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Sunday, October 31, 2021

Come Now, You Rich People…

 A sermon based on James 5: 1-6

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

October 31th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 10/12


Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.

 2 Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.

 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days.

 4 Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

 5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

 6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. (Jas. 5:1-6 NRS)


There’s practically websites out there with information about everything; and many of them are also about nothing.  In preparation for this message, I came across one strange article about the most ridiculous things rich people buy like

           a shirt made out of gold,

John Lennon’s tooth,

a weather station---not a small one like many people have, but the same kind as a news room might have; even bigger.   

Also on that list was Steve McQueen’s GT Mustang,

a negative of Abraham Lincoln’s Portrait,

a town called Bridgeville which is mainly a Bridge,

spending almost 4 million dollars to have lunch with Warren Buffett,

            and finally, spending $ 30 million for notes written by Leonardo Da Vinci.


Now, of course, there’s certainly nothing wrong with a wealthy person spending their own money on whatever they want to buy, but there is something terribly wrong with a wealthy person not realizing their responsibility in being rich.



Today’s text from James starts out in the face of the rich and wealthy.   But who are these rich people?


Well, to begin with, it’s not just them, but it’s also us. If you have a somewhat normal life in these United States this conversation includes us too. 


For compared to the rest of the world, we are a rich people.  While the US is only 5 % of the world’s population, we hold over 30% of the world’s wealth.  In most practical terms, most of us have inherited much, been given much, earned much, and have much more than we need.   


If we had a warm place to sleep last night, had a good meal before bedtime, and if we have accessible medical care, even if things are somewhat difficult for us in this moment like it has been during the Covid pandemic, we are still to be considered rich, wealthy, and blessed. We have opportunities most people of the world can only dream about.


So, if being rich is such a blessing and advantage, why is James shoving it down our throats; or it at it least sounds like he is?


Perhaps a story can help us understand where James might be coming from.   This story is about Erasmus, the great Dutch Renaissance scholar who was a contemporary of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the great reformers of the church in the 15th and 16th century.   


The story goes that Erasmus was once watching with the pope as wagonloads of wealth were brought through the gates of the Vatican. Turning to Erasmus, the pope observed. "No longer can the church say with Peter, 'Silver or gold have I none….'"   


Erasmus replied, "True. And neither can the church say to the lame man, 'Take up your bed and walk.'"


Folks, there is something about being too comfortable, too secure….and being able to relax in luxury.   Money can change a person.  Riches can even ruin a person and bring upon us a different kind of pain worse than poverty itself.  This is part of the reason why James gives a warning to the wealthy folks in and around his church. 

In the most graphic words possible James warns, ‘Your wealth can eat your flesh like fire.’ 

Well, what does James mean by such threatening language as this? 

To try to answer let’s start with a sort of overview.  In this short little book, James challenges the “rich” in their way of living and lack of caring responsibility with their money.   While James never goes so far as to say that it is wrong to have money, he does agree with Paul that the love of money can be the root of all kinds of evil; especially when rich employers take advantage of the poor.    In other words, while having money isn’t right or wrong, but how we use the money we have can be.  

In this little short book, this is the 3rd time that money and rich people are the main topic.  

The first word came in James 2:6 were James speaks to the church about how they favor the rich and show favoritism to them, wondering why a poor church would do this.  James asks: Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court?   Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?  The point is that the rich often take unfair advantage over others and that they can even speak negatively toward God too.  

In the other reference, it’s implied that the rich live presumptuously, having big plans, saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.”   The rich, or the would-be rich have money, but they constantly plan to make and have more money.  James warns anyone who thinks they have complete control over their own destiny:  Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (4:13-14).

Beyond these two warnings the warning in chapter 5 is the strongest.   Here, James speaks most directly to those who are both inside and outside, the church.  In no uncertain terms, he warns about the negative effects of having money and wants his readers to understand that judgement is coming upon those who are being irresponsible toward others. 

Getting everyone’s attention, so they can avoid these very negative consequences is what James meant when he wrote so graphically, “Your wealth can eat your flesh like fire!”


So, what is James’ point?   Why does James seem to speak so graphically?  What is James trying to say and why should we even listen?

Years ago, there used to be a commercial that ended with the phrase, “Well, It’s Your Pocketbook.”    That little catch-phrase can guide our understanding of what James is talking about.    

After James gives us his very graphic warning about the misuse of money, the then gets to the ‘pocketbook’ question of the average, working person.   In other words, it’s not only the wealthy who are being hurt because of what holding on to wealth can do to a person, but the poor, working-man and woman are being hurt even more.  This is what James is referring to in verse 4, after the says, “LISTEN!: 

The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

When wealthy people, especially those who are employers, only hold on to their money so they can live in luxury, while their workers struggle to make ends meet, people suffer unnecessarily, and as James implies, ‘If we aren’t listening, we better become aware, that God is listening!

Back in 1885 a young man became pastor of the Second Baptist Church in New York City, which was located at the edge of a depressed area known as Hell's Kitchen.   

Almost immediately, the new enthusiastic pastor confronted extreme levels of unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, disease, and crime. "Oh, the children's funerals! they gripped my heart," he wrote. One of the things he couldn’t stop thinking about was ‘why---why did the children have to die?"

The young pastor then immersed himself in the current literature of social reform and he began to participate in social action groups.  

Slowly his ideas took shape. He had come to the pastorate "to save souls " but not all the problems he confronted could be addressed in this way.  Though his friends urged him to give up his social work for spiritual work, he believed his social work was also Christ's work, because Jesus not only cured souls, he cured bodies as well.

That German-American pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch was both an optimist and a realist.   He never believed society could become perfect, but he saw that could pray toward the kingdom, with deeds, not just words.   He worked out the implications of his thinking and pastoral work with a group of other young Baptist ministers in a group called, ‘The Brotherhood of the Kingdom’.   His approach toward the gospel, as not only spiritual, but also social, came to be called ‘the social gospel’.   Later, in 1907, after becoming a Baptist professor, his work was introduced to a much larger audience and has impacted the social consciousness of Christians across all denominations.

When I was growing up, I heard a lot of negativity concerning ‘the social gospel’.  The social gospel was preached as the neglect of the spiritual gospel of the Bible.  But here, we see clearly that James, based upon the life and ministry of Jesus, did see that there was a ‘social’ side of the gospel too.   What James reminds us, just as he reminded his own readers, is that the true gospel of Jesus Christ is ‘social’, not only spiritual, and the true gospel has earthly, not just heavenly ramifications.

It’s interesting to know where the pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch began to be affirmed in his thinking that the gospel was also social.   First, of course, it came from reading the Hebrew Prophets, and realizing that the kingdom of Israel fell because it neglected the needs of the poor.  But the pastor was also inspired by a little book by Charles Sheldon, entitled, “In His Steps”.  In that book, Pastor Walter Rauschenbusch couldn’t avoid the question, “What Would Jesus Do!”


To sum up, everything James says reminds us that God cares about not only spiritual issues, but also the social issues in our lives.   This means that not only does God care, but we’d better listen and care about the social and economic needs of working person and the poor too.    


Just like the Hebrew prophets warned Israel, long ago:   If we don’t address the needs of people, especially the needs of the poor and vulnerable, then those problems will come to haunt us.  We may think that our money and wealth can shield and protect us, but if we neglect the needs the world around us, judgement is coming.


During the Covid Pandemic, I think we’ve all learned important lessons about life and living.   These are some hard lessons we even didn’t want to learn, but often needed to learn.   One of those hard lessons is how interconnected we all are in this world.   The Virus that is impacting one part of the world can impact another.  The Vaccines that are given out in the rich nations, need to also reach the poorer nations too.  If not, this deadly virus can mutate and come back around to us, again and again.


It’s that way most parts of life, but we don’t always see it.  We don’t see that poor health care in one part of the world or society can also impact the health care even in the richer parts of the world too.  We also don’t realize that the difficult, and often unfair economic situation in some people’s lives can come back to lessen the quality of life everywhere.  


Still, as Christians, our reason for caring to prevent bad things from happening to us.  No, as Christians, we must care, because Jesus taught us to care.  And this real Jesus in the Bible and of the Bible, not only cared for people’s soul’s, he also cared about people’s bodies too, and not only spiritually, but also socially; not only religiously, but also economically too.   The true Jesus came, not only to grant eternal life, but to give us abundant life, here and now.


I’m convinced that the much of the problem behind much of the social unrest in our times, isn’t simply black or white, Hispanic or North American.   No, I’m convince that behind much of the racial issues, is really fear.  Since we still don’t have a strong social, medical-safety net in this country,  people are still afraid.  People know, subconsciously, that in a world without a safety net; everyone is just one sickness away from poverty.  


It was that way in James’ day too.  If the employers withheld funds from their workers, just so they could enrich themselves; families could go hungry.   Most people then, like people too many people today, work three jobs to survive, and then barely live from paycheck to paycheck, due to no fault of their own.   That kind of situation shouldn’t happen in the richest country of the world.    James reminds us that God hears the cries of those who are struggling.  Hopefully, we all are listening too.   Amen.   

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Who Are You to Judge?


A sermon based on James 4:11-17

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

October 24th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 9/12


Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

 12 There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money."

 14 Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that."

 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

 17 Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

 (Jas. 4:11-5:1 NRS)


     When I was in college news came to several of us of the conversion of the very well-known and popular singer, BJ Thomas.   Thomas was one of those rare talents who could sing most anything, Pop, Country, R and B.  The first time I ever heard him on the radio, the song was ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.’  It seems like I heard everyday for at least a year. 

      But BJ’s talent and fame led him to drug use, and he almost died.  But thanks to his loving wife, Gloria, who had just found the Lord,  BJ also became a Christian and through a life change and serious therapy, he  got off drugs and stayed off. Then, soon after,  BJ started singing Hymns and making  Christian records, with one of my favorite, his song of thankfulness to Jesus,  which goes, What a difference you made in my life.’  It’s a beautiful tribute of thanksgiving

     During those years,  after being saved from drug addiction, BJ began to travel the US, singing in churches.  He loved to sing gospel, hymns, and he still loved some of his old songs, and he would often attempt to sing a couple in churches.  But Thomas testifies today, still singing at age 76, that he stopped singing gospel music in churches because he was being booed by so-called Christians when he might occasionally sing one of his hit songs.  Now, he says, he only sings in the church of one of his pastor friends.  They don’t judge him like other Christians.

      It’s sad isn’t, that hear you have a man who is an incredible testimony to the power of grace and love, but he no longer sings in churches because they are too narrow-minded and judgmental.

      In today’s text from James, we return to one of James’ favorite topics, the dangers of the tongue.  This time the danger points specifically back  toward Christians who might think they now have been given the right or the responsibility to judge another human being.  To any Christian who would attempt to be judgmental, James asks point blank, ‘who are you to judge?’



       Let’s jump right into the middle of James’ question.  It’s probably one of the most quoted phrases in the Bible.   And when you stop to think about it, what James goes on to talk about is some pretty heavy stuff.   Here, James is particularly addressing  Christians.  He is saying that Christians should know better than to judge each other.  Only God is the lawgiver and only God is the judge.  .Only God makes the decision about salvation or destruction.  Who are you to judge, James implies, for one day you will stand before the judge too.   How could you ever think you could dare stand in God’s place?

     What James says, makes good, logical sense, doesn’t it?  We are not judges.  We are never fully informed.  We aren’t capable of judging fully or daily.  We are the ones who will be judged.  How can we ever pretend to be some else’s judge? 

      When I was a young pastor in Statesville,  I went to a meeting and the people there asked me to lead the new ‘Right To Life’ movement that was growing in the country. It was growing in response to the legalization of abortion.  Since abortions ended a life, I believed there were better choices.  That’s why I went to the meeting and decided to get involved.  I felt that Christians should promote life and stand up for the defenseless, as well as, help young women find help and make life-saving choices. 

          But I didn’t remain a leader in that movement very long, and do you know why?  Too many Christians wanted to stand back and judge rather than be compassionate workers for life, love and grace.  Instead of helping these young woman and providing ministries to assist them, most of those coming to the meetings wanted only to protest, condemn and change laws.

      People, even Christians too, at times,  jump too quickly on political bandwagons, criticizing and condemning, rather than doing what is caring and right.  On the same issue, a Sunday School class I was visiting quickly made verbal judgments against any who would dare go through with having an abortion.  Then suddenly when a young lady began crying, admitting she had an abortion before she became a Christian, they all staring consoling her.   I wondered why they couldn’t have been more compassionate to begin with.  Why can’t we speak up for what is right without being judgmental?  Why can’t we speak to what we are for rather than who we are against? 

         In another situation, I was having trying to teach my daughter a hard life-lesson, when a member of the church started scolding me.  I couldn’t believe that  this person didn’t  ask any questions, but made all kinds of assumptions.  She  didn’t really know me, nor did she know my daughter, but she already had all the answers.

          What James says about being judgmental reflects what Jesus also warned against, when he said near the end of his great sermon, ‘Judge not, lest you will be judged!   For the way you judge others, you will also be judged, measure for measure.  (Mat. 7:1-3). These are words we very much need to hear and heed in these days of political divisiveness and name calling.   These words of warning echo straight back to Jesus, are all over theBible, and go all the way back to the Old Testament law in Leviticus 19, verse 16, where the law warns,  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

       The point here, as James interprets it too, is that when we judge we slander someone and in doing so we go against the law by presuming to be above the law and we become a judge and no longer a doer of the law. That’s very interesting point, isn’t it?  When we slander someone, claiming they are in the wrong, in doing this, we go wrong also.  We go wrong not because what we are saying isn’t right, but we are wrong because our focus should be on doing the law ourselves and loving our neighbor, rather than becoming a judge over them.





This most illogical practice of being judgmental is underscored in everything James says.  In fact, James implies that when we speak against another person, we are the ones participating in evil, even more than they are.  Did you catch that?  While someone may be doing something wrong, by becoming their judge we end up doing evil.  Why would James say something like that?

Well, James gives us two reasons:   By judging others we are not submitting to the most important law, which is to love our neighbor.   Secondly, to become judge over another is wrong because only God, the one who gave the law, can rightfully be the proper judge.  This brings us to something very important.  We still need the law, and we still need good, fair and just judgment too.  But what we don’t need to do ourselves, is to play God or presume we are better than others, even when someone is in the wrong.  We are still sinners too, remember?

       The English author, C. S. Lewis, in one of his books, points out that when people become Christians, if they are not careful, their sinning often shifts from the outward, visible sins of lying, cheating, stealing, cursing and swearing, to the more inward, hidden, non-apparent invisible ones ... and among them he lists "a critical spirit" ... a spirit of judgmentalism.  In fact, Lewis  points out that this is the sin more commonly committed by church people.  So prevalent is it in churchly circles, that it is sometimes labeled "Christian cruelty.".  It’s as if we think we can fix the world by judging it. 

      It is best Lewis says, to ‘abstain from thinking about other people's faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them. Whenever the thoughts come unnecessarily into one's mind, why not simply shove them away? And think of one's own faults instead?  For there, with God's help, one can do something. Of all the awkward people in your house or your job there is only one whom you can improve very much... The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin.’ (From God in the Dock, pp. 154).

In churches and communities today, especially in these where judgmentalism has become a kind of public self-righteousness in our current climate of political correctness, as Christians we need to renew our commitment to love, compassion and positive acts of mercy and place our emphasis upon being the hands and feet of Jesus.  After all, Scripture teaches us that ‘they will know we are Christians by our love’ not by our good judgment (John 13:35).

          I realize I’ve told this story to you before, but because it happened to me, I have to keep telling it.  Years ago, I attended a wedding in south Statesville and the minister did the most peculiar thing.  He had memorized the ceremony.  I immediately took it as being arrogance and showing off, and when he stumbled on a couple of lines, I smiled in my self, saying ‘serves him right for trying to display how smart he thinks he is.   But then, near the end of the ceremony, as he turned a certain way, I realized he was blind.  Then, I felt horrible because in judging him I ended up bringing judgment upon myself. 

Later, as I reflected what I did, I came to realize that this is just how short-sighted most human judgment toward others is and why we shouldn’t try to be a judge.  We never know what other people are going through and we never know enough to be a fair judge of any one, including ourselves.  That’s why James says we shouldn’t speak, nor even think evil of another.  It is our responsibility to do what is right ourselves and not to take it upon ourselves to become anyone’s judge.      



      So, what are we to say and do when we clearly see another in the wrong?   Well, James doesn’t move to specifically address that.  Instead, he remind us just how limited we humans are when it comes to having any kind of full knowledge of almost anything.  Since we can’t really guarantee knowing anything —- what will or will not happen tomorrow—-who are we to be any kind of fair or just judge.  Our lives are only like a vapor in the wind.  We most surely aren’t God, but we rely completely upon God.

       Based upon our real limitations, both physical and spiritual, we shouldn’t boast about anything; not what we will do tomorrow or what we did today or yesterday either, for that matter.  Recall the very well-known musical about the little red-haired orphan Annie, where she sings about Tomorrow:

The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow there will be sun

And then the  refrain goes:

Tomorrow, tomorrow.  It''s almost tomorrow.   It''s only a day away.

These very optimistic words and our hearts are really attracted to them and lifted up by these words.  This expresses the very popular and comforting idea that there is always going to be more time, a second chance and that somehow the door of life will always remain open and that things are always going to work out just right. Tomorrow is going to be there, if we can just wait until tomorrow.

But as beautiful as this is, and as much as we want to believe it, it's really a lie.  It''s all wrong, because tomorrow may not come.  If you test these words up against someone dying in a hospice home, you can understand.   This is why Proverbs 21:8 gives us true wisdom, "Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring forth."  James echoes this wisdom, reminding us how are most certainly not assured of tomorrow. We're also not assured of the circumstances we will face.  While we can always be assured of God''s goodness and grace, we're not assured of tomorrow or what it will bring. Life can be very brief.  Life can be unpredictable.  We''d better not presume on time or on God, on the offer of God''s salvation, on the mercy of God, or on the leniency of God.  They are there, now, but do not make assumptions.  There is no promise about tomorrow, or the next second for that matter.

So, what James implies here is whether we  judging or boasting about what we think we know, we should just do the right thing we kn  to do now.   That’s the perspective a right-seeing and right-thinking Christian ought to have.  For if we we know anything at all about what is right and we still don’t do it, James says, that’s the kind of sin we should be correcting within us, rather than speaking against what is wrong in another.  

Again, how James concludes is quite arresting: Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. This goes straight back to Jesus when he said For why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but you can’t see the log in your own eye…’,  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Matt. 7:4-5).   In the strongest terms too, James says that the sin of omitting what we know we should do but don’t do, is far worse than the sin of having by done something wrong. 

Yes, this is very serious talk, but remember,  James isn’t standing in judgment over us either.  James is not condemning, but he is commending us to God who is the holy, all-knowing, and righteous judge.  Make no mistake, God will get it right.  In fact, God already has got it right when judged the world at the cross of Jesus the Christ.  At the cross, we discover fully that we are sinners, but that God offers us or forgiveness and a future through the perfect redemptive judgement of his son.  Jesus is the one who reveals our sins, but also and convinces us of the truth that can set us free for life and for hope.  This great truth is not only based upon John 3:16, but it also includes John 3:17, which says:  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.    Today is the day to find, know and share salvation, not to judgment.   Today is the day.   Love is the way.  Jesus is God’s love, made flesh.  Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

God Gives Grace To the Humble

 A sermon based on James 4: 1-10

By Charles J. Tomlin, DMin;

October 17th, 2021, Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership

Series: The Book of James, 8/12



NRS James 4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?

 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.

 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

 4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

 5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"?

 6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

 9 Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.

 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt (Jas. 4:1-10 NRS)


Believe it or not, a war once started over a pig.  It happened back in 1859, on San Juan Island, a chunk of land located between the mainland United States and Vancouver Island in Canada.  There was an argument over a slaughtered hog and it lead to a full-scale conflict between the United States and Great Britain.

At the time, the island was home to American settlers and British employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and both parties had laid claim to its fertile soil.  The first and only shots, of what later came to be called the Pig War, came on June 15, when an American farmer named Lyman Cutlar gunned down a British-owned black boar after he discovered the animal rooting through his potato patch. The ensuing argument over the dead hog increased tensions between the two groups of settlers, and Cutlar was eventually threatened with arrest.

After the Americans reported the incident to the military, the U.S. Army dispatched Captain George Pickett—later a Confederate general during the Civil War—to San Juan with a small complement of troops. Pickett upped the ante by declaring the whole island U.S. property.  The British responded by sending a fleet of heavily armed naval vessels to the coastline. An absurd standoff ensued, and the situation remained on a knife-edge for several agonizing weeks.

The two nations would finally negotiate a deal allowing for joint military occupation of San Juan Island in October 1859, ending the Pig War as a bloodless stalemate—except for the loss of one very unfortunate pig.



Why do we fight against others?  Why do we humans have conflicts with each other?  Why do we go to war and kill one another in such destructive ways?  Why do humans sometimes even kill for the thrill of it —-when even wild animals don’t?

Back in 1992, in Los Angeles, Cailf., Rodney King (the George Floyd who wasn’t killed) was stopped by police and ordered to get out of the car. The LA  Police Department officers then kicked him repeatedly and beat him with batons for a reported 15 minutes.  A bystander recorded the whole thing.  More than than a dozen cops stood by, watching and commenting on the beating. King's injuries resulted in skull fractures, broken bones and teeth, and permanent brain damage too.

After the police officers were acquitted of their crimes , in less than 3 hours after the verdict, riots broke out.  Rioters set fires, looted and destroyed stores, retail shops and fast food restaurants. Light-skinned motorists — both white and Latino — were targeted and some were pulled out of their cars and beaten as revenge.

In response to the unrest, Rodney King himself was asked to appear on Television and he made an unforgettable, emotional plea to the rioters.  He said, ‘People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? … It’s just not right. It’s not right. It’s not, it’s not going to change anything. We’ll, we’ll get our justice … Please, we can get along here. We all can get along. I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to beat it. Let’s try to work it out.’

In our text today, James answers ‘why’ we humans often don’t get along.   He says the reason is that there is already a conflict going on inside of ourselves.  This inner conflict comes from our inner desires and the struggle in our own souls..  In saying this, Jame’s point is clear, and even modern behavioral science would agree.  Those conflicts we often have with others many times has much more to do with us than it has to do with what’s going on with them.

Now, let’s think deeper about this for a moment.  Think of some of the many conflicts going on in our world today.  How about political division and conflict?  How about Religious conflict—-not just other religions but within our own no Christian fellowships.  Also  think about social, racial, and economic conflicts too.  These conflicts happen in our world, James says, because of what’s wrong in us.  What can James be talking about?

Through the years, as a pastor,, I’ve had a few people get angry and attempt to fight against me,  I didn’t even see it coming, either.  I’ve seen other pastors having the same kinds of experiences with people.  It can come with the job.  For example, in my first church,  the pastor before me had someone leave a note on the pulpit saying that he was a pig.  In another church, the previous pastor warned me not to go to that church as pastor, because, he said, ‘the devil was in the church’.  From what I’ve seen, the devil has been at work in all the churches where I’ve been pastor.  Where else would the devil be working than trying to disrupt the very people who could be, and often are, doing the most good.

I’ve know many situations, where major, life-changing conflicts happened without any necessary reason at all.  They just happened and simple differences became major disagreements that ended in major conflicts which ended up hurting good  people and damaging good churches and hurting their witness to. God’s love in the the world.,

Years ago, I took a seminar in conflict management, as it especially related to churches.  One of the major ‘take always’ from that seminar is being expressed right here in what James is saying.  According to the best research, conflict normally has more to do with what’s is has happened to people in their past than what is actually happening in the present moment.  Things, like anger and hurt can sit around in us for years, until something opens the door and lets it out.

James also says that much of the conflicts going on inside of us have to do with inner cravings, inner desires, but then he moves on to say this has to do with misplaced trust.  This trust has been misplaced  in our own ability to control and command our own outcomes.  As James puts it,  we stop asking God for what we need, and start insisting on what we want.  Since what we want may be prevented by others, we demand and will fight to have it.’

Now, there is a lot of drama going on in this text just like goes on in our own world.   James even lists some as human struggles which result in murder, coveting, and disputes..   Then, he surprisingly links this conflict as a result of not praying—-failing to pray about the matter and not asking God for what we want or what we need,

Is this really the source of human conflicts—-a refusal or neglect in talking to God?   James could be on to something here, don’t you think?  I doubt that many people have prayed and sincerely asked God to help them and then proceeded to fight with another person.  While prayer doesn’t give us what we want or change our situation, sincere prayer changes us and who we are.  It changes us because when pray, our relationship with God determines who we are, not what we do or don’t have.



Prayer changes us because when we pray, our friendship with God develops and this becomes a friendship that defines everything in our lives. 

In his discussion, James has already named Abraham as a friend of God (2:23).   Abraham was called God’s friend because he believed and trusted God in a way that the relationship defined every aspect of Abraham’s life.   And because of this trust, Scripture says that God credited and considered Abraham as righteous before him.  In other words, by trusting God, Abraham became the kind of person who was trustworthy and true.

The opposite of developing friendship with God,  James says, is when we have a friendship .with the world.  Worldliness lies at the root of human conflict, James’ says you can’t be friends with the world and also be friends with God at the same time.  In fact, in the strongest language possible, James says that when live as friends of the world we become enemies of God.  That’s very powerful language, but what does it mean?

The point James is making here is that when we are not right with God -- when our friendship with Him is blurred because of our friendship with the world—we start wanting the wrong things, or we don't ask God for what we really need, or we ask Him for good things but we are asking with a wrong purpose and motive in mind.   In other words, we pray for things, even good things, but we pray with the intention of using them for our own gain and selfish pleasure.

Maxie Dunnam, who used to be president of Asbury Seminary, once told of a man who was boasting to an evangelist about the fact that God had given him a new Cadillac, "I prayed to the Lord, And I gave Him 10% of my income, and he blessed me with a new Cadillac"

"Is that right", the evangelist asked.

"Oh yes sir" the man responded. "I gave the Lord 10% of everything I

 made and prayed for a new Cadillac and the Lord came through. Ain't that wonderful?"

The evangelist was very pointed in his response: "That's interesting", he said. "You prayed to God, and He gave you a Cadillac. But when His own son prayed to Him, God gave Him an ugly Cross on which to die.

When you hear this, you realize there’s something contradictory about asking God to give you a Cadillac when we are to ask for the things only God can give---hope, humility, and a loving heart.  It's one thing to be in need of transportation and pray that your needs will be met, but it’s  something else entirely to ask for what you don’t need and neglect what you do.   

The "lusts" that war within us reduce our prayers to selfishness and cause us to try to use God, rather than giving ourselves to be used by Him.   In other words, when we become friends with the world we begin to care less and less about being friends with this God who calls us to think about others too, and not only ourselves.

One phrase that should especially capture our attention here is beautiful statement in verse 5 which says; "He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us".   In this, James is remembering the first of the Ten Commandments: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) and he is also recalling the phrase in the second Commandment which says, "For I the Lord your God am a jealous God." (Exodus 20:5).   By telling us how jealous God means that to the contrary of wanting to be our enemy, we make ourselves an enemy of God by friendship with the world. 

The ‘world’ James means here isn’t the natural world, but it’s the human tendency to be pulled downward rather than upward.  It’s also the tendency to be pulled inward toward yourself, rather than moving outward toward others.  Finally, it’s the tendency to be controlled by the lesser, lower and negative forces in life, rather than to be motivated by the greater, higher, and positive forces that can move us forward, upward and toward each other, rather than pulling and tearing us apart.   

We know all too well how that can unfortunately happen in human relationships, when people are pulled in different directions and their relationships suffers and will eventually fail.  The same thing can happen spiritual, when we give less and less attention to building our relationship with God.

Many years ago, the late British pastoral scholar spoke of the necessity of maintaining a personal ‘friendship’ with God, explaining how friendship with God is a ‘gift’ that can transform us because revealed the Father who wants to be our ‘friend’, just like Abraham was God’s friend.  Most interestingly, Weatherhead also spoke of how our friendship with God grows and increases as we befriend others in our lives.   In other words, God draws nearer to us, as we draw nearer to others.



Now, as we come to the conclusion of James’ discussion, he offers his solution to human conflict.   Interestingly, James doesn’t start by saying we we move closer to the people we’re in conflict with, but James says we first need to move closer to God.   It is our friendship with God that enables us to work through our conflicts with each other. 

 Now, of course this is a controversial idea since many see religion as the problem, not the solution.  In other words, many see religion as a fuel for human conflicts.  But while it may be true that religious differences can fuel conflict, when you look closer, you understand it is only a certain kind of religion.  

True religious faith should bring hope of reconciliation and peacefulness.  As someone has said, the great problem isn’t the differences among religions, but it’s that many people aren’t true to the understanding of faith they have.  All the major religions of the world promote peace, hope, faithfulness and human reconciliation, but all their extremes don’t.

So, here’s James point.  When you draw closer to God, especially the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, it becomes much more difficult to be in conflict with others.  Why is this true?    It’s not difficult to understand.  But James spells it out for us anyway:  When you humble yourself before God, submitting yourself to God’s purposes, while admitting that you too are a sinner---acknowledging how you aren’t always right and certainly aren’t perfect; when you draw close to God in this way, understanding that God gives you grace---anyway, you encounter the love can reshape you, remake you and motivate you to respect and care for others who may offend you, just like your own sins have offended God. 

Now, that’s a very human way of putting it.   The main point is that when we get close to God, then God comes close to us, and we realize we are in his presence, fully, completely; with nothing hidden, and God loves us as we are, and offers us grace, YOUR perspective on everything and everyone changes.  Suddenly, you are no longer obsessed with ‘who’ that other person is---with whom you have such negative, and ill feelings---and now, your obsession is with the knowledge and presence of a loving, forgiving, and graceful God.

          So, here is the main point, once more.  Let James’ own words in verses 7 and 8 map out a path forward for anyone stuck in human conflict with another human being: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double minded."

Erma Bombeck, the great advice giver, once gave this very interesting advice: "Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died".  Her point reminds us that everybody who says they are a good doctor can really help keep you alive.   In the book, The Experts Speak, by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky you read example after example, some two thousand of them, of just wrong, the so-called experts can be.

For instance, Gary Cooper said, after turning down the role of Rhett Butler, which was then given to Clark Gable, "GONE WITH THE WIND" is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history.   Then he added, I’m just glad it will be Clark Gable who is falling flat on his face and me."

The manager of the Grand Old Opry who listened to Elvis Presley sing gave him this advice: "You are not going anywhere, Son. You ought to go back to driving a truck."

Here’s a different kind:  If you look up the word uranium in a 1930 dictionary, you will find this definition: "a white metallic substance with no apparent value." 

Let's don't be misled or confused by the experts out there--religious or non-religious.   Here, James gives us knowledge for life:  "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."  Follow this, and you will find yourself living in peace, both in yourself and with others.    Amen.