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The book of James is all about a faith lived out, a faith expressed in the way we behave, our behaviour the advertisement of what we believe.

We are living billboards declaring that God is real and that God is love and the way we live has a massive influence on those around us.   It has been quoted here before someone will read the Bible or come to a church they will read our life first, we are the first Bible most people read.   What a challenge.

In James 4:8 we have one of the most familiar and popular verses of the book.  If there was a bible verse countdown of greatest hits of the bible James 4:8 would be on it.  I share it almost every time I have a mic at church.  But there is a part B to James 4 that I never read out loud.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.  James 4:8-10

 

James is going after Christians who say they love God with their mouths but live life their own way.

He’s going after Christians who use their perseonality defaults as excuses for their character flaws.

He’s going after Christians who pick and chose what parts of the Bible they accept and believe in.

He’s going after those who look great on Sunday but whose workmates wouldn’t even know they’re Christians on Monday.

He’s going after those who think they’re fine living one foot in the world and one foot in the church.

He’s going after you and me.

 

We live in a world that lives for self – if it feels good do it – and that pushes against the boundaries that God sets.

We live in a world that has made sin so accessable and acceptable.

In fact if you hold to biblical values you are often branded as bigoted, judemental and narrowminded.

 

But this world is God’s world.  He makes the rules.  Not because He is a kill joy but because of His great love for us.  His boundaries are to bless us, to bless our relationships, to bless our future, to bless us with wholeness and the peace that comes from right living.

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God’s invitation has always been for us to draw close to Him.  We see right from creation, in the garden of Eden that in the cool of the evening that God would walk in the garden with Adam and Eve

Time and time again through the OT we see the invitation to draw near to God.

Enoch walked with God right into heaven in genesis 5

Abraham was called to follow God in Genesis 10 to a new land that God would show Him, and on the way he built altars as physical representations that God was there.

Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven in Genesis 28.

Moses encountered God in a burning bush and was invited up onto mt Sinai into the visible presence of God.  He also built a tent of meeting – a place he regularly went to pray where a physical cloud of God’s presence would come down in Exodus 33.

God called Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 in a time when hearing from God was incredibly rare, so rare that Samuel, a young child at the time, didn’t know who it was.  He was the first in a line of prophets who God sent to call His people home.

In Jeremiah it says several times Time and time again I have sent you all My servants the prophets, proclaiming: ‘Turn now, each of you from his evil way of life, and correct your actions. Do not go after other gods to serve them. Live in the land that I have given to you and your fathers.’ But you have not inclined your ear or listened to Me. Jeremiah 35:15

David – the greatest king of Israel, a man after God’s heart, shepherd, giant slayer, song writer communicates through the psalms the invitation of God and that we are created to worshp and draw near.   In Psalm 27:8 he writes When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”

 

I grew up going to the catholic church, where it was more of a Sunday thing and a set of rules.  God seemed far far away on a cloud somewhere and wasn’t relevant to real life.  I didn’t think much about God between Sundays and if I did it was more about if I had been good enough or how many hail marys would that cost me at confession at easter time.   I never thought of God in the context of relationship or friendship.

It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I began to wonder if there was more to life, more to me and more to God.    The very first time I went to youth group my whole grid on God was shaken as I heard someone pray and I just knew he knew God and that God was real and that I could know Him too, in fact I knew I MUST know Him.  I had no idea what that looked like but that sense of I MUST KNOW GOD was so strong and real.  I went to their easter camp and on the Saturday afternoon the speaker said go find a space by yourself and talk to God.  I found a space by myself under a big tree and cried and cried because I knew I wasn’t good enough to talk to God, or go to heaven.  That night the speaker told us about jesus and how He made the way for us to come close to God and I went forward and gave my life to Jesus.   God had been drawing me and it wasn’t about how good I could be, He had made the way through the death of Jesus and my part to play was to say yes to His invitation.

It’s almost a chicken and the egg scenario… what came first… God invites us to draw near, we draw near, He draws near, He invites us to draw near, we respond and draw near, He draws near, He invites, we respond, He draws near.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter who we are or what we’ve done – God invites us to come close, to be His friend, to be His child.

Romans 5:8 says But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

 

So how do we do it?  How do we draw near to God?

We see in Matthew 6 that Jesus gave His disciples guidelines on how to make this real in their lives.  He says

But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you [c]openly.

 

We can see keys in this verse that will help us develop a lifestyle of prayer and seeking God.

 

On Purpose – one of the key words in this passage is when.  We need to have a when.  We need to schedule our times with God and make it an on purpose regular commitment to carve out time with Him.   Our lives get so busy and filled up with work, extra curricular activities, people, families and I know that unless I have made it a regular rhythm to spend time with God it gets to the end of the day and its like ooops, hey God thanks for a great day you’re awesome snore snore snore….

The key is to find what time works for you.  Some people are morning people and delight in spending time with God in the morning.  Some people are NOT morning people but find that giving God that time as a sacrifice sets them up for the day.  Others do lunch with God and find time in their breaks to read the bible.  Some listen to the audio bible or a podcast on their commute to and from work, making their car a holy place.  Though once I have been having a worship time with God in the car and literally had to pull over because I burst into tears and was overcome by His presence!!!   I am a in the night hours person and have my reading time at night because that works for me and is a way of ending my day with God’s words filling my heart and mind.  Find what works for you and then in the immortal words of nike, just do it.  Do it on purpose and be intentional about it.

 

Place – Jesus instructed his disciples to go into their room, shut the door and spend time with God.   The idea is to have a meeting place, just like Moses did with his tent of meeting where he would go and meet with God face to face as friends.  There is something about having a room, or a chair or a place where you go and meet with God.   In the movie War Room the women turned their walk in wardrobes into prayer closets and created an intentional space to spend time with God.  It gives it the sense of this is my God meeting space, when I come here, when I sit in this chair or this room, I meet with God.

Susanna Wesley was a mother of nineteen children who recognized her need for quiet being with God. (No small feat when you have nineteen children and no netflix, movies, iphones or ipads ) To ensure she had quiet time, she would put her big hoop skirt over her head to create a private sanctuary. She trained her children not to interrupt her if they saw her with her skirt over her head!

 

Personal – each of us are wired in unique ways – to live and to connect with God.  How you pray and worship will look different from the person next to you.  There are so many creative ways to spend time with God and there is no one right way.  Prayer doesn’t have to be kneeling beside your bed with your hands clasped – unless that works for you!

In our high school girls connect group we’ve been doing Youth Alpha and one of the sessions was on prayer, followed the week later by a session on the bible.  Over those two nights we talked about the different ways that we pray and read the bible.  Some of them journal, write out prayers, draw prayers, do word studies, follow youversion bible plans, dance, lie on the floor, sing out loud, meditate, memorize… you get the picture.  Paul Saunders shared how he likes to go for walks and over the course of his walking God would show him some random object or thing outside and speak to him, like object lessons.

 

Persevere – I remember the first time I felt God in my bedroom – it was a completely unexpected moment – I knew that God was at church and at camp but that God in such a tangible way would be in my bedroom blew my mind.  I was just sitting in my bean bag, so you know, not on my knees with my hands clasped – I seriously really knew nothing when I became a Christian! – listening to some worship music a friend had given me.  All of a sudden it was like I felt an incredible peace and joy and love and all the things I had felt when I gave my life to Jesus.  I jumped up and jumped around and danced because I was just so happy.  My parents actually asked what was going on – I think because the music sounded um, joyful instead of um, more metal which had been my genre of choice.

But its not always like that.  Sometimes I’ll pray and worship and have that awareness of God’s presence, that peace and sense of Him that I’ve grown to recognise as God, but other times its like me talking to you right now in conversation.   Sometimes words jump off the pages, okay, I confess, the screen of my bible, like it was written just for me and other times  its more like just reading.  But I know that Jesus said that when I draw near to God, He draws near to me and rewards me for seeking Him.   I think that is why God uses the word SEEK.

Firstly as children of God and in fact as human beings God is always with us, in the sense that God is omnipresent and therefore always near everything and everyone. He holds everything in being. His power is ever-present in sustaining and governing all things.

But there is that shift when we consciously fix or focus our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection on God, when we turn aside from everything around us and the distractions of the world and life to focus on God and God alone.

(1 Chronicles 22:19)  “Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.”

Jeremiah 29:13 says You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

Matthew 7:7 says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

The passion translation says: Ask, and the gift is yours. Seek, and you’ll discover. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For every persistent one will get what he asks for. Every persistent seeker will discover what he longs for. And everyone who knocks persistently will one day find an open door.

We have to preserve in spending time with God.  Though we may not feel it every time we read the bible, pray and worship it is having a positive effect on our spirit and our life.  Time with God is never wasted.  Often what we store up in the silence comes back to us in the storm and we find that the things we have read in the past comes back to us at the exact right time we need it.

Every time we draw near to God, He draws near to us.

* notes for WHAT WE BELIEVE = AMMO (5-7 min slot) @ housegroup tonight, followed by worship and prayer

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What is Worship?

but i, by your great love, can come into Your house, in reverence, bow down in worship at your temple with deepest awe.  Psalm 5:7 NLT

 

worship REMINDS us who God is, His greatness, His goodness, His power, His grace

it REFOCUSES our attention on Him, His greatness, His goodness, His power, His grace

it REFRESHES our heart and CONNECTS us in RELATIONSHIP

it is an expression of love, adoration, surrender

 

worship reinforces what matters most, reminds us of truths we forget and renews our desire to live what we believe.  Rick Warren

 

it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to men.  CS Lewis

 

 

Why do we Worship?

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise Psalm 145:3

 

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being

Revelation 4:11

 

For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”’ Matthew 4:10b

 

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Psalm 103

 

They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.  Psalm 145:7

 

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something about this song has so being spoken into my spirit at the moment.  the last few nights when i have gone to bed it is the first song that comes on my nano.  its funny, whenever i am going through something, God gives me a song.  i think this is my song for this moment.  His invitation to come, draw near, find my place in Him.

 

 

 

Draw near to me for I have drawn near to You
Pull on the strings of my heart for I long to respond to You
All my love is for You, all my love is Yours
I have made a place for You here, So come on, come on
All things are possible here, So come on, come on

the thing i love about my CEV bible is that it makes it so personal.  it makes God accessable.  the language is so personal and relevant that in a way it breaks down walls and draws us closer to God.  well for me it is that.  i also read regularly from a NKJV which i love.  but i love my CEV.

i read this the other night.

Isaiah 41:13 I am the Lord your God.  I am holding your hand so dont be afraid.  i am here to help you.

now isnt that amazing.  wow. close. encouraging.  strengthing.  empowering.  inspiring.  loving.  awesome.

We need to live a life HOT for God.

Revelation 3:15-16 I know everything you have done, and you are not cold or hot. I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Be on fire for God. Know Him. Know Him. Know Him.

What does a life HOT for God look like?

You see knowing God and being a Christian isn’t about rules and regulations or ticking the boxes or anything like that –its full of wonder and colour and revelation and God – the creator of the universe, creator of the rhino and the butterfly and the dung beetle and the emu and the tuatara – walking with him, knowing him, hearing him, loving him and being loved by him.

When I became a Christian 16 years ago, I thought – in my limited knowledge – that Christians were boring and life as a Christian ment I would have to wear gray… seriously, I thought that it would be a gray life – boring, restricted and tame. Yet in the face of my discovery that God was real I knew I just had to know God and give him my life, whatever the consequences.

Life has been anything but gray!

You see we encourage you to pray and read the bible, not to get ticks on a chart or a gold star at the end of the year – but so you encounter God. The Bible is God breathed and inspired and through it he reveals himself.

And we live our lives a certain way, not to get a “im a nice Christian badge” but a “well done you rock” from God. We live so we can please him.

God is the same toady as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow. The same God you know is the same God known by Elijah, known by the Apostle Peter, known by Charles Finney, known by Kathryn Kulman, known by Brother Yun in China who wrote The Heavenly Man.

Ahhh but you might say, I’m just a student, I’m just at school, I’m just a builder, I’m just a lawyer, I’m just a teacher…. There is no “justa” about it.

You are called and chosen. You are a demonstration of the power and grace of God. Greater is He in you than he in the world. You are seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus. The same power that rose Jesus from the grave is in you. God lives in you.

So how do we get HOT and stay HOT?

You get hot and stay hot by your proximity to God.

The Bible describes God as like a consuming fire. When God appeared to Ezekiel, Solomon, Moses, Aaron and the Israelites he appeared with fire and glory.

We lit the fire in our house the other day. It was so cold! The closer you stand you stand to the fire the warmer you are.

I reckon it is the same with God.

How do you get hot and stay hot?

Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.

Trials and refinement don’t sit well in our 21st century western way of thinking. We have our microwaves, popcorn makers, dvds, im, mysky etc etc etc… but the work of God takes a lifetime and there are seasons that take time. The work of God is precious and good and right. God is working a miracle in our lives. In my life. I AM a miracle. I am a demonstration and ambassador for him. 

The message of Jesus has never been a happy happy joy joy promise.  He does promise abundant life, but that life is characterized by a life of surrender and relationship with God.  This promise comes with the outworking and demonstration of our faith, shaped by trials and obedience.  Jesus calls us to walk a narrow road, to take up our cross, to put Him first above all others, including and especially ourselves.

As Christians we may experience seasons of great joy and freedom, and likewise seasons when God seems very far away and that our spiritual life resembles the Sahara Desert.  There is a bigger picture involved.

“In all your journey as a believer, you will have two categories of spiritual experiences. One is tender, delightful and loving. The other can be quite obscure, dry, dark and desolate. God gives us this first one to gain us; he gives us the second to purify us.

First He deals with you as if you were only a child. Then he begins to deal with you as though you were a strong man. In the first there is a great deal of your Christian experience tied to that which you can sense outwardly. But the other category of Christian experience calls for a believer to no longer mind the outward senses. Rather he must know warfare against his own passions, and attain to a will that is in complete agreement and concert with the Lord…. This is the proper occupation of us all.

Dry spells are the instrument of God, for your good. Yes, it is true in such times, your five senses have been deprived and all outward progress of outward piety ends. Know this; In such times you are either going to leave off prayer and perhaps even a large part of your Christian walk, or you will be drive to a comfort which has nothing to do with the outward sense.” Molinos from 100 Days In The Secret Place (by Gene Edwards)

In these dry places we learn to persevere and to draw near to God regardless of how we feel and what we sense. In this time God is still at work, even more so I would think, as He develops strength of character and hunger for Him. We learn to pray in new ways, to seek after God and to in that action to hold onto our faith and beliefs. We may even find our beliefs and faith changing as things that are built on works and feelings and comfortability fall away. We may discover that we do know in our deepest parts that God does love me and knows me and forgives me – despite all our failings and unworthiness. In a dry spell the greatest watering and growth can occur. 

Even if we know nothing else we can have hope in WHO God Is.   God is God, the God of mercy and compassion, love and peace, grace and hope, Jehovah our Provider, Jehovah our Healer, Jehovah our Breakthrough.  He is the same today, yesterday and will be tomorrow. He will never leave or depart us, never abandon us. Our names are written on the palm of his hand, and there are nail scars to reinforce the point.

The dry place is not a time to give up. It is a time to hold on. It is a time to not let go of those “disciplines” that we practice. By the way those disciplines we do, bible reading and prayer and going to church must be actions of relationship or they become ritual. They must be actions of love and discovering who God is and what he does rather than form and just doing. We must read the bible to discover the author and creator – to know The Word, not just the words. 

Revelation 3 warns us to have fresh love for God.  Rules and rituals are no substitute for really knowing God and having the friendship available.

Knowing who God is will help immeasurably in the storm and the fire. Isaiah 43:1-2 promises that when we walk in the flood we will not be overwhelmed and when we walk through the fire we will not be burnt.  Jesus told us that in this life we will have troubles but that we can take heart and be confident that He has overcome the world.  Knowing what God says and promises for those situations brings hope and faith. It causes trust to rise in our hearts.  This is why knowing the Word is so vital. It strengthens us for the hard road, and refreshes us in the dry place. It teaches us who God is. 

Refining and shaping occurs so that we are more like Jesus in heart and character. This is so we are more effective in service for God. I do believe we are all cracked pots containing the great treasure of God, himself, the Holy Spirit, who works through us and in us and that our brokenness only serves to demonstrate how great and graceful and compassionate God is.

 2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  

1 Corinthians 4:3-4 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God does not change.  He does not leave us.  He does not forsake us.  But He does allow us to be transformed and refined.  He has a bigger picture and no quick fixes.  God doesn’t use band aids but gets to the heart of the matter.  

Finally, take great hope from the Word of God that promises that when we are dying of thirst (spiritually) “He will come to their rescue.  He will make rivers flow on mountain peaks and send streams to fill the valleys.  Dry and barren lands will flow with springs and become a lake.” (Isaiah 41:17-18 CEV)  Don’t give up.  Keep praying.  Keep reading The Word.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

i want to know God… i believe we can know God – that he reveals himself to us – in the Word, through Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit alive in us.

i believe that God is not far away, but he is near to us.

i believe that as we draw near to him, making intentional decisions and choices and actions that he draws nearer to us. (james 4:8)

i believe he rewards those who seek for him (hebrews 11:6)

i believe we can know God (1 corinthians 2:9-10)

and because of this i live my life to know him and make him known. i make intentional choices to seek him and i make time in my day and week to do that. i pray. i read the bible. i obey. i worship. i listen. i talk.

who do you think God is? how do you see him?

do you see him as near or afar?

personal or indifferent?

real or just existing?

do you see how what you believe will affect how you relate to God???

Till I See You by Hillsong United

The greatest love that anyone could ever know
That overcame the cross and grave to find my soul
And ’til I see You face to face and grace amazing takes me home
I’ll trust in You

With all I am I’ll live to see Your kingdom come
And in my heart I pray You’d let Your will be done
And ’til I see You face to face and grace amazing takes me home
I’ll trust in You

I will live to love You
I will live to bring You praise
I will live a child in awe of You

You are the voice that calls the universe to be
You are the whisper in my heart that speaks to me
And ’til I see You face to face and grace amazing takes me home
I’ll trust in you

You alone are God of all
You alone are worthy Lord
And with all I am my soul will bless Your name

“Come To God often just to sit in His presence and renew yourself. Nothing is as important as lowliness of heart and detachment from our own opinion and will.” Fenelon in 100 days in the secret place

I lay in bed last night thinking about this segment of my devotional book. Often when we are going through a hard time sitting down to pray and read the bible and talk to God is soooo the last thing we want to do or do full stop. We can get angry with God – when will this stop? Why wont you intervine? Pleeeese God come? You know… all of those things are valid. David was a big stomp ya feet say how he really felt kind of guy. His psalms are filled with WOE IS ME and emotions that I read as angry and depressed (its all in the tone of voice…) but then he also gets it in perspective and remembers God and His ways and that gives him peace and strength to carry on.

Psalm 73:16-17 When I thought deeply in order to understand this, it was painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.

In this Psalm David is going through a really hard time on all fronts. His understanding came when he went and spent time with God. Likewise for us – we may look at our circumstances and go “da wah?” and throw our hands up in despair. We need to remember to come and sit and pray and read the Bible. Sometimes just even putting on a good worship CD can bring us into the presence of God.

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Psalm 23:1-6 A Psalm of David. Jehovah is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah forever.

We may not get any answers from God. We may come away from a prayer time with no firm understanding. But we need to UNDERSTAND that God is God and God is good and loves us and is at work in our lives, to work ALL things for good for His glory and purposes. Your hard times may give you the experience that is able to help others.

2 Corinthians 1:4 He comforting us in all our trouble, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in every trouble, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

The value of spending time with God is that we hear His voice, we can feel His presence –we can remind ourselves of WHO he is and draw closer, knowing that as we draw near to Him he draws near to us. Even if God is silent the time is not a waste. It is relationship building. It can bring comfort when we drop the walls. It changes us…

are you thirsty and tired – not physically – but on the inside?  do you feel worn out and dry?

there is hope and an answer.

and i have found it to be God.

he promises to quench our thirst and to bring rain upon our hearts.

he is the one who brings rain to the deserts we feel.

dont give up.  dont give up.

If you are thirsty, come and drink water!
If you don’t have any money, come, eat what you want!
Drink wine and milk without paying a cent.
2Why waste your money on what really isn’t food?
Why work hard for something that doesn’t satisfy?
Listen carefully to me,
and you will enjoy the very best foods.

3Pay close attention! Come to me and live.
I will promise you the eternal love and loyalty
that I promised David.

Isaiah 55:1-3

dry times shape us.  they cause us to draw even more towards God, even when he seems far.  he is not far.  he is ever close. ever near.  ever with us.  keep drawing near.  keep having faith.  dont give up.

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Worship Wednesday

1000 Things

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