Howard continues the Book of James message series by teaching from James 1:16-27, discussing how “ every good… and every perfect gift” (v. 17) comes from God, and how listening to God’s Word is the best way to receive those gifts, especially wisdom and feedback about ourselves. Howard highlights the challenge for us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (v. 19) in responding to God’s Word, so that we become “doers of the word, and not just hearers” (v. 22), and avoid the dangers of being blind to ourselves.
Raymond opens this message series on the Book of James by discussing, from James 1:1-18, how trials in our lives serve to test our faith and push us to mature in our character. Though trials are difficult to face, the end goal is to “let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete….”, meaning mature. Raymond highlights several promises listed by James that show why pursuing faithfulness in the midst of trials is worth the hardship.
Guest speaker Dr. Bradley Thomas (formerly Assistant Professor of Mathematics at California Baptist University) gives a mathematician’s perspective on some evidence for the existence of God, describing the concept of design from the perspective of probability and also sharing from his own personal experience.
Howard uses the transition in the Luke-Acts narrative (two books written by the same author) to describe the events that led to the start of the first Christian church in Jerusalem and the first Christian evangelists. He highlights some of the features of the early church as described in Acts 2, and discusses how that is a model for churches even today.
Raymond gives an introduction to the Passion Week, describing several characters who were involved in the events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and death. He highlights some of the motivations driving each character, showing how their motivations could be very similar to our own motivations today, and then challenges us to consider how we might be just like those who condemned Jesus to death.
Howard uses the story of Naaman, a great Syrian commander described in 2 Kings 5, to highlight how there are many things in our lives that are outside our control, but how we respond to them can determine what we experience. Naaman first responded out of his pride, and almost missed an opportunity to experience God's miraculous healing, but he eventually chose to obey God's command and was healed of his leprosy. Howard discusses how God's ways of teaching and healing may not be comfortable or easy for people, but actually are the ways that bring lasting change.
Chul describes two parables that Jesus told, from Luke 14, which illustrates the difference in perspective and attitude between proud and humble people. Chul discusses how humble people are the ones who are willing to see that our lives are a gift, not earned, and who are able to experience blessings from God, while proud people miss opportunities to be properly related to God and to others.
Raymond reads from the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in Genesis 19 and describes how a series of Lot’s decisions led him to be dragged down by the evil and corrupt culture of the city of Sodom, where he had settled. Raymond highlights how Lot’s silence and passivity allowed his desires to drag him further than he thought he would go, and uses that as a warning for us to be aware of the power of sin to corrupt even our best intentions.
Howard recounts the story from Genesis 18 of how Abraham (formerly Abram) basically bargains with God to intercede for the city of Sodom and asks for the protection of the righteous. Howard first highlights how this shows Abraham’s close relationship with God and considers how Abraham grew into this relationship, and then discusses how an entire city could have chosen to reject God and live wickedly.
Jeoffrey describes Jesus’ interaction with people from his own hometown in Luke 4:14-30. He highlights how Jesus came to “proclaim good news to the poor… liberty to the captives… recovering of sight to the blind” and how this is good news for us. He also discusses how the people in his hometown didn’t take Jesus’ words seriously or listen to his teaching because they thought they knew Jesus well, and how this is a warning to everyone to always pay attention to Jesus’ words.
Howard talks about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3:1-16. Nicodemus is someone who is wise and lives a morally righteous life at least on the outside. What could have caused people like him to come seek Jesus? Perhaps it has to do with something that’s going on inside their hearts, which is the bible says is impure. Surrendering before the cross of Jesus is the first step towards healing our hearts.
Raymond talks about how the wine rans out at the wedding at Cana in John 2, and how we too encounter situations where things that we try to plan perfectly for could go wrong. The message also talks about how Jesus is in control of the situation, but to experience the works of Jesus, one must be willing to trust and obey what Jesus tells him/her to do. The servants who obeyed Jesus in the story came to know that Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine.
Howard uses the John 1 account of Jesus’ first interactions with his disciples to show that Jesus likes to invite people to experience life with him. He then describes a roadmap for the different stages in relating with Jesus.
Pacie gives some background on Jewish history and society, describing the various empires that conquered Israel and also describing the prophecy of the coming Messiah. She then highlights two stories (from Luke 10:38-42 and John 12:1-8) that show Jesus’ close relationship with a particular family (Martha, Mary, and Lazarus), using those stories to illustrate how listening to Jesus is so important and good.
Howard uses the story of the invalid (man unable to walk) at the Pool of Bethesda to ask these questions: What are the things that we are hoping will make our lives meaningful? Do they actually bring about the happiness that we are hoping for?
Howard discusses the key verse for 2019 (2 Timothy 2:15), which reads: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Howard illustrates how knowing the “word of truth” helps us live correctly, and then gives a challenge to read the Bible more this year.
Howard discusses the character of Joseph, husband of Mary (Jesus’ mother), and the difficult choices he made to accept the birth of Jesus in his family, then connects Joseph’s life and choices to our own.
Howard uses traditional Christmas carols (O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, We Three Kings), and references the Bible passages described by the carols, to describe the Christmas story and highlight important characters. Then, all of IGSM gets the opportunity to learn how to sing the carols.
Howard shows, from the Luke account of Jesus' birth (Luke 2:1-21), that God approaches the poor and humble and includes them in His story. Howard describes how it is often the humble that are most receptive to God, and also shows how Jesus himself is an example of humility.
Raymond uses the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) to illustrate how the Bible uses death to teach us what our lives should be about, and to warn us that we are accountable for how we live.