Well good morning. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and grab those. We’re going to be in James 5 as we get started. I’m not bowling after this, nor am I trying to start some hipster trend. I somehow injured myself. I know exactly how I injured myself, but I don’t plan on telling you, so I’ll be wearing something like this for the next six to eight weeks. Good times.
Let me start by addressing mothers. I know we’ve done that really across all of our campuses in the announcement time, but I wanted to say that several years ago, I came across an article by a man by the name of Sam Crabtree, and here’s what he wrote on Mother’s Day. It has helped me shape the weekend for my home. Here’s what it says. “Mother’s Day is not primarily about being a mother and receiving honor but rather thanking God for the mother he gave you and giving honor.”
Crabtree’s argument is that the right position of the heart on Mother’s Day is not a big expectation that I would receive honor but rather the opportunity to give honor because the thing we all have in common is we all have a mom. Every person who has ever lived on earth… Christ himself had a mother, so today we get the opportunity to honor and thank our mothers.
If you’re a mother in this place, I pray that you received that today when you got up if you have kids in the house. Maybe them being here today is a part of your Mother’s Day. “Okay, we’ll go to church with you.” This is part of your present. I want you to feel honored, but really for you to experience a greater joy, I want to frame this as I think the Bible frames it. The opportunity you have today is to give honor.
I’m not naïve. I’ve done pastoral ministry now for over 20 years. I know some of you are estranged from mom. I know some of you think your mom was crazy. I don’t even want to take from you that she might have been crazy. However, even in her frailty and failures, surely there are things you can look back on and be grateful for concerning how she loved you, sacrificed for you, and cared for you.
The win here today for your own soul is not to receive honor but to give it. To be able to call an estranged mother and out of nowhere surprise her with not your acute awareness of her failures but rather your gladness for those little things she did well and to call her today and thank her for those is a gospel move right there, and it’s one I want to help you walk in.
Let’s just say this is the first year that mom is not here. Mom went on home to be with the Lord, or she is not with us any longer. Then that frees you up to really compliment and encourage the other mothers who are around you. If you’re a single woman, a single man, this gives you an opportunity not just to thank your mom but to encourage the young mothers that flood this place. We are all stumbling forward, correct? This is that day we get to give honor. You already know this to be true. To give honor is a far greater feeling than simply to receive it back from others.
Over the next hour or so, as you intently listen to what will possibly be the most un-Mother’s-Day sermon in the history of evangelicalism, you might consider how you might give honor to your mother who has sacrificed greatly for you, whether you saw that or noticed that or not. With that said, let me pray for our mothers and pray that God would give us a heart to honor and thank them, and then we’ll dive into James 5:1-6, and the verse that was just on the bumper is the happiest verse in the six verses. Let’s pray, and then we’ll dive in.
Father, for an opportunity today to make much of a good gift from you, we thank you. I pray that rather than getting swept up in cards and all this stuff that we might really take this day as time to consider your good gift to us in our mothers, as imperfect as they were. They sacrificed. They did some things well. Give us eyes to see those things and then the courage not to hold grudges or resentment, as dark as things got, but rather to compliment and be grateful for that one area, those two areas that you bring clarity to in our hearts.
Let this be a day in which we can extend honor to our mothers. For the mothers who are in this room right now and feel dishonored and feel undervalued and not cared for, Father, I pray that you would be their peace today. There is nothing that happens that goes unnoticed by you. That self-sacrifice and giving of one’s self is seen by you and honored by you. We thank you and praise you today. It’s for your beautiful name, amen.
If you have your Bibles, we’re going to look at the first six verses of James 5. While you’re turning there, while you’re finding that specific page, in the April issue of Texas Monthly, there was a featured piece about a suburb outside of Houston along the San Jacinto River called Highlands. It wasn’t called The Highlands. It was just called Highlands.
Highlands was a master-planned community where there were lot restrictions. The lots were big. There wasn’t any, “Let’s go play in the backyard,” type of lots. It was big spaces, pastureland, magnificent home, just the American dream embodied, green pastures, large houses, beautiful master-planned community.
However, not all was well in Highlands, despite its external beauty. See, in 1965, the Champion Paper Mill, which was located in Pasadena, Texas… Has anybody ever been to Pasadena, Texas? You didn’t stay long, did you? Then you bowed out. Yeah, I know. I went to high school close to that. In Pasadena, Texas, they worked out a contract with McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corporation to dispose of Champion’s industrial waste.
MIMC dug pits along the San Jacinto River and dumped toxic waste there until 1967 when the unlined pits reached capacity. If you’re going to dispose of toxic waste, you might as well do it next to a river, right? I mean, we might as well just put that as close to our water supply as we can get it. The following year, MIMC’s board of directors voted to abandon the site.
Over the next four decades, the riverbank that separated the pits from the river gradually eroded until large sections of the toxic waste pits were submerged beneath the San Jacinto River. The site was basically unknown to anyone else until 2005 when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department realized what was there.
By this time, the suburban sprawl had landed Highlands two miles from these pits, and in 2008, Hurricane Ike struck just east of the pits and flooded the Highlands area. The amount of sickness in Highlands post-2008 was staggering. The amount of cancer and digestive disorders plus other disorders went through the roof. See, it’s a terrifying idea that in the middle of such external beauty, there can be such toxicity.
See, there’s a bit of a juxtaposition taking place, and it took place in the Highlands. At this point, this has gone to trial, and MIMC has paid out millions and millions and millions of dollars to the victims. There’s the juxtaposition of this picturesque, beautiful environment that is so laced with toxicity that in this beautiful, picturesque, what we all kind of want and desire, we’re dying. In fact, the very showers we take, the waters we drink, the air we breathe is killing us.
It’s a terrifying illustration but one meant to be because what I want to try to do today is help us understand that we are very much in the midst of a toxicity just like that, a type of deadly, silent, soul-shriveling, life-taking, vitality-stealing environment that is well below what God would have for us, and it sticks us into a type of trapped boredom in which the true potential we were created for is never realized for the toxicity.
With that said, now that you’re happy to be here on Mother’s Day… I know some of you are like, “See, Mom? I told you he’s great. I told you.” Let’s look at this. James 5, starting in verse 1. “Come now, you rich…” Let’s stop for a second because some of you went, “Okay, not talking to me.” If you make $25,000 a year, you are in the wealthiest 2 percent of the world. Did you hear me? If you make $25,000 a year, you’re in the wealthiest 2 percent of the world.
In this context, you might be pulling in $17,000 and feeling broke. I’m telling you that you’re actually, by global standards, wealthy. You are someone’s Bill Gates. Are you tracking with me? You’re someone’s Bill Gates. Someone would have their mind blown at how you live, even if you think you’re living in humble means.
“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days.
Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Now, if you’re a skeptic or unbeliever, let me just start like this. We’re not taking an offering today, so you can breathe. Okay? This isn’t money, extended offering day. If you have that kind of, “I just knew they just wanted my money,” I don’t want your money. Keep your money. I don’t need a new plane or… My 2005 Honda is running just fine. All right?
I don’t need new gear or anything like that. This isn’t that type of sermon. This is a sermon for the good of your own soul. You can hear it through skeptical lenses, but I can assure you of this. I am not interested in your money, and my outline will prove it. James is going to argue (and he’s going to join Jesus in Matthew 6) really four things.
The first is that money is dangerous. It’s not bad; it’s dangerous. Money is dangerous. It’s not a bad thing to have money. Think of money like fire. Fire can keep you warm. It can cook food. It can also burn everything to the ground. Money is dangerous. It’s so dangerous because the heart is deceptive. If you, in your deceptive heart, play around with the dangers of money and end up loving money, it’s deadly.
Money is dangerous. The heart is deceptive. A love of money is deadly, and it’s only the gospel that can deliver us from this. That’s the outline we just read that will also be supported by the teachings of Christ on the Sermon on the Mount. When I’m talking about toxicity, here’s what I want you to kind of start to look at and consider.
In 2014, Media Dynamics, Inc. revealed in a study that a typical adult’s daily consumption of media has grown from 5.2 hours in 1945 to 9.8 hours in 2014. Our media consumption per day… That’s your phone, your tablet, your computer, and your television. We spend close to 10 hours a day on those devices, and in some sense, you have to just to survive in the modern world. Right? I mean, this is the world we live in. It’s the world God has put us here in.
It’s not surprising, but this is our reality. In that 10 hours a day that we’re in this media consumption, the study summarized that the number of ads adults are now exposed to across the five media outlets (these are the five major media outlets: TV, radio, Internet, newspaper, and magazine) is about 360 ads a day.
Here’s what’s interesting. As our time in media has increased, there was a massive spike about five years ago on the sheer number of ads. It was like 700-something ads a day, but we figured it out. We figured out Netflix. We figured out Hulu. We figured out ways around the ads. We got DVRs so we can fast forward through the ads. That cut out ad consumption nearly in half.
Yet here’s the reality. Despite all of your ability to block pop-ups… This is just the five major outlets. This isn’t car ads. This isn’t billboards. This is just the five major media markets, 360 ads a day, which means 360 times a day you’re being told, “Hey, you don’t have this,” or, “You should have this. You need this. Look at this. What you have is now old. This is now new. What you have is no longer cool. This is now cool.”
You are being enticed 360 times a day. You are being called into discontentment. See, this environment sows into us the perpetual desire to get and to keep and to have, and it’s a type of treadmill that can never satisfy us so that the lie we will give our lives to is that we need more of what we actually already have. This is slavery. It’s toxic. It’s a lie.
James, speaking into this church, says money is dangerous, and because of money, misery is coming. He says riches are rotten, garments are moth-eaten, and gold and silver have eroded. What would make all of our wealth erode and unravel and be moth-eaten and worthless? Why is it so dangerous? Well, we start to see in the second half of verse 3… It says this. “You have laid up treasure in the last days.”
Here’s what James’s accusation is. “The reason why money is so dangerous and all of this is falling apart is because you have trusted in the wrong thing. You have put your hope in the wrong place, so you’ve kind of settled in. ’This is going to settle my anxieties. My hope for the future is built on these things.’ Those are lies that your heart believed. You have put your hope in the wrong place, and now you are paying for it.”
See, if you took Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount starting in Matthew 5 and laid it out right next to the book of James, James is almost an exposition of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. You can see here when I read Matthew 6:19-21 that you’ll hear some of the very same language that James just used.
In Matthew 6, starting in verse 19, Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
There are two things happening in this text that both Jesus and James agree upon, which they’re going to because they’re both in the Word of God. James, the half-brother of Jesus, believed that Christ is the Messiah, and his teachings are true. Here’s what we see. First of all, what Jesus’ point is and what James’s point is to some extent is that money and what we do with it and the measure at which we desire it reveals our heart more than our mouths and actions combined.
Here’s what’s happening. Here’s what actually happens in our money and how we spend it and how we feel about it and how we think about it. You can say whatever you want to say with your mouth, and you can live however you want to live with your life, but Jesus says, “You want to know what’s going on in your heart? Look at your bank statement.” This is not a way for other people to judge but rather for you to judge.
See, your wallet is a gracious gift from God to help you understand what is actually going on in you. Other people cannot externally watch you and tell whether or not you’re legitimately generous or not because they have no idea what you make. You might drive just a blinged out car, and people think, “Oh gosh, he’s just so earthly.” You might be one of the most generous brothers ever in a house that all the rest of our houses could fit in. We can’t see that, but you can.
Your wallet informs you because the heart is deceitful about what you actually value. Jesus says in Matthew 6, “You can give me all of that you want, but nobody lies to you more than you do.” Straight up, let’s just have some real talk between us on this stormy Mother’s Day morning. Is it easier for you to believe you’re awesome and better than most people, or is it easier for you to feel like you have a long way to go?
See, the default posture of most of our hearts is, “Nailing it.” The default posture is, “I hear you, Chandler, but I think I’m doing this well already. I get it. In fact, I wish my brother-in-law could be here. He just bought a new boat. He makes me sick.” Our default is our strength. “I do this well.” We justify our behavior well, so Jesus says, “Hey, just so you don’t trick yourself, check your account. Just so you don’t deceive yourself, print out that bank statement, and go through it line by line, and let’s see what you really treasure, what you really love, where your heart is really set.”
You can run your mouth about how you love the kingdom of God, how much you love Jesus, the difference he has made in your life, how much you’re about what he is about, but Jesus says, “Yeah, I hear you. Why don’t you check that statement again real quick, and let’s chat.” Again, this is not a way for others to judge us. This is a way for us to make sure we’re not lying to ourselves.
The second thing that is really toxic is not only does our statement show us what we really value and what we really love, but we use our finances really in two separate ways, both of which are lies, both of which are extremely toxic. The first is that we’ll use our wealth to kind of create safety and create kind of a shield to buffer us from life’s anxieties.
A safer car, a nicer neighborhood, a safer house, a house with an alarm system and sharks and tigers and some bears out. “We’re going to protect ourselves. We’re going to not walk in anxiety and fear. We’re going to be safe.” We use our money as a type of future hope that, “Everything is going to be all right in the future because I’ve saved well and I’ve prepared for that.” Both are lies, and both actually betray. They’re toxic. They are the air we’re breathing.
Let me give you a couple of texts that don’t just reinforce but are birthed from Jesus’ and James’ teachings on money. Søren Kierkegaard said this. He was a Danish philosopher. “Riches and abundance come hypocritically clad in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be security against anxieties, and they become then the object of anxiety. They secure a man against anxieties just about as well as the wolf that is put to tending the sheep.”
Then Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who is my kind of pastor… Bonhoeffer was a pastor during World War II in Germany. He saw that Hitler was a tyrant, got with another group of men, and sought to kill Hitler. The plan was foiled, and he actually was martyred, but I’ll tell you this. Trying to kill a tyrant and failing and getting killed for that is a much better way to go than in a hospital bed in your 90s. Hang me with some piano wires for trying to kill a tyrant. That’s how Dietrich went out. That’s why I like this dude. I would have liked to hang out with him, but he got himself killed, so…
With that said, here’s his quote. “Earthly goods deceive the human heart into believing that they give it security and freedom from worry, but in truth, they are what cause anxiety.” Now, we know this is true. Watch this. For how many of you was your first car just a clunker, like a beat up, “Please, God, let it start,” kind of clunker? For how many of you was that your first car?
My first car was a Datsun Maxima. How many of you have no idea what a Datsun is? All right, boom. See? That’s how I know. Daddy got me a Datsun Maxima. It was pale yellow, and there was a little bit of rust in the front panel, so he primered it. You couldn’t put it into fourth gear, so you had to jump from third to fifth, which, if you drive a stick (which hardly anybody does anymore), is not easy.
If you went too slowly, the car would backfire. Any time you went through the school zone, children would hit the ground and try to shimmy toward safety. That’s the car I was gifted graciously by my parents. Let me talk straight about the car. I never noticed a nick on it. If it ever got the door dinged, I never saw it. If it got keyed, I wouldn’t know it. I never in four years of driving it parked it seven blocks out from the store and walked in just to make sure nobody would mess with my car.
Then I got a new car. And I noticed every nick and every door ding. Right? It created anxiety. It didn’t take anxiety from me. It actually caused me anxiety that wasn’t there before I had the new car. Then I was tempted to park a little farther out, and I did get frustrated when people parked dumb. I’m just like, “Really? Those are lines. They’re just lines.” Lauren was so sweet and gracious. She was like, “Well, maybe the person before them messed it up, Matt.” I’m like, “This is not a time for that. You just save that for the children, woman.”
I mean, now all of a sudden, I have this anxiety that was not there. When Lauren and I first got married, we lived in married student housing. There were walls you didn’t want to lean on in that house. I didn’t care about that lawn. I just didn’t care about the lawn. We didn’t water it. “I’m not paying to water the lawn. This isn’t my house.”
Because of how the street was, sometimes people’s tires would get up in my front yard. I was like, “Oh gosh. That’s too bad for whoever lives here after we move out.” Then I got my own house. All of a sudden, I cared about all of that. It created an anxiety. It’s not a kind of soul-crushing, “What are we going to do?” anxiety. It’s just a little bit of concern, a little bit of thought that wasn’t there before.
See, Dietrich and Søren and Jesus and James are saying stuff creates anxiety. It doesn’t solve it. If you can buffer your fears with stuff, you’ve just replaced your fear with another fear of your stuff that has buffered your fears being taken from you and leaving you now without those things with those same fears. It will not solve the anxieties of today. It won’t do it. It will just increase them. That’s the argument.
The second argument is that you can somehow save and plan and operate in such a way that your future is secure. We need to be real honest about this subject. Saving 403(b)’s, Roth IRA’s, all that stuff is really wise. You should be a good steward of your money. We’ll talk more about that near the end of it. Being a good steward and placing your hope in it are not the same thing. Are you tracking?
Being a good steward of and putting your hope in are not the same thing. Here’s what I know. My future is secure. That’s what I know. Now, I have a responsibility to live as a steward of the good gifts of God’s grace on my life, but my hope is not in my 403(b) or my Roth IRA. It’s not in those things. My hope is that Christ has me and will hold me and will provide on the day of need. That’s where my hope is.
It doesn’t mean that I’m irresponsible and not a good steward. “Well, he’s going to take care of me, so who needs to plan?” No, that’s irresponsible. That’s being a foolish steward of what has been given to you. Please don’t hear me dogging on responsibility. I am most definitely not. We see here that on top of money being dangerous and our hearts being deceptive that a love of money (that’s different) is deadly.
That’s what we see happening here if you start in verse 4. Look what happens. “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.”
Now, here’s my guess. My guess is that we’re reading this, and you’re like, “Oh, give me a break, Pastor. Are you trying to tell me I’m going to kill somebody over money?” Let’s chat for a second. Maybe, but maybe. Safe place… How many of you love those kind of 20/20 specials, those murder mystery things that come on? You’re like, “Who did it?” How many of you? Come on. Let’s do this. It’s a safe place.
Now, let’s chat. Isn’t it always the spouse? Isn’t it? There’s all this mystery, and you’re like, “Man, you know that man killed his wife. I don’t care if he’s in Aruba. He probably got a submarine or something, came back and murdered that woman, got back in the submarine, went back to Aruba, and cashed in that insurance police.” Almost all crime is built upon money and a love of it and wanting more of it.
What’s crazy is so often, it’s people with tons of it who want more of it who do this type of thing. Let me tell you why it goes. I’ll read a text to you here in a minute, but I want to show you kind of the slippery slope of sin and why we get ourselves into far greater messes than we ever imagined we actually could. You and I are by nature, being made in the image of God, eternal beings. We will live forever either in an ever-expanding experience of God’s glory and grace or an ever-expanding experience of the right, just wrath of God for our glad rebellion against him.
We are eternal, so the temporary can never satisfy, which is why we’re never ultimately satisfied. We always want a little bit more, and we always feel like if we just get a little bit more, we’ll finally be satisfied, and we get on that treadmill, and we spend most of our days chasing after what we already have, thinking a little bit more of it is going to finally grant us peace.
This is toxic. It doesn’t work this way. In a book called Twilight of the Elites by Christopher Hayes, he quotes the survey that Fidelity did. Fidelity surveyed a group with at least $1 million in investment assets excluding real estate and retirement. Let’s get our heads around this because this is not most of us. They have $1 million in investment assets that exclude their retirement and any real estate they have.
Let’s take their houses (maybe plural, probably plural) out. Let’s take their retirement, their 403(b), any kind of savings account that is meant to buffer their retirement out and throw it out. They have $1 million in investment assets, $1 million that they’re trying to turn into more money. They have $1 million just to play with. Of those Fidelity surveyed who fit that criteria, 42 percent of them did not feel wealthy. They had $1 million.
“Are you wealthy?”
“Bro, you have $1 million.”
“I know. See?”
What has happened? What has happened is that an eternal created being is trying to satisfy their hearts with temporary things, and the temporal will never fill up the eternal. It leaves us just thirsty and hungry for more. What 1 Timothy 6 is going to tell us, what Paul is going to write to Timothy is, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”
Just read verse 8 and see what happens to your heart. If it sounds unreasonable to you, then we need to kind of dig around in our souls a little bit. “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” “What? Are you trying to tell me that if I have some pants and a burrito, I’m going to be all right?” That’s what he just said. I mean, in different words, but that’s basically it. “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
I’m going to be real honest. I don’t think I could be real content with just food and clothing. I feel owed more than that. I feel like I’ve worked too hard to just have that. Don’t judge me right now. You’re over there going, “Really? That’s disappointing.” “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich…” Here’s the disintegration of the heart. “…fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”
They have a desire to be rich. “I desire to be rich,” but we’ve already covered it. They’ll never be able to feel rich regardless of what they have because they’re eternal trying to satisfy their hearts with the temporal. The desire to be rich with earthly gain and an inability to satisfy the heart with earthly gain begins to send one down a path the Bible says is a snare that leads to senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
Why? Verse 10. “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” The love of money leads to death, spiritual death easily, but maybe even physical. See, the wealthy whose earnest desire is just to accumulate more wealth will be far more prone to oppress and to build systems that take advantage of the poor than those who are content.
A bottom-line mentality that drives our lives without gospel lenses is one that will run up the backs of the weak and lowly in order to make another dime. Again, I want to keep coaching this because I think God has given his church and the kingdom entrepreneurs who are good and beautiful and right. Do you know that church planters are actually tested on an entrepreneurial scale? What is church planting except a startup?
You go in, and you plant, and it’s a startup. You have to have very much the same skills as a high entrepreneur. Part of a church planter’s testing is, “Do they have entrepreneurial giftings? If they don’t, are they actually going to be any good at this? Are they going to fail? Are they going to slam against the rocks?” If you’re going, “Well, shouldn’t the Holy Spirit empower them?” Yes. Empower them according to their gifts.
The Holy Spirit will empower you also. Would you like to preach next weekend? Right? Let’s at least be sensible here. Into this mess with 360 times a day, your deceitful heart being lied to. “This way to happiness. This way to fulfillment. This way to be cool.” Right? That kind of thing 360 times a day. Listen. I’m not trying to be offensive at all.
You are a fool if you don’t believe that 360, “Hey, you need this. Hey, you have to have this. Hey, your stuff is old. Hey, you’re not cool. Hey, this would make you cool. Hey, this would make you more fulfilled. Hey, you earned this. You deserve this. You should have this.” You’re a fool if you think that you hearing that 360 times a day has no effect upon you. You are certainly unaware of the deception going on in your own heart.
You’re not just wearing the clothes you’re wearing because you think they’re comfortable. You’re not just driving the car you’re driving… Listen. We’ve been discipled. We’ve been discipled by the world we live in. They have defined for us what is attractive. They have defined for us what is manly. They have defined for us what is feminine. They have defined for us what the world should look like, and they have lied, and they have created a toxicity that if we’re not careful, we’re breathing in. It’s only the gospel that can deliver us from such toxicity.
“How does the gospel deliver?” Well, it delivers on two fronts, and I think both of them have to be there. The first front is that the whole basis of the gospel is rooted in the generosity of God. Romans 1 says this is something all of us are guilty of. Everyone in this room has preferred creation to the Creator. “Forget you, God. I just want your stuff. I just want your toys. I don’t necessarily want you.” We’re all guilty of that.
God’s response to that is generosity. He sends. Jesus comes. He dies on the cross, absorbing God’s wrath toward those of us who would believe and then grants us, imputes to us the righteous obedience of Jesus Christ. The gospel in and of itself is the generosity of God flowing out of the Godhead, and it grants to us a new identity that serves as a buffer against the barrage of toxicity that our culture throws at us.
My primary identity is one of a son of God. I have been adopted by the blood of Christ according to the will of God. That is my identity. Everything else might fall away, and that’s still who I am. I’m not defined by my car. I’m not defined by my house. I’m not defined by my clothes. I’m not defined by what you think about me. You don’t have that power over me. The gospel creates this buffer. I am his. I have been approved by the only one I need approval from.
As honestly as I can state that that’s true, I still feel the pull. I still feel the pull. I do. I drive an old Honda Accord. It’s beat up and banged up a little bit, and I’ll feel it sometimes. I’ll pull up and go, “Oh gosh, it’s such a little ghetto car.” I’ll get out, and I’m just like, “Why do I care about it? It’s just a car. It runs fine. In another 10 years, that thing is going to be a classic.” Right? I can just feel it. I can feel it pulling on me. The gospel provides a buffer.
Here’s the second thing. I think both of these pieces… My identity being in Christ says you don’t get to define me by my car, my house, or my clothes. I’m free from the need to buy $70 tee shirts. I’m just free. I don’t need that. The $7 ones fit just fine. The second thing… This is the piece I feel so missing. The second thing is I’m invited out of the mundane and into the greatest drama the universe will ever know.
See, God has decreed, has informed that he’s on a mission, and we have been invited into that mission. See, we have not just been saved from, but we’ve been saved to. We’ve been rescued from our sin, sealed with the Holy Spirit’s promise and power, and sent out to push back what is dark in the world with victory being guaranteed by our King.
Our gifts, our energy, and our resources have been given to us so that we might participate in the great war, pushing back what is dark in the world, watching boredom be eradicated from our lives. Gosh, I’ve said some version of this for 13 years now. There’s a reason we’re drawn to superhero movies. There is something in all of our literature and all the films we love that shows that what we really desire and value at a deep level is self-sacrifice, risk.
Unfortunately, I think these are ideas we would ascribe to and say we value, but our wallets and lives would say we don’t at all. I think Piper put it brilliantly in his book Don’t Waste Your Life. If you haven’t read that, I would encourage you to grab that, especially in the toxicity of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I mean, there are no mountains. There are no God-made lakes. All we have really to work on is us.
Here’s what he said. “I am wired by nature to love the same toys the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call Earth home, and before you know it, I’m calling luxuries needs, and I’m using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing.
Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mindset that looks first at what man can do, not at what God can do. It is a terrible sickness, and I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mindset.”
Because most of us aren’t great at history and haven’t had a war like World War II in our lifetimes, we have forgotten what the country did in order to pull off that victory. There was rationing. There were victory gardens that were grown. Everyone gave and sacrificed for one purpose: to win this war. The rise of the autonomous self and the, “Me, me, me. What about me?” and the earthly mindset of most of us have robbed from us the joy and thrill of being a part of something greater than ourselves.
We love the idea of self-sacrifice as long as we don’t have to self-sacrifice. We love the idea of laying down our lives for something greater as long as it’s Iron Man doing it, not me. See, it’s kind of a sad state of affairs. It reveals the toxicity that flows in our blood that we drink in 360 times a day. What are we to do living in this spiritual highland we’re living in? Well, I think two things.
The first thing is we have to repent of just seeing things at an earthly level. We have to repent of, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” We have to repent of that because it’s not true. James has already rebuked us for thinking in regards to just earthliness rather than thinking, to use Piper’s language, with a wartime mentality.
Let’s go real practical with this rather than just kind of the, “Okay, be better,” and head out of here. What are some things we should do considering the Word of God today? I’m going to stay over here. The Bible is over there. First, I think we need to grow in financial wisdom. If we’re honest, most of us were not trained well by our parents how to handle money.
In fact, the story on repeat here at The Village as we walk with 30-year-olds is this. “We got to see our parents at their peak earning years. We saw that in high school and into college. We’re watching our parents not as they started out and worked toward but really at the apex of how they earned and what they made.
We went off to college, and when we got out of college, we think life should just look like this. We bit off way more than we could chew. We started living a life we cannot afford. We jammed ourselves up with all sorts of debt that has created marital strife, created a ton of anxiety, and created really some spiritual handcuffs than what we’re actually able to do.”
If this is you, I’m not dogging you. I’m telling you you have a lot of company here. We have men and women here who are here to help you with that, to come out from under the burden of all of that and begin to walk in the freedom I think the Lord has for you. Not only do I think we need to grow in a financial understanding, financial wisdom, but we also have to pursue contentment.
Here’s the thing about contentment. You’re going to have to pursue it. At 360 reminders a day of what you don’t have and should have, you’re going to have to fight for contentment. How do you pursue contentment? Well, you become acquainted with all you do have rather than spending all of your time wishing you could get something else. You dial into the good gifts.
I’ll love you enough to say it. You don’t have anything that wasn’t given to you. You don’t have anything that wasn’t given to you. You own nothing that was not in some way related to God’s graciousness toward you. You might be a great businessman, and I can introduce you to other great businessmen who the ball hasn’t bounced their way. You might be a hard, hard worker, and I’ll introduce you to dozens of hard, hard workers who the ball hasn’t bounced their way like it has for you. You have been blessed, and all you have belongs to the Lord.
If you want to grow in contentment, cultivate gratitude for what you have been given. Lastly, be generous. We grow in financial wisdom. We cultivate. We pursue contentment. Finally, we live generous lives, open-handed, generous lives. Let me tell you a couple of best practices I think work real well and kind of tie these things together.
The first thing is I think you should have a budget. One of the fun ways Lauren and I have learned to be content and try to be generous is we have a line item every month that is just called generosity. Back in the day, there was like $18 in it. When we first got married and were trying to pay off student loans, had some credit card debt, we had like $18 in there.
Here’s what was so fun. We would try. “We have $18 to give away this month. Who are we giving it to? Who are we blessing?” What are you going to do with $18? Buy a guy a cup of coffee? Then you still need another dollar or two. We had $18. As our income has grown, the percentage in that line item has also grown. Now Lauren and I have the opportunity… She walks with a ton of single women and single mothers.
On our little Sunday night meeting, she’ll say, “Hey, there’s this woman. Here’s what has happened. Do you think we could take some of that generosity money this month and give it to them?” I’ll say, “That’s great. I also saw one of our young interns. I saw their car tires. It looked like they were riding the Indy 500. They’re going to get killed in this weather. Let’s see if we can get them some tires.”
What ends up happening is now we’re growing in contentment, growing in generosity, simply because we have a line-budget item that says, “We’re giving this much away this month.” That becomes a real fun game for Lauren and me, and it blesses us to secretly do things and give away and to touch things.
Then another practical thing on generosity is first I want to have a line item in my budget where I’m giving away money. If it’s $4, it’s $4. You have to start somewhere. You’re like, “Well, Dave Ramsey said $1,000 in savings…” Praise God for Ramsey. I’m glad you’re reading him. That at least is showing some effort. I agree with about 95 percent, but I think even if you can take $2-3 and start with being generous, then that is going to produce a kind of fruit you want in your lives, a type of gladness you want in your lives.
Finally, when Lauren and I give, we want to give in such a way that we get the biggest bang for our buck and find ourselves on the tip of the spear of what God is doing globally. Here’s how we’ll spend chunks of money as it comes in. We want to see God reach unreached people groups around the world, and we want to see churches planted. Why?
Regardless of what your zeal is and passion is in life… Maybe you want to see the sex trade shut down. Maybe you want to see kids educated and fed. It gets solved when there is a gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving church planted in a community that understands the missional call of God on their lives.
If you think about The Village Church and all we’re involved in in this community, from the Chin refugees and YoungLives, if you think of all the ways we’re involved in trying to push back what is dark, if you can put a gospel-believing, missional congregation in a location, it begins to push back the darkness around them.
When we spend our money, I’m not just interested in feeding a kid lunch. I want a church there that can not only feed him lunch and dinner but can also tend for his soul and also push back darkness in a community so the economy can be built up and human flourishing can be established. See, that’s how the church pushes back darkness. It raises up men. It trains women. It creates environments in which humanity flourishes. I want to give to this end.
Lastly, with no plate being passed, we give to The Village Church because this is an open-handed place. It’s a no frills place. You can’t get yourself a mocha cappuccino here, even though I’m sure those things are delicious. My preference is just that you get that in one of the nine coffee shops you drove past on your way here. We don’t want to fund your coffee addiction. You fund your coffee addiction. That’s awesome. Get to know your barista. Pray for them. Invite them to church. Invite them over to your house. This is missional, intentional living. This is what you have been called to.
Oh that we might be an open-handed, generous group of men and women, enflamed with the zeal for the gospel. This is the great drama you’ve been called into. Or you can just keep collecting the stuff of future garage sales. That’s a good option. I want to sacrifice, and I want to risk my life, and I want to see the kingdom come and his will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Let’s pray.
Father, there is a toxicity of wanting more and more with no sight for eternity and no belief in something greater that has turned into a cancer of the soul for many of us. Father, in many ways, it has stolen our happiness and our vitality, and we feel shriveled and bored and confused even in this moment. Father, will you help us? Father, will you give us eyes to see, a sense to understand the things that need to take place next, that we wouldn’t just be hearers of the Word but doers of the Word also?
I pray even now that the pull to want to jet out of here would be sustained and that we would just take a couple of more minutes via the Lord’s Supper to consider, to think through, and to apply your Word to our lives. Thank you for how you engage us in the book of James, how you lean into us and want the best for us. I pray once again as we have heard you, heavenly Father, woo us into the fullest life possible that we might have ears to hear. It’s for your beautiful name I pray, amen.
We provide Communion every week primarily for our covenant members. If you’re a guest with us today who is a believer in Christ in good standing with the church you’re visiting us from, I want to invite you to take Communion with us. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, heirs of God on High. We would be fools not to celebrate together.
Here’s how we do that here. If you’re not a believer, not quite sure what to do with Jesus, know you’re not a believer, would you just abstain from this? This is not going to make you lucky. This is not going to bring good things into your life. I know where we buy this stuff. It’s a cracker and some juice. It’s not going to make you lucky.
For those of us who are in Christ, this is the celebration of that buffer. This is the celebration of our identity being found in him, us being secure in him, our future being held fast in him. To you, it would be a cracker and a cup. Would you just abstain? You’re always invited to the table, but confession and repentance and surrender must be there for you to join us in any meaningful manner.
I want to give you a couple of minutes just to consider the Word of God this morning. The way I want to do that is I have three questions I’m going to put up on the screen behind me. The reason these three questions are there is so you might ask yourselves these questions and spend time contemplating and confessing before a holy God who already knows every aspect of your life. This, I hope, is a tool that aids in confession before the Lord.
When we come back here in a minute and partake of the supper together as a family, as a community of faith, there might be a depth and feeling of zeal toward the grace of God that bolsters our souls for the week ahead. I’m going to give you just a couple of minutes. I’ll be back, and we’ll celebrate the table together.
The gathering of the saints of God throughout our history has been about remembrance. I said when we started teaching through the book of James that the funny thing about James, the richness of the book of James is regardless of how long we follow the Lord, regardless of what we know of him, the book of James always has a way of just kind of reading our mail, of showing us those ways we have fallen short, but not in a way (if we’re Christians) to condemn us but rather to remind us, invite us into the fuller life God has for us.
The reason we rally around the table with such gladness is what we’re celebrating here in this moment is… Man, as I studied this text over the last couple of weeks, I found myself personally convicted. I found in my heart some entitlement that has crept in. I found in my heart some ways I have put some hope in my ability to manage things other than my just earnestly trusting God to be the sovereign King of glory.
This cup and this cracker are my reminder and our reminder together as a family that that is almost all of us. Yet his forgiveness has not wavered. His longsuffering nature has not begun to bend. He is as dedicated to the glory of his name and his love for us right now as he has ever been. If you walked through those questions and there was plenty to confess, then amen that the Lord loves us enough to gut check us and reveal to us when we’re doing things that might just lead to our own destruction.
We run to the table because it’s in this moment that I’m reminded that despite the fact that after 20-something years of following hard after the Lord, drift caught me again. After 20-something years of following the Lord, I was distracted by shiny things yet again. After 20-something years of following the Lord, I still saw in me some belief that I could bolster and hide some anxieties and fears with stuff and things and trinkets and toys.
In his grace, he said, “No, no, no. I love you too much. Here’s James 5.” I come to the table today as a grateful son, rejoicing in the fact that on the night Jesus was arrested, he took the bread and broke it and said, “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the meal, he took the cup, and wired into his presentation of the cup was this idea of self-sacrifice. He said, “This is the blood of the new covenant.”
Then he says this in Matthew 26. He says, “I will not drink this with you again until all things have been made new, until new wine.” Jesus paints this picture of this day that you and I will sit across from him and will drink new wine, good wine, not that stuff in the box you have at your house, but the good stuff with him. All sacrifice that is made between the institution of the Lord’s Supper and us being in glory will on that day seem like small sacrifices and in no way needing to even be acknowledged.
Even in the institution of the Lord’s Supper, Christ is saying, “We sacrifice now, and glory is later.” Might we trust him to be the God of his Word and do this in remembrance of him. I say this often. I don’t even grow tired of saying it. We love you. If you had any idea of how often you are prayed for, some of you very much by name, others of you just the idea that you are coming. We’re praying God would minister to you.
Every week, we have men and women who come up here after the service, and their sole reason for being here is to serve you, help you answer any questions, help you navigate things you’re not sure how to navigate. If you’re in a spot you don’t understand, if you’re in a spot you don’t know how to get out of, whether it has to do with what I talked about today or not, will you let us serve you? That’s why you’re here.
I can promise you this. You have nothing to tell us that will make anybody’s mouth drop open in shock. If you had any idea who you were sitting around right now, you would be far more nervous than you coming up and saying what you’re struggling with. This is the grace of God made available to you in his church. Let us serve you. Let us walk with you. Let us encourage you. You don’t have to do any of this alone. I love you enough to say once again that you’re a fool if you’re choosing that. Pride is a deadly thing. I love you. Let’s sing together and then celebrate moms.