Brothers, sisters, chief of sinners, jedi


I’ll let you in on a little secret: I have been waiting to talk about Star Wars for my entire blogger existence.

I own shirts, notebooks, and a waffle maker that express my vibrant love for all things dark side and light side. A friend mailed me Star Wars unmentionables this last weekend. I listen to various Star Wars podcasts and daydream about being a guest interviewee. People who visit our toy room frequently comment, “Wow, your kids like Star Wars.”

It’s true. We passed on the obsession. But don’t worry, we try to pass on more Jesus than Star Wars, so they’ll be ok. More importantly, today is the day, my friends – the day Star Wars and Bible study come together. (Can you hear my joy?!)

Why do we need Star Wars today? Because the Good Gift of We also has a truth that we cannot ignore…

Life together has a dark side.

James loves his brothers. Brotherly love and affection, does not mean the absence of truth. James doesn’t trade in hard truths for untruth. So, like James, let’s say it like it is. If life together has a dark side,

that dark side is personal judgement.

The world is filled to overflowing with judgement. We all have opinions and suggestions just waiting to be utilized. If we cannot share our judgements personally, we’ll gossip about them or throw them on the internet as a vague article share about parenting or politics.

James knows this. He also knows that without speaking in the language of we, no one will ever see their sin, much less their Savior.

Let’s see what James has to say about judging in James 4:10-12 –

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Let’s clarify – sharing truth in love is not the dark side.

James shares the truth in love all over the place. Judgement, however, is when we make our own rules, when we share our own opinions on life choices rather than God’s opinion from His Word, when we share them absent of love, or when we share them without a deep relationship that involves follow through and follow up.

Most of all, judgement is alive and well when we fail to recognize our own need for forgiveness. This is the humility he speaks of in verse 10.

James uses the term brothers so many times, not only because we are adopted sons in Christ Jesus or created sons of the Father, but because…

We are brothers in sin.

That sounds terrible, but it’s our earthly reality. We are imperfect. Our brother is imperfect. Our families are imperfect. Praise God we have a perfect Savior! Only by identifying together our state of imperfection can we begin to talk to one another about the things that matter most- with love, and kindness, affection, and humility.

We are brothers in need of a Savior.

It’s not that our sins are the same, but that our hearts are in the same condition. We NEED Jesus. We NEED Him in a way that we can only begin to fathom together.

Paul, like James, identifies the need to leave judgement out of our hands and into the Lord’s. Read 1 Timothy 1:13-16 –

…though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

Living life together helps us to see our own need, not our own superiority. Oh, His perfect patience, with me, with you, with we!

We are in this together, brothers and sisters, in this together. Chief of sinners though we be – forgiven, redeemed, set free. He walked out of the tomb so that we could help one another dance, walk, and hobble down the road, chains broken, lives restored.

Sinners together. Forgiven together. We have a Father of Light.

 

Discussion:

Where do you see personal judgement around you? What do you think people in our world and in our culture feel most judged for?

What language can we use when communicating our own sinfulness and how can this be helpful in confronting the sin of our brother or sister?

Who, in your life, needs to hear the message of sin and forgiveness today?

One tiny sinner, saved by Grace Alone…dressed as Boba Fett. 😉

Liberty, freedom, and the pursuit of Jesus

This week’s study is all about the good gift of liberty.

The good gift of freedom.

And I don’t know about you, but I could  use for a little more liberty, a little more wide open spaces, and a little less judgment in my own life.

So let freedom ring!

Let’s start by reading through James 2:8-13. Let’s look closer and deeper and embrace some freedom.

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Count how many instances that James writes the word law in the passage above. He’s not joking around. In this passage, James reminds us that the law is an actual thing, not to be ignored. It’s weighty. It’s to be taken seriously.

Our culture and world would have us ignore this. The world’s definition of freedom is in the absence of work, the absence of responsibility, the absence of caregiving.

The reality is that our attempts to throw off life, to break free from any and all expectations of us are the very shackles weighing us down, tripping us up, wrapping themselves around our feet until we fall flat on our foreheads like a clunky AT-AT pitching into cold snow and lying helpless on the ground.

God’s law isn’t the problem – do not murder, do not commit adultery, love the Lord your God – it’s not oppressive, too ancient, asking too much. The problem is that we try to find the answers in life by pursuing the law rather than pursuing the One it came from.

We think the law will solve our own problems, will solve the world’s problems. For instance, when someone treats us poorly, we gossip to someone else, we turn cold. That’s the law. When we’re confronted with poverty and the need for homes for thousands, millions of refugees, we become aggressive and angry instead of acting. That’s the law. When we have an argument with our spouse, we cast blame, vent to friends, and give the silent treatment. That’s the law. Their sin, our own sin sits like an elephant in the room, so we throw extra law around, extra “you’re not perfect” and “you messed up” around, hoping to get it off our backs.

Read James 2:10 again to zero in on truth.

We all have failed at the law, not just in one point, as James gently offers, but in So. Many. Ways.

We think freedom would come if we were just released from the law, released from serving and giving and loving and other people’s baggage.

In our relationships, we start listing flaws, listing the wrongs, listing inconveniences. We think it’s freeing, the complaining, the frustration, but it’s not. Now we have our own sin and guilt, and we’re also wearing the jacket of all the wrongs that everyone has done to us.

We want perfection from everyone around us, because otherwise we have to look at the reality that we ourselves are imperfect.

We are continually pursuing justice, but the pursuit of Jesus is so much better.

Perfection, whether in ourselves or in others, James reminds us, isn’t what the King of Kings asks for. That’s what the law asks for and the law is necessary. Murder does matter, injustice is important. God will call us out when we stomp on one another’s hearts and lives. But we forgot the rest of the expectations of God.

God expected to send Christ into the world.

God expected to give Him the load of expectation and action that we never could carry.

God expected to roll the stone away.

God expected to triumph. God expected for mercy to win.

And God’s expectations always win out.

James gives us a clearer picture of the law, a whole picture of the law, when it’s coupled with what God intended for it to be coupled with – the sweet Gospel grace of our Savior.

Our expectations, whether of ourselves or others, put our loaded and weighed down hearts in the grave. God’s expectations all point us to Christ Jesus, so we can embrace real and genuine freedom.

The law of liberty is being honest, knowing we can’t keep one bit of the law, so we look to Jesus every day, every hour, every second to fill in all our gaps and let His mercy reign. It makes us call out judgement when we see it and feel it and say,

No way!

Not invited.

You may be excused now.

It also keeps us kind, knowing that our neighbor sure and certainly cannot keep the law either. Christ reigns for them too. It makes us want to pass out mercy rather than hoarding it up for ourselves.

After all, what’s freedom if it’s not free.

They will fail us – friends, families, store clerks, church members, whoever – but that means mercy wins, and mercy is so much bigger and better than junky old expectations.

James spurs us on. He helps us to see how the law and the gospel piece together so we can speak and act as one who knows and believes in both.

I pray that today you can embrace a little more free – for yourself and for your neighbor.

Let that mercy reign. And when it’s hard, pursue Him more, run toward His throne.

Write John 8:36 somewhere you can see it, in the margin of your Bible, on your open palm, on a post-it note, anywhere. Let it remind you of the truth of Liberty today:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

Free indeed. Less judgement, more mercy. Mercy triumphs.

Discussion:

How is God’s mercy different from what the world offers us or expects from us?

How would you define mercy?

What expectations in life are you currently struggling with? How can you apply Christ’s mercy to each of them?

Fear and the Crazypants Cycle


Fear does funny things to us.

We once could look at life reasonably. We could hold discussions, share opinions, eat across the table from someone we disagreed with and not want to rip their head off.

But that’s anger, you say, not fear? Isn’t intent to harm, even when it’s deep inside us, never actually expressed- that’s anger?

No, no it is not, and it’s time to get honest about that. We are destroying one another, not because we are angry, but because we are afraid.

When I sit down at my computer, when I open my google plus tab, when I connect with my friends across miles and space, I see fear written all over the internet, and it makes us crazypants, which looks a whole lot like angry.

Let me introduce you to the crazypants cycle. I jest, but it’s real.

First, we are afraid.

We are afraid for our finances – will there be enough money? will I be able to make ends meet? will I have a job next month?

We are afraid for our marriages – will he still love me? do I make her happy? will we make it through the storm and the struggle?

We are afraid for our children – will a shooter come to their school? will they understand the values I try to pass on? is this world screwing them up? am I screwing them up?

We are afraid for our neighborhoods – if people look different, will I understand them? will they understand me? Different makes us uncomfortable, unsure.

We are afraid for our churches – where are all the people? what if we close? will our people hear the Gospel? will it change anything?

So many questions and so few answers. So much of life we don’t know, we don’t understand, we aren’t in control of. It’s scary. Life is scary. The world is a scary place, because this isn’t the way God intended it. Sin and divisiveness, hurtful words, selfish ambition, isn’t what we were created for. So we make assumptions, we jump to conclusions. We make accusations.

Enter anger.

We say things that should be said in person. We refuse to let someone disagree. We eat, sleep, and breathe this climate of anger until it sucks us in. We become unreasonable and we so desperately need to be right, that we become rude without noticing. We shift from speaking the truth in love to speaking the truth in rage.

And next, comes shame.

Words come out and relationships are affected in a way that “whoops” just can’t fix. So we crawl back under our original rock of fear, which was Satan’s original intent after all. Work done, he slinks under his own rock, slimy and satisfied.

But there is a solution to fear, which anger and crazypants can never give.

The Holy Spirit. 

He’s real. He’s a gift, left for us by a Savior that knew we would need Him like fish need water. He freely gives This Spirit in the waters of baptism. He welcomes the little children, the sojourner, the weary, and the weak, the disgusted, and the disgusting.

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Let us lay our fears down at the cross of Christ Jesus, instead of the mob of social media. Let us lift our prayers to Him like incense, rather than battle uphill to be heard.

He gives us His gifts in our anger, and He gives us His gifts in our shame. He gives us His gifts in our crazypants. He never treats us as less than. He doesn’t need us to be right. He just offers us Redeemed.

So let’s bust out. Let’s bust out of the Crazypants cycle. Let’s call fear what it is, so we can put on love and self-control.

No longer a spirit of fear. Crazypants no more.

 

Clergy and mental health

 

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Once upon a time, the world was perfect. There was no sin, no evil, no disappointment, no sorrow. That time, my friends, has been long gone.

I sat in my therapists office and let the question stuck in my throat for weeks on end, finally come tumbling out…

“But when will it get easier. I keep waiting for life to be easier.”

I knew life wasn’t made for easy. That even before sin in the world, easy wasn’t the goal.

So, why in the world was easy suddenly my goal?

Maybe because life had been hard, really hard. We had some junk. We had marriage junk, mental health junk, kid behavior junk, family junk. In fact, if there was a form of junk in existence, we probably had some connection with it. Or at least that’s how it felt.

I was ashamed. Deeply ashamed. Pastors were not supposed to have junk. Pastor’s wives were not supposed to have junk. Deaconesses weren’t supposed to have junk. Our families were not supposed to have junk spilling out our back pockets. We were supposed to hold it all together so that we could help other people with their junk. “Above reproach” in the depths of my mind, hidden from even myself, meant keeping it together, being above turmoil, above struggle…above the junk.

Then I opened my eyes.

This world- it’s been filled with junk since the tree in a garden and the fruit that changed everything. I am a part of that world. God, in fact, in John 17:15-17, asks me to hold on tight and walk fully immersed in this world bearing His Truth. Bearing His salvation.

You see, your pastor has some stuff. Every member of our church has some stuff. This is the world we live in, far from perfection, never easy, but full of people walking around bearing His salvation.

Above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2-6) isn’t in being the person without any junk, the pastor without any real life stuff to deal with, whether in himself, in his marriage, in his home, or in his family. It is about how we deal with those things. Do we ask for help? Do we take the time we need to get help? Do we avoid keeping secrets? Are we willing to take the risk to help our marriages and our families and our ministries, by admitting we have some stuff?

The devil loves destruction. Don’t for a minute pretend that he doesn’t want to eat us up and spit us out. He would love nothing more than for a church work family or even a whole congregation to implode because he convinced us to let darkness reign over the struggles of our lives.

1 Timothy 3:5 tells us – “…if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

How does he manage? By asking for help. By admitting that he’s not perfect and making sure he gets the help he needs.

There are certainly instances in which someone can not be a pastor, it isn’t the best choice for him, or the church. And we need to be honest when that is the case, but the majority of the time only good things come from church workers and their families seeing a counselor, getting needed medication, and placing boundaries around their time and energy.

Surprise – your pastor has some stuff, your deaconess has some stuff, your dce has some stuff, your children’s ministry person, your teachers, your youth director…all have stuff.

Let’s build one another up and normalize the act of getting of help, asking for what we need. How much more likely are our parishioners to come for care, confession, and counseling if we, ourselves, utilize what’s available to us?

Life is full of junk – God promises to make all of it beautiful in His time. He restores us with His salvation, not just for a place called heaven, but for His kingdom today. Anything we have, Jesus Christ can handle. Run to Him. Ask Him for help. Let the Church be the place that loves us unconditionally and helps us rise up from the ashes of whatever Satan throws at us.

Need resources or help with something? Send me an email. This is what I do and I’m happy to help. Brothers and sisters, I’m praying as we minister and reach this fallen world together.

Don’t praise a book by it’s cover…

Jyeva’s teacher told us this week about how our daughter just shines Jesus in everything she does.
 I think I’d like to be a little more like my daughter. 😉 
*photo created with the vrsly app

Session 4 –  Don’t praise a book by it’s cover…
My mama taught me early on that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover and that this rule goes for actual books, as well as people, and stuff you need to buy, and life situations, and all kinds of things.
I like to read. A lot. I love the new book shelf at the library. Glossy and perfectly hardcover marvelousness, but half the time I open the book and it’s slightly or mostly trashy, has all kinds of sexual verbage, some not-so-minor cursing, concealing a terribly undeveloped plot and weak characters. I sound really judgmental, authors, I apologize ahead of time.
The reality is, a glossy, shiny, clever book cover can not make a book worthwhile to read. Some books, I have even stopped reading before chapter one was finished.
We are like this too. We can be glossy in appearance. Maybe this looks like we actually put on our makeup, did our hair, or maybe we are seriously the woman who “has it all together” or speaks kind and tender things to the neighbor and checks on church members. We can recite the catechism. We want to sound good, look good, even feel like we know what we are talking about and look like we know what we are doing.
None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. In fact, most of what I listed above are really good and can be very genuine fruits of a life lived in mercy and grace. 
Romans 2:25-29 warns us, though that none of what it “looks like” matters:
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
I have the problem that I can set aside what it’s supposed to look like upfront and just be me in real life, but I often back track and lay in bed at night wondering what people think of me. Satan uses even my desire to share genuine faith as a torment for me to believe that this is what matters, whether people think I’m genuine!
It’s sounds a bit ridiculous, I know. So I rest in Truth.
“His praise is not from man but from God.”
God will do His work. His Spirit shines out whether my cover is dusty and struggling, “appears genuine”, or I’m having an all out good day. God’s praise is praise worthy. Men’s praise, man’s ideas of what I am or do or confess, not praiseworthy. In the words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it off.” Shake off what is outward, what people think and perceive of you. Focus on the heart, the One residing there. He is praiseworthy.
One day we will hear His praise of the life well lived in Him – “Well done good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 23:25) Be His Living Book. His is the praise that matters.
Discussion questions – What kind of praise and acclimation do you struggle with seeking? What praise or acclimation can you share about God’s work, 
a) as our savior on the cross and 
b) this work lived out in your life in the last week?