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.

Seven Last Words of Jesus: Father, forgive them…


On Sunday we really waded deeply into this well known saying of Jesus. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23:43.

The first thing we noticed is how the “them” in this prayer is pretty vague. Jesus is surely referring to the guards killing him, the officials who sentenced him, and the religious leaders who arrested him. But I also think when Jesus says, “Forgive them” he also means “Forgive us”. I think the “them” includes us. And here is why:

Is it not also our sin, that causes Jesus to be killed? Is he not killed because we too are sinful, and complicit in a sinful and evil world?

I think that this “them” must include us, because we cannot so distance ourselves from this event to pretend that we are innocent of it. We cannot say, since we were not there we have no part in it – since we take part in the culture of sin everyday that nailed Jesus to the cross. We too are complicit and also then thankfully included in his forgiveness.

The second thing we noticed is that when Jesus said  “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”. That in one sense the guards, officials, and religious leaders knew exactly what they were doing. They were killing someone who might be innocent, for the claims of being the Son of God and upsetting the political power structures of the day. That’s why Jesus was killed. So what does he mean by that statement when he says? It’s not as if the people involved didn’t cognitively know they were killing someone. What I think they didn’t know, and didn’t see is how the kingdoms of this world are caught in systems of violence, power, evil, and sin. We get in Genesis a picture of the world being founded on sin and violence and it continues today. Power, violence, and empire all get wrapped up into one – so much so that we lose sight of what we are doing. The guard, officials, and religious leaders believe they are saving and keeping society going by killing Jesus. That’s what they don’t see, how complicit they are in a system of violence, evil, and sin – and so often neither do we.

We also noticed how odd Jesus’ prayer must have struck his hearers. What people would be expecting is vengeance, promises of retribution, and curses. That’s what was expected. Just look at the story of the Maccabees, or Samson, or even Elijah. People expected judgment and vengeance when a prophet or a revolutionary was killed, not forgiveness. But here Jesus forgives his oppressors, as they are killing him. This is so radical and so unexpected that it shocked some of the guards into believing Jesus was the Son of God. We’ve heard this verse so often that’s it’s lost its shock, but it should shock us. Because it is revealing to us the heart of God, and it is radically about forgiveness.

And that’s where we landed at the end. That this amazing prayer of Jesus, while it certainly involves us, is not about us. What this prayer is actually about is revealing the heart of God. Jesus prays to the Father, “Forgive them”. We are getting a glimpse of the inner heart of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is all centred on forgiveness. So while this prayer affects us and frees us, we cannot just narrow it to be about us. Because it is really about revealing God. And what it should evoke out of us, is a sense of reverent awe and thanks.

And that’s where we closed on Sunday. Challenging people to sit in reverent thanks of a God who died, to answer his own prayer of forgiveness. To sit in thanks of a God who would be killed for us, so we can be saved. To sit in worshipful awe of a God who would rather forgive than kill, and for that we should be thankful.



Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: That God’s heart is forgiveness

Teaching Points:

  • Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers, 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
  • Who is the “them” Jesus is forgiving?
  • We are all complicit in Jesus’ death.
  • Society is built on murder and sin
  • The kingdom of this world is built on rivalry, accusation, violence, and domination.
  • Messiahs weren’t expected to forgive oppressors, but overthrow oppressors.
  • The story of Luke has a trajectory of forgiveness first.
  • That we are tempted to narrow this amazing last request to about us and being forgiven by God
  • Jesus’ last prayer reveals the heart of God.
  • God is still about forgiveness because God is always about forgiveness

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? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you thought about this verse deeply before? Do you think that the “them” does include you? How come? What else was new to you in this sermon? Can you imagine how unexpected these words of Jesus would be? How can we regain some of their initial shock and radicalness? How can you be thankful to God today for what he did for us?

Discussion Questions for Young Families

Today read the story and talk to your kids about Jesus words. Share with them how Jesus even when he is being hurt, forgives. That at his heart is forgiveness. Tell them today that if they need anything forgiven, Jesus is willing because he is always willing.

Challenge for the Week: Today spend time being grateful to God

The gods of Greed, Hate, and Sex

On Sunday we looked at a difficult passage in the Bible. Some passages are difficult because they are hard to understand, confusing, or out of our context.

This passage was hard for none of those reasons.

This passage was hard because it called us to repent. It called us to follow Jesus. It reminded us that we live in an age with gods all around us that vie for our attention, worship, and loyalty. We live in a world where greed, sex, hate, violence, power, and self-image seek to hgodsave us follow them.

But our calling as Christians is to follow Jesus because following the path of greed, sex, hate, or power simply ends in darkness.

So on Sunday we listened to the call of Jesus to leave those things behind. That just as how 2000 years ago people were called to leave behind Athena the goddess of war, Dionysius the god of sex and wine, or the emperor the god of power and image; we are called to leave behind all the gods of our age if our witness is to have any power.

Jesus is clear in Revelation that if we compromise our character, it compromises our message. That while each god has its own temple in the world; he has no temple but us.

So this Lent we ask a deep question: “What does it mean to live faithful to you in this world”

This is a question worth spending time and reflecting on today, this week, this month, or for the rest of our lives…

Sermon Notes

Big Idea: Stay true…Live Differently

Take Aways…

  • The Spirit is whispering…are we listening?
  • The gods of Pergamum
    • Asclepius ~ known as the savior who healed
    • Athena ~ goddess of war and wisdom
    • Demeter ~ bathed in bull’s blood goddess of grain
    • Dynoisus ~ son of a god and human mother, drank to connect with him
    • Zeus ~ known as creator, life-giver, and had a huge alter
    • Emperor ~ had the right “to give or take life”, known as “lord”, declared “son of god”
  • In a pluralistic world compromise dilutes and confuses the message
  • Deep witness is shown through difference
  • You are Jesus’ temple in the city, you are his representation
  • Jesus says don’t tolerate compromise, because it is killing your light, witness, and life.
  • Our world is dominated by subtle gods of Greed, Sex, War, Self-Image, and Selfishness
  • Stay true, and turn to follow Jesus

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What made you laugh? What did you take away? How has the Spirit been speaking to you over the past few weeks? What “gods of our culture” are the most difficult for you to resist? What are some reasons for that? How is Jesus asking you to follow him, and him alone? How does compromise kill our message? What message are your actions sharing about you?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Spend some time with your kids watching TV. Yes watching TV. Look at the ads that are there. Ask them what they are showing, what they are teaching. Is it that if you have this “thing” you’ll be happy? Is it that if you look “this way” you’ll be accepted? Talk through the messages they receive, and share with them the message of the Bible. That God loves them as they are and that greed, lust, and hate lead to darkness.

Challenge for this Week

Repent from any of the gods of our culture that have captured you


The gods all around us…

945751_89422954Sometimes I think it would be easier to live in Jesus’ day and age than ours.

At first such a statement seems ridiculous. I mean the church was facing persecution, you could be martyred, you would be dealing with famine, poverty, and immense struggle. And this is all true. But at least you’d know the enemy you’re facing.

Here is what I mean. In the time of the early church you knew that following Jesus meant that you couldn’t follow the gods of Zeus, the emperor, or Dionysus. Those gods were explicit, seen, and prominent in culture. In essence, those gods were named.

Yet in our culture our gods are just as powerful, pervasive, but are so much more subtle. We don’t think twice about following Jesus all the while working 60 hours for more money, a better office, or new promotion. We don’t think twice about following Jesus all the while filling ourselves with entertainment based on sex, hate, or anger.

The point is that our gods hide in our culture.

So on Sunday we are going to look at how Jesus calls us to follow him and him alone. We are going to name some of the gods around us that vie for our attention and pull our allegiance from Christ the King.

The question I have for you is this: what gods do you see around you?

It’s easy to name the gods of Greed and Sex. But what other gods are there out there? Because before we can resist and reject them, they need to be named.

So take some time and look at our culture, and see who is asking for your allegiance? What demands your time and attention? What gods are all around us that Jesus might say to us, ‘you can only follow one master’?

That’s where we’re going on Sunday. Maybe not the easiest topic in the world, but being prophetic and imagining a different world has never been easy. But often the hardest things in life are the most worthwhile…

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the [culture around us] that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.

Walter Brueggemann– The Prophetic Imagination