When I was very young, there was a comedian by the name of Flip Wilson who had a TV show. I don’t remember the show all that well because, like I said, I was very young. But I do remember that one of his routines made popular the saying, “The Devil made me do it.” It became common to hear people use that phrase to excuse any kind of inappropriate action that they may have committed. Did you eat the last piece of cake? Yes, but the devil made me do it.
Interestingly, people today still use a similar excuse for bad behaviour, though they may not use the same words anymore. Somehow in their minds they believe that Satan has power over them. Nothing makes Satan happier, I’m sure. Yes, Satan will surely put temptations in our way. In the book of Job, we see that Satan spends his time roving around the earth looking for someone to provoke. (Job 1:7, Job 2:2) I Peter 5:8 tells us that we need to be alert and aware because Satan is surely out to devour us. He does this very cunningly, by deception. He doesn’t want us to know that his goal is to devour us; he makes it look much more pleasant than that, (II Corinthians 11:14) but what he really wants is to turn us away from God.
The truth is that if we have God on our side, we are more powerful than Satan. God gives us this promise, with instruction, in James 4:7-8. The instruction is to submit to God and resist the devil, to cleanse our hands and make our hearts pure. We are still responsible for the choices that we make. We need to focus on God and His purposes, instead of our own human desires. (James 1:13-15) We need to think with an eternal perspective. Sometimes we just need to think before we act. Then the promise comes into effect. If we resist the devil, the devil will flee from us. If we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. In both cases we need to take the first step. We are not just puppets in this game. We are responsible for the decisions we make and for the actions we take. But the more we spend time with God, through prayer and Bible study, the more easily we will be able to recognize Satan’s schemes and then make good choices.
The following video is an example of Flip Wilson's routine:
Regular readers of this blog will probably have noticed that I have been away for a few weeks. I have been quite ill, and I would like to thank my guest authors for filling in the gap while I was unable to write. It started out as a pretty average illness, but a reaction to medication made it quite serious. I honestly thought I might die. That’s the kind of feeling that tends to change your perspective on life, and make you think about eternity.
I believe that James was trying to teach a similar lesson in James 1:9-11. He says that the poor should take pride in their high position, and the rich should take pride in their low position. That is not to say that either are necessarily in the position they are in because of the amount of money or material possessions that they have. The point is that those who have little money tend to put their trust in God, while those who are wealthy face the temptation of putting their trust in their own riches and their own ability to control things. Unfortunately that is a false hope, because we truly do not have control over what happens to us. Yes, there are some aspects of our lives that we control; we do have the power to make wise or unwise choices that can affect our future, but there is a large part of our lives than can be affected by outside forces as well. Anything could happen at any moment that would change our life forever, or end it instantly.
The Bible is not against having wealth, but it is against making it a priority in our lives and trusting in it for our salvation from the trials that we face. The Bible tells us that God can provide for any need that we may have. (Matthew 6:19-34, Luke 12:29-32) God wants us to trust in Him, and to be men and women of strong character. He does not look at our outward appearance or at our possessions, but at our heart. (I Samuel 16:7) We need to make sure that our hearts are wholly devoted to Him, and then we will be ready for eternity.
Imagine, a cool crisp day, the sun is shining brightly. You are on the northern coast of France, preparing to board a brand new ocean liner that will take you to New York in the United States of America. At the dock, you are surrounded by fellow passengers, from the very, very rich, to the poor. All are welcome on this luxury liner for a price. The price you pay will determine the amenities you are afforded, but even second and third class passengers have not seen luxury like this on a ship before. Around you, you hear men, women and children, all talking excitedly about their new life in America, about reunions with family, about their international business interests, and the adventures they are on. By the time the ship arrives from its starting point in England and all the passengers are boarded, it will be evening. The next day there will be one more stop on the southern tip of Ireland, and then you will be set for a week at sea. The date is April 10, 1912.
Most of you have already figured out that that brand new luxury liner was the Titanic, and it never reached its intended destination. Late Sunday night, April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg; it sank in the wee hours of Monday, April 15, 1912. Fewer than half of those on board survived. Many will say that the ship was not adequately prepared with lifeboats, or by training, for the rescue efforts that were required. There are some differing perspectives on the events of that night, but on one thing I think we can all agree: None of those passengers planned for their lives to end that day.
The truth is that we never know what may happen to us that we haven’t planned for. We don’t know when our lives may be taken from us, or when something may happen to derail us from our course. James warned his listeners against proudly boasting about what they would do, where they would go and what they would earn. (James 4:13-15) They were businessmen planning their road to riches, but James reminded them that they were not the ones in control of their tomorrow. Although, from our own perspective, the world may revolve around us, in the scope of eternity, our life here on earth is just a puff of smoke. We are such a short chapter in the story. James was not suggesting that we should not plan any part of our lives, but that as we are planning we need to acknowledge that God is sovereign. We are not in control of our own destiny, but God is in control of all. Commit your plans to God. Ask Him for guidance and direction. And focus on doing the things that will make a difference for all eternity.
Updates on two families whose plans have also been dramatically changed.
Those of you who have been following this blog for a long time will remember that just over a year ago, Al and Rita Chretien went missing while driving from their home in British Columbia to a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rita was found after being stranded in their van for seven weeks. Al, on the third day of being lost, had set out on foot to look for help. He has never been found. The family will hold a memorial service for him tomorrow. I’m sure the family would still appreciate your prayers.
Baby Bella and her family have had a very unplanned two weeks. During that time they have spent two days in their own home. Otherwise they have been at the hospital, or at the Ronald McDonald House next door to it. Bella is currently fighting a fever, which is dangerous for chemo patients, and she hasn’t had a very good day. She has had many tests and treatments, involving either needles or surgery on her little eight-month-old body. It has been a very exhausting time both emotionally and physically for her family as well. Please continue to keep this family in your prayers. They (and I) appreciate the support so much.
Today's post was written by Rusty Wright.
Ever feel like you’re talking to a brick wall?
The television comedy Frasier was one of the most popular TV series in US history. It’s been called “a thinking person’s comedy.” Reruns are ubiquitous, about six episodes daily in our area. Frasier Crane, the protagonist, is a caring, sensitive, cultured – but insecure and sometimes pompous – Seattle radio psychiatrist who always greets his callers with, “I’m listening.” Yet sometimes he becomes so wrapped up in himself that he tunes others out.
He’s not alone. In one amusing scene, Frasier’s ex wife, Lilith (also a psychiatrist) tries to converse with Frasier’s brother Niles (yet another psychiatrist) about an especially weighty matter. Niles, focused on a video game, doesn’t pay her sufficient attention, prompting Lilith to exclaim, “Is there a chair here I could talk to?”
I confess that my wife, Meg, sometimes has to use Lilith’s line to get my attention. Mind you, I don’t confess that it’s as often as she might claim!
But it’s easy to focus on my interests and not hear – or fully process – her words. Once, planning a meal, she asked if we had vegetables in the refrigerator. Seeing none of the vegetables I like (carrots, celery, zucchini, tomatoes, broccoli), I replied “No.” Turned out we had artichokes, asparagus, and other veggies that were her favorites. Perhaps distracted – that alibi satisfies me if it does you – I didn’t take the time to think through her interests.
Listening is a powerful form of affirmation and an important tool in understanding and communication. Solomon, a wise Jewish king, wrote, “What a shame, what folly, to give advice before listening to the facts!” (Proverbs 18:13)
Have you ever been around someone who made you feel like you were the most important person in the world? They probably knew how to listen.
Medical ethicist Stephen Post writes in his book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, “When we truly absorb another’s story, we are saying, ‘You count. Your life and feelings and thoughts matter to me. And I want to know who you really are.’” He claims that listening can help both the listener and the one listened to. New studies indicate: “Listening activates the part of our brains hardwired for empathy. … When we listen to others in pain, their stress response quiets down and their body has a better chance to heal.”
University of Minnesota rhetoric professor Ralph G. Nichols noted that a listener’s opposition to a speaker’s statement can hamper further listening. Nichols said a listener feeling stung often tries “to do three things simultaneously: (1) calculate what hurt is being done to his own pet ideas; (2) plot an embarrassing question to ask the speaker; (3) enjoy mentally all the discomfiture visualized for the speaker once the devastating reply to him is launched.”
Sounds like a recipe for tuning out. Maybe for starting a war. Better to “hold your fire” advised Nichols. Reminds me of a biblical adage: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight.” (James 1:19-20)
The International Listening Association (yep, they really exist) quips that conversation is “a vocal competition in which the one who is catching his breath is called the listener.” TV talking heads take note, please.
The ILA also says, “History repeats itself because no one listens the first time.” Politicians and voters take note, please.
Isn’t this a fascinating subject? Don’t you just love reading what I say about it?
Oh, yes. What was that you wanted to tell me?
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com
I have come to realize that a major theme in James 1 is humility. James 1:12 tells us that we will be rewarded if we endure the testing that we face. What must we do to endure testing? We need to let go of our pride and our feelings of entitlement. How do you react when you face trials? I have to admit that I usually try to avoid them. I think it is quite common for people to pity themselves and want to escape the unpleasant circumstances that they are in. But the Bible tells us that we face testing to humble us, to strengthen us and to bring good to us. (Deuteronomy 8:16, James 1:2-4) A wise pastor once suggested that instead of lamenting our trials that we ask God what He wants us to learn from them. Candy Hemphill Christmas, founder of The Bridge Ministry has said that she has learned something about God—“that if you ask Him a question, He will answer. Now, you’re going to have to get ready for the answer, but He will answer. It might not be what you want to hear, but He will answer.” Are we willing to submit to God’s answer, to His plan? That takes humility.
I think it is natural for people to think that trials are a punishment from God. Job’s friends did, and so did Job’s wife. Job, on the other hand, asked why we should expect good things from God and not accept the bad. (Job 2:7-10). When God answered Job, (Job 40:1-14) He reminded him that there is a God, and Job isn’t Him. Neither are we. We need to trust God and His love for us. We need to trust what He tells us in Jeremiah 29:11, that His plan for our future is a good one. The trials that we face along the way are stepping stones to that good future. God is more interested in our character than He is in our accomplishments or wealth, and He can bring good from everything that happens to us. (Romans 8:28)
I wonder what would happen if we thanked God for our trials and looked for the lessons in them rather than complaining about our lot in life. Let’s try to focus on making the best of the present instead of wishing for something better in the future. Let’s see how we can help other people instead of throwing ourselves a pity party. Let’s trust God to bring good out of every circumstance in our lives.
In my last post, I discussed Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith and faith alone. James 2:14-26 is often seen as a contradiction of Paul, but what James said was not directed at Paul, and for that matter what Paul said had not been directed at James. Paul was speaking to a group of people who felt that they could earn their righteousness by obeying the law to the letter, and often to the point of neglecting mercy and compassion. James was speaking to his brothers and sisters—those who already claimed to have a faith in God but were not showing it in their actions.
James is not saying that we need to have both faith and works in order to earn salvation. If that were the case, we would be claiming that Christ is not our only saviour, but that we are saviours for ourselves. This is not supported in the rest of scripture at all, and it is not what James is teaching either. Faith in Christ is all we need for salvation, but true faith is more than just saying so; it is more than just intellectual agreement. That is an essential first step, but it is not the last step. True faith naturally results in obedience to Christ, and in the character of Christ being displayed through us. Good works are the only way that other people will be able to see our faith.
If we were to go to court to claim our innocence in some matter, we would be judged on our actions; that is how the jury would decide if what we said is true. The same principle applies to our faith. Our actions are the evidence that shows the world that our faith is real. Good works are the fruit of the tree that has faith as its root. You are known by the fruit that you bear. (Matthew 12:33)
It is a case of what motivates us. Are we doing what we believe is right, as Paul’s audience was, because we are trying to earn gold stars, or are we doing what we believe God wants us to do because we love Him and want to serve Him? Ephesians 2:8-10 ties it all together for us. We are saved by faith, but we were designed to do good works.