Transformed by Truth
James 1:17-27

The Purpose Driven Life #3

During the Munich Crisis of September 1938, as Hitler rallied his forces and the world slid inexorably toward war, more radios were sold than in any previous month. In this atmosphere of tension, Orson Welles and his staff prepared for their latest Mercury Theater presentation, a show that had previously dramatised such novels as "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "Dracula".

Auspiciously, on the night before Halloween, Welles and his co-writer Howard Koch were planning something special this particular night. A story set in Victorian England was to be transplanted to contemporary America, but much more significantly, Welles told the story as a series of newsflashes that intruded without warning into what sounded like a perfectly routine program.

This radical departure from established dramatic formats was to prove devastatingly effective, and combined with the use of numerous real place names, added significantly to the depth of the panic to ensured. In yet another contributing factor, more than half the people tuned in late to the broadcast. This was largely because a great many listeners switched at an inopportune moment from a rival network, which was broadcasting the wildly popular Charlie McCarthy Show. About 10 minutes into this show, a singer would be introduced, and this was the point a lot of listeners would twiddle their dials while waiting for the star of the show to return. Tuning into the Mercury Theater a few minutes late (and thus having missed Wells distinctively sonorous introduction) they found themselves listening to the innocent sounds of "Ramon Raquello and his orchestra", only for the music to be interrupted by the first of a series of increasingly alarming news stories.

First come reports of several explosions of "incandescent gas" observed on the planet Mars, then after a brief interlude of more music comes a hook-up to Princeton Observatory where an interview is conducted with professor Richard Pierson. Pierson (played by Welles) assures the listeners that there is nothing to be alarmed at, but then the first reports of a meteor impact arrive. It is at this point that an unassuming place called Grover's Mill enters the story. Even today Grover's Mill is a sleepy little hamletÖ, but that night it was going to become the centre of the universe for a very considerable number of people. As fate would have it, Grover's Mill was chosen as the beachhead for a Martian invasion by the simple method of jabbing a pencil into a map purchased at a roadside garage. They then plotted the advance of the Martians toward New York City, brushing aside American defenders and destroying dozens of familiar place names along the way.

An emergency government announcement appeared to give credence to the story, and huddled about their radios, panicked listeners (all over the USA) began to bombard local police stations with calls. From Trenton comes the account of a Mrs Thomas. "We were petrified. We just looked at each other, scared out of our wits. Someone was banging on our front door. It was our neighbour across the street. She had packed her seven kids in their car and she kept yelling, come on, lets get out of here."

Henry Sears, then just 13 years old, was doing his homework when he heard the first news flash of the invasion. Taking the radio down into the tavern below which his mother owned, he and a dozen or so patrons listened with mounting fear to the broadcast, until the men jumped up and announced they were going to get their guns and join in the defence at Grover's Mill,[1] as Martian invaders rampaged across the New Jersey countryside. People packed the roads, hid in cellars, loaded guns, even wrapped their heads in wet towels as protection from Martian poison gas. In an attempt to defend themselves against aliens, listeners were oblivious to the fact that they were acting out the role of the panic-stricken public that actually belonged in the radio play. People were stuck in a kind of virtual world in which fiction was confused for fact.

H.G. Wells wrote War of the Worlds in 1898, in response to the unification and militarization of Germany. He became famous for predicting the invention of tanks, the use of aerial bombing, of nuclear war, and - in this novel - gas warfare, laser-like weapons, and industrial robots.
On July 1st 2005 the world will go to war (again) as Steven Spielbergís adaptation goes on general release in the UK. I suspect this latest contemporary retelling of H.G. Wells classic about the battle for the survival of humankind, despite a multi-million dollar budget and star cast, will not have the same impact as Orson Wellesí radio play did in October 1938. The reaction then, just as much as the debate about what we were told by our leaders prior to the war in Iraq, shows dramatically what we believe affects how we behave. The truth transforms us. One reason Wells was so popular, and why Spielberg probably will be this summer, is because the book, the play and the film are based indirectly on fact.

We are indeed at war. I donít mean against the so-called ďAxis of EvilĒ made up of Syria, Iran and North Korea, which our politicians tell us is the cause of the terrorism and threats to our democratic peace loving values. The ultimate ĎWar of the Worldsí, behind which every other war is merely a skirmish, is described in Ephesians 6.

The apostle Paul writes, ďFor our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Ē (Ephesians 6:12). And in Paulís list of armour to put on -† our only weapon in this war of the worlds is what?

Verse 17, ďThe sword of the Spirit. Which is the word of God.Ē (Ephesians 6:17). These Sunday mornings in June and July we are exploring Godís purpose for us - that we were created to become like Christ. Today from James 1, I want us to consider how we, and those we love, can indeed be transformed by the truth of Godís word. Rick Warren explains in The Purpose Driven Life, that ď
Spiritual growth is the process of replacing lies with truth.Ē[2] Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth." (John 17:17) †Sanctification requires revelation.

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. To become like Jesus, we must fill our lives with his Word.
It is somewhat ironic that there are more Bibles in print today than ever before, yet millions of believers are plagued with spiritual anorexia, starving to death from spiritual malnutrition. Why? Because a bible on the shelf is about as beneficial as bread in a pantry. Its only of benefit when we take it out and feed on it.

Lets examine James 1 and see how Godís truth can transform us to become like Jesus. To do so we must

  1. Accept its authority (James 1:17-18)
  2. †Assimilate its truth (James 1:19-21)
  3. †Apply its principles (James 1:22-27)

 

1. Accept the Authority of Godís Word (James 1:17-18)

ďEvery good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.Ē (James 1:17-18).

†††

We must accept its authority. The Bible must become the authoritative standard for my life: the compass I rely on for direction, the counsel I listen to for making wise decisions, and the benchmark I use for evaluating everything. The Bible must always have the first and last word in my life. Many of our troubles occur because we base our choices on unreliable authorities:

culture "everyone is doing it",
tradition "we've always done it",
reason "it seemed logical", or
emotion "it just felt right".

All four of these are flawed by the Fall. Which is why they will never provide ultimate solutions for the wars of the world, merely perpetuate them . What we need is a perfect standard that will never lead us in the wrong direction. Only God's Word meets that need. Solomon reminds us, "Every word of God is flawless," (Proverbs 30:5) and Paul explains, "Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.Ē (2 Timothy 3:16)


To be a healthy disciple of Jesus, feeding on God's Word must be your first priority. Jesus said "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.Ē (John 8:31). God's Word is unlike any other word. It is alive. Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." (John 6:63).  When God speaks, things change. Everything around you-all of creation-exists because "God said it. He spoke it all into existence. Without God's Word we would not even be alive. In verse 18, James points out, "God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things he made." (James 1:18)


The Bible is far more than a doctrinal guidebook. God's Word generates life, creates faith, produces change, frightens the Devil, causes miracles, heals hurts, builds character, transforms circumstances, imparts joy, overcomes adversity, defeats temptation, infuses hope, releases power, cleanses our minds, brings things into being, and guarantees our future forever! We cannot live without the Word of God! Never take it for granted.


In the early years of his ministry, Billy Graham went through a time when he struggled with doubts about the accuracy and authority of the Bible. One moonlit night he dropped to his knees in tears and told God that, in spite of confusing passages he didn't understand, from that point on he would completely trust the Bible as the sole authority for his life and ministry. From that day forward, Billy's life was blessed with unusual power and effectiveness.


The most important decision you can make today is to settle this issue of what will be the ultimate authority for your life. Decide that regardless of culture, tradition, reason, or emotion, you choose the Bible as your final authority. Determine to first ask, "What does the Bible say?" when making decisions. Resolve that when God says to do something, you will trust God's Word and do it whether or not it makes sense or you feel like doing it. Adopt Paul's statement as your personal affirmation of faith: "I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets." (Acts 24:14). To be transformed by the truth we must first accept the authority of Godís word. Secondly we must:

2. Assimilate the Truth of Godís Word (James 1:19-21)

ďMy dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.Ē (James 1:19-21)

It is not enough just to believe the Bible; I must fill my mind with it so that the Holy Spirit can transform me with the truth.

The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make us like the Son of God. That is why you should consider it as essential to your life as food. Job said, "I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread." (Job 23:12). God's Word is the spiritual nourishment you must have to fulfill your purpose. The Bible is called our milk, bread, solid food, and sweet dessert. This four-course meal is the Spirit's menu for spiritual strength and growth. Peter advises us, "Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation." (1 Peter 2:2)

Here are four ways to do this (think of them like your four fingers): You can receive it, research it, remember it, and reflect on it.


2.1 We must receive Godís word (Read)

ďhumbly accept the word planted in youĒ (James 1:21).


The Amplified Bible puts it more graphically, "In a humble (gentle, modest) spirit, receive and welcome the Word which implanted and rooted in your hearts contains the power to save your souls." (James 1:21)

 

You accept God's Word when you read or listen and receive it with an open, receptive attitude. The parable of the sower illustrates how our receptiveness determines whether or not God's Word takes root in our lives and bears fruit. Jesus identified three unreceptive attitudes-a closed mind (hard soil), a superficial mind (shallow soil), and a distracted mind (soil with weeds)-and then he said, "Consider carefully how you listen." (Luke 8:18). †

We can't watch television for three hours, then read the Bible for three minutes and expect to grow. If you will read the Bible just fifteen minutes a day, you will read completely through it once a year. If you cut out one thirty-minute television program a day and read your Bible instead, you will read through the entire Bible twice a year. Daily Bible reading will keep you in range of God's voice. This is why God instructed the kings of Israel to always keep a copy of his Word nearby: "He should keep it with him all the time and read from it every day of his life." (Deuteronomy 17:19) †

A simple tool that is helpful for this is a daily Bible reading plan. It will prevent you from just skipping around the Bible arbitrarily and overlooking sections. If you would like an electronic version visit www.laridian.com or a paper version see www.navpress.com/Magazines/DJ/BibleReadingPlans.asp †To assimilate its truth, we must first, receive Godís Word.


2.2 We must research Godís word (Study)

ďThose who look intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continue in it.Ē (James 1:25)


The difference between reading and studying the Bible involves two additional activities: asking questions of the text and writing down your insights. These can be done alone, but are best achieved on a consistent basis through being part of a small Bible study group (between 4-12 members). If you are not part of a small group bible study you cannot grow as a Christian as quickly or consistently the way God intended. You haven't really studied a Bible passage unless you've written your thoughts down on paper or computer, so that you can go back and review and enlarge on them on another occasion.

One of the first and most important things I did as a young Christian when I began to realize the importance of researching Godís word was buying a box file with 66 dividers - one for each book of the Bible. When ever I found anything in a Christian magazine about a bible passage into the file it went. When ever I heard a sermon on a particular passage, into the file went my notes. Pretty soon I had to buy a second hand filing cabinet. Then I decided to buy one recommended commentary on each book of the bible. That was my way of researching Godís Word. The secret of good Bible study is simply learning to ask the right questions. Different methods use different questions. You will discover far more if you pause and ask such simple questions as who? what? when? where? why? and how? †To assimilate its truth, we must first, receive Godís word, second, research Godís word.


2.3 We must remember Godís word (Memorise)

ďÖ not forgetting what they have heard.Ē (James 1:25).


Your capacity to remember is a God-given gift. You may think you have a poor memory, but the truth is, you have millions of ideas, truths, facts, and figures memorized. You remember what is important to you. If God's Word is important, you will take the time to remember it. There are enormous benefits to memorizing Bible verses. It will help you resist temptation, make wise decisions, reduce stress, build confidence, offer good advice, and share your faith with others. Your memory is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it will become, and memorizing Scripture will become easier. You might begin by memorizing the verse on the enews each week. I recommend you write them down on a small card you can carry with you. Then review them aloud throughout your day.

You can memorize Scripture anywhere: while working or exercising or driving or waiting or at bedtime. The three keys to memorizing Scripture are review, review, and review! The Bible says, "Remember what Christ taught and let his words enrich your lives and make you wise." (Colossians 3:16). The best memory programme has been developed by the Navigators. Iíve used it on and off for many years.† Its called† the Topical Memory System.


You can buy it from any Christian bookstore or online from [3] http://www.navpress.com/Store/Product/990073369X.html

To assimilate its truth, we must first, receive word, second, research Godís word, third, remember Godís word.


4.4 We must reflect on Godís word (Meditate)

The fourth way to abide in God's Word is to reflect on it, which the Bible calls "meditation." Biblical meditation is simply focused thinking. It takes serious effort. You select a verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind. This isnít complicated or difficult - in fact you already do it all the time - you may indeed be doing it right now. What do I mean? If you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate.

Worry is focused thinking on something negative. Meditation is focused thinking on something positive. Its about †focusing on God's Word instead of your problem. No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture. As we take the time to contemplate God's truth, seriously reflecting on the example of Christ, we are "transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory." (2 Corinthians 3:18).

If you look up all the times God speaks about meditation in the Bible, you will be amazed at the benefits he has promised to those who take the time to reflect on his Word throughout the day. One of the reasons God called David "a man after my own heart" (Acts 13:22) is that David loved to reflect on God's Word. He said, "How I love your teachings! I think about them all day long." (Psalm 119:97).

Serious reflection on God's truth is a key to answered prayer and the secret to successful living. Lets recap: If you want to be transformed by truth, we must receive Godís word, research Godís word, remember Godís word and reflect on Godís word. We must:

1.      Accept the authority of Godís word (James 1:17-18)

2.      Assimilate the truth of Godís word (James 1:19-21)

 

But as you know it is very difficult to hold onto something even with all four fingers. Receiving, researching, remembering, and reflecting on the Word are useless unless we what?

3.      Apply the Principles of Godís Word (James 1:22-27)

ďDo not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.Ē (James 1:22)

 

To become like Jesus, we must become "doers of the word." †This is the hardest step of all, because Satan fights it so intensely. He doesn't mind you going to Bible studies as long as you don't do anything with what you learn. James says that is as bad as someone who:


ďÖ looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing itóhe will be blessed in what he does.Ē
(James 1:23-25)

 

We fool ourselves when we assume that just because we have heard or read or studied a truth, we have internalized it. Actually, you can be so busy going to the next service or seminar or Bible conference that you have no time to implement what you've learned.

You forget it on the way to your next study. Without implementation, all our Bible studies are worthless. Jesus said,

 

"Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matthew 7:24)

 

Jesus also pointed out that God's blessing comes from obeying the truth, not just knowing it. He said, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 17:13)

This is why it is so important to discuss your personal applications with other people. I cannot overstate the value of being a part of a small Bible study discussion group. We always learn from others truths we would never learn on our own. Other people will help you see insights you would miss and help you apply God's truth in a practical way. The best way to become a "doer of the Word" is to always write out an action step as a result of your reading or studying or reflecting on God's Word. Develop the habit of writing down exactly what you intend to do. This action step should be:

 

o       personal (involving you),

o       practical (something you can do), and

o       provable (with a deadline to do it).

 

James ends this passage with some very personal, practical and provable application: ďReligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.Ē (James 1:27)

 

Every application will involve either your relationship to God, your relationship to others, or your personal character, and in many cases, as here, all three simultaneously. We have been thinking through what it means to be transformed by truth. To find ourselves on the victorious side in the war of the worlds, we need to:

Accept the authority of Godís word (James 1:17-18)

Assimilate the truth of Godís word (James 1:19-21)

Apply the principles of Godís word (James 1:22-27)

Before next week, spend some time thinking about this question: What has God already told me to do in his Word that I haven't started doing yet? Then write down a few action statements that will help you act on what you know. You might tell a friend who can hold you accountable. D. L. Moody once said, "The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives."

Two Sundays ago I spoke at an international conference in London organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission. The theme pf the conference was Liberation Theology and the Right of Resistance. While the other speakers justified military solutions to the conflict in the Middle East, I advocated a non-violent solution based on the liberating teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.

I insisted that the only legitimate weapon for Christís followers, in our fight against evil, is the Word of God. That is because international disputes, just as much as our personal tensions, can only ultimately be transformed by truth, the truth of Godís word, which reveals his perfect will for our lives. We are indeed at war. Whose side are you on? Are you being conformed or transformed?
Lets pray.

 



[1] Taken from an article published on http://www.war-ofthe-worlds.co.uk/radio.htm

[2] Much of this sermon is drawn, with thanks, from chapter 24 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Zondervan, 2002), pp.185-192.

[3] Navigators Topical Memory System www.navpress.com/Magazines/DJ/BibleReadingPlans.asp