Mercy Pursues You

I’m not the only one with good ideas. Obviously.

It’s one thing I love about Bible study. When we open the Word, insights come flying of the page, and your insights will probably look different than mine. The same message will apply differently depending on the given day, moment, season, or struggle in life, along with the sure and certain message that transcends time and space – that hits home for the hearer in the First Century and is exactly the same for the hearer 2000+ years later.

I am convinced that one gigantic benefit of the Body of Christ is the gift of connection and insight. When we gather to be vulnerable and share what we hear from the Word for our own lives, we also reach across the table in a way we cannot completely understand to touch the life and offer insight for the person in study with us.

Last Fall, one of the women in our Bible studies at I Love My Shepherd shared with me a simple insight, passed along from her pastor to her years before, to those of us in the Word that day –

Mercy pursues.

Open your Bible to Psalm 23:6 –

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (ESV)

The Greek root word for follow here is radaph. It can mean to follow, to pursue, to chase, or even in certain circumstances, to persecute. Context helps translators choose which are most usable in Biblical translation. Look at the character of God, according to the Psalm as a whole:

He shepherds.

He leads.

He disciplines. 

He comforts.

He prepares.

And it is in His nature to pursue, as well as follow.

How many of you have had a situation in life that you can point to and say, “Mercy pursued me? He was after my heart, my mind, my soul, all of me.”

God is patient. He is loving and kind.

He is also jealous for His children. He sent Hosea to chase after Gomer. He sent the spies into Jericho for Rahab, among other things. He handed His mother to John from the cross. He found Saul on the road to Damascus.

He has a plan. He has a great big awesome plan that involves Mercy in your life, with a capital M.

Sometimes He sits and lets us do our thing. Sometimes we wonder what in the world He’s doing, where in the world He is. Sometimes we wonder if He’s even listening, but He has a plan. He is active, when we cannot see Him. He is active when we cannot feel Him.

His plan is for our good, for mercy to come in, for loving-kindness to infiltrate, and He knows just the right time. His plans are always best and oh so worth the wait.

In all of this He is always, always pursuing us; never for a moment are we not on His mind and in His heart.

Some days, friends, I need to know that I’m worthy of pursuit. Because God calls me Child, He also calls me pursued. When I look to other people to seek after me, to honor me, and deem me worthy… I can look around and find His mercy, which was the only thing that ever mattered all along.

So, what do I do with this insight? I shared it with my friend, Melissa, and we created a reminder. This Summer we’ll be coming out with the Mercy Pursues line on the I Love My Shepherd Products with a Message page.

Someone needs to know Mercy pursues them, so let’s tell them.

Here’s a downloadable Facebook Cover, which is also a sneak peek at our new line. Orange suns, grey and white goodness – clean and simple.

Free downloadable Facebook cover

 

Christ Jesus pursues me.

Christ Jesus pursues you.

Today, know that Goodness and Mercy is after you, because you are worth chasing after. Radaph

Mercy pursues.

 

Making waves


I love the ocean’s roll.

Sitting on the beach, with my feet dug into the sand, the waves reaching up to lap my toes. Waves are calming and predictable – coursing in and out, in and out.

Waves aren’t just pillowy and pretty. They are powerful and majestic. They are driven by an unseen force, governed by gravity and the laws of physics. However, we’ve all seen instances where even the laws of physics can’t contain the ocean’s power. They are ruled by Someone greater. Someone who even the wind and waves obey.

Let’s explore what waves have to do with James.

Open to James 3:2-5:

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

If you peek at James 3:1 in your own Bible, you’ll note that these instructions from James are actually given to those who teach the Word in the church. I didn’t include this verse because I didn’t want to trip you up. It’s easy when instructions are given to one group to think – “Eh, I don’t teach, so I’m just going to skip over that part.” But let’s be honest – we all have someone to “teach”, someone to influence, someone with whom we share wisdom, life experiences, and God’s Word.

James never actually talks about waves, he actually talks about rudders. Rudders make waves. Ships make waves. When boats pass through the water they churn up all kinds of stuff. We are foolish if we believe that we impact no one as we move through life. Your impact, my friend, I guarantee you is bigger than you think!

We each have reach and possibility and many relationships in our lives. Our tongue guides so much of it. How do we even begin to steer it in the right direction? How do we find a direction that creates safety and spreads the message of Hope, instead of fear and the message of judgment?

The question is not, are we making waves with our lives and words? Rather, it’s –

What kind of waves are we making?

Are we drowning others? Are we saying what we want, when we want? Are we letting emotions of the moment and satisfaction in our “rightness” steal hope from someone else’s soul? Are we ruled by our tongue, or do we let the Spirit guide our words, even when we are hurt, angry, tired, or hungry?

Are we slowly eroding the beach? Are our words not often harsh, but edgy, sarcastic enough, selfish enough, to tear down rather than build up, over time? Do we avoid, rather than seek opportunities to speak up for others?

Or are we moving change in a dark world? Do we give care, affection, or grace, through our words? Do we let the Spirit speak to whomever He brings into our life? Do our words roll up and reach out to someone’s shore, lapping their feet with the warmth and love of Christ?

We won’t be perfect. Our words won’t be perfect. But we are learning to entrust the refining to Him along the journey.

Lord, show us where You are leading us and show us where our ship is plunging ahead without Your mercy and grace. Thank You for Your wisdom and truth, as well as Your forgiveness, always there for us.  Fill us with Your Spirit, for the adventure of each day. In Christ, we give all our words to You. Use them for Your glory alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

*photo credit to pexels.com

What does friendship with God look like?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has long been the standard for understanding human needs. From the basics of life – water, food, shelter, safety – to the needs higher up the pyramid – love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. I have been encouraged to see some amount of research across recent years that acknowledges a flaw in this concept. Maslow’s hierarchy is useful but, like everything made by the hands of man, imperfect.

We may not be able to survive without food, but, to some extent, what kind of survival is that without connection, without someone to share it with, without friendship? We know as Christians – connection matters most and it is basic to our survival.

When we worked with a feeding program as part of the holistic mission of Ministry in Mission in Haiti, the children didn’t just come for the food and juice. They came to be loved on. They came to sing songs together and to see what Hope looks like from people who shared Jesus with them, and to share hope with one another. I’m positive they would have shown up without the food offered, because connection is just as much what they needed. And it’s true for each and every one of us. Why?

Because we were created by a Good Good Father for connection with Him above all else.

We mostly think of friendship and connection within the horizontal realm, in our friendships with one another. What we believe about God, that vertical friendship, affects how we believe, think, and we act in our friendships with one another. Why? Because He created friendship, and He created everything to be shared in relationship with Him, never apart from Him. So, if we want quality friendships with one another, we need to understand our friendship with God first.

For this, James sheds a little light on the subject. Let’s open to James 2. If you have your Bible out, please take a minute to read the entire chapter for a fuller context. Here, let’s look at James 2:1 alone –

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Impartiality is founded in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Friendship is just that, offering impartiality, offering safety and care, extending the hand of fellowship enough to know someone more and to say,

“You too?!”

“Tell me more.”

“You are worthy of time and energy.”

Jesus Himself identifies the root of our friendship with both God and one another as His work and His Word active in our lives, through His sacrifice. Read John 15:12-15-

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

James points us to more. Read James 2:19-23

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

Even the demons believe -Yikes! We don’t just have belief; we have friendship with God in Christ. Praises! Abraham’s story is rich and full in the Old Testament, but let’s look at just a piece of it. In Genesis 18, Abraham was blessed to meet with God. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the benefit of His Word available to us daily, we also can meet with Him at any moment, every day. We could easily only hear James’s recurring phrase “Faith without works, faith without works, faith without works…” in our head, but the “works” can easily be summed up in this – relationship.

Read Genesis 18:1-15 and see what kind of relationship God offers us, now through His means of grace, as He offered it to Abraham so many years ago.

The Lord visits us

Genesis 18: 1-5 –

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Just as God did not find it offensive to visit Abraham’s tent, partake of Abraham’s food, and rest in Abraham’s company, so He does with us. We need only open His Word, or share around the Word with His people to be visited by the Most High God. He, in fact, wants to visit with us, makes time for us, and invites us to His table to share His meal with Him.

We converse with God

Genesis 18:9-15 –

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

I LOVE this exchange. It tells me that I don’t have to have it all together to meet with God. It tells me that He’ll straighten me out in His Truth and His Love. He welcomes me to the conversation for the delight of relationship, and in Him I find restoration for my soul.

We are given great and precious promises

More on these promises tomorrow. But for now, look at what Abraham and Sarah received! Surely we would list the seed which is Christ Jesus, promised near those oak trees long ago, but goodness the promise of the conversation alone is notable.

Come, Lord Jesus. Eat our food. Be our Guest. Rest in our homes with us. Recline at our tables in Your open Word. Make full our hearts and lives in conversation and friendships centered on you.

I am a friend of God.

You are a friend of God.

Discussion:

What is the most inviting or caring thing a friend has ever done for you?

What qualities do you look for in solid friendship?

How does God fulfill all the qualities of friendship we could ever desire?

Bonus for fun and connection: What would you serve the Lord if he came for dinner? Give us your favorite food or best recipe!

 

Notes:

*Ministry in Mission has Easter crosses, designed and handmade by Haitian artisans. Funding raised goes to support the very feeding program I spoke of. Check them out at this link…

Ministry In Mission – Feed The Orphans – Buy a Cross

*For more on the challenge to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, see this helpful overview by Forbes.

 

The Good Gift of We

This photo is from the pexels.com image library. Thank you, pexels!


I can hardly believe that we are on week five of six in our study of James! Way to power through some tough Law, some meaty Gospel, and some wrestling in integrating the two.

This week we’ll focus on relationship, one of my very favorite topics.

We were made for relationship and I think you’ll see that this is something James knew and understood well. More than that, he valued relationship. He saw the church as a life lived in community, hearing and doing the Word together, reaching out to pray with one another, intentionally using words that cared for the soul, as well as the mind, and sharpening one another through all kinds of storms – illness, poverty, abundance, trial, suffering, you name it.

James talks relationship with Eternity in mind. I think he would second the thoughts of the Apostle John, found in 1 John 4:19 –

We love because he first loved us.

Let’s look at the theme verse of our study again to see the connection. James 1:16-18 –

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

“Beloved brothers…”

What a beautiful phrase! James centers that phrase around a good, good Father. Our relationship as brothers isn’t just as people living next to one another, attending church next to one another, or even sitting in struggle next to one another. Our relationship is firmly planted in the simple but full fact that we are children of the same Father. Human kind was made and Created by a Father who loves. We are children of His love. In the church, this is doubly so- we are adopted children, a family held together by His love (Galatians 4:7-9, Romans 8:15, 1 John 3:1-2). We are…

Brothers once through creation.
Brothers twice through our adoption as sons in Christ Jesus.

James took “beloved brothers” seriously. His genuineness comes through when you look throughout the book and discover the sheer quantity of times he refers to his listener as brother.

Here’s a fun challenge – read through the book of James as one coherent letter. Note every time he uses the term brother, either on a separate piece of paper, or by underlining/highlighting. I’ll highlight a few passages here.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19 

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:5

Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. – James 3:12

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. – James 4:11

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20

Those are just a few examples, and you might have noted that there is at least one for every chapter. James knows a secret of communicating the message of hope –

if we want to be heard, the relationship matters.

This isn’t manipulative; this is aware. I think it just flowed out of James’s pen as an honest statement of unity. Notice how he couples the term with the endearment beloved. These are people he knows, not obscure people he’s addressing in a speech. By calling them brothers, he reminds them of the covenant relationship they hold under their relationship with God. Beloved speaks of life and love, of holding one another’s hand in the storm, of “in it together” rather than shame and pointing fingers.

In Paul’s writings you will find similar language. Slide on over to biblegateway.com and input the term brothers in the search field at the top. Now scroll down and identify how often brothers is used in Scripture as a whole. How many times do you see it in the Paul’s letters – Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Philippians, etc.? Wow! That’s a lot of brotherly affection.

We are in this together, brothers and sisters. James knew it. Paul knew it. We know it. How are we living it? What does life together look like?

Partly, it just is. We can’t change our relationship. We are affected by one another, by our words, our actions, our choices, because it’s how God made us. But I think part of what Jesus refers to as the abundant life, what He came to give us (John 10:10), is the knowledge of just how beautiful life as brothers can be.

Unity isn’t perfection of communication and thoughts synced. It’s love. It’s noticing. It’s life lived together instead of ships passing in the night.

Lord, use us, in the power of Your Spirit, to be true brothers and sisters to those around us. Give us strength in the drama and the mess, to invite others in, to seek, give care, and affection. You, Lord, are our brother. We hold fast to that Word of truth in all we say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Discussion:

Meditate on Psalm 133. It’s short and sweet.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

Consider – who do you dwell with in life together? Who is in your circle of brothers and sisters in creation and through Christ? Let’s lift them up together in prayer.

 

Different fruits for different folks

Artwork attributed to Jennifer Tinkey. Find the free printable link at the end of today’s post.

What kind of fruit do you most want to shine in your life?

Are you familiar with the Galatians passage about the fruit of the Spirit? Let’s look at it for a moment to gain some Biblical insight on fruit. Open your Bibles or read below, Galatians 5:22-23 –

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

These are good things. God things. Which has spoken to your heart before? Which have you sought more of in a particular season?

I abound in joy. Even in dark times, joy is something that weeps out of my pores. Patience have I sought. Self-control, God has called me to pray for particularly in the areas of my words and in parenting.

I love this list. It helps me focus in and consider all God offers me. But we can get so caught up in one list of Scripture that we forget- God has more fruits!

Look at James 3:17. We’ve read it before, so it may sound familiar. You can also find our printable of it at the end of the blog today.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

The word fruits in this verse is the same Greek root word as the one we find for the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – karpos. The Bible Helps tools found at biblehub.com tell us that karpos is fruit, or anything done in partnership with Christ.

What do you do in partnership with Christ? Don’t limit yourself to seeking patience; although it’s a good fruit, it’s not the only fruit. God gives more grace, remember?

What good fruits have you seen in James so far that God gives us? Let’s make a giant list. Skim through the book of James and see what fruit you find. Jot down a list of anything you get that speaks to life with Christ, things done in partnership with Christ.

One thing I think you’ll see clearly if you wrote any kind of list, no matter how large, is that when we speak of fruit and a life lived in partnership with Christ, that fruit could be boiled down to relationship with God and with one another.

The fruit we find throughout Scriptures that we often miss is Life Together.

I can have joy, but I can’t have it without Christ, not truly. And it is best experienced with others.

I can have self-control. Without Christ, self-control is really just morality and that breaks down. Where do I turn in my moments of weakness and temptation? Self-control is also best seen in our relationships with others. Where better to harness some self-control than with those we love, at work, or with His people?

I can have gentleness, but without Christ, it’s just nice. With Him it ministers to the souls of all the faithful and all those who do not know of His faithfulness around me.

Do you see it? We’ll return to this passage at a later date, but look to James 5:13-16 and see a vivid pictures of life together turning toward Him together in any and all of life’s situations –

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

Suffering? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Praising? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Sick? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Leading? God offers the fruit of Life Together.

Pray. Turn one another to Him. Sing with one another. Isn’t it gorgeous? What ripe and plentiful fruit we have in one another.

Who is part of your tree of fruit from the Lord? Who do you work in partnership with for Christ? Who prays with you? Share with us today. Let’s encourage one another in the good fruit of all He gives us on the journey.

Free James 3:17 printable

 

Discussion:

What do you do in partnership with Christ?

Who do you work with in partnership with Christ?

What fruits from Galatians or James or anywhere in the Bible are you seeking to grow in today? Share with us so that we can pray alongside you!