Sunday, October 11, 2015

"Growing in God" (James 4 sermon notes)


One set of questions:
·        Do we want to grow?
·        Do we want to experience all of what God has for us?
·        Can we really embrace that joy of knowing Jesus (and having our sins forgiven)?
·        Do we want to develop spiritually and use our gifts for others?
·        Do we want to share our faith in the community (knowing that our life stacks up okay)?

Another set of questions; we might ask ourselves …
·        have I stopped growing?
·        am I stuck in a faith of yesterday, which doesn’t seem to work anymore?
·        maybe God is not very real to me? [We might come to the realisation here, that if we don’t feel close to God, who has moved!]

More questions:
·        Do I find many things in life just a bit too challenging?
·        Do I resist being challenged?
·        Do I just go through the motions a bit (even though I may put on a good face)?

James is a book about practical faith. This is the faith we will need to both survive and to thrive.
Experiencing salvation through God’s grace should lead to us, day-by-day, becoming more like Christ – more like Jesus.
So we need to ask all these questions about growth.

We start out being born or created in the image of God. Very quickly sin – our own and others’ – starts to mar that image.
Accepting Jesus into our lives starts (or should start) to reverse this trend.
In fact we are reborn, with a fresh start, into a new creation, with all new hope.
Thus, we should start to look more like Jesus than our old selves.


How do we grow???

Answers in church today included: loving God, listening to God, feeding on God's Word, trusting God, stretching ourselves.

There are things that stop us growing or indicate that we are not growing (detailed in this passage) that we will come back to.

How do we put ourselves in the position to grow?
Verses 7-10 speak to this.

Firstly, we have to admit that we don’t know it all, can’t cope on our own, need help. This is the process of humbling ourselves (v.10). It is the humble that God can ‘lift up’. Often pride gets in our way – wanting to be seen in a good light, maybe better than we really are. Also, we can want to do it all our way and thus be resistant to change, even the most obvious needed change. We would like to be closer to God, we would like to grow; but not if this means a disruption to some of our comfortable ways. To be humble is to be open to new ways – to have space for God to work in. To be humble is to undergo some decluttering.

Such decluttering requires repentance. Verse 8 commences with the need to draw close to God, and God promises that as we sincerely do this, God will draw close to us. But this idea of ‘drawing closer’ has its challenges/implications. As we draw close to God we become more aware of things that don’t sit well in this space. No wonder our good humour turns to mourning and our joy turns to dejection (v.9). [This is a little counter-intuitive, and perhaps something we don’t take seriously enough. Sin cannot be taken lightly (presuming too much on God’s merciful nature) … especially when it negatively affects others!] Before we experience all the fun and joy of knowing Jesus, there is some work to be done. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). To receive the comfort, first comes the required mourning. [The good news is that we don’t have to stay here too long if we don’t want to (or we don’t cause ourselves to)].

Many times when people physically declutter, they keep their houses tidy for a while, then the clutter creeps back. Why? Because they really haven’t committed themselves to a new path, nor dealt with the issues that make them vulnerable to clutter. That is why repentance is far more than seeking forgiveness. Repentance is about change. Cleansing hands, and purifying hearts (v.8b)! This is about both deeds and attitudes, both the outer and inner life. It is also about gaining a clear singular focus. Drawing close to God has to be deliberately cultivated (just like working in the garden to get the best outcomes). The result will be God never tiring of addressing our needs. It is thoroughgoing repentance and forgiveness that removes any barriers to God drawing close to us (v.8a).

In chapter 4, there are five things mentioned that we could term anti-growth, or certain dynamics that indicate a lack of growth.

a)     Causing or feeding conflict (v.1-3) – talking here about interpersonal clashes (that often draw in the innocent) – being argumentative (often just for the sake of it). This comes from deep dissatisfaction from within, termed … “cravings that are at war within you” (v.1b) … desires to have things that are not fulfilled. And these desires and objectives are likely to be our own and not of God – or at least not of God’s best for us (our own ideas devoid of God). Instead of dealing with such unmet desires and expectations, we lash out – with the same sort of feelings that lead to murder if they are allowed to fester (v.2a). Such dissatisfaction could be fixed if we were prepared to empty ourselves before God, and ask God for what we really need with the right motivations in mind. When we find ourselves being aggressive or causing arguments, we might ask ourselves … what is brewing up on the inside, and why?? What are our desires and expectations, and where are they centred?? On God, or elsewhere? The root of conflict is in dissatisfied (and frustrated) souls!

b)    Divided loyalty (v.4-5) – this is where we do want God, but still a lot of the other. James refers to this in terms of ‘adultery’ (v.4), this going back to when Israel used to go off in search of other gods whenever it suited them, thus breaking their covenant relationship with God; this is ‘spiritual unfaithfulness’. These strong words in verse 4 suggest an abandonment of God when pursuits contrary to his will are preferred … activities that upset God’s best designs for people. “Friendship with the world” here means accepting uncritically some of the cultural norms that are opposed to God’s ways. We do of course live in the world, and we should actively seek to engage in the world to shine the light of Jesus so that others will come to know God. And there are so many wonderful things to enjoy about this world; but our real citizenship is with the Kingdom of God (where Jesus rules). So there should always be a sort of ‘guarded tension’ between us and the world. This should not dent our enthusiasm for sharing the good news, however we must always remember that God wants all of us for himself (v.5) – unreserved and wholehearted.

c)     Speaking badly of others (v.11-12) – this derives from a heart that quickly judges others, and usually without any understanding of personal backgrounds. This can tend to undermine someone else (with sometimes terribly drastic outcomes (e.g. Facebook bullying). We might do this somewhat unconsciously, but that is no excuse. Sadly, sometimes people undermine others deliberately and calculatingly. People can ‘plant’ a bias against others (that grows a life of its own). There are harsh critical spirits and unkind fault-finders out there; people setting themselves up as the (ultimate) judge. To act like this is to reject the notion of ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ outright – it is to say in effect … God’s greatest law is wrong. [Now that can’t help growth!] Do we really value our own opinions above God’s?

d)    Taking back control (v.13-16) – this is the tendency to do whatever we like – relying on human strength – being a touch over-confident – ignoring God – trying to be independent – thinking we can control events – expecting others to fall into line – assuming we’ll stay healthy and financial (v.13-16). But, we ignore God at our peril. We have been given intelligence and the ability to make decisions; however if we take this to the extreme and isolate our decision-making from God, then we are looking for trouble. Proverbs 16:25 reads, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death”. Only God knows everything about everything! Better to prayerfully bring God into all our decision-making. Sure, we can make plans; but we need to be open for God to take us on somewhat different routes than we might have imagined. Proverbs 16:9 says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps”. We can trustingly say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15a) – this has much more the sense of dependence on God, and following the nuances of the Holy Spirit’s leading.

e)     Failing to respond to God’s leading (v.17) – this is just as much of a sin as what we do in error. Here is a missed opportunity of obedience that would have led to growth. Maybe, you could think of a recent missed opportunity in your life. It could be that you didn’t recognise this for the opportunity it was at the time – maybe being not quite attuned to God’s gentle voice. It may have also been that this opportunity was a touch inconvenient when it came. There may have been challenges imbedded in this activity, whatever it was, from the simple to the complex, that were destined to grow us … had we participated. Most vivid here would be our response to any other person in particular need.

We look at these five areas of anti-growth, and ask, “Can we be better than this”? YES WE CAN!

If we want to grow, then we need to … “submit ourselves to God” (7a). This is NOT about giving up our lives, but about gaining true life. This is about obedience: we defer our individual thinking to higher wisdom. This is about adapting to those things we know about Jesus and living in this way. This is not about weakness, but rather is a courageous thing to do. “Let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us”!

This is also about putting up the spiritual walls of resistance against anything that is anti-God (v.7b). This is guarding ourselves against anything that may negatively affect our spiritual well-being or cut us from God. If something has the capacity to take our focus off God – that is the thing to be wary of!! When the habit of ‘resisting’ becomes so natural that we hardly have to think about it anymore, then the “devil” has ‘fled’, as has the influence of evil. Just check out our hero Jesus – how he dispensed with the ‘devil’ (refer Matthew 4). As the ancient Christian writer Hermas said, “[The devil] cannot dominate the servants of God who hope in him with all their hearts”. And, we largely resist, not in passive ways, but in regularly being about the good works of God.


Why should we want to grow??

Personal reasons!
The world needs us to grow!!

What should be the clear focus of a Christian person???

Following Jesus!
"Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him".
Where is our centre … Who is our centre? The centre is where everything starts and all activity springs from.

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