Casting Stones


3 years ago we went through one of the toughest seasons of our life.

I was angry. I was hurt and I was tired.

I turned to Scripture and demanded answers from God. What I got back wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t,

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

and it wasn’t,

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

These verses, and promises like them were helpful, but when someone shared them, I wanted to physically harm them. I didn’t struggle with why, I struggled with “What do you want from me, Lord?”

What brought me comfort was wisdom from a King, who was also struggling, who wanted answers to unanswerable questions, and found peace in laying it before God and honestly admitting,

“I am small. You are big. The answers aren’t mine. They’re Yours.”

I found hope in these three words…

A time to…

Ecclesiastes 3 introduces this idea –

God in His infinence gives meaning and purpose to every single month, day, hour, and year. I see good days and bad days. God see days that matter. I see storms and I see sunshine. I rue the storms and want to linger in the sunshine. What if God values both?

What if God sees difficult and declares it beautiful?

What if God loves me just as much when I’m shaking my fist, as He does when I’m lavishing Him with praise?

I wanted to know that this season wouldn’t be forever. That bottom of the pit wasn’t every darn day and that held was a real and true promise, not a made up radio song.

I found truth. I found the Savior’s affection. I found my joy again.

For one of the first times in my life I wanted to know who God really was, what He really valued and not the second-hand version I had settled for.

Then, I realized that my trial was a drop in an ocean of earthly trials. We all have them. We all have tears. We all have heartbreak. We all have triumph. We all have uncertainty. We all have times of wrestling. We all have times to build and times to break down.  We all have times to gather together, and times to cast away.

Casting Stones is my invitation to wrestle alongside, to open the Word and find truth in the trial and the triumph, as well as the ordinary day.

It has devotions for five days of study a week, questions for individual growth and discovery, or to discuss as a group, because community around the Word makes every day brighter and less daunting. Let’s cast together, let’s build up together, let’s wrestle together, let’s plant together.

Discover more by ordering through Amazon

Casting Stones Print or Kindle edition

or checking out our expanded resources on the Studies Available page.

Join us for study snippets by catching the archive on the I Love My Shepherd YouTube channel. (Prize opportunities through July 9, 2017!)

Casting Stones… we’re in this life together. Every triumph and joy, every affliction and sorrow, He is right there with us.

The patience of Job…or not so much

People who reference the patience of Job have clearly never read the book. Job is a man and, in being such, he only has so much patience. The book of Job is also quite a comfort for someone afflicted with just about anything, because Job was afflicted with just about everything. Let’s hear a little from our friend, Job, and then we’ll get to James.

Job 3:11-13 

“Why did I not die at birth,
    come out from the womb and expire?
12 Why did the knees receive me?
    Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?
13 For then I would have lain down and been quiet;
    I would have slept; then I would have been at rest…

Job 14:1-3

“Man who is born of a woman
    is few of days and full of trouble.
He comes out like a flower and withers;
    he flees like a shadow and continues not.
And do you open your eyes on such a one
    and bring me into judgment with you?

Job 23:2-4

“Today also my complaint is bitter;
    my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
    and fill my mouth with arguments.

This is me, slightly taking Job out of context and that’s not fair. Job vacillates back and forth, just like we do, between frustration and anger, understanding, angst, hope, asking questions, and jumping in with an answer too quickly. He’s a man, not a martyr. He’s a child of God, imperfect, but redeemed.

He’s not in the Bible because he was patient. He’s in the Bible because he was steadfast.

There’s a difference.

Let’s look at where James and Job meet in James 5:8-11. The first part of this passage overlaps where we left off in yesterday’s lesson.

You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

The Bible never said that Job wasn’t angry, didn’t have to confront ugly emotions, nor does it say he gave great answers for himself or his friends. He simply gave God an open place to work, and that’s what we can do as well.

“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…” 

We live an imperfect life with lots of bitter and lots of sweet. Steadfastness is holding fast, clinging to our Faithful Father through both. Job’s story gives us insight about how to cling when life is hard, as well as when it’s wonderful. Look up the following passages from Job and find what gifts God gives us to remain steadfast, even when we aren’t patient.

The Lord remains steadfast.

Job 10:11-13

You clothed me with skin and flesh,
    and knit me together with bones and sinews.
12 You have granted me life and steadfast love,
    and your care has preserved my spirit.
13 Yet these things you hid in your heart;
    I know that this was your purpose.

We read the Steadfast Word.

Job 23:10-12

But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
11 My foot has held fast to his steps;
    I have kept his way and have not turned aside.
12 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
    I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.
13 But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
    What he desires, that he does.  

We fix our eyes on Eternity, which is real and steadfast.

Job 19:25-27

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
    and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
    My heart faints within me!

We are given the steadfast Holy Spirit.

Job 27:2-4

“As God lives, who has taken away my right,
    and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter,
as long as my breath is in me,
    and the spirit of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
    and my tongue will not utter deceit.

Like Job, I say and will probably continue to say ridiculous things in my days, particularly on the hard ones, the bitter ones, and the sad ones, but the Holy Spirit gives me breath and life. God’s Word keeps me grounded, and His Son keeps me fixed on all those blessed tomorrows of Eternity with Him, rather than the struggle of a moment.

James turns our eyes to our Savior. Read James 5:11 one more time.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Job is mentioned once, but James draws our attention to the Lord by repeating His name twice.

The Lord has a purpose.

The Lord is compassionate.

The Lord is merciful.

Many, like Job, have gone before us that have been steadfast because the Lord is steadfast. Who in your life has lived with eternity steadfast on their heart and mind?

Today, consider them, consider Job, consider the prophets, and consider the Lord. In the bitter and in the sweet, our beautiful Savior is always there.

My slightly crooked Crown of Life

*image made with the retype app

My oldest daughter, Macee, and I are avid watchers of the Netflix original series, “The Crown”, which depicts the early reign of Queen Elizabeth II in 20th century England. It’s a lovely show with deep emotion and tenderness. It is careful to show many and various perspectives, but highlights that of a brand spanking new queen.

The queen at the time of the first season is young. Shockingly young almost, since in my entire lifetime I remember Queen Elizabeth as a classy lady of at least retirement age or older.  The young Queen has immediate responsibilities, expectations, budgets, and the needs of a nation. While this is just a show, it brings to mind all kinds of monarchs throughout time and the weight of the crown, any crown.

It sounds like a nice idea to be a princess, a queen, a king, royalty of any kind, but we would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t also think it was hard. A crown, even when ceremonial, bears with it the weight of a thousand and some expectations.

James tells us in James 1:12 that we also have a crown.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

But our crown isn’t a crown of expectation – heavy, overbearing, laden with the jewels of what we need to do and how. In order to understand the crown of life James references, we need to broaden our Scriptural vantage point. My study Bible encourages me to consider all of James 1 that leads into James 1:12, first. James 1, remember from week one of our study, is all about the faithfulness of God, the impartiality of our Savior, His wisdom, and His generosity. All those characteristics, James suggests, are first and only found in our Creator and Redeemer God, and then He shares them with us.

Listen to James 1:12 again…

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Christ Jesus remained steadfast under trial. He received the crown of life on Easter morning. He is Love itself and loved us first. But He never keeps it for Himself. That is not part of His character. I think this is part of James’s message-

God does not want to keep His gifts to Himself.

This week, we’ll settle on the gift He gives us called a Future. Today, that future comes to us as the crown of Life. Our crown can be gifted because of that particular crown worn on Good Friday.

Look at the following verses that use the same Greek word for crown – stephanon.

Matthew 27:29 – and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

John 19:5 – So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

Revelation 14:14 – Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

All these crowns are the same Greek word, although to us, they seem a million miles apart. Isn’t He so worthy? He took the crown that was full of the weight of death so that we could have life, and really, really LIVE.

Yes, we will have trial and fears, struggle and temptation, but we see life from a crown bearing perspective. The Queen on the show “The Crown” had to practice for weeks before her coronation. She walked halls and stairs wearing this gigantic crown on her head. It didn’t make her less Queen when it shifted to the right because she wasn’t an “expert” crown-wearer.

Neither are we. There are no experts at life and “winners” who receive this crown. We don’t get it because we lived our challenges better than the guy next to us – we receive it because it is a gift. Crowns, like crosses, occasionally “feel” heavy, but we have a Savior who says,

28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This is the crown of LIFE, after all. LIFE! The Greek word for life here – zoes – insinuates not just present life but a fuller life that includes the future. Every time we undergo trial, a deep and personal struggle or even a trial of the everyday variety, we remember our crowns and remember Whom it tells us we belong to. The crown has been won, the victory secured.

Straighten that crown, friend. Look to the future. God is already there. He has this day and every day before us under His care.

My crown may be slightly crooked, but it’s 100% secure.

 

Discussion:

What things happen in life that make you most aware of your crooked crown? (This is an imperfect metaphor, but what in life makes you very much aware that you are less than perfect?)

What burdens are you most thankful that Jesus carries for and with you in this life?

Read 1 Corinthians 9:25-26. How does knowing you have been given the crown of life in Jesus’s death and resurrection change the way you run the race?

The good fruit of correction


Not many of us like correction. When you were little were you timid and easily molded by your parents instruction or did you have a rebellious internal spirit, difficult to tame and lead, what Dr. Dobson would refer to as the “Strong Willed Child”? Maybe you were a mash up- delightful one minute but bullheaded.

Even if we were easily corrected as a child, no child really likes correction. Who loved a spanking or even a good talking to? Whether we cowered at our parents’ mention of time out or busted full throttle through a threat and on to serious discipline, the correction itself is not the part we liked so much as the satisfaction of independence.

As adults, we’re not much different. No one naturally likes a demerit at work, no one loves to be the one who receives a redo on a project, or a “honey, could you do such-and-such differently” at home. We might like the fruit of correction eventually – a promotion, better understanding, richer marriage communication – but criticism, even when it’s absolutely and wholly constructive, is not found on any of our lists of “Favorite Things”.

James has something to say about correction in James 4:5-10. First focus only on the center of this section and then we’ll zoom out. James 4:7-9:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

This is correction. A requirement to submit to the authority in charge, namely our mom or dad, our husbands, our teachers, our bosses, or our government leaders. Our internal spirit vacillates between relief that someone else is in charge and frustration that it’s not us. We like control, so submission, even in the most submissive of individuals, is a task of growth, best done intentionally.

Listen to James’s words – submit, humble, cleanse, purify. I’m reminded of just how hard it is to get my kids to remember to intentionally wash their hands after using the bathroom, much less the intentional work of submitting to my husband, even though he is kind of gentle, and to my government leaders when I rarely 100% agree with their ideas and laws.

But we submit to a Higher Authority first. Our big beef with correction when we get down to it, is that God is in charge and we are not. We like to choose our own path, direct our own ways and we simply were not made for that. James uses the best language imaginable for the type of submission that goes with correction in our relationship with God. Look back at James 4:8 –

Draw near to God…

Write it somewhere to remember it. If I were crazy (and I am) I would write it on my hand, or my foot, or the top of my knee, to remind me that relationship with God means bending said knee and bowing my pretty little head. It is submission and that’s important- He’s Holy and Mighty and Far Above. But God operates differently in relationship with Him than He does outside of relationship with Him. Submitting in relationship with God is drawing near, being held, and yes, being corrected.

Zoom out to the wider view of James 4:5-10. Read the whole passage below. If you have your Bible out, underline verses 5-6 to see the relationship that we are given with our Father through the Savior.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

He gives more grace…

That’s Who He is. He gives more grace. Correction is hard…

That pinprick of the conscience when we know we’ve done wrong

Opening our mouth for words of apology when we have spoken too harshly

Walking the hard road because we took our own way the first time around

Correction is hard.

But take heart! Correction by the Father is always delivered with grace. We can see the fruits of it through this lens.

Forgiveness can come in –

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Goodness comes in, completeness comes in  –

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.   2 Timothy 3:16

Rootedness comes in –

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved.          Proverbs 12:1,3

These are good fruits! God fruits.

James calls our laughter to be mourning and our joy to be gloom, but only because he knows that in that correction for a moment, we can see the light of Eternity forever.

We see our God clearer and closer. He’s right there, eyes in the back of His head, just like a Father, watching in tenderness.

He gives more grace…Draw near…

He’s ready to pick us up when we fall down, dust us off, and help us along as we journey the steep and the narrow, the wide and the open, always one day closer and nearer to Him.

 

Discussion:

What were you like as a child? How did you deal with correction?

Is there any particular instance of correction you remember growing up?

How has God corrected you in adulthood and when is a time you came through the correction, thankful for His guidance?

For every Lutheran teacher – Thank You!

Kindergarten is a big transition for any kid. For our littlest, it was an epic transition.

I’m not sure who was more scared- me or him. But, you know, some things in life you bite the big one and suck it up. You hold on to your hats and pack that Star Wars backpack and say jolly things like,

“It’ll be great!”

“You’ll make so many friends!”

“I hear there are markers, and snacks, and three recesses!”

You’re over-happy-words fall flat, receiving only the grouchy look of a 5-year-old barely containing his rage at a world that is too noisy, too scratchy, and just a lot of work.

Enter Ms. Tinkey, and Mr. Kumm, and Mrs. Leonard, and Mrs. Baer and all the people who make the world a better place to be, one child at a time.

Zeke wasn’t just unsure of new places and new faces. For him, this was torture. Going to a new place, having a new routine, was like signing up to listen to nails scraping down the walls of the chalkboard, the sound of dial up internet stinging your eardrums, every moment, every day for the first month and a half of school.

This is sensory overload on steroids.

And I came with my delightful checklist.

“So, he’s gluten free and we try to avoid food dyes, especially the red ones. Sorry.”

“He hates holding a pencil, so if there’s an assignment he can use a marker on sometimes, that helps a lot. Sorry.”

“Sometimes he just needs a moment. Or 12 moments. Or 42 moments. I’m so sorry.”

And to everything I recited, Ms. Tinkey smiled and said, “Yes! We can work on that!” with actual joy. Not just fake niceties, but compassion and perseverance shining through. You see, some kids don’t receive services or have special classrooms, but they need a little extra touch of care. Teachers and helpers throughout the building made it their personal mission to turn that scared, grouchy face into a smiling, happy boy, who wanted to be there. A smile, a high five, the ability to turn down a high five if desired, persistent affection…all these things go a long way for spectrum kids, indeed, for any kid.

This, my friends, is the Lutheran School difference. The staff at Zeke’s school don’t get up to teach and shape the world every day.

They get up to show Jesus to every child every day as well. 

I’m pretty sure that they get tired. I’m sure they get frustrated. I’m sure they wonder if it makes any difference at all.

This blog would simply like to say yes, yes it does.

Your work in reaching in to little hearts, to growing hearts, is vital for my family and for countless other families out there. The world is a better place not because you showed up to work, but because you showed up in their lives. You are woven into the fabric of who they are becoming as teachers and leaders and workers in the kingdom of God and the body of Christ.

You make an eternal mark by being you.

Thank you.

A special kindergarten teacher once taught us this fun little song, that fits perfectly here…

Keep loving on those kids. Keep supporting those families. Keep sharing Jesus. Keep being you.

Happy National Lutheran School’s Week!
*as always, no Zeke’s were hurt in the making of this blog. His permission was asked and granted to share his story.