How Do I Know If I Have Received the Word?
Study of James
By Todd Stiles
Bible Text: James 1:19-27
Preached on: Sunday, January 31, 2016
First Family Church
317 SE Magazine Road
Ankeny, IA 50021
How did this journey begin for you to plant a church right here in New York City?
So, Christ crucified fellowship starts in 600 square feet, packing in 57 people in this apartment where you live, you and your wife. What was the burden for you? I mean, a lot of people live in New York City, not necessarily a lot of people are born here, live here their whole life, go away to college and want to come back to plant a church. I mean, it’s a tough city to live in.
What does that practically look like for you guys as a gathering, as a church, to go out, to live life on mission in this city to show the goodness of God and the peace of God to such a diverse city?
1 Thessalonians 2:8 says, “not only did we share with you the gospel, we shared our lives as well,” and that’s what I’m hearing you say that the church is doing here in this community in this city. What would you say to other leaders?
That’s the heartbeat of James, the book that is the basis of our current study, and it is especially the heartbeat of the nine verses that close chapter 1 in which James tells us and explains to us, describes in pretty good detail what it means to receive God’s word. In his great, plain way, he basically says it is to respond to it rightfully and then to obey it. In other words, we listen and we obey. That’s how we know we’ve got God’s word. What he’s saying is this, the Gospel must show up. In other words, it must work if you really say you’ve got it.
So I want to look at that today in more detail. James 1. Will you will locate that in your Bibles, turn them on, open them up, let’s roll there, scroll there. James 1:19. While you’re locating that, just a reminder as we do most weeks, hopefully every week, that the God who wrote this Bible has revealed to us one overarching passion, namely that his glory be known among the nations and it is our joy to make his passion our mission. Are you there yet? James 1, finger on 19? You’re going to see that in this text three paragraphs kind of surface. We’ll walk through those paragraphs in a minute in a little more detail. Let me simply say that what they describe for us is really just someone who receives God’s word and then acts on it and James sees both of those as indication of a good catch.
Now, the timing of this message is perfect, do you know why? Because aren’t we in the peak of NFL season? Next week is what? The Super Bowl. You guys are keeping up on the cultural trends, way to go, right? And if there’s one thing I have noticed about the NFL this year is this: they have really been analyzing what constitutes a catch. Now, those of you that are chuckling now, it means you’re following, John is. If you don’t follow football, no problem but I am amazed at how many minutes are spent during a game with instant replay and the refs are looking into the hooded camera and they’re watching and they are coming back with their decision over what makes a catch. Did he really catch it? And personally while I’m watching it, I’m like, the plane I test is pretty clear. Now, I know you can analyze it, scrutinize it, debate it and take it apart to where you miss the plain sense of it but if you just look at it and say, “He caught that ball,” in other words, catching a ball wasn’t meant to be hard but thanks to apparently the instant replay committee of the NFL, it has become a science.
Clue 1 you are not the instant replay committee of First Family Church this morning. We’re going to see from James 1 the plain, simple, eye-test meaning of what it means to catch God’s word. It’s not written in code. It’s not difficult to decipher. It’s not meant to be hard. My goal this morning is we’ll see plainly what catching God’s word means. My goal is that we’ll spend some time at the end here actually asking ourselves, reflecting, pondering what our next step is in light of that.
So, James 1:19, let’s read. Here are the three paragraphs, we’ll read them all in a row. Verse 19,
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Three paragraphs that I think show us three things about a reception. First of all, the content of the reception, 19 through 21; the intent of the reception, 22 through 25; and then the extent of that reception, 26 and 27. Just make a note of that on your study guide or your worship folder. Let’s talk about those three paragraphs and those three kind of aspects of reception.
First of all, what is the content of a good reception? In plain language, it’s God’s word, not your wrong response. Notice the text, would you? Let’s look at it a little more closely. He says there we, “Know this,” “this” refers, I believe, to the work that the word does in our life. Do you see that in verse 19? He says, “Know this,” or knowing this. What are we to know? That God’s word is what comes inside of us and by God’s will brings us to life. It also refers to the end of verse 21 where it says that the word saves our souls. So when he says, “Knowing this,” what he’s saying is it is God’s word that does the work. So knowing this, what should we do? We should be quick to hear. Hear what? God’s word. And what’s the next two phrases? Slow to speak and slow to be angry. You may say, “Well, Todd, should we be slow to speak God’s word?” That’s not what he’s trying to say, he’s saying be slow to speak against God’s word. Be slow to get angry about God’s word. “Why do you say that, Todd?” Because that’s really the gist of verses 1 through 18, remember? When we’re in trials, we should not say, “God did this to tempt me.” We shouldn’t speak against God, be angry about God. That’s not the point.
So he’s saying here, “When God is at work in your life and his word is landing in your life, be quick to hear that because it does its work,” which according to James 1:1 through 18 is maturity, refinement; those trials in which God is working and by his word showing us what we need, they are actually a gift. So don’t become angry about that. Don’t speak against that, instead be quick to hear that. Does that make sense? Not real hard to understand.
James says, “Because this is how God works through his word in our lives, it brings us to life, it matures us in our life. Let’s be quick to hear it, slow to speak against it and slow to be angry about it.” Here’s why, verse 20, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” So if you let your anger, if you let your response, your selfish reactions settle in instead of God’s word, you will not end up in a place where your life is exhibiting God’s righteousness. You won’t find yourself as verse 18 says, as a firstfruits of his creatures, modeling his character, instead you’ll be one of those kinds modeling everything but God’s character. So we don’t want to let our wrong response, our reactions settle in, which is why he says in verse 21, notice just the logical flow of thought here, “So put away filthiness and rampant wickedness,” what I think here are synonyms or just kind of allusion again to receiving the word wrongly, with anger, speaking against it. He says, “Put those things away and instead receive with meekness the implanted word.”
So again, what is the content of our reception? God’s righteous word, alright? It’s able to save our souls and the word “meekness” there is a very intriguing word. It simply means to have the kind of disposition that’s gentle. So here’s how I’d like to say it, like this: have the kind of life, have the kind of responsiveness where when God’s word is about to land it can land easily. You don’t want a plane wreck on the runway of your life when God’s word is trying to land. Are you with me? But, man, have a meekness about yourself that even in difficult times when you’re kind of under a testing and God’s word comes to speak into that about why, you ask God in faith what’s going on, you’re trusting him in it so as he reveals that through his word, when the word comes in, have the kind of disposition where it can land easily. Not the kind that says, “I don’t like that. I’ll speak against it and I’m mad at you, God.” A very simple understanding of these verses.
This is exactly what Paul echoed in his letter to the Thessalonians. Look at this verse with me, 1 Thessalonians 2:13, what I would say is my favorite verse in the Bible. Most of you probably know that. I love this verse because it so clearly describes the work of pastors and churches. Look at what he says here, he thanks the Thessalonians believers for receiving the word of God, not as the word of men but as it really is. Say it with me, “the word of God, which is at work,” or effectively works, “in believers.” Now, when you read that and you hear me talking about the content of the catch is Gods word and I exhort you to get all the content in you can. That’s a good thing. Listen to sermons, attend church faithfully. Read your Bible regularly. I mean, talk about it. That’s good. Get all the content in you can.
When we’re doing that – listen very carefully – the question is: why does God’s word work that way? Listen very carefully: it’s because it is precisely God’s word and the word of God is everything that God is. So when you need power, God’s word is powerful. When you need encouragement, God’s word is encouraging. When you need a consistent understanding, when you need enlightenment, when you need strength, God’s word is everything God is. It’s unchangeable. In fact, here’s what David said about God’s word. Listen very carefully, speaking of the law but encompassing God’s inspired revelation he said, “Forever O Lord, your word is settled in heaven.” You should not undervalue, underestimate God’s word. You should treasure it and prize it and get all the content in you can and get all of the bad reaction, wrong responses out. This is the content of a good reception, God’s word.
Now, I want to hasten on because there are some things I want to cover later that I think will help enlighten us but just understand, first of all, it’s God’s word, it’s the word of truth, it’s the one that implanted in our souls is able to save us. That is the word we are to get in so get all the content in you can. But there is an intent to God’s content, right? He describes that next, verse 22. Look what he says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The word “but” there in verse 22 for those who like the original languages, there may be some language studiers here, it’s kind of a soft transition word. It’s not the hard transition, “but,” that we get in the language sometimes, it’s more of that soft version. Sometimes it can even be translated “and.” It’s a good translation here meaning that there is something else going on than just hearing though, and so James says, “But be doers of the word.” He’s not minimizing hearing, right? But he’s maximizing what hearing actually means and James says that hearing means doing, otherwise we are deceived.
You see, that escalates things, doesn’t it? That elevates the issue. He’s asking here for us to be doers, not just hearers. If we only hear, we deceive ourselves. Quite frankly, most of the American church seems deceived to me. We come in on Sunday mornings or Saturday evenings or a weekly gathering, we hear the message, we hear the content, we hear the word and yet for six days approximately we do little with it. Now, maybe that’s not your experience or your case, thank God for that, but the amount of obedience that I just observe in an average community to God’s basic commands leaves me with little other type of understanding than this: we do a lot of hearing and very little obeying. So I would say for the most part and I hope you hear this well, I think the American church is for the most part deceived to a large degree. We think that the value is only in hearing and James is saying the value, the intent of the content is that you actually do what you read, what you hear.
Now, he begins in verse 23 with a number of explanatory phrases, you notice this by the word “for.” Do you see that in verse 23, the word “for,” verse 24, the word “for.” Again, the contrasting word in verse 25, “but.” So I can explain those to you but I think something is very intriguing that I just want to draw your attention to, one simple word that I have been struggling with all week and quite enthralled with, it is how James describes the hearer only, the one who is deceived. He describes him as someone – now watch this – who looks intently at the word. Now, make sure your brains are in full active mode, they’re in fifth gear, they’re cranked up high, okay, overdrive, because that is not how you and I would write this. You wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I mean, all week I’m like, “Man, how would I describe it here?” I would say, “Yeah, they kind of drive by reading of God’s word. They stopped in for a second, they took a quick glance at it.” In other words, I wouldn’t give a whole lot of kudos to the hearer only. I would say, “Man, he doesn’t even know God’s word, he’s just glancing at it.” But that’s not what James says. James actually says the opposite.
The word here “intently,” it’s the same word used by Jesus when he said that we’re to consider the lilies of the field, how God takes care of them. In other words, we’re to think, process this. The same word used when he said we’re to consider each other, to provoke to love and good works. So there is no way around this, James is saying that a hearer only is someone who actually spends a good bit of time in the word.
That’s strikingly counter-intuitive, isn’t it? That’s not what I would say to you. I wouldn’t do that. So what’s the point then? All week I was like, “Man, what’s the point of this?” Because I would say that’s a good thing. James’s point is not to say that it is more – let me make sure I say this well – it is not more time in the word that actually makes you grow, produces the character, produces the result, it’s actually doing what you know that causes you to spiritually grow and increase. In other words, I’ll put it simply to you: it is action that increases retention. It is obedience that wards off amnesia. And it is disobedience that actually leads us to forgetfulness.
Now, in an almost humorous fashion when I began to realize this that James is calling for action, he’s saying action is what will actually cause the Scriptures to be retained in your memory, you won’t forget when you actually do it, what almost humorously came to mind was the people – and I just kind of need to get this out there maybe for you – who consistently, and this is across our country, this is Christendom in general, they seem to endlessly sign up for Bible studies. You look at their Bible and it’s like a coloring book. They’ve got the inductive, deductive, they’ve got every single marker, they know every single item. They are incredibly smart but they keep signing for more and more Bible studies. It’s like they keep forgetting what they’ve learned. Now, I’m not against Bible study. I hope you’re kind of getting tense here. If you know we at all, if you’ve been here more than a month you’ll know I am completely in favor of deep theology; I’m an avid student; I want you to be; we want to teach cover to cover; I want you to learn languages. I mean, there’s not a bone in my body that would lean to like weak scholarship at all. I think you know that about me. But every one of those bones also says this: when you only learn, when you sit your rear end in a seat and all you do is gather facts, you get spiritually fat and the problem with your spiritual life isn’t that you don’t know enough, it’s that you don’t do enough.
Is this why these people keep signing up for the same Bible study, because they are forgetting what they learned? “Well, how could that be, Todd? They keep going to class.” It’s not because they keep going to class, it’s because they don’t do anything. This is the point James is making. It’s action that increases retention and if you’re struggling to retain, to grown, to mature, to move deeper in your spiritual walk, it might not be another Bible study you need. I can’t believe I said that. It actually might be just one ounce of obedience to what you already know and you might find that suddenly, “Wow, I’m growing.”
This, what James says here, is striking. We wouldn’t write it this way but the problem is we read it the way we think we would write it. James does not say hearers are glancers. He says hearers are intent lookers but they lack obedience, they lack action, and so they just keep forgetting and keep forgetting. So I guess they just keep signing up to learn more, to learn more, and then they keep forgetting. This is why James’s theology is what I call shoe leather theology. He’s saying what you know, man, put something into practice.
Now, lest you think I’m kind of stretching this, there are two other writers that lean into this in the New Testament. Peter says much the same thing in his second epistle, chapter 1. Look at this astounding corollary passage. Here Peter talks about adding to our faith a number of character qualities, biblical traits, steps of obedience. Do you see those? Knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness. We’d say yes to all that and we’re to add these to our faith is what he says. We’re to with diligence supplement our life with these because they keep us from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ. We would all agree with that, right?
And we typically think, well, that just means you’ve got to learn more, learn more, learn more, but look what he says next. If you lack these qualities and you’re nearsighted, in other words, if these qualities aren’t showing up in your life. “Quality” there speaks of something you see, like that’s visible. It’s the Gospel working. If they’re not showing up, if it’s just a head thing – watch this – when you lack these, you’re nearsighted, so much so that you’re blind, so much so that you may even forget that you’ve been cleansed from your old sins. It is my opinion that much of the reason people in churches doubt their salvation and struggle with assurance is because they don’t take obedience seriously. They learn, learn, learn, learn, learn. They rarely ever do, do, do, do, do. And they’re always wondering, “Am I really saved? I know so much but…”
Here are just some practical pastoral advice for you: do one to two acts of obedience in regards to what you are hearing and you might find that your assurance will soar because you’re obedience will say, “Wow, God is working through me. He’s changing my life. I do belong to God.” Does that make sense? But as long as we refuse to obey, as long as we’re like, “Well, I’m just going to kind of make sure I get this knowledge down,” this could be the end result. Guys, I’m trying to let you in on even just my own honest amazement at this passage. There is an incredible power to doing what you hear, the first being it brings a sense of assurance that you really belong to God.
But Paul says the very same thing. He’s the second writer that does this. 2 Timothy 3, look at these words, in fact, will you read these with me because they’re short but they’re so crystal clear. Look at this, read with me, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good,” what’s the last word? “Work.” Now, look at this verse for a minute. Do you see the word “complete”? The same word as in James 1. When God’s word comes to us, even our trials, if we respond correctly and do what it says, it brings a completion, a maturity to us. And he is by no means minimizing God’s word, is he? He’s saying it’s profitable. We should hear it. It has very good benefits but the point of God’s word, the intent of the content is that you would do something, that you would work.
So with all the humility I have, I simply want to say to you, many of you: you’re spiritually fat and you need some exercise. You think the attainment of spiritual maturity is more knowledge and James is saying that your knowledge is of no value if it’s not showing up in your life, and Peter and Paul agree. In fact, we weren’t given God’s word to get smart, we were given God’s word to take part, to actually do something.
Consider how ludicrous this would be if I had you over for dinner, let’s say this was years ago when our four kids were all home, and we sit at the table and we’re eating and Julie makes a beautiful delicious meal and so we finish the meal, the dishes are all clean, I mean, they’re scraped with your fork, the serving one are almost empty. So we lean back, the guys, we rub our stomachs. One or two let out a big burp. I mean, we’re like, “Man, honey, thank you so much.” You’re like, “Hey, Mrs. Stiles, Julie, that was great.” And we’re just like, “Man, what a great meal.” Then you kind of begin to get uneasy and you’re like, “Well, what are we doing now?” The kids are just sitting there smiling, “That was a great meal.” And we just kind of stare at each other. So you say, “Well, what’s next? What are we going to do?” I’m like, “Oh, we don’t do anything. We just wait for the next meal. I mean, wasn’t that a great meal? Honey, thank you. That was delicious.” And I burp again. I’m like, “Oh, this is a great meal. Can’t you tell?” I mean, it’s kudos galore, compliments like crazy and we check our watches and we’re like, “Yeah, just, hey, just a few more hours and we’ll eat again. We’re so excited.” And you’re getting even more antsy and you’re shuffling in your seat. “Hey, just relax. We’re here to eat. Just relax, man. I mean, you can’t go without eating. Come on, man, grow up. Food matters.”
You would eventually say, “Todd, this is ludicrous. This is crazy.” You’re right because we eat food in order to have energy and nutrition to work. To live. Watch the plainness of this: we actually eat meals so that we can live life. The point isn’t the meal per se, right? It’s to live life, to engage and be healthy and be in community and to raise our kids and it’s just all of that. “Oh man, I’m hungry. I need more energy for life. Let’s go eat.” Great, but we don’t sit there and wait for the next meal, we go live. If that makes you laugh, the spiritual version of that should make you cry, that we sit at the spiritual table and say, “Man, that was a great meal, Todd. Way to cook it up, baby. And, hey, I’ll wait until next week.” And we just wait and we wait and we wait for the chefs in our church, lighthouse leaders, to serve another meal and we rub our stomachs and give a loud burp but we never actually live life with the energy, with the nutrition that the food gave us. Something is wrong with that picture. The intent of the content is for you to act on it, not sit on it.
Now, the natural question would be this: if a good catch means that I hear it and do it, if the word of truth being put into practice is actually just the simplest way to understand, “Yeah, you caught God’s word. Good catch.” What’s the extent of that catch? How deeply should that affect me? To what degree should that affect my life? And I think that’s what he does in these last two verses, he gives us an even deeper understanding of the degree or the effect or the extent of God’s word in our life.
Look at these verses, would you, and notice the connections back to previous verses. I’ll walk you through it. If anyone thinks he’s religious, let me pause there and say this, that’s not a bad word, at least in this case with James. James, who was a very devout Jew, one of the last of the family of Jesus to come to faith, he saw this and their worship in the synagogue, their devotion to Jesus and the temple worship, he didn’t see that as a bad thing necessarily. He saw that kind of devotion, they had seven receptacles they would give of their offerings, they would give of their resources, there was a certain liturgy about it. That wasn’t a bad thing inherently. Could it be used badly? Yes, but James is saying that there is nothing wrong with…at least in some ways. He’s not speaking here negatively of the Judaistic style of worship that they had known. So up to this point, the temple is not destroyed, Christ has died, he is the meaning of the law, yes, but James is saying here that, “You know, in our religious activities, in our type of worship that does have some ritual aspects to it,” he said, “that in itself is not wrong.” He said, “But however if you think you’re religious, a worshiping person, if the way you go about worshiping God does not cause you to bridle your tongue,” which by the way, we are referencing back to the idea of being quick to speak, remember that? “When God’s word lands, if you can’t tame your tongue and respond rightly, then you have a worthless religion.” I think there’s a connection there. “And when God’s word comes in but you don’t do it, then you deceive your hearts.” Do you see the next phrase? I think the first phrase refers to the first paragraph, the second phrase to the second paragraph. Bridling your tongue, deceiving your heart.
If these two things aren’t happening, then no matter how religious, no mater how ritualistic, no matter how you go about your worship, it is worthless worship, worthless religion. The word there for “worthless” is the word that means “void of force.” It has no impact. You go through the motions and it never changes. You see, there is no power to it.
He says, “However here’s powerful worship. Here’s forceful religion, the kind that really changes your life. Here’s hearing and doing.” Watch this. Here’s the extent of a good catch. “Pure and undefiled religion before God is this, that you will visit orphans and widows in their affliction and you will keep yourself unstained from the world.” If the content of a good reception is God’s word, not our wrong response, and if the intent of a good reception is to act on it, not sit on it, then the extent of a good reception is that we will show up for the most vulnerable in our society and stand up against the most vile. That’s the clear understanding of the plain meaning of this text.
Now, does he mean strictly orphans and widows or is this a representative text saying the vulnerable folks in your society, you should care for them? I believe it’s both of those. I think it is at least and specifically orphans and widows, but it’s not only orphans and widows. Does that make sense? So we can’t do the NFL instant replay committee here and kind of weasel our way out of this text, this verse, these words. Hearing and obeying God’s word should have such an effect on your life that it reaches down to people who have no way to help themselves in this culture and in ours as well. Widows and orphans are like that. Are there others? Yes, but it at least includes those two. But then he says it also stands up against the stain of the world and so you find yourself separating, you find yourself standing against the impurity of the world, the vileness of our world system and its culture. So how does the Gospel work? Listen very carefully, church: it should change you; it should show up to the degree that the least in our society know you follow Jesus, and the worst in our society, the evil ones know you follow Jesus.
This has been very convicting for me and Julie over the last several months. As you know, we plan well ahead in our services and messages. A few months ago I said to Julie, I said, “I’m not ready to preach on James 1:19 to 26 and 27.” I’m not ready because I’ve been avoiding this. I don’t know what in the world we do that touches the least of society other than maybe one or two things. I just felt very convicted. I went to her and we prayed and together we began to just brainstorm some ideas that would help us identify more, do some things in regards to orphans and widows. Now, this text does not call for everyone to adopt. It doesn’t call for everyone to be a foster parent. But the essence of the word “visit” is to look upon something with the intent to act; to see a need with the intent to identify, alright?
And I just remember Julie and I both praying and we’ve got some ideas in the works, a couple of things. I don’t want to share those and my point is not what I’m doing, the point is to show you that I think this is a boat that many of us are rowing; that we like to think about our obedience until it comes to the worst and the least. But James does not let us off the hook here. He says the Gospel should work to the degree that it shows up to the least and stands up to the worst.
I really thank God, I mean, I thank God deeply for the way many in our church have embraced the foster care situation in our state, in our city. In fact, it’s one of their visions and I would board this whole-heartedly, I would love for our church to somehow, and this is impossible humanly, but could it be that God would raise up enough foster care parents that we could answer every foster care need in our county? What if we could do that? What if the county knew, “Just for a family. They’ll help.” What if there were that many foster care parents? We had the actual training here at our church. There are families involved in that. Their heart is for that. I’m so thankful for that, to be willing to make sure the Gospel shows up to the vulnerable in our society.
Many folks go to Sunny View. That’s not the only place widows are. I know that. And many of you have widows in your home and you take care of them biblically and I appreciate that. But Sunny View, Mill Pond, those are places where there are widows. Could it be that maybe your family could visit there once a month? Once a week? I so appreciate the fact that our church every month since we started goes to Sunny View and holds a service. I go most of the time. The last few months and years, we’ve had some of our preaching guys go. But I don’t want to become a church that says, “Well, that’s where people go. Don’t send the real pastor.” I’ve heard that said in churches in Ankeny. “We send our practice guys to Sunny View.” Do you know what? Don’t let that be said of this church because there are widows there. Those are vulnerable people. Let’s go and let’s minister, let’s serve. Now, we don’t do it perfectly but I hope that we will always have a heart that says the Gospel should show up to the most vulnerable.
As much as I think that is the intent of this text, it says it plainly, it is not a limitation and, quite frankly, the most vulnerable in our society right now are babies in the wombs of many mothers. I just want to take a minute and share this with you, that we have to be willing, we have to be willing to do everything possible to protect babies in the womb from the vile, horrific acts that our government says is legal to do to them. You see, this issue more than I think many, I think it shows the disparity of this verse, in other words, the huge distance. Here you have the least vulnerable, babies in wombs, and the most vile, those who want to murder them. And, yes, that’s what I’m saying. It’s horrific. A holocaust in our own borders. And pastors who don’t speak out or do something are just cowards. Church members who don’t stand up and say this is wrong, people who turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to the murder of vulnerable, innocent infants, that’s wicked.
You say, “Todd, do you know what you’re saying? What folks will think?” Yeah, I don’t really care because true religion, pure, the kind of religion that has force and power, worthwhile worship stands up to the most vile and for the most vulnerable. If the Gospel doesn’t reach to that extent in our life, then we are deceiving ourselves. That’s hard preaching. It’s hard living. And quite frankly, I don’t know what to do on this issue. This week, I prayed, I remember it was Thursday. I spent some time on Thursday just kind of reviewing and praying and I just found myself weeping but I don’t know what to do. Almost 60 million babies since 1973 legally murdered. And I’ve stood in front of Planned Parenthood. You can call that wicked, you can call that crazy. You can say, “Todd, that doesn’t help.” We shut down one clinic. I don’t think I shut it down but just being at least having enough courage to stand in front of the Planned Parenthood Clinic with other pastors and pray and be polite, it did cease operation in Ankeny. I think that’s a good thing. Are you with me? Did folks, drive by and shoot me the bird? Yes. And is it the best way? I don’t know. Did I do it in the best way? I don’t know but how can I as a pastor just sit in an office and think that this Gospel shouldn’t show up to those little babies. Somewhere, somebody’s got to do something.
Does that make sense? And I’m no answer man. I go the Capital off and on and try to talk to Legislators about this issue. We’ve got other folks in our church that do that. I thank God for them. What I’m saying, guys, is this: I don’t think you have to have an answer for everything or a quick fix solution or a magic bullet but we have to try something for the most vulnerable to stand up against the most vile. In fact, I was appalled this week, I was broken-hearted that a court in Texas could actually watch the exposing videos made about Planned Parenthood and come back with an opposite opinion.
Now, I want to shock you here. If you haven’t read Joe Carter’s factual explanation of this, you need to. Joe Carter is a writer for the Gospel Coalition, trusted theologian, conservative scholar and very wise. Joe Carter says that legally they broke the law. I am aware of that. I’ve done a good bit of reading on this. I’m not speaking to you out of a vacuum. I’m aware that when they posed in a sting operation to want to purchase fetal parts or even to imply that, that is against the law. I understand that so I’m not here to say that there isn’t risk in standing up against the most vile but here’s what I think is so odd, it’s like they became the instant replay committee. They analyzed those tapes so much that they missed the plain sense that there are people willing to murder a baby to give them the parts. That’s wrong. It’s wicked. It’s an abomination. It’s going on in our country. Does it make sense, guys? And then the court sees that and then prosecutes the ones who make the tapes. Legally, can that happen? They can. They can legally prosecute those exposers but that’s like putting Rahab on trial for lying. She protected God’s people. She did the right thing. And that court, that’s just a backwards understanding of right and wrong, people.
So I just found myself this week just at my wit’s end. Like, “God, I don’t know before I die if this will ever stop.” I don’t know but it is the issue that breaks my heart the most deeply. Am I here to tell you to vote for and to…I’m not. I don’t know what to do. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know what to do but here’s what I won’t do, here’s what you won’t do, we won’t shut up. We’re going to stand up to the most vile for the most vulnerable, okay? We are. In fact, could we just pray for just a moment that God would miraculously do something in our nation that would at least from a legal perspective overturn this opinion of the court in 1973? Could we at least pray to that end right now?
Let’s bow our heads, can we?
Lord Jesus, and while I’m praying, just go ahead and pray in a whisper. Pray with your wife, your husband, your kids. Pray with your friends, your lighthouse there seated near you. Feel free to pray out loud if you’d like.
God, I’m at my wit’s end on this issue and I read these verses and I think about that I don’t know what to do and so sometimes then I don’t do anything and I just kind of run to what’s safe and this morning I know I felt all week that pressing of the Holy Spirit to move and urge our church to show the Gospel working to the degree that we will stand up against the most vile in our society and for the most vulnerable. God, in the middle of our ignorance, please see our deep commitment. Lead us. Strengthen us for the glory of our name and the sake of unborn children. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
So let’s try to catch, if we can, what a good definition is of a reception as we kind of bring things to a wrap up time. Here’s what I think James says a good reception is, here’s the content, intent and extent kind of all tied together. Will you read this with me? Not the parts in parentheses, just the actual words that are not in parentheses. Here we go, ready? Receiving God’s word means I will respond to it calmly and humbly, taking action to obey it tangibly and purely. Notice all the different senses that are involved in a good reception: your ears, your mouth, your hands, your heart. So God’s word has kind of been passed this morning. Don’t go to the sidelines, put your head in the camera and try to figure out is this a catch? It’s really not that hard. Receive it, calmly, humbly, and obey it tangibly and purely. When we do that, that’s receiving God’s word and that’s how we know we’ve caught it.
Now at this point normally, I take questions from you but not today. Today I have some questions for you, questions that will help you process how you’re doing in obedience. You’re getting nervous. I love that feel and look I get from you guys when we do this. This is awesome. I’m going to just kind of run through a few items that are clearly God’s word to us, okay? They’re not preferences of the elders. They’re not opinions of the deacons. It’s not the staff’s choices. This are things that God lays out in his word pretty clearly. We’re going to talk about them. I want you to think as we go through these, don’t think about me like picking at you. Don’t think that I’m trying to corner you. Just think, okay, here’s God’s word, am I going to have the kind of disposition where God’s word lands well? Am I going to receive this with meekness? That’s all I’m asking you to do, okay?
First of all, I just want to ask you this: have you believed in the Gospel? Have you trusted Christ as your Savior. Did you know it’s a command for all men to repent? It is a command, John says, to believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So let me ask you, I don’t know everyone here, I don’t know how long you’ve been coming but have you trusted Jesus as the only way to be made right with God? Are you still leaning on your own works? Maybe your goodness which is really badness? You see, the Bible says that there is only one way to be right with God, it’s through Jesus Christ. And his death on the cross, burial and resurrection, are proof positive that God has accepted the payment of Christ’s death and the shedding of his blood as the full measure of satisfaction. Jesus Christ took your place and God said that’s enough.
So now to all who believe in what Jesus did and who he was, God will count you as righteous. That’s why Paul could so simply say to the man who said, “What can I do to be saved?” Paul who wrote Romans, a 16 chapter treatise on the Gospel, said in one sentence, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” That’s all and if you’ve never obeyed that command to believe, would you right now? Say, “Wow, if I’m separated from God by my sin and repentance from that sin and belief in God is what God is asking me to do, I will believe this morning and trust Jesus for salvation.” Just right now, right where you’re seated, just say, “God, will you, through Jesus, save my sinful soul. I turn from sin. I turn to Christ. I believe who he is and what he did. Save me through Jesus.” Do you know what? God is faithful and he will do exactly that and save you. That’s one act of obedience, to repent and believe.
Here’s some more. Baptism. Now, you’re really getting nervous, aren’t you? But it’s amazing to me how the New Testament pattern is so strikingly clear that when folks got saved, when they trusted, when they repented and believed, the pattern is like, “Yeah, we’ll get baptized pretty quickly.” Now, I’ve been preaching this for a number of years and most Americans here, “Todd, I can’t believing you’re calling for us to get baptized quickly.” Well, that’s exactly what I’m calling for without shame or apology.
You know, in the New Testament, was there a sense that they knew what they were doing? Yes, but I don’t find this overabundance of making sure that all your family is good with it; that you got through some classes about it; and that the water is really good and warm; and that it’s convenient for your schedule. I don’t find that at all. What I find is a guy in Acts 8 who got saved and he said, “Hey, there’s some water. Can I get baptized?” And Philip said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” They got out of the chariot, got baptized. That’s the pattern of obedience that should characterize believers, not, “Do you know, Todd, I’ve been saved for ten years, I think I’m about ready to get baptized.” That’s ludicrous, people. I’m not picking at you. I’m not upset at you but as a courageous pastor, I want to lead you to obedience otherwise we just flounder in amnesia. We keep trying to analyze, scrutinize, learn and God is saying it’s pretty clear, take the next step. If you have yet to be baptized, there is water here. I don’t think it’s warm today but you’ll get over it. Come and let’s get baptized today. Seriously. Why wait? Here’s water. I’ll get baptized, sure. We’ll give you some towels, extra towels, and you can go home and you can change there.
I talked to a couple at first service who is in this quandary. It’s not meant to be hard, people. Be baptized, amen? It’s a step of obedience. It’s a command of God. In fact, I would say that it’s the very first step after salvation which, if we don’t take that, would it be logical to say that all the other steps might be difficult as well? Sure. If we’re avoiding the first one, the one that publicly says, “I follow Jesus,” why would we think that the rest of the steps would ever make sense? I would say that we’re just floundering in amnesia. I just want to say to you kindly, humbly, but I want to be so clear: if you have not been baptized, let’s talk and let’s get you baptized.
How about things like prayer and reading the Bible? I mean, actually praying for something other than your food which I don’t know why we pray for food anyway. The Bible never calls you to pray for food, did you know that? The Bible calls us to bless food with gratefulness. But beyond that, sometimes we don’t even pray. We have never taken a kneeling posture in a quiet place and poured our hearts before the Lord and we wonder why we’re foundering, why we’re weak. The Bible is a book that whether it’s digital or hard copy, we make sure we have it on Sunday and that’s if we can find a hard copy, but are you getting all the content you can and are you talking to God about it? David said this describing his own experience. This is very convicting. He said, “Morning, noon and night,” speaking of his meditation upon the law, speaking of his talking to God in prayer. Now, is that a prescriptive plan for us? I don’t think so but does it describe a heart that values and treasures Christ? Yes. And if you go weeks without checking into God’s word, without seeing what God would say to us, without hearing, I just want to be very plain with you: that’s a problem. Something is wrong there, church. Something’s wrong when the Bible is never opened and we’re never communing with God. And just call it what it is and repent and say, “God, I want to obey.”
Things like forgiveness. We hold grudges when Jesus said, “Forgive those. Be kind. Just as you’ve been forgiven by God in Christ.” But a church’s sense of power may very well be connected to the fact that often there are just unforgiving spirits, there are unforgiving actions among its members.
Things like teaching and disciplining your children and owning that responsibility, not pushing it off on someone else: in-laws, out-laws, church laws. But saying, “Do you know what? These are gifts from God and if I’m going to make disciples, I’m going to start with the ones under my roof first and I’m going to pray and work earnestly to disciple my children in love and tenderness and discipline.”
How about worship and praising God? Yes, it’s a lifestyle. It’s everything we are in response to everything God is. I agree with that but there is a corporate element to worship that’s talked about in the New Testament where we sing to ourselves, those are plural pronouns, we sing to ourselves in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. And some guys say this, I’ve heard this, “I just come for the preaching.” As if that’s some mark of like spiritual manliness. It’s a mark of spiritual immaturity when you think that you need the preaching and don’t hang out for the singing. God has ordained the church to gather, teach the word and worship in music. He has. How are you doing with that? How is your heart? How is the expression of that? You know, you don’t need to sing well. Trust me. I sat by Tim Moore yesterday at the conference. Tim Moore is a great rapper, he’s not a very good singer so it made me sing kind of awful so we’re just bellowing out songs to God’s character and his conduct and his work in our life and I’m like trying to sing like this but it was beautiful because his heart was to worship and it didn’t matter who heard us. God was listening. Worship comes from the heart, out from the lungs and through the mouth, okay?
Things like generosity and giving. Things like using your words and not gossiping but edifying others. Living in community in your small group and your large group. You see, here I can’t take you to a verse that says, “Oh, you have to go to a small group.” I don’t have a verse that explicitly says that. I don’t but here’s what I think is odd: is if your posture towards God’s body is such that I’ll do everything I can to avoid it, it’s not a checklist problem. It’s not a matter that you’re not in a small group, the problem is you have some issue with Christ’s body of which he’s the head and when work and sports and vacations and schedules, when everything comes in front of that, when we check everybody’s schedule to make sure we can do something, “Oh, what about church? Well, I don’t know about that. We’ll get there later.” When church is the last thing to matter whether it’s your large or small group, I think something’s wrong with that picture too. The body of Christ should prioritize its gathering, its commitment, its accountability. It should matter where you identify with the family and you should plug in, not because you’re trying to check a list off but because Christ’s body matters. Is that hard? Yes. Are there conflicts? Yes. But don’t make church the last thing you check, make it one of the first because his body matters. How is your obedience in that area?
Honesty in communication. Are you telling the truth at every turn? Is your first response the truthful one? Are you looking for ways to kind of get around the corners?
Kindness. Showing compassion. Purity.
You see, everything I mentioned here and I’m done with the list, everything I mentioned clearly God’s word to us that we’ve heard. Clearly. I don’t have opinions that I’m giving you on those, it’s just God’s word. How have you received that? Now watch. Don’t answer because you heard it, answer if you’ve done it. And if when I went through those commands, those things that God has given to us, if you said, “Yeah. Yeah, I heard that,” but you haven’t done anything about it, I would say to you, you have yet to receive it because a good reception is hearing and doing.
To help you with that, I’m going to ask our prayer team, elders, deacons, staff, just if you’re in the building and you’re our leadership, make your way to the front row, would you? I’m going to give you some time just to kind of pray and reflect about this, to think through what is your next step of obedience. That’s all I’m going to ask you to think about. I may not have covered in this list, maybe we did. God’s Holy Spirit will probably press on you in a good way but I just want to give you a chance to maybe come and pray with some people about that.
Now, you’re thinking right now, “Well, if I come and pray, Todd, they’re going to think I’m not obeying.” Welcome to the rest of the congregation. You know, I struggle in this. I struggled with 26 and 27 this week, last several months. Me and Julie have been kind of, “How can we make this real in our lives.” So you’re not alone. I row the boat with you. The person on the row with you, they row that boat. So that’s just the devil speaking to you. That’s pride trying to make you think more of yourself than the one who saved you which is God. So if you want some prayer to help with your obedience, maybe it’s obedience with your children, maybe it’s obedience with someone you know when you can pray about that in the right way, I just want to invite you as we stand to just make your way and utilize some of our prayer team, some of our staff, elders, deacons, and say, “Will you join me as I seek to do the next right thing and truly catch God’s word?”
Will you stand with me First Family? All of us standing and the band is going to play for a few moments. The prayer team is here. They can stand at the front. They can sit in the front row. It’s not really an issue of where this takes place. I just want you with your heads bowed and your eyes closed to have the courage to say, “I want to take a step towards obedience.” Now you’ll say, “Well, Todd, why are you calling us to action in this way?” Because here’s why and I felt this from the Holy Spirit all week: I think getting you off your chair on your feet and asking you to move is just maybe a first step. If you can move and pray with a brother or sister about this, then maybe when you leave the door, you’ll take the second, third and fourth step. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to manipulate you. I’m not trying to leverage you but I want to be the kind of pastor who nudges you towards obedience, not amnesia, not ineffectiveness.
So our heads are bowed and I’ll be quiet finally and if you want to come and just pray with some leaders about an issue, about obedience, about your next step, I just want to invite you, man, feel at home. Move down. We’re going to stay in this posture for a bit. Locate some people who are for you here at the front and just pray and ask God to move you to the next right step.
It may be that you want to just nudge the person next to you and just say, “Will you pray with me about an issue?” That’s perfectly fine as well, you know that. Nothing magical about up front. My heart is to get you moving, to realize the value of taking an actual step of courage for God.
As the leaders here at the front are praying with some people and some are simply waiting as well, I’m going to ask that they disburse to the communion tables and those who are available and can go to our communion tables around the building and here’s what I’ll do next as I dismiss you to take communion, to get the elements, maybe even as you’re walking to that table, God’s Spirit will continue to nudge you and out of love prompt you to speak to someone, to ask for prayer. They’ll be at that table and maybe as you take the bread and the juice you could just lean over and say, “Hey, will you pray with me about my next right step?” So they’re moving to the tables and, church, you’re free to go to the tables as you feel led to take of communion. Guest, if you’re a believer, partake with us, would you, with sobriety and reverence about the elements, okay? So go as you are led and they’ll be there to talk and help you as well. In a moment, Tim will come and lead us through the elements together.