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Faith Works - Get close to God
you can hear a MP3 recording of sermon here
James 4
Sunday, 10th November, 2013


Todayís sermon comes in three parts, like a good sermon should.

The Competitive church where we look at our behaviour and attitude to each other and our prayer life

The Submissive Church where we consider 10 commands for the church to obey.

The Existential Church by which I mean one that lives for today, trusting God for the future.


We will spend most of the time on The Submissive church


The competitive Churchis at war with itself. It is fighting for our bit of the action, it is more concerned with getting my way than listening to Godís rule in our fellowship.

It has confused ideas about prayer. There are echoes here of the same problem over welcoming the rich and not the poor. We are reminded that attitude matters!


Behaviour and attitude. Whether the church was in such a bad way that assassinations actually happened, we donít know but we need to reflect on the culture of fellowship we have.How important is what I think should happen, compared with what others want?How important are the needs of others feeling loved and blessed and secure compared to whether I feel loved, blessed and secure?

Prayer life. Then, according to James that spills over to our prayers. We want our special interest to be blessed so we feel good about it. God is keen on answering prayer but he often is blocked by our ambition to score points. This can affect us in a number of ways. We, as a church, desire to see the spiritual gifts expressed fully in the life of the church, but too often it is so that we can talk up our charismatic status. We desire to see people born again but we want it so that there are more people to run the church or to boast of our success. We should desire spiritual gifts, we should desire people to come to Christ in repentance and faith but we need to desire it for the right reasons. Listen to your own prayers and check out whether you are asking for yourself or for the Kingdom of God. God wants to glorify Jesus, so if our prayers are distracting from that we asking God to do what we know he will not do.

Whose side are you actually on? This reminds me of Joshua at the walls of Jericho. Joshua 5:13-15


The commander of the Lordís army replied, ďTake off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.Ē And Joshua did so.

Joshua was appointed by God to lead the people of Israel. His challenge was legitimate but he failed to recognise the person in front of him and whose battle it was. We do that too easily. We are standing for what we think is right and proper but forgetting that Jesus is our commander and not us. The other members of the fellowship are also commanded by Jesus, so we need to stop, take off our sandals and recognise that we are standing on holy ground.


The submissive Church

So what is the antidote to the problems of people living in community? What should mark the church out as different? What Joshua was told! In James we are given 10 imperatives or commands. Last week 5 of us were starting the training course on sharing Jesus. What was number one issue? Intimacy.Getting close to Jesus. We were told that if we did not have the love, joy and peace we would not radiate Jesus and our words would fail, even if we raised our game to try. Telling the good news of Jesus starts in the secret place where you draw near to God. Here are the 10 commands. I wonder if James realised he was paralleling the Big 10?

By the way what are the big 10? Letís check out we can remember them!

1:no other gods

2:no idols;

3:do not misuse God's name;

4:remember the Sabbath day;

5:Respect your mother and father;

6:no murder;

7:no adultery;

8:no stealing;

9:no lying;

10:no envy;

Back to James:

1.            Submit to God

2.            Resist the Devil

3.            Come near to God

4.            Wash

5.            and purify

6.            Grieve,

7.            Mourn

8.            and wail.

9.            Humble yourselves

10.       do not slander


In a war, the end game is about one side submitting to another. That mostly means the victor is pleased with himself and arrogant and the loser is bitter and angry. But God does not ask you to begin by submitting to one another, first submit to God. Then, quoting Paul in Ephesians 5:21., Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ..That is Godís way and the only way that leaves us un-embittered, able to release our petty ambitions and get close to one another. Step one is to submit to God. Accept his rule, receive his peace and joy and be absorbed in his love.


Resist the devil! and he will flee from you. This is a continuous action. We are in the world, pressured by the world and the devil and we have to resist all the time the selfish and immoral tendencies that tempt us at every turn. And we need to go on resisting, even after falling over, submitting to God means resisting the devil. Otherwise we are trying to be on both sides and that we leave you a loser, frustrated and joyless. We need to hold on to the promise Ďand he will flee from youí. because it frequently does not feel like it, as you move closer to God, the pressure will increase but in the power of the Holy Spirit you can and will triumph.


Third we are told to

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

I want you to stand. Now move closer to others. Now move closer to more people and closer still. Look around see that gaps are appearing and we are in sort of two/ three distinct groups. Sit down and relax.

But learn, in getting closer to God we will move away from the devil and the world. In getting closer to God we will get closer to each other. In getting closer there in a need to relate and be considerate and at the same time enjoy some fun.

James does not talk of it here but closer to God is where the love, peace and joy bubble up in your life. James is concerned to deal with the sin that is present so his next two commands are

Wash and purify

Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. We need to repent of our sinful actions and words and, because we know that sin begins in the heart, we need to purify our hearts in the presence of God. So you need to thoroughly wash your hands. Learn this from life. Poor hand washing is the main cause of cross-infection in our society, whether it is in the medical arena , the food preparation arena or in the personal hygiene arena. It is because we do not wash our hands, spiritually we are simply carrying on in sin.

Purify is not about washing, it is about melting down a metal and removing slag or dross or contaminants. It requires high energy and is about breaking down the very substance to make a purer one. So it is in the spiritual realm. There is only one source of energy hot enough to melt the heart and that is the love of God. It will be a painful experience as you realise you have to let go of sins that you like, and allow him to reform your thinking in his image. You see that these are not 10 steps they are 10 commands to obey continuously. So purification can only happen as you submit to God which can only happen when you get closer to God. Resisting the devil begins as we open our hearts to Jesus, Satan will always attack you in the secret place where you meet with your heavenly Father.


The next three are not what we want to see. In our happy Ė clappy worship where we enjoy our style of music and listen to nice encouraging things we donít want to be told to

Grieve, Mourn and wail.

It does not go down well. But joy comes from knowing that your sins were forgiven because Jesus died in agony on a cross. He died because you are incapable of righteousness and every sin hurts him. We are told to Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.Why? Because we claim to have Jesus but we have a foot firmly in the world. We like our salvation but not our sanctification. We want to go to heaven but we donít want to live as heavenly beings on earth, we want to indulge in the greed, selfishness and immorality, especially as it is so readily available on TV where we imagine that because it is not real it cannot be sin. But our minds are full of the evil we watch. I am not against TV but we need to repent of the sin of enjoying other peoplesí sin.

Command 9 is the end game of our repentance.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

It is about letting God lift you up in his way and at his time. So rather than come to church for the worship leader to lift your spirit, come to church to be in the Spirit on the Lordís Day and let him lift you up. But the first part remains critical, humble before God means letting go of our small ambitions, believing his way is perfect and that our relationship with him is more important than anything else in our universe.

His last takes us back to the internal war in the church. Sort it out! Get the nine into your thinking and the natural outcome is to want to end the slander and backbiting, so You need to guard that untameable tongue and discipline yourself so that you build up a habit of being positive about those who Jesus calls you to love as I have loved you. The answer to the last question tell you whether you have submitted to God, resisted the Devil, come closer to God, grieved over your sin. You know you are a sinner loved by God and saved by grace, so change your attitude to your brothers and sisters in Christ.


The existential Church

We are to live today in the light of the Lord. Tomorrow we make plans but know that Godís will is pre-eminent.

Letís be clear here, we do not know the future.


Jesus may return before the end of today! That means that our plans for the rest of the year and next and 2015 could disappear! Just like that!

Secondly, God does know the future, so our plans must be constantly laid before him in outline and in detail. Sunday morning at 9:30am we set our plans for the service before the Lord. Most of the preparing is done but we live for today, God may have a better plan so we meet to pray. The question becomes, will you join us!

Thirdly, Godís plan is for eternity. Think about HS2 which upsets a lot of us. If built it will get you to Birmingham in 2026, by which time I will be 76, and Manchester around 2033, when I will be 83, if I live that long! Oli and Lucyís baby will be older than they are now. It is a plan for the next generation!And that is just a plan by a human government! Godís plans for you are for eternity. Your life is as a morning mist, gone in an hour but eternity has only just dawned! Look forward to eternity and live godly lives in the morning mist!

Verse 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.Brings us to earth with a bump. Do what? . James has 10 things he calls us to do. If you donít you are sinning. So just do it! And do it now!

Communion is a good place to start, at the foot of the cross, submitting to God, arming ourselves to resist the Devil, coming near to God, washing and purifying, a place to consider sin andGrieve, Mourn and wail. A place to humble ourselves that God may lift us up. Be lifted up this morning, our Jesus has triumphed over sin and death and the Devil!


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