Problems and Cures, Part 3

James 4:1-3: “1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

After the doctor examines the symptoms and comes up with a diagnosis, he usually prescribes the cure.

Before we jump into the issues with our prayer life, I want to focus on the end of verse 3. James says we often don’t receive the answers to our prayers because our motivation is wrong. If God granted every prayer request, we would spend it on pleasure. One of my favorite scenes in the movie Bruce Almighty is when the man who was given the duties of answering prayers just “replied all” with a yes. Suddenly, everybody won the lottery, was driving nice cars and had an abundance of stuff. It was Hedonism on full display. Hedonism is the playboy philosophy that says humankind’s chief end is pleasure and happiness. NO! The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15 fits here.

Life is not about us.

James identifies two problems with our prayer life: 

1. We don’t pray. When James says you don’t have because you don’t ask, he is describing prayerlessness. Prayerlessness results in failures to receive blessings. Bringing requests to God can have a purifying effect on our desires. Take desires to God. He responds with “Yes,” “No,” or “Wait.” One of my favorite Country songs is “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks. I like the story, but it is not even close to being theologically accurate. There is no such thing as unanswered prayers. When He says yes, He satisfies our desire. When He says no, He denies them. When He says wait or change, He is refining them. We must learn to accept His answer.

You may say, “But I’ve been praying…” and God must answer my prayer the way I want Him to. Oh really, then let me ask you, do you give your kids everything they ask for? I didn’t think so.

2. We pray with the wrong motives. Are you asking for God’s glory, or yours? Are you asking God to do what you want or enable us to know/do His will? Are you asking for God’s mission to advance, or for yours?

Ask for God’s wisdom, not humanity’s. 

Prayer is a privilege; don’t squander it.

Real joy, real happiness, in the Christian life is derived from close fellowship with the Savior through sincere, unselfish prayer.

Some questions to consider:

-Peruse the prayers in Scripture. How many of them talk about material things? 

-How much of the Lord’s prayer is asking for worldly things? 

-How much better would our prayers for others be if they focused on meeting spiritual needs, THEE spiritual need of others?

-Ask God for your heart’s desire, and then tell Him how you will use it, and then trust His reply.

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MWM: A Model Legalist

Growing up in Nebraska, you don’t have a choice about your favorite college football team. GO BIG RED! You are born a fan. I’ve heard it is rare for anyone to ever live in Nebraska (even if you aren’t born there) without their blood changing to Husker red. The Huskers genuinely have the greatest fans in college football, even if we have been whining a bit more than usual this year. The Apostle Paul had an identity than ran deeper than Husker nation. He was a pure-blood citizen of Israel from the best stock the nation had to offer, and he strived to live a strict life in complete obedience to the law of God. He was the best legalist in the history of the Jewish nation! Or so he thought. What would drive this super Hebrew to declare his actions and zeal were worthless (Philippians 3:7)? It started with the realization that no amount of human effort could earn him favor with God. That is where we must begin too. We must realize our desperate need for the mercy and grace of God. Paul, the legalist, had to die to himself. We must also die to self-effort. 

Philippians 3:5: “I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians

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Problems and Cures, Part 2

James 4:1-3: “1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

After the doctor examines the symptoms, they start to diagnose the problem. Diagnoses are an examination of the cause or nature of a condition, situation, or pain. It is vital to have a proper diagnosis before a cure is prescribed.

James makes it clear. We are sick from within. Most external problems and conflicts have internal causes.

Let’s look at some of the diagnoses: 

First, fights and quarrels are caused by desires that battle within us. These desires are cravings, lustful passions, that result from an unsatisfied state. Indeed, we are seldom satisfied with just enough. We want more. A dissatisfied heart is never at peace. This war within the heart creates conflict at home, in the family, at work, and in our relationship with God. It’s almost as if we have little soldiers inside of us that are fighting one another. Satan gets us to focus on ourselves and what pleases us. Paul clarifies this reality in Romans 7:23: “but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.”

Second, these desires sometimes lead us to kill. Scholars are split on how literal this is. Either way, there were some severe problems in these churches. We all know that murder is wrong, and I don’t know many people who have killed someone else. However, as with most Old Testament laws, the New Testament takes it to the heart level. 1 John 3:15: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” We aren’t even to hate!

Third, fights and quarrels are the results of us coveting. Covet means to set our heart on something to the extent that we desire to possess whatever “it” is exclusively. We don’t want to share. I have seen a dramatic increase in covetousness due to the sin of materialism in the US. The natural heart of man is never to be content. 

The inner life of the Christian should not be a battle zone. We have been given the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding.

When I preached on this passage, I caught many people looking around the room and overheard some finger-pointing after the service. People were saying, “What’s wrong with you?!?” NO! “What’s wrong with you?!” Christian, don’t play the blame game.

Some questions to consider:

-What battle is raging within you that you need to let Christ cover with His peace?

-What internal struggle has spilled over to external relationships? Repent! Make peace!

-What are you coveting? Ask the Lord to reveal why and replace that desire with something pure.

MWM: Legalists Compare

Legalists love to compare with others. Legalists are not only confident their works are going to earn them favor with God; they believe other people should be impressed with them. These types of legalists love to perform! Paul confronted legalists and said, “Look here, if anybody could be confident and boast about their work for the Lord, it is me. But guess what? I can’t.” In a few verses, Paul will recount his work for God and then call his actions worthless compared to Christ. Christ is who we should compare our life to. Legalists don’t like this because Christ is perfect, and no amount of human effort can stand up to that scrutiny. So, legalists instead compare with others they know they are better than. And that’s dangerous. It gives the legalist false hope. Please don’t place your confidence in anything you do. Place your faith in Christ and Christ alone. And please don’t compare your Christian living with anybody else.

Philippians 3:4: “though I could have confidence in my effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians

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MWM: Legalists destroy Faith

Legalists make faith too complicated. They create a checklist that includes the essential of the faith: belief in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for sinners. But, they also include other requirements for salvation: baptism, speaking in tongues, correct political voting record, suit and tie for men, dresses for women, no tattoos, no hats in the church facility, a fish bumper sticker, proper Bible translation, music before 1980, and the list goes on and on and on. Faith becomes exhausting instead of life-giving. Faith becomes all about them instead of all about Jesus. Faith is about man-based works, not the finished work of Jesus. NO! Legalists ruin faith and fun. Don’t put your confidence in yourself or anyone other than Jesus Christ. Genuine faith and freedom can be found in Him and Him alone.

Philippians 3:3: “For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians

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Problems and Cures, Part 1

James 4:1-3: “1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

My family would often go on vacation together. We traveled in a little Chevy Citation. Five people from Nebraska to Oregon. FUN TIMES! I was the youngest and always had to sit between my brother and sister. As they tend to do, kids got in arguments. “You’re in my space, you touched my leg, stop breathing on me!” I thought it was fun.

This passage is more serious because James grew up with the perfect brother. He was always conscious of you, was never out of line, never lied, He was perfect. (James’ brother was Jesus!) James is writing to churches that are full of sinners. How many of you have ever attended a church where sinners were not present? Were you lonely as the only one there? When you put two sinners in the same room, there are bound to be problems. Most of the NT letters were written to churches or the pastors of churches riddled with conflict. In case you are thinking, “I don’t care about church conflict, my church is perfect!” Boy, are you in for a shock. Not only does today’s passage impact your church and my church (every church, actually), it affects our marriages and every other relationship we have.

James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” We have seen the “quick to listen and slow to speak” part. Today, we get to the “slow to become angry” part.

In this passage, we see James diagnose a spiritual problem and provide the cure! 

This blog will discuss the symptoms. Whenever we are sick, the symptoms are often the first indication that something is wrong.

What causes fights and quarrels among you?

Have you ever noticed that when you go to the doctor, they ask about your symptoms? They have you fill out this sheet where you check everything that is wrong with you. They want to know the external problems before they dig deeper to find out what is going on inside. The same goes for our spiritual health.

James is asking us to identify the cause of our symptoms.

The symptoms are fights and quarrels. These are wars, battles, the clash of two people or groups. These verses are in the context of the local church, but there are broad applications here. Everywhere we go, there seems to be conflict. 

A perusal of headlines on news sites shows how deep the conflict is. Here are a few:

“Louisville on edge after Breonna Taylor announcement.”

“This Senate race shows you can never be too extreme in Trump’s GOP.”

“The New York town of Swastika votes to keep its name.”

“Father shot shielding his kids from gunfire.”

“Mob justice isn’t justice.”

“Nearly two-thirds believe presidential election won’t be decided on election night.”

“Dems must search and destroy because they can’t win on merits.”

In the church, it seems that Christian in-fighting is among the worst. There is bitterness, severe hostility, and more. Why?

What are some stupid things that church members fight over or have split churches? One of the most ridiculous I heard was a church that split over fried chicken. At a potluck after church, two ladies brought fried chicken. The pastor didn’t know there were two piles of chicken and, after tasting the first one, commented that it was the best fried chicken he’d ever had. The other lady found out about it and took half the church when she left. I’m sure there were other issues.

On a more serious note, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12 about his concern regarding the church in Corinth. Look at verse 20: “For I am afraid that when I come, I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.”

What? These are in church? No. Never. 🙂

There are consequences of unresolved conflict: First, we consume one another. Galatians 5:15: “If you bite and devour each other, watch out, or you will be destroyed by each other.” Second, there is confusion (James 3:16). Finally, you find every evil work (James 3:16)

Take a deep breath. We knew there would be conflict in this world. It should be expected. It is part of living in a cursed world, ruled by satan and his demons. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier, though. We often ask, “How can we end all wars?” This isn’t the best question. James asked a better one, what causes them? 

Fortunately for us, he also answers it. But that’s for next time.

Some questions to consider:

-What are the leading causes of fights and quarrels in your life?

-What are some other symptoms of spiritual problems?

-What do you think is the cure?

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MWM: Beginning of Legalism

I am a legalist. I like to add to God’s commands because it enables me to say with pride, “Look at what I did! Aren’t I special?” Eve, humanity’s first mother, was also the first legalist when she added to God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She said that we couldn’t even touch it. I used to think that legalism was the opposite of license (freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want), but that isn’t true. A good Bible teacher taught me that legalism and license are both sides of the same coin: working in the flesh. The opposite of legalism/license is walking in the Spirit. That is why most kids who grow up in a legalist house often turn to license when they get a bit of freedom. What we need to learn is how to walk in the Spirit. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. In today’s verse, Paul calls legalists dogs, evil workers, and mutilators of the flesh. They had perverted and added to the Word of God. I get it. I’m a legalist, but I don’t want to be. Thankfully, Jesus not only set me free from sin and death, but He continues to free m from the need to perform and earn favor with God and man.

Philippians 3:2: “Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved.”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians

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MWM: Repeat Yourself

As a parent, you sometimes get tired of telling your kids something over and over again. “Pick up your shoes.” “Eat your dinner.” “It’s time for bed.” “Don’t eat glue.” I’m sure you have similar experiences at your house. In Paul’s letter of joy, he never gets tired of encouraging people to rejoice in the Lord. Regardless of what your circumstances are, we are to rejoice in the Lord. Rejoice that we are still breathing, that we have an opportunity to love God and love others, that we have a chance to share the gospel of Jesus with the world. Christian, rejoice in the Lord.

Philippians 3:1: “Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians

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A Tale of Two Wisdoms

James 3:13-18: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Over our study of these verses, we have seen the foundation for wisdom, earthly wisdom, and heavenly wisdom. I wanted to pause before we continue with James 4 and make sure we understand how to cultivate wisdom. 

These practices are nothing new or even earth-shattering. Simple truths rarely are. However, they are life-transforming.

1. FEAR GOD. Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  We need to re-learn how to take God seriously. His Word is not to be taken lightly and His commands are not suggestions. When God says to love Him above all (with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength) and to love our neighbor as ourself, He was serious. We don’t decide who is worthy of love. All people made in the image of God are worthy of our love (Hint: that’s every single person, even if you vehemently disagree with them). Now, our actions of love differ from person to person, but we love nonetheless. To fear God also means we stop mixing man’s way with God’s way. We don’t make excuses for God’s way, we just follow. When we don’t understand something the Word says, we default to God. When our thoughts, opinions, and actions don’t line up with Scripture, we are wrong! This is hard for those who have embraced relativism to hear, but it is true. Because the world has turned its back on God and no longer fears God, the world has lost its wisdom.

2. ABIDE IN GOD. Abide means to rest or dwell. To abide in God means we rest or dwell in God’s presence. Specifically, we abide in God’s Word and God’s Son. 

His Word-Proverbs 2:1-6, 9-11: 

“My son, if you accept my words

and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom

and applying your heart to understanding—

indeed, if you call out for insight

and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver

and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding…

Then you will understand what is right and just

and fair—every good path.

For wisdom will enter your heart,

and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Discretion will protect you,

and understanding will guard you.”

His Son-Colossians 2:3: “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” 

3. ASK GOD! James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” But, we must ask with right motives.

Psalm 90:12 says “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” 

You are going to die someday. This is a reality. Some of us sooner than others. As a follower of Christ, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus is preparing for us a room in His father’s house. We can be assured of that because of the Gospel. 

But believing in Christ, in accepting the free gift of salvation, is more than just a ticket to heaven. It is hope for the present. It is help on this highway of life, that we can live wise and holy lives. Ephesians 5:15-17: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

-The Lord’s will is for you to accept the grace He offers!

-The Lord’s will is for you to love Him above all else, to love others, and to make disciples.

-The Lord’s will is for you to build your life on the Solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

Some questions to consider:

-Read John 15:1-17. How did Jesus abide in the Father? How do we abide in the Son?-How are you going to cultivate wisdom this week?

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MWM: Last Full Measure

Other than the military and first responders, do any of you have a job for which you would be willing to die? What about people? Do you have anybody in your life for whom you’d risk it all? A “martyr” is someone who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of belief, principle, or cause. One of my favorite speeches is Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” where he said, “that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” For what or whom are you willing to give your last full measure of devotion? For Paul, he saw this commitment in the life of Epaphroditus (the pastor at Philippi). We also see this type of sacrifice in Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of the world so that by believing in Him, we can experience true freedom from sin and death. 

Philippians 2:30: “For he risked his life for the work of Christ, and he was at the point of death while doing for me what you couldn’t do from far away.”

#MinuteWithMaxon #MWM #Philippians #LastFullMeasure #martyr

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