Reader: Diana Harcus
It was 1975 and, after 18 months of marriage and searching spiritually, Keith and Melody Green found a true relationship with God. Born and raised in the Jewish religion, they were surprised and delighted to encounter the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, and they became his followers/Christians. From that point on, they shared their excitement for the Lord Jesus with anyone who would listen. At age 11, Keith had become the youngest person ever to sign with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) upon publication of his first recorded song so he was a musical prodigy and genius. After their conversions, Keith and Melody began writings songs together to put their newfound love for God, and their desire to serve Him, into music, songs such as “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” and “There is a Redeemer”.
Concert tours and fame occurred, but Keith and Melody weren’t trying to do anything other than praise the Lord. They were just reading the Bible and trying to do what it said. Fame came rapidly, though, as people began to love Keith and Melody Green, mostly for their music, but also because they were viewed as authentic Christians who “walked their talk”. For instance, their policy to not charge admission prices to see their shows flabbergasted people in a positive way. Pretty soon their small house in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley in California was overflowing with people coming to visit and stay with them. Soon after, they bought the house next door and then rented five more homes within a few blocks of each other to house about 75 people who were seeking truth and freedom from addictions, etc, much to the consternation of their confused neighbours. People were continually getting saved, baptized, and set apart to serve the Lord through the ministry of Keith and Melody Green. A later biographical book on Keith Green’s life, entitled “No Compromise” (which was also the name of his second album, the #1 album on the Contemporary Christian Music charts at the time), shows that he was unwilling to compromise his faith to the norms of society. He was determined to live his life for Jesus, and people respected him for that. Within two years of becoming Christians, an official ministry, which the Greens named “Last Days Ministries”, was born. They chose that
name because they saw the daily newspaper and tv headlines and believed what they were reading and seeing was lining up with Biblical prophecies about us humans living in the last days before the return of Jesus. All of this resulted in Keith and Melody Green becoming the two leading figures of the 1970’s Jesus People Movement in which tens of thousands of young people including me, Zack Lim’s parents, and others, were converted and gave their lives to becoming followers of Jesus. For the Greens, life was a great adventure and their motto, the tagline of their Last Days Ministries, was this:
“Life is Short. Make it Count” – Keith and Melody Green
I recalled all this when I saw Zack had chosen “Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” as a worship song this morning. I had earlier determined that my sermon title would be from the question James poses to his readers in 4:14, “What is Your Life?”. Singing Keith Green’s song reminded me of that ministry motto: “Life is Short. Make it Count”.
As you may remember in the first four sermons from this preaching series we have been doing through the Letter of James, his original audience were the 6 thousand-or-so Christians who had fled from Jerusalem when persecution broke out against them on the day of the death of the church’s first martyr for the faith, Stephen. Those early Christians had fled to various locales south, north, and west of Jerusalem, going even across the Mediterranean Sea to Cyprus. In his letter to them, James was trying to help them out. His was a teaching letter, an epistle, instructing them on how to live in that new-to-them Roman society which was ignorant of – and hostile to – their Christian lifestyles as well as to the Gospel of Jesus. James knew that just as those Christians had fled persecution against them in Jerusalem, they would also be facing persecution in their new locales, as well. So, the purpose of his writing was to help them live out their faith well in their new situations but, as we saw last week, James also was concerned because he was aware that certain words said among them were creating havoc in those far-flung churches. Unwise, even evil, words had been said by some of the Christians against their fellow believers. James was grieved. He wrote, in effect, “Listen to me: you need to understand that you saying those kinds of things to one another means you are doing Satan’s bidding. Harsh, bad words come from the pit of hell. But you can overcome all of that by simply staying connected to God, rooted in Christ. If you do that, then the Lord will help you have words and attitudes that are filled with grace and encouragement.” Going on today to chapter 4, James continues with this theme.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so 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. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4)
In chapter 3, James had identified that strife comes from minds that are one with the world. Here in chapter 4, he calls that kind of lifestyle “adulterous” because the church, which elsewhere in the New Testament is called the “Bride of Christ”, has been fooling around with the world and Satan, instead of staying committed to their bridegroom, Jesus. So, they were committing “adultery” spiritually. Having a “friendship with the world” caused problems with others, as well as enmity/hostility to God. The results were devastating to fellowship with others, as well as with the people’s relationship with God. James identifies that the thing which causes such strife is the desire by some for pleasure, for self-gratification. However, because the people who give in those desires are never satisfied, they become as killers, not literally but spiritually and relationally, for harsh words of negativity results in a kind of killing. Words and attitudes that reflect the world’s thinking are actually enemies of the Lord and at odds with how He would have us live as Christians.
Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.” (James 4:5,6)
When one becomes a Christian he or she enters into a new and special relationship, as a bride wedded to Christ. That is why the Lord is jealous in his love for us. He wants that married relationship between us and him to be preserved so He gives us a good gift of more and more grace, that we would love Him more. The person who is self-centered does not feel they need God’s grace for they believe they are self-sufficient. But the one who is Christ-centered recognizes their need of greater grace from God. The one who is arrogant, God opposes, but the one who is humble, God gives more grace to.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 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. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)
Why will Satan flee from you? A famous early church theologian known as the “Shepherd of Hermes” wrote, “The devil can wrestle against the Christian, but he cannot pin the Christian.” The person who is connected to God, rooted in Christ – because of that connectedness and rootedness, not because of anything else they have done or who they are, but solely because of their connectedness to God and rootedness in Christ – that person Satan fears, so he will flee from such a person. And when you connected to God, and rooted in Jesus, the words that come out of your mouth will not cause strife but will be uplifting to others and pleasing to God. So, be connected and careful.
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11,12)
Satan slanders people, and we don’t want to mimic anything he does, or be under his control, so don’t slander others. James makes it clear that to malign or judge a fellow believer is really maligning and judging the law, saying it is not important or meaningful. James may also be referring to the Golden Rule of Jesus which he had earlier quoted in 2:8 when he wrote, ‘If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, you are doing right’. Us loving our neighbour is shown in how we speak to them. As for breaking God’s law, Christians intentionally doing so would have been heartbreaking for James. Specifically, for him, one of the ways of breaking God’s law was in gossip. Breaking God’s law is foolish as there is only one Lawgiver and Judge: Jesus. Christians ought to be careful, as a result.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” (James 4:13)
One’s life certainly should not lived for self-satisfaction, for getting one’s own way, of having one’s desires met, or in desiring to make a lot of money for only one’s own benefit. By declaring, “I will be doing this, or that”, instead of including the Lord’s will in such planning, James is sure that will lead to things not going well.
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:14-17)
Reiterating here the sermon title, “what is your life?” Keith and Melody Green said, “Life is short. Make it count” and James says, “Your life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. Certainly, James is not suggesting that Christians avoid making plans or to, without planning, wake up each day wondering what is going to happen that day. Doing such would be irresponsible. Instead, he gives directions as to how a Christian should deploy his or her life from day to day. It is fine to plan out one’s life – it is wise, in fact – but only when God is consulted and included in the planning. Leaving Him out of life planning, results in self-centeredness taking over, and we all know what happens to the “best laid plans of mice and men”, as the saying goes. It is true that we might say, though we shouldn’t, “As we decide, maybe today, maybe tomorrow, we will journey to this city or that city, and we will spend a year there, trading and making a profit.” But making plans in that way, James warns, means that we have placed ourselves on the throne; God is forgotten. We have assumed a mastery over time and events. Yet, we don’t have that kind of control.
My Uncle Don was a very competent and strong man. A fine Christian, an evangelist, a loving father and grandfather, Uncle Don died a few years ago. His wife, my dad’s only sister, my Aunt Ethel, died this past Friday. They didn’t plan the days of their deaths but their lives went by very quickly. Life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes”. You may remember Jesus’ parable in Luke 12 about a rich man who made great plans for the future, only for that man to die the very night of his planning. Jesus says that God called him a “fool” for planning unwisely. Remember, your life is “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Now, if we haven’t learned that through these past 3 years of the Covid Pandemic then we are simply unteachable, what with the excess deaths being at such alarming levels that governments in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are now investigating the reasons for that excess. We Christians need to live our lives wisely. Make them count.
In 1979, the Keith and Melody Green moved their Last Days Ministries from Southern California to 40 acres of land in East Texas. For the Greens, and all who came to live and serve Jesus with them, there seemed to never be a dull moment. They did their own version of the Try Praying campaign we do here each year in that they would go door to door asking people if they had any prayer needs. They invited strangers to their weekly Potluck Dinners. Their numbers and ministry grew rapidly. Monthly newsletters, books, pamphlets, records, and concert tours all took place.
Then, on July 28th, 1982, longtime friends from southern California arrived with their six children. The friends had promised their children an airplane ride when they got to the Last Days Ministries property in Texas. The Greens had cleared land for a simple airstrip on their property and leased a small airplane for Keith’s musical tours. It was just before sunset when that visiting family of 8, along with Keith Green and his 4-year-old son Josiah David and 2-year-old daughter Bethany Grace, plus the pilot of the airplane, took off for a planned quick flight over the property. Green’s wife Melody stayed at home with one-year-old Rebekah as she was six weeks pregnant with their fourth child, Rachel, who would be born 8 months later. However, the Cessna airplane Keith Green and the 11 others were in, was horribly overloaded which meant it was too heavy, that its center of balance was all out of whack, and that it could not lift high enough upon takeoff. Thus, its engine stalled, and the plane crashed to the ground half a mile from where it started. Everyone on board died. It was a tragedy that shook all of us baby boomer/Jesus people Christians, as well as millions of others. I remember being absolutely gutted by the news. Possibly the only good thing that came out of this tragedy was that, because of it, the US National Transportation Safety Board initiated for the first time mandatory aviation safety lessons for every pilot of small planes, potentially saving other people’s lives as a result.
But here’s the point for today’s sermon and from today’s passage in James 4: “Life is Short. Make it Count”. As James wrote, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Don’t plan anything without God. Don’t gossip or speak harshly to or about others. Be connected to God and rooted in Jesus. Learn that and you will live wisely. May God be with you as you do so. Amen.