The Good Gift of We

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I can hardly believe that we are on week five of six in our study of James! Way to power through some tough Law, some meaty Gospel, and some wrestling in integrating the two.

This week we’ll focus on relationship, one of my very favorite topics.

We were made for relationship and I think you’ll see that this is something James knew and understood well. More than that, he valued relationship. He saw the church as a life lived in community, hearing and doing the Word together, reaching out to pray with one another, intentionally using words that cared for the soul, as well as the mind, and sharpening one another through all kinds of storms – illness, poverty, abundance, trial, suffering, you name it.

James talks relationship with Eternity in mind. I think he would second the thoughts of the Apostle John, found in 1 John 4:19 –

We love because he first loved us.

Let’s look at the theme verse of our study again to see the connection. James 1:16-18 –

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

“Beloved brothers…”

What a beautiful phrase! James centers that phrase around a good, good Father. Our relationship as brothers isn’t just as people living next to one another, attending church next to one another, or even sitting in struggle next to one another. Our relationship is firmly planted in the simple but full fact that we are children of the same Father. Human kind was made and Created by a Father who loves. We are children of His love. In the church, this is doubly so- we are adopted children, a family held together by His love (Galatians 4:7-9, Romans 8:15, 1 John 3:1-2). We are…

Brothers once through creation.
Brothers twice through our adoption as sons in Christ Jesus.

James took “beloved brothers” seriously. His genuineness comes through when you look throughout the book and discover the sheer quantity of times he refers to his listener as brother.

Here’s a fun challenge – read through the book of James as one coherent letter. Note every time he uses the term brother, either on a separate piece of paper, or by underlining/highlighting. I’ll highlight a few passages here.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger – James 1:19 

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? – James 2:5

Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. – James 3:12

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. – James 4:11

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. – James 5:19-20

Those are just a few examples, and you might have noted that there is at least one for every chapter. James knows a secret of communicating the message of hope –

if we want to be heard, the relationship matters.

This isn’t manipulative; this is aware. I think it just flowed out of James’s pen as an honest statement of unity. Notice how he couples the term with the endearment beloved. These are people he knows, not obscure people he’s addressing in a speech. By calling them brothers, he reminds them of the covenant relationship they hold under their relationship with God. Beloved speaks of life and love, of holding one another’s hand in the storm, of “in it together” rather than shame and pointing fingers.

In Paul’s writings you will find similar language. Slide on over to biblegateway.com and input the term brothers in the search field at the top. Now scroll down and identify how often brothers is used in Scripture as a whole. How many times do you see it in the Paul’s letters – Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians, Philippians, etc.? Wow! That’s a lot of brotherly affection.

We are in this together, brothers and sisters. James knew it. Paul knew it. We know it. How are we living it? What does life together look like?

Partly, it just is. We can’t change our relationship. We are affected by one another, by our words, our actions, our choices, because it’s how God made us. But I think part of what Jesus refers to as the abundant life, what He came to give us (John 10:10), is the knowledge of just how beautiful life as brothers can be.

Unity isn’t perfection of communication and thoughts synced. It’s love. It’s noticing. It’s life lived together instead of ships passing in the night.

Lord, use us, in the power of Your Spirit, to be true brothers and sisters to those around us. Give us strength in the drama and the mess, to invite others in, to seek, give care, and affection. You, Lord, are our brother. We hold fast to that Word of truth in all we say and do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Discussion:

Meditate on Psalm 133. It’s short and sweet.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

Consider – who do you dwell with in life together? Who is in your circle of brothers and sisters in creation and through Christ? Let’s lift them up together in prayer.

 

To our friends and our church family on Moving Eve

Packing up over a decade of your life into boxes with tape and marked with sharpies seems oversimplified. Staring out at the sea of boxes you wonder where all those years flew by, where you put all the meals and all the laughter, all those shared tears, and the days that seemed to be to mediocre to remember before, but now you feel desperate to never forget.

You can’t box up twelve years of your life. You can only box up possessions: photos, a few greeting cards, a special coffee mug, little pieces of memories of a life shared together.

You can’t box up people and take them with you. I promise you that if this were a possibility I would have duct taped and labeled more than a few individuals with a tag that said “Living Room: friends, must enjoy more often!”

So, instead as we transition to something new, a new day, a new challenge, a new journey, I will only say these few words for our church and our friends. We have lived life well together, in close proximity, and we will live a life well, though there be miles between.

First, Love one another.

Not just love a little. It’s so tempting.

It’s so tempting to show care and concern and stop short of deep and meaningful love. This Love is wonderful and painful. We avoid it because it means knitting little pieces of ourself into others and they into us. The stitching involves recognizing where we have failed, where we are imperfect. It means confession and forgiveness, recognizing what they know and do better than us, and rejoicing that we don’t know everything, that we need one another.

Loving also means listening, really listening. I do this utterly imperfectly. I like my words, but every day I learn a little more what it means to listen to understand rather listen to be heard. By listening, we hear who people really are, not who we think they are, or who we’d like them to be. This is Christ’s perfect love for us in action. While we were still sinners, He walked among us, loved wholeheartedly, and chose the cross rather than losing us in eternity.

Second, be kind.

In 12+ years of ministry I am shocked by the absolute care and affection that God shares through His people. Our body of believers in our local congregation and communities really is family. We have been cared for and loved on and have been blessed to share in life’s greatest moments of joy and sorrow with you all.

That said, I am also shocked by people’s ability to say hurtful things. The human person’s desperation that runs so deep as to destroy another standing right in front of them. Speak well of each other. Speak well to one another. Please speak well of us as we leave. Speak well of the next pastor and their family. We’re all in this together. Those outside the Church on Earth do not know what they are missing in this beautiful Family of God, but they will never know if we only show them our grouchies. Be kind.

And lastly, invite one another in.

It’s so tempting to be private. To keep our dark stuff and our hard stuff to ourselves, and even life’s everyday joys tucked in. If we don’t share, then it might be less embarrassing, less intimidating, but guess what, life doesn’t actually hurt any less. It hurts more. We were intended to share the burden. To walk together. Don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with the person sitting next to you, share it with your pastor, share it with your sister. Going it alone works for a very little while, but if we had known the struggles and gifts and joys that we know after twelve years with one another, imagine what God could do with that! It robs each of us of time and energy, hiding our best and our worst selves.

Let people know you are hurting, you’re sick, or you’re disappointed, in your family, at your work, at church. Don’t hold it all in. Don’t try to manage. This, my friends, this is what the family of God is for – confession, forgiveness, life together, life testifying where in the world Christ is at in the middle of it all, with and for one another.

If I could pack you all up with me, I would. If I could have all those I love in one small commune in the middle of the cornfields, with Ohio sunsets and Nebraska hills, I would. But He has other plans, so I will embrace them wholeheartedly, when it hurts, and when it’s good…and when it’s all of the above, boxed together, closed with packing tape, and marked up with a sharpie.

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.