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!

Welcome adulthood, send some wisdom please

Look for the link below to this James 1:5 printable, designed by Jennifer Tinkey. Print the word, post the Word, share the Word. :)
Look for the link below to this James 1:5 printable, designed by Jennifer Tinkey. Print the word, post the Word, share the Word.

Wisdom isn’t something we usually seek early on in life. We like smart. We’ll take that. Maybe some beauty, a little charisma. These are the desires of the young heart. Somewhere at about, “Oh goodness, I need to choose a college, a life path, a career plan, a spouse….” That’s when we start to look around for lady wisdom to walk alongside us on the path.

And oh do we need her! There are So. Many. Choices.

It’s easy to get weighed down by concern for our ability to ever make a “right” decision. We either let anxiety take its hold or we try to throw it off with a laissez faire approach – “Who cares! Bring it, world! YOLO! Whatever will be, will be.”

Our choices do matter, neither of these approaches work, and you all know it. You’ve tried them on, so have I. It’s not working.

God speaks plainly through James to give us another answer. There’s no lady wisdom, folks. Wisdom rests solely in the hands of our Creator, and He offers us a direct connection to where to find some answers.

Please read James 1:5-8:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

Unstable is pretty much how our world feels at any given moment. Our political climate is rougher than our lifetime has seen it, families are a mess, companies collapse. Everything around us is unstable. The last thing we desire to be is unstable.

Yesterday in our study we learned who is stable though, the Lord. He is steadfast, never changing. These things are related. God invites us to seek wisdom freely in verse 5, and it’s what our eyes are drawn to, the how of getting what we need. But the book of James looks at things a little differently, always showing us the Who of where it’s coming from.

When we know God, we know wisdom. The more firmly we plant our two feet in His arms and in His Word, we will begin to broaden our understanding. He is stable, and His wisdom is stable. He gives us His Spirit to work in our inner being. And wisdom works all the time in the everyday, not just the big world changing events, how we interact with others, how we lead, how we parent, where we spend our money, etc.

Let’s look at Luke 21 to understand who and what God is offering us. Please read Luke 21:10-18 if you have your Bibles available. I’ll highlight just verses 14 and 15 here:

14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.

Well, that’s risky, Jesus. “Settle it beforehand” not to create responses and ideas in our heads? This sounds like the opposite of wisdom! But it’s not, not when we are actively in a relationship with God. Double-mindedness and instability will never be our problem when we have our eyes fixed on Him. The disciples here were entering a time of serious persecution. I’m sure they wanted assurance and security more than ever, just like we do in our own lives. Jesus’s answer instead is…

Lean on me. Come to me. Meditate on me.

The decisions we need to make are just a distraction. They’ll get made as they need to get made.

The real substance is in knowing Who is Wise.

The world will not stop being crazy. Decisions won’t stop coming rapid-fire. Ah, adulting. It’s so fun. Said no one ever.

The only thing we can change is where we go with them. So often as I get older and maybe wiser, my prayers have changed from lots of words, to lots of frustration expressed, to now just open hands, palms up –

“Here you go, Lord. I have no idea, but I know You do.”

Hand it to Him, friends, and trust that the same Spirit Christ sent to light His disciples, literally on fire, is in You, ready to give wisdom at every turn.

Meditate on Him. Ask, sometimes with mouths closed, but heart open. Every Good and perfect gift is from above- including wisdom.

James 1:5 Printable

Discussion:

What do you need wisdom for currently?

What do you wish someone would have told you about being an adult? Would you have been able to hear them?

What wisdom would you share with someone going struggling with life, faith, or a decision?

Boundaries and margins and the in-between



Day 4 – Boundaries and margins and the in-between

Boundaries is kind of a buzz word at this point. My generation (guess how old I am! 😉 ) has been inundated since college with the lingo of boundaries. The trouble with boundaries is that they are pretty easy to talk about, slightly harder to define, and much harder to put into practice. My friend, Ali, reminded me of the newer terminology “margins” which is a little different from hard and fast boundaries.

Webster’s dictionary defines a boundary as:
something (such as a river, a fence, or an imaginary line) that shows where an area ends and another area begins
a point or limit that indicates where two things become different
Or boundaries: unofficial rules about what should not be done, limits that define acceptable behavior

Whereas, margins are defined as:
the part of a page that is above, below, or to the side of the printed part
the place where something (such as a piece of land) stops : the edge of something
an extra amount of something (such as time or space) that can be used if it is needed
a measure or degree of difference

Can you see the difference? Boundaries are something that you define very clearly. There is definitely a time for this. However, margins are a little less defined. They are important and create space between two people for healthy relationships to exist, but they are a little more fluid. Note that the definition for margin is a degree of difference. When we exist in relationship with others we have to constantly be evaluating what is healthy, what is godly, and what is simply not. Sometimes this is clear cut, and sometimes this is not so clear cut.

I think the Hebrew word that translates to “refrain from embracing” can help us understand this matter better. The Hebrew lirhoq can be translated to shun, to keep distance between, or to wholly abstain. The definition alone helps us to see that it isn’t always cut and dry. Sometimes we wholly abstain- we say no to a relationship, we walk away and don’t look back, we wipe the dust off our feet. Other times we need to put distance between us and our friend, family member or acquaintance. We need to refrain for a time until the relationship or those involved are in a different place. Sometimes our refraining is very short lived – a night, a day, even a moment, a conversation. Sometimes my husband and I need to walk away from one another for a period of time to cool off and come together again on a subject. Sometimes someone we care about has a season of wild living, like the prodigal son, and we have no choice but to wave as they walk down the road and pray for God to bring them back to us whole again.

How does the Bible speak of boundaries and margins? We could talk about this subject all day, but this is a blog, not a book. 😉
Let’s look at 3 margins that surely fits in our space here.

#1 – 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 tells us not to yoke ourselves with unbelievers.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.”

What exactly does this mean? I think you could find as many suggestions about this as there are commentaries, but I will tell you what I tell my youth…Jesus ate with tax collectors. Jesus ate with sinners. Jesus would eat with you and me in our darkest moments. But we are not Jesus. We have to understand what relationships we are capable of and still flourish and grow in our faith. We need to welcome, as well as know and understand our relationship with God in the context of our relationship with others. Marriage to an unbeliever, knowingly, willingly, with eyes wide open, let’s take that off the table right now. (Already married to an unbeliever, that is a different story, for a different conversation.) Absolute best friends in the universe, also off the table.

You can not share your entire heart and soul with someone who does not, in fact, share your Heart and Soul. Jesus is my everything. He is the air I breath and the Lord of my heart, my mind, and all my being. I can love you. I can eat with you. I can share with you. I can honor you as a friend, but there will always be those margins of faith and purpose and being between us because you do not know what I know. We do not seek the same things. We do not run to the same well in our desert places. That does not, does not mean, I do not value you and hold you in absolute high esteem.

#2 – Jesus did not pretend people were his friends who were not.

Banking off the first margin, Jesus responded to people in truth. He responded to the pharisees in truth. He responded to Pontius Pilate in truth. He responded to sinners like you and me, in truth. He never pretended to admire and seek relationship with someone whom wasn’t in it for an honest relationship. Neither was he hurtful, rude, or inconsiderate. Jesus embodied in flesh “speaking the truth in love.” Here’s an example in John 8:4-11 –

They said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

#3 – Jesus sometimes spent time with one person, sometimes with several people, sometimes with a crowd, and sometimes…with no one.

Jesus…so wise. To be honest this is an area that I struggle in everyday. I am reminded of the earlier portion of the 2 Corinthians 4 passage above (v. 11-13), about throwing open the doors of our hearts. I have often paid little attention to searching for motives and landed in heartache time and time again. It bites, sisters. It hurts to land face down on the ground because I went in with my eyes shut and gave everything I had to someone, instead of giving it all to Jesus and letting Him guide the way. When we open our hearts, there is surely risk. We will get hurt, but if we are consistently hurt, it’s time to check our margins, bring them to God in prayer and ask for some wisdom. He gives generously. He does! (James 1:5)

Also noted in this margin is that we need different sizes of relationship experiences. We need one-on-one conversations and we need group gatherings. Sometimes we even need the crowd (NYG anyone?! Higher Things?! Sunday Worship?!). We were created for not just supersize- life in the crowd – or mini-size. We were created for all of it…in it’s time. And sometimes, that means no one but us and God. Rest. A quiet place.
It’s hard to speak about boundaries and margins, because just like every other subject. I fail. I’m a sinner, desperately in need of a savior. But I do think the challenge is worth it. In Christ we are new every day, every moment, thanks to His mercies. We fall down and we get back up, by the strength of His outstretched hand.

Father, help us with our boundaries and our margins. Be in our relationships. Give us clarity and wisdom and love and generosity and Truth and understanding. You, Lord, are perfect and you are perfecting each of us everyday, just as we are perfectly holy under Your cross. Help us to live the empty tomb life, outside of shame weighing us down, but honoring you in freedom and in unabashed trust in Your Spirit. In Jesus name, by which we are saved. Amen.

Discussion questions:
What hard and fast boundaries do you think are important?
What margins do you try to maintain instead?
Discuss one person you have a hard time maintaining good boundaries with and why? (No need to use names.)

Scattering gifts…

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

                                                     1 Corinthians 12:14

One day during Holy Week, my children and I sat around the school table, talking about plant classification (exciting stuff!). Someone was probably lamenting the heavy burden placed on them by Mom, the homeschooling tyrant. Someone else was probably demanding a snack. 
 
My husband innocently pops his head in the door and sweetly says to me, “Hey, were you planning on singing for Easter? I’m just getting the bulletin organized.” I glanced up from my work, and I’m not sure the look on my face, but I know the turmoil inside –
      One more thing, Lord. Really. 
      How am I going to manage?
      Where is the time going to come from?
      Maybe I can practice while the noodles cook….
      No, I need to return that phone call.   
      How about during quiet reading time?
      I need to get Bible study ready for tomorrow. 
 
And so on and so on. We all have the internal dialogue. Mine tends to range from organized files to harried and discombobulated. 
 
My husband looked into my face and gently imparted timeless wisdom for every pastor’s wife –
            “You don’t have to use all your gifts at one time.”   
 
Good call, dear. I’m going to sit this song out. I’m going to praise the Lord on Easter morn from the pew. 
 
I so often want to seize every opportunity, meet every need, heal every hurting heart, but not only is that God’s job, I was placed in a body to serve together. A wise person once said, “A need does not constitute a calling.” Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming, so many hurting people, little things to be done here and there and everywhere. God knows. He has a plan. Even this is in His hands. Sometimes His plan for me is to say, “Thanks, but not this time.”
 
God gave each of us many gifts to use for His glory. I’m sure you have so many ways and places to use them. He is so creative with each of us! Rest in this, sister…
      Use them, bless with them, but remember –
      You don’t have to use them all at one time. 🙂 
 
 


The trouble with gossip

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible–and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. Ephesians 5:13  
            There is a dessert served in our area named the “sinfully delicious dessert.” I promise you, it is really delicious. It has crescent rolls involved, cream cheese, butter, cinnamon and sugar…need I say more. Yum! The name always took me aback, though. It always left me theologically contemplating over my dessert. Is it so fattening as to become sinful? Should I really eat something and enjoy it titled sinful? Why does its deliciousness exceed goodness so much that we deem it “sinful?” Tell me I’m not the only one who overthinks these things. Obviously, I eventually give up contemplation and dig into my dessert and enjoy the conversation around me.
            On the same note, one of my favorite nail polish brands is called Sinful Colors. I really like it, it lasts longer than regular store polish, it does have great color options available, but sinful? I don’t get it. What makes it sinful?
            Our culture is simply ok with sin. It’s normalized and even in the church we can become numb to the reality that sin is destructive and pervasive. It eats away not only at specific parts of our lives, but our hearts, and the space made by the Spirit for God to reside.
            I think gossip, is like my “sinfully delicious dessert” or my “sinful colors” nail polish. It’s the pretty sin. It’s just so stinking tempting. It makes me feel a little better. It may even bring me “friends” for a moment, willing to swap stories and share heartaches caused by others. I want people to desperately understand my struggle, but I need to be on guard that it doesn’t cause me to sin. Gossip is so tempting in the pastor’s wife world because we feel like we can’t be heard. Sometimes we just want to scream, “Is anyone listening? Did anyone notice I’m here?” and there are people who have wronged us. Most of us have had some kind of hurtful experience in the church, big or small.
            Ephesians 5:13 speaks to revealing sin for what it is. Sin, brought before God, i.e. “God this is so hard for me. This person really hurt me. I’m angry, I’m sad. I’m just so tired…” is now in the light. Exposed, it has no place in my heart, no power over my life. In fact, this verse tells us that the sin exposed is now a light itself, pointing others to mercy and grace. God promises to use our very struggle and turn it into ministry.
            Let’s paint on some new nail polish – “Colors of Amazing Grace”. May our lives and our speech be coated by Him. May my pretty little toes point to the change of Christ in me instead of being sinfully delicious in this world with enough sin already.