Close Prayer Support

James 5:13-20

In modern warfare there is no more effective strategy than “Close Air Support.”  An ex-Air Force pilot in my congregation in California spoke to me about his vital role in war time.  The ground forces would come up with a battle plan, but… one problem:  enemy troops were in the way.  Solution?  Get on the comm and call in CAS!  His group would clear the way and, at times, save their lives.  And modern airstrikes are very precise.  I remember watching scenes from the war in Iraq.  An Iraqi tank was hiding under a bridge.  A U.S. missle was able to destroy the tank and still leave the bridge in tact.

There is such a support available to the believer:  Close PRAYER Support.  James says:  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Know someone who is sick?  Call in the church leadership and get to praying.  Know someone who is neck deep in sin?  Better call in the CPS!  “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Hudson Taylor tells the story of how his life was turned around by the prayer of his mother:  “On a day I shall never forget when I was about 15 years of age, because my mother was absent from home, I had a holiday, and in the afternoon looked through my father’s library to find some book with which to while away the hours.  I turned over a basket of pamphlets, and selected from among them a gospel tract which looked interesting.  I sat down to read the little book in an utterly unconcerned state of mind.

          Little did I know at the time what was going on in the heart of my mother, eighty miles away.  She rose from dinner with an intense yearning for the conversion of her boy, and she went to her room and turned the key in the door, resolved not to leave until her prayer was answered.  Hour after hour did she plead for me, until at length she was constrained to praise God for that which His Spirit taught her had been accomplished.

          In the meantime I had taken up this little tract, and while reading was struck with the sentence, “The finished work of Christ.”  The though passed through my mind, “Why does the author use this expression?”  Immediately the words “It is Finished” came to mind.  What was finished? I replied.  “A full and perfect atonement for sin:  Christ died for our sins.”  A light flashed into my soul by the Spirit, that there was nothing to be done but to fall down on one’s knees, and, accepting this Savior and His salvation, to praise him forever.

          When mother came home a fortnight later, I was the first to meet her at the door to tell her I had glad news.  I can almost feel her arms around my neck, as she said, “I know, my boy; I have been rejoicing for a fortnight.”  You will agree with me that it would be strange indeed if I were not a believer in the power of prayer.”  (Quoted by Robert J. Morgan in From This Verse, September 21st.)

Got a tough situation… call in the prayer support.

Miracle Grow

James 5:7-11

Seems like every year about this time we see the same story:  “World’s Largest Pumpkin Discovered.”  This year’s giant gourd comes out of New Richmond, Wisconsin.  “Weighing 1,810.5 pounds, Guinness World Records has confirmed that Chris Steven’s pumpkin (pictured right) is the world’s heaviest, beating the previous record, a 1,725-pound pumpkin grown last year in Ohio. Stevens’ pumpkin has a circumference of 186.5 inches, or more than 15 feet.  He said… his secret is a precise mixture of sunshine, rain, cow manure, fish emulsion and seaweed.” (The Associated Press, 10/21/10)

How is it that some have a green thumb… and others are like… well… me?  People that do well cover the essentials well… and are concerned about the growth of their garden.  The proper portion of Water, the correct amount of Light, and the right Fertilizer can make all the difference.  You can always sprinkle on some of that “Miracle Grow” stuff.. the plant food with an ad usually featuring a picture of a guy with a two hundred pound turnip in a wheelbarrel.

Picture for yourselves this morning, in your mind, the face of someone you believe to be spiritually grown up.  They have a bumper crop of endurance… wisdom is ripe on their branches and ready for the picking… and their devotional life always appears to root them firmly in God.   I suspect if we sat down with these individuals and asked them the right questions this morning… we would discover that their “secret” is that they give careful consideration to the essentials of spiritual growth in their daily lives.  Their spiritual maturity didn’t happen by accident.

James says that one of those essentials… is patience.  He implies that the phrase “impatient farmer” is an oxymoron.  A farmer can do only so much to insure a good crop.  He can prepare the soil, uproot weeds and spread fertilizer… but he can’t rush the process.  He has to wait for the rain… wait for the plant to grow.  Real growth comes from the God.  James says to look to the example of Job… who endured patiently and received in the end a harvest of “compassion and mercy” from the Lord.

I hope that your spiritual walk is a prize winning endeavor.  That you receive a blue ribbon at your church, in your family and around the water cooler at work.  But for those of us that think we have a bit more growing to do… keep cultivating your soil and wait patiently for the rains of heaven… God in His time will cause the increase.

The Incredible Shrinking Treasure

James 5:1-6              

In 2006 Bob Kitts, a contractor,was tearing out the walls of a bathroom he was renovating and just below the medicine cabinet he found two green metal lockboxes hanging from a wire.  Inside was $182,000 in Depression-era currency.  He quickly alerted the homeowner Amanda Reese and great was their excitement!

In the end, however, both only got a few thousand out of the find.  What happened?  They began to argue about how much each got.  Amanda offered him 10% and Bob wanted 40%.  It got ugly from there.  Eventually their legal battle gained public attention and the legal heirs of Patrick Dunn (who had hidden the money to start with) sued as well.  In the end everybody got a little… the treasure dwendled to nothing.  “If these two individuals had sat down and resolved their disputes and divided the money, the heirs would have had no knowledge of it,” said attorney Gid Marcinkevicius, who represents the Dunne estate. “Because they were not able to sit down and divide it in a rational way, they both lost.”

In today’s passage James issues one of the sternest warnings about hording wealth in the Bible.  While we tend to think that being filthy rich will make us deliriously happy, James says it should be an occasion to be miserable.  Why?  To begin with, stored up riches tend to evaporate.  Rich foods rot, fine clothes become moth-eaten, and gold and silver corrode.  Last to go is YOU!  (v. 3)

Jesus offers the alternative:  “Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6:38)  And where does one store such a winfall?  “…store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal.”  (Matthew 6:20)

Strive today that you will live a life of generousity.  It will come back to you… in good measure.

Down the Road

Nashville Drivers!  What can I say?  I have lived in high traffic areas many times in my life.  I’ve navigated I-75 through Cincinnati, waited for hours in the gridlock of Highway 101 in Northern California and even gave many hours up trying to get home via the Captial beltway.  Nothing prepared me for the zany and insane stunts that drivers in middle TN try to pull off.  I once saw someone cut me off and then the next two lanes and the median strip in an attempt to catch a freeway exit he passed a quarter mile back.  

Just Sunday morning, Janine and I turned a blind curb and found a city truck parked in the roadway.  It was stopped without any hazards or cones set up and caused us to break hard.  It sent our Bibles, lesson plans and the box of doughnuts we bought for the youth Sunday School class into the back seat floor board.  You never know what is coming up around the bend.  One drives in this city with a heightened sense of alertness.

James wants us to drive with such an alertness… in life.  You cannot simply put life into cruise control and expect to make it home.   “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (4:14-15)

What is the answer to this?  James says:  “Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

I am feeling this principle even more these days as I seek full time ministry again.  I feel like Madeleine L’Engle, who wrote:  “Someone has altered the script.  My lines have been changed… I thought I was writing this play.”  (Quoted by John Ortberg in When the Game is Over it all Goes Back Into the Box, p. 59.)  I know my role, just can’t seem to get myself into the Broadway play God has for me.  I pray everyday and hope.  But whether I am working J.C. Penny’s or the youth group at Valley View Baptist or searching for a new church, I am trusting the road ahead to the will of God. 

I seek to not become a Nashvillian driver. (Janine would say I am losing this fight.)  But this much I know… God has punched in the GPS before this journey even began and I will find the way home.

2 Million Dollar Lesson

James 4:11-12

USA Today once ran a story titled:”Bank Learns $2 Million Dollar Lesson”  It was about John Barrier, who didn’t like the way a bank manager, in Spokane, Washington, looked at him because of how he was dressed.  John was wearing construction clothes and got a look as if he had crawled out from under a rock. The problem began when Barrier went to Old National Bank to cash a $100 check. When he tried to get his parking slip validated to save 60 cents, a receptionist refused, saying he hadn’t conducted a transaction. “You have to make a deposit,” she told him. When told he was a substantial depositor, she looked at him as if . . . well. He asked to see the manager, who also refused to validate the ticket. Barrier went to the bank headquarters threatening to withdraw his money unless the manager apologized. No one called. So the next day, he withdrew over $2 million. (Source Date Unknown)

Why is it that we make such snap evaluations of others?  James says there is only one Law Giver and Judge… and it isn’t you or I.  “Who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Do we fail to realize the worth of those that stand before us?  Whether they drive a beat up pickup truck or a Lexux… went to Princeton or Vocational School… whether they wear a tux or tattoos… we only scan the exterior.  And then often times we slap a price tag on them based on what we see.   In this way we devalue those around us.  To God, people are worth far more than 2 million dollars. People are not mere commodities… they are extraordinary beings created in the image of God.  C. S. Lewis wrote:  “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilization–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit…”

Today you will rub shoulders with people that are of infinite worth to their Creator.  Will you make a $2 million dollar mistake?

The Gift of Repentance

James 4:7-10

It was a lonely stretch of road at the Nevada border.  I read the sign:  last stop for gas for 20 miles… so I pulled in.  I gased up, went in to get some food and then left.  I had just re-entered the freeway when it hit me.  I had forgotten to pay for the gas.  It was not a good place to have such a realization.  There was no way to turn around.  A deep gully lined each side of the narrow two lane highway I was on.  It was 20 miles before I could exit and return.  ARGH!  What I would have given for a place to turn around.

That is what repentance is… a place to turn around.  We rarely receive it as a gift, but God offers it to all those that find themselves on the road to self-destruction.  James commands:  “Submit yourselves… to God” and “draw near to God.”  And what will you find when you come to your senses and make the long journey back from the far country?  The wrath of God?  His rejection?  No.  “He will draw near to you.” 

Now this repentance always begins with a degree of pain.  James speaks of “changing laughter to mourning” and “joy to gloom.”  It doesn’t seem like the process is going to be all that fun.  But it isn’t the turning that’s pretty, the beauty is in what you travel back toward.

Mike Mason wrote:  “Repentance consists of two parts, but many people settle for only the first part.  Repentance means to turn, but many get stuck halfway.  The first part of repentance is to turn away with loathing from sin; the second part is to turn toward all the good things God offers in exchange.  Indeed it’s impossible to turn away from greed without turning toward generosity, to put aside lust without taking up love, or to escape bitterness without embracing celebration.  …  Many people grow tired of repenting because it doesn’t seem to make them happy.  Yet full repentance is a joyful act in itself.  If we’re not happy, we haven’t finished repenting.  The sign that we’ve repented well is happiness, as God consumes our sacrifice of sorrow and exchanges it for joy.  (Champagne for the Soul, pp. 17-18)

We humble ourselves before Him, and then that He lifts us up.  What a gift repentance is!

Asking: The Rule of the Kingdom

James 4:2-3

A sweet grandmother telephoned Mount Sinai Hospital. She timidly asked, “Is it possible to speak to someone who can tell me how a patient is doing?”  The operator said “I’ll be glad to help, Dear. What’s the name and room number?”  The grandmother in her weak tremulous voice said, “Holly Finkel in room 302.”  The Operator replied, “Let me check. Oh, good news. Her records say that Holly is doing very well. Her blood pressure is fine; her blood work just came back as normal and her physician, Dr. Cohen, has scheduled her to be discharged on Tuesday.”

The Grandmother said, “Thank you. That’s wonderful! I was so worried! God bless you for the good news.”  The operator replied, “You’re more than welcome. Is Holly your daughter?”  The Grandmother said, “No, I’m Holly Finkel in 302. Dr.Cohen doesn’t tell me anything!”  (Unknown Author)

Sometimes we live with a mentality that God is like that doctor… constantly holding out on us.  James teaches the opposite.  In chapter 1:5 he says:  “If anyone lacks wisdom let him ask of God, who gives generously…”  And today’s passage informs us that God longs to meet our personal needs.  And sometimes we don’t get what we need from God, because we neglect to ask Him.  “Whether we like it or not, asking is the rule of the kingdom.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Some Bible teachers will tell you that as you mature in the art of prayer, you will eventually stop asking God for things.  This seems to be contradicted by Jesus himself, who taught us to pray:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”  It appears Jesus did not outgrow asking… and He encourages each of us to “always pray and not give up.” (Luke 18:1-8 – Parable of the Persistent Widow)

Now James gives us a piece of advice about petitionary prayer.  As when you pray for wisdom you are not to doubt He will answer (1:6), here you are not to petition God displaying greed… “that you might spend what you get on your pleasures.”  Petitionary prayer is not so you can get ahead of the other guy.  It is most often praying for the other guy.  It is the selfless prayer… for your true needs and for the needs of others that gets noticed.

Got a serious need?  The rule of the kingdom is asking.