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.

 

The forgotten gift of warmth

 

This January we bought a house that was built in 1885. I love it. It has nine foot ceilings, hobbit doorways, and comes in just under 1000 square feet. It’s very “us” and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

I do miss warmth though.

Any historic homeowner knows that the struggle is real. Yesterday I dared to crank up my heat to a wild and aggressive 72 degrees, lest I actually freeze to death in my own home. Hot tea is no longer a nice little luxury, but a necessity for warming your hands on cold, cloudy days.

I layer on my cabin socks, my chunky Irish knit sweater, my slippers, and, let’s be real, sometimes a hat. I grumble and then I look out my front window and am reminded just what a lucky girl I am. Blessed in my place and time in this life with a home, blankets, a family to fill it all with joy. Blessed to have hats and scarves if necessary. Blessed to realistically crank up the heat to 75 if I so desired and still be able to pay the bill, albeit reluctantly.

James 2:14-17 talks a lot about clothes and food and the blessings of daily life. But what really spoke to me when I read through it again today was warmth.

Read James 2:14-17 so we can be on the same page:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When we look at this passage our eyes and ears immediately go to the word dead. It’s natural. It’s a shocking and dramatic word for us. Couple it with a big word like faith and all kinds of anxiety starts poking out. We also don’t want the relationship between faith and works to be misunderstood. It’s important that we don’t pile up expectations on ourself (see yesterday’s study 😉 ) or act like God could care less about our life here on earth, so we spend so much time explaining verse 17 that we never get around to hashing out verses 14-16.

So we glide over simple words like clothes and food and settle on the bigger words, haphazardly giving them a place of higher importance and in need of greater explanation.

But today, I want to talk about warmth. It’s a little word, so mundane and basic. James imitates the flippancy of a person who is slapping a Band-aid on a person’s gushing wound, in verse 16.

And the gushing wound of our current cultural context is warmth.

We may (or may not) be clothing the homeless, feeding the impoverished, caring for the brother or sister in need, but I think our bigger problem, the root of the problem, is warmth.

Christ Jesus is not only loving, caring, compassionate, holy, good, and true. He is warm. He takes time for people. He invites people in, even when he knows it’s going to hurt, when there will be loss, when there will be betrayal, when there will be drama.

We have so little time. I understand that. But how can we show Gospel-bred warmth to our spouse, to our families, to the people we pass along the streets?

Note the language in James 2:16. We are the ones saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” Rather than saying, “Come, take a moment. Rest a while here with me. Let’s pray together. Let’s tackle life together.”

What if “Go in peace” turned into “Come, let me help you see His peace”?

The Greek word for be warmed back in James 2 is thermainesthe. It’s related to our word for thermos. What if it was as simple as sharing food with someone rather than handing them food? Shopping for a coat with someone rather than putting it in a collection bin? Inviting a friend over, into our stack of dirty dishes and cluttered chaos, rather than, well…not?

The world is hungry for warmth, friends. It’s a door to the Gospel. It was as true at the time of Christ, as it is today. Read Matthew 14:13-21 in your Bible. Jot down or take a mental note. What kinds of things does Jesus do that offer warmth to the people?

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus also sees our need for Help and gives us the Holy Spirit. His Spirit is warmth filling our hearts and souls so that we ourselves can share it.

If you’re like me, you have a thermos tucked away somewhere, or a to-go coffee tumbler. Let’s put them to use today. Bring a warm beverage to someone in your life. It’s simple, I know. But it’s a start. Life-giving Gospel sharing is built on life lived together and that starts with some warmth. Go meet a neighbor. Bring a fresh bag of Starbucks. Put a Bible verse of encouragement with it. Bring a pot of tea to boil and pack it in a thermos for that mid-afternoon slump at work. Share it around and share a little bit of yourself and Jesus in the process.

We are free, friends. Free to live different, to take time, and to open our chilly but wonderful houses and hearts to those around us.

Discussion:

What’s your favorite hot beverage, warm piece of clothing, and/or thing to do on a cold day?

Make a list of what gifts of warmth Jesus has given you. I’ll get you started – love, compassion, fellowship…

When has someone shared the gift of warmth with you?

How can we connect the warmth that we share with the message of Christ, be it immediate or over time in relationship? We’d love to hear your examples and experiences or ideas!

Mental health and pizza

Let me tell you the story of pizza that saves lives.

Well, friends save lives, Jesus saves lives, but pizza is sometimes the simple tool that God uses to make a difference.

We were in the middle of a mental health crisis. No one really likes to talk mental health. We have some level of basic communication on the topic, some good, some unhelpful, general phrases, like

“You should go see a counselor.”

“God brings good out of everything.”

“You’ve got to keep on top of that, make good choices.”

If there was ever a disease we were afraid of catching it’s mental health. There are no Puffs commercials for depression, no home health ad for schizophrenia. Even anxiety is a seen as a personal problem – pray more, worry less! Be grateful!

But let me tell you that mental health comes in your back door like an old high school acquaintance you thought you lost touch with, whom you had no idea was still connected to your life, except for in vague terms, like genetics or a strange uncle who talks funny.

Mental health is, however, whether we care to admit it or not, shockingly universal. Everyone’s stories are different, the diagnoses are different, but we all have the basic gene pool, to create a mental health struggle. No one is exempt, or “better made”. Sin effects our lives and world in frustrating ways – how many of you have family members touched by

addiction

dementia

anxiety

depression

learning disabilities

autism

trauma and distress?

People often back up and back away when mental health enters the scene.

They don’t want to “catch” the mental health cooties (not a thing, fyi). And our culture, while throwing around sexual innuendo and intimate family dynamics on tv and movie screens daily, does not like to be confronted by someone else’s drama when it lives next door.

But what if instead, we brought pizza.

In the middle of our struggles, two of my friends walked in the door, straight through my mess, toting a large pizza, an order of breadsticks, and a two liter of pop to share. They visited. They sat around my table and made me laugh. They asked questions and didn’t offer easy answers. They may have offered some help, but what I really remember is that they offered normalcy. They didn’t look at me like I was scary and had two heads. They were ok with being part of it, even if whatever it was looked kind of messy.

Mental health isn’t discriminating. Most of us will be touched by it somewhere along the road. And we have the ability to change the tide. We don’t have to be therapists or medical doctors, or even super close amazing friends. All we have to do is bear a pizza and say,

“Hi.”

“This stinks.”

“I love you.”

“I still think you matter.”

People did minister and care for us in so many ways, I don’t want to dismiss that. I’m very thankful that so many people jumped right over awkward, weird, and scary and offered affection and care.

But sometimes, I think we just need to keep it simple.

Sometimes we need to know that it starts with a single pizza.

Hello my name is and genuine friendship

Friendship makes the world a better place. It’s a fact. Even Jesus calls us friend, rather than minion. Life is better with people to share it, to cry over it with, to laugh over it with, and to sometimes grumble over it with.

And Bible studies are always better with friends. Have any of you ever had the privilege of sitting around with a group of friends, laughing about toddler antics or teenage antics, crying over the weight of a loss, eating too much dessert, eyes wide open to discovering something new as God peels off another layer of our hard hearts and we start to see real and living changes in our lives.

It’s a thing. Maybe you’ve never had it. Maybe you’ve had a shadow of it and you want the real deal- gathering around the Word, eating together, giving grace for lessons missed and words unread, sharing mercy when someone admits they yell at their kids and someone else admits that they don’t really like their church. It’s an open place, with lots of sharing. There is truth to show us our sin and grace so that it doesn’t destroy us.

People around the Word in real and genuine love for one another creates actual life change. Marriages aren’t easier but they are stickier. Lives still have struggle, but it’s less lonely. Relationships aren’t perfect, but there is tender care, mended fences, and growth.

I want more places where my life looks more like…

real

genuine

authentic

growth

care

gathering

community.

And I don’t think it’s asking too much of one another.

Who is one other person in your life that you can share this kind of real friendship with?

Maybe they are close by, maybe you can sit around coffee and talk through a week of study together. Maybe they are far away and you can get creative and still sit around coffee and talk through a week of study together, or type through a week of study together, or text through a week of study together.

Our deep desire for friendship is from God. We were created for community, we need each other. And He will help us to create it together, someone takes the first step, and another comes along. That is His Spirit doing some of His best work, helping, comforting, connecting.

We start our Good Gifts study of the book of James on March 6th. Create your group now- in person, on Facebook, google hangouts, texting, whatever! Or invite just one friend to join you, invite one neighbor to join you, or invite one stranger to join you and start with step one of friendship- inviting them in.

Step 2 – let’s be genuine together. You will all be in my prayers as I write and plan this study, especially those of you struggling for friendship. I have been there. Walking that road is hard, but you aren’t alone. I hear from so many women seeking just one good friend. She may just be sitting next to you.

Let’s reach out and across.

“Hello my name is….Would you like to join me to study?”

 

Find out more information about joining our Good Gifts study at this link –

Good Gifts Study information