The wisdom default

When reformer, theologian, and pastor Martin Luther referenced the book of James early on in his ministry – he was not a fan. Some of us have heard that Luther went so far as to call it a “gospel of straw,” judging it difficult to swallow and lacking in gospel grace.

One of Luther’s complaints about the book, igniting the famous “straw” comments, was that he found the book of James to be disorganized. Sometimes when I sit drinking my coffee and reading James myself, I can almost envision James’s fire. If James appears jumpy at first glance, I think it’s because he’s worked up. The words of the Bible are Holy Spirit- inspired words. They also still contain the individuality of their writers. I bet, Luther, himself being a fiery man with plenty of spunk and spirit, began to appreciate this aspect of James’s work as well. In fact, Luther felt much differently about the book of James as he aged. My study Bible explains that the book grew on him, so to say. As he studied it and maybe even as he experienced more life, Luther began to see the law and gospel truth in James’s words

After studying James myself, I have also discovered that it is not as disorganized as it first appears. James talks about several subjects on repeat within the book, including generosity, steadfastness of faith, impartiality, testing and trials, freedom, taming the tongue and wisdom. All of the chapters in James reflect back on Chapter One. Chapter One is primarily about God’s character-

God is steadfast.

God is generous.

God is impartial.

God is wise.

We studied these aspects of God’s character in week one. Any time you are reading through James and you hear too much law, too much fire, the words seem too hard to choke down-flip back to James Chapter One. Rest in God’s perfection and be reminded that He gives us the Spirit. Jesus calls the Spirit “Helper” for a reason. We need some help! And we have it in a God who saves, a God who is wise, a God who is impartial, and all those other things James is trying to exhort us towards.

Today’s topic does not disappoint as far as James’s style goes. It contains some fire, but the conclusion of James’s words remind us that in honesty we see the law, the truth of our sin, but through that truth we get to the sweet, sweet Gospel of forgiveness, grace, and good fruit.

Let’s dive in.

Please read James 3:13-18. Underline or note any words with negative connotation as you read, words that seem like harsh truth or difficult things to deal with in a person.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James…he’s the friend you call when you need someone to tell it like it is.

Sometimes what we call wisdom is vile. It’s filled with our own ideas and ambitions. This is wisdom that is not directed by the Word of God. And goodness knows we have been culprits of that. When a friend asks for your advice, how do you dispense it? Do you offer to pray with them? Do you open the Bible and try to find answers with them?

It sounds so separated from what we usually do in this world that we may get a little embarrassed picturing it. It sounds cheesy to say to a friend,

“Have you looked in the Bible?”

“I’m wondering what God has to say about this problem?”

“One time, when I was struggling, Philippians 4 really helped me.”

We do it, we point to Christ, but for the most part it’s not our default. James has a new idea:

Let’s make the Word of God, the wisdom of God, our default.

James has some harsh words- vile, disordered, demonic even. Yikes. But wisdom does change lives and when we offer only what we know, what we think, what we want, that’s the devil working overtime. It’s sin and it’s selfish and it’s distraction.

What are gentle ways you share the Word with people who are seeking wisdom?

Double back to James 3:17 –

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

It’s pure- It’s God’s ideas I’m sharing, His wisdom, not polluted by my wants for my friend and this world’s suggestions.

It’s peaceable – it seeks peace, it’s not seeking anyone’s hurt, it isn’t ramped up to go for the jugular with vengeance.

It’s gentle – it talks nicely, with kindness, keeping the person’s individual needs in mind.

It’s open to reason – it can have a conversation. It understands that answers take time and seeking. It’s not offended by debate, especially when someone is angry or hurting.

It’s full of mercy – it gives space for frustration and mourning, it’s ready to give grace when it’s needed and even when it’s not asked for.

It’s impartial and sincere – it’s not for my good, or your good, or another friend’s good. It’s for His good, everyone’s good as children valued by God.

Wisdom isn’t easy. I almost cringe when someone asks for my thoughts or advice because I do it so poorly. I like my ideas, but I’m learning to let Him lead. I’m learning to open the Word in my own life and in life together with others, to share and grow and let His wisdom flow.

He knows so much better anyway. Wouldn’t you agree?

Discussion:

What do you think of the book of James so far?

If you could share any lesson from James Chapter One, of who God is, which would you share with someone and why?

What are ways that you bring God’s wisdom to the conversation when a friend or family member asks for advice?

How do you keep things peaceable, full of mercy, gentle, and/or open to reason in your conversations? Or what have you seen others do for this that you wish you could emulate?

Hope to see you tonight for Good Gifts Facebook Live – 8pm CST on the I Love My Shepherd Facebook page!

Wars and rumors of wars



Day 3 – Wars and rumors of wars

The idea of war is pretty frightening to me. I am blessed to have grown up in a generation without war. Desert Storm was the most heated conflict in my lifetime thus far. I remember going on vacation and coming back to sluggish brown water coming out of our taps. I was 12 and terrified that chemical warfare had arrived on our doorstep. My mom spent hours of her life soothing me with the lesson that a back up of minerals in our faucets and pipes after a long break can cause tinted water for a short time. Whew. I could sleep again.
What about war is at the heart of my fears, or dare I say our fears. I know I’m not the only one. It’s scary stuff and we’re not even living it right now. Killing, destruction, domination, fighting…all these words come to mind when I think of war. What comes to your mind? This may be an anxiety producing exercise, but I think it’s worth it. We need to be able to sit with the reality for just a little, in order for it to lose it’s grip on us. War is and will be a reality on this Earth. We are simply removed from it for a time.
Ecclesiastes 3:8 reminds us that there will be “a time for war, a time for peace.”
Jesus instructs us to be realistic in Matthew 24:1-13. It’s not a cheerful passage, but it is truth. And we can remind ourselves of who is speaking as we read it. An all powerful Savior. Picture Him speaking directly to you as you read below:
There will be wars and rumors of wars. There just will. This is the beginning of the birth pains.
Is it possible that, as Christians, we can praise the Lord even for this? For war?
We live with one foot in one world and one foot in another. I remember, on our honeymoon, we visited the Four Corners region. Every tourist was chomping at the bit, myself included, to have their picture taken with their feet in two “places” at once. Sisters, we already are! We live as eternal people, given eternal life now. We have one foot planted in the reaches of eternity, where time is endless, tears cease, and peace reigns. But we do not have two feet there. We are still called to live here, where fighting and wars are real, where people hurt and give pain. Ecclesiastes and Jesus’s words in Matthew remind us that all this junk is purposeful. It leads us to something…namely, Him.
There will be a time when we live with two feet firmly planted on completely restored soil. Our bodies whole and perfect. Our hearts and minds linked inexplicably with Him, in a way we only know in part now.
The beauty of studying the Hebrew is that we begin to see a little more of the fullness of God’s Word. I found two passages that I am just giddy to share. They share the same Hebrew root as the word for war in Ecclesiastes 3:8. Bask in the beauty of it with me.
Exodus 15:3 –
The Lord is a man of war;
    the Lord is his name. (ESV)
The Lord is a warrior;
    the Lord is his name. (NIV)

Psalm 24:8-
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle!

The Lord! The Lord is a warrior. He is mighty in battle. All the wars and rumors of wars that swirl around us. They are nothing to the victory that will be God’s Son revealed in majesty at the Restoration. He is so Good!
There is a time for war. The Bible tells us so, as much as we’d like to escape it. God tells us it is purposeful. It brings Him, in the flesh, reigning forever, that much closer to us. Until then we fight daily in the battle with Satan for the dear souls of those we love around us. Because he just doesn’t give up. But neither does our Savior, and He has a secret that Satan knows but won’t accept- He’s already won the victory.
I’m looking forward to that two-feet-one-place day. Oh imagine it! Until then…standing in the victory, when anxiety threatens, remember, the time for war – even this is in His hands.

Discussion questions:
What wars/conflicts or threats of wars do you remember in your lifespan?
What do you think the scariest part of war is for people?
How does knowing Jesus has already won the victory make the reality of war a different thing for us?

A God of waiting



Day 5 – A God of waiting


Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
    he will lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”

    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!

10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!

In this passage we are introduced to a psalmist waiting. Is this psalm also a pep talk for himself? For his men? Is it internal or external dialogue?

We don’t really know the occasion of the psalm, but we do know that it offers encouragement to the reader in distress and hardship. Matthew Henry’s Commentary references the encouragement to Hope in Him that others receive from the psalm, and implores the reader to “let our hearts be thus affected in singing the psalm.”

Encouragement in the waiting. I like that. I need that.

Are you in a season of waiting? What are you waiting for? Sometimes we know and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we can only see the season of waiting in hind sight. We look back and say, “Oh we were waiting! God was doing His thing and here we are.” At other times, we feel stuck in the waiting process. We can literally feel the waiting pressing in. We are acutely aware of something coming and God’s call to wait on Him, to sit with Him for this moment, to be still and wait.

Let’s look back at the psalm for understanding –
In verse 8, the dialogue between the psalmist and God is gorgeous!
God asks us to seek Him, we respond with the heart cry, “Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
There is an assurance in that dialogue. We can return to it over and over again.

Verse 9 has the psalmist asking “cast me not off!” This is a prayer for protection in the waiting. Protection from adversaries, from life’s troubles, from loneliness and anxiety. We also can pray for protection.

In verse 10, the author focuses on the promises of God –
O God of my salvation… (others have forsaken me)… the Lord will take me in.”

When have you felt forsaken by others? When have you felt misunderstood? When have you struggled with where you were placed for a certain time? God hears your heart and understands. God takes us in through the waters of Baptism and never lets go. He hears us. He never forsakes us.

In verse 13, the author proclaims, “I will look on the Lord in the land of the living…” Essentially, the psalmist tells us, no matter how this shakes out, we have hope, we can trust, we stand on the solid rock of Eternity.

And finally, verse 14. Wait for the Lord.
I firmly believe that God finds so much value in the waiting. That is so often where His work is done, in the deep places of our hearts. It takes courage, girls, but we have it in abundance from a resurrection God.

Remember the promise of our Heart verse:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16


Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, find mercy and help.
Help! We have help!

Keep approaching the throne, whether your season is challenging or ravishing, or wonderfully abundant, or lean and tight. God is in the waiting, He is God of the waiting. He invites us to rest in the waiting.

Discussion questions:
What is the hardest part for you about waiting?
What comes to mind when you picture God sitting on His throne of grace?
What would you like to ask God for help with today?