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Just Wondering…

Just Wondering…
by Pastor Lee Hemen
May 2, 2014

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. (James 1:9-10 NIV)

I was just wondering about how we have sold our souls to the societal notion of Christianity. We no longer have a clue what it means to be humble before the Lord. At Age 32, Elizabeth Gilbert faced a life crisis of personal conscience – she did not want to be married anymore to her devoted husband or to have his children. Locking herself in the bathroom of her upscale home she began to pray over and over, “I don’t want to be married anymore. I don’t want to be married anymore. I don’t want to live in this big house. I don’t want to have this baby.” A voice, her own, answers her and tells her to go back to bed. Thus, begins her own self-focused “spiritual” journey. She goes through a dreadful divorce, moves in with an uncaring lover, and begins a self-ingratiating spiritual quest. Her final theological epiphany ends the way it began, from hearing her own voice speaking to her she concludes her highest religious dogma and theology is “to honor the divinity that resides within me” and to worship at the feet of the God within. Gilbert wrote, “Eat, Pray, Love.” A hedonistic spiritual journey wrapped in cultural selfishness.

The old time country singer Mac Davis sang, “Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way!” This is where the likes of Gilbert self-worship leads. In our Christian culture today, sadly, we have sold our souls to the notion of desiring what our spirit wants for us in the moment. After all the heart wants what the heart wants! We have emotionalized our spirituality. Oprah Winfrey would say we need to know we are “creation’s son… creation’s daughter” and that we are “ultimately I am Spirit come from the greatest Spirit. I am Spirit!” Not much humility found there. However, James knew what it meant to find oneself, it meant to lose oneself in Jesus. We forget Jesus taught that we are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) and everything in life follows after that. Perhaps we have lost what it means to live in humble circumstances, not poverty, but spiritual humility. Makes one wonder…


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When common sense isn’t! – James 1:2-18

When common sense isn’t! – James 1:2-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
September 22, 2013 AM

Jack was one of the smartest people I have known. However, while Jack was “book smart” he was pound-foolish. He did not use his knowledge to make himself wise. Ken, on the other hand, while not highly educated, used his godly wisdom to meet life’s challenges and to serve his Lord faithfully. Among God’s good gifts, He provides wisdom to help believers endure trials, resist temptations, and put material things in proper perspective. It is more than common sense it is Godly wisdom.

When people face trials, they may wonder, “How can I handle this situation?” People without wealth may wonder why they have so little. Individuals with great wealth may congratulate themselves on how much they have and concentrate on getting even more. When people face temptations, they may succumb and blame everyone including God. All these thoughts, however, reflect earthly wisdom rather than wisdom from God. People who think like this need to know God offers and generously provides us wisdom when we ask for it. Let’s discover what James teaches us about Godly wisdom…

READ: James 1:1-18

How do you respond to trials, temptations, or issues regarding material possessions? Often, believers faced with trials, temptations, and issues regarding possessions depend on their own intelligence. Many rely on past experiences, self-help books or seminars, and available resources without asking for God’s wisdom. Believers need to understand they can receive wisdom from God and ask Him for wisdom concerning trials, temptations, and wealth. James stressed that God offers believers wisdom so they can cope with times of trials and testing. James teaches us how…

I. To endure trials! (Vv. 1:2-8)
1. James began by telling them to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds!” He wanted them to regard what he was sharing. His “brothers” in Christ were not to invite trouble but were to value trials when they occurred. Why? James knew that a Christian’s faith is not founded on how we feel or what we may be going through. “Joy” is a deep sense of being held securely in God’s grace no matter what. It is not the emotion of happiness, but the settled gladness of knowing nothing can separate us from God. “Trials” can be translated “temptations” depending on the context. Here, it has the sense of adversities, afflictions, or troubles—problems and difficulties that test a believer’s faith. These difficulties were of many kinds (literally, “many-colored”). Some might be unexpected adversity. However, God can bring something good through our trials. Believers can face testing of their faith with joy because it “develops perseverance.” The word “testing” was used in examining metals to certify their purity.  The idea is a faith, which has been tested and then results in a finished product! This is why James reminds us that, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” God intends believers to be “complete, not lacking anything”. In fact, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” Instead of going to the world for answers, we are to go immediately to God! Yet, “when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” Receiving wisdom from God hinges on total trust in and commitment to God. The doubter’s commitment constantly wavers between God and self. Such an indecisive, unsettled individual cannot “think he will receive anything from the Lord”. An indecisive believer is “double-minded” or “doubled-souled.” Such a person is completely “unstable in all he does”! Like a drunken, staggering sailor! However, Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!
EXAMPLE: Enduring trials does not mean we are to simply put up with them and go on; rather it is an opportunity to grow in Godly wisdom. Having wisdom from God, we can tackle trials and tests with joy because they are opportunities for us to become more mature in our faith walk. On coming to the understanding that we need God’s wisdom, we can request it and be sure He will give it. We are to ask in total commitment, however. Our faith cannot be mixed with the indecision of circumstances or trials we are suffering. Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!

James goes on to admonished believers that only their relationship with God, not their wealth, was eternal. Godly wisdom teaches us…

II. “To put material things into proper perspective! (Vv. 1:9-11)
1. James addresses both poor and rich people. He showed wealth could be a problem whether people had nothing, much, or something in between. Regardless of believers’ financial status, their earthly lives and any earthly wealth they have are only temporary. “The brother of humble circumstances” can become bitter and resent what others have. Instead, they are to rejoice in their spiritual wealth as members of God’s family and kingdom. Because God is impartial, all people—regardless of their financial status—stand on equal footing with Him. He values all His children. However, least pride should overtake those who have more materially, James immediately writes, “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower.” Those who are well-off needed to realize their wealth was temporary and perishable. They would wither and die like a “wild flower” in the summer’s heat and leave all their worldly possessions behind. “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” James’ illustration of life and wealth’s transitory nature should give all believers pause. As the day progresses, the sun’s scorching heat evaporates the dew from vegetation. In the same way, as the wealthy feverishly go about their business, they wither away. Riches might accumulate, but life will end. Let me ask you, “How do you view your material possessions? What dangers do they pose for you?” Godly wisdom teaches us to put wealth into proper perspective!
EXAMPLE: When we look to God for wisdom, we can put wealth in its proper perspective. If we have little, He will help us avoid resentment and greed. If we have modest means, He will give us wisdom to manage well what we have. If we possess much, He will keep reminding us to trust in Him and not in what we have. Also, He will urge all of us to share whatever wealth we have with those in need. Remember, Jesus taught both the rich and poor, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it… And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:39, 42 NIV) Godly wisdom teaches us to put material things into proper perspective!

James clarified the source of temptations to sin. He emphatically declared that God never tempts anyone; temptations arise from people’s “own evil desires”. Temptations entertained and accepted lead to sin, which in turn issues in death. Godly wisdom teaches us…

III. To resist worldly temptations! (Vv. 1:13-15)

1. Perhaps, some of these Christians may have blamed God for the temptations they experienced. Perhaps temptations arose because of trials, and people accused God of causing the trials and thus the temptations. James stated emphatically that believers are responsible for any pull to evil, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone!” Temptations to do evil do not arise from God. No pull to evil can touch Him because He has no such human vulnerability. The morally perfect God who is, at heart, a loving Father does not sadistically use temptations to evil to test His people. James squarely placed the responsibility for temptations on the individual, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” Temptations arise from within the person but in themselves do not constitute sin. Entertaining temptation, however, can set in motion a tragic process. First, the person is “dragged away and enticed” by his own evil desires. The term is taken from hunting where animals are lured away from their places of safety. It is the idea of being caught by a baited hook or trap—what we mean by the phrase “taking the bait.” A person’s own evil desires, lust, are the lure and bait that ensnare the individual. James then shifted to the metaphor of conception and birth, “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Joining one’s will with evil desire produce sin in embryo. If the fetus develops to the point of birth, full-blown sin emerges. Consistently giving in to sin’s attractions leads to spiritual ruin. Let me ask you, “With what temptations do you consistently struggle? What are you doing to overcome them?” Jesus taught, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) The ungodly world runs after its lusts, we are to resists worldly temptations!
EXAMPLE: Because God is not responsible for our temptations, we can look to Him for wisdom to resist. We all are tempted daily, yet those temptations are not sin. Rather than give prolonged consideration to any temptation, we are to immediately seek God’s help to reject it. Godly wisdom teaches us not to lust for the things of the world but rather to resist worldly temptations!

God is generous and gives only good gifts. James stressed this truth and pointed to future rewards we receive from God as we are faithful. Lastly, James teaches us that to gain Godly wisdom we are…

IV. To acknowledge God’s gifts! (Vv. 1:12, 16-18)
1. Going back to verse 12 James reminds us that, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” The word for blessed means “happy” which is not happiness based on favorable circumstances but the joy God’s people experience as His children and members of His kingdom, the joy of shared life with God. The person whom “perseveres under trial” experiences the joy of a deepening relationship with God. When we have “stood the test” of our trials, we “will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”! If the term crown refers to the garland that victors in athletic games received, James contrasted the garland that eventually withered to an eternal crown. He emphasized that genuine faith perseveres to the end, when the faithful believer will enter God’s immediate presence. God has promised the imperishable “crown of life” to “those who love Him.” They prove their love by using His wisdom to victoriously endure trials. In verses 16-17, James fondly tells us, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” He did not want fellow believers to be led astray. God is the source of “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” The gift is free and full. The word perfect also can mean “complete.” God’s spiritual, physical, and emotional provisions for believers are exactly what they need. God does not change, like wavering humans do. He remains constant. His intention for His children is always good. Is your life in Christ a shining example of consistency or one of shifting shadows of sin and doubt? Never forget that, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” The greatest of all God’s gifts is the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. People who respond positively to the gospel become the firstfruits of God. In the Old Testament the Israelites gave the first part of their crops as an offering to God. It acknowledged the whole harvest belonged to God and expressed faith that a greater harvest was to come. James saw Christians as consecrated to God and His firstfruits! Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!
EXAMPLE: We are wise when we recognize God is generous to us and when we give Him credit for all the good things, we enjoy in life. This calls for us to identify all we have received from God and to express gratitude to Him for these gifts. Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!

1. Godly wisdom teaches us to endure trials!
2. Godly wisdom teaches us to put material things into proper perspective!
3. Godly wisdom teaches us to resist worldly temptations!
4. Godly wisdom teaches us to acknowledge God’s gifts!

This article is the copyrighted property of Lee Hemen and may not be edited or redistributed without his written permission.

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Corruption: A path to nowhere! – Micah 3:1-12

Corruption: A path to nowhere! – Micah 3:1-12
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 23, 2013 AM

One of my assignments for a course in seminary was to observe different kinds of worship services. They do this in order for students to not only experience different kinds of worship, but to also see how not to do worship. In one instance, students went to a church that met in an old theater. The service began with upbeat music that lasted about 30 minutes. The pastor came out following the music and announced he had received a vision from the Lord that 20 people would give him $20 and those who did so would receive a special blessing. He asked everyone to close their eyes and told those who would give the $20 to raise their hands. He then pretended to count and announced falsely that 20 had raised their hands. He then made the same false claim for those who would give $10!

We live in a world where greedy people use unscrupulous methods to reap dishonest gain. Pretended good is often an effective cloak for evil. Christians should examine their motives at home, at work, at school and the church to make sure they do not exploit others. In Micah’s day, the leaders of Israel were guilty of using people to obtain power and wealth for themselves. They failed in their God-given responsibilities to promote justice and the welfare of the people who trusted them. Micah graphically teaches us about how corruption is a path to nowhere! Let’s discover what he says…

READ: Micah 3:1-12

Micah introduces a broad condemnation of the leadership of Israel (also referred to as “Jacob”). Micah rebuked the leaders for failing to do what they knew was right. They were aware of their responsibilities to provide for and protect the citizens of Israel. However, they ignored their duties and savaged the people like wild animals devouring their prey. Micah predicted they would suffer for their crimes. Micah teaches us that…

I. Corruption is moral cannibalism! (Vv.3:1-4)

1. Micah spoke prophetically against the corrupt leaders of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Jacob and Israel are used synonymously for both in this verse. God’s people had two basic categories of leaders in Micah’s day. The civil rulers were the king and those who served him as officials. The religious leaders included priests and prophets. Micah focused on the civil rulers in verses 1-4. God was to be the ultimate ruler; and the civil and religious authorities were to serve as He directed. This rule is called a theocracy. The leaders were to care for the people as shepherds do for a flock. The rulers were to lead the people to obey the laws both civil and God’s by godly example. These leaders were expected to “know justice”! Yet they hated good and loved evil! A godly king would appoint judges who would dispense justice impartially for all. These civil authorities however were ungodly and failed in their responsibilities. Their failure denied justice for the people and established a culture of corruption in the nation. (Sound familiar?) We live in a day whereby our court system is reinterpreting our Constitution to suit their own political agenda. The corrupt rulers of Israel reversed the moral code of God for their nation. They were supposed to pursue righteousness and avoid wickedness. Yet, like wild animals, they tore the skin off their victims and the flesh from their bones! The actions of the leaders were hypocritical and opposed to God’s will and His laws. The leaders were anything but shepherds of the flock. They were like wolves in sheep’s clothing! In very descriptive terms, Micah related that these cannibals “eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin and break their bones in pieces; who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot!” When God’s final judgment came on them Micah warned, “Then they will cry out to the LORD, but he will not answer them. At that time he will hide his face from them because of the evil they have done!” Corruption is moral cannibalism!

EXAMPLE: All believers function as moral leaven in a spiritually corrupt world. We set examples for others, our families, our classmates, or at our workplace. The question we must keep in front of us is what kind of example and influence are we. Does it measure up to the ethical standards God has revealed in His word? We see evidence in our day that some civil and political authorities have lost their moral compasses and no longer know the way of truth. They call evil good and good evil. People suffer in a nation that will not honor the Lord and the basic principles of righteousness. What can Christians do when justice is denied and civic rulers fail to lead wisely? First, we can speak out as Micah did about the ungodliness in society. Christians who speak out about the sanctity of human life, the value of the traditional family, and other moral issues follow a long tradition of courageous believers who stood up for truth in the past. Second, we can vote and be active in the process of choosing our leaders. We are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We should use every opportunity to bring our biblical convictions to bear on the election and conduct of our leaders. Remember, Micah teaches us that corruption is moral cannibalism!

Micah condemned spiritually weak and corrupt prophets who failed to warn the people of the consequences of sin. He warned these disobedient prophets that they would not receive guidance from the Lord because of their rebellion. Their sins made impossible their receiving any revelation from the Lord. Micah contrasted his ministry with theirs, describing himself as a true prophet who spoke with the power of God’s Spirit. Micah reminds us that…

II. Corruption brings spiritual poverty! (Vv. 3:5-8)

1. Micah then turned his attention to the corrupt spiritual leaders of Israel. The prophets represented an office of spiritual leadership. True Old Testament prophets received revelation from the Lord and preached it to the rulers and the people. True prophets rebuked civil rulers when they personally failed to live moral lives. In Micah’s day, however, God identified the prophets as those “who lead my people astray.” They should have cared for the flock entrusted to them! Instead, they had become hirelings who would prophesy what the people wanted to hear. Micah related that, “if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him.” These ungodly men were motivated by greed and lacked integrity. Their work was not a ministry but a way to gain wealth and power. They lacked courage and were no longer guided by the truth. They became prophets for hire who would say anything for profit. Many years later, Paul warned Timothy to, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NIV) Micah warned that spiritual darkness would be their punishment, “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them.” The darkness would fall on them because they failed to warn the people to repent. It also represented the judgment that would come. In fact, “The seers will be ashamed and the diviners disgraced.” Why? In shame, “They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God!” Judgment fell on the nation despite these leaders’ promises of safety and security. On that day, everyone would know just how corrupt these men were! Their false lies would amount to nothing! Corruption brings spiritual poverty!

EXAMPLE: Greed and materialism continue to shape the messages of many false religious leaders in our day. Many offer cures or guaranteed prosperity if contributors will give money to them. Some of these individuals align themselves with corrupt business or political leaders to defraud people through false offers of hope. Spiritual leaders today also need to be warned by the example of those in Micah’s day. The love of money offers many temptations that can corrupt a pure ministry. The fear of rejection can lead some to preach or teach only those principles that people want to hear. Avoiding sin and judgment is a way to be popular with sinners but not with God. The false prophets were the most popular religious leaders until judgment overcame the nation and the true prophets like Micah and Isaiah were revealed. We must always convey the truth without regard for the cost. There can be no permanent success when we suppress the truth of God’s Word. We must never forget that corruption brings spiritual poverty!

Micah condemns Israel’s political leaders for their injustice and bloodshed. These judges perverted justice by taking bribes. They exonerated the wicked and failed to protect the innocent. Micah condemned the spiritual leaders for condoning the sins of those paying them and for falsely promising safety from divine punishment. Micah warned of a devastating judgment that would destroy the nation.

III. Corruption demands accountability! (Vv.3:9-12)

1. Micah next summed up his condemnation of the corrupt leaders and identified the failures of civil and religious leaders. Those who abhor justice have no respect for God. God declares Himself to be an impartial Judge who is no respecter of persons (2 Chronicles 19:7). Justice is denied when bribes or partiality corrupt the process. God desires human judgments to reflect His fairness and equal treatment of all. Money, position, power, friendships, or other considerations must never be allowed to deny justice through punishing the innocent or releasing the wicked. Micah accused the leaders of perverting everything that is right. Sin is a perversion of something good. Lies are a perversion of truth. Adultery or same sex marriage is a perversion of traditional marriage. Betrayal is a perversion of loyalty. These officials had fallen down a slippery slope of personal ambition and everything they did was tainted by their sin. They despised “justice and distort all that is right” and had built “Zion with bloodshed, and Jerusalem with wickedness.” The leaders judged “for a bribe” and the spiritual leadership, the priests, taught the people “for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money”! WOW! The acceptance of a bribe in exchange for a political favor was prevalent in Micah’s day; nowadays we refer to it as political action! The disobedient priests and prophets had become so spiritually blinded to their own ungodliness they falsely professed loyalty to the Lord! They knew they were corrupt but wanted to continue their charade by displaying a false confidence by telling the people, “Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us.” All is well, no problems here! Spiritual leaders are supposed to be like watchmen on the wall who would warn the people of impending judgment. Micah alone warned that, “because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets!” The people could not imagine such destruction. The majority of the civil and religious leaders told them God would never allow such to happen. They were wrong. The prophecy of Micah would occur and the fulfillment would be exactly as he described. Yet, we learn that corruption demands accountability!

EXAMPLE: Corruption continues to be a major problem in our world, demanding vigilance and oversight by authorities. When the government becomes complicit in the bribery, justice is not possible. Money and greed have historically been the cause of much of the corruption in the judicial and political system. After all, a million here and a million there adds up to real money when it becomes billions! A major source of misery around the world continues to be governments that allow or participate in a corrupt judicial or political system. Western democracies have sought to include checks and balances to eliminate bribes and maintain a fair judiciary and government. Even so, the temptation to subvert justice for financial gain is too much for some, and they cash in on it. The church and its members must be above reproach in seeking any financial gain. Those who proclaim God’s truth must be people of integrity who would be willing to risk financial loss rather than compromise the message. We are ultimately accountable to the Lord for our ministries, and we can be sure He will judge us impartially. Micah teaches us that corruption demands accountability!

Remember, Micah teaches us that corruption is moral cannibalism! We must never forget that corruption brings spiritual poverty! Micah teaches us that corruption demands accountability!

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 27 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

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