X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
October 14, 2001
As a child of the fifties, I have always been fascinated by the impact of war on our society. As a child, I used to love to listen to my dad talk about the big one, World War II, a war that he fought. As a high school student in the 1970’s, I remember talking about the war in Viet Nam almost every day, especially among those of us who had draft card numbers. It was the topic of a lot of conversations around the school. And then this past September 11, we entered into a new war. Our President calls this war, the war on terrorism.
As I thought back on my life, one of the things that I have concluded is that war is just a part of our human culture. It’s a part of our human nature. This was driven home to me yesterday. As I was up here at the church studying, all of our sixth graders, who had been playing paintball all day yesterday, showed up at the church. I watched the vans pull into the parking lot. It was really amazing to watch all these boys pile out of the vans covered in mud, paint splotches all over them. And it was interesting to see that most of them had on full camo. They had on the helmets. They carried the paintball guns. I got a little concerned when my son, Cameron, ran up to me and said, “Dad, I had a great time. I love shooting people.”
I thought, “Yeah, man, war is a part of our culture. It’s a part of our human nature.”
This morning we are going to continue our study in the book of James, as we do this great series called X-Trials. In today’s passage, we are going to be looking at James 4:1-10. If you have got your Bibles, go ahead and turn there. But this morning, we are going to look at war. We are going to look at different kinds of war. We are not going to be talking about the types of war that we are fighting in Afghanistan, for example. But we are going to be talking about conflicts and battles and wars that you and I fight every day.
James tells us in this passage that there are three kinds of wars that we are involved with. When I go through those, then we are going to talk about how we can negotiate a peace plan. How do we get out of fighting all of these wars, all of these battles, all of these conflicts that we have in our lives. So let’s look at the very first verse of James, chapter 4. James begins this part of his book by asking a question. It’s a question we ask ourselves all the time. James asks this, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?”
The Civil War
That is a great question. What causes fights and quarrels among us? The first war that James talks about in this passage is a war that I am going to call The Civil War. That is the war that we fight between each other. James says that one of the wars that we are involved in every day is the external war, wars where we like to fight with each other.
You know, my mom’s terms for those kinds of wars were fussing and fighting wars. I was watching television yesterday. I was watching a report on the war in Afghanistan, and I heard one of our generals talk about how the United States is using smart bombs. Well, James says in this passage that we use dumb bombs every day. We use weapons against each other that cause tremendous collateral damage. Now I am talking about those verbal bombs that we toss at each other. I am talking about character assassination, when we back bite and when we talk behind other people’s backs. I am talking about those covert, backstabbing operations. You know what I am talking about. We fuss and we fight. Just like the Beatles talked about back in the sixties, life is too short for fussing and fighting.
The problem with this external war is the collateral damage it causes. It would be one thing if when we just fought with each other, than I would be damaged and you would be damaged. But what happens in this kind of a civil war is that not only are we damaged but every one around us is damaged, our relationships, our marriages, our friendships, our careers, everything becomes a part of the battle.
I witness civil war everyday in my house between the hours of seven and eight a.m., usually Monday through Friday. The combatants in my civil war are two females. One is a senior in high school; Sergeant Whitney I will call her. The other is a sophomore in high school; I will call her Private Mallory. The object of the battle is to overtake the upstairs bathroom. It’s amazing to me that I have two lovely, sweet, kind daughters. But when it comes to this external war that they have with each other every morning, it’s amazing to see how they turn into these fist-fighting, door-slamming, trash-talking commandos. They are involved in what James calls an external war.
Look at the other kind of war that he talks about. Continue in verse one there in chapter four. He asks another question. He says, “Don’t they,” the word “they” is talking about these battles and quarrels that we have, these external wars that we have with each other, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 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. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
World War I
That is a lot of stuff right there. But the second kind of war that we are involved in everyday I will call World War I. The reason I am going to call it World War I is because this is the war that we fight everyday internally. By internally, I mean the war that we fight within ourselves. In fact, James says it’s that war that we fight within ourselves that causes the wars outside, the external wars.
We fight everyday within ourselves. Those of you who are Christ-followers, who have bent the knee to Christ, who have invited Christ to come into your life, know what I am talking about, because everyday we have the struggle of doing things God’s way, either fulfilling God’s desires or fulfilling our desires. It’s a constant battle within each of us.
James says that this war is caused by feuding desires. He uses the word “members.” That word means within our bodies. Within our bodies, there are feuding desires that cause internal war.
The first desire that causes internal war is our desire to control. I am usually in pretty good shape if people know who I am, and people do what I want to do, and people talk about what I want to talk about. As long as I am in control, there is not much conflict in my life. The problem is that when we run into someone who may challenge that, when we run into someone who doesn’t want to make me the king, then there is some serious conflict. So the conflict that I have internally spills out into every other relationship that I have.
I’ll give you a good example of this internal war. Some of you may have experienced it this morning. I love to watch our parking lot guys. They are a great group of guys out there in the parking lot. You know what, folks, they have a tough job. We really work with our parkers to have a strategic plan to get you in and out of the parking lots quickly. Sometimes, it has been rumored, we have parking problems here at Fellowship Church. I don’t know where that came from but that is what I hear. So we train our parkers to really do a great a job of getting you in and out of the parking lots. Those guys do a wonderful job. But here is what happens sometimes. I love to listen to them talk about it because it is kind of funny, but also kind of sad. They are out there in the parking lot moving their arms and hands and batons and whatever, signaling to the hundreds of cars coming in.
What they are saying to you as you enter the lot is, “Come in this way and we want you to go that way.” Then further down somebody else is signaling, “Come down this row.” Then finally somebody will go, “Park here in this spot.” The problem is we pull into the Fellowship Church parking lot and we don’t want to go that way. We want to go that way. So we are sitting there in our cars and the parkers are signaling for us to go one way, and we are going another. I think you see what the problem is.
Because of my desire and your desire to want to control, to pick our parking spot, or to pick our seat, or to pick the stuff in our lives, when we don’t get to do that, that internal battle within us breaks out externally and it causes problems. I just see people muttering all the time at those parking guys, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe he won’t let me park.” Man, don’t mess with our parkers; they are tough guys.
James says, not only do we have the desire to control, but we also have a desire to want what we can’t have. That’s called covetousness. We have within our bodies, within our members, within our flesh, this desire to have stuff that we can’t have.
One of the things that my wife and I like to do in the evenings is to walk. We just love to walk. How many of you walk in the evenings? That’s the 45+ way to exercise. We love to get out and walk. One of the things I find interesting about our journey when we walk is that we never walk in our neighborhood, because all the houses look like ours. They are okay but we love to walk where the big houses are. We will cross the street, go down the street, go into neighborhoods where the big houses are. I love to walk through those neighborhoods. My wife and I will walk through there and say, “Wow, what do they do for a living? How many square feet is that house? Look at the landscaping.”
It’s amazing, even though we don’t intend for it to happen, we begin to fight within ourselves with wanting something we can’t have. The bad thing is that we have to go back to our house. Husbands and wives, you know what I am talking about. One of the real conflicts in marriage is wanting things you can’t have. What happens is it causes conflict within the marriage. You have this internal war by desiring stuff. Then you begin to nitpick and fight with your spouse.
Wives, you know what I am talking about. You look at your husbands and say, “How come he has such a lousy job?”
Husbands, you look at your wives and go, “You know, if she wouldn’t spend so much money at Super Target, we could have one of those nice houses.”
You begin to bicker and fight. Then here is what we do. James says the next thing we do to really mess ourselves up is we go and pray to God. We go to God and we throw a spiritual temper tantrum. We get on our knees and we say, “God, how come I can’t live in that house? How come I can’t have that job? God, how come we are so poor. I can’t believe that you would put us in this situation.”
Then we ask God, “God, please help us.”
How does God respond to your spiritual temper tantrum? He doesn’t. He doesn’t answer that. He is not going to deal with that. Anytime your prayers are meant to glorify yourself and not God, he will not answer the prayer. He will not respond to you.
Anytime we pray with that motivation of self-centeredness, God is not going to respond. Years ago, I was in a small group, a Bible study, with some men, great guys. One of the things we would do in our Bible study at the end of it was have a prayer time. We would voice prayer requests. I will never forget this one guy who in our prayer request time would say, “Guys, I want you to pray for me. I am really struggling.”
We respond, “What? What is it? We’ll pray for you.”
He said, “You know, I have had such a difficult time trying to decide between the Lexus and the BMW. Would you guys pray for me, that God would lead me to the right car.”
I started laughing. God doesn’t care if you buy the Lexus or the BMW. That is not a prayer that God is going to answer, folks. Because that prayer is done in self-satisfaction and the motivation is to glorify ourselves. It is not going to happen. God will not respond to that.
Now look at the third kind of war that God talks about. It is in verse four. First of all, we had that external war, the Civil War. Then we had World War I, the war that happens internally. Look at this third kind of war. James says this in verse 4, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
The Holy War
Now, this third kind of war that you and I are involved with is a Holy War. It’s the Holy War. Muslims will call the Holy War, the Jihad. James says our Holy War is the MeGod, it’s me versus God. It’s the battlefield where we challenge God. We are at war with God. Folks, you will never win that war. It’s not going to happen. How in the world do we end up in a battle against God?
James says it starts with the world. When you see this phrase in the Bible, “the world,” or you see a phrase that says something about the flesh, what the writer of that phrase is talking about is anything that is contrary to God. Anything that is contrary to God is called the world or the flesh. What James is saying is in this Holy war, this holy battle with God, is that, while we are trying to develop our relationship with God, we are still trying to keep one foot in the world.
God will never be drawn, listen to me now because this is so important, God will never be drawn into a love triangle. One of the characteristics of God that we don’t talk about often but it is so true, and it is in Scripture, is that God is a jealous lover. He is a jealous God. By that, it means that God loves us so much, and that his love costs him so much, his son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross, it costs him so much, that God only wants us to have a relationship with him. We can’t share God. We can’t keep one foot in the world and one foot in heaven. That is a Holy War.
Husbands, imagine this scenario. You take your lovely wife to a restaurant and you seat her at the restaurant table. You say, “Honey, if you will sit here, I am going to sit over at this other table with my girlfriend. Is that okay? Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take care of the meal. It’s paid for, but I just don’t want her to know that we are married. Is that a problem?”
That is crazy. That is a marriage headed for disaster. We cannot, husbands, have two lovers. It’s doesn’t work. It never works. It’s also true in our relationship with God. We cannot love him and the world. It doesn’t happen. It’s a battle that you will never win.
Now look in verse 6, James summarizes why we fight these wars, the Civil War, World War I, and the Holy War. Look what he says in verse six. It kind of sums it up right there. He says, “But he gives us more grace.”—talking about God—“That is why Scripture says: God opposes the proud”—Circle that word “proud” mentally because we are going to talk about that—“but gives grace to the humble.” “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Do you know the reason why we are involved in all these wars in our life? The root cause is pride. It is that pride ride that so many of us are on. It’s our tendency to want to be in charge, to want to be our own god.
We say, “God, I can take care of it. Don’t worry. If I need you, I will call on you, but I have got it all under control.”
It’s that pride that causes us to be at battle with God, within ourselves and with other people. So what in the world can we do about it? How can we say to God, “God, I am tired of fighting the battles.” How do we negotiate a peace plan with God? How do we call a truce in our wars and in our battles? There is good news, because James tells us in the next few verses the white flags we need to wave. If we are serious about ending conflict and war in our lives, then there are three white flags that we need to wave.
Look in verse 7 at the first flag. James says this, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
The Flag of Submission
The first flag, folks, that we need to wave at God is the flag of submission. We need to submit to him. What does the word “submit” mean? In this context, the word “submit” is a military term. It means to understand your proper rank. It’s an organizational term. When you study the Bible, the word “submission” is talked about a lot. The Bible says that we as citizens are to submit to our government. Wives, you are to submit to your husbands. Husbands, you are to submit to your wives. Children, you are to submit to your parents. Employees, you are to submit to employers. In God’s world, and in God’s economy, there is a proper organizational chart. It is called submission. In other words, we all have a position in the organizational chart. We all have a rank, and we are to understand our rank in relationship to other people.
A good illustration of this is in the game of football. I love football. We are in football season. Do you realize that on an offensive football team, the center is always submissive to the quarterback. In other words, the center has a particular role. His job is to hike the ball, to get the ball to the quarterback. The quarterback’s role is to make something happen once he gets the ball. Now suppose the center calls timeout. He goes up to the quarterback and says, “Man, I am tired of being the center. I’m tired of squatting down in front of you for like sixty plays. I’m tired of hiking the ball to you. I’m tired of blocking for you. Every time the play is over, I am always at the bottom of the pile. I’m getting tired of it. It’s time that we switch ranks. I’ll be the quarterback and you, Mr. Quarterback, you are the center.”
Will that work? Well, maybe for the Cowboys, I don’t know. I’m kidding. I love the Cowboys. Realistically speaking, it won’t work. The center has a particular role that is very important to the team. The quarterback has a role that is very important to the team. Any time you mix up the rank you have problems.
James is saying, if we are going to end the war in our lives, we need to, first of all, wave the flag of submission to God. Instead of us calling the plays, we allow God to call the plays. Instead of us running our lives, we allow God to run our lives.
Look at the second flag that we need to wave. Look at the next verse there, verse 8, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.”
The Flag of Coming Near
The second flag we wave is the flag of coming near to God. James says, not only are we to submit to God, we are to come near to God. What that means is that we relationally place ourselves next to God. Some of you are asking, “Why do we have to do that?” The reason why we come near to God is God never moved. God has always been where he has been. We are the ones who have drifted away, and James says, if you are going to stop the wars and battles in your life, then you need to come back, you need to draw near, come near to God.
When my wife and I were dating, we met at Texas Tech, as students there. When I first met her, I thought, “Man, she is something special. I like her.” I devised a plan. My plan was strategic, because I wanted to come near to her. Hopefully, if I got real lucky, she would want to come near to me. So I formulated a plan. My plan was I was going to date her. I was going to date her a lot, as much as she would go out with me, I was going to date her. Plus, I would talk to her every day. I would get to know her. I would spend time with her. I would hang out with her. We had the same friends and we loved to do the same things. It was interesting that my plan to draw near and come near to my wife resulted in marriage. It worked.
Do you know why most of us struggle in our marriages? It’s because we have drifted apart from each other. Spouses, think about when you used to have the plan to come near to each other, the stuff you would do, the strategic plans you would make so that you would be near to each other and so that the love that you had for each other would flourish. Most of us have forgotten about the planning it takes to come near. We have just drifted off into our own lives, and it’s no wonder that there are so many marriages struggling today.
It’s no different in our relationship with God. As we drift away from God, as we lose contact with God, the battles in our lives begin to increase. James says, if you are serious about ending the battles, you need to pull out a white flag and you need to come near to God. How do you do that? James gives us an interesting illustration about how we can come near to God. He says in verse 8 that we should wash our hands. Now what is he talking about there? He is using hand washing as an illustration that we are to deal seriously with sin. In other words, it’s sin that has caused us to drift away from God. If we are going to come back to God, if we are going to come near to God, then we need to deal seriously with sin.
Folks, we need to call sin what it is. Don’t you love the words that we use instead of the word “sin?” You know, we don’t tell our friends, “Man, I sinned against you.” We say, “Man, I made a mistake. I have an issue. I messed up. I erred.” We use every word in the book, except the one word that really calls it what it is, “sin” with a big “I” in the middle. “I sin, s-i-n.”
The Bible says that we have got to deal seriously with it. In fact, James uses several words to describe how serious this is. He talks about mourning and wailing, crying out to God. What James is saying is, when we sin, we need to deal with it in a serious way. Folks, some of us need to cry about our sins. Instead of just laughing it off as a mistake. We need to recognize that those sins are keeping us apart from God, and sometimes we need to just cry about it.
God will never deal with us seriously until we deal with sin in a serious way. Why is that? It’s because sin is a no-nonsense issue with God. Sin costs God his only son. Because of your sin and my sin, Jesus Christ had to die on the cross. But when he was resurrected, when he was raised from the dead three days later, the battle against sin was finished. For those of you who are not Christ-followers, for those of you who are just checking out Christianity, you are just kicking tires, seeing what it is all about, the bottom line of Christianity is that sin separates you from God. The only way that you can have a relationship with God is through his son, Jesus Christ. It’s just realizing who you are, and inviting Christ into your life. We have got to deal with sin properly.
Look at the third white flag that we have to wave. There is submission, coming near to God and here is the third white flag. In the last verse, verse 10, James says this, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Here is another great promise. If we are going to have peace in our lives, if we are going to end all the battles and wars that we fight, James says that we have got to get low, humble ourselves, and once we do, God will lift us up. It all starts with humbling ourselves before God. We have go to raise the flag of humility before an Almighty God. The problem with most of us is that we are into the weight-lifting thing ourselves. We want to lift ourselves up. So we struggle and strain with lifting ourselves up and, when we try to lift ourselves up, here is what God does. God just kind of steps off to the side, crosses his arms and says, “You know what? If you want to try weight-lifting, go ahead. You want to try and lift up yourself, go ahead.” God will separate from us, because he cannot and will not share the throne with us.
Does it work when we do the lifting? No. It only works when we become humble before God, when we get low before God. Now, how do we get low? One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the story of Joshua. You can look in Joshua, chapter 5. I don’t have time to read the entire story to you. I’ll summarize it. But if you get the chance, go back and read it. It’s a great story about a great leader, a great man of God, Joshua.
Now, Joshua was picked by God to lead the nation of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promise Land. Joshua replaced Moses. Remember Moses died before the children of Israel actually crossed into the Promise Land. God had picked Joshua to lead the people. What a great leader he was. His only problem was, as soon as he crossed the Jordan River, he had to engage in battle with the city of Jericho. Like any great leader, Joshua was out there just walking around trying to figure out how they were going to accomplish the task.
In Joshua 5, the Bible says that, as Joshua was walking around, thinking and praying, all of a sudden a man appeared before Joshua. This was not any ordinary person. This person had on armor, was dressed as a soldier, and this person was carrying a sword. Most biblical scholars believe that this was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ before Joshua.
You know, it’s interesting, I don’t want to get off into Bible stuff, but there were several times in the Old Testament when Jesus appeared to different people, before he even began his ministry on Earth. That is what pre-incarnate means.
So, here we have Joshua. All of a sudden, he runs into Jesus Christ, this soldier who says he is the commander of the army of God. Here is what Joshua did. Folks, this is how you humble yourselves, as we read what Joshua’s reaction was to Christ. Here is how he humbled himself. The first thing that Joshua did was to recognize who he was talking to. How did he recognize who he was talking to? The Bible says that Joshua fell face down.
Have you ever prayed prostrate, down on your face? I didn’t say prostate—that’s a whole other deal. I said “prostrate,” which means to lie with your face down in humility or submission before God. You get a whole different perspective. It’s kind of a different perspective for me to look at you while I am lying on my face. Just think about what can happen when we recognize who God is. Folks, the problem is we spend way too much time on our rears, and not enough time lying on our faces before God.
Joshua recognized who he was talking to. The Bible says he immediately went face down. Joshua got low.
Yesterday, I was in the office studying. Believe it or not, I was praying. Anytime you speak to a few thousand people, you just pray a lot. It just happens. Ed does. I do. Anybody who speaks up here, we pray. But I did something different that I normally don’t do. I was reading this passage about Joshua and, in my office, I lay on the floor face down to pray to God. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to have the perspective of my face down before God. Because as I lay there, you know, it’s hard to be proud when you are lying on the floor. It’s hard for pride to overtake you when you are lying before God. That is why most of us, when we talk to God, love to stand or sit. Very few of us ever lie down because it is a pride issue. I’m not saying that, every time you pray, you have to throw yourself on the floor. But I am telling you, when you are dealing with a serious crisis in your life, when you are asking God to bless you in some way, I would recommend that you recognize who you are talking to and throw yourself on the floor and pray face down.
Joshua recognized who he was talking to, not just anybody, he was talking to God himself. Not only did he recognize who he was talking to, but the Bible tells us that he responded in the proper way. If we are going to humble ourselves before God, folks, we not only recognize who he is, but we had better respond in the right way. Joshua’s response was to say, “Lord.” Then the Bible says that he knelt down and took his sandals off, because he was on holy ground. What are you calling God when you pray? When you are trying to wave the white flag, do you call him “Lord”? “Sir” doesn’t work. “Mister” doesn’t work. “Teacher” doesn’t work. “Hey you” doesn’t work. “Lord” works every time. That word “Lord” is the all-inclusive word of recognizing and responding to God in the proper way. When we say “Lord,” we are saying, “God, you are the king of kings, the Lord of Lords, the Creator of the Universe, and in total charge of everything that happens. You know what is going to happen tomorrow.” We just give God the credit.
How many of you are getting low before God? James says if you are going to end the battles in your life, you have got to get low.
Three flags that we need to wave, submit ourselves, come near to God and humble ourselves. You know, as I look across this worship center, there are many of you who are involved in terrible battles in your life, battles with other people, battles with yourself, and some of you are fighting God. You are in your foxhole of life. You have got your helmet pulled down and you are barely able to see. You are peering out from under your helmet just waiting for the next shot to hit you.
What you need to realize this morning is that God loves you. God wants to end the conflict and quarrels in your life. If you are not a believer, the first step is becoming a believer, inviting Jesus Christ into your heart. Those of you who are already Christ-followers, it is a matter of submission, coming near to God and humbling yourself before God. It’s a matter of choosing God’s desires over your desires.
My prayer this morning is, for those of you who are fighting these battles that this passage in James has really spoken to you, and given you the direction that you need to go.