Closing the Gap
Over the month of July we have the delightful treat of being taught by Jeff Brodie, the lead Pastor of Connexus Church – a multi-site church that began in Barrie, ON and has grown to include at least 2 other sites in Orillia and Midland.
This past Sunday, Pastor Jeff pinpointed the universal struggle of humankind: the gap between the real and the ideal. The space we find ourselves in when the hopes and dreams we have don’t quite measure up to the reality. This applies to almost all facets of life; our jobs, families, relationships, even our own character.
This gap – how we really act/believe/live and how we wish we did is what fosters so many problems in our life: shame, anger, anxiety, jealousy. You name it.
But what if the gap could be closed?
What if there was a way to align our thoughts with our actions,
our beliefs with our behaviours,
our convictions with our character?
For those who follow the teachings of Jesus, this process of closing the gap is called…wait for it…sanctification.
Pastor Brodie explained that this fancy word describes the transformation of our character, over time, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
This is good news for a couple of reasons.
First, notice how it isn’t through the work of ourselves.
Certainly we need to submit ourselves to the leading, the teaching, the refining work of the Holy Spirit – but thank God our sanctification is not dependent on our own work. Because, honestly, I can be lazy. And distracted. And forgetful.
Second, notice that sanctification happens over time.
This is not a one-and-done type of thing. And though we often wish it was, it is this daily need for the Holy Spirit’s work that keeps us attuned to God’s voice, His teaching, His comfort and His love. If it was an immediate thing the allure of pride, self-righteousness and legalism would most likely rule our lives instead of the humility, grace and love Christ calls us to.
Third – don’t worry friends!
This struggle is not new to us or unique to the 21st century.
This week we are going to read a letter from the Pastor of the very first church ever…and helping his people “close the gap” was what he was all about.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
Day 1: The Book of James
Watch the video below until at least 2:30
This week we are going to be unpacking the first chapter of the book of James. But before we dissect the verses, I’m going to ask you to read through the entire chapter. Sometimes when we only look at specific verses or sections, we miss the overall tone and theme and intent of the author. We can also run the risk of watering down the wisdom we find into pithy sound bites.
So here’s what we are going to do.
Read through the first chapter of James twice.
Before you begin, quiet your heart and your mind and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you as you read.
The first time, read it through aloud. This will help you to read more slowly and don’t worry, it won’t whoever might hear won’t mind.
I mean, I don’t think they’ll mind. My dog Cooper loves it!
The second time, read it quietly. Take note of any sentence/word/phrase/passage that stands out to you. If you want to, underline the passage or rewrite it in your journal.
Conclude your time with the Lord today by thanking Him for what He has revealed in His word to you.
Day 2: Comfort
Read James 1:1-4, 12
Pastor Brodie explained that one of the biggest hindrances to the Holy Spirit’s work of changing us into more Christ-like people are idols.
Idols are things/people/ideas we value more than our relationship with God – and they can be really tricky to identify because they almost always are good things.
Its just that those good things were never meant to handle the weight of our affection and allegiance and worship. Only God can handle that.
So to close the gap between the real and the ideal in our character and in our life we need to identify the idols we have and ask the Holy Spirit to show us the new and better way.
Today, we’re gonna take on the idol of comfort.
Maybe this isn’t something that you struggle with. But I know I do. I have discovered that a LOT over this past year – I love vacation and relaxation and fun. I also really value harmony and peace and so anything that makes me feel uncomfortable – like difficult conversations or confession – I avoid like the plague.
Over the pandemic I’ve been faced with how much I rely on time away, or get-togethers with friends and family, or common viewpoints to give me peace and joy. Since I haven’t gone anywhere, I haven’t had any good parties to go to or host, and people are more polarized than ever when it comes to anything covid related,
I’ve felt super uncomfortable for what feels like years!
Our passage today flips the script on the idol of comfort by telling us to actually consider it pure joy when we are uncomfortable, when we are facing trials and troubles. In fact, it isn’t a stretch to think the author is suggesting that we should invite difficulty into our lives so that we can mature, gain wisdom and receive the crown of life that God has promised us.
1.Make a list of all the things that are making you uncomfortable or worried or anxious or angry right now.
Put it all down – big and little stuff. Everything that’s plaguing your mind.
2. Beside each item indicate whether it is something that can be solved (with an “S”) or seems impossible to solve (with an “I”)
3. Now ask God to show you how He is using each of these items to close the gap in your life. Reflect on how they are helping to develop perseverance, maturity, wisdom. Listen for His voice and confess any ways that you have sinned. Ask for His help and then thank Him for His presence and patience with you.
Day 3: Control
Read James 1:5-8, 22-25
I remember begging to wait in the ridiculously long line at Disney World to drive one of the cars in the Tomorrowland Speedway Grand Prix.
(If you know, you know. If you don’t…get yourself to Disney!)
I just KNEW I’d be an amazing driver and, since I didn’t yet have my license (I was only 8 years old), this seemed like the most magical thing.
I mean at Disney: Kids. Are. Allowed. To. DRIVE!!!!!
So we waited and waited and waited and waited and FINALLY I got into the drivers seat and put on my seatbelt.
This was my moment.
I hit the gas. We lurched forward.
I turned the wheel because I wanted to pass the slowpoke in front of me (some things never change) and I felt my
tire skid along the safety track I was ACTUALLY driving on.
And it hit me. I wasn’t really driving.
I mean, I was controlling our speed and smoothness of the ride – but I couldn’t actually choose where to go.
I wasn’t in control at all.
I think this is one of the hard doses of reality we are served as we age. While there are some things we can control, there is infinitely more we can’t. Our desire for control can and does widen the gap between what is real and what is ideal in our lives. But James reminds us in this passage that the wise person not only hears, but does what the word says…and in doing so we reap blessing. Ironic right? We think the blessing comes from gaining control…not releasing it.
- Is control an idol in your life? There are lots of clues about this, but if you find yourself prone to worry and fear it could suggest control is a struggle for you. Or are you someone who has trouble accepting help/collaborating with teams? Spend a couple of minutes thinking about this and talking to God about it.
- What blessing / good thing do you deeply long for that you don’t think God will honour? Maybe He’s disappointed you before and you don’t trust Him to bless you with the good things you hope for. Talk to Him about it, and listen for He has to say to you about this.
Day 4: Approval
Read: James 1:9-11, 26-27
Maybe you’re like me and each day this week, as we’ve brought up another potential idol that can hinder the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, you think
“Ok, fine. This is it. This is the thing that is keeping me from closing the gap”.
So by now, on the 3rd idol, you are beginning to feel like a real dud. Or is that only me? Why do I seem to struggle with all the things?!?!
How in all the world is this encouraging?!?!? I’ve been following Jesus for what feels like FOREVER and I’ve read James before and I still don’t get it?!?!
And then there’s today.
Today is about approval – how what other people think about us, how our status and beauty and accomplishments and other people’s opinions can become the ultimate thing to us and widen the gap between what is real and what God wants for us.
Yet again, I see this in myself. Still.
If this is how you are feeling, can I just say this?
Stop beating yourself up. Stop taking hard truths as condemnation.
And accept this:
You are already approved. You are already enough. The God of the universe saw fit to send his one and only son to live and suffer and die and come back to life FOR YOU. Because you are worth it.
So whether you ever get a handle on approval, or comfort or control or not – you are a delight to the most delightful being who ever existed.
Listen /meditate on/ Sing and claim the words of this worship song you’ve probably sung a thousand times as if it is the first time. And believe that its true.
Day 5: Power
Read James 1:13-21, 27
There is only One powerful enough to remain constant and stable, give good gifts, bring life and wholeness and righteousness.
Only One. Only God.
So what does personal power look like in the upside down kingdom that God has designed for us to grow and thrive and cultivate in?
Honestly, I don’t know. This innate longing to have influence and recognition and success can, of course, be prideful and domineering and selfish.
But I think we can agree that if the desire for influence is for the glory of God and the benefit of humanity it can be noble and even good.
What do we do with that?
I was captivated by the command in the passage we read today to “get rid of all moral filth…”
Moral filth. Almost seems like an oxy moron.
But it seems to suggest that even good things can be corrupt.
While I don’t have all the answers, it seems to me that the pursuit of power and influence is only holy when it is submitted first and foremost to God.
If our character is to be changed, over time, to be like Christ by the Holy Spirit then we must be vigilant in daily submitting our own will to the Father’s so that all of the things, even the good and moral things we do, are not corrupted by the filth of pride and self-righteousness and personal glory.
- Is there a situation or place in your life that you feel frustrated by how powerless you feel?
It could be relationally (in your family or friendships), vocationally, or maybe it could be in response to some of the issues we see in the world: the pandemic response, climate change, indigenous rights/racism, etc. Write anything down that comes to mind.
- How do you respond to those in authority/leadership positions? Do you resent your boss, or bristle when he/she asks questions? Do you feel overlooked at work? How did all of the pandemic restrictions make you feel? What about decisions made by church leadership / your parents/ politicians?
Are you a no-questions-asked kind of person or do you fine yourself feeling a little cynical/skeptical/wary?
Write down anything that comes to mind that might indicate how much power is an idol for you.
The last verse in this 1st chapter of James in the Passion Version says that:
“True spirituality that is pure in the eyes of our Father God is to make a difference in the lives of the orphans, and widows in their troubles, and to refuse to be corrupted by the world’s values.
I love that. Because the world values power. That’s just true.
But as we submit to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work, our values become aligned with God’s and we see where true power is found.
And what pleases our Father? Caring for those who suffer, serving those in need.
Spend some time in prayer today asking the Holy Spirit to change the definition of power in your own heart. Ask for Him to take your heart of stone and make it a heart of flesh…for His glory and honour and power.