This series hasn’t been the “yay, you can do it!” type of sermon series. In fact, I’ve left a few Sundays thinking, wow, that seemed kind of harsh.
It’s like James has been naming the symptoms of something up to now. It’s hard to hear. Imagine going to the doctor, bringing your car to the mechanic, or having to call a contractor regarding something in your house. You might not know much going in, but once you have more clarity about the situation, you can do something about it. Even if there’s work to come, you have a clearer path forward.
This is the turning point.
James shines a light on the root cause of everything else we’ve read and then gives us a prescription.
Wouldn’t you love to know that? Wouldn’t the people you live with love to know that? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
Maybe not literal killing, but the root is the same. It comes from our desires, the root of sin, warped, misplaced. And our desires go to war within us and with other people.
We subtly – and sometimes not so subtly – view others as something to be taken from, to consume, to even the score with.
You do not have because you do not ask God.
You do not have because you do not ask. This has been poorly interpreted.
This is your source, and why? Have you taken your desires, even the things you think you really need, and laid them to rest with God? Do you trust that His provision is not only enough but better? Even when He says no? Or when there’s pain, disappointment, or loss?
The wording here is harsh and intentional. He says “adulterous,” which basically means that his audience – and by extension, us – had a bond, a promise with God, but ran off and broke it because we felt like we could get a better deal somewhere else, with something else or someone else. Like we deserved more than what we got.
This is the opposite of what we deserve. Think of the last time someone betrayed you. Was this your natural response?
This is why God’s love is nothing like our love. He gives more grace.
You knew God’s way; you went another way.
You said, “I’ve got this one, God.”
You messed up. You screwed up badly.
You have feelings, a struggle that seems impossibly big.
Someone did something significant to you. There are not enough words that could possibly make up for the weight you’ve been carrying around.
You have questions, doubts, disappointments.
This is why Scripture says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
That was the diagnosis. Here’s the treatment.
What’s that look like?
Here’s an imperfect picture. Think of the situation when you lease a car.
Who owns it? Not you.
And even though it’s owned by someone else, you still have to take care of it. You have to put gas in it, not leave it unlocked or with the windows down. In your life, those are the things we’ve just talked about.
But it’s ultimately not yours. You’re like a steward.
Facing this is humbling. You have to live within some bounds (mileage, wear and tear).
But it also gets you off the hook for the really big stuff. If it breaks. That’s liberating! But you have to receive that you’re not ultimately the owner. That takes humility.
And you will have to keep going back to the dealer – for maintenance, repairs, or questions. And then one day you return the car to them.
The things that James gives us next are illustrations of what “submission” means and looks like. This seems like a long list, but they’re all connected – different ways of doing the one thing – submission.
Resistance. That’s warfare language. Turn and fight. We love the idea of fighting the devil. It’s an external foe that we can blame for all that’s wrong in the world. It’s like Lord of the Rings – big, but that’s actually not all James means here. There’s a profound internal dimension to this we have to acknowledge.
Diabolos – The satan, with a small “s,” is the accuser. This is a deeply ingrained Hebrew concept.
Resist the place that “the accuser” wants to lead you. Whether that’s isolation, consuming others, bitterness, envy, anger, pride…
It’s crucial that we get this.
Our pride, our insecurity, our envy, our lack of self-control. All of the things James has talked about. It sounds all mighty and religious to blame some cosmic evil, but it’s a dodge. Jesus has defeated the power of Satan cosmically. But He’s also given us power to resist the devil that is often us!
And the worst way to fight is alone. The best way to fight is with other people who stand beside you and behind you. Who has your back but will tell you the truth? And you fight with the power of God!
What’s the accuser look like for you?
What whispers do you listen to about yourself that aren’t true?
What whispers do you listen to about others that aren’t true but allow you to rationalize your issues – the things battling within you?
This means you have to take a step and make a move. You have to step out the door of that other place – where the accuser dwells.
We pray many “God help me” prayers, but we often have no real intention of packing up our stuff from the broken place, moving out, and moving on.
But this is such a great promise because when we move an inch, God moves a mile! It’s your move first, but you don’t have to cover all the distance. Or even half of it?
Hands and hearts – sin has internal and external consequences and effects. This isn’t just about your external actions and words. It’s also about what bounces around in your heart and mind about God, others, or yourself.
You have to do both.
Remember from the previous sermon in this series that the source (internal) is revealed by its effects (external). That’s why this is more than some external discipline.
Everything here illustrates seriousness, not a passing fling or idea, or an emotional prayer at the end of a service. But it also shows something else – a funeral.
A funeral represents an ending – it represents closure. As any of you who have lost a loved one knows, it doesn’t mean the feelings are gone, or there’s no longer struggle, pain, or questions. But there’s a finality to a funeral. We hold them as part of the grieving process but also to signify letting go and moving on.
Some of you need to hold a funeral for some part of your life. Or the way you’ve been operating in some relationship in your life. Or even the way you have viewed your life.
It’s a shift in the relationship you have with yourself. When we do that, we have to face a reality that’s hard to face. But there’s freedom on the other side of it.
Ron Walborn said that inner healing occurs when Jesus applies His truth about you to the place where lies have ruled you.
All these ways of submitting to God take incredible humility, and guess where James leads us…
Humble means bring low.
But once we embrace that humility, submitting ourselves to God, there’s something God does. It’s a promise He gives us – an if/then statement.
You can trust that God will lift you up. “Raise to dignity, honor, and happiness.” Lift your face to give you more grace, to lighten the load, to release you, to set you free (“Neither do I condemn you…”), to set you on your feet, and to send you on your way.
In the midst of your broken place, your disappointment, your failure, your questions, your anxiety and uncertainty, your attempts to control your life, your circumstance, and the outcomes.
That’s the place… the moment… the turning point, where God’s grace collides with our lives, lifts us up, where heaven and earth collide.
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