I realise now that there’s something I should add to the sermon title. It might not be plain to everyone but it’s clear to me that I’ve missed a word out.
When …. (just add it after “God” and before the question mark).
Thinking about the power of Grace in drawing us to God is one thing. It’s a bigger picture, though, when we consider (as the Psalm writer and Paul both do), the pressures on us to conform to other thinking, finding our reference points from culture rather than them being given by God.
True discipleship reflects the character of God being lived through the believer. As verse 6 tells us, when we are committed to holiness (right living) we’ll find real satisfaction, not just temporary relief.
Paul begins his letter by giving his readers a theological perspective or framework for their faith. Faith is not just a matter of belief, it has to be expressed (lived out). It’s inclusive, built on Christ (2:20 – 21) and open to all (Jews and Gentiles) who believe & recognise Christ as Saviour and Lord
Moving onto practical considerations, today’s message considers the essential character of the church if it is to be considered an authentic example of a Christian community. We begin with the church’s call to unity – how we get it and how we maintain it.
The whole matter of evangelism and ministry to the World in Christ’s name is located in pursuing and perfecting Christ’s love through our lives and life together. We are nothing without that Goal.
Church is not a building nor a particular denomination. Church is people, church is you and I, whenever, wherever and however we meet.
The bible tells us that the church is like a body: there’s infinite variety in its make up but unity in the way it all fits together. We are part of something special (God’s church); we’re connected for a common purpose (serving the world); we’re growing up (directed and refreshed by the Holy Spirit).
Hanging on to faith, persevering in the face of trials, temptation, struggles and suffering is not easy. But, as James illustrates, if our attitude to the way we use our material resources is not right, then our perseverance is in vain.
These verses are a corrective towards selfishness, a selfishness that apparently manifested itself in an extreme form in James's experience; so keen were some to get wealth and keep it, in that they were prepared to do anything to achieve their goal (v.4).
It all boils down to a question of attitude - a matter of what we are inside, that affects the way we deal with and how we respond to the needs of others.
If there is one thing we have learned from James over these past weeks, then it is that our responsibility as believers extends beyond ourselves and that our actions and our attitudes have a significant impact on the life of the church as a whole.
Now, as James comes to the end of his letter he reminds us once again of our responsibilities towards each other. Unless all we do is backed by consistent Christian behaviour, attitudes and, above all, the continued presence of prayer, then what we do will be useless and without fruit.
We all suffer from conflict at some time or another and it often appears that it is really part and parcel of our everyday lives. After all there are so many things or situations that can trigger it off aren't there? Workmates, other car drivers, members of our families, others within the church fellowship and even from within ourselves?
In these verses – having recognised the need the for Godly wisdom (3:13 – 18) James again looks at the uglier side of human nature. This is the conflict that exists between our desires and God's will.
What is the source of this conflict? What is its substance? Where does it lead and how can we resolve it? These are the questions that James addresses and, in doing so, provides us with a solution to the spiritual conflict that is at the very heart of our human condition.
Words are part of our day to day communication; they can build and maintain or they can destroy relationships. They can cement or they can fracture confidence and trust.
Words have power; they can communicate love or hatred, acceptance or rejection. Words can just as easily libel people's reputations and spread false information as much as they express praise or encouragement.
To maintain the bond of peace, before we speak let’s first think – is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind?
I sometimes think that James is like the little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Story who exposed the emperor's nakedness.
James has a painful habit of exposing our own spiritual pretence: do we just talk a good game? Do we know the language, read the right books, sing acceptable songs, go along to the right meetings?
Fine, so far as it goes, but James argues that if that is our faith, then it needs to go a whole lot further: much, much further in fact, into a different way of living. We are not just to listen (although that’s crucial because you have to know what you are hearing but we must think through and engage with what we’ve learned and heard and out it into practice every day. It’s not enough to hear and to know about our faith, we are called by Christ to do something about it.
Tough times face us, it is true but the Good News of Jesus Christ and of God’s provision is always the Good News.
Faith and trust is truly the key to facing up to the tests that our daily lives set us.
It is faith in the Lord who will equip us not just to stay still and survive but to thrive and grow to maturity through His Grace. We will not achieve perfection in this life, but it is as we are refined in the face of trials and hardships, as we trust God wholeheartedly, as we are single minded about serving him and making him known, that we will grow closer to him and to each other.
Whatever trials we face - and we may be facing them now or may do so this week - then I pray that we will face them with God at our side, with prayer on our lips and with hope in our hearts.
At the state opening of Parliament, the reigning Monarch reads out a list of the legislation the Government will be bringing in the next session. Whilst this is effectively a statement of purpose for the kinds of areas the ruling party will focus on, it is often hard (without digging a lot deeper) to understand the motivation behind the words.
It’s very different with the writer of Psalm 101 (which is seen by many as King David’s coronation address). This is a very personal statement not a list of proposed legislation and, as a result, reveals, a lot about the heart and motivation that lies behind the façade of a successful man. It’s a question of character (who we are) as well as a matter of commitment (what we’ll do): both aspects reveal whether we are truly grounded in our relationship with God – or not.
Rockefeller the American billionaire described contentment as "A little more than you already have.“
We’ll always want more if our life is run on the basis of comparison – the car someone else has, the job they do, where they go on their holidays and so on. In such circumstances, happiness only comes when you are up with the competition or, better still, one up on the competition.
True happiness comes when we find real contentment. Despite the pressure to lead busy lives and to fill our diaries, we need to ensure that our focus remains on what we believe and how that is worked out. When we depend on God and not on some kind of social or possession driven pecking order, then we will find real contentment irrespective of the circumstances we may find ourselves in.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds 2000 years ago and sang “Peace on earth”, it wasn’t pie in the sky but a message from heaven itself. Later, when Jesus said “My peace I give to you”, He wasn’t joking. He really wants to share in our lives, just as He did when He was born in Bethlehem.
It isn’t every day that God came to live with ordinary people. The true story of Christmas invites us to do more than to read, remember or listen – it’s an event which invites us to step inside and to join in.
Will you take one step beyond the stable door and discover the most wonderful gift of all?
No, it’s not M & S, sprouts of even Christmas Day itself – it’s simply: God with us.
It’s said that you can see a candle flame on a still dark night over a mile away. Surely, something so small can’t make that much of a difference, can it?
The story of Christmas is an account of an everyday life event – a birth – that changed history forever. Surely someone that insignificant can’t have such a tremendous impact, can he?
The light shines in the darkness and that light is the light of men. Emmanuel. God with us.
An unexpected message, given to perhaps the most unlikely person. Who on earth would entrust a teenage girl from a rural backwater with a pivotal role in human history?
God’s choice of Mary is both unexpected but also very welcome. It is a human story because many of us can identify with Mary’s amazement at being invited by God to take part in something special – even if our task isn’t what hers would be. It’s personal too because it reminds us that none of us are beyond God’s love, something which is made clear in the Christmas story.
“The Lord is with you: God with us”.