No one sits in the corner: the gift of impartiality (Good Gifts 1:4)

“No one puts Baby in a corner.”

Maybe this makes me sound old, but I’ll lean on the world’s general love of cult classics. This line from the movie Dirty Dancing is familiar to many of our ears. If not, you can easily Google this reference and see it for yourself.

Often, life feels like that corner. We feel less than at work, at home, in our families, our communities, even at church. On our bad days our internal dialogue goes something like…

Do I matter?

Do I have anything worthwhile to contribute?

Would anyone miss me if I’m gone?

This pop culture staple maybe stays with us so well, not because Patrick Swayze was often found on “Teen Dream Boys” magazine, but because we ourselves want someone to reach out their hand and bring us out of the corner.

To feel special. To say, “You matter.”

The problem comes in that in our concern to be told that we matter, we end up seeking, “You matter…more.” In our sinfulness, we take it too far. We need other people to matter less in order for people to see our worth.

James hands us the mirror and says, “It’s not working for you.”

Read James 2:1-7 and see this struggle played out in the Christian church during the first century. They were sinners too, redeemed by the same God.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 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? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

James is going to have none of this sitting-in-a-corner business. First, he calls out the hearer for what he is, what we are. We are followers of Christ. Pay special attention to the words of verse one. Underline the words, “as you hold the faith” in your Bible, if you are willing.

Christ in us makes things different. Christ always shakes things up. We do not exist as the world exists because of Christ in us. We hold to Him, hold to faith in Him, rather than whatever praise or honor or lifting up the world would offer. It’s another kind of “fixing our eyes.”

Look further in at Hebrews 12:1-3 in the NIV translation to understand more of why holding to the faith changes our perspectives:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

It’s easy to lose heart, to feel like we’re sitting in a corner and no one notices. Jesus does. Jesus offers us the very best seat in His heart, as cheesy as it sounds, and so the other stuff, the need to be better than or higher than someone else, in order to be noticed, can be thrown off or as the ESV puts it, lain aside. You sit over here, selfish need of mine. You aren’t welcome to this party.

You see, if Jesus is invited, all that other junk isn’t, and isn’t needed. He fills in everything. He is the author and perfecter…Son of the good, good Father of all good gifts.

Now read James 1:9-11 to cement this idea, to help you hold the faith, rather than holding on to the titles or favors or specialness this world offers.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

We really are all just grass on this earth. We will perish in the blink of an eye. Whether we’re seen a beautiful, wonderful, the most fun, the it person of any event or time and space in history, it doesn’t matter. We’re the same in Christ.

Christ puts no one in a corner. He raises people up in His death and resurrection.

Who can we also raise up? How can we make a difference by holding the faith, rather than holding on to our own need for “special”? Christ is seated in the best place, so we can invite others to come near to His throne rather than taking a back seat.

No partiality, brothers and sisters. No one sitting in the corner. Christ rolls out the banquet feast and aren’t we blest to hand out the invitations?

 

 

Discussion:

What kind of things are you good at, have you received recognition for? We want to know! We all have skills and talents to share. (Remember, this is not shameful. Recognition is great! It’s when we need it for validation or when we diminish others that it is a problem.)

Can you remember a situation in which you wish someone would have noticed you? or you felt left out?

Who can you reach a hand out to and bring from the “corner”? Who in your life (or even a people group in the world) is God calling you to stand up for because they are getting the back seat?

Bonus work – How are wisdom and impartiality connected? Look into 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 and compare this passage to James 1:9-11 and 2:1-7.

 

The shock of generosity (Good Gifts 1:3)

Our youth have been known to do wild and crazy things. Zany really, not dangerous or concerning, more out of the box and unexpected.

One year, we were robbed of our Christmas caroling plans by a massive snow storm. We were bummed, but we found solace in hot cocoa, popcorn, and Christmas movies. Fast forward to Easter. We’re still bummed. Enter one of my finest ideas ever – Easter caroling! Not just any Easter caroling… Easter caroling at fast food restaurants to cashiers with Easter baskets of encouragement. Ta-da!

We were so jazzed. We practiced our Easter ditty, “Up, Up, Up, He Arose” four Sundays in a row, gathered our Easter goodies to share, and invited all our outgoing friends. We organized restaurant stops progressive dinner style and brought dollar bills to take full advantage of the value menus. McDonald’s was our first stop for side salads. We walked up to the cashier to order, asked if we could sing her a carol (no need to freak anyone out), sang her our tune, and offered up an Easter basket of Gospel and chocolate fun, sharing our thanks for her willingness to just be herself and taking our order.

The look on that woman’s face I will never forget. There were actual tears in her eyes. It was like Bob Barker and Drew Carey had called her down for the showcase showdown.

“For me?” she asked.

“Yes, for you.”

“Why?”

“Because, God loves you and we just wanted you to know.”

“But, there’s lots of stuff in here. Should I share it?”

“That’s up to you. But this basket’s for you. We wanted you to know that Jesus died and rose for you. Happy Easter!”

We are not freakishly generous people. We aren’t special messengers from God. We entered a McDonald’s and gave a gift. We did the same a Wendy’s and Taco Bell, and DQ and got many of the same responses.

People are surprised by even remote generosity. I think the idea of generosity almost makes us nervous in our current cultural context. What do people want from me in return? What will they expect from me? It brings up all our “I’m not worthy” instincts.

But we have a generous Father. He loved us first, He loves us more.

Generosity is a huge part of the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And what this generosity does may surprise us. Look at James 1:17 again and underline each instance of the word “every” in your Bible.

“Every good and every perfect gift…

Not some, not a few, but so many gifts…”every” says something. It says that God is generous of Himself. You’ll hear James talk again and again, throughout the book, about how we respond to this in the Spirit.

“Every” wells up in us and pours out to the world who could do with some “every”, because they’re so used to scarcely.

Now read on to James 1:19-27. My choice of this passage in illustrating generosity may surprise you, but bear with me.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

God generously shows us who we are in the mirror. He shows us both our sinfulness and our salvation. He shows us our beauty as His creation and the mark of the cross eternally etched in our forehead.

God’s generosity isn’t limited to love. He also gives honesty, sincerity, steadfastness, hope, joy, courage, and more…generously.

He generously gives us purpose, rather than a void. We hear the Word and then He generously gives us work to complete, vocations to fulfill, grace to be shared.

What kind of generosity is God pouring in you today? How might that reach out to others around you for His Kingdom?

Maybe it’s generosity of affection, generosity or discernment, generosity of care or kindness, or generosity of time. Let Him work in you. The implanted Word has saved you. Now let it reach out to every single person you meet, whether it’s your family and friends, or a cashier at the store.

They just might be the person who needs to see His generosity the most today.

Discussion:

When you look at yourself in the mirror, what do you see that tells you what a generous God we have? (This may be a physical feature, something special about yourself, or a theological truth that serves as a good reminder.)

What kind of generosity are you most aware of God giving you in this season of your life?

Who is someone you feel called to share a touch more generosity with today?

Create your own post-it note truth of God’s generosity to place somewhere you can see today and/share the message of the meme below on social media or anywhere.

 

 

Welcome adulthood, send some wisdom please (Good Gifts 1:2)

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.

EPSON MFP image

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?