The Good Gift of We

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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.

 

Thankful for you!


Just a note to say today how grateful I am to all of you for reading along, studying the Word diligently, and seeking more of Christ, alongside me. There is so much joy in every piece of life’s journey, as messy as it can be, and I’m thankful to be in this adventure together!

When you recount how thankful you are today, add “Dear Lord…” to the beginning of your phrase and make it a prayer raised up to Him in authenticity.

Dear Lord…I’m so thankful for my family.”

Dear Lord…I’m so thankful for friends and turkey and green bean casserole and board games.”

Dear Lord…I’m so thankful for the freedom of speech and worship and the testimony of you in those around me.”

Dear Lord…I’m so thankful for people who came to work today and sold my forgetful self gluten-free flour cheerfully.”

Dear Lord…for Jesus, and Your Spirit, alive in our hearts, our lives, our homes, our children, our churches, and our futures…just thank you.”

Blessed day, friends at home and friends abroad. Today, where ever you are, may thanksgiving brake forth with your whole heart.

Clay accepts: Am I a coffee mug or a vase?

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If you pictured yourself as a clay vessel, formed by God, what kind do you think you would be? A cup, a mug, a vase, a bowl? What do you imagine the potter forming you into? The Biblical picture of clay reminds us that we don’t all look the same. We all have different shapes and sizes, colors and bumps. Perhaps most importantly we have different purposes. Sometimes I like those purposes. Sometimes I’m in love with those purposes, and other times I’d like to take those purposes and shove ’em.

God addresses the issue of my jaded heart in Isaiah 45:9-11. Please open to that passage, if you have your Bible out. If not, read below:

“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
    a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
    or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
    or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
    will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

Gotta love a passage that starts with a good “Woe to him…” Yikes.

Let’s be honest for a moment –

Does the clay say to the pot? How often do I say to God, what in the world are You doing?

Your work has no handles? Are you sure you’re doing this right, God? I think it might be better if you gave me this or we went over here and did this instead.

What are you begetting? Why? Why? Why, God?

With what are you in labor? What are we making here…it better be something worthwhile, God.

These are pretty convicting phrases when we look at the verse for ourselves and not just as a problem those Israelites had long ago.

My heart can be mighty hard. As soon as I think I’m all over this spiritual maturity thing, thank you very much, life happens. I learn pretty quickly that I’m talking clay, wanting handles when I’m meant to be a bowl.

The problem isn’t our questions, really, it’s the hardness, the “I know better than You.” The “My ways are better than Yours, God.”

Jesus instructs us in a different posture in Matthew 7:7-8 –

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

We still get to ask questions.

We still get to come to God because of all Jesus did and Who He is, but we do so knowing that His ways are better. His ways are Life and Salvation. His ways are True and Honorable and Lovely and Just.

There’s another passage about our life as a pot, a jar of clay. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:6-9.

For God, who said,“Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

God’s light has shone in our hearts. Our hearts are different because of Jesus. We are bearers of Christ’s message in everything we have and everything we do and every single purpose we fulfill. We know this now. When things happen in our lives and our steps seem unsure, we rest in the Potter. Our security is in the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Isn’t that beautiful? I’d really rather be Jesus’s face to someone than my own, wouldn’t you?

Isaiah 45 is actually about a guy named Cyrus and some stubborn people, but it bleeds God’s promises across the page in a way that reaches us in the 21st century beautifully. Cyrus would be the King who would loose the yoke of exile for the Israelites, opening the doors of the kingdom of Babylon so that the people of Israel could return to their homes and their lives. Many of the Israelites were resistant to this plan. They liked their own lives, even in captivity. Babylon was a nice place, a comfortable place. Never mind the bondage and all that, it was cozy.

Sound freakishly familiar? I really like cozy. Sometimes when God asks for us to get un-cozy, the best thing we can do is let the Holy Spirit remind us of His promises. Back up in Isaiah 45 to the verses preceding our theme verses for the day and read God’s promise to Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1-2, 5-6 –

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus,
    whose right hand I have grasped,
to subdue nations before him
    and to loose the belts of kings,
to open doors before him
    that gates may not be closed:
“I will go before you
    and level the exalted places,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
    and cut through the bars of iron,

I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

God opens doors.

That’s who He is. And He levels the road we walk. He promises to equip these jars of clay and not leave us to our own devices. And along the way, He opens our own hearts to His Word and His people, His work.

What doors has God opened for you in the past? What uncomfortable thing has He brought you through into the light of the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”? How do you see things in your life differently through Christ’s message?

All of these questions are good. They help us to know the Potter, but not tell Him what He think He should do with the wheel.

Ask away, but let Him pot.

You are a treasured vessel, lovingly created and formed from the beginning and each day since. Entrust it all to Him, who molds and makes.

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*photo made with the fontcandy app, using photo from pexel.com

Exploration:

What do you like in life that’s cozy? What are you most attached to- certain people, a place, a few items you own, etc? (This is a fun question, so choose anything that adds a little cozy to your life, big or small.)

Where have you seen God bring you through the uncomfortable to see a greater purpose?

What open door are you asking God to open right now?

Knowing who’s the potter and who’s the clay

There are things in this life that people try to explain to me that I simply will never understand. Radio waves and how sound travels, I just don’t get it. Anything beyond the very basic laws of physics – nope, don’t understand it. Abstract art, for the most part, you could explain it until the day is long, but I still miss the point most times.

I’ve made peace with this. At 37 years, I’m just old enough to know that life is short, and young enough to still be going full throttle. While I want to understand things, I can accurately identify when to say, “I’m so thankful other people understand that. Thank you, Lord, for the diversity of the human mind.” Sometimes it’s ok to just be perplexed. It feels really good. It means that there is something bigger than us, that we don’t know everything, nor are we intended to, that we need each other, and one another’s gifts, God is God in His courts, and I am not He.

Today, we will learn that, as clay, there is freedom in understanding. We have a place in this art of understanding.

Please read Isaiah 29:15-19 –

Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
16 You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”?

17 Is it not yet a very little while
    until Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field,
    and the fruitful field shall be regarded as a forest?
18 In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
19 The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.

So often in this world, we want to be the potter and not the clay.

We want to know, but on our own time, our own topics, in our own place. We are the hiders from the Lord’s counsel (v. 15). We think we know, when really we just don’t. We turn things upside down.

Look up these supporting passages to get a fuller picture of wisdom and understanding from the Biblical perspective.

Proverbs 1:7

1 Corinthians 1:25

Colossians 2:2-3 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

And God does open our eyes and our ears, our hearts, and our minds. He is our potter, and He works the clay and turns the wheel in ways we least expect it. Colossians above tells us that we won’t just receive understanding from knowledge, but that we will receive understanding from encouragement and unity and love.

We become a fruitful field like Lebanon in Isaiah 29:17.

We obtain fresh joy (v. 19).

Why? Because we opened a Book.

When we come together in community around the Word there is no understanding quite like it. God opens minds, and God alone. Drugs are created and healing happens because God ordained it. Radio waves collect together across space and do whatever they do because God wants us to hear. Art becomes art because we were gifted with vision and color and talent from a Creative God. But no wisdom, no understanding is quite as magical as the beauty of the blind seeing and the deaf hearing (Isaiah 29:18) because the people of God gathered round to hear the words of the Bible. This brings us out of darkness into the light of understanding.

Lord, open our eyes, open our ears to Your wisdom. Give us hearts that are encouraged and minds that fire neurons that are continuously growing in You. You, oh Father, are our Potter. You, Jesus, mold us in Your image every day. Spirit, grant that our knowledge would always be accompanied by the Love and Unity with Your people. Lord, help us each day, that what we learn and grow in may always glorify You and lead us in Your truth and lead others to Salvation in Your Word. In Jesus name we pray, by the power of the good and gracious Holy Spirit. Amen. 

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*photo made with the retype app
Exploration:

What leaves you perplexed in this world?

What connection do you see between knowledge, understanding, and love?

How does God work understanding when people study the Bible together or offer one another Christian wisdom?

On playdough, Daniel Tiger, and being right where I belong

Image courtesy of the Schuler Family 😊

This post goes out to all the sweet mamas who allow playdough in their house. They have my kuddos.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.  (Isaiah 64:8)

Midweek is back in session at church, and while I’m excited to see the faith growth it will bring to my children, it also means something else…Daniel Tiger night. Judge me if you will, but I really love this one and a half hour time slot when I get to curl up on the couch with my smallest child, snuggle it out, and hear life’s problems solved from the vantage point of a 3-foot-tall talking tiger and his family.

Last Wednesday, Zeke and I were happily watching Daniel Tiger pick multiple kinds of fruit in an animated garden when the show switched to a montage of a live action family on the screen to drive home whatever lesson of the night. This was all well and good until…wait for it…the family on the screen started mixing play-dough colors.

I kid you not, there was serious color mixing going on, with parental approval. They were making some kind of pizza with a pink bottom and green, red, yellow, and white bits of toppings. The preschool- aged child was happily pushing the colored bits as far into the play-dough crust as you can get it, and all I can think is “AHHHHHHHHH, it’s never going to come apart! Don’t do it. Just don’t do it. You are well on your way to molding brown play-dough. Who wants brown play-dough? What are these parents thinking??!!”

At that moment, Zeke looks at me and says, completely unaware of my inner dialogue of judgmentalism , “Ooooo – they’re making rainbow play-dough.”

Perspective opened.

These children, this family was making something. They were making something pretty, something that felt good, something crafted by their own two hands, their own six hands together. That’s what Zeke saw, when all I saw was a mess.

So often, this is the way our life is with God.

I look around and I see mess. He sees molding and shaping and crafting and creativity.

Please read Isaiah 64:1-8 in your Bible, or select portions below, v. 1,4,7-8-

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
    that the mountains might quake at your presence—

From of old no one has heard
    or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
    who acts for those who wait for him.

There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Imagine God, coming down from the mountains to be part of your life. He doesn’t have to engage. He doesn’t need us. He is God. But He values relationship in a way that I’m not even sure we can fully comprehend. One of His primary attributes is omnipresence. He can be everywhere at one time. Many of us know this as a nice theological idea, but don’t forget the personal context of it. He is present. He comes down.

He deigned to create the universe and walk in the garden with Adam and Eve. He came down from heaven to walk our soil as Jesus Christ, God made flesh. He is present. He sent His Spirit to live and dwell among us, God in our hearts and lives and homes. He is present. He will come back and restore this Earth and me and all Creation to perfection. He is present.

The message of our passage in Isaiah 64 is not only are we made and formed by God but this…

We are held by God.

Read Isaiah 64:8 again,

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.

Often we are not looking for Him where He is found (Isaiah 64:3), because He is right there holding us. We want a bright neon sign with solar panels and flashing lights to show us God. We want trumpets and angel choirs, and something bigger and better than our current situation. But that’s not His style. He can do that, but instead, He holds us in His hands. He holds us in His tight grip of grace.

What has God shaped in your life? How has He used ordinary to bring you closer to Christ and to guide you in His paths?

This week, as we discover how we ourselves are clay held in the potter’s hands, being shaped and formed, we will also see how God teaches as Potter, how He instructs us in our purposes and forms us as His vessels, and what glory there is in essentially being mixed up like play-dough, God forming rainbow beauty when we thought it was all just leading to muddy brown.

For today, know this, from Isaiah 64. God being our Potter, means He’s holding us in His hands.

“We are all the work of your hand…”

means we are all currently the work of His hands. Not we were His work when he created us, or we will be when we are in heaven.

We are the work of His hands. Each and everyone of us. Held, everyday.

See you tomorrow, you beautiful lump of rainbow-colored-playdough you. Until then, be held.

 

Exploration:

Tell us about something weird that gets to you. I revealed my mixed play-dough anxiety…your turn!

What has God shaped in your life?

How has he used ordinary to bring you closer to Him and mold you in His paths?

Clay Scripture Engagement Tool

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