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.

Accusing Voices, Insecurities, and Debates about “Satan”

I had a funny little interaction the other day on twitter. I had posted this comment from a conference we were at:

The antidote to Satan’s deception is truth. Vishal Mangalwadi

And almost immediately someone who I’ve never met, but clearly likes to poke at Christians beliefs responded with this.

Yes. And the truth is that there is no such thing as “Satan”.

Now I don’t expect anyone who isn’t a follower of Jesus to subscribe to or believe in Christian doctrine. But with this one belief, the belief in Satan, I just honestly have no idea how anyone can deny it. And I know there are lots of people out there who might have some strong objections to that. But let me at least clarify what I mean, and why this matters for all of us – whether you follow Jesus or not.

The word “Satan” literally means “the accuser” in Hebrew. And I know lots of people will argue where there is a real being called Satan. And it’s not my intention to wade into that debate right now. My point is whether or not you believe in a personal being called Satan, you have experienced the reality of the Satan – of the accuser.

And here are some examples:

  • Have we all not experienced accusing voices that will not leave us alone?
  • Have we all not experienced thoughts that confuse, conflict, and depress us?
  • Have we all not been able to shake some hurt, pain, or insecurity that just nags at our soul?
  • Have we not heard accusation in our hearts and minds? Voices that say…
    • “You’re not good enough”
    • “You’ll never amount to much”
    • “Things are going to get bad”
    • “People don’t really love you”

When the Bible says that there is an accuser out there, I just believe that’s true because I’ve experienced it and seen it. 

I meet with people who can’t seem to get these accusing voices, thoughts, and beliefs out of their minds. I’ve sat with people whose orientating stories or worldview are all based on what they lack, how they will fail, and they’re unworthy. That is satanic literally: that is accusation that won’t leave you. That is the voice of the accuser. That is what the Bible is talking about. So my point in all of this isn’t to debate the reality of a personal being called Satan; my point is to call to our attention the reality of “the accuser” in all of our lives.

And this brings me back to Vishal Mangalwadis quote above. The only way to combat these voices, this activity of the “accuser” is with the truth. Jesus says “I am the the way, the truth, and the life”. The point is that while the accuser is out there seeking to deceive, to kill, to steal hope, to destroy, and to lie to us, we overcome those accusing voices with the truth. The truth of Jesus Christ. The truth of the gospel. The truth of how God sees us.

The only way you combat lies, and accusation – isn’t with arguing and engaging – but with knowing and trusting in the truth. 

Jesus says the Truth will set you free. And that’s absolutely true. And this is the truth about you no matter what any accusing voices in your life say. No matter what your dad, mother-in-law, insecurities, or accusing voices within tell you. The truth is this:

  • That you matter
  • That God is for you not against you,
  • That no matter what you go through – God will be with you
  • That Jesus thought you were worth dying for
  • That Jesus died to rescue you from all the brokeness and voices that seek to hurt and harm you.
  • That there is nothing in your life that Jesus can’t help you overcome

My point is that whether or not you believe in the reality of Satan, we all struggle with accusing voices from inside us and outside us. And the only way to be free from the hurt, the damage, and evil they cause – is to know the truth. The truth of who you are from Jesus Christ.

So today I wanted to just remind you of one little fact: that you are loved and matter to God. Lots of voices will try to confuse, be divisive, and argue against that truth. But that is the truth that can and will set you free if you start to trust in it, and follow it.

The Art of Spiritual War

1360591_36771804On Sunday we looked at the topic of what are the strategies of the enemy? We launched from Ephesians 6, and 2 Cor 2:11 where we read, “Do not be unaware of the Devil’s schemes”. So to discover the schemes of the enemy we turned to explore 3.

In Genesis we see a pretty clear strategy of the Devil. The first thing he does in Genesis 3 is to confuse what God has already made clear. He asks Eve “has God really said that you can’t eat any of the fruit from the trees in garden?” But this is not what God has said. God has said simply don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

And so the enemy starts to confuse Adam and Eve (because Adam was there), and to confuse what God has told clearly. And once he starts to confuse on little things, he starts to deceive on bigger things. He has a conversation with Eve where confusion seems to be pretty prominent. Eve says that God has told her she can’t eat or even touch the fruit. Again though God has said nothing about touching the fruit, and the lies and deception of the serpent seem to continue to confuse. Eventually the writer says that Eve was convinced and ate the fruit because she thought it would make her wise. So Adam and Eve do a wrong action, out of good intentions. They think it will make them wise, but that’s because they believed a lie from the enemy.

So from this short passage we discerned that the primary activity of the enemy is to lie, confuse, and deceive. Jesus says essentially the same thing in John 8:44 where he writes, “The devil was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and father of lies”

That’s the scheme of the enemy: to lie.

To make it practical we then examined 10 common lies and tactics of the enemy. These 10 tactics came from a really old book by Thomas Brookes called, “Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices” (which you can read for free here:

The 10 we looked briefly at were these:

  • Tactic 1: Presents the bait and hides the hook. Here the enemy shows the fun of sin, but doesn’t show us the consequences of sin
  • Tactic 2: Paints Sins with Virtues Color. Here the enemy makes bad actions seem good. For example people refuse to forgive, because they believe in truth that much. Or I’m not stingy or ungenerous, I’m a good steward.
  • Tactic 3: Presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy. Here the enemy reminds us of the grace of God, so we can sin, it’s no big deal he might say. But doesn’t remind us that sin has consequences.
  • Tactic 4: By Polluting Judgment. Here often leaders use all their good deeds as excuses to sin. For example, “I put in lots of hours, who cares if I pad my expense report a bit”.
  • Tactic 5: By Showing the Outward Joys of Those Who Sin. This is where the enemy seems to point to all the joy, money, and fun people who are greedy, or disregard God’s direction have. What he doesn’t show us is again the consequences and inner turmoil.
  • Tactic 6: Causing us to compare ourselves with those who think are worse. Here the enemy encourages us to think our personal sins aren’t that bad, look at so and so. So we relativize sin rather than deal with it.
  • Tactic 7: Causing us to remember our sins more than our Saviour. Here he causes us to look at our sins so much we think we are worthless and we forget to look to our Saviour.
  • Tactic 8: Reminding us of Sins Confessed and Dealt With. Here the enemy reminds us of all the sins we’ve previously dealt with and he still tries to condemn us for them.
  • Tactic 9: Causing us to think of difficulties as punishments. Here he causes us to believe that difficulties must be punishments from God. And we fall for the lie that God is out looking for sin to punish.
  • Tactic 10: Causing us to think our Salvation isn’t secure. And lastly, he convinces us that when we struggle that we must not be “real Christians” or that we aren’t really part of God’s family.

So that’s where we went on Sunday examining the tactics of the enemy. Next week we will be looking at how to overcome them. But the first step to overcoming them is to recognize them.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Satan is a liar

Take Aways…

  • “Beliefs about Satan are a matter of debate, but the experience of Satan is a brute and terrifying fact” Walter Wink
  • “Do not be unaware of the Devil’s schemes” 2 Cor. 2:11
  • The enemy confuses what God has made clear
  • The enemy combines good intentions with bad actions
  • The main strategy of the devil is to lie
  • Tactic 1: Presents the bait and hides the hook (Doesn’t show the consequences)
  • Tactic 2: Paints Sins with Virtues Color (Making bad actions looks good)
  • Tactic 3: Presenting God to the soul as One made up all of mercy (Reminding us of mercy but not the consequences of Sin)
  • Tactic 4: By Polluting Judgment (Using our good deeds as an excuse to sin)
  • Tactic 5: By Showing the Outward Joys of Those Who Sin (Showing us the “fun” of sin without any of the inner difficulty or consequence)
  • Tactic 6: Causing us to compare ourselves with those who think are worse
  • Tactic 7: Causing us to remember our sins more than our Savior
  • Tactic 8: Reminding us of Sins Confessed and Dealt With
  • Tactic 9: Causing us to think of difficulties as punishments
  • Tactic 10: Causing us to think our Salvation isn’t secure

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was new, what was challenging? What are you thoughts about the tactics of the enemy? Has there ever been a time where the enemy confused you of something God told you clearly? What happened? Looking over the tactics of the enemy, which ones do you struggle with? Which ones has he used on you? Who might be able to help you to stand strong against the tactics of the enemy? How might they help you, and what can you do to ensure they do? Are you reading your Bible to centre yourself in the truth? If so what has God taught you lately? If not how can you start to read the Bible – what do you need to do? Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids about today’s topic. Remind them about some of the themes. Share with them how God is always full of forgiveness, but wrong choices have consequences. Remind them how we are always valuable in God’s eyes always. Challenge for this Week: Spot the lie and Stand Strong

What are the Strategies of the Enemy?

854352_49670242On Sunday we are going to be looking at something really important: the strategies of the enemy. Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “Do not be unaware of the Devil’s schemes”. But I think if we are honest most of us are pretty unaware of the Devil’s schemes.

If we were asked to explain what Paul means; if we were asked to share what the schemes were; if we were asked to share how to stand strongly against them, I think many of us would struggle with some clear answers.

That’s what I hope to change on Sunday.

Regardless of your belief in supernatural evil or Satan, the truth is we have all experienced the reality of Satan. What I mean by that is that we each have at some point probably come under an attack of fear, temptation, accusation, depression, confusion, or worry. We each have probably experienced darkness in some shape or form in our lives. And on Sunday I want to reveal how those things happen, so that we might be recognize them, and most importantly overcome them.

So that’s where we are going on Sunday. Discovering the tactics and strategies of the enemy so that we might live freer, deeper, and wholer lives.

And to discover the answer to this question of what the schemes of the enemy are we are going to be exploring the first passage where he shows up visibly and prominently. We are going to explore Genesis 3. So this is the passage we will be reading on Sunday. Why not take a look at it and see if you can discern from it: what are the tactics of the enemy? Because the first step to overcoming them is learning to recognize them.

Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made. “Really”, he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?” “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’” “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil. The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too. At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.”

Understanding and Exploring Spiritual Warfare

854353_87050096On Sunday we started to open up a series taking a look at the topic of Spiritual Warfare. We began with a great quote by C.S. Lewis who writes this:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

And I think he’s right. There are two dangers; one of dismissing the reality of evil that is external to ourselves, and the other is to search for it and become totally fascinated with it.

We talked about how in the Bible from Genesis through to Revelation there is a clear picture of an opposing force to the will of God in the world. Sometimes this force or forces goes by many different names; evil, chaos, Leviathan, Satan, principalities and powers. The point is that the Bible seems to point to the reality of evil and powers of darkness that are outside of humanity and seeking to affect humanity. This viewpoint is especially seen in Jesus. Jesus did not just come to free us from personal sins, but to conquer evil, Satan, sin, and death. Jesus saw himself as combatting and challenging the forces of darkness that bring about death, destruction, and division.  N.T. Wright, writes: “One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was his redefinition of who the real enemy was . . . The pagan hordes surrounding Israel [including Rome] were not the actual foe of the people of the YHWH. Standing behind the whole problem of Israel’s exile was the dark power known in some Old Testament traditions as the satan, the accuser. The struggle was coming to a head and was therefore cosmic.”

The point is that if Jesus believed in the powers of darkness around him, we should be open to believe it as well. Because once we recognize the reality, we can work towards their finality.

I ended with this quote on Sunday and I think it’s true, and deep. So I’ll end with it here as well.

Some think spiritual warfare is only deliverance. Others emphasize pulling down strongholds in the heavenlies. Still others say spiritual warfare is doing the works of Jesus – preaching, teaching and living the truth. Yet another group says all this is impractical. They claim we should focus on feeding the hungry, resisting racism, and speaking out against social injustice. I believe we have to do it all. Pulling down strongholds is only important if people are led to Christ as a result. However, some are deaf to the preaching of the gospel until we deal with hindering powers.  And some can’t break through into victory until bondage is broken in their lives. We must do it all, as appropriate and as God leads. – Dean Sherman

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Darkness is real and we need to change it

Take Aways…

  • Spiritual Warfare: Is standing and fighting against the darkness and evil in this world
  • There are forces that stand opposed to the will of God
  • We need nuanced views, not bumper stickers.
  • There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve their existence. The other is to believe and feel an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight. C.S. Lewis
  • The Bible right off the bat recognizes a force opposed to the will of God.
  • The Bible unequivocally speaks of powers of darkness, Satan, demons, spirits, and other powers not only consistently but pervasively
  • Three approaches to interpreting passages with supernatural evil: dismiss them as figurative, ignore them as unnecessary, or engage them critically
  • Jesus believed in supernatural evil
  • Understnaidng Jesus means understanding what he came to change
  • Jesus did not just come to save us from our personal sins, but to overthrow all evil, hate, war, sin, and hurt.
  • The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
  • The assumption that undergird Jesus’ entire ministry is the view that Satan has illegitimately seized the world and thus now exercises a controlling influence over it. Greg Boyd
  • If we don’t believe in the reality of evil and darkness around us we will not be effective in destroying it
  • There are two equal dangers to dismiss the reality of the devil, and to search for the devil in all sorts of ways
  • We need to use discernment to discover what is health and unhealthy

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was new, what was challenging? Did you have an areas of disagreement?

What are your thoughts about supernatural evil? What did you think of C.S. Lewis’ quote? What darkness do you see around you? How can you stand against it this week?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take sometime to talk to your kids about today’s topic. Remind them that whenever they face anything dark in their lives, or scary that Jesus is stronger and already defeated them. Give them a sense of security that Jesus is always with them.

Challenge for this Week: Stand against the darkness around you

Fighting the Darkness Around Us – Theology of Spiritual Warfare

On Sunday we are exploring a new series, looking at a new topic often called “spiritual warfare”. While many people have many different thoughts and opinions on what spiritual warfare is, a simple definition for me that works is how we are called to challenge the darkness and evil that is around us.

I think this is simple yet easy to understand. The reality is that in our world we do see evil and darkness around us. Often we don’t have to look very far, we turn on our TV’s or look around in our neighborhoods. And what we might see is greed, hate, loneliness, anger, war, racism, injustice, sin, and pain. These are all simple examples of the darkness that is around us. And as Christians we are to be part of challenging that darkness, and changing it to light.

Jesus was clear that he is the light of the world (John 8:12), to bring light, life, and hope to anyone and everyone. Jesus came not simply to save us from our individual sin, but to overthrow the powers of darkness and evil around us. He came to show us a different way to live, and a different Kingdom to follow. So for the next few weeks we’re going to be looking at what that all means, how it happens, and how we can be part of it.

I know surrounding this whole topic of “spiritual warfare” the spectrum of what people believe is huge. The point for me isn’t what other people believe, but what do you believe? And more importantly, how can you start to change the darkness that’s around us? I don’t think a lot of people debate that there is hurt, pain, sin, anger, and hate around. The question is then how do we transform those anti-Kingdom things into Kingdom things of life, love, grace, hope, and mercy. So that’s what we hope to discover, but why wait? This week if you see something that’s running counter to God’s Kingdom, why not try to bring a little of God’s Kingdom and love to that situation, place, or conversation.

the darkness games