Refusing to struggle alone: We have a place

Once upon time I had a weird tropical illness known as Dengue Fever.

I could explain what it is, how it went down, and all that business, but the important information is that I was down and out for a good three months. First, it was very scary. Then, it was painful. Mostly, it was exhausting.

Have you ever had an ailment, an illness, even a heartbreak that left you weak, weary, and in need of help?

Paul has been there. Read Galatians 4:12-15 to find out more:

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Wow. That’s commitment.

We don’t know what Paul’s ailment was, and I think that is rather purposeful. God puts things in Scripture for a purpose, but He also leaves them out for just as much purpose, I believe.

Some of you have been there. Some of you are there every day with chronic pain, a current crisis, or an ongoing difficult relationship – an ailment is sometimes visible, and sometimes hidden way deep, underneath the layers of life, that only the individual can see.

I want to assure you that God sees. God knows.

In the context of Galatians 4, Paul uses the existence of his ailment and the prior relationship he had with the Galatians to remind them of who he is and the truth he speaks in, the gravity of the relationship that binds them together. Why should the Galatians believe Paul’s message of freedom over the Judaizers? In the early chapters of Galatians, Paul speaks to his authority given by God to proclaim truth, and here Paul speaks to the relationship of the Body of Christ that holds a certain weight in sharing the truth.

There is freedom in relationships that can share truth, isn’t there? Praise the Lord for the Body of Christ.

However, there is another layer of freedom here that I don’t want to miss:

We don’t have to struggle alone.

Yes, we live in this Body of Christ, the church on earth, and speak truth to each other, hear the truth of Christ’s sacrifice for us together, but we also struggle together.

Everyone has a place – weak, strong, in poverty and in wealth, in joy and in sorrow.

When I was sick, I couldn’t do anything, and so others did it for me. People took care of my kids, fed my husband, sat and read me magazines, prayed for me, and gave me hope. These may have seemed like small kindnesses, but they spoke great mercy into my life.

Paul honors what the Galatians have done for him, what kindness they have shown him –

and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me… (Galatians 4:14)

…if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:15)

It’s graphic and beautiful.

We so often think of the challenges of relationship, the dynamics of relationship that burden us in this imperfect life together. Here, Paul honors the freedom of giving our lives to one another, through the mercy found in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:13-16 speaks about God’s grace and mercy, and in that freedom, extending that grace out through our relationship with one another:

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 

God works freedom on the cross once and for all. God proclaims freedom to each of us day by day, in one another, through His Spirit alive and well in us.

We do not struggle alone. There is no scorn here. No shame, no “less than” in our weakness.

When we are weak, then He is strong.

This is not the way of the world, so we may need to proclaim it to one another daily, hourly, moment by moment –

“No struggling alone.”

“I’m here.”

“God is with us. Christ is with us.”

When a brother or sister feels the yoke of aloneness, we reach in and help them lift it off in the name of Christ.

In it together. All of it.


Discussion questions:

What ailments have you had in this life? What needs did you have and how did God help meet them?

When have you felt alone in the struggles of life?

When have you seen God work through the Body to reach more and more people through someone’s ailment or struggle?

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!

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?