How many “denomination types” does it take to change a light bulb?
Charismatic: Only 1 – Hands are already in the air.
Pentecostal: 10 – One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.
Presbyterians: None – Lights will go on and off at predestined times.
Roman Catholic: None – Candles only. (Of guaranteed origin of course.)
Baptists: At least 15 – One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.
Episcopalians: 3 – One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.
Mormons: 5 – One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.
Unitarians: We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
Methodists: Undetermined – Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass.
Nazarene: 6 – One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.
Lutherans: None – Lutherans don’t believe in change.
Amish: What is a light bulb?
— John Stott
The Cross of Christ
(Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 160
In one of the most interesting stories in the Old Testament, the newly rescued people of Israel sinned by murmuring against God and his servant Moses. Their unprovoked sin was so evil that the Lord judged them by sending poisonous snakes into their camp. These “fiery serpents . . . bit the people, so many people of Israel died.” Then the people came to Moses, confessed their sin, and begged him to ask God to take the snakes away. Moses prayed for the people, and God gave him a strange command: he was to make a serpent from bronze and place it on a pole in the middle of the camp. Then, if someone had been bitten by a snake, he or she had only to look at the bronze snake in order to be healed. The simple act of gazing at the brazen serpent brought life and healing (see Numbers 21:4–9).
But more amazing is how Jesus used this story on the New Testament: :And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him might have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). The most important thing to understand in this first chapter is this: before you can kill sin, you have to look to the Lord who was lifted up on the cross for you. You cannot fight sin unless you have found rest in the inexhaustible sufficiency of the doing and dying of Jesus Christ in your place. You cannot mortify sin unless that sin has already been nailed to the cross of Christ. There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.
—Brian G. Hedges, Licensed to Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin (Cruciform Press, 2011), 16–18.
You have brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths, but see you in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold your glory.
Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter your stars shine;
Let me find your light in my darkness,
your life in my death,
your joy in my sorrow,
your grace in my sin,
your riches in my poverty,
your glory in my valley.
- The Valley of Vision, opening prayer
Many people recognize their need for God—that their lives are a mess and that this world is headed for destruction. They know they need to be saved. But they imagine that salvation is within their grasp. They may reject the idea that they can earn God’s favor with works, but they are fully convinced that the solution is lies within them. After all, they reason, it’s just a matter of choosing—in this case, choosing God by faith using their autonomous free will. Evil and injustice may abound on the earth, and we may participate in it from time to time, but the one thing that is not fallen, corrupt, or evil is the will. It is perfectly free and able to choose God.
This is a naive view of human freedom. It results from a view of sin that is not as radical or as truthful as the view we find in Scripture. In the Bible, the will itself is so corrupt and enslaved that it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to see what Christ has done for us and to free us to respond in faith to him. As Jesus put it, no one comes to him unless the Father (through the Holy Spirit) grants it (John 6:65). Otherwise the human condition is considered hopeless, which is why the Bible uses such words as blind, dark, deaf, and dead to describe our situation outside Christ.
The good news is that our salvation is not dependent on our success at making right choices, even the right choice of faith. In fact, the Bible regularly reminds us that we cannot consistently make good choices with our corrupt wills. As Paul puts it, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:18-19, niv). Instead of relying on an autonomous free will to remind us to make right choices, we are called to simply trust what Christ has done for us on the cross and through his resurrection.
I have come to see that there are really just two ways to preach: one is the gospel, the other is get-better messages. The first is based on God’s goodness; the second on self-improvement. Gospel preaching presupposes that, even though we deserve punishment for our sins, Jesus Christ suffered the punishment in our place on the cross.
Get-better sermons, on the other hand, is moralistic advice in which a preacher mounts a pulpit to scold the people for not doing more or getting better (F Allison).
For more years than I care to think I preached get-better messages. I cringe thinking about my old sermons. I regret the lost opportunities of those messages that pounded home the idea that we just need to be better, try harder, pray and give more, read the Bible every day, attend church every week, and be nicer. It was plain ole Phariseeism, works-righteousness under the guise of preaching – “an easy-listening version of salvation by self-help” (M Horton). Those who came were vaguely entertained, I think, because I am a fairly entertaining personality (so they tell me on their way out of church), but they left mostly feeling beat up and like they don’t measure up. Instead of relieving guilt, get-better sermons reinforced guilt and our inadequacies. They didn’t touch people where they need most. “Whenever you feel comforted or elated or absolved as ‘fresh as a foal in new mowed hay,’ then you know you are hearing the gospel” (P Zahl).
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Let’s face it. Most of us have dry spells when our devotions get back-burnered. Usually busyness is to blame. We’re busy with college classes, we’re trying to advance our career, we’re working on our marriage, we have little kids, and so on. But in addition to busyness, there are other culprits that get in between us and Scripture. Stephen Nichols explains these “letdowns” in Welcome to the Story:
The scriptural letdown. We always read about people having tremendously emotional experiences reading Scripture, but we never seem to get there. That gets discouraging, and we give up.
The intellectual letdown. We don’t always understand Scripture. We read it again and again, and still don’t get it. This discouragement can also lead to neglect.
The spiritual letdown. We fail to see any kind of spiritual transformation that you feel is supposed to be a natural result of a daily quiet time. So we wonder if it’s worth continuing.
So how do we respond? Where do we begin?
- First, read Scripture. There is no substitute.Only what is appropriate or manageable for you. You don’t need to tackle the Bible in a year if you’re going to flame out in Leviticus. There are a multitude of reading plans to try as you seek out the right fit. A great one is the “camping out” approach. Pick a book of the Bible you would enjoying spending time in and devote a few weeks or a month to it. Read through the whole book first to get a big picture, then go back and dive in to smaller sections.
- Memorize some key verses, pray about what you’re reading, and apply it to your life.With any reading plan you choose, be sure to pay attention to the big picture of Scripture. Make connections between what you’re reading and the overarching theme of redemption. Think about whole books or units, rather than simply chapters and verses. Understanding the historical and cultural context of the Bible will help us catch points that we would otherwise miss as readers of the technological age.
- Finally, be sure to slow down take deep breaths, and pay close attention to the life-giving words that you are reading.
I said when we started the book of James that the plan was NOT just to go through this book but rather to have this book go through us! How would you say the book of James Chapter 1 has made its way through you to date?
1. Are you having any trials?
2. Do others notice a Christ-like joy as you respond to these trials?
3. What is your first response when the trial hits?
4. Do you now find yourself praying for wisdom?
5. What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?
6. Do you remember the definition of faith?
7. What does it mean to be double minded?
8. Are you the type of person who despairs when things go well?
9. Do you tend to get proud when you succeed?
10. Do you know despair and pride are forms of legalism according to James as he instructs about the poor and the rich?
11. Why is it important for us to distinguish between trial and temptation? (Side note - the Greek word for trial and temptation is the same word)
12. Can you recall the sin cycle that James teaches in Chapter 1?
13. Are you working on managing the sins in your life or are you killing SIN? What is the difference?
14. Have you also remembered that what James is teaching we can probably go back to the gospels and find in the teaching of the Lord Jesus?
15. Maybe the key verse in Chapter 1 is verse 18, we went over this in detail, can you explain it to a 10 year old?
16. What does it mean primarily when James says for us to be not only a hearer but a doer of God's word?
17. Are you consistently looking at the mirror of the word and making the necessary adjustments as James talks about in Chapter 1:23-25?
18. Have you notices the word deceive, delude and deceived all appear in Chapter 1? What is the point and what is the solution?
These are just some of what we talked about in our 6 weeks look into the book of James. Do you see how much and how rich the word of God is to the most practical parts of your life?
Now is the time to get out those notes, review what we have studied and mine gold from the word of God!
Then mind that you do not neglect it. Read it—read it! Begin to read it this very day. What greater insult to God can a man be guilty of than to refuse to read the letter God sends him from heaven? Oh, be sure, if you will not read your Bible, you are in fearful danger of losing your soul!
Is the Bible the Word of God?
Then be sure you always read it with deep reverence. Say to your soul, whenever you open the Bible, “O my soul, you are going to read a message from God!”
Is the Bible the Word of God?
Then be sure you never read it without fervent prayer for the help and teaching of the Holy Spirit. Humble prayer will throw more light on your Bible than any commentary that ever was written. You will not understand it unless your heart is right. You will find it a sealed book without the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Its contents are often hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to babes.
Is the Bible the Word of God?
Then let us all resolve from this day forward to prize the Bible more. God has given us the Bible to be a light to guide us to everlasting life. Let us not neglect this precious gift. Let us read it diligently, and walk in its light.
~ J.C. Ryle
“Christ’s death on the cross was not something that God came up with in response to Satan’s triumph in the garden of Eden or as a last resort when it became evident that men and women couldn’t live up to the Ten Commandments. Redeeming sinners from all nations through Jesus Christ was God’s plan from the beginning.”
— Colin S. Smith
(Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2011), 7