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.

3 (Marks): Three Circles

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On Sunday we kicked off a brand new series looking at the three marks of a Christian. We began by discussing what the “marks” of a follower of Jesus are. And we began with a really simple, but difficult question: what is a disciple of Jesus?

At first glance that question seems simple doesn’t it? A disciple of Jesus is someone who follows Jesus. But what does that mean? What does that look like?

I think these questions really matter because if you only have a vague idea of what God is asking of you, chances are you won’t be getting where God wants you to be.

So we began to define what a disciple and the three marks of a Christ-follower by looking at two passages: Matthew 22:36-40 and Matthew 28:18-19.

And in the first passage we got the first clear glimpse into what a follower of Jesus looks like. It looks like someone who loves God. But loving God isn’t enough, because you can love God and still miss out on living like God. People who loved God caused the crusades, inquisitions, and still today spew hate. The idea of “loving God” needs definition or all sorts and manners of hate can be spewed in defense of God.

This is why Jesus then utters a second command he says is just as important as the first. We need to love others. Loving God, necessitates loving our neighbors. Jesus gives definition for what loving God looks like, and it looks like someone who loves their neighbour.

So the first two marks of a follower of Jesus are loving God, and loving their neighbour. But those two aren’t enough, there is a third mark. Because you can end up loving God and loving others but not having a forward momentum, you can end up isolated, rather than transforming the world. We need to also hear not only the great commandment but also the great commission.

Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-19 that we need to go out and make disciples. We need to spread his love and light among the world. We need to go out and bless the nations and bless our neighbours. Part of the Christian calling isn’t just to love God, and love our neighbours, but to also actively love the world around us.

And we need to do all three: loving God, loving others, and loving the world. Because if we aren’t doing any of the these three marks of a Jesus-follower our lives will not be fully formed.

So that’s where we went on Sunday explaining the three circles of love and how every Christian needs to do all three. Now as we move forward we’ll unpack each of those circles and for how, if you focus on journeying, connecting, and serving, you’re life with Jesus and those around you can be changed. Which is what following Jesus is all about – being changed by him, and changing lives with him.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Jesus followers should love God, love others, and love the world.

Teaching Points:

  • A mark is:
    • 1) An obvious object or article that serves as a guide to travellers
    • 2) An impression or a distinguishing trait or characteristic
  • Vague impressions of direction get you no where.
  • What is a disciple?
  • Loving God needs definition.
  • Loving God and Loving others are part of what following Jesus means.
  • Loving the world propels us out into the world.

Adult Discussion Questions:

What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? What circle do you most resonate with (Loving God, Others, or the World)? Which circle do you most struggle with? How do you think you might grow deeper with your struggling circle?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Take a look at your family and think through which circles you are good at, and which ones you need to grow in. Ask your kids then for ideas for how to grow in the difficult circles and put them into practice.

Challenge for the Week: Make a decision to grow in all three circles

Listening with Your Eyes

Here is an old story:

397378_10151635582662040_814112548_nA little girl came home from the school with a drawing she’d made in class. She danced into the kitchen, where her mother was preparing dinner.

“Mom guess what”, she squealed waving her drawing.

Her mother never looked up. “What” she said, tending to the pots.

“Guess what!”, the child repeated waving the drawing.

“What” the mother said tending to the plates.

“Mom you’re not listening”

“Sweetie yes I am” – said the mother.

“Mom”, the child said, “You’re not listening with your eyes”.

I think this is true for us in today’s age more than ever. So many of us when we are listening to one another we no longer listen with our eyes. We don’t deeply show our attention, our empathy, and our connection to the people we are listening to. We check our phones, check the clock, check our surroundings, but aren’t checking in with the person we are actually talking with.

I know I am as guilty as most. I’m tempted when my phone buzzes to check that text. I’m tempted to just quick check Twitter. I’m tempted to look at the clock. None of these things are bad, but all of these things communicate that the person you are talking with isn’t your top priority. In essence I’m tempted to not listen with my eyes, and then not with my heart either.

And here is why this matters, because my bet is that if someone has influenced and changed you in a deep way ~ they were a good listener. My bet is they made you a priority. My guess is they showed that you mattered by giving you their undivided attention. But having someone’s undivided attention is so rare these days, but that’s why it’s so valuable, counter-cultural, and transformational. How often you do you think your kids have someone completely rapt attention in the day? How often does your co-worker have someone truly interested in them and not just waiting for their turn to speak? How often does your neighbor have someone who isn’t rushing by but listening with their heart and eyes?

My point is that deep listening, with our hearts and eyes, is special because it is both so rare and transformative. And if we want to be people who bless, share life, change communities, and reveal Jesus’ love it will start with how we listen. It will start by putting aside our agendas, our phones, our distractions and saying to our kids, family, friends, and neighbors you matter to me with what’s going on in your life. Because that is the model of Jesus. We always have his attention, and it’s always undivided. So why not try giving that gift to someone today.