Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Saturday | January 30

The Jesus Element

Through the years I have appreciated Martin Luther.  I especially am humbled by his stance for faith alone as the criteria for salvation.  However, he didn’t like the book of James.  He said, “We should throw the epistle of James out of this school [i.e. Wittenburg], for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.”  I totally disagree with his statement, but it should make us want to read the book of James even more.

I do like the approach of looking at each book of the Bible to find its “Jesus element.”  Every book of the Bible fits into the larger story of redemption.  Does James reference Jesus?

Right from the start James refers to Jesus, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1).  He doesn’t just say Jesus, but adds some very rich titles in Lord and Christ.

Second, Abraham’s “works” are evident, but Scripture is clear that Abraham was saved by faith: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”  This phrase is used in Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; and James 2:23.  James is just clarifying that faith becomes evident in actions.  Simply stated:  If I believe it is going to rain, I carry an umbrella.

Third, not only does James point us back to Christ’s first coming through our needed faith, but he also refer to Jesus’ second coming: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).  James refers to the coming of the Lord twice.  He pointed us back to the cross and needed faith, but also points us to the future – to be patient.  Trials would have pressured his original readers to give up.  So, James encourages them to be patient until his Big Brother comes back.

Finally, it should be noted that over 30 verses in the book of James correlate back to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).  Not only does James refer to Jesus, but he regularly echoed Him.

Chuck Swindoll challenges us, “More than any other book in the New Testament, James places the spotlight on the necessity for believers to act in accordance with our faith. How well do your actions mirror the faith that you proclaim? This is a question that we all struggle to answer well. We would like to point to all the ways our faith and works overlap but too often see only gaps and crevices.”

Our life should be a no hypocrisy zone.

Randy “Doc” Johnson
Growth Pastor

Friday | January 29

Just Do It

Starting this Sunday our gathering messages, growth communities, and morning devotions will all be taken from the book of James.  It will be a five-week study.  The River Church has about 17 men who are part of our Pastor’s Academy.  They, and their key instructor Pastor Ty Woznek, will be writing several of the morning devotions.

I encourage you to jump ahead and read through the whole book of James at one sitting.  You will immediately see the relevancy of the book as he covers the topics of how to respond to testing and trials, being a doer of the Word, true religion, impartiality, controlling the tongue, wisdom, avoiding worldliness, and much more.  It is so practical, that it has been called “The Proverbs of the New Testament.”

I believe that one verse actually summarizes the whole book really well:  “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:20).  James had watched Jesus his whole life.  James is the younger half-brother of Jesus.  He heard the teachers talk about faith, but he watched Jesus live it.

The Oxford English Dictionary added over 300 new words this year.  The list includes: autotune, Blu-ray, comedize, e-cig, photobomb, sexting, and tweeting.  You may be well aware of some or all of these words.  Adding words doesn’t bother me.  My concern is that we have unofficially removed the word “repent” from our vocabulary.  People pray a “prayer of salvation”, but nothing changes in their life.  People call themselves Christian, but if you didn’t hear them say it you wouldn’t know it.

James wants people to live out their faith.  He knows everyone needs the Lord and expects everyone to live like they have Him.  In an interesting history lesson, James reminds the reader of Abraham and Rahab the prostitute.  Abraham is the grandfather of Israel.  He was viewed as deserving the highest esteem.  He was made righteous by faith.  Rahab wasn’t even Jewish.  She was a gentile who was a prostitute.  She would have been viewed as low as it gets.  She was made righteous by faith.  James points out that both had faith, even saving faith.  Both had life challenging choices to make, and their actions showed their faith.

I hope as we read through the book of James, we will be willing to examine our lives and make changes where needed.  Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

“Only through repentance and faith in Christ can anyone be saved. No religious activity will be sufficient, only true faith in Jesus Christ alone.”  Ravi Zacharias

Randy “Doc” Johnson
Growth Pastor

Thursday | January 28

Preparing for Studying a New Book

Sunday we will start our adventure through the book of James. I picture James as a drill sergeant who trains soldiers hard with a smile because he loves the troops and loves the mission. A smiling mentor who pushed me had often quipped: “Prior preparation prevents poor performance.” Preparing ourselves to study a new book helps us hear what God wants us to learn.

Stating the obvious in your own words is important to Bible study. Prayer is an essential step. Prayer is talking to God and the Bible is God talking to us. Ask God to help you hear what you need to hear from James. Ask God to give you the courage to act on what you have learned. Praying seems like a simple, all too easy answer. Prayer is essential to Bible Study. Pray before and during your time in James.

Read through the book of James regularly as you study it. This helps you see the big picture of the book. There is no replacement for simply readying the Bible. Read the book in multiple translations. This will help raise questions as well as better understand what James is saying. When a verse is hard to understand, often reading through the book a couple of times will bring clarity.

Don’t be a L.I.A.R.
L.I.A.R stands for Low Information to Action Ratio. Our culture has trained us to ignore information. Think about how many emails, Facebook posts, etc. you’ve read and glossed over. We have to train ourselves to act on the information we are learning in studying James. To help with that, keep it simple. Each week write down and define a goal you want to accomplish that week based on what you learned. Building that habit into your life will improve your information to action ratio (And, you may even pass some of those tests James talks about!).

Ask questions
Without questions learning cannot take place. Have the courage to ask questions. Learn how to ask good questions. We often remember questions we got wrong on the test because we asked the question to see why we got that question wrong. Jesus leveraged questions to further people’s learning. A hard and courageous question to ask is for help. James is a challenging book. It is possible that God may reveal something that you will need other’s help to apply to your life.

Remember, God loves you!
James is hard hitting. There are parts you’ll see yourself doing well in. There are parts you know you’re working through. And, there may be parts that reveal a challenge you were not aware of. Remember that James isn’t there to beat us up. Jesus took our beating on the cross. There is nothing we need to do to earn God’s favor. What James helps us do is make sure our lives match up with the incredible message we believe. James is like a mirror before our wedding day. Let’s prepare ourselves with that kind of joy.
Pastor Ty Woznek
Pastor’s Academy Lead Instructor

Wednesday | January 27

Back to Grow

I wrongly taught how to do Bible study for years. As a pastor, that is convicting. In books and courses on Bible Study we often end with application. But that is not the end of Bible study. The last stage of Bible study is when we share what we have learned. The Bible calls that proclamation. Learning the Bible isn’t just information and application, it is also sharing what it says.

Paul asked
“To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I gam an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:18–20).

We act based on what we believe
We are all theologians; it is a matter of how good our theology is. Our actions demonstrate what we believe. Paul wrote the book of Ephesians so we would have good theology. That is, that we would clearly understand who God is. Peter wrote for the same reason, as did all the writers of the Bible. Bible study, Growth Communities, etc. are important because changing what we believe ultimately changes how we act. Learning theology is intensely practical.

Our actions build a platform of credibility
Information is useless if we do not act on it. Applying God’s Word gives a platform to speak truth into other people’s lives. Even when we fail, our actions of peacemaking and reconciliation build credibility (God can use our failures as much as our victories for His glory). When we apply God’s Word to our life we demonstrate its authenticity.

Learn it, live it, SHARE IT!
God did not give us the Bible to be hidden. God wants to make Himself known. Essential to God revealing Himself to others is sharing what God taught us through His Word. Paul at the end of a very theological and pragmatic book asks for boldness to share the Gospel. In the Ephesians, He shows the pattern of Bible study relating to changing how we live to motivating us to boldly speak as we out to.

Back to reach
As we focused on Reach this week and transition to studying the book of James we must not view reaching people and Bible study as separate things. Reach, Gather, and Grow flows back to Reach as a cyclical process of becoming more like Jesus. Grow is about building confident boldness in reaching people for Jesus. Studying James is not just about information. It is not just about changing your life. Studying James is about you and I being more effective at sharing the Gospel. Bible study ends when we share what learned from our changing life.

Pastor Ty Woznek
Pastor’s Academy Lead Instructor

Tuesday | January 26

Back to Gather

Paul says…
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

We need each other
Gathering with the saints breaths life into the body of Christ. Its effectiveness is based on how well you and I fulfill our part. If we do not actively and intentionally engage with other believers, we all suffer. Paul does not talk about gathering in Ephesians 4 as a suggestion. Gathering together is as essential to the church as breathing is to the human body.

We are not a club
The church is not a club. She is not a pyramid scheme. She is the body of Christ. In chapter 5 she is called the bride of Christ. In chapter 6 we are the band of brothers standing firm, together, for Christ. Our gathering is not out of duty; not even out of fun. We gather together out of love. The people we worship with are so valuable that Jesus died for them. That truth binds us together.

We are weird, and that’s ok
Speaking the truth in love, you are weird. We invest time, money and energy telling people that God added to Himself human flesh, willingly died an innocent man, and rose from the dead. The body of Christ is not made from uniformity of a cult, but of harmony of diverse gifts. We think different, dress different, and it works because we’re a family, adopted by God because of Jesus. God uses all for His glory to make Himself known.

Training to win
Going to church is not an end unto itself. We train hard to win. We train hard to save. We change hard so lives change. Our gathering together is the foundation to reaching people for Jesus. We cannot say we love Jesus while neglecting the church He died for. Our ability to care for and build one another up is the foundation for us to go and make disciples who reach, gather, and grow.

Back to reach
How solid is your foundation? Are you dedicated to the body of Christ? How you train as an athlete is how you perform. It is hard to train for a marathon if your legs don’t show up. The world is changed by people who show up and make the team a priority in their life. Don’t view gatherings as something you do. View it as the team and family that you are a part of.

Pastor Ty Woznek
Pastor’s Academy Lead Instructor

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