How to Be Whole (James 1:1-8)

Sermon Recap

In the 1960s, Howard Hughes bought more land than anyone else in the Las Vegas area, because he liked the idea that he could always get a sandwich no matter then time of day. Joan Didion, in Slouching Toward Bethlehem, connects this millionaire idiosyncrasy to the American (and especially Californian) character:

That we have made a hero of Howard Hughes tells us something interesting about ourselves, something only dimly remembered, tells us that the secret point of money and power in America is neither the things that money can buy nor power for power’s sake… but absolute personal freedom, mobility, privacy. It is the instinct which drove America to the Pacific, all through the nineteenth century, the desire to be able to find a restaurant open in case you want a sandwich, to be a free agent, live by one’s own rules.

We all tend to think that leading an integrated, flourishing life means taking control of our own lives. James begins his letter by addressing exactly that. But his answer to how to be whole is completely different than our idea of it. 

1. Take Control

James starts his letter by telling us what we should do in the midst of suffering. Our natural response is to take control, to either become the victor or play the victim. This tendency traces its roots back to Eden. James says that, when Christians try to take control of our lives, we are being “double-minded,” saying Jesus is King, but living like we are. 

2. Joyful Surrender

Rather than take control of our lives in the midst of suffering, James calls Christians to joyful surrender. We can be joyful in trials because we know that King Jesus has our pain in his hands, for our ultimate good (Hebrews 1:3). And it’s in surrendering to his perfect will for our lives that we become like him: perfect, complete, whole. God takes us through suffering to show us we have nothing but him… and that he is all we need (Psalm 73:25-26).

Reflection and Discussion Questions

Head

  • Read Romans 5:3-5. What similarities are there between this passage and James 1:1-8? What differences do you see?

  • Why should the biblical truth that God is in control of all things and that he is good lead us to rejoice in trials? Where do we see these two truths taught in Scripture?

Heart

  • What trials are you going through right now? Do you tend to take control by becoming a victor or a victim? Why?

  • How does a Christian’s desire for control make them “double-minded?” How did Jesus model wholeness in the way he joyfully surrendered to the Father?

Hands

  • Make a list of all the areas of your life that you try and exert control over. Confess this to God. What does it look like to give up control in one of these areas?

  • What is one trial in your life right now? Take 2 minutes each day this week to meditate on the truth that Christ holds that trial in his hands, and has allowed it in your life to perfect you. At the end of the week, did this make a difference? Share this with someone in your CG.

Bunkers and Humility (Psalm 19:12-14)

Sermon Recap

In telling of his conversion to Christianity, David Brooks writes that the “siege mentality” is one of the greatest obstacles that Christians put in the way of others on their spiritual journey.

This can slip quickly into a sense of collective victimhood. The “culture” is out to get us. We have to withdraw into the purity of our enclave. The odd thing is that the siege mentality feels kind of good to the people who grab on to it. It gives people a straightforward way to interpret the world—the noble us versus the powerful and sinful them. We have the innocence of victimhood.

Pretty soon Christianity isn’t a humble faith; it’s a fighting brigade in the culture war.… Pretty soon you get these wild generalizations about the supposed hostility of the outside world.… Pretty soon you wind up with what Rabbi Sacks calls “pathological dualism,” a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.

Rather than hide in a bunker as if we are under siege, Christians are called to engage humbly with the world around us, with eyes open, hearts submitted and feet firm. 

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1. Eyes Open

Ps. 19:12 makes it clear that we don’t understand how deeply and pervasively our sin goes. We are all much greater sinners than we realize (Psalm 40:12). Bunker Christianity keeps our eyes closed to our own faults. But we can’t come to a deep understanding of God until we see how sinful we can be. John Calvin writes:

Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and—what is more—depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is—what man does not remain as he is—so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? Accordingly, the knowledge of ourselves not only arouses us to seek God, but also, as it were, leads us by the hand to find him.

Humility in Christ says we know we are worse than we think and desperately need God’s grace.

2. Hearts Submitted

When we recognize that we are worse than we realize, we become aware of how sin controls us (Psalm 19:13). Taking control of our lives means letting ourselves be controlled by sin. Submitting our hearts to God gives us confidence in his love for us in Christ (Romans 6:10-14).

3. Feet Firm

We fight a bunker mentality and the sin in our own heart by meditating on Christ and his Word, keeping our feet firmly rooted in him (Ps. 19:14). 

Reflection and Discussion Questions

Head

  • The doctrine of human depravity says we are thoroughly broken by sin. How does Psalm 19:12-14 support this idea?

  • Read 1 Corinthians 4:4. How does this relate to Psalm 19:12?

Heart

  • Reflect on David Brooks’s quote. Have you experienced this “siege mentality” in the church? Have you perpetuated it?

  • Read Matthew 7:21-23. Why should this humble us? How should this blow up our bunkers?

Hands

  • This week, try your best to avoid complaining, gossiping or blameshifting. What do the “words of your mouth” reveal about the “meditation of your heart?” Share with someone you’re close to. 

  • Our identity in Christ should lead us to walk with confident humility. Where do you lack confidence? Where do you lack humility? Pray this week for grace to walk in confident humility this week. 

Uncommon Kindness (Acts 28:1-10)

Sermon Recap

As we’ve reflected on the law of God written on the hearts of every human being, we recognize there are things Christians share with all mankind that should be recognized and celebrated. There are limits however to what people can actually know by common grace. How do we as God’s people best communicate God’s saving grace by means which every person can understand?

1. The Blessing of Kindness

Paul is shown uncommon kindness by the Maltese after the boat he’s prisoner on is shipwrecked. It’s a beautiful picture that kindness is not just for Christians. None of us would want to truly live in a world where only Christians are capable of showing kindness. It’s a blessing to know God allows non-believers and believers alike to be kind.

2. The Limit of Kindness

What our passage shows us though is that kindness is not enough to save. Being nice people doesn’t rescue the Maltese from their spiritual lost-ness. As Christians, we often forget that as well. We sometimes make the mistake of valuing and protecting kindness over gospel truth. The world needs more than kindness. It needs Jesus Christ.

3. The Language of Kindness

So how do we reconcile the blessing and limit of kindness? Gospel hospitality rooted in the kindness shown to us by Christ. We demonstrate an alien kindness in a culture that keeps its doors short, alienates people based on racial, social, and political lines. We welcome people with the welcome of Christ, counting nothing as sacrifice, turning strangers into neighbors and eventually family in God.

"Niceness"-wholesome, integrated personality-is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up "nice"; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world-and might even be more difficult to save. - C.S. Lewis

Gospel hospitality is welcoming people into your living space and treating strangers as family so God can turn some of them into friends. - Tim Keller

Reflection and Discussion Questions

Head

  • Why is it a good thing that God has allowed all mankind to demonstrate kindness? What kind of world would it be if this were not the case?

  • When have you seen kindness and hospitality make people friends who you would never expect to be?

Heart

  • Are there ways in which “niceness” and being kind to others is a form of self-justification for you? That kindness is more the root of holiness than Christ is?

  • Have you desired to keep “nice" and “kind” relationships with your co-workers, neighbors, and friends at the expense of sharing truth with them? Why?

Hands

  • Think of two or three people who you’ve desired to receive God’s welcome in Christ. Pray for them. Then contact them and spend time with them over the next couple of weeks. Invite them over, share a meal, and develop a relationship with them.

  • Hospitality, kindness, and welcome should not be individual endeavors. Find a way to join other believers in showing hospitality and kindness, knowing Jesus has always used the church to welcome the world.

Love the Law (Psalm 19:7-11)

Sermon Recap

The middle of Psalm 19 is a love song to the Word of God, specifically God’s law. C.S. Lewis said, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” Most of us have never thought of composing a love song to the law of God. That’s exactly what David does. This passage is here to teach us to love God’s law.

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1. The Character of the Law

God’s law is a reflection of his character. This is why David says the law is 1) perfect, 2) sure, 3) right, 4) pure, 5) clean, 6) everlasting, and 7) true and righteous. When faced with the mirror of God’s law, we must admit that we are not good like God. The law shows us our need for grace. 

2. The Blessings of the Law

If you don’t know you’re sick, you don’t go to the doctor. If you don’t know you’re spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1), you won’t go God for forgiveness and life in Christ. The law: 1) revives the soul, 2) makes wise the simple, 3) rejoices the heart, and 4) enlightens the eyes. The law leads us to the gospel.

3. The Wonder of the Law

We think the law is there to ruin our fun. But is actually there to show us what the good life looks like. It isn’t like bricks and broccoli—useful nutritious. It’s like gold and honey. 

Cultural forces extol the alleged thrill of sexual escapades, the novelty of one-night stands and triumphs of unending libidinal conquests. What they can’t know is the unspeakable joy when a woman who’s slept beside you for 25 years rolls over in the morning and says, “I love you.” Imagine how mind-blowing that is: this woman who knows everything about you, whom you’ve disappointed a thousand times, is still here

Reflection and Discussion Questions

Head

  • What can the law do for us? What can’t it do for us? 

  • We often think the OT is about the law, and the NT is about the gospel. Read Psalm 103 and then read Matthew 5:17-48. Does this strict distinction (OT has law, NT has gospel) hold up? 

Heart

  • The law of God is like a mirror, showing us the ways we fail to measure up to his standard. Look again at Christ’s words in Matthew 5:17-48. Which of his commands have you broken in the last week or month? 

  • Read Isaiah 53:3-6. Jesus died to forgive the sins you’ve committed this month, this week, and this very day! Does that give you joy? Pray and ask him to make his grace come alive to you!

Hands

  • Choose one of Jesus’s commands in Matthew 5:17-48 that don’t make sense to you. Write it on a post-it and put it where you will see it. Ask God to show you the “honey” of it this week. 

  • Choose one of the 7 characteristics or 4 blessings of the law. Talk to God about it, and ask him to give you that characteristic or blessing this week. Then pay attention to see how he answers you!

Gravity & God’s Law (Psalm 19)

Sermon Recap

Listen to Week 1 and learn why we called this series Both Bibles.

The gospel makes very little sense in our culture. Saying “Jesus saves,” simply begs the question, “from what?” This is partly due to the fact that general revelation has been misunderstood in our day. Without an understanding of general revelation, special revelation won’t make any sense. We have to help people get the first in order to understand the second. 19th century theologian, B.B. Warfield wrote of how important each is to understanding the other:

[I]t is important that the two species or stages of revelation should not be set in opposition to one another…. They constitute together a unitary whole, and each is incomplete without the other.… Without special revelation, general revelation would be for sinful men incomplete and ineffective, and could issue… only in leaving them without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Without general revelation, special revelation would lack that basis in the fundamental knowledge of God as the mighty and wise, righteous and good, maker and ruler of all things, apart from which the further revelation of this great God’s interventions in the world for the salvation of sinners could not be either intelligible, credible or operative.

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1. Law of Nature

Psalm 19:1-6 is a celebration of the unbreakable natural law that God has put into creation. The sun is the most powerful force in our solar system, it is a “strong man” that “runs his course with joy” because God—through the law of gravity—has commanded it! Like gravity, God has placed a moral law into the heart of every person.

2. Law Breakers

Unlike the sun, we don’t obey the moral law, which is why David writes what he does in Psalm 19:12-14. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

[H]uman beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. [And] they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. 

Our law breaking has caused a chain reaction in the universe that has spread brokenness all across it (Romans 8:19-22). The human race has gone off course, and the entire universe is following suit.

3. Law Keeper

David asks that God would “declare me innocent from hidden faults” (v.12). David is a law breaker; only a law keeper could be declared innocent. Jesus Christ is that Law Keeper who stood in our place, gave us his innocence and takes our guilt upon himself (2 Cor. 5:21).

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. What are some examples of the moral law that every person knows innately? Which of these would your neighbors agree on?

  2. Where else in the Bible is the idea of “natural law” taught?

  3. Why does death follow from breaking the moral law that God put into creation?

  4. Why does the rest of creation suffer from human beings breaking the moral law?

  5. Only Christ Jesus can declare us innocent (Ps. 19:12). Find a passage of Scripture that speaks to the way he makes us innocent before God. 

Bring It Home (tangible ways to live the truth daily)

  1. Listen for two people quarreling this week (children, neighbors, family members). What kinds of things do they say? Do you hear any appeals to the natural law?

  2. Take 5 minutes to listen to your conscience one day this week. What is it saying to you? Does it tell you to do things you don’t want to hear? Do you hear it convicting you of law breaking? 

God’s Forgotten Word (Psalm 19)

Why “Both Bibles?”

The short series we started this week in Psalm 19 derives from the way the passage transitions seamlessly from talking about God’s general revelation (the way he reveals himself in nature) in Ps. 19:1-6, to discussing God’s written Word in Ps. 19:7-11. The abruptness doesn’t disconnect these “Words,” but shows that they both reveal God (though in different ways). Theologians through the centuries have talked about the “two books” of God’s self-revelation, like the Belgic Confession does in Article 2:

We know Him [God] by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All which things are sufficient to convince men and leave them without excuse. Second, He makes Himself more clearly and fully known to us by His holy and divine Word, that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to His glory and our salvation.

We often forget natural or general revelation in the church, focusing solely on the Bible The Bible is authoritative and infallible, and we should not forget that! Yet, God’s general revelation in nature is helpful and has much to teach us. We should see him in “Both Bibles.”

Sermon Recap

Psalm 19 has an abrupt transition from verse 6 to verse 7. One moment it speaks of the heavens above, the next it’s proclaiming the beauty of God’s Law. While this transition seems out of the blue, it isn’t. Psalm 19 is about God’s Word, written in the Bible and imprinted on creation. God’s self-revelation in creation is God’s Forgotten Word.

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1. God’s Word, God’s Initiative

God is like Jason Bourne: if he doesn’t want to be found, he won’t be (Isaiah 55:8-9). But he does want to be! Because of that, God reveals himself in creation. 

2. God’s Word, Written and Spoken

People will often oppose faith and reason or science and Christianity. But we should not accept this, because all truth is God’s truth. Human interpreters get God’s Word wrong. But God’s self-revelation is not wrong, either in creation or Scripture. 

3. God’s Word in Creation Reveals His Character (and Ours)

In Psalm 19, God’s creation reveals his power and glory. And general revelation (God revealing himself in nature) reveals our character too, as people who fall short and are accountable to that God (Romans 1:18-20).

4. God’s Word in Creation Reveals Our Need, But Can’t Meet It

If we’re honest, Psalm 19:12-14 is the right response for us in the face of God’s self-revelation. The heavens declare God’s law; the Scriptures declare the gospel of Jesus and meets our need for divine forgiveness. 

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Is general revelation (God’s self-revelation in creation) a new concept for you? What other places in the Bible point to this idea?

  2. Why is it an act of God’s grace to us that he would reveal himself? What does grace mean? 

  3. Why is it tempting for us to oppose faith and reason, or science and Christianity? What are some examples of this in your own life or in our culture? Why should Christians never fear truth?

  4. What does nature reveals about God’s character? What does it reveal about yours? 

  5. Why is general revelation insufficient to bring a person salvation? 

  6. Why does the psalmist end on Psalm 19:12-14? What should this tell us about how we should approach God and think about ourselves? 

Bring It Home (tangible ways to live the truth daily)

  1. Find a beautiful spot in nature this week. Spend some time taking it in, and prayerfully ask this question: What does this place show about God’s character? Write down what you learn.

  2. When your neighbors outside the church talk about God or spiritual things, what do they say? What aspects of what they say are correct? Write them down! This is common ground we share with them! How does this support the idea that God reveals himself in nature? 

Fear Not (Isaiah 43:1-5)

Sermon Recap

In Isaiah 43:1-5, God tells us to “fear not.” We are his children, he is our Father, and he invites us to come to him with our fears and anxieties and let him be our comfort, our consolation. 

1. The Source of Our Consolation

Isaiah 43:1 shows us that our consolation comes from the character of God. He is: 1) a God who reveals himself, 2) the Creator, 3) the Redeemer, 4) a God who calls us by name, and 5) the God we belong to. God himself is the source of our consolation.

2. Our Need for Consolation

All of us fear something. We all need consolation. Isaiah 43:2 tells us we need not fear in the midst of the waters (that which we cannot control) and the fires (that which we must endure). We can even count our trials as joy (1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-4) because God uses them to perfect us. 

3. The Nature of Our Consolation

God meets our need for consolation by promising us the best kind we could hope for: He promises to be with us! God himself, his presence and peace, is our consolation.

4. The Reason for Our Consolation

Why would God bother to console our fears? It is because we are precious in his eyes, because he loves us (Isaiah 43:3-4). God’s love is the solid ground on which we can rest our hope in the midst of fear and trial.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. God gives us a series of truths about his character to help us combat fear. Why does God tell us divine truth to do this? 

  2. Which of the five truths about God’s character do you find most helpful in combating fear? 

  3. God commands us to “fear not.” Why would he tells us what to do with our emotions? Can an emotional state be true or not? Can one emotional state be pleasing to God while another is not?

  4. What causes you to fear most in life right now? Is it something overwhelming that is simply beyond your control? Or is it a trial that you just have to get through? (Or is it both?!?) What comfort does Isaiah 43:2 offer you?

  5. Is God’s presence enough of a comfort for you? When in the Bible is God’s presence sufficient for his people? How do you know God is with you even now?

  6. God promises consolation to you because of his great love for you. He proved his love in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Do you believe that Christ is all the proof of God’s love you need? 

Bringing It Home

This is a new section with suggestions for how to tangibly live out the truth of this week’s passage.

  1. Memorize this song and sing it when you feel frightened or alone (the Malawi team sang it for the care workers in Mcheneke!)

  2. Tell a brother/sister in Christ about the negative emotions you are feeling. Ask that they pray the truth of this passage over you.

A Great Enough God (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

One of the biggest limitations as to why we are not the presence in our city that God desires us to be often has less to do with how opposed the world is to the church or not enough resources. It comes down to God’s people embracing God’s heart for all mankind and his desire to see all come to salvation. Only by faith and prayer can we have the impact we desire in the places God has us.

1. A Big Enough Heart

When you consider the context of the Ephesians church that Timothy was leading, the gospel was the most rebellious, revolutionary truth you could proclaim. God giving us Jesus as the ransom for all who believe flew in the face of the performance-driven spirituality of that day. The gospel reveals the very heart of God, that he loves to love and is merciful and gracious to all who receive him.

2. An Open Enough Offer

God’s heart shapes the way in which the gospel is offered. It is universal and free, going out to all people and making no demands of its recipients to earn it. This challenges the common misconception that God enjoys doling out punishment. The church is to proclaim the gospel of Christ with that very same heart, placing no limitations on who hears and responds to it.

3. A Wide Enough Prayer

To proclaim the gospel well, we must pray well. Our prayer must cast a net as wide as God’s desire for those who would be saved. Prayer keeps us from tunnel vision, humbling us, and reminding us that those who may have disagreements with have the same need for Christ as we do. We particularly pray for those in authority, not that they might make things easy for Christians but to work for the common good and that the gospel would flourish.

Reflection and Application

  1. When you consider our cultural climate, how revolutionary is the gospel? What kind of reaction would you receive if you were to tell people about it at work or school?

  2. How does the fact that God has ransomed Jesus Christ for us affect how we relate to God? What do you think it would be like if you had to pay the price to earn God’s pleasure?

  3. How do you reconcile God’s desire for all to be saved and the reality that not everyone believes in Jesus? Does this make him less powerful or a liar? 

  4. Why does the gospel and God’s universal, free offer of it destroy the common misconception that God enjoys the destruction of others?

  5. How might your prayers change in reflection of the gospel and God’s heart for the lost?

Woven in Joy & Gratitude (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

One of the holiest moments in my life happened at a campfire in Zambia at the home of Stai, a widow and caretaker to her three orphaned grandsons. She didn’t have enough food to make dinner, she was abandoned to poverty by the men in her extended family, but she sang praises to God around the fire. She embodied the call of Colossians 3:16 to sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” She was a beautiful example of joy and gratitude.

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1. Joy and Gratitude Flow from the Gospel

Jesus said believing the gospel would fill our hearts to overflowing (John 7:37-38). The reason we should sing with joy and gratitude is because of all the riches and blessings we have received from God in Christ! Our whole lives should be about worship now (Romans 12:1).

2. Singing Lets Joy and Gratitude Flow Out of Our Hearts… 

1) …Through Our Bodies

Singing is a full-bodied action that activates the whole person.… Singing requires us to call on parts of the body that might otherwise be rather dormant—stomach muscles and vocal chords, lungs and tongues. And since singing seems to tap into our joints and muscles, song often pulls us into dance or raising our hands in praise. Thus in song there is a performative affirmation of our embodiment, a marshaling of it for expression—whether beautiful songs of praise or mournful dirges of lament.… In short, music and song seem to stand as packed microcosms of what it means to be human.     -James K.A. Smith

2) …With the Church on Earth…

When we sing God’s praises, we are united with our brothers and sisters in Christ, like I was united to Stai as she sang praise to God (Romans 15:5-6).

3) …And with the Church in Heaven…

When we sing praise to God, we are united to the eternal rock concert that is the New Jerusalem (Revelation 7:9-12). 

4) …Resulting in Christlike Character.

Through singing praise to God, we become the kind of people who can follow Paul’s words in the next verse: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Do you enjoy singing God’s praises? Why or why not?

  2. Have you reflected on your spiritual poverty apart from Christ? Why is there a link between our poverty and gospel joy (see Matthew 5:3)?

  3. Why is it important to involve our bodies in worship? Why are many Christians reticent to do so?

  4. How does singing praise to God unite us to other Christians in the church?

  5. Do you believe that singing praise to God unites us to the church in heaven? Why should this truth fill us with joy?

  6. What impact on Christlike character does singing have? How does singing God’s praise prepare us for eternity in his kingdom?

  7. What is one song or hymn that you have memorized that has brought you comfort or joy in the past? What is one song or hymn you enjoy that you would like to commit to memory for the same reason?

Woven in Truth-Telling (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

God loves to delegate. When he created the world, he gave it to humans to rule over and be fruitful and multiply in. When Jesus rose from the dead, he started a new creation. He is the King, but he doesn’t do everything himself. He gives crucial role to members of his church to tell each other the truth, to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.”

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1. Passively Prosper in Divine Abundance

To get rich in America, you have to work hard and beat the competition: you have to be a Martha (Luke 10:38-42). But the call to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” is a call, not to work harder to get divine approval, but to sit at Jesus’s feet like Mary and receive the abundance of his blessings.

2. Preach the Gospel to One Another

In calling us “teach… one another,” Paul is giving a specific command, not to give advice about just anything, but to tell each other about Christ (Col. 1:28). Rather than fear what others will think of us when we speak up, we should tell one another the good news in faith that it will build up the church (Eph. 4:15-16).

3. Prepare for Rebuke

It is scary to “admonish one another.” We hate the idea of being judgmental. But correcting each other in wisdom and gentleness is an act of grace as we help each other walk in the light of Christ (1 John 1:5-9). We should be open to receiving rebuke and be willing to give it in love.

4. Put on the Fear of God

The reason we don’t speak truth to each other is that we fear man (Prov. 29:25). But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). This means that telling each other the truth “with all wisdom” requires that we fear God and not man. Truth-telling is only safe when we fear the God who loved and saved us in Christ Jesus.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Why did Jesus say Mary had “chosen the good portion” (Luke 10:42)? Why is sitting at Jesus’s feet to receive his grace the gospel way?

  2. Do you believe you have to work for God’s favor? How is it difficult to rest in what Christ has done for you?

  3. Why does God call all members of the church to preach the gospel to each other? Why not just listen to the pastor on Sundays?

  4. What stops you from telling others the gospel? Is that rooted in faith?

  5. Why is receiving correction an important part of the Christian life?

  6. Who is one person in your life that “admonishes” you? Thank God for them! Who is one person in your life that you can wisely and gently admonish?

  7. Why is the fear of God essential for anyone who wants to correct or tell the gospel to others? How does the fear of God give wisdom?

Woven in Relationship (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

People talk about a growing loneliness epidemic the past couple of decades. Surveys show a rise in people feeling lonely, left out, and lacking companionship. Typically, we assume this is related to age, life stage, or activities there are no particular factors that make loneliness a bigger issue than others. The real reason why this is an epidemic is because we were all created to be in relationship..

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1. Relational Problem

The brokenness we experience in loneliness is centered on sin. Sin is anti-social in nature, dividing us from others. All of our sinful postures are self-centered. God calls us to live a different way. What he calls us to in Colossians 3 isn’t a change of personality or greater self-will. We need a supernatural change that comes from outside of us to address our relational problem.

2. Relational People

Only the grace of God can call us into rightly ordered relationships, centered on the gospel. In Christ, we receive a community of relationships that isn’t an ideal to aim for but a reality we participate in. God’s grace primarily works corporately, not individually, necessarily weaving us to one another by the Spirit.

3. Relational Practice

This corporate, relational living is put into practice in three main ways. We let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, soaking in God’s Word and pouring it out over one another. We teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, speaking the truth in love to one another. It means we are both teachers  and students before one another in Christ. Lastly, we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs before God and to one another. It is how our church encourages and instructs one another.

Reflection and Application

  1. Do you ever feel lonely? What do you think is the cause of your loneliness?

  2. “Sin is anti-social.” Do you agree or disagree? How have you seen it be this way?

  3. How does the grace of God necessarily make us relational with one another? Why should this affect the way we think about our church community at Grace Alameda?

  4. What would it look like for the word of Christ to dwell richly within us at Grace? How does it change the way we engage one another?

  5. Do you feel like you are both a spiritual teacher and student in your relationships at Grace Alameda? What does it take to grow in this area?

Woven in the Gospel (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

If the doctor told you had a terminal illness that could be cured with one pill, you would take the pill! You wouldn’t put it in a display case and look for another cure. You’d take the cure you were given. The gospel is the pill that saves us from sin and death that we all need to take by faith.

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1. Gospel Cure

Theologian Peter Kreeft helpfully explains the gospel in medical terms to give us a clear understanding of what we believe. There are the 1) Symptoms (problem), 2) Diagnosis (cause), 3) Prognosis (solution) and 4) Prescription for treatment (how to get the solution)

  1. Problem: Death - Willful separation from God is death itself. Every human being suffers from this spiritual affliction (Col. 2:13; Rom. 3:23)

  2. Cause: Sin - We separate ourselves from God so that we can be in charge of our lives. This is what the Bible calls sin.

  3. Solution: Christ - God doesn’t leave us on our own but pursues us in Christ (Col. 1:18-20; 2:13-14).

  4. Prescription: Faith - We receive Christ and his salvation by putting our trust in him (Col. 2:6-7).

2. Take (and Give!) Your Medicine

There is a difference between my confessional faith (what I say I believe), and what drives me each day (functional faith). I may confess Christ, but function as if I believed performance or approval or sex or money were my saviors. This is why Paul tells us to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16): we need to help each other receive the cure of the gospel.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it so important that we get the gospel right?

  2. Why did God give Jesus as the cure to sin and death? Why couldn’t we just take a pill?

  3. How do we receive the gospel cure?

  4. Why do spiritual outlooks like Buddhism or modernity appeal to us? Why are their problems and solutions convincing to so many people?

  5. What functional faith do you live out of other than the gospel? How would you put it in terms of 1) problem, 2) cause, 3) solution, and 4) prescription?

  6. How does that functional faith contradict confessional faith in the gospel?

  7. Why do we need each other in Christian community to functionally live out of the gospel cure?

Woven in Christ (Colossians 3:16)

Sermon Recap

Union with Christ is an immensely important Christian doctrine. St. Paul refers to it 216 times in the New Testament! But it isn’t there just so we can read about it. The Word (Jesus himself!) is in us so that worship will come from us. The amazing reality of our union with Christ should lead us to worship.

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1. The Word in Us

Philip Graham Ryken defines union with Christ this way: “The doctrine of union with Christ teaches that the Holy Spirit joins believers to Jesus by faith, and that by virtue of this spiritual bond we both receive Christ himself and all his benefits.” What does it mean to receive Christ and all his benefits? It means:

  1. We receive his life (John 15:3-7).

  2. We receive his love (Ephesians 5:25-33).

  3. We receive his presence (Ephesians 2:19-22)

These are transformative truths. We were dead, but are now alive! We were alienated from God, but no enjoy his generous love! We were alone and without hope, but now enjoy his presence! And they should lead us to worship.

2. Worship From Us

When Abraham Lincoln first visited Richmond, VA, toward the end of the Civil War, a group of freed slaves surround him and knelt to him. The transformation they enjoyed––from slavery to freedom––led them to worship. It should be much more so with us who have, not a president to free us, but God himself who has chosen to make his home with us in Christ! The Word in us should lead us to worship.

Reflection and Discussion Questions

  1. Can you think of any places in the New Testament that teaches our union with Christ? Are there any indications of a future union with Christ in the Old Testament?

  2. Do you believe you are spiritually dead without being united to Christ? What difference does this make in the way you see yourself? God?

  3. Why does Paul use such intimate language to describe God’s love for us in Ephesians 5?

  4. How should God’s presence with us lead us to be transformed in our lives?

  5. Do you believe that your real life is with Christ in heaven? How should this change the way you see the everyday details of your life?

  6. Do you believe that your neighbors who don’t know Christ are spiritually dead and alienated from God? How should your union with Christ change the way you see them? How should it change the way you treat them?

  7. How is the church a training ground for living as if your union with Christ is true?

Dedicated (Nehemiah 10-13)

Sermon Recap

Israel built the wall around Jerusalem to protect the city where God’s temple was. They built so God could be worshipped and known in Israel and in the world around. That is the same reason Grace Church Alameda was planted 6 years ago: to make God and his grace known in the church and in Alameda and the East Bay. God has brought us all at this time to this church to help build it so his gospel can go forward in this place.

1. Dedicated in Commitment

God’s people gathered after the wall was completed to promise together to worship God and obey him (Neh. 10:28-32). Building a wall required commitment––planting a church takes more! We are called to be dedicated to Christ and committed to the mission of his church.

2. Dedicated in the Commonplace

In Nehemiah 12, Israel has an elaborate ceremony to dedicate the wall around Jerusalem to the Lord. It was a wall––made by the people of regular stone. But everything in our lives, even the most commonplace, ordinary things, should be dedicated in service to Christ.

3. Dedicated to Come Back

In Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah comes back after 12 years, and finds the people of Jerusalem breaking their promise to God! He speaks truth in the midst of their disobedience and calls them to come back to God and his grace. We have to be willing to hear when we’re wrong, admit it, and seek God’s forgiveness in Christ.

4. Dedicated as Christians in Community

Some of us think we are free agents, serving Christ and his church whenever we feel like it. But Christ doesn’t call us to a life of doing what we feel like; he calls us to take up our cross and follow him, to die to ourselves and give ourselves in service.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why are you part of the church? Do you believe God has called you to be dedicated to him and others? Why or why not?

  2. Are you committed to God’s call on your life in Christ? How do you show this commitment in your involvement in the church?

  3. Christ calls us to dedicate everything in our lives––even the most commonplace things—to him. Are you dedicated to him in everything?

  4. How do you think Nehemiah felt when he returned to Jerusalem to see God’s people failing to keep their commitment to him? How do you think God feels when he sees us fail?

  5. Are you willing to have other people in your life correct you and show you the ways you need to come back to Christ in repentance? (See Proverbs 12:15; 27:5-6).

  6. Do you think of yourself as a free agent in God’s kingdom? Or as a Christian under contract in God’s church? How should you see yourself?

Reality and Repentance (Nehemiah 8-9)

Sermon Recap

In Nehemiah 8-9, Israel hears the Law of God and walks away weeping. To us, this may seem a strange reaction to reading the Bible. But in truth, Israel is confronting the reality of who God is and who they are in his Word. And in the face of reality, repentance is our only option.

After the sermon, we took time to meditate on God’s law and corporately confess our sin. We have posted a summary of the Ten Commandments to assist in your confession and repentance. 

1. God is fearsome.

When God speaks to his people in the Old Testament, they often come away afraid (Exodus 20:18-21). God is holy and awesome. It is right for creatures like us to fear him.

2. We are broken.

The Bible teaches that we are sinners by nature (Psalm 51:5; Romans 7:15, 18-19). Israel is confronted with this truth and walks away weeping (Neh. 8:9).

3. We are guilty.

In light of God’s law, we see not only that we can’t obey God’s law, but that we haven’t and stand guilty before him. (Romans 7:24). We are sinners by nature and by choice.

4. We bear shame.

Our disobedience to God is a shameful thing, especially in light of the abundant blessings that God has given us by his grace. We should be ashamed before his goodness and holiness.

5. God’s grace meets us in reality.

God didn’t leave Israel wallowing in their sin; he gave them a party to celebrate his grace instead (Neh. 8:14-17). When we humble ourselves in light of reality before God, he meets us with his grace (James 4:6).

6. Knowledge of God and ourselves leads us to repent.

Seeing themselves for who they are and God for who he is in his amazing grace, Israel confessed their sin (Neh. 9:5-38). In the face of reality, repentance is our only option.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Where in the Bible does it teach about God’s holiness?

  2. Why is it natural for us to fear God? Why is it so difficult for us to fear him?

  3. The Bible teaches we are sinners by nature AND choice. How does your experience show you this truth?

  4. Can you think of any places in the Bible where people were ashamed of their sin in God’s presence?

  5. Do you believe the reality that you are broken, guilty, and that you bear shame before God? How should that lead you to respond to him?

  6. Why does God meet us with grace in the midst of that reality?

  7. Why does knowing our sinfulness and God’s graciousness lead us naturally into repentance? How do you need to repent today?

Rejoice in the Face of Opposition (Nehemiah 6-7)

Sermon Recap

When people criticize and attack our character, competency, or compatibility in any particular sphere of life, we often get sensitive, angry, and hurt. Nehemiah faced this type of opposition yet remained steadfast in his trust in God. What we need to see is that Jesus leads us to rejoice in the face of opposition rather than defensiveness or discouragement.

1. Resolute for God’s Purposes

Nehemiah’s opponents tried every tactic to dissuade, discredit, and discourage Nehemiah from fortifying the walls of Jerusalem. Even as they threatened his very life, Nehemiah resolved to complete what God had called him to. We often mimic this type of busyness in our lives to avoid dealing with heart issues and accomplish our own goals. Yet in Jesus Christ, we are given a new identity to doggedly pursue God’s purposes rather than our own.

2. Reliant on God’s Power

Nehemiah knew only God could accomplish the task that was set before him. He prayed and called upon God to help him finish the building of the walls and deal with his enemies. We often want to rely on our own ability and power to deal with our problems. Yet we must remember that our final vindication will never come from what we do or accomplish. It will always be in the resurrection of Christ. He is our only help and hope.

3. Remembered to God’s Praise

After Jerusalem is fully protected, the people worship with their names recorded for all history. Our joy is that we are connected into this story, grafted in as the people of God, joining in the praise of Nehemiah and his people. As the new Jerusalem, we worship and praise our Savior Jesus Christ. Our legacy that we leave is our identity and joy as the people of God, redeemed by his grace.

Reflection and Application

  1. Do you remain busy to achieve selfish pursuits or avoid dealing with real problems? How?

  2. How does the gospel change what your work, family, friendships, etc.? What does it look like to pursue God’s purposes in these areas?

  3. What’s the danger in personally trying to right all the wrongs committed against us? Why doesn’t it work?

  4. Why is the resurrection of Christ our ultimate vindication in this life and the next?

  5. Why is the legacy of Nehemiah and the exiles dwelling in the rebuilt Jerusalem our legacy as well? Why should we give praise for the names recorded in Nehemiah 7?

Putting the Universe Right (Nehemiah 5)

Sermon Recap

Earth is a Goldilocks planet; if physical conditions were just a little different, it would be incapable of sustaining life. God has created the world with an order that is crucial to our physical survival. There is likewise a spiritual order that is equally essential. For us to participate in it, we must fear the Lord. We see that idea play out in Nehemiah 5 where we see that you will not pursue justice or live generously unless you fear God.

1. The Fear of God puts us in our place (and God in his)

The fear of God is simply the recognition that God is God and I am not. It says that I do not have the right to do what I want. I am a creature, dependent on an accountable to the God who made me. Because the rich nobles in Jerusalem do not take this into account, they are guilty of injustice (Neh. 5:1-5). (Which is why religious people especially need the fear of God; see Genesis 20:1-11.)

2. The Fear of God puts things right on earth

Nehemiah is angry at the injustice and the breaking of the law (Lev. 25:35-38). Nehemiah fears God and pursues justice in submission to his will (Neh. 5:6-13). As those who fear God, we should seek justice in our communities in obedience to his commands.

3. The Fear of God fuels generosity

Nehemiah lives generously toward those he serves, not claiming his rights, but feeding others at his own expense (Neh. 5:14-18). He does this because his fear of God produces hope that God will take care of him (Neh. 5:19). Fearing the God who gave himself for us in Christ will make us generous like him.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. The fear of God is taking our rightful place in the order of God’s universe (and letting him be in his, at the center). Why is this such an important thing for us to flourish as his creatures?

  2. The Bible says we should fear God because he is the judge of all. Why is this such a difficult truth to believe for modern people like us?

  3. If you are a parent, how are you teaching your child the fear of God? Do you exercise right authority in your child’s life, in submission to God’s will? How can you grow in this? Why is this so important to their relationship with God?

  4. What are some ways that you have personally seen the danger of religious people failing to fear God?

  5. Why is fear of God so important to our efforts at pursuing justice on the earth?

  6. How is the fear of God related to childlike faith?

  7. Christ feared God and that led him to make the ultimate, generous sacrifice for us. How should fear of God lead you to live more generously?