Thursday, January 31, 2013

Is Your Religion Worthless?

Howdy! So glad to see you joined me for the recap of week 2 of our Bible Study on James! It’s so good to have you here! Brrr! It’s cold outside, its currently -13 as I write this (wind chill is -49), does that even qualify as cold, or is it more like frozen? Anyway,  grab something warm to drink and let’s get started.
Most of us are familiar with this passage in James 1:19-27.

Be quick to listen…Be slow to speak…Be slow to become angry…Get rid of all moral filth…Get rid of all the evil so prevalent among you…Humbly accept the word planted in you (this can save you)…Do not just listen to the word…Do what it says…Look intently into the perfect law…Don’t forget what it says…Keep a tight rein on your tongue…Look after orphans and widows…

Such good and needed instruction packed neatly into one little passage. It’s like a power packed vitamin for the believer’s soul.  
Wait a minute! Remember who James is talking to? The scattered Christians. They left homes and families, were running for their lives…. Maybe I’m just a softie, but doesn’t it seem that a little compassion and care would be more appropriate? They need a hug not a lecture! This feels a bit harsh, like he is beating them while they are down.

But I think if I step back from my feelings and look at the big picture, I will see that he is writing from a heart that is deeply concerned for these people. I can even feel an urgency. They are facing various trials (not the I-have-a-flat-tire kind of trials but more like the running-for-your-life kind of trials), yet he knows the importance for them to keep on keeping on in the faith. Difficult times can make us want to rest, coast, take a break, catch our breath. But James urges them to keep on. “This can save you.” Their eternal destination, and that of others is what is most important and James lovingly points them to that.
On the surface, it may appear they needed a shoulder to cry on, but at the heart of things, what they really needed was strength. And James delivers. It’s a message of “Don’t give up when it’s difficult. Don’t quit. Don’t join the crowd to fit in. Don’t seek comfort. Don’t forget the goal. Don’t deceive yourselves. Don’t fall into a worthless religion. Remember what it’s all about.” Strength is found in Christ. They knew this. But our thinking gets clouded when we face trials and we need to be reminded of the facts. To follow the facts, not feelings.

There is so much in this passage we can take away for our lives. It’s almost too much to put into one post. In fact, this is the second draft of this post. The first one was way too long and I’m pretty sure I heard some of you yawn part way through, so I opened up a new, fresh page to begin a shorter version.  
Again, it’s already pretty long and I haven’t even gotten to application yet (stay with me, we’re almost done). So, I will make it short and sweet. I will just list some questions to ask yourself.  Answer honestly before God. You’ll have to be a big girl and read the passage for yourself and ask God to show you what He wants you to apply in your life. Be sure your religion isn't worthless.

By the way, if you click on“comments” below, you can let me know your take-away application- hint, hint, hint…

Questions to Self:
How much do I listen vs. talk?
How quickly do I get angry?
What is my focus/goal when I am angry?
Is it a focus that would please God?
Will that focus help me grow more like Christ?
What moral filth or evil do I need to get rid of?
Have I humbled my heart?
Have I accepted what the Holy Spirit teaches as the true way or just an option?
Do I put what I learn into action?
Am I careful that what I listen to and study is the perfect law (God’s word)?
Do I study intently and internalize it?
Do I keep a tight rein on my tongue? (this will help answer the next question)
 Is my religion worthless or faultless and pure and accepted by God?
Do I minister to orphans and widows, people in distress?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Joy, Persecution & Doubting, Oh My!

Have you ever been so excited about something? And you just have to tell someone about it? Me too! I’m totally pumped about our Ladies Bible Study on Monday nights. We have decided to be big girls and dig into the Bible ourselves. No study book. No workbook. No DVD to watch.  Just us, God and His word. We are learning to study on our own. To learn hermeneutics, exegesis, and ask who, what, when, where, why and how. Yes, we will miss Beth for a semester, but it will be good for us and I’m sure she would approve of this, maybe even be proud of us big girls!
Last night we discussed James chapter 1 verses 1-18. Everyone was eager to share what they pulled out in their studies. Which led to an hour and a half of good conversation. I absolutely love a good theological conversation, don’t you? It truly feeds my soul. It strengthens my heart. And it inspires me to study some more.

For those who can’t make it to the study and for anyone else who just loves studying the Word, I will be sharing some of the highlights of our study here for the next few months.  So, grab a cup of coffee and your bible and sit down with me to study the book of James. Dig in, do your own studying and share your thoughts! This is gonna be so much fun!
Here we go….This is going to be much longer than my usual chatter here, but I think it will be worth it.

Vs 1 James was written by the half-brother of Jesus. He was not a believer until sometime around the resurrection. He then became a leader in the church. (John 7:5; I Corinthians 15:7) The book was written to Jewish Christians – probably because the faith had not spread to the Gentiles yet and is applicable to all Christians.

It was written about 14 years after the stoning of Stephen.(Acts 7:54-60) Paul was still Saul at that time.  The Christians had scattered, left homes and families because of persecution.(Acts 8:1-3; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

Vs 2-4  James doesn’t waste any time getting right to the point. He addresses their main issue head on and with what seems like an unrealistic suggestion at first.  Trials = pure joy? Really? We’re not talking trials as in a flat tire on the way to work, or a broken washing machine, or a child getting sick in the plane on vacation. Nope. We are talking fearing- for-their-lives kind of trials. (This kind of puts trials in our lives into perspective, right? Clearly, God’s goal in this is not our happiness, but our growth.)

So how does he expect them to consider this pure joy? Its all in perspective, as he points out. And he reminds them of the truth that they already know. (John 8:32) The perseverance – we could call it aggressive endurance- required to make it through many kinds of trials will produce maturity in Christ, and bring with it completeness. (Romans 5:3-5) Not lacking anything. I like that. Isn’t that what we all want? To not lack anything? To have all we need? There is such a security in that, a security even amidst trials. Serious trials.

Vs 5-8  Find yourself needing wisdom in the midst of life? It’s not a complicated thing. No training course to buy, no shipping and handling. Simply ask God. He gives it freely and generously.  But wait. There is one catch. When you ask you must believe and not doubt.  This is a biggie. Doubt is like waves. Waves are influenced by a number of things.  Wind, the pull of the sun and moon, boats. And waves appear to make much activity, but in reality that’s all it is, the water is not really transported to a new location, only the energy is transferred. So the water never makes any progress. Envision with me: you plan a day at the lake with your family. Everyone is in their swimming gear, flip flops on, floaties in hand. But when you arrive, your mood changes. The waves have churned the water. It no longer looks clear and inviting but murky and dirty. Ick. That’s what doubt does to our minds. Instead of total commitment to God and His ways, our minds are murky and we see God’s way one option in a sea of choices. It is easy to let life toss us around, easy for doubt to get a foothold.  We are tossed back and forth and never get anywhere in our faith. Double minded vs. total commitment. Unstable vs. Wise. The choice is ours to make. (Mark 11:22-25)
Vs. 9-12  Two men are contrasted here. The poor and the rich. To God, the financial situation we are in does not affect how He sees us. We can be glad for that. He is interested in our souls, not our bank accounts.  The poor man, who is overlooked in society is reminded that he really has a high position in the eyes of God. He is God’s son. An Heir to the throne. The rich man, knowing that his riches could be gone with just one crash of the stock market is reminded to be thankful his real worth is not found in his 3 figure income but in Christ alone. The Psalmist in 119:37 asks God to turn his eyes away from worthless things. I Corinthians 7:31 & 35 reminds us to not be engrossed in things of this world but to “live in undivided devotion to the Lord”. Things of this world do not matter in view of eternity; they are worthless things.  Remember the goal – maturity and completeness. Remember the truth – eternal life is the real life, not the life we live here on earth.  (Matthew 6:19-21) Set your mind on things above. (Colossians 3:2) Persevere under trial = receive the crown of life, just as God promised. Now that’s worth living for.

Vs 13-16  Why does James put a passage on temptation in with encouragement to persecuted Christians?  It almost feels as if he is beating them while they are down.  Possibly because when trials come, it is easy to give in. To give up and wave the white flag.  It feels like the comforts of the world are better than God’s way.
When we are tempted, we often like to place the blame on Satan. After all, he is the deceiver, the tempter, the father of lies. But that is not the only place temptation comes from. Our own evil desires tempt us. We must place the blame where it belongs and deal with the evil in us. If we don’t face this, we won’t beat it. Sin has a process. It begins with an evil desire. It’s not sin yet. But once we let it linger and give in to it, allow it to conceive, it becomes sin. Which we all know grows and leads to more sin… and more sin… and…. you get the idea.  This leads to death. Spiritual death. Sin is not harmless. It is a baby polar bear, it looks cute, cuddly and harmless at first, but when it grows up, it will eat you alive. Don’t be deceived.

Vs 17-18  James reminds them that every good and perfect gift is from their Father. That they serve a God who is unchanging. He chose them, He hasn’t changed His mind and deserted them, left them to fend for themselves. I’m sure it would have been easy for them to feel that way.  Persecution is a powerful thing. It is not only an attack physically, but mentally as well.  While listening to Christian radio yesterday a news story stated that 2 men had been killed in North Korea because they were Christians. This is the kind of stuff the Believers in James were going through. But this is 2013, and it’s still happening to Believers. Those men knew the danger of being Christians in their homeland. Yet they considered the cost and found it worthy.  They found Him worthy of giving up comfortable lives and risking death to go to Bible School so they could teach others, and for that they were killed.
I have to ask, in this letter to Christians fearing for their lives, James talks about good and perfect gifts? Gifts? At a time like this? Seriously? Again, we are back to perspective. We are given new birth. We are chosen. We are daughters of the King of kings. He will not desert us. Yes, gifts. Turmoil turns to peace when we direct our hearts toward the right perspective. And that is the goal of the letter. To give the displaced, uprooted and struggling an eternal perspective that will carry them through.

To study the Bible without applying it is not of much use except to sound really smart at Bible study. We don’t want to just talk it, we want to live it, so what is the application for you and I here? I had an awesome high school English teacher and I can’t read anything without mentally diagramming it. (Thank you, Miss Edwards! What was a pain at 16 is a definite asset at 30-alot-of-something.)
There are a few action verbs in this passage which point to the fact that I am responsible for those things.  They require me to get off my tushy and do something. To actively pursue the faith.

Consider it pure joy- I need to watch my view point and thoughts on situations.

Ask God – Too often I try to figure things out on my own, I need to train myself to get on my knees and ask Him for His direction.

Believe, not doubt- Question for self: do my actions show that I am believing or doubting?   What do I need to do about this?

Take pride in your position as child of God- It doesn’t matter if I don’t fit in with society, I know  who I am – I am royalty, and I need to walk worthy of that position.

Persevere- It’s not just keeping on keeping on, its aggressive endurance, attacking the things that threaten my faith, throw off everything that holds us back and run with endurance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Don’t be deceived- I need to watch what I listen to and buy into, study the Word and know what God says so I won’t be led astray. This is serious business.

Like I said, this is just some highlights from our study, there is so much more we could pull from this passage. So join in the fun and please, please, please share your thoughts with me! What insights do you have on this passage? What has God directed you to apply?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Notice Him

Lying in bed, my mind racing about bloggy stuff, I began to talk to God about it all. 
Lord, I need to figure out how to link to other blogs… and how to comment on comments… and how to get traffic to my blog… the experts all say its necessary. After all, if no one read my posts, then my posts are not doing anything…I’ve got to learn how to get noticed…”
It was as if He caused certain words in that prayer to increase in volume, even reverberate. MY blog…I”VE got to get noticed…. Its humbling when God shows you your heart.

My goal for having a blog was to use the gifts He had given me to help others. To point their eyes to Him each day. But somewhere in it all, I felt I had to do all the work myself, I viewed this as MY blog and was concerned with others noticing ME so they would read what I had to say.

What if I changed my focus to HIS blog and getting HIM noticed, then the traffic issue would be HIS, right? Wow. I like the feeling of that. It’s on His shoulders and my job is to listen and write. I can do that.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Starting Fresh

I finally got it done.  Bedding changed and laundered, tree down and packed away for another year, furniture dusted, bathroom cleaned, the floors swept and mopped.  Ahhhh! It’s not that I enjoy cleaning, I just love the end result. It feels so freeing and fresh to have a clean home.  I can enjoy my home and relax when I know I have taken care of my responsibilities.
Aren’t our hearts that way? We let things pile up, the hurt feelings, the issues that weigh heavy on us and we put off the cleaning we know needs done. We need a fresh start. Clean out the clutter to make more space for time with God. Toss out the things that weigh us down. Wipe off the dust and clean out the sin that hinders our walk. Ahhhh! The feeling is so freeing … a fresh start for the new year.
We all have closets and crevices that need cleaning. So go clean out that corner that has been begging for attention and while you’re tossing and organizing, spend some time talking to the Father asking Him what needs tossed and rearranged in your heart as well. I’m starting with my closet right now…. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

He is God

I found this while rummaging through my writings from a few years back, and thought I would share it with you.
Thoughts were reeling through my mind. It was New Year’s Eve and I was ready to welcome a new start.  It had been an emotionally difficult year and today was no different.  Tired…worn down…feeling trampled… not seeing much progress… many brick walls to overcome…. The barrage of thoughts and emotions weighed heavy on my heart and mind, leaving me ready to wave the little white flag.
I was preparing some lunch while my daughter was beautifying in the bathroom and the lyrics of her music stopped me short.  I had heard the song hundreds of times, but today, it was aimed directly at my heart.  It always amazes how God can take something so common in my life and then one day, cause it to stand out with a clear message to my soul.

I'm barely hanging on
With all these empty feelings
I'm hurting in so many ways
And though I can't begin to understand the reason
I still believe that you're GOD
(from “Every Saturday” by Seventh Day Slumber)

Instantly, my focus was turned.  That’s what it really comes down to… He is God.  Period.  That’s all that really matters.  Even if life here seems a constant emotional churning, this life will soon be over and, for those who are His, eternity with God will have no sadness or tears.

 It’s not how I feel here that matters and I’ve got to keep my eyes on that.  God is God and He is in charge and has a purpose for each trial He allows in my path.  I can sit here churning inside and just endure, or I can look to Him, what He says, how He tells me to respond and grow through this all and maybe even be used by Him.  Mere enduring, or purpose.  I get to choose. 

What are the things that weigh heavy on your heart lately?  Remember He is God, and that’s what matters.  Don’t lose sight of it, cling to it as a life-saving device through the storms.  Happy New Year and blessings to you!

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."  Psalm 46:10