was not my predecessor. The choir hated my predecessor for one reason. She couldn’t talk to them. Every Thursday evening, they would gather for practice. They would walk in with a cup of coffee, or bottle of pop or a bag of chips. They should have known better, but they left their waste behind.

Every Friday morning, the custodian would come in and clean up the mess. He complained to the Trustees, who could not talk to the choir. They assigned the job to my predecessor. She could not talk to the choir either, so she sent them a letter. Every choir member received a letter in the mail about a week before Christmas. The letter was read, copied, and passed around the church. Soon, it was passed around the community. It was not pretty. That letter was a spark that torched that whole ministry. The whole situation could have been eliminated if someone could have talked to the choir. I would have said, “the custodian would appreciate it if you would clean up after yourselves. I am confident they would have done it. They were good people. This is the point. We are better at talking about each other than we are talking to each other.

Several years ago, I went to a chili cook-off in one of the community churches. Their youth were raising money to go on their mission trip. I went because I wanted to support them, and I like chili. I sat there alone eating my chili. It was nice not being responsible. A woman came up to me and asked how I liked it? I said, “It is great”, because it was. She asked, “Are you a preacher?” I said “Yes,” and identified myself. She said, “Can I ask you for a favor? Can you tell the cooks the chili is too spicy? My gastroenterologist says I should not eat spicy food. You are a minister, and they will listen to you.” I thought, why would you go to a chili dinner if you can’t eat spicy food? I said, “I am just a visitor. Why don’t you tell them?” She walked away frustrated. We are better at talking about each other than we are to each other. Do I have to go on? Do I really have to go on? You know it is true; we are better at talking about each other than we are to each other. However, this is equally true.

The words we utter about one another are often destructive. You do not need illustrations because you know it is true. Sometimes we mask our critical words as a concern. I am concerned people will get upset. (That person is you and we know it.) Sometimes, we mask our critical words as a suggestion. People will come if the music would be more upbeat. Why don’t we sing something more upbeat? (Because it is Good Friday and not a party.) Sometimes, our words come out unmasked and they come out as a complaint. I am upset and I do not care who gets upset. Sometimes you must take a stand. It does not matter how foolish or selfish it makes me look. Regardless, our critical words spoken to one another are always destructive. Those words fracture the unity of the church. I am not talking to anyone else. I am talking to you. Take an inventory of the words you have uttered about your fellow church members. Are they more constructive to the ministry of the church? Are they more destructive to the ministry of the church? Mother Teresa (1910-1997) once said, Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.  In the end, those negative words, damage the ministry of the church and expose your spiritual immaturity.

Do you remember Galatians 5:22-26? It says:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.

It is painfully obvious. We have some work to do. We have a difficult time talking to one another and we have a difficult time speaking constructive words about one another.There isno doubt about it. Words are important! May our words be constructive, benefitting the ministry.

When I was in the eighth grade, my home church received a new minister. He moved to Warren from Huntington, West Virginia. He was a tall man with a large Adam’s apple that stuck out over the knot of his tie. His name was Dr. Jim Cox. On his first Sunday, the church was full of life. Everyone wanted to get a good look at him. At the close of the service, he stood at the back of the sanctuary and met his new flock. One by one, the people walked by and introduced themselves to Dr. Cox. When my parents walked by, they welcomed him and said, “We are Ron and Ruth Adams. This is our son Russell.” He smiled and went on to the next family. One week later, I was in that same line. Dr. Cox looked at my parents and said, “Ron and Ruth, good to see you.” Then Dr. Cox did something that changed my life. He looked at me and said, “Russ, how are you?” For years, I had walked through that line and the various preachers never bothered to learn my name. I cannot blame them. I was nothing special. I was just another kid. Dr. Cox did something in one week that none of his predecessors had ever done. He spoke, me into existence and made me feel included with one word, Russ. To this day, I consider him the finest pastor I have ever known because he simply spoke my name. He made me feel included. This is the truth.

I do my best to speak to everyone in this church everyone Sunday morning for one reason – Dr. Cox spoke to me. He made me feel important. He included me. This is also true. I do very little work in my office. I work at home, but I come out to the church nearly every day to talk to people. I want everyone to feel included and important. Don’t tell me words aren’t important.

Words are important. Are your words constructive words? Are you words destructive words? Are your words bringing glory to God? What are your words saying about your spiritual maturity? The wise one Solomon said it best in Proverbs 21:23 says, “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from trouble.” How tame is your tongue?

Real Christians Respond!

One of the places still on my bucket list is Halifax, Nova Scotia. With a population of approximately 400,000 people, it is the largest city on the Canadian Atlantic coast and the largest Canadian city6 east of Quebec. However, those are not the reasons I want to visit her. The reason I want to go to Halifax is trivia. Did you know Halifax is the site of the largest manmade explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons? I learned that fact on the History Channel. This is the story.

The date was December 6, 1917. A French cargo ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, loaded with wartime bombs collided with a Norwegian vessel, the SS Imo. A fire broke out on the French ship and twenty minutes later the explosion took the harbor district of the city. The explosion equaled approximately 2.9 kilotons of TNT. Approximately 2,000 people were killed in the debris, fires and collapsing buildings. Another 9,000 people were injured. I am glad that is not the end of the story.

The world was shocked by the explosion. Some tried to respond. The people of Boston did respond. The authorities in Boston learned about the explosion by telegraph. Within twelve hours a train filled with supplies and volunteers was headed toward Halifax. That train would not be the last. The people of Boston continued to respond, and a bond was forged to between those two northern cities. That bond still exists today. Annually, the city of Halifax sends the city a Boston a Christmas tree to thank them for their help over one hundred years ago.That tree is the official Christmas tree of Boston, which stands proudly in the Boston Commons. If you have ever found yourself in need then you know it is true. Responding to human need is important. That takes us to our scripture reading.

Once again, we find ourselves in the second chapter of James. It is the third week in a row we have looked at this text, so I hope this sounds familiar. I hope this paragraph sounds familiar because it is the now the third time you have heard it. We are at the end of the second chapter of James. The topic is authenticity. James reminds us how important it is for us to be genuine in our faith. We find genuine faith when we combined the right words with the right deeds. In other words, you are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus means to you. You are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus has done for you. You are supposed to be acting in a way that demonstrates to the world your appreciation for this great gift of salvation. James says simple words are not enough. After all, talk is cheap. James also says good behavior is not enough. After all, you can’t earn your salvation. James says we should respond to human needs. Words and deeds must go hand in hand. Verse 14 is key. It says it clearly, what good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”

This is not an isolated case in the Bible. Jesus, himself, told us we are to respond to basic human need. That is what he is saying in the parable of the sheep and the goats. You know the story. It is found in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. That chapter contains three great parables. The first is the parable of the ten virgins. The second is the parable of the talents. The third is the parable of the sheep and the goats. The thing that unites those three parables is the theme, judgment! The parable of the sheep and the goats is the most pointed. It is a scene that comes from their rural society. According to the Master the righteous and the unrighteous will be separated, like a shepherd separates the sheep and the goats. The son of man will only welcome the sheep into heaven. Who are the sheep? They are the righteous. During their lives they responded to human need. They gave food to those who were hungry. They gave drink to those who were thirsty. They welcomed the lonely. They gave clothes to those who needed them. They visited the sick and the incarcerated. These acts were not unique to them. They were part of their normal activities. They didn’t know they were really caring for Jesus. The point of the parable is clear. You don’t need an advanced degree. Human need should be one of the great preoccupations of your life. Human need should be one of the great preoccupations of our church.

The founder of the great Methodist movement John Wesley (1703-1791) saw the importance of responding to human need. Do you remember his famous quote? Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all people you can, as long as ever you can.” Wesley lived these words. As a college student, Wesley stopped getting his hair cut to save money to give to the poor. How much do you spend on your hair? How much do you give to the poor?

The history of the church is filled with Christian people responding to human need. I have no clue how many hospitals have been started by the church to help the sick and the maimed. I have no clue how many schools the church has started to educate the uneducated. I have no clue how many meals the church has prepared to feed the hungry. I have no clue how many homes the church has started to care for the aged. I have no clue how many homeless shelters the church has started to help the homeless. I have no clue how much money has been given away to help strangers. I have no clue how many prayers the church has uttered to support the down and out. This is the point. We stand in the middle of a great tradition which has always responded to human need. We have no other option because cares about the needy and the forgotten. Psalm 140:8 says, “The LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” We must continue to respond to human need!

The problem is after all our work human need has not been eliminated. In fact, our world seems to be growing more desperate. We no longer have the option of ignoring the suffering in our world. Modern transportation and communication have made our world exceedingly small. We see the pictures and hear the stories regularly. We appear to be outnumbered and many are suggesting we do not even try. However, we must respond to the needy in our world because that is what God has called us to do. This is the question that haunts every person of faith. How much do you really care about the suffering people in our world?

In my home I have three pets, two cats and a dog. My cats are named Boris and Natasha. They are named after the old cartoon characters on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Boris is a long-haired gray and white cat. He only cares for one person in this world, my wife. He may be the world’s meanest cat! Boris wishes I would move out. If given the opportunity, Boris would take over some small Central American country. Natasha is a black cat with beautiful yellow eyes and accents. She is the only cat who has ever liked me. I get her to purr every day. The pride of the fleet is Macy, my thirteen-inch beagle. She is the world’s best dog. (Everyone should think their dog is the world’s best dog.) Macy likes everyone, except the mail man and the newspaper lady. I will admit it. She is my prized possession. I feed Macy. I walk Macy. I give her a bath and I play with Macy. Every day I tell her she is the best. She likes everyone but I am her favorite. She is always by my side, and she has a good life. No, she has a great life. When I was sick, Macy walked me every day. She played a major role in my recovery.

Years ago, Macy was sitting in my lap as I was watching the news. The human-interest story at the end of the broadcast was about a woman, who had a great passion for dogs. She was concerned about the number of stray dogs in her community, so she spent a fortune to help them. She opened a dog resort. Her guests only got the best. The problem is caring for so many dogs is expensive. The news reporter told us she sold her own jewelry to help the dogs. The estimated value of the jewelry was $10.5 million. That will buy a great deal of dog food. I petted Macy and thought that is good thing. Dogs are the best!

Then, I read the scripture lesson for today and began to wonder about my priorities. How many needy people could be helped for $10.5 million? The word is priority. While dogs are living in comfort, we have people in our world living in the cold streets. While dogs are living in comfort, we have people in our world dying because they did not get vaccinated from a variety of diseases. While we have dogs living in comfort, we have people in our world starving to death. Someone in our world dies from starvation every seven seconds. While we have dogs living in comfort, we have people searching for clean drinking water. While we have dogs living in comfort, we have people in our world who are not able to read or write. Do not get me wrong. I love dogs, but God is more concerned with people. How much money do you spend keeping your pet comfortable? How much money do you give away to eliminate human suffering? It is a question of priority. What are your priorities?

Do you remember James’s words for us today? Verses fourteen through seventeen says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” How dead is your faith?

Real Christians Sacrifice

Years ago, Millard Fuller (1935-2009), the founder of Habitat for Humanity, was addressing a gathering of 200 pastors at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to accomplish its mission in the world. Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it’s sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.” All 200 pastors raised their hands. “Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?” No one responded but everyone looked down. You could have heard a pin drop. Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room, “When it is bigger than mine.” Can anyone here relate to that story? This is the question. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?

Once again, we find ourselves in the closing verses of the second chapter of James. These words will sound familiar because last week’s scripture and today’s scripture are the same. The topic is authenticity. James reminds us how important it is for us to be genuine in our faith. We find genuine faith when we combined the right words with the right deeds. In other words, you are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus means to you. You are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus has done for you. You are supposed to be acting in a way that demonstrates to the world your appreciation for this great gift of salvation. James says simple words are not enough. After all, talk is cheap. James says good behavior is not enough. After all, you can’t earn your salvation. Words and deeds must go hand in hand. Verse 14 says it clearly, what good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

Let me repeat my opening words. James underscores this point with three examples. In verses fifteen through seventeen we are told authentic Christian faith responds to basic human need. We will look at that next week. In verses twenty-five and twenty-six we are told authentic Christianity involves an occasional risk. We looked at that last week. Today, we are going to look at verses twenty-one through twenty-four. In those verses we are told authentic Christianity requires a certain amount of sacrifice. We understand the basic concept of sacrifice because sacrificing it part of life. Not only do we understand sacrificing but we respect people who are not afraid to sacrifice it all.

In the winter of 1943, the SS Dorchester was the temporary home of 904 soldiers and 4 chaplains. World War II was in full bloom. The Dorchester was crossing the North Atlantic. Those were dangerous waters because it was filled with German U-boats. At 12:00 on the morning of February 3, a German torpedo ripped into the ship. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the Dorchester would sink. Each one grabbed their lifejacket. A young GI crept up to one of the chaplains. “I’ve lost my life jacket,” he said. “Take this,” the chaplain said, handing the soldier his jacket. Before the ship sank, each one of the chaplains gave their lifejacket to another man. The heroic chaplains then linked arms and lifted their voices in prayer as the Dorchester went down. There is no happy ending. Each one of the chaplains died. For their sacrifice they were awarded posthumously the Distinguished Service Cross. I challenge you to tell me that both words and deeds do not matter. It is a true sign of real Christianity. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God? The Bible is filled with people who were forced to answer that question. Some found it easier to sacrifice. Some found it difficult to sacrifice. Do you remember these stories?

Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac in the 12th chapter of Genesis? In those days his name was Abram. It means the father of many. God promises Abram he is going to be the father of a great nation. The problem is the father of many has no children. He has no children through his wife, Sarai, when God changes his name to Abraham, the father of the multitude. It seemed like a cruel joke, until Sarah gave birth to their first child, Isaac. That name means “one who laughs” or “one who rejoices.” You must tip your hat to Abraham. He was 100 years old when Isaac was born. (Genesis 21:5) You must tip your hat to Sarah. She was 90 years old when Isaac was born. (Genesis 17:17) It is safe to say that Abraham and Sarah cherished their son. He brightened every dark corner of their lives. There was going to be a happy ending then it happened. In the twenty-second chapter God calls Abraham to sacrifice his Isaac. It was a test we would have failed but Abraham passed. In the original Hebrew the point is clear. Abraham has already said, “Good-bye” to Isaac. When all hope is gone, God supplies another sacrifice, ram. It is a difficult story for our modern ears to understand but the point is clear. He was willing to sacrifice his most cherished possession at God’s request. Abraham was willing to sacrifice it all to God. How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?

Do you remember the story of the rich, young ruler? It is found in three places. The nineteenth chapter of Matthew, the tenth chapter of Mark, and the eighteenth chapter of Luke. If you combined the three, then you get the whole story. The title of the story says it all. He has no earthly limitations. He is a man, so he is not limited by his gender. His was a time of great sexism. He is not limited economically. He is rich so he can buy anything he desires. What would you buy if you were not economically limited? He is not limited by age. He is young so he is not limited by health issues. What is your greatest health concern? He is not limited by power because he has influence. He is ruler. Who is the most influential person you know? It appears on the surface he has everything yet at closer examination he has nothing. He lacks the one thing money can’t buy, salvation! He goes to Jesus and asks him the question we have all asked, “What must I do inherit eternal life?” After discovering the man is a good man, Jesus gets to the topic of sacrifice. Jesus said to him, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and then you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  The rich young ruler exits the scene depressed because he can’t do it. There are limits to what he would sacrifice. I have never liked that Bible story because the rich young ruler looks so much like me. We struggle with the story of Abraham and Isaac because Abraham would sacrifice anything for God. We relate to the rich young ruler because we too have limits on what we will sacrifice. Is it harder for you to sacrifice your relationships or your possessions? How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?

Anyone who has ever taken a leadership position in the life of the church knows the simple truth that people limit how much they will sacrifice for God. If you have ever tried to organize Vacation Bible School, you know it is true. The children cannot come because a family member is visiting. If you have ever tried to help the needy in the inner city, then you know it is true. I cannot help because they smell bad. If you have ever tried to find a reader at a worship service, then you know it is true. I am afraid to stand up in of people. If you have ever tried to organize a musical program you know it is true. I do not really care for that kind of music. If you have every worked on the annual stewardship drive, then you know it is true. I do not care how many facts we give. I do not care how many charts you show. They give the same amount for the last twenty-five years. I do not want to be negative, but it is painfully obvious. People have limits on how much they will sacrifice for God. We are much more like the rich young ruler than we care to admit. It has been that way for a long time.

Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) saw the problem in his time. He once wrote I went into church and sat on the velvet pew. I watched as the sun came shining through the stained-glass windows. The minister dressed in a velvet robe opened the golden gilded Bible, marked it with a silk bookmark and said, “If any man will be my disciple, said Jesus, let him deny himself, take up his cross, sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow me.” This is the problem, real Christians sacrifice.  How much are you willing to sacrifice for God?

In 2014, Barack Obama (born 1961) was President of the United States. During his State of the Union Address, the crowd was divided. Some were always standing up and cheering at his words. Others were always sitting on their hands. It was easy to identify the red people from the blue people. It was easy to identify the liberals from the conservatives. The President was unable to unite the crowd, but one man did, Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (born 1984).He sat next to the First Lady. I don’t know how anyone could have missed him. The thirty-year-old man needed help standing up. The wounds he received in Afghanistan will never completely heal. He sacrificed so much for our country. I am glad to report, he is still alive. How can we question his patriotism? How can we question the patriotism of the people who sacrificed their lives serving our country? Listen to what I am about to say.

Someday you are going to be standing. You will not be standing in front of the eyes of country. You will be standing before God on judgement day and God, who sees everything, will be looking at you. Do not take this as a warning. Take this as a reminder. He will be looking at how much you have sacrificed. Remember, real Christians sacrifice. Indian education Sadhu Vaswani (1879-1966) once said, “True love is selfless. It is prepared to sacrifice.” How much do you love God? How much are you willing to sacrifice? Real Christians sacrifice!

Real Christians Risk!

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) He was one of those great characters in American history, yet his story began in Hungary. He was born in Budapest in 1874. The family moved to America when Harry was young. At first, his father was the Rabbi in Appleton, Wisconsin. A few years later, the family moved again to New York City.  It was in the Big Apple that Harry tried show business. At first, he tried being a professional magician, with little success. Then, he tried escape acts. We know his name because of those acts. For a twenty-year period, Houdini performed with great success in the United States. He freed himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, and straitjackets, often while hanging from a rope in sight of street audiences.

His most famous stunt came on July 7, 1912. Houdini was taken to the middle of New York’s East River. Once in position, he was locked in handcuffs and leg-irons, then nailed into the crate which was roped and weighed down with two hundred pounds of lead. The crate was then lowered into the water. Houdini escaped in fifty-seven seconds. When the crate was pulled to the surface it was found still to be intact, with the manacles inside. It is a mystery to me. Can I ask you a question? Would anyone here consider doing that stunt? (I don’t even want to get into New York’s East River!) Harry Houdini was a daredevil. Do the people in your life consider you a daredevil? Do the people in your life consider you a risk taker? Do the people in your life consider you a coward? That takes us the scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves at the end of the second chapter of James, verses fourteen through twenty-six. The topic for today is authenticity. He reminds us how important it is to be genuine in our faith. True discipleship must contain both words and the deeds. In other words, you are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus means to you. You are supposed to be able to tell people what Jesus has done for you. You are supposed to be acting in a way that demonstrates to the world your appreciation for this great gift of salvation. James says simple words are not enough. After all, talk is cheap. James says simple good behavior is not enough. After all, you cannot earn your salvation. Words and deeds must go hand in hand. They are in perfect balance. Verse 14 says it clearly, what good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

To underscore this single point, James gives us three examples. The first is as contemporary as this morning’s newspaper. Authentic Christianity can’t ignore basic human need, clothes and food. That is why we participate in food drives. We must respond. We must respond.The second example comes from the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. After a lifetime of waiting for a son, Abraham is in position to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at God’s request. It is not a story about child abuse. However, it is a story about having the right priorities. Let there be no doubt about it. Abraham’s top priority was God. The third example is Rahab. Do you remember her story?

It comes from the second chapter of Joshua. The Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years. During that time, they experienced the very best and the absolute worst. Their lives were in a constant state of flux, and only three things remained constant. The first was God, their spiritual leader. The second was Moses, their earthly leader. The third was this great promise of a future home, the Promised Land. Then the unthinkable happened – Moses died. I find it to be one of the cruelest things in the Bible. God did not permit Moses to enter the Promised Land. He only saw it from the distance from the top of Mount Nebo.

With Moses gone, the mantle of responsibility was placed on a new leader, Joshua. Change is not easy. It would be his job to lead the people into the Promised Land. That was not as easy as it sounds. The land was occupied by other people, and they didn’t want leave. It would take a military action. Joshua seemed to be the perfect leader for them. He was as much a warrior as a priest. Being a wise military man, he desires information about his enemy. So, he sends two spies into this foreign land. They are to report back to him when they return. It sounds kind of funny, but it is Bible. As soon as the spies get into the Promised Land, they enter the house of a prostitute, Rahab. (I will let you fill in the blanks.) God has always used the oddest people to do his work. When the authorities come to arrest the spies, Rahab risks everything. She hides the spies and sends the authorities off in another direction. (Joshua 2:1-7) She could have been executed for either one of those things. History is such a funny thing. We downplay the fact the hero in the story was a prostitute. We remember Rahab as a hero. The people of Jericho remember her as a traitor. It is safe to say, Rahab saved the invasion. She risked everything for God. How big of a risk are you willing to take for God?

Years ago, a ship-wrecked off the New England coast. A young member of the coast guard rescue crew said, “We can’t go out. We’ll never get back.” The grizzled old captain replied, “We have to go out. We don’t have to come back.” Most of us can relate to that story because we are simply afraid to go. Fear often paralyzes us. How you ever noticed how many cowards there are in our world?

Several weeks ago, I was talking to a man during the coldest day of this cold winter. The temperature was well below zero, and he longed for the warmth of Florida. I said, “I wish, I could get on a plane and fly south.” He said, “Not me! Those jets come down faster than they go up! I would drive.” I said, “You know you are in more danger driving to Florida then flying to Florida.” He said, “I know. That is why I am staying home.” Fear has a way of paralyzing us! Are you afraid to fly? Have you ever noticed how many cowards there are in society?

Several years ago, I was at the Canfield Post Office. I was standing in line to buy my stamps. It is not a large lobby, so I could hear the clerk waiting on the person ahead of me. The man was charged $25 to overnight a package to downtown Youngstown. When the man left, I walked up to the clerk and said, “Did you charge that man $25 to take the package downtown? For $20, I would have driven that package downtown.” The clerk responded, “It happens all the time. People are afraid to go into Youngstown.” Bad things can happen anywhere, even the suburbs. Fear has a way of paralyzing us! Are you afraid to travel downtown? Have you ever noticed how many cowards there are in the life of the church?

The church is part of our society, so we shouldn’t be surprised to find fear within our walls. I know it is true because fear has paralyzed me. One of my few regrets in life is, I never got a D. Min., a Doctor of Ministry. It would not have helped me in my career. However, it would have filled a void in my life. My seminary years were hard, and I feel like I missed so much. There was an academic itch that needs to be scratched. There was a time I really toyed with going back to school. There was always had an excuse. I didn’t have the money. I didn’t have the time. Something was always happening here or at home. My dyslectic eyes would make it impossible. Now my excuse is, I am too old. Can I be honest with you? The reason I never got a D. Min. was fear. I know I am not the smartest person on the planet, and I was afraid I would fail. I did not want to tell you I failed. I really did not want to tell my children I failed. I was afraid of failure, so I never tried. Have you ever been paralyzed by fear? How many churches do you know that are paralyzed by fear?

I see it all the time. Every Sunday morning, I am looking out for visitors. They never sit up with me in the chancel area. They sit out with you! Sometimes they sit next to you. Later, I will talk to long-time worshippers and ask, “Did you talk to the person next to you?” Most of the time, people say, “No!” I ask, “Why?” “Because I didn’t know them. I didn’t know if they were new or not. I didn’t want to welcome him or her and find out they had been here for years. I didn’t want to look foolish, so I said nothing at all.” Fear has a way of paralyzing us! Are you afraid to talk to some you do not know?

Annually, on Good Friday, we go to Green Haven cemetery to observe the death of Christ. It is a natural place to be because it pounds home the point that Jesus really did die. As the service gets closer, I talk to people to promote the service. Every year, I get the same response. “No way!” Some tell me they are afraid of ghosts. For others, the fear is much more personal. One guy said it clearly, “Someday I am going to spend every day in that cemetery. I don’t want to go early, because I don’t want to be reminded of my own death.” Fear has a way of paralyzing us! Are you afraid of death?

For over a decade my wife, Kathryn led volunteer in mission’s trips to Eastern Europe. We have been to Russia countless times. We have been to Ukraine several times. We have been to Belarus and Estonia. I have no clue how many trips. I have no clue how many people she has taken. I have no clue how many smiles she produced on the faces of those forgotten orphans. I have no clue how many have discouraged us from going through the years. I had one man say to me, “If she was my life, I would not let her go.” I responded, “That fine because she would have married you anyway.” One of the frustrations of the pandemic is we cannot travel to Eastern Europe. Would you like to go with us? Have you ever been paralyzed by fear?

Our world has no shortage of human need. I don’t need to read you a list; you know the list. God expects us to do something to help. The problem is, we are afraid. That is why we are more comfortable with charity than we are with missions. Charity involves collecting things for strangers. Missions involves getting personally involved with people. The chances of getting the needy of this world to come to our little piece of property is slim. That is why we must go, and that will take a certain amount of risk. Are you willing to risk your personal security? Fear has a way of paralyzing us. Faith lets us free. That is why the story of Rahab is so amazing. She risked it all for God. How much are you willing to risk? That is what makes James 2:14 so disturbing. Verse 14 says it clearly, what good is it, my brothers, and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Real Christians risk.

How many of you remember Evel Knievel? He is remembered as an American Daredevil. In his career he knew many highs and many lows. (He broke 37 bones.) His stunts grabbed national attention. He got into being a daredevil for one reason, money. He was not making enough money as a motocross racer, so he decided to promote his motorcycle stunts. His first stunt was to jump over a box of rattlesnakes and two mountain lions. That stunt got him a sponsor. Soon, Knievel was regularly jumping his Harley Davidson over rows of cars, trucks, and even the fountains at Caesar’s Palace. His most famous stunt came in 1974, when he attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-propelled motorcycle called the X-1. A malfunction caused the bike’s parachute to prematurely open and ruined the jump, but the media storm surrounding the event had already cemented Knievel’s reputation as the king of all daredevils. Would you ever jump over a box of rattlesnakes? Do you consider yourself a daredevil? In authentic Christianity, there is a certain amount of risk taking. How big of a risk are you willing to take for God? Real Christians risk!

Real Christians Persevere

Today, we are looking at the first four verses of the Epistle of James.  In verse one we are told James is writing to the twelve scattered tribes among the nations. Who were these people? It is not as mysterious as it sounds. The answer is simple. They were members of the early church, who left Jerusalem. They didn’t leave the Golden City because they wanted to go. They left the Golden City because they had to go. You remember the story. After the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), the rules changed. Their safety was no longer guaranteed. Their greatest fear was to end up like Stephen, dead! Everyone dreams of the perfection of heaven, but no one is in a hurry to go. They left for their own safety. Now let me state the obvious. This was not a time of advanced communication. There were no cell phones, text messages, or e-mails. When you left, you were gone. James didn’t know what was happening to his people, so he expects the worst. That is why the first topic he addresses is trials. If they were going to remain in the faith, then they had to persevere.

The world has changed a great deal in 2,000 years. In some ways, we have made some great advances. The advancement of medical knowledge and practice is impressive in the past 100 years. That is why people are living longer all the time. The advancement of communication is impressive over the past 100 years. E-mail and Skype have made our world very small. The advancement of transportation in the past 100 years is impressive. We fly commercial airliners without much thought. In certain ways, the world has changed a great deal in the past 2,000 years. However, in other ways, our world has remained the same in 2,000 years.

Two thousand years ago, being a follower of Jesus Christ meant you were in the minority. The percentage of true believers was very small. They were a minority who were not welcomed by their world. Guess what? Two thousand years later, being a follower of Jesus Christ means you are still in the minority. I am not talking about being a church member. I am talking about being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I am talking about having a relationship with Jesus that is altering the way you live. It is altering the way you spend your time. It is altering the way you spend your money. It is altering your personal opinions. However, it is also altering the way that other people look at you and relate to you. If Jesus Christ really is altering your life, then you truly are in the minority. You know it is true. The majority is always trying to tell the minority to compromise this relationship with Jesus and conform to what the rest of the world is doing.

Verse four is vital to your spiritual development. It says, Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”  James is not talking about the secondary issues in the life of the church. He is not talking about a certain style of worship. He is not talking about locking the doors after a church function or washing the dishes in the kitchen. James is talking about not compromising vital pieces of the Christian faith, our core values. There are many that could be mentioned, but I will only mention three. If you are ready to begin, say, “Amen!”

First, never compromise Jesus! This letter is not just written to anyone. It is written to that small group of people who really believed. Their names and stories differed, but somewhere in their lives they experienced Jesus. The question is not, how did you come to know Jesus? The question is, have you experienced Jesus? Once you experience Jesus, everything changes. Jesus wasn’t just a good man. Jesus wasn’t just a wise man or a role model. Jesus wasn’t just an interesting man. Jesus was not just a motivational speaker. Jesus was the incarnation of God, who was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is our only hope of salvation. How could you ever compromise Jesus?And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Never compromise Jesus!

The Bible

Second, never compromise the Bible! One of my favorite Bible stories comes from the eighth chapter of Acts. You know the story. We have looked at it in the past. The main character is Philip. He was directed by an angel to go to the road that runs between Gaza and Jerusalem. Philip does what he is told and meets a foreigner. The scriptures identify him as an Ethiopian eunuch. His life is complex for a variety of reasons. When Philip meets him, he is trying to untangle the mess. With nowhere else to go, he is reading the scriptures. The problem is, he didn’t understand what he was reading. Does anyone here have a hard time understanding the Bible? The good news is, Philip helped him understand what he was reading. He was reading from the suffering servant passage, Isaiah 53. It is a chapter about Jesus.

As a matter of fact, every word in the Bible is about Jesus. The Old Testament is about everything that happened before Jesus’ birth. The Gospels are about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The book of Acts is about the Holy Spirit and the creation of Jesus’ bride, the church. The rest of the Bible is filled with testimonies about the difference that Jesus made in individual lives. Revelation is about how Jesus wins in the end. Second, we will never compromise the Bible because it is all about Jesus, our Lord and Savior. If you will never compromise the Bible, say, “Amen!” First, never compromise Jesus! Second, never compromise the Bible.

The Church

Third, never compromise the church! Job number one in every church is the resurrection of Jesus. Administrative structure really doesn’t matter. The number of small groups you have really doesn’t matter. The denominational name on the sign doesn’t really matter. What really matters? The only thing that really matters in the life of the church is the resurrection of Jesus. On the day we stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus, we will stop being the church that God intended. For this reason, we will never compromise the church.

It is hard to believe that I began serving in the United Methodist Church nearly 35 years ago. Time goes so quickly. When I was going through the ordination process, I was required to turn in a certain amount of paperwork. One of the papers I wrote was on Ecclesiology, the study of the church. I learned something while I was writing that paper that I have never forgotten. Paul and Peter viewed the church in two different ways. Paul believed the church was visible. In other words, he believed everyone who is present today was part of the true church. Peter believed the church is invisible. He believed your attendance is only one sign that you are part of the true church. He believed that only God knows who makes up the true church. In other words, you can be a member of a church and not be part of the true church. Can be in the true church and not be a church member. The faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation. I am not sure you I believe, Peter is correct. What do you believe? Let me go a few more steps down that road.

I believe man-made denominations mean very little to God. The only thing that really matters is your belief in the resurrection. That is Biblical. Romans 10:9 says, “… if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Many believe that verse is the very first creed in the church. Your belief and witness of the resurrection is everything. That is why I have very little problem crossing denominational lines. Presbyterians and Lutherans believe in the resurrection. Those fun non-denominational and Pentecostal churches believe in the resurrection. The Roman and Byzantine Catholic Churches believe in the resurrection. The Orthodox Church believes in the resurrection. The traditions of all these churches are different. I am not saying I accept all their practices and beliefs. I don’t accept everything about the United Methodist Church. However, I do believe in the resurrection, and I am open to any group that believes in the resurrection of Jesus. Maybe the devil is in the details? Maybe instead of promoting our differences, we should promote what we have in common, the resurrection of Jesus! People promote differences. God promotes what we have in common. If you will never compromise the church, say, “Amen!” First, never compromise Jesus! Second, never compromise the Bible! Third, never compromise the church! Let me end with this story.

This is a good story on this Martin Luther King Day weekend. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British Politian. He was the one who ended the slave trade in that country. It was hard work. He was often discouraged. It was his practice to read the Bible during those dark days. On one such night, he began to leaf through it. A small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. It was a letter written by John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the great Methodist movement, shortly before his death. This is what that letter said:

Unless the divine power has raised you up… I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that (abominable practice of slavery), which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might.

John Wesley was reminding William Wilberforce of the same thing that James is reminding us. We are only soldiers in a great spiritual battle.It is God, Himself, who goes ahead of us. It is God, Himself, who will claim the final victory. The only thing we are required to do is persevere. If you are going to be a real Christian, then you must persevere.

Let there be no doubt about it. We are in the middle of a great spiritual battle. We are nothing more than soldiers. In our lives, we will experience both victory and defeat. However, in the end, God will win, and we will reap the benefits. All we are asked to do is persevere. We will never give up on Jesus. He is our only hope of salvation. We will never give up on the Bible. It is the inspired word of God. It is all about Jesus. We will never give up the church. The true church can’t stop talking about Jesus. The church is the bride of Christ. Who will tell the world about our risen Savior if the church fails? Scottish naturalist Walter Elliot (1842-1928) once said, Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.  Never give up, persevere! And all of God people said, “Amen!”