What does friendship with God look like?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has long been the standard for understanding human needs. From the basics of life – water, food, shelter, safety – to the needs higher up the pyramid – love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. I have been encouraged to see some amount of research across recent years that acknowledges a flaw in this concept. Maslow’s hierarchy is useful but, like everything made by the hands of man, imperfect.

We may not be able to survive without food, but, to some extent, what kind of survival is that without connection, without someone to share it with, without friendship? We know as Christians – connection matters most and it is basic to our survival.

When we worked with a feeding program as part of the holistic mission of Ministry in Mission in Haiti, the children didn’t just come for the food and juice. They came to be loved on. They came to sing songs together and to see what Hope looks like from people who shared Jesus with them, and to share hope with one another. I’m positive they would have shown up without the food offered, because connection is just as much what they needed. And it’s true for each and every one of us. Why?

Because we were created by a Good Good Father for connection with Him above all else.

We mostly think of friendship and connection within the horizontal realm, in our friendships with one another. What we believe about God, that vertical friendship, affects how we believe, think, and we act in our friendships with one another. Why? Because He created friendship, and He created everything to be shared in relationship with Him, never apart from Him. So, if we want quality friendships with one another, we need to understand our friendship with God first.

For this, James sheds a little light on the subject. Let’s open to James 2. If you have your Bible out, please take a minute to read the entire chapter for a fuller context. Here, let’s look at James 2:1 alone –

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Impartiality is founded in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Friendship is just that, offering impartiality, offering safety and care, extending the hand of fellowship enough to know someone more and to say,

“You too?!”

“Tell me more.”

“You are worthy of time and energy.”

Jesus Himself identifies the root of our friendship with both God and one another as His work and His Word active in our lives, through His sacrifice. Read John 15:12-15-

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

James points us to more. Read James 2:19-23

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God.

Even the demons believe -Yikes! We don’t just have belief; we have friendship with God in Christ. Praises! Abraham’s story is rich and full in the Old Testament, but let’s look at just a piece of it. In Genesis 18, Abraham was blessed to meet with God. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the benefit of His Word available to us daily, we also can meet with Him at any moment, every day. We could easily only hear James’s recurring phrase “Faith without works, faith without works, faith without works…” in our head, but the “works” can easily be summed up in this – relationship.

Read Genesis 18:1-15 and see what kind of relationship God offers us, now through His means of grace, as He offered it to Abraham so many years ago.

The Lord visits us

Genesis 18: 1-5 –

And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

Just as God did not find it offensive to visit Abraham’s tent, partake of Abraham’s food, and rest in Abraham’s company, so He does with us. We need only open His Word, or share around the Word with His people to be visited by the Most High God. He, in fact, wants to visit with us, makes time for us, and invites us to His table to share His meal with Him.

We converse with God

Genesis 18:9-15 –

They said to him, “Where is Sarah your wife?” And he said, “She is in the tent.” 10 The Lord said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him. 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied it, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “No, but you did laugh.”

I LOVE this exchange. It tells me that I don’t have to have it all together to meet with God. It tells me that He’ll straighten me out in His Truth and His Love. He welcomes me to the conversation for the delight of relationship, and in Him I find restoration for my soul.

We are given great and precious promises

More on these promises tomorrow. But for now, look at what Abraham and Sarah received! Surely we would list the seed which is Christ Jesus, promised near those oak trees long ago, but goodness the promise of the conversation alone is notable.

Come, Lord Jesus. Eat our food. Be our Guest. Rest in our homes with us. Recline at our tables in Your open Word. Make full our hearts and lives in conversation and friendships centered on you.

I am a friend of God.

You are a friend of God.

Discussion:

What is the most inviting or caring thing a friend has ever done for you?

What qualities do you look for in solid friendship?

How does God fulfill all the qualities of friendship we could ever desire?

Bonus for fun and connection: What would you serve the Lord if he came for dinner? Give us your favorite food or best recipe!

 

Notes:

*Ministry in Mission has Easter crosses, designed and handmade by Haitian artisans. Funding raised goes to support the very feeding program I spoke of. Check them out at this link…

Ministry In Mission – Feed The Orphans – Buy a Cross

*For more on the challenge to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, see this helpful overview by Forbes.

 

The Good Gift of We

This photo is from the pexels.com image library. Thank you, pexels!


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.

 

Fattened Hearts and Faithful Lives

In this week’s video lesson we examine James 5:1-6 and dig into what makes for a fattened heart in our relationship with God and one another. We are imperfect believers in an imperfect world, but He is an ever Faithful and Perfect Father with Good Gifts for us! We also bounce around Scripture to discover God’s gift of a wide open heart through our Lord and Savior.

What gifts does He give us for stretching our hearts wide open for Christ Jesus?

11 We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

2 Corinthians 6:11-13


Share this graphic or download the image as a phone wallpaper. Let’s pray this prayer together- Lord, open wide our hearts for You and Your people.

Video notes:

James 5:5 – “You have fattened your hearts…” Greek notes: http://biblehub.com/greek/5142.htm

James 5:6 – “He does not resist you.” Greek notes: http://biblehub.com/greek/498.htm

2 Corinthians 6:11 “our heart is open wide…” Greek notes: http://biblehub.com/greek/4115.htm

 

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.

What did God really promise me?


We are so much like little children when it comes to God.

We want what we want, how we want it, when we want it.

No? No? It’s just me?

I sincerely doubt it. I’m old enough, with enough grey hair, to look out at our culture and see our expectations of God are out of control. We don’t want a fire-and-brimstone God, one who judges our thoughts and actions, but we also don’t want a God who lets the sins of the murderer slide. We want Him to intervene, but we also want Him to leave well enough alone. We want Him to fix things in our lives, but we want to be absolutely in charge of our own lives. Can you see these ideas play out in the culture around you?

James, again, wants us to have a congruent picture of God, as well as a congruent walk of faith. He’s very concerned with who God really is, according to Scripture, not our changing pictures of Him.

In James chapter 5, he addresses the subject of promises – the things we hold God to, what we want from Him, what we expect from Him. In just two short verses, James turns our God-in-a-box ideas upside down and inside out.

Instead of looking inward at our own ideas and suggestions, James reminds us that our eyes, thoughts, ideas, and trust are firmly fixed on eternity in Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit living in us.

Read James 5:7-8 –

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

So, what does God promise? Let’s sit on that for a minute. What promises does He make to us? List some in your head or on paper.

He promises us – He values us (Luke 12:6-7).

He promises us – He loves us (Romans 8:38-39).

He promises us – He is patient with us (2 Peter 3:9).

He promises us hope, a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

James 5 in my Bible begins with the subheading, “Warning to the Rich” and then another subheading “Patience in Suffering” before James 5:7-8. Subheadings are helpful, but remember, they are uninspired. They can play mental mind tricks and cause us to see the passage as two separate pieces instead of one letter. For our purposes today read through James 5:1-10 as one segment, forgetting the subheadings, and answer the questions that follow for yourself:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you.Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 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.

What does richness or wealth have to do with patience or impatience?

What grumbling may come against our brother because of wealth of any kind?

What did the prophets fight for in the name of the Lord and what does that have to do with patience? What does it have to do with wealth?

I can’t say it enough- in this world we like stuff. We value stuff. Because of that, even if we’re not really “stuff” people, we want stuff from God and we inadvertently hold Him to promises He never made. 

We look at our neighbors’ house and think – “Well, God, they have nicer things. Why, God? What’s wrong with me, God? I’m faithful.”

We look at our neighbors’ family and think – “Well, God, their children are well behaved. Why, God? What’s wrong with me, God? I follow You.”

We look at our neighbors’ lives and think, “They have it so much easier. Where’s the burden, Lord? Where’s the struggle? Why me, God? You are giving me less.”

These sound harsh, but the internal dialogue down deep helps us to understand our need for Jesus.

God promised Jesus.

End of sentence. All His promises (and there are many) could be wrapped up into that one sentence.

God promised Jesus.

No matter what else we want from Him, this is the promise that everything else clings to.

If we look deep down at what we want from God and don’t come up with Jesus, or something related to Jesus, it was never really promised to begin with.

James 5:8 tells us simply and eloquently –

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Jesus is the promise.

In the struggle, I see Jesus tend to me. He is at hand.

In the abundance, I see Jesus’ overflowing love. He is at hand.

In the early rains, I see Jesus’ plans spring up. He is at hand.

In the late rains, I see Jesus’ perseverance and pursuit of me. He is at hand.

What promises are you asking of God today? Hold them out before Him. Ask yourself, ask God in prayer,

Is this about Jesus?

If not, it’s secondary. It wasn’t promised to begin with. It’s not eternity; it’s just now. It may happen, but it doesn’t have to happen, and our awareness of eternity brings patience.

I’m holding God to His promises with you, friends!

Lord, in Your Spirit, give us forgiveness, and always, always give us Jesus. Amen.




Discussion:

What promises of God can you recall from Scripture?

What promises do people hold God to that are not about Jesus?

What prayer requests do you have and how can you apply the question, “Is this about Jesus?” in those?