Journey through James 1:2-4 – Joy in Trials

I skipped the end of Verse 1 last time, and it’s worth a quick mention.

James wrote this letter to Jews scattered throughout the nations, so it was meant to be passed around. It is important to keep in mind that the audience was the Jews, people very familiar with the Mosaic Law as well as the Rabbinical teaching about the Law.

With that said, let’s move past the introduction.

Verses 2-4:

Joy – inner gladness, delight or rejoicing, a deep-seated pleasure. Joy is a happiness based on spiritual realities independent of circumstances. Our joy as Christians is based on our belief and faith in our Lord.

How can we have joy in tribulation/trials/difficult times?
Here’s what I see in these verses:

  1. Because God is still God. Our confidence is in Him. Circumstances, no matter how hard, do not change Him. This is cause for joy.
  2. Because it’s an opportunity for God to prove His faithfulness in giving us what we need to stand up during the trials, turning from the temptations that come with it. This evidence of His faithfulness is another reason to be joyful.
  3. Because it’s an opportunity to practice and grow in patience (with God’s strength and help). Don’t try and hurry through it or short-circuit it. Let perseverance (and patience) produce it’s result, which leads to the next one.
  4. Because if we persevere through the trial – the difficult time or situation or relationship – we will mature and grow our faith in God as a result. This will increase our joy.

To summarize, as these trials & challenges develop our perseverance and endurance, our ability to keep going and not give up no matter what, we will become complete in our faith and lack nothing.

What is your biggest challenge in this area?

The area here that I have the most difficulty with is trying not to short-circuit or somehow hurry through the tough situations, but let perseverance “finish its work”. And the reality is that I’m probably not shortening the situation at all. I just have the wrong attitude and focus in the wrong place, thereby preventing becoming mature and complete. So, the challenge is to keep my focus on who God is, not on the situation. Now to continue to discover with God how to keep that focus.

Your thoughts?

Next time: How can I remain joyful during “trials of many kinds”?

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Journey through James – Intro 1:1

A quick note about what I hope to gain by studying God’s Word. It comes mostly from two scriptures.

2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word is valuable and leads me to be ready and able to carry out God’s good work.

And Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I believe the Bible is critical in transforming and renewing my way of thinking.

I also want to let you know that my main source of cross referencing other scriptures is the Thompson Chain Reference Bible.

Okay, let’s dive in!

James 1:1

Which James wrote this book is unclear and disagreed upon. It could possibly be Jesus’ half-brother James. But whichever he was, he clearly states his relationship with God and Jesus. The various words for his relationship in different translations are servant, slave and bond-servant. The idea of the original Greek word, doulos, is a free individual serving another, selling himself into slavery to another that he sees as an honor and privilege. The author, James, has freely chosen to have this relationship with Christ.

What does it mean to be a bond-servant to Christ?

John 12:26 “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

John says that servants must follow their master, Jesus, and always seek to please Him. Given the idea of a bond-servant, they have given up the right to go their own way and make their own choices. This verse in John is saying that they are where their Master is at all times.

So, what does this mean for me?

If I’m truly living as a servant of Christ, then there is no time and no place and no situation where I get to choose to leave His presence. It then seems to follow that I have given up the right under any circumstances to make a choice and act or think apart from my Master’s direction. If I do choose this, then I’m not truly a bond-servant of Christ.

How am I doing then? Am I truly living out being Christ’s bond-servant, or do I serve more than one master in my life? Certainly, I often serve my own desires. Who or what else do I serve?

Wow! I’m going to have to let that sink in and transform my thinking for a while. And we’re only on the first verse!

What do you think?

Join in a Journey through James

So I’d like to collaborate with you through this blog to study of the book of James.

Why James? Well, this booked is packed, and I mean PACKED, with so much information on what it looks like to live a life focused on Jesus. And it especially appeals to me, because it is very practical, to-the-point, and answers a lot of my why, what and how questions.

Here’s what you can expect:
1. I will share what I find in my study as I use different translations. cross-reference other Scriptures, and read a few commentaries to discover more about God and His desire for how I live my life.
2. I encourage you to share in the comments section what you learn as you study along, and we can start a discussion among us.
3. A willingness to get together with you in person and talk about some or all of what we learn. Just let me know.
4. Blog entries on a randomly timed basis.
5. No schedule of how much we’ll go through or how long it will take.

If you’d like to join, I suggest you subscribe to the blog, so you are notified when I post a new entry. New posts will also appear on my Facebook feed.

Feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested.

Let the Journey begin!

How You Can Be The Change

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. One of the reasons is that I had the honor of bringing the message to my church family on Mother’s Day, so I spent the two months prior preparing. Since then, I’ve been praying and mulling over how to share some of that message here on my blog without just repeating it. Then Orlando happened. While I don’t have the power or influence myself to make huge, nation-wide changes that make a difference today, right now, there is something I can do today and everyday, right where I am. So sharing the same message is important, even if I repeat myself. Because this is what our lives were created to be about. So here we go.

When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40) In other words, all that God wants from us stems from love.

In Greek the word used for “love” here is agape. It means wanting the best for the other person. We might define it as unconditional love. Choosing to love someone no matter what they do, believe, think, live, etc. It’s a kind of love that comes by choice, not feeling. We choose to love others this way. It’s the way God loves us. No matter what we do, He still loves us and wants us back in a relationship with Him. That’s why He sent Jesus.

We’re to love God completely, utterly, and with our whole lives. Nothing held back. And, similarly, love our neighbors as ourselves. I’m going to focus on that second part. But please understand, the first part is crucial – loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. I believe the second part, loving our neighbors as ourselves, isn’t fully possible without loving God first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This begs the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers this exact question in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. From this example, I understand that my neighbor is anyone and everyone, no matter what I think of them, even complete strangers in need.

So everyone is my neighbor, and the second part of that command says to love them as I love myself. Add to that the verse, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) So if I love my neighbor (everyone) as myself, then if I were in their situation and I would like someone to help me, give me some attention, treat me a particular way, then I should treat them that way. If I want to be given the benefit of the doubt (and don’t we all want that), then I should give everyone the benefit of the doubt. If I’d like to be treated respectfully and not gossiped about, then that’s the way I should treat everyone. If I don’t want to be judged, then I shouldn’t judge others. You get the idea. All very easy to say, but very, very hard to live out.

So why should we live this way? What results from loving others unconditionally? If we look at the story of Zaccheus in Luke 19:1-10, it is clear that incredible transformation can occur in the life of the recipient of this kind of love. Haven’t you witnessed transformation in lives where someone is shown love, especially when they don’t “deserve” it? It’s happened in my own life. Love shown to me has brought all kinds of transformation in my perspective, actions, thoughts and life.

Transformation also occurs in the life of the person giving this agape love. Judgment and criticism disappear. If we live out Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”, then we accept people as equals, as valuable. You can’t live out this verse with any other perspective, at least not for very long. You have to see them as beautiful creations of God. Comparison also disappears. As we live out Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”, we aren’t looking for differences. We’re just appreciating how God created each and every person. And we’re okay if we’re not the same. We don’t force people to become like us, think like us, act like us, be us. The “us and them” mentality disappears. Differences no longer scare us, because we accept people just as they are, just as God does us. Imagine how people would get along differently just with these two consequences of agape love. Really think about it! It’s beautiful. Don’t you long for these kinds of relationships? I sure do. But it starts with me. Yikes!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is a topic that is deep, complicated, hard, and messy. It is worthy of praying, studying and discussing, because it is to be the basis of our existence along with loving God completely. I certainly don’t have very many answers. I’m finding more and more where I’m not good at living out this agape love. But I’m determined to continue to let God work in me to increase my love. Love is what can change people. Changing people changes the world. Love keeps us seeing each other as valuable, worthy, fellow humans and prevents hate and dehumanization.

Wonder what this love looks like (and doesn’t look like)? Meditate on 1 Corinthians 13. Here are verses 4-8:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

We’d got a lot of loving to do to make a difference. Don’t wait to start!

Day by Day

‘Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ Luke 9:23 (Emphasis added)

I’m continuing to learn more and more about this journey of giving God everything and saying, “You can do anything with me.”. Giving up the things that take God’s place in my life is a daily, sometimes hourly, thing. As He reveals to me the specifics of what prevents me from giving Him everything, I’d like to say that I just give those things up, and they are no longer a problem. But they are very deep-seated in who I have become – those parts of me that are not who God created me to be. So I have to let those things go daily.

And they creep up on me. I daily tell God that I want Him to direct my day and do whatever He wants with me. But somewhere in my mind, I still have a list of at least the big projects that “have to be done” around the house – things like painting and cleaning carpets – that require some time off work or full days set aside to do. Not bad things, and maybe things that really should be taken care of at some point. But I have to constantly give those plans to God. I’m not sure how to know when they are from Him. I do know when they cause me anxiety and stress, that I’m at least looking at them with the wrong perspective. And while I’m taking a week off work to paint soon, I need to continually stop myself from over planning that week. I need to leave it open for God to use how He chooses, even if I get no painting done. On the one hand, I’m okay with that (my spirit). On the other hand, I’m really wanting to get painting done and feel the satisfaction of that chore being over (my flesh). That’s when I know that “doing” something is taking priority over “being” who God created me to be.

It’s a battle within me to let God determine my perspective on everything. Daily life does go on. Laundry, cooking, cleaning, and all those tasks of daily living need to continue. That’s where it gets so tricky. I go into auto-pilot easily for those. Forgetting that even in those “daily grind” tasks, I should be honoring God. What that looks like, I’m barely starting to learn. But I continue to pray for God to show me how to honor Him in every moment. I’m terrible at doing it. Praise God that He is a forgiving, patient, loving, merciful God!

For some reason an old praise song from Godspell that I haven’t thought about in years came to mind. And suddenly it was more powerful in its short few words then I realized back in the day:

Day by day, day by day
Oh dear Lord, three things I pray
To see Thee more clearly
Love Thee more dearly
Follow Thee more nearly, day by day

It can sound exhausting and fruitless to do something over and over every day (or many times a day). And while it is hard and takes focus, in the case of daily surrendering your life to God, it’s exhilarating, freeing, joyful, and fulfilling in a way that nothing else in life can be.

 

Danger: Expectations

So God is showing me another layer of giving up control and being flexible and open to His direction. It has to do with expectations. Everyone has them. But some people have more than others. Here’s what I’m realizing about me.

When I plan, I create expectations. I used to think these were just goals, but I think they’re more than that. Goals should be attainable and measurable. Expectations are often unrealistic and subjective. At least for me. Where do expectations come from? I think they come from our own experiences, from what we perceive those around us expect, from the world and the way it works. Often I don’t think we even realize that we have certain expectations.

So here’s what this looks like for me. I have a plan for an event that includes expectations of how that event should go, what should happen, how people should respond, etc. Mostly these expectations come from what I think others want or how I think things are supposed to be. Some of them I think are from God. The result is that throughout that event, I’m watching and trying to control the situation in order to have those expectations met. What am I not doing? I am not present in the moment. I am not truly letting God’s Spirit use me to accomplish His purposes. I’m attempting to force the situation to accomplish what I think God’s purposes should be and look like. And what is the inevitable outcome? The vast majority of the time my expectations are not met, or at least not all of them, and I am disappointed by at least some aspect of the outcome.

So here is what I currently believe God is asking me to do. Trust Him! Yes, the same message I’m continually getting from Him. Now it is to specifically trust Him with the outcome or the process of how things go. This is really hard to put into words, because it is more than just events. It applies to relationships, moments, everything. As I’ve said before, my brain’s default is to plan, anticipate and visualize how things will go and what they’ll look like. More brain retraining is necessary. Now I need to give up expectations. When God does want me to use the ability of organization to plan something, I need to stop there. Let God take it and use it how He sees fit, and trust that His purposes are accomplished through it, even if I can’t see it. It’s living out “God’s ways are greater than our ways”. It’s being flexible (yes, that word again). It’s living in those moments, waiting for and watching Him work.

Being the wonderful, loving, amazing, gracious God that He is, He showed me what this can look like on my trip to Nicaragua. Since this was my fourth time participating in a Service Team to Nicaragua, I felt like I knew what to expect and didn’t spend a lot of mental energy creating any new expectations for myself and my role or for others. So, catching me off guard, God managed early on the trip to dispel all my relational expectations. I was left feeling lonely, out-of-place and purposeless. Right where God needed me to be to show me the joy of releasing expectations. That week I had some of the most amazing conversations and relational moments that I’ve ever experienced. They only came about because I had to give up any ideas of what my role should be in the team. They solely came about because God could orchestrate the opportunities, since I wasn’t interfering or blinded to them. I wasn’t trying to accomplish. It was amazing and so peaceful.

Giving up my expectations… in circumstances, in relationships, in life. And make sure any expectations I do have come from Him only, and realize that they are subject to change as I mature and my understanding increases. Not sure how to do it, but God does. So I’ll choose to trust Him…again.

Failing…again

I didn’t want to blog today. But if my goal is to be transparent, then I must.

I’m struggling the last few days. I’m not sure why, though I have some ideas. I’m emotional, drained, exhausted, stressed, irritable, and easily frustrated.

Maybe it’s the post-Christmas blues that sometimes hits. Usually I just get sick. This year I’m emotional. Why? I’ve gotten to spend lots of time with family. We still have a few, fun friend events coming up. I love hanging out with our friends. The inside of our house is almost done. I have this week off. I’ve been getting decent sleep. Why?

Here’s why: I’ve started planning again. I’ve felt the need with everything going on to “be organized” and “prepared”. So my brain has been in hyper-drive figuring out all the possibilities, so I can be prepared. Planning how to “get everything done”. I’ve lost my focus. My eyes are not on Jesus and His plans for me. I’m concerned with my world and not His world. I’ve lost my focus, and I’m quite miserable as a result.

So, I’m praying, writing this, refocusing my mind to include God in every decision and thought. It will take time. My flesh tries to hold me back. My emotions try to trap me and interfere. But God is greater and will prevail. I miss the peace that passes understanding given the circumstances. I miss the joy of living the life God has given me. I am so thankful God in His grace and mercy understands, forgives, loves, and never wavers. Thank you, Lord! Help me, Lord!

I’m have written and shared this, because I don’t want you to feel alone when you go through these kinds of times. Don’t give up!