Sligo18: Breaking the Barriers

Friday 13 July

This week at #Sligo18, Jonathan Rue is leading the morning Bible Teaching exploring lessons from the book of James.  Jonathan is the Lead Pastor at Desert Vineyard - a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church in Southern California.  Here, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his message on Friday morning:

What an incredible pleasure and honour to be with you like this, opening up God’s word together. The text I chose for this morning is towards the end of the chapter. James is already direct but this is one of the most challenging passages (no filter!).  This is about those of us that want a relationship with God but there is a barrier in the way. 

When my son Levi was being born, he gulped down some fluid and he had to be whisked away to the neo natal intensive care unit, so of course I went with Him! I didn't want to be separated from my son. They had him in a plexi glass incubator and I was not able to touch Him.  I was staring through this barrier at my new son and I could not reach him.

In your relationship with God, maybe you long for closeness and intimacy but you feel like there is a barrier between you and God.

James identifies two specific barriers that can get in the way.

Reading from James 4: 4 - 10  

Spiritual Adultery

This is a heavy-duty text but it is not without hope. He starts strong... “You adulterous people...!”  The word is literally, “You adulterers...” It speaks individually to each of us.  Spiritual adultery is different because you can do it without realising that you are doing it! 

So much of the language of the Bible is relational - God is our Father, we are the family of God, we are the people of God... and one of the key metaphors that the scriptures use to describe our unfaithfulness is adultery (it appears throughout the Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc. and especially Hosea who had to live it out.)

Jesus also talks about it - “This adulterous generation”.  What does that look like in our lives?  It is an image of idolatry.  Something in our lives is placed higher than God.  In modern life, we often think about idolatry as something that applied to primitive peoples.

Make no mistake.  The world is filled with things that are calling out to us.  We are all tempted to place things in our lives higher than God, putting our trust in them.  This is what James is referencing when he talks about “friendship with the world”.

Does that mean that we need to isolate ourselves from the world and live in a Christian community?  I wish it was that easy. Here’s the problem, what James is actually talking about is that everything in the world is calling out to us.  Everything has the potential to be an idol (even good things).  Our kids can become an idol.  The meaning of our lives can become wrapped up in our kids.  If I were to lose them, my life would feel like it was not worth living.   It is a dangerous thing to place our trust in anything other than God.

I want to share a snippet of a Commencement Address by a guy called Dave Foster Wallace at Kenyon College.  Sadly, he later took his own life.  He was an incredibly intelligent guy - a writer and thinker.  He was definitely not a believer but he is onto something...

"In the day-to day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH etc.—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you."

He is onto something about the allure of things around you.  No matter what it is that you worship, it will eat you live.

The only way to have true satisfaction is to worship the one true God and to place Him in the highest place in our lives.  James goes on to describe how God feels about it when we are friends with other things in the world.  He is “jealous” for our affections.  He does not want to share our affections and our loves with idols.

I’m a jealous husband.  I am not sharing my wife’s affections with anybody else.  That is how James says God feels about us.  It speaks of the quality and intensity of God’s love for us.  He is jealous if He doesn’t have us for Himself.  He doesn’t want to share us with anyone.

So what do we do if we have committed spiritual adultery even if we didn’t mean to?

In v6, James says, “He gives us more grace.”  This is good news!  You don’t have to sit here and feel terrible.  No matter what we’ve done and what we have turned to as a rival god, there is more grace for us.  There are multiple promises in this text.  If we started to call out all the worst things that we have done in our lives, it would be shocking.  Isn’t it good news that there is more grace?  No matter how dark the darkness.  No matter how sick and wrong and disgusting the sin inside of us, there is always more grace from God that covers over all of our sin.

Spiritual Pride

God opposes the pride but He gives grace to the humble.  The way into the grace of God is through this door of humility.  When we come to Jesus we have to recognise that we actually need Him.  We need His forgiveness. We need a relationship with God.  We need His help to live our lives in the way He wants us to live. That is how we come to faith in the first place.  But spiritual pride always keeps on popping up again. 

There is an article that I read, written by Nitin Nohria, the Dean of the Harvard Business School.  His essay was called “You are not as virtuous as you think”.  Most of us have something he labels moral overconfidence.  That confidence is actually inflated.  When push comes to shove, when we are squeezed, so often we do not hold to the moral high ground or maintain our high ethical standards.

85% of people say, “I’m an above average driver.”  It is impossible for 85% of people to be above average.  We think that we are so much better than we actually are.

Six signs that you are struggling with Spiritual Pride

 

Theologian Jonathan Edwards shares how we can recognise pride in our lives:

  1. If you are more aware of the faults of others than you are of your own faults.
  2. When you speak about the faults of other people, you have an air of contempt and distain (humble people speak with a tone of mercy and grace).
  3. You separate from people who have faults - you don’t want to hang out with them.
  4. You are always right - you have an inability to distinguish core truth and you are 100% sure about everything you say.
  5. You either love to confront people or you are a confrontation avoider.  Humble people confront but only when necessary.
  6. You are struggling with self pity - you know what is best in your life and you feel entitled to it so you wallow in self pity if you don’t get it.  A humble person recognises that every good thing is a gift and that God is the one who knows what is best for your life.

It is not only hard to identify spiritual pride but it is also hard to get rid of it.  To explain why, I want to talk about basketball. When you get fouled, you go to the free throw line.

About 30 years ago, Rick Barry was the greatest free thrower ever - out of every 10 free throw shots, 9 of them went into the basket - throughout his whole career.  No one has ever come close to that record!  He used what is called the “granny throw” - underhanded.

In 1962, Will Chamberlain personally scored the most points of any individual who has ever played.  His free throwing average was terrible but that night that he scored 100 points, he was testing out the “granny throw”.  But even after that experience, he went back to his old style of free throws.  People are not willing to use the superior way of shooting free throws because they feel that they look like an idiot.  They score fewer points but they look cool doing it.

It is so hard to break down pride in our lives because it is humiliating.  John Stott was once asked, “How do you learn humility.”  He answered, “Never avoid an opportunity to be humiliated.”  Who wants that?  We can't learn humility in a book! The way to rip spiritual pride out of our lives comes from being humbled (to be lowered).

I was struck by reading The Blessing of Humility - the author pointed out something about the Apostle Paul that I had never noticed. Several times, Paul references his own life and standing.  

  • In 1 Corinthians (written in 54 AD), he refers to himself as the “least of the apostles”.
  • In 62 AD he writes the Ephesians and he writes... “I am less than the least of all God’s people.”
  • A few years, later in 1 Timothy written in 63 or 64 AD, he refers to himself as the “worst of sinners”. 

Do you see the progression over the span of 10 years? What is going on in his spiritual life?  Is he regressing?   He is growing in humility.

The more you grow in humility, the more aware that you are of how sinful you are and how much you need God’s mercy and grace.

James gets practical stuff about what it looks like to break through the barriers

Submit your life to God - we don’t come to God as peers. We submit our lives and say, “You are God and I am not.”

Resist the devil - there is another spiritual team on the field.  WE are not just playing a friendly game.  The other team (the spiritual forces of darkness) is trying to take us out.  There are good spiritual things and bad spiritual things.  There is a promise here.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you. God wins!  God is more powerful.  If you resist the enemy, he will flee because of God’s power and strength.

Draw near to God - and here is another promises... as you draw near, He will draw near to you.  I have prayed this, hundreds of times.  In moments of doubt, fear, disillusionment, I come back to this text.   Come near to God and He will come near to you.

Repent with hands and heart - when he talks about repentance, being will to change our mind.  Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double minded.  If you have sin in your life, there is an internal response of repentance and a life-style response when we turn our lives back to God.  He ends with this incredible promise that when we do this, God will life us up.