The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Devils, Distance, and Drawing Close ~ James 4

hand-of-god-1383050-1280x960On Sunday we looked at another pretty challenging teaching of James, but also one filled with hope and promise.

James writes this, ““So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you”. (James 4:7-8)

James is sharing that the heart you respond to God with, is how he will respond to you. That if you are open to God, seeking God, humbling yourself to God – he will draw you close. But if you are pushing him away, fighting him, and rejecting him – God honours our freedom but still seeks to care and have compassion for us.

So James reminds us to check our hearts, to see if they are pushing God away, or opening up to him. 

James also reminds us that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. And as I’ve said before, even if you don’t believe in the devil, you’ve experienced him. In the Bible the devil is the source of accusation, fear, and someone who actively seeks to separate ourselves from God. The truth is we have all felt accusation, and fear which separates us from God.

James wants to remind us that this doesn’t need to be so. That if we just were to resist the accusation, the guilt, the fear, the separation, the devil would flee and we would move closer to God. That if we would but draw close to God, he will draw close to us and the devil must flee as we move closer to God.

We ended up with a pretty clear main idea, that we need to repent and rely on God. 

God promises to be there with us, to push away the devil, accusation, guilt, and fear but we need to repent and rely on him. As long as we are going our own way, as long as we assert our independence, as long as we pretend we don’t need him – he can’t help us. He can’t help us when we are resisting and pushing him away.

So on Sunday to make this real, we did something I don’t often do. We did an altar call. We invited people to simply come forward who wanted to physically say to God ~ I need you in some area. And that was it.

But sometimes we need to do something tangible to connect with God. And the truth is we are all broken and need God, so we can all use with doing something tangible. 

So if you are in the place where you need God today – do something tangible. Maybe kneel, maybe write out your needs, maybe ask someone to pray. But do something, because God’s promise is that if you move closer to him, he’ll move closer to you.

 

 

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: We need to repent and rely on God.

Teaching Points:

  • “God gives what he demands” – Augustine
  • God will respond with the heart you have for him.
  • One of the primary roles of Satan is to separate God and people.
  • Draw close to God and he will draw close to you.
  • How often do we try to go it alone and hide our flaws?
  • We live with a lack of light, because we refuse to rely on him.
  • We need to repent and rely on God.

Adult Discussion Questions:

“The reason we struggle isn’t because we can’t overcome our failures, but because we are too proud to ask God to move.”  What do you think of this statement? Have you experienced the truth of these promises: that God WILL come near as we come to Him in true humility, and that Satan WILL flee from us as we resist him? What do you need to repent of? Confess? Get clean from? Admit? (Remember, this is how James says we come closer to God – it is crucial in our relationship with Him) About what things are you too proud to admit the truth? (Our pretending prevents God from working) How can you practically turn from these things and rely on God, beginning today?

 

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Have you ever needed help with something, but you didn’t want to admit that you couldn’t do it alone? How can we come to God today, letting Him be the one that helps us through our weaknesses and failures?

Challenge for the Week: To repent and rely on God…today.

Humility and the Devil

anybody-listening-1563751-639x852On Sunday we are going to be exploring James 4.

James 4 has lots of wonderful things within it, and also lots of challenging things. The area I want to focus on is this verse:

“So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you”. (James 4:7-8)

I want to focus in on how we can draw close to God, on how we can be free from Satan – the source of accusation, fear, and separation. I want to look at how we can find life by moving closer to God.

The trouble is that to do this we need to admit that we need God. And admitting our failures is something most people struggle with, myself included. I don’t like to think that I’m broken, flawed, or in need of much. I don’t like putting myself in places where my lack of knowledge will be revealed – which is why I never go to hardware stores or near tools. But the truth is that we all have flaws, and that there is a beautiful promise of God. That if we would but humble ourselves, admit our need, move away from fear and guilt of the devil, towards God, we will find him drawing closer and closer.

And I’m not sure about you, but this is something that I want in my life.

So why not join with us on Sunday to discover how it can happen in yours.

Love is a dream that enables us both to be our Best

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I read this other day by Joan Chittister as I’m working through one of her books. She writes this,

“Love is not a model that makes two people the same person. Love is the dream that enables both of us to be our own best person – together”

And I wish every single couple I’ve ever done a marriage for, or will do a marriage would sit and think about that.

So often in our world today love is seen as making the same, rather than cherishing differences. We love to make people into carbon copies of ourselves, to find compromises where we become almost indecipherable, where we try to find ourselves in other people, and this is well…it’s not love.

Not love in the way that the Bible talks about it. Love is what binds people together and holds them together, but it doesn’t make them the same. Just go read 1 Corinthians 13 – the well known “love chapter”. This chapter is all about how to love and hold people together, but it’s people who are different. This chapter is set right in the middle of a discussion about how to hold together people with different gifts, ideas, and opinions? Paul’s answer is love can do that. Not love that reduces people to common denominators. Not love that erases all differences. Not love that makes carbon copies. But love that enables both people to be their best.

Love, when it is truly love, doesn’t erase differences; it finds a way to hold onto those differences in harmony. Love actually loves people as they are, without tyring to make them into something else. We have a different word for people who try to change others into their version of perfection. We call that coercion, we call that conquest, we call that wrong when we’ve done that throughout history (see the Crusades, “settling” of the new world, or lots of other examples).

The point is that love doesn’t seek to squish and squash someone into a mold of sameness. Love is a dream that enables people to both be their best. And that’s something worth striving for.

So in your closest relationships today – is there a way that you can help them to reach their dreams? Is there a way that you can both move towards your best? Does it start with a conversation saying – I want you to find the best and be part of that? Does it start with a surprise or a gift? It certainly starts with some effort, so why not give that a shot.

The Book that Almost Wasn’t: Faith, Lists, and Works ~ James 2

a863e94cb599221a9adad7d2ac087581On Sunday we opened up probably the most famous verse of James in James 2 where he says, “Faith without works is dead”. This is a verse that is deservedly famous, but also does bring up a tension. Because this verse looks almost directly contradictory to some of the teaching of Paul. For example Paul says this:

Ephesians 2:8-9. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works”

Romans 3:27, “Can we boast then that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by works”

Galatians 2:16, “And yet we Jewish Christians know that we become right with God, not by doing what the law commands, but by faith in Jesus Christ…for no one will ever be saved by obeying the law”.

This tension though is more in perspective than in reality. James is writing to people who are using their faith as an excuse to not do works. Paul is writing to people who are seeking to use their works as reason to be accepted. And the different contexts make all the difference.

James is not arguing that works  must be added to faith, but that genuine faith includes works.

Douglas Moo puts it this way,

The difference between the [teachings of James and Paul] is the context in which these works are done. Paul denies that works can have any value in brining us into a relationship with God; James is insisting that, once that relationships is established, works are essential”.

So works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.  

Or as Calvin puts it, “Paul contends that we are justified apart from the help of works, so James does not allow those who lack good works to be reckoned righteous”.

So we ended with James’ main point: Faith without works is dead. And we challenge people to actually put James’ point into practice.

At the beginning of the service we had everyone write down five needs they see around them. Which is a great practice, and one you should do right now actually.

But at the end of the sermon I called people to look at their lists, and remember faith without works is dead. And that they each had a list of needs they could meet. So I challenged them to meet some needs. Because if faith is about works, it’s time to get to work.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Faith without works is dead.

Teaching Points:

  • Faith leads to change.
  • James is arguing that genuine faith includes works.
  • Works don’t save you, but show that you are saved.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What were some of the needs on your list? Which ones are hardest to meet? Are there people who can help you meet them? Why do you think faith needs works? What happens when faith doesn’t include works?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Talk to your kids about how when we follow Jesus we need to actually “do things”. Ask them the things that Jesus did, and then ask them which things they could do. Take time to do it then together.

Challenge for the Week: Put faith into action and meet a need.

3 (Marks): Connecting Daily with Jesus: The Secret and Connecting with Christ

cross-1195511On Sunday we looked at a secret Paul shares. And honestly the best secrets we do want to share. We say “want to know the secret too….baking a cake, losing weight, or any other number of things. Well Paul wants to share the secret to the Christian life – to finding life.

We began with a quote by Metropolitan Anthoy Bloom. He writes this:

You will find stability at the moment when you discover that God is everywhere, that you do not need to seek God elsewhere, that God is here, and if you don’t find God here it is useless to go and search elsewhere because it is not God that is absent from us, it is we who are absent from God…This is important because it is only at the moment you recognize this that you can truly find the fullness of the Kingdom of God in all its richness within you.

The beauty is that you can connect with Jesus right here, as you are. You don’t have to become someone else, or go somewhere else to connect with Jesus.

Paul says “For this is the secret, Christ lives in you”

We are connected to Jesus, we are connected to Christ, Christ lives in you and me. This is absolutely world changing because we are connected and sustained by Christ. This means that no matter where we are at, we can connect with Christ because he lives in us. Christ is not distant, Christ is within.

This led us to the main point for Sunday: Christ lives in you, and you can connect with him. The Christian life revolves around Christ. The Christian life is centred and propelled by Jesus Christ. And you can connect to this Christ because he lives in you.

The question then is are we connecting with Christ? If Christ is connected to us, are we consciously connecting with him? And how this happens will be different for everyone, the point is that it happens.

So we gave the challenge to daily connect with God. Because the secret is that Christ lives in us.

“God does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be the most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.” Brother Lawrence

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Christ lives in you, and you can connect with him.

Teaching Points:

  • A self-focused life always leads to a lackluster life.
  • Christ is not distant, Christ is within.
  • Christ lives in you, and you can connect with him.
  • If it is true that Christ lives in us then we should focus on connecting with the Christ within
  • With a little intention everything you do can be brought into the presence of God
  • One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think. Brother Lawrence
  • The secret to the Christian life is to connect with this Christ within

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? What was new? What is your first impression of “the secret” that Christ lives in you? How often would you say you are aware of Christ living in you? What are the ways that you best connect with Christ? Do you have any daily rhythms of connecting with Christ? What daily rhythms could you maybe start?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today try to start some new rhythms to connecting with Christ – maybe reading the Bible together, praying together, creating art together. Create rhythms to connect with the Christ within.

Challenge for the Week: Daily connect with Christ.

Seeds, Growth, and Youth Bands

sand-straw-1392579-1280x960Earlier last summer I spoke at this young adult group. I was invited to speak on whatever I picked, at a church I had never been to before. And so of course I picked talking about Jesus, which if given the chance is what I will always pick.

But this amazing thing happened when I went into the room. I knew a huge number of the young adults. In fact everyone on the leadership team other than one or two people had been a part of my youth group at some point.

And what was so amazing to me was to see them continuing to step up into leadership, and creating and giving God space to move. All these youth were there; many of them whom I’d spent hours and hours with and were now discipling others. It was just beautiful.

Now certainly I don’t get to own their decisions to step forward and lead young adults deeper into a relationship with Jesus. But in some ways God did remind me in that moment that we never know what the seeds we plant in others will grow into. That we can never discount the hours we give and pour into others.

The truth is that as human beings, we have a short horizon for time. We do things and expect results, in weeks and months. Sometimes I think God thinks in decades, or centuries. Some of the seeds planted by me, other youth leaders, parents, and friends are now years later bearing fruit. People are being changed, because people years ago poured into this youth who are now young adults. That’s the beauty of God, community, and investing in others.

For me that night to speak, was a reminder that pouring into others is never wasted. I don’t get to own the results. I also can’t own whether or not someone else gets filled up. What I can own and be responsible for is pouring out my life, and letting God do the rest.

And so while I spoke, hoping that God would use my words, God had already spoken so clearly to me. The moment I walked into the room, it was like God was just reminding me, “investing in others is never wasted”. So while I came to bless them, they blessed me and I think that’s how God works.

Following “God” Is Easy, Following Jesus is Difficult

jesus-1233747This quote is just so true:

Jesus is particular, God is generic. It is easy to follow a generic God because you can fill the term “God” with any presupposition you please; it is difficult to follow Jesus because then you have to take seriously his teachings on discipleship, on what exactly following him entails. Michael Hardin

Following “God” is easy, because it is generic. You can be a “spiritual” person, or a person connected to the “energy” of the world or anything like that easily. Because as Michael Hardin points out, you can choose the things that you will follow or connect with. You can create the path you want to follow. Following Jesus though means following his path. The difficulty path of self-denial and other-centred love. The path that values sacrifice for others, and loving at a level that seems ridiculous at times. But that’s the beauty of Christianity; it’s about Christ. It’s about following him, and not giving into the easy things but shooting for the difficult life transforming things. Things that Jesus teaches us to do like:

  • Love your enemies
  • Forgive everyone
  • Judge Not
  • Fear Not
  • Worry Not

Each of those things is simple to understand, and will take a life-time to learn to practice. Which is precisely the point. Following Jesus is a path and a journey that takes a lifetime to learn. Learning to love your enemies and that there is no them, only us is incredibly hard. Learning to not let fear and worry have holds in our hearts isn’t a weekend retreat thing. It’s a lifetime thing.

This is why G.K. Chesterton said something truthful in, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried

But I believe it’s in the trying that life is found. It’s in the striving after following Jesus,  his path, and his way of life that life is found.

And my question in all of this is this: if you’re a follower of Jesus are you following his path? 

Because as Michael Hardin reminds us, it’s easy to follow “God” following but Jesus means following his path. And his path leads to life, it’s not easy, it’s hard but it’s absolutely worthwhile.

So out of those 5 things listed above (judge not, fear not, worry not, forgive everyone, love your enemies) which one do you need to work on today? Which one do you need to focus on and give some attention to? Which one do you need to try to follow today? Because following Jesus means walking his path, and this is the path he laid down. It’s not an easy one, but it is a life-changing one.

Why not be unfair today?

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People are uncomfortable with grace. It’s just true, and I get it because we raise people to react against grace. Because grace, simply put, is not fair.

As I seek to raise my three kids with Krista, one of the things I hear all the time is, “That’s not fair”. We somehow breed or develop in our kids (or at least my kids) this radar for unfairness. That leads to statements like this all the time:

  • Why did Asher get the bigger cookie?
  • Hudson’s played with the car too long.
  • Daddy!!! It’s just not fair!!

And in our household, in many ways, we try to be fair. We talk about being fair, and about sharing all the time. Saying, “Hudson, it’s not fair that you get all the Lego, share with your brother”. Or saying, “Asher, you can’t take all of the books and sit on them, you need to let Hudson have one too”.

But what I think is so interesting is that grace by its very definition doesn’t play according to the rules of fairness. Grace is unfair and it will always be unfair. We see grace and say, “That’s unfair” and it’s true. That’s why grace is so powerful because it gives to us things we don’t deserve, and things that, simply put, aren’t fair.

Francis Spurffod puts it this way:

Something kinder than fairness is, by definition, unfair; and once you take grace seriously it immediately threatens to produce scandalous unfairness in human terms.

It’s true. Grace produces scandalous unfairness in human terms. Which is why it’s so moving, transformative, and divine when truly given. Because in human terms there is nothing fair about grace, about second chances, about 77 chances, about forgiveness, about new starts, about welcoming people who don’t deserve it. There is nothing fair or human about it; grace is divine no doubt about it.

So today why not give a little bit of grace today. Why not be rebellious and rebel against fariness, and spread a little grace divine life today? Why not surprise someone with giving them something they don’t deserve, something that isn’t fair, something that is well…gracious.

Because the only reason that I get to follow Jesus is because God decided to be unfair and give me something I didn’t deserve. The least I can do is to try to follow his example and be a little unfair today, and give someone grace.

3(Marks) of a Christian

On Sunday we are starting a brand new series. We are looking at what the three marks of a Christ-follower are. For sure we should look like Jesus if we are followers of Jesus. But what does this practically mean? If we could distill it down and make it concrete, practical, and real life – what would a Christ-follower look like?

That’s what we want to explore for the next few weeks. We want to take all the “vagueness” out of following Jesus and make it concerte and real. We want to give each person three goals, or three marks to pursue in their life that will draw them deeper into life and into Jesus’ life.

So join with us as we discover what the three marks of a Christian are.

3 Marks

Finding God on Your iPod: Finding Your Way Through Darkness and “No Longer Slaves”

A few Sundays ago we changed up our schedule. I strongly believe that God’s Holy Spirit can prepare and prompt you well ahead of time. By that I mean that planning and preparation are pretty important to me, and I believe God uses those.

But I also believe in listening to the Spirit in the moment as well.

So I have this little rule – plan for everything you can – and listen and change as you God’s Spirit leads in the moment.

So that’s what we ended up doing a few weeks ago. I had a great sermon planned, but in light of some significant health challenges our church was facing it didn’t feel it was the right one. Instead, the church leadership felt we should share on why difficulty happens and why it’s happening right now in our church.

So here is the audio of what I shared. I don’t have teaching notes like normal, or blog posts pre-prepped but I think that’s okay. Because when God’s spirit is moving, the only option you have is to follow it. Hope the audio is helpful.