Is A Lack of Joy A Spiritual Warning Flag?


There is a sense in some circles that being joyful is not a part of the Christian life. The tension is between reverence of God and the joyful expression that others may see as drawing attention to oneself.  I understand the delicate balance, but I also recognize that if what we do for the Lord does not give us joy and fulfillment how long can we survive the rigors of Christian service.

Is there a place for joy in Christian service?

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  – Jon Johnston, Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, SP Publications, 1990, p. 171.

Take this journey with me.  We will take this quote in sections because there is a wealth of wisdom contain it this paragraph.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…”

Joy is not something we can internally produce just like grace is not a natural concept to accept because both are birthed outside of our natural sinful human condition.  Joy is almost infused in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been called to carry out a great mission.  To announce the reign of Jesus Christ to the world “…as you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Matthew 10:7

We are a people called for a divine purpose, to get the message out to those far from God. The heart of our message has the power to turn cold, unrepentant hearts, alive and ablaze with zeal for God.  The good news is God has sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. Jesus confronts the world lost in sin, while also comforting that same world with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.  Fellow travelers, you have the privilege to be ambassadors of reconciliation.  How can this not enliven your heart and give you a reason for celebration?  You have been set apart for a holy purpose and sent on a vital life-saving mission.

The alternative to embracing Joy.

“Christian joy is like that singing, yellow bird. One of the first effects of sin or doctrinal error is that we lose our joy in Christ. When your heart stops singing, that is a warning to watch your life and doctrine closely.”- Jim Johnstone

“…the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Our other choice in life is to go around miserable and to complain about what a horrible lot life has afflicted upon us.  The danger of doing ministry without allowing your joy to shine brightly is the witness it gives to a believing and unbelieving world.  Who wants to journey with people who appear not to enjoy the ride?  The love we have for God should overflow to people around us in our preaching, teaching, and service. That overflow is a joy.

The psalmist describes it this way, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.” Psalm 43:4. It is possible to lead with a quiet, reverent sense of awe at the wonders of God while also having a heart filled with exceeding joy over the love and grace of our Lord and Savior.  Ministry is not about us, it is always about Jesus.  Since ministry is about Jesus, understand the awesomeness of God while rejoicing in the joy of our salvation.

Repentance: Draws God Back to Us


In this four-week series on the church, we have covered three things that the church in Jerusalem did that was doing harm to the Bride of Christ. For a quick review.

Argumentative Spirit (James 4: 1–2a)

There was quarrelsomeness spirit dividing the church. People would church for the wrong reason. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Prayerlessness (James 4: 2b–3)

“You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

James’ people allowed prayer to become another thing that caused divisions and fights among the body of Christ. They were wanting the wrong things as they came to church. They were wanting their own desires gratified. God refused to grant their requests.

Worldliness (vv. 4–6)

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 

James points out that the church in Jerusalem was committing spiritual adultery. They claim to be joined with Christ, but we’re cheating on the groom with this love affair with the world.

It is never a good preaching or teaching practice to leave your people in despair. Once you lay out what is wrong, where their error when sin is crouching at the door, you must then lead people on a pathway to restoration. James creates such a path. In verses 7-11, he charts the course.


The Pathway Back (vv. 7-11)

7 Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will run away from you. 8 Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Cry out in sorrow, mourn, and weep! Let your laughter become mourning and your joy become sadness. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

What is the first step in this journey? The most difficult step, stop submitting to the devil and submit to God! Sounds simple. But that is the most difficult step. Sin is comfortable. Obedience isn’t, but James says we have power over Satan, if we will resist the devil, he will flee. Don’t just skip that section. We have the devil on the run. Not because of who we are but because of what Jesus has done.

Once we acknowledge we are not trapped by our sin, but more than overcomers, if we turn our attention to God, he will draw near to us.

What is preventing the repentance we need is a purification. Purification comes by drawing near to God through a process of cleaning up both our behavior (‘hands’) and our inner lives (‘hearts’). In Mark chapter seven Jesus teaches His disciples about what defiles us, the heart. If we are honest with ourselves many Christians find themselves with dirty hands and defiled hearts. We falsely assume we have struck a balance between being a Christ-follower and success in the world. Somehow, we have learned where others have failed to live in the world and think we can be completely unaffected by the world. Our hands are dirty. We are doing worldly things, things that are out of line with God’s will for our lives. We hang out in places in which should not be caught dead in, doing things we should not be caught doing. We say things they ought not to say and dismiss it as no big deal. Every one of these small acts of defiance makes our hands just a little bit dirtier.

The hands reflect what is in the heart. A. W. Pink observed that the hands and tongues are the shops, and the heart is the warehouse. To call people to cleanse their hands without also calling for them to purify their hearts is pointless.

Thus, we have James’ call to purify the heart. A call to cleanse the hands and mind is accomplished by washing away unbiblical thinking. Here is the tough part, this means we must stop making choices that are based on worldly values and to make our choices and decisions based on the Word of God. That is only done through faith.  Christ creates the pathway through faith in His death and resurrection. Faith is the renewing of the mind,  the new life in Christ is how we are clothed in righteousness.

Paul would point us to this verse for reflection and I will leave you with this to ponder. “Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. 2 Think about the things above and not things on earth.”(Col. 3:1-2).

God’s heart is to seek the lost (Ephesians 2:1-5). And bring back those who stray. 

At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. 2 You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. 3 At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you were children headed for punishment just like everyone else. 4-5 However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!

Repentance is prompted by the Holy Spirit point us to our need for a Savior and turning or returning us to God. He even works repentance in spiritually dead people in conversion.


Picture of the week: Connected


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vineyard keeper. 2 He removes any of my branches that don’t produce fruit, and he trims any branch that produces fruit so that it will produce even more fruit. 3 You are already trimmed because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch can’t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can’t produce fruit unless you remain in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. 6 If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into a fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you are my disciples. John 15

Worship Connects Us to the Almighty and the Body


“Live in me, and I will live in you. A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine. In the same way, you cannot produce fruit unless you live in me.” -John 15:4

“The vine clings to the oak during the fiercest of storms. Although the violence of nature may uproot the oak, twining tendrils still cling to it. If the vine is on the side of the tree opposite the wind, the great oak is its protection: if it is on the exposed side, the tempest only presses it closer to the trunk. In some storms of life, God intervenes and shelters us; while in others He allows us to be exposed so that we will be pressed more closely to Him.”—B. M. Launderville

John describes the need for us to remain connected to Christ the vine. Why is that connection so necessary?

Five Reasons You Need Christian Connection

  1. Mutual Edification of the Believers

“A branch cannot produce any fruit by itself. It has to stay attached to the vine.”

I have heard many Christians say, “I don’t need the church.” That statement always bothered me and here is why. A branch is not a self-contained entity. It cannot exist outside of the community, apart from the Vine. And neither can the Christian disciple. Just as a branch cut off from the vine is separated from its supply of nourishment so it cannot produce fruit. That also applies to the Christian. They do not connect to God and community, it cuts them off from spiritual nourishment. Bearing fruit in the life of the disciple entirely depends on a direct connection to Jesus. Attachment to Jesus or abiding in him is, therefore, the focal point, the foundation of Christian discipleship and spiritual growth.

  1. Encouragement

Life is tough and we need people beside us to keep us focused on the grace and mercy of God. I love this quote.

Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. – William Arthur Ward.

In a Christian community committed to carrying out God’s ministry of reconciliation, you have a culture where believers support one another through life’s struggles. It becomes a culture to invite an unconnected world to share in the forgiveness of Jesus and encouragement of the collective.

  1. Mercy Opportunities

When you are part of a Christian community you will quickly learn of the hurts and needs of those in your midst. These awareness opportunities, to do what Jesus suggest when you see hurts, and people in needs, “Go and show them mercy.” As you attend worship services and other servant activities with your congregation, you’ll be offered many opportunities to be mercy givers don’t ignore that call on your life or the opportunity to impact the lives of those around you.

  1. Rediscovering that Sense of Awe

The business of life sometimes robs us of that sense of awe at the wonders of God. As you attend church, regularly it allows us to slow the pace of life and sit quietly and be amazed.  In worship, we receive constant reminders of God’s love, power, and mercy.

  1. Forgiveness and Absolution

Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.” – John Stott in The Contemporary Christian.

If you have drifted from Christian fellowship in your life, reach out and find a community. I pray that this worship series will help remind all of us of the power and benefits of keeping the Sabbath holy.

A Worldly Church: Breaks the Heart of God

Holding the earth

Worldliness (James vv. 4–6)

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. 5 Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? 6 But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud but favors the humble.

James points out that the church in Jerusalem was committing spiritual adultery.  They claim to be joined with Christ but were cheating on the groom with this love affair with the world.

Paul describes this intimate relationship in Romans 7:4, “4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you also died with respect to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you could be united with someone else. You are united with the one who was raised from the dead so that we can bear fruit for God.”

He also shows this flirtation with the world in 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, “2 I’m deeply concerned about you with the same concern that God has. As your father, I promised you in marriage to one husband. I promised to present you as an innocent virgin to Christ himself. 3 But I’m afraid that your minds might be seduced in the same way as the snake deceived Eve with his devious tricks. You might be unable to focus completely on a genuine and innocent commitment to Christ.”

The church is being lured away from Christ by the temptations of the world. Warren Wiersbe makes this observation. James identifies four dangerous steps that take the believer into a wrong relationship with the world:

(1)    friendship with the world, James 4:4.

4 You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy.

Jesus points out in the gospels that you can serve two masters, but you will love one and hate the other. Christians can’t live in two worlds. We can’t be friendly with the world and still be married to Christ.  The world is counter to the life we are called to as a new creation.

(2)    being soiled by the world, James 1:27.

27 True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.

It is easy to see this, the longer we travel this journey on earth the more difficult it is to keep the world at a healthy distance.  It is so enticing, so easy to justify how our actions in the world don’t do our faith damage, but little by little we are being contaminated.  “The world’s smiles are more dangerous than its frowns.” Source Unknown.

(3) love with the world, 1 John 2:15–17.

15 Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. 16 Everything that is in the world—the craving for whatever the body feels, the craving for whatever the eyes see and the arrogant pride in one’s possessions—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world and its cravings are passing away, but the person who does the will of God remains forever.

(4) conformity to the world, Rom. 12:1–2.

The result is that the compromising believer is judged by the world.  Believers who are friends of the world are at odds with God. Their actions grieve the Spirit, who jealously yearns for their love.

“If I had a brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I …daily consorted with the assassin who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart; surely I too must be an accomplice in the crime. Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?” – C.H. Spurgeon.

Spurgeon affirms that they were giving to someone else the love and devotion that belonged to Christ and Christ alone. The world is an enticing lover.  If we are honest with ourselves this enemy is driving another wedge in our unity, it is destroying the harmony of our worship, and creating divided loyalties. Our people are more in love with their world than they are with God!

James’s uses the term ‘world’ for life that is lived as if this present world were all that there is. When we live this one precious life without regard to God, we are treading on a dangerous path.  A worldly life is one that centers on the values, the desires, and aspirations of a temporary existence. Paul reminds us that we are but mere nomads here. “18 As I have told you many times and now say with deep sadness, many people live as enemies of the cross. 19 Their lives end with destruction. Their god is their stomach, and they take pride in their disgrace because their thoughts focus on earthly things. 20 Our citizenship is in heaven. We look forward to a savior that comes from there—the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform our humble bodies so that they are like his glorious body, by the power that also makes him able to subject all things to himself.”Philippians 3


Next Week: The pathway back to God.




Picture of the Week



14 The Lord supports all who fall down,
straightens up all who are bent low.
15 All eyes look to you, hoping,
and you give them their food right on time,
16 opening your hand
and satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
faithful in all his deeds. Psalm 145: 14-17

We Were Created To Worship God


8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, 

but their heart is far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me, 

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:8-9

When we worship, and I am talking a right worship spirit not fighting over forms and making it about emotions alone. Good God-pleasing worship depends on a right mental grasp of the way God really is, truth.

If we make worship an idol of our own creation, we are not really worshiping God. In the worship wars, there is a danger we are making worship into a God, instead of worshiping God. This quote below is eye-opening and deserves some deep reflection.

“How much church attendance and “Christian” activity preoccupy believers today with things they assume please God yet without ever really ministering materially or spiritually to the desperately needy people of our world? How much of our money is tied up in church buildings or spent only on programs and activities to make ourselves happy rather than caring for the hurting in our midst and across the globe? The more affluent sectors of Western Christianity frequently and frighteningly resemble the religion of the Pharisees as depicted here. God declares all such religion “vain” or futile (v. 9).” [1]

God created us to Worship Him.

True worship is based on a right understanding of the nature of God and coming before God valuing God’s worth. We get the honor to come together with a body of fellow believers and sing praises, offer prayers, hear accounts of God, of the history of God’s faithfulness; all to enhance our ability to treasure God above all things. This is true worship at its core, making God our crowning jewel of life, and lifting Jesus as the name above all names.

I love the words of A W Tozer, “Everything in God’s creation has its purpose. God created the silkworm to make silk; the bird was created to sing; the sheep for their wool. Throughout the Bible, the prophets and apostles all testify that God made us for a purpose and that purpose is to sing His praises before the hushed audience of all creation.

“The purpose of nature is to lead us to the Creator and to worship Him. The purpose of man’s feelings and emotions is to lead to the One who implanted those within the heart of man, to the Creator. Everything in all of creation is to point to the Creator and evoke within adoring wonder and admiration and worship. Wherever we go, we can worship.

“When God made the human soul in His own image, He did so that we might act according to that Divine nature. He never intended the virus of sin to infect that sacred place within man. Sin, therefore, is the unnatural thing. It is a foreign substance defiling man’s heart and life, repelling God’s gaze. Because of this [fallen] condition in man, sin is [now] natural, worship is unnatural; and so, few people really do it.”

Worship is a powerful way to connect us with the Creator. However, that worship is not limited to Sunday morning only. Every day our life is an act of worship. As Paul reminds us, “I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.[2]  ” Romans 12:1


[1]Blomberg, C. (1992). Matthew(Vol. 22, p. 239). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 12:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Other posts on worship:

A Selfish Praying Church: Breaks the Heart of God


Prayerlessness (James 4: 2b–3)

“You don’t have because you don’t ask. 3 You ask and don’t have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.”

I love this quote from John Piper on prayer. “God has established prayer as the means by which we receive his supernatural help. And without supernatural help, we cannot live a life worthy of the gospel. Everything that distinguishes Christians from the world in a Christ-exalting way is a work of God’s supernatural grace. And God has ordained that this grace flows to us through prayer. That’s why prayer must be central, not peripheral, in our lives and families and ministries.”

James points out this is lacking in the church in Jerusalem. It’s not an issue of no prayers, it is an issue with the nature and content of their request to the Almighty.

Warren Wiersbe describes their prayer life and sadly peeks into our prayer closets.

“Sometimes we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. “But I prayed about it!” can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do; and we get angry at Him if He does not obey. This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God’s people. More than one church split has been caused by saints who take out their frustrations with God on the members of the church. Many a church or family problem would be solved if people would only look into their own hearts and see the battles raging there.”[1]

James’s people allowed prayer to become another thing that caused divisions and fights among the body of Christ. They were wanting the wrong things as they came to church. They were wanting their own desires gratified. And when God refused to grant their requests, the vitriol was so destructive they committed murder in their hearts for each other. “You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight.” James 4:2

Because these members desired the wrong things, they could not ask God for the right things. People’s wrong motives led them to ask God for the wrong things, they were not receiving anything from God. “You do not have because you do not ask,” James says.

This was not only a terrible indictment of the Jerusalem Church, but it is also a terrible indictment of us.

Ever wonder why does God not answer our prayers? The reason: When we come to God superficially seeking his glory, and we end up seeking our own, offering as our pleas those things that will make life more comfortable and convenient for us. That posture in prayer is rejected.

Jesus teaches us about the proper approach to prayer in Matthew 7, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you.8For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened.9Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread?

The heart of what is causing fighting in the church is we are selfish and self-centered. Satan loves to have us focus on ourselves and our wants and needs. Dwight Moody says, “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.” The church needs to unite around prayer. Prayer for the mission of God, the advancement of the Gospel into the hearts and lives of the communities we are called to serve. And for the upbuilding of the saints and sinners under our care.

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary(Vol. 2, p. 368). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

More from the Book of James;​-church-breaks-the-heart-of-god/



Worship: The What and Why?


What the worship wars have done to good faithful pastors and congregations is take the focus off the purpose worship. In this series, it is my goal to lead us back. As a parish pastor, I spent the bulk of my week working with my small team of musicians and lay leaders designing worship services to help members have a service that reminded them of the work and teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What worship wars and conflict has done to the unity of the church is troubling. It has caused church and leaders who use a modern or contemporary style to question every service they design that is not right out of an approved hymnbook. And on the other side of that has given comfort to those who use a hymnbook only, but I have seen those services conducted with little thought or careful preparation. Do not misread this opening. Or get the idea I am pushing for a worship service all about emotions. Because emotions without a purpose (a thankfulness for grace), a direction (offered to the One who gave His life for us), is just emotion. When I was a parish pastor the bulk of my week was spent designing a worship experience to keep that sense of awe that A. W. Tozer mentions in the quote below.


What is Worship?

“What is worship? Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call Our Father Which Are in Heaven.” – A.W. Tozer, quoted in D.J. Fant, A.W. Tozer, Christian Publications, 1964, p. 90.

I wonder if part of the disconnect today is a matter of our definition of worship. A friend shared that same sentiment.

“My question is if the English word “worship” creates the problem. We come together to do something for/to God. The Norwegian “gudstjeneste”, German “Gottesdienst” is helpful, because we then more clearly see that the purpose of coming together is not to do something to/for God, but that God brings His people to do something to/for us. He is to feed and nurture us with his means of grace (Holy Communion and Holy Baptism). We really have nothing to offer God that He could not get much better and nicer from his angels. The only thing we have to give him that He does not have, and cannot get from anyone else are our sins. As I see it in Gottesdienst, God is serving us, giving us Grace, and receiving sin, and praise.”– Rev. Torkild Masvie

Rev. Masvie points out what the Psalmists sings.

The Lord is my solid rock,

    my fortress, my rescuer.

My God is my rock—

I take refuge in him!—

        he’s my shield,

        my salvation’s strength,

        my place of safety.

3 Because he is praiseworthy,

    I cried out to the Lord,

    and I was saved from my enemies.- Psalm 18:2-3

God is not some weak, needy, nor insecure heavenly being who needs the likes of us to come to feed a desire to be honored. Instead, the amazing, merciful, love God invites us to come to is worship for our benefit. He knows we have short memories. That we are beaten down by the world, by sin, by defeat. So, God invites us to come to worship to be refreshed, reminded of His love and grace. To be offered the gifts of forgiveness and life. It is not about the form as much as it is about the gifts, the forgiveness, the power of the Word, and the forgiveness in the Holy Meal, the washing away of original sin in the waters of Baptism. People of God come to worship and praise God for what He has done for us in the past, is doing for us in the present, and what He has promised to give us in a future glory with Him through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection.


Future Worship Posts

Vibrant Faith– encouraging our flock to remain connected to Jesus and His word.

Engaging Sermons – the preaching of the Word of God is key to worship.  Besides balancing Law and Gospel properly what should sermons attempt to communicate?

Have we underemphasized the Mystery – sacraments, faith, movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives in worship?

The Sending aspect of worship: At the end of the day we are sending people out into the mission field.  It is a movement of people to mission. Equipped through Word and Sacrament we are moving people from worship to be salt and light in their community.


Other blog posts on worship:

An Argumentative​ Church: Breaks the Heart of God


I remember it like it was yesterday.  I graduated seminary with this childlike understanding of the work I was called to do. “Go, Teach, and Baptize.”  Sharing Christ with a group of fellow sojourners and those yet to become a part of this collective we call the Church Universal. Idealistically I believed we are all part of the same team, that my fellow pastors and I would be taking on this fight against the forces of the Evil One together.  Maybe I should have paid more attention to the words of James. He is one of my favorite writers. James is a tell it like it is kind of disciple.  No sugar coating things in his letter.  He takes on the church’s issues head-on.  Four lessons start today from this hard-hitting apostle.

The church is supposed to be united.  It is supposed to come together to advance the cause of God. We are called to do all we can to raise godly children to love and serve God and continue the legacy of faith established by a great cloud of witnesses.   The church has been sent on a mission by our Lord and King to share the Light of the Word with our friends and neighbors.

But far too often what the church has become is a place of unrest, internal fighting, envy, jealousy, we have started a different “Me” movement, the “MeFirst” movement.  If someone were to conduct a survey you would find that many believers do not appear to have a common belief. Oh, we may claim to be in accord, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, but our actions, our conflict makes a very different confession.

James peers into his audiences’ heart and soul and sees three things that were holding them back. If we take off the rose-colored glasses we see the same things in our churches.

 Argumentative Spirit (vv. 1–2a)

What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don’t they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask.

You have to imagine what James saw in the church breaks the heart of God.  He looked at the church and saw a shocking and disturbing thing, a church divided.  I see that same church today.  The church should be united around the truth of God and the mission. The church should be united in worship and service. Sadly, this is not the reality of what the church was that James saw on display.  He saw a divided church. James experienced ongoing hostility, mixed with brief outbursts of antagonism.

What was feeding this quarrelsomeness spirit? People were going to church for the wrong reason.  A “MeFirst” attitude driving their attendance. Members were not there to help the church and advance the mission of Christ, but to advance themselves. Each wanted to be known as somebody. Each was seeking his or her own good instead of the good of brothers and sisters in Christ.

Their lust for notoriety led them to ‘murder’ one another. Things didn’t get to the actual level, but the deep hatred led to inward murder.

Can you imagine being in such a spiritual setting?  Maybe you can.  It is possible you are or were in one and that has turned you off to Christianity.  A church filled with anger and strife lacks the credibility to preach the gospel.  It invalidates its own message. How can you ask those unconnected, disengaged members of society, ‘Come to church and meet a Savior who will change your life’ and see believers behave in such a godless manner? My response would be “no thanks, I see how it has changed you. I will pass.”

Jesus simplified the commandments for us on the night he was betrayed.

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.”John 13

 Next week we pick up the other issue in James chapter four, looking at the absence of a prayer life. And we will conclude this series with the issue of worldliness and what is the pathway back for the church.  Stay tuned.


More on this series on the Book of James:

Four Ways to Overcome Complacency as a Church


In a 2013 Washington Post article that issue was addressed from a business perspective.  What is interesting is that if you didn’t know it was addressing the workplace you would swear Jesus wrote this blueprint.  Over the next two weeks, I will discuss how we overcome complacency in the church.

  1. Stay on guard.
  2. Share the mission. …
  3. Recognize exceptional service. …
  4. Correct poor performance. …
  5. Avoid routines. …
  6. Ask for feedback. …
  7. Reward employees. …
  8. Strike a balance. [1]
  1. Stand Guard.

In Matthew 25 Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to ten virgins, some were ready and prepared others were complacent and not ready.  Here is the end of that passage, 10And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

When we talk about what is missing in the church today it is this sense of readiness.  We have fallen asleep at the wheel.  The church has gotten too comfortable.  I visit many churches and rarely do I get that sense of urgency like the mission is urgent, the opportunities are fleeting, time is short. There is much long-range planning or very little planning at all.  Imagine how this attitude would avoid taking ministry and the work of the church for granted.

  1. Share the mission.

97% of the world has heard of coke-a-cola

72% of the world has seen a can of coke-a-cola

51% of the world has tasted a can of coke-a-cola

Coke has only been around 124 years (1894).

If God had given the task of world evangelization to the Coke company it would probably be done by now. – Source Unknown

It is important to remember all people matter to God.  To keep our people and God’s church focused, lift up the mission often. What a powerful message we have for the world. “However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead because of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace!”Ephesians 2:4-5

3.   Recognize exceptional service.

Exceptional service to God and His kingdom begins with the right heart attitude.

  • Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.
  • Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.
  • Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.
  • Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.
  • Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.
  • Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.
  • Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle.
  • Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.
  • Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, “The Discipline of Service.”

  1. Correct poor performance.

During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was none other than George Washington.- Today in the Word, March 6, 1991.

I drove my congregations nuts because I never settled for poor performance in the parish.  My rationale was this work that we are called to do is too important, the mission too critical, the One we serve demands and deserves more.  After all, this Ancient of Days gave us His very best to redeem us, out of love for Him I want to give excellence back.  So, when I found people struggling to serve, I first came alongside to find out why?   Then I either helped them to improve or found a place better suited for their unique gifts and talents.

A December 2011, article in USA Today analyzed a surge in a group of Americans called the “spiritually apathetic.” They aren’t atheists. Instead, according to the article, “They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven, or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as ‘So what?'”

The article pointed to the following statistics from recent surveys:

  • 44 percent of respondents told a Baylor University study that they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19 percent said, “It’s useless to search for meaning.”
  • 46 percent of respondents told LifeWay Research that they never wonder if they will go to heaven.
  • 28 percent told LifeWay that “it’s not a major priority in my life to find deeper purpose.”
  • 18 percent denied that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

One professor of religion concluded, “The real dirty secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal.”

Here is the real problem with complacency, it is not limited to the church, the unbelieving world has not only stopped asking questions about eternity, no they don’t even care.  Church, it’s time to wake up and realize that people will not start flocking back to your doors.  You have to get re-engaged and go after the unconnected and disinterested. The mission is outside our walls, among a people who feel they have no need for God.  The opportunity is great, the mission urgent.


It is Time to End the Worship Wars and Just Worship


 “the sea, which he made, is his
        along with the dry ground,
        which his own hands formed.
6 Come, let’s worship and bow down!
    Let’s kneel before the Lord, our maker!
7 He is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    the sheep in his hands.
If only you would listen to his voice right now!” – Psalm 95:5-7

I can’t speak for what It is like in your church or your church body but in mine the hot-button issue is worship. If you want to start fireworks just mention worship in a mixed crowd and stand back. To add more fun and intrigue but an adjective in front of the word worship and see what reaction you get. Here are conversation starters, Vibrant Worship, Engaging Worship, Traditional Worship, Contemporary Worship, and this one is my favorite, Classical Praise Worship. No one knows what to expect at the service. What gets lost in the worship wars is worship. When I asked the question recently of the people in the pew why do you come to worship the answer range from a guilt response, “I am supposed to be there,” to a grace response, “I need the gifts God offers freely at church.” For about four months I have toyed with doing a blog series on worship but stopped short many times from developing it because who needs that kinds of pain in their life. Unfortunately, God has given me prophet Jeremiah gene and I can’t shut up. Over the course of the month of October on Tuesday’s, I will highlight different aspects of worship. As a tease in November, I will release a series on Equality and Justice. A preview of things to come.

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