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!

The Good Gift of Peace

We are given a great amount of freedom in this life. Yesterday, we covered the freedom to be warm, to invite others in, to be in meaningful relationship rather than a loneliness vacuum. We also have the freedom to believe what we would believe, even in the face of very real oppression in some corners of the world. We have the freedom to dance in the face of trial, to laugh when evil rears its ugly little head, because we know a God who is bigger, who is smarter, and frankly who is better than any of it.

Knowing God doesn’t give us these freedoms; they were there all along. But knowing God introduces us to these freedoms, opens our eyes to the freedoms we would miss otherwise. Read 2 Corinthians 3:16-17 to see how this works.

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

The veil is removed. If you look further back in your Bible at 2 Corinthians 3:12, which tells us we get to be bold.

I love bold. Bold speaks my language. I’m good for a soapbox and a heated discussion.

James comes in, to remind us again, of the two sides to every coin. As Christians we don’t just see one side in life, in conversation, or in any given situation. The veil is removed.

We are free to see two sides.

For the purpose of our study today, let’s look at the two sides of the coin that can be found in our words –

We can speak boldness.

And we can speak peace.

Read James 3:2-12.

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

We all have some words. I know I have a few. Sometimes they’re helpful, sometimes they would be better off tucked away with my tongue against the side of my cheek, mouth closed.

Let’s connect some dots. Write James 3:18 out for yourself, or read it out loud.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

What does peace have to do with everything James talked about earlier in the passage? How is it connected to

a tongue setting the world ablaze

a ship of words that stays the course rather than being blown by the winds of time and raging emotion

words of sustenance for someone’s soul, rather than words of poison

tamed in the knowledge of the righteousness bestowed to every individual on the cross of Christ Jesus, rather than a rebel of selfish ambition, an animal that bites for attention and false affection

salt or fresh water?

fresh fruit or rotten?

James’s point isn’t that we will never be angry, that we will never go forth and proclaim the truth boldly.

Boldly go, friends. Boldly go.

But there are two sides to this coin. Even bold faith looks peaceable in Christ Jesus. The battle has been won. The victory claimed.

We just confess it.

Confessing is what helps us balance boldness and peace. We have a rudder, like James says. His name is Jesus. His Spirit guides our hearts and lives and, yes, our words.

Confessing is simply letting Christ guide, keeping Him at the center, considering in prayer before the words roll out – Dear Lord, help me find the boldness and help me find the peace, all in You.

Discussion:

Is your natural gift boldness or peace?

Can you tell us a time when you or someone you know had to speak boldly but peaceably?

Look back at James 3:2-12. Note any metaphors that James uses in this passage. He’s a word picture wiz. Isn’t it cool how God uses all our individual gifts to share His Spirit breathed message? The metaphors make hard truths, palatable. Which metaphor is the most helpful for you?

Publish, Bring, Sing, Comfort, Awake

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Do you have to wake anyone up in the morning? Is it one of your tasks to rustle someone from the solid sleep to up-and-at-them? This is part of my morning routine in this stage of life. I get up, exercise, shower, and then begin making my rounds.

Round One – attempted wake up of all people under the age of 15 in the house. Round One is usually successful for 1-2 children, most often my boys and I am convinced this is only because they like breakfast. Food please, immediately please.

Rounds Two and Three – these rounds are usually successful for waking one more child. Jyeva is a reluctant waker, but can be dressed and ready within five minutes. She is the sleepyhead shuffling to the restroom absentmindedly mumbling “Good Morning, Mom” as she closes the door.

Rounds 4, 5, 6, 7, and I-give-up are for my eldest. Mornings are not her strong suit. We used to bring her to school in her pajamas and tell her to get dressed in the van. She would comply, but the next morning was more of the same. Nothing we have ever done has motivated her to rise up from slumber earlier than absolutely necessary and we have been creative!

God gets creative with His people too. Let’s read Isaiah 52:1-2 and 7-8 –

Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.

In the space of a few verses God tries to wake up, to rouse His people with the topics of beautiful garments, circumcision…and feet. While these things seem to fit oddly together, they are all reminders of the covenant promise of our God, a reminder of who they are and what they were set apart for.

God wants His people to arise. My study Bible uses the term, “apparent unconcern” for where the people were at during the writing of Isaiah. We can find ourselves so entrenched in our own lives, our own struggle, our own busyness that we become content with sitting on the ground in the dust, just like them. Who wants a dusty life when we can have an awake one?

What does choosing to sit in the dust look like?

Sometimes it looks like apathy. Sometimes it looks like grief and pain. Sometimes it looks like the reaches of abuse inflicted by another person. Sometimes it looks like the weight of life and bills and decisions. It may look different for each of us, but each of our journey’s reflect this common thread…

God awakens our souls to Life.

Now, open your Bible to Psalm 57. Read the entire, life-giving Psalm, if you can. I will record verses 7-10 below –

My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
    Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.

11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
    Let your glory be over all the earth!

What are your circumstances? Where has the devil tempted you to sit in the dust? There have been times when God has let us sit, knowing we need a moment, but in Him, never in the dust. He invites us to truly Live.

You may hear “Awake!” as a command. What I hear is a God desperate to invite you in to the things that really matter.

Psalm 57 and Isaiah 52 fills us with the whole truth. Living looks a whole lot like getting up and going out. Raise your hand if you’re tired of apathetic. Raise your hand if you’re ready to go do life. Here is the invitation. The Spirit is in us. God gives us five ways to fight past complacency and ordinary in Isaiah 52:7-8. Let’s bullet point them. Choose one that God is calling you to embrace today:

We publish peace.

Maybe this looks like family communication, work communication, or mediating between the grouchy people around us. Maybe this means keeping your children from throwing each other under the bus. Our message of peace is something a hurting world needs. It looks like grace and forgiveness, instead of false security and broken promises. We can be the voice of peace in our households, in our workplaces, in our churches and our communities. We can honor one another by assuming the best of others and leaving stereotypes and generalizations at the door.

We bring good news!

I could use some good news. How about you? This world needs some good news. Good news starts with a little praise and thanksgiving in Psalm 57:9. We can share our thankfulness with God, but we can also share our thankfulness with others and bring some good into their lives. Send a note, share a meme, tell someone they matter. This good news is far too inconsistent and unexpected in people’s lives. We share LIFE when we share thanksgiving for and with one another. It is no mistake that we bring “good news of happiness”(Isaiah 52:7). You matter. You matter to me and to God. Can anything make us happier, more filled with life?

We publish salvation.

Someone needs our message of Love. Someone needs specifically the message of Loved Enough to Save. We have so many realms we can “publish” in – in person, over the phone, text messaging, on social media. Publish the message, friends. Publish this…

You are loved enough to Save. 

We sing for joy.

You can not stay asleep while singing. I’m pretty sure it’s a proven fact. One of my favorite ways to awaken my kids is by singing the song “Good Morning” from Singing in the Rain. A good show tune is always sure to arouse. They may grumble, but I know they secretly love it. Let the joy come out. Some days it will be more obvious and forth coming than others, but let it out. Rise and Shine and Give God the Glory, literally. His Joy is always knocking around in that soul of yours somewhere. He promises it as a gift unchanging, just let it out when it rises up.

We offer comfort.

I think this goes back to a world sitting in the dust.

How can we help? Who around you is desolate and hurting? As God tends to our own souls and we publish how that tending has changed everything that was black and grey and dusty into beauty and color, someone’s ears awaken within the Spirit and what they really hear is Life.

Morning may not be your jam, but Life certainly is. You were made for it, girls. You were picked up from the dust by His Salvation, His Love. Now it’s time to publish it. Don’t waste a day, don’t listen to the devil’s schemes of tuning out what matters for what is momentary.

Awaken and truly Live.

 

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Exploration:

Who has the hardest time getting out of bed in your house?

Which one of the 5 exhortations from Isaiah do you feel calling to you today – comfort, publish, peace, sing, or bring good news? Why that one?

What creative ways have you tried to awaken yourself or others spiritually, with the Spirit’s help?