Monday, August 31, 2020

Who's in Charge?

“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.”  – James 4:15-16

In August 1994, a Korean Air commercial airliner had a rough landing—to say the least. The plane overshot the runway, crashed into a safety barricade, and burst into flames. Thankfully, all 160 passengers and crew on board escaped safely. But what was the cause of the accident? According to news reports, the pilot and the co-pilot had gotten into a fist fight…over who was in charge of the landing controls. Now, you’d have thought they’d have figured that out before they left the ground. Over 150 people almost died, and a multi-million dollar airliner was completely destroyed, all because these two grown men weren’t on the same page about who was in charge.

This is nothing new. In James 4, James levels criticism at some wealthy Christians who weren’t clear on who should be in charge. These rich merchants traveled around the Roman Empire, buying and selling goods, and they thought they had their 12-month plans all figured out: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money” (v. 13). Now, for those of us who are thoughtful planners, this sounds like good planning. So, is James telling Christian businessmen that they shouldn’t make plans? I don’t think so. The problem James had with these Christian businessmen was twofold.

PROBLEM #1: First off, these Christian merchants were boasting and bragging about their grand plans. As James puts it, “You boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil” (v. 16).

Theologian Warren Wiersbe puts it very well: “Man cannot control future events. He has neither the wisdom to see the future nor the power to control the future. For him to boast is sin; it is making himself God.” That’s an eye-opening perspective, isn’t it? When we boast and brag about what we’re going to do tomorrow or next week or next year, we’re foolishly acting as if we can actually see the future or control the future. But we can’t! Only God can.

PROBLEM #2: Their plans were missing one key ingredient: God. The merchants claimed to be believers and followers of Jesus Christ, but God was nowhere to be found in their plans. They weren’t praying for God’s guidance as they set their schedules. They weren’t studying God’s word to make sure that their priorities lined up with God’s. They weren’t even considering the possibility that God’s plans might be a whole lot different than their own plans. And their plans didn’t stem from a desire to bring God pleasure or to glorify Him. Instead, they were motivated by a desire to bring themselves pleasure and make themselves look good. As Pastor John MacArthur explains, “James does not condemn wise business planning, but rather planning that leaves out God. The people so depicted are practical atheists, living their lives and making their plans as if God did not exist.”

Think about this interesting term: practical atheists. An atheist is someone who doesn’t believe that God exists. John MacArthur makes the case that the greedy, ego-driven merchants in James 4 are practical atheists. They are saved, but they live as if they’re not saved. They call themselves “Christians,” but their plans and priorities are more like an atheist’s plans and priorities. Their motives are more like an atheist’s motives. And their lifestyles and spending habits are more like an atheist’s lifestyle and spending habits. These Christians are both “in the world” AND “of the world.” They could attend an atheists’ convention and blend in—no problem.

Let me ask you: Are you a practical atheist? If you’re a Christian, you have believed in Jesus Christ and have confessed him as your Savior and Lord. But is there evidence of your Christianity in your daily life? Sure, you lift up some token prayers before meals and go to church once in a while. But many atheists do those same things. I’m talking about hard evidence. If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? If not, then you are likely a practical atheist. Like the merchants in James 4, you identify as a Christian, but you live as if God didn’t exist.

In verse 14, James reminds these merchants: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.” We don’t know what our health will be like tomorrow. We don’t know what family challenges we’re going to face tomorrow. We don’t even know for sure if we’re going to wake up tomorrow! On New Year’s Day 2020, just about 7 ½ months ago, we had NO CLUE that COVID was coming. We never would have imagined that we’d be dealing with a stay-at-home order; that our schools, churches and favorite restaurants would close; and even Disneyland and Dodger Stadium would close. Likewise, we were clueless about the social unrest that would grip our nation.

Only God knows the future, so only God knows which plans we make today will lead to our greatest good and His greatest glory tomorrow. So, it is foolish for Christians to brag about the future or to leave God out of our plans. As a wise man once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” God’s word tells us to get rid of our boasting and place Him in the very center of our plans. It’s okay to make plans—provided we keep in mind that all of our plans here on earth are tentative.

One of the most important questions you’ll ever answer is this: Who’s in charge of your life? And it’s a question you won’t answer with words. You’ll answer it with your humble obedience …or lack of it. If the day ever comes when you and I are on trial, accused of being obedient servants of Jesus Christ, I hope and pray that there is enough evidence to convict us.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

Monday, August 24, 2020

I'm Driving Myself Crazy!

 “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from the desires that battle within you?" - James 4:1

Last week I came across a blog by best-selling author Marc Chernoff: “8 Ways You’re Driving Yourself Crazy.” Marc wrote, “I sat there in her living room staring at her through teary eyes. ‘I feel crazy,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’  ‘Why do you feel crazy?’ she asked. ‘Because I’m neurotic and self-conscious and regretful, and so much more all at once,’ I said. ‘And you don’t think everyone feels like this at times?’ she asked. ‘Not like this,’ I replied under my breath.

“‘Well, you’re wrong,’ she said. ‘If you think you know someone who never feels a bit crazy and off-center, you just don’t know enough about them.  Every one of us contains a measure of ‘crazy’ that moves us in strange, often perplexing ways.’ I sat silently for a moment.  My eyes gazed from her eyes to the ground and back to her eyes again…. We shared another moment of silence, then my lips curled up slightly and I cracked a smile. ‘Thank you, Grandma,’ I said.”

If you sometimes feel neurotic, self-conscious and regretful—you’re not alone! In last week’s column, I shared some advice from God’s word about how to eliminate harmful battles in our relationships. But if we dig deeper, we find that the source of the battles in our relationships isn’t on the outside—it’s on the inside. We might point a finger at someone else and scream, “You’re driving me crazy!” But the truth is, we’re driving ourselves crazy. We were crazy before that “annoying” person ever came into our lives. That person is just a convenient scapegoat to keep us from taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

In James 4, James opens verse 1 with a question: “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” And in the second half of that verse, he answers with another question. “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” That word, “desires,” is a translation of the Greek word “Hedone,” which is where we get our English word “hedonism.” Hedone means “pleasure,” but it implies “sinful, self-indulgent pleasure.” Other Bible translations translate this word as “passions” (ESV), “cravings” (HCSB), and “lusts” (KJV).

So, verse 1 boils down to this: “When you’re battling with another person, the reason you give for why you’re fighting isn’t the real reason why you’re fighting. The other person isn’t the problem. YOU ARE. The other person isn’t the one who needs fixing. YOU ARE. You have selfish, evil cravings and desires that need to be confessed and dealt with. So, until you deal with that root sin in your own heart, you’ll never have true peace in your relationships.”

James continues, “You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God” (v. 2). Notice these four words: “kill,” “covet,” “quarrel” and “fight.” Every one of these relationship-busting actions stems from our selfish pursuit of pleasure. Every one of us can be a selfish pleasure seeker. And that’s because we all have selfish, sinful desires that battle within us.

The Apostle Peter says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Peter reminds us that as followers of Jesus Christ, Planet Earth is not our home. Our true citizenship is in heaven. So our priorities should be heaven’s priorities, and our desires should be God’s desires. God has cleansed our souls by the blood of Christ, and He has given us a new nature that is godly and moral. The problem is, we’ve still got our old sinful nature living inside us with its selfish desires. Every day, you live with these two very different natures inside you, and they battle against each other. YOU decide which nature will win the battle for your soul.

Your old nature is selfish, arrogant, rebellious and lazy. It lives for pleasure—and there are far too many days in the month when you and I allow it to win. We argue at church because we’re selfish. We argue at home because we have sinful desires. We argue about politics on social media, not because of a deep love for God and country, but because we want to convince the world we’re right. And along the way, it causes a lot of collateral damage. When your old nature wins, you end up battling with people around you and battling with God in heaven. As a result, your relationships with God and people suffer. Ironically, you end up unhappy. Isn’t that a curious thing? If you want to be unhappy, just chase after pleasure.

Bible teacher and commentator Warren Wierbe put it this way: “People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people. They never enjoy life. Instead of being thankful for the blessings they do have, they complain about the blessings they don’t have. They cannot get along with other people because they are always envying others for what they have and do. They are always looking for that ‘magic something’ that will change their lives, when the real problem is within their own hearts.”

Remember those wise words. Selfish people are always unhappy people. If you want to be unhappy, just chase after pleasure. On the flipside, there are so many benefits to allowing your godly nature to win the battle for your soul. If you love and serve God and others, it will greatly improve your relationships at home, at church, at work, and in our community. But as an added bonus, living for God and others will bring you a whole lot of happiness. Selfish people are unhappy people … but selfless followers of Jesus Christ are blessed with both happiness and true joy.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

Friday, August 14, 2020

You’re Driving Me Crazy!

 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29

Let’s be honest with each other: Sometimes our family members drive us up the wall. I love my wife and kids, but at times the stay-at-home order really tested my patience. If you ask me, I’ll tell you that I’m an easy guy to live with. But lately—for some reason—my wife has thought about joining a convent and my kids want to move in with Brandma. Perhaps I’m not as easy to live with as I thought.

According to James 1:4, God sends His followers trials in order to help us become more mature and complete. And one of the trials He gives us every day is the “relationship trial.” Relationships at home, church, work, and school are incubators for growth. And the fact is: We will never become spiritually mature until we learn how to maintain our sanity in our relationships.

Consider this: When you say, “So-and-so is driving me crazy!” that statement says more about your immaturity than it does about the other person. Why? Because without your permission, your “annoying” family member couldn’t drive you anywhere. But when you and I are immature, we allow family, friends and even perfect strangers to drive us from zero to crazy in five seconds or less. 

The more immature you are, the more you’ll be annoyed by others around you. So, one of the secrets to maintaining your sanity in your relationships is to grow up—becoming more and more like Jesus. To whatever extent you become more like Christ in your relationships, to that same extent you’ll be at peace in your relationships.

About five years ago, Thom Rainier, a popular and respected church leader and consultant, posted a survey on Twitter. He asked church leaders to share some of the silly things that Christians in their churches had argued about. In the days that followed, he was blown away by the number of responses. One church’s leaders argued about the “appropriate length” of the worship leader’s beard. Another group of Christians fussed over what type of green beans should be served at church events. Yet another church argued about whether or not it’s a sin to serve “deviled” eggs at church, while two other churches argued about whether or not to switch coffee brands. (Believe it or not, some Christians left one of the churches because they didn’t like the coffee that was chosen.)

We laugh about some of these stupid, childish arguments that took place in actual churches. But, actually, we should cry! After all, the Church of Jesus Christ proclaims the Living God and the message of salvation to a lost and dying world. But far too often our petty squabbles push people away from the Church and bring shame to God. Do you think for a moment that any of these church battles mentioned above drew people closer to Christ? Do you think that non-Christians flocked to the church when they learned that its leaders were arguing about deviled eggs? Do you think that Jesus was glorified by the battles fought over green beans and coffee? Hardly!

We have to remember that the world is watching us and making judgments about the Church and Christ based on our how we treat each other. So, whether we are at home, church, work or school, we must be careful to treat each other in a way that honors God and draws people to Christ. Husbands and wives, never forget that people hear how you speak to each other in public, and they take note that you are Christians. Parents, non-Christians listen to how you speak to your kids and grandkids at WinCo and take note that you are followers of Christ. The world is watching and listening.

God’s word tells us in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The word “unwholesome” is a translation of a Greek term that was used in Jesus’ day to describe stinky, rotting fish. Isn’t that a powerful word picture? Jesus Christ tells his followers—you and me—“You should never have stinky, rotting fish come out of your mouths. Your harsh, silly, immature arguments are like stinky fish to God. Your criticism is like stinky fish to God. And your grumbling and complaining are like stinky fish to God.”

Would you agree that there’s far too much stinky fish in our churches? In our workplaces? On social media? In our political campaigns? And in our homes? One of the reasons our family members are driving us crazy during COVID is because there is too much stinky fish in our homes. Our homes should be a consistent contrast to the petty arguments, criticism and judgment that are so prevalent outside our four walls. Our homes should be a place where we build each other up according to each family member’s needs. Our homes should be a place where our words benefit those who listen.

Perhaps God is leading you to have a heart-to-heart with your family today. If so, I encourage you to humble yourself before you family—sharing Ephesians 4:29 with them and confessing that you yourself have been guilty of speaking words that have torn down instead of built up. Ask your family to join you in drawing a line in the sand today: committing to eliminate silly arguments, harsh criticism and judgment from your home. Make a commitment to encourage each other, build each other up according to each person’s needs and speak words that benefit those who listen. If you and your family commit to living out Ephesians 4:29 every day, is there any doubt that you’ll be saying far less often, “You’re driving me crazy!”?

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

God, I Can’t Handle this Stress!

“Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.” - Isaiah 7:4

I heard about a man who had recently retired. But his “golden years” weren’t very golden. He was having chest pains, and his blood pressure was through the roof. After prescribing some medications, the doctor asked to speak with the man’s wife. Once the husband left the room, the doctor told her that her husband’s stress level was way too high, and he would be dead in six months if she didn’t help lower his stress at home. The doctor recommended that she cook his favorite meals every day, do all the housework and give him back rubs before bed. On the drive home, the husband asked his wife what the doctor said. She responded, “He said you’re going to die!”

That husband had a lot of stress in his life. But I’m sure his stress levels would pale compared to the stress we’ve been dealing with over the past five months. During the COVID pandemic, our stress level has gone WAY up. Just for a simple trip to the grocery store, we have to make sure we don’t forget our face mask. We search for a cart that’s been sanitized in the past five minutes. We try not to pass strangers too closely in the aisles. We keep our distance from others in the check-out lines. And when family and friends get sick, it’s even worse. Recently it’s been taking upward of 10 days to get the results back on a COVID test, and that 10-day wait can feel like an eternity.

Meanwhile, when we turn on the news, it sounds like our nation is falling apart. Businesses and courthouses are being looted and burned. Police officers and federal agents are being assaulted. And because it’s an election year, our politicians are at each others’ throats. All that to say: This is a very stressful time in which to live. And many of us feel like shouting out: “God, I can’t handle this stress!”

Back in 735 BC, King Ahaz was pretty stressed out, too. This was when the nation of Israel was split in two: the kingdom of Israel to the north, and the kingdom of Judah to the south. Judah was led by King Ahaz, who didn’t fear God or obey His commands. His M.O. was to do whatever he felt like doing without giving a thought to what God thought about it. That seemed to work out all right in the early part of his reign, when times were good. But when a crisis hit, his stress level went through the roof.

King Pekah, the leader of Northern Israel, had teamed up with King Rezin of Aram to conquer Jerusalem. Rezin and Pekah couldn’t break through the city walls—but they were starting to break the people’s spirit. King Ahaz and the citizens of Jerusalem were worried and scared, and they were starting to buckle under the stress of it all. Their hearts “were shaken as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (v. 2). But then God spoke to Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah, giving him four commands that God echoes to each of His followers who feel stressed: “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood” (v4).

When you’re stressed out, remember the four commands of God contained in that great verse:

1. Be careful. When we’re stressed, it’s easy for our minds to wander into dangerous territory.  Be careful!  When we’re stressed, it’s tempting to say, “What the heck!” and do stupid stuff that we normally would never do. Getting stoned … driving recklessly … having an affair … maxing out our credit cards. You see, STRESS and STUPID are kissing cousins. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to be stupid. And when you’re stupid, it will make your bad situation even worse. It will end up giving you even more to stress out about.

2. “Keep calm.” Take some deep breaths. Go on a nice, long walk. Pet a dog or cat. Spend some meaningful time in prayer. One of the most effective ways to calm down is to meditate on the things of God. Some Christians say, “I don’t know how to meditate.” Yes, you do! If you know how to worry, you know how to meditate. Think about it: Worrying is basically just focusing for a long time on your problems. Christian meditation is just focusing for a long time on your blessings. The difference between worry and meditation is a matter of focus.

3. “Don’t be afraid.” This is the most repeated command of God in the Bible. Before Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God told him, “Do not be afraid.” Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, God told them, “Do not be afraid.” Before the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus, God told her, “Do not be afraid.” God says to you today, “I know this situation you’re in is scary. I know it feels overwhelming. But I have called you to walk by faith and not by sight. So, I need you to trust Me. I’ve got this. Do not be afraid.” 

4. “Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood.” In Ahaz’s mind, those two armies were like a raging inferno. But God told him that Rezin and Pekah were like charred pieces of wood after the fire has already passed by. They might be sending up a little smoke, but they were no real threat. In the same way, God says to you, “Trust Me. It may seem that your problems are about to overpower you and crush you, but I’m actually about to whittle them down to size. Your problems’ best days are behind them, but your best days are still up ahead.”

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a stress-filled year. But you and I don’t have to be stressed out. God will give you His peace and strength if you will fix your eyes on Jesus and do these 4 things: Be careful, Keep calm. Don’t be afraid, and do not lose heart.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.

Monday, August 3, 2020

How Could God Love ME?

 “I pray that you … may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” - Ephesians 3:17-18

 Two weeks ago, my oldest daughter Kayla graduated from high school. Because of COVID, her graduation ceremony was delayed a month and a half. But my wife Christine and I were so proud to finally see her don her cap and gown and receive her diploma. And knowing that soon she will be leaving for college, in recent months I’ve been thinking of Bible verses that I want to pass on to her and pray for her.

One passage that’s been on my mind a lot is Ephesians 3:17-19. Starting halfway through verse 17, it reads: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” This is one of my prayers for Kayla. I want her to be firmly rooted in God’s love, and I want her to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. But I don’t want her to simply “grasp” God’s amazing love; I want her to know His love personally.

Most people would agree that the most popular verse in the Bible is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Over the years that I’ve been in ministry, I have had more than a few conversations with people who believe that God so loved the world. But they weren’t so sure that God loved THEM.

Sometimes we doubt God’s love for us because of our own insecurities. At other times we doubt His love because our sin seems too big to forgive. And honestly, at times we just have a hard time wrapping our minds around the notion that the Creator of this huge universe would care about us. I’ll bet that at some point in your life you have wondered: “How could the Creator of the universe love ME?”

Well, to be honest, it’s completely illogical for the Creator of the universe to love you. After all, you’re NOT a big, important person. Your influence in this world is rather puny. Your natural resources are few and far between. And, just like the children of Israel, you’re stubborn—you do your fair share of obnoxious complaining and grumbling. In many ways, you and I are both unlovable. So, how could God love me? How could God love you?

Here’s the answer: God loves you, not because of who YOU are or what YOU’VE done. God loves you because of who HE is. When we doubt God’s love for us, it’s inevitably because we’re taking our eyes off Him and focusing on ourselves—on our own insecurities and shortcomings, our own sins and our insignificance. But that’s the wrong place to focus. God’s love for me has NEVER been primarily about me. It’s always been primarily about Him. 1 John 4:8 says point blank: “God is love.” And because God is love, He is going to love me no matter how obnoxious, unlovable and undeserving I am of His love. How could God love us? Because God IS love, and loving undeserving sinners like you and me is what He does best.

God’s love even transcends life and death. And that’s great news for you and me, because according to God’s word, our sins have made us all dead to God. Ephesians 2:1-3 says, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Colossians 2:13 says, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” So, there’s no doubt about it. Our rebellious sins have made us spiritually dead to God. But Jesus is ready and willing to raise us back to life.

But why would he do that? Because in spite of ourselves, God loves us. In spite of ourselves, Jesus loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What a glorious verse! While we were still being selfish jerks, Jesus loved us and died for us anyway. While we were still breaking God’s laws and doing whatever we felt like doing, while we were still rebellious and stubborn and complaining and arguing, while we were completely undeserving and unappreciative and unlovable—Jesus loved us and died for us anyway. No wonder the Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”

My prayer for my daughter is one of my prayers for you as well. I want you to be firmly rooted in God’s love, and I want you to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. But I don’t want you to simply “grasp” God’s amazing love; I want you to know His love personally—“that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Dane Davis is the Pastor of Impact Christian Church. Please join us for our live outdoor worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. at 17746 George Blvd. in Victorville. Or, join us online at 10 a.m. on our YouTube channel (Impact Christian Church) or on Facebook.