“Come Near to God” James 4:1-12 8/14/16 LMPC Ben Sloan
The basics of this passage is an invitation. It is an invitation to you. This is the key- come near to God and He will come near to you. The image here is God is just waiting. He has invited us all to come near and He is waiting for us to respond to His voice. School will be starting back, and some are wondering what new friends you will make or your children will make. Some are new to our church- new members like the Kistlers or new staff like Blaine Hill, Josh Magni and Ken Anderson. Someone once gave me great advice before college- if you want to make friends- then be friendly. It is the same principle with God. If you want to be friends with God then be friendly toward God- pray to Him, read and practice His Word, worship Him.
Jesus said it like this- seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. The Lord told Jeremiah to tell the people of God, “If you seek me you will find me if you search for me with all of your heart.” Isaiah says, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their paths.”
- THE PROBLEM WITHIN- We were created to be near God, and God wants us near Him. But we separate ourselves from God. God is perfect. God is pure. God does no wrong. But we are imperfect, impure, and we do wrong. God wants us to be near Him- so He cares about our behavior. He doesn’t want us to be cruel or mean or hateful to each other. When we do bad or even evil things they separate us from God. We see this in relationships. If we hurt our family members and say or do mean things against them- there is like a wall between us and them until forgiveness occurs. If I say something mean against Kay- and she catches me and confronts me- then I am facing this side in the bed- she faces the other- or one of us goes to the couch. Sin separates. Sin divides. Sin also alienates us from God. So James has to say- come near to God. Sin is, many theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr says, is pride. Pride focuses on self. When the Great Awakening came to America, one of the great things that happened is that people humbled themselves. They wept. They confessed. They recognized that they needed other people and they valued others above themselves. There was an outpouring of generosity and going out of their way to help others.
Jonathan Edwards was a scientist, professor and president of Yale as well as a minister. He studied the Great Awakening and said what kills it every time is spiritual pride. Spiritual pride is like the Phariseeism that Jesus fought against. It is the idea that I know perfectly right. I used to think that there was Phariseeism only on the right. But there is Phariseeism on the left too. Often the people who speak so much against intolerance make the circle for tolerance smaller and smaller by rules that they make up. We do not need more proud people. There is not love in pride, and despite their great claims- in the end truth is hard to find in the proud. Rather we are to humble ourselves- with listening ears- with
Kevin Durant is one of the best basketball players in the world today. He won an Olympic Gold medal, and the MVP in the NBA. But his father left when he was an infant and his AAU Coach Charles Crag was nurdered. Going from little hope in life to all this success could give him a big head. But he said one time he let it go to his head and he had the worse game of his life and was embarrassed. He demonstrates humility by the way he treats other players with respect, being generous to the needy, and not bragging publicly. He disapproved the nickname “The Slim Reaper” and instead chose the nickname “The Serrvant.” He has God as His Lord. He says, “In the Bible I’ve read that humility is the key, and that is the one thing I try to be every day.” (“Struggle and Triumph” devotional).
- THE PROBLEM WITHOUT- There are things that are within us that keep us from getting near God. There are things outside of us that keep us from getting near God- we are to resist all temptation and evil that draw us away from God. James says it like this- resist the devil and he will flee from you. Evil is the ultimate paper tiger. It is the lie that it is impossible to get near God. It is the skepticism that blinds our eyes. There is evil in the world. There are people, groups, forces that would draw us away from God. We should be continually asking ourselves, “What draws me away from God?” The things that draw you away from God can become your counterfeit god. The things of this world can draw us away from God. But on the other hand, if we put God into all we do- we can transform all we do into something that draws us closer to God. A gymnast might see their gymnastics as so time consuming it doesn’t have any room for God- and they can’t go to church as much as they want. Simply leaving God out needs to be resisted. There are people who will encourage everyone to leave their faith at the door of the church. That is to be resisted- God is God of all of life. But on the other hand, if they put God into their gymnastics, it can enhance their witness. Even Simone Biles competitors call her “the best gymnast ever.” Simone has not been embarrassed about talking of her faith in God that helps her confidence and gives her strength. Simone and her sister were born to drug addicted parents. She had no relationship with her father and her mother was in and out of jail (according to CBN). They went from foster home to foster home until their grandparents adopted them. Their grandparents introduced them to the Christian faith and also to gymnastics. Biles won the individual gold all around and also played a key role in the USA winning the all around Olympic gold. Resist evil- fight evil- do not be complacent or apathetic toward evil. What if Simone’s grandparents said, “We are too far away… let the foster homes have them?” Care for other people, and care and love will change the world.
III. THE PROMISE OF HOPE- Draw Near to God- Submit to God;
So the question needs to be asked- “How do we come near to God?” Do I need to strike a certain pose? Do I need to say a certain magical password? Believe it or not these are some theories people have about how we come near to God. It is not, as James has said earlier- a matter of knowing a lot about how.
Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. (not thinking of yourself less; it is thinking less of yourself. You know your worth in the sight of God- and I don’t care about your criticism. It is not a lack of confidence- the humble can resist the devil- stand up against any powers. Proud people have meltdowns when people criticize them. The humble listen and sort what is constructive and what is not. Major examples of humility in scripture are Moses- who had the gumption to go before the mightiest emperor of the world and tell him to let my people go. But the Bible says Moses was the most humble man. Jesus is our ultimate example- God who humbled themselves as a man. Born in a manger, a refugee to Egypt, a man with no home and no closet of clothes. If you want to get close to God- then humble yourself.
This is why worship is not about us. It is not about getting something out of it. This is very hard in our consumeristic society- that teaches us that the world must seek to please us. Worship is coming to give God His worth- not our worth. He is worthy of our worship. We submit to Him. We are here today to draw near to God. I invite you to look for ways to draw near to God- to serve Him. It maybe teaching a Sunday School class, or keeping the nursery so others can learn. It maybe
The upside down principle- is this- the first will be last, the last first; He who loses his life will find it; If anyone wants to follow me they must deny themselves- take up their cross and follow me. The way to have true power is to give your power away and serve others.
I have one more Olympic story to tell you but of a past Olymipian, Shawn Johnson. 16 year old Shawn was told and the media said she was a shoe-in to win four gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Instead she won three silver medals. When the judge put the silver medal around her neck he said, “I am sorry.” She felt like she had failed the world. Now how many people would love to have a silver Olympic gold medal. But it was crushing for her. When she did finally win the gold it was not enough. But since she has written a book called, “I Am Second.” In it she speaks of God being first in her life. She said, “I can work my whole life to become the CEO of a company, or to make a certain amount of money or win 12 more Olympic gold medals, but its not the purpose of my life. He [God] will always be my greatest reward.” Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up. Submit yourself to God. Resist the voices that tell you to harden your heart to God. Come near to God- and He will come near to you.