About 10 years ago my husband and I were asked to lead a church Bible study. As these things go it wasn’t because we were so knowledgeable, it was because we were warm bodies. They said we weren’t to be teachers of the study, just facilitators. They always say that. But you and I both know a good Bible study group has a leader that can dig deeper, draw people out into discussions, and glean insight in topics. True to my character, I jumped in with both feet attempting to educate myself better on each topic that arose. I found the key, however, when in these situations was to 1) identify the people in the group who were more knowledgeable and 2) know when to say “I have no idea.” Fast forward to today. Even right now, as I write this, I fear saying the wrong thing because I realize I’m no “esteemed theologian.” But I do know I have the mind of Christ (2Cor 2:16).
As usual for my morning routine I got up that morning the first of July, did a couple devotionals, and took my dog for a walk. We were about four months into the Covid lockdown. I was leading a small Bible study with friends, and in the midst of a Boldness Challenge in which I had invited about 20 people to participate. The challenge was coming to an end in a few weeks. As I listened to my Christian music on my walk and doing some silent praying, I heard Him speak. “Go home right now and start a blog.” Seriously. Starting a blog hadn’t been on my radar. I enjoyed just conversing with folks in my small sphere. But, feeling challenged by God, I walked in the door, sat down at my computer and typed, “best platforms to start a blog.” Within the hour I had created Emboldened. I invited all my Bold Challenge buddies and a few more to follow the blog. I started praying to the Almighty about what He wanted me to say. In these situations, I typically find myself praying, “Whelp, this was your idea. Now what?”
When I hit 200 visitors from about 10 different countries, I had a revelation. “Oh crud. I have just opened myself up to judgement on a whole new scale.” I told my Bible study girls that while it was cool it was also terrifying. Cool because I’m using a number of my God-given gifts to reach people around the world. Terrifying because I might slip up in my theology and harsh words will rain down.
I wonder if that’s why so many of us are fearful about speaking up when talking about our faith? Maybe we will be questioned and won’t know the answer. Or worse yet, we might get something wrong and be harshly judged? But God. That’s what a fellow blogger wrote in one of my comments last week. But God. That statement works so well in so many situations. We were talking about God’s mercy. But if I truly trust God and the direction He has set in front of me, He will guide my words to be His Words. He will take my failings and trials and make them good. I don’t believe James is discouraging us to be teachers. He’s letting us know we need to be prepared to speak the truth of God’s Word and in doing so we will face opposition, sometimes very cruel opposition.
There’s only one person that was perfect – Jesus. I find comfort in knowing that every single person from C.S Lewis to Charles Spurgeon and Peter to Paul and Joyce Meyer to Rick Warren stumble. We all stumble. But think of stumbling this way – it is a result of walking forward and not watching where we are going. James 3 is about stumbling and refocusing our eyes on God. When we don’t watch our tongue, when we envy others we stumble. But when we re-focus on God we find ourselves making peace with the most unlikely people and submitting ourselves fully.
I’m glad you are on this journey with me. When I stumble help me up and I will help you too. No judgement, just a loving hand.
When my youngest daughter began her college search 6 years ago she was determined to go somewhere far away from home. Her preference was to play field hockey on the east coast. After visiting six states and six colleges in the course of five days we still didn’t land on the perfect place. And then out of the blue she got a call from a school in Missouri who wanted to recruit her. Her reaction, “no way am I going to school in the Midwest.” After a solo visit to the school and the team she changed her mind. She loved it. Set on the banks of the Missouri river, just 20 minutes from St. Louis is St. Charles. It’s a quaint town mostly known for being the starting point for Lewis and Clark. The school, Lindenwood University, fit all our requirements. It also was a Presbyterian founded school. Sitting on the board was the pastor for the large, local Presbyterian church.
The weekend she moved in I took a trip over to that local Presbyterian church. It shared a fence with the university. I asked to speak with the pastor and see what programs they had in conjunction with the school. As I spoke with his secretary, he could see me from his open office door. He could hear me speaking to her. He never got up from his desk. In fact, the answer to my question about the partnership with the university students brought a blank stare. I asked what mission projects they do in St. Louis, and again I got a blank stare. My heart broke. Here was a large church, founded in 1818, and 1952 it formed a partnership with the college. About 68 years later it has failed the thousands of students that pass through the college each year.
Why tell this tale? James admonishes us to love our neighbors, not pass judgement without mercy, and to show our faith with deeds. And yet this large church found it difficult to do all of these. They were stuck in the success they already had and lost focus on their purpose – to always be bringing new people to Christ. Like so many churches they waited to see who would show up for church. The secretary told me they had once tried a Sunday evening worship designed for the students but hardly anyone came. So, they gave up. I asked her, “Did you try going to them?” Another blank stare.
James 1 and 2 are all about shaking us awake. Pleading with us to be “doing Christians” rather than pew-sitting Christians. Real justification – a saved life – leads to a changed life. He reminds us that serving our Lord may make us uncomfortable when we invite the poor or unknown to sit next to us. He also points out that the rich or those we show favoritism to frequently are the ones that treat us the worst.
A poor, lonely college student would jump at the chance for a free meal at a campus BBQ or an invite to dinner into someone’s home. They don’t have much to offer us, except their company. They might not look like us, talk like us, or believe exactly like us. They probably won’t find their way to a church by themselves. The mere act of reaching outward and being a friendly face to those who don’t feel comfortable walking into our church doors shows them mercy. Think about the last time you were at a social gathering and didn’t know anyone. Finally, someone comes up to you and strikes up a conversation. You are filled with relief that you are no longer alone.
When we stand in front of the gates of heaven, expressing our thankfulness for the gift of salvation we will be judged. Jesus may stand there smiling that gentle smile back at us. And then say with sadness, “Why didn’t you ever open and use my gift?” We beg for God’s grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. And when we are bestowed all those, do we open them up for all the world to see? I once asked my husband for a fancy mixer. It could whip, grind, shred and all manner of cooking/baking related activities. But if he had given me exactly what I wanted and I thanked him profusely yet never opened the box and used that mixer, wouldn’t my husband think I didn’t truly appreciate it?
When we don’t judge people for their age, what they wear, how they talk, what their background is, their politics, etc., and just accept people as we encounter them, they are open to our love and our message of God’s love. Imagine that church in St. Charles holding a first weekend BBQ for anyone who wanted a free hotdog and an invite to a worship service. Or, a helpful church team assisting parents and students moving into the dorms along with a care package with a card welcoming them. A contact number to call if they need help. And each month having an outreach event to just say, “we are here and we love you.”
You see, when we accept the challenge of loving our neighbors and showing them mercy, God opens the doors to all the best deeds. And even if just one person responds, that’s one more person on God’s side of the ledger. We should all be praying regularly for opportunities like this to be placed in front of us. When you become God’s co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9) you lose count of all the blessings that unfold. As for my daughter, the Christ-centered group Athletes In Action met regularly on campus and another student invited her to come. It saved her in so many ways. She eventually become a leader and a speaker who told her testimony to many other student-athletes. She also met her future husband through the organization. As a parent living almost 2,000 miles away, I still remain ever thankful there were Christians who took up James’ challenge.
Will you take up James’ challenge this weekend? Pray for your eyes to be opened to opportunities to show your faith by your deeds, love and mercy. Click on the photo and listen to this song by Danny Gokey and Mandisa called “Tell Somebody.” It’s a great song about opening up that gift!
God decided to use me at just the right time to teach me some very valuable lessons and to test my growth in Faith. I was deep into what I was calling God’s Boot Camp a few years ago when I got called up to the Big Leagues. I never thought God would ask me to do anything special. I just wanted to be a better Christian. So, when I got the call it hit me out of the blue. I reacted a bit like the Bible’s Samuel. It took little Samuel three times hearing God’s voice before his mentor said, “Dude, that’s not me calling you, it’s God. And by the way, when you hear him again, pay attention.” That might be a paraphrasing of the story, but you get the picture.
Over my 55 years, I’ve dabbled in helping the homeless but I would by no means call myself a “homeless advocate.” I’ve collected food, blankets, and clothing for various drives. My family has even served meals at churches in the downtown area. I didn’t see it as part of God’s plan for me. It was simply something you do as a “good person.” The morning of February 18, 2017, changed not just my outlook on what God wants from me but also my entire view of grace. The morning I heard the Holy Spirit was like any other. I slept snugly in my bed, squeezing in as much sleep as possible before getting up for work. That morning’s dream, I realized, was no ordinary dream. It had a tangible feeling to it, yet seemed surreal. I imagine it was how Scrooge felt when he was led around by the Ghosts of Christmas. But my guide was no ghost, it was Jesus.
I woke up to a man standing beside me. I glanced to my left and saw the holiest of holy men. A glimpse was all I dared take for fear that if I stared too long, I would never look away. I could feel his strong and worn hand on mine. Each fold of his clothing draped softly and gently, begging me to clutch his sleeve. His flowing waves of hair blew in an unseen breeze. But most of all, his eyes warmly spoke to me, beckoning me to listen. He led me forward to a scene, brushing away mist. There I was, with friends, preparing a meal of soup, crackers, cookies and water. Laughter permeated the air. My house was a buzz of activity. Children playing and adults, meeting for the first time, sharing stories. Then He showed me and others making sandwiches and placing them in bags with fruit and water. He said simply, “Do this” as he spread His arms across the scene. Now let’s stop here for a second. I’m not pulling your leg here. Every single detail was being shown to me by “the Man.” Have you ever watched a spy movie where the home office gives the spy some lengthy instructions including serial numbers, addresses, names and phone numbers, and you think, “I can’t even remember my kids’ names. Somehow Tom Cruise manages to remember every detail while also doing parcour throughout Paris?” Well, it was like that. Jesus was asking me to remember every detail, without notes. Okay, back to the vision. He then led me to a parking lot in downtown San Diego by our ballpark that I hadn’t actually been to in about two years. He said, “Bring them here.” He turned to me and said, “Make 100 of these.” I kid. You. Not. When I woke up, I had every detail emblazoned in my mind. He was a man of few words, but it was mighty powerful.
I want to be a “doing Christian.” I could have had this vision and told a few people about it. Then blown it off as just another weird dream. However, like a trained Navy Seal called up to action, God’s Boot Camp training kicked into high gear. This was like the final exam to see if I had been paying attention. I spent that day ruminating over this vision. It wasn’t a dream. I’ve had plenty of those dreams where you wake up still mad at your husband for doing something awful in your dream! This was more like marching orders. Funny enough, a few days before, my Power Thoughts devotional was “Passing the Test” and the Bible verse was 1 Peter 4:12,
The next day I revealed this vision to my husband. Whether or not he was going to (again) think I was a total lunatic, I had no idea. His response? “Sounds like a good plan.” I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I love him. He thinks I’m pretty wacky, but he’s also seen a lot of spiritual growth in me over the years. What he didn’t know is this plan wasn’t going to be just for the next week or next month. In fact, this project God had for me was to last for 11 months. When things weren’t going well, I prayed, “Hey, you wanted to do this, so show me the solution!”
The next day an angel spoke to me. Wait, let me clarify so you don’t think I was dropping acid or something this whole time. This angel was a friend in my Bible study group. She immediately asked if she could come help me shop for the first 200 bags of food. Until that moment, I had never known that she once prepared and served food to the homeless every month for many years. She missed those times and was eager to find a way to continue that work. Over the next 11 months, she was my steady partner. Between frying up 300 chicken legs outside in the pouring rain to handing out cheetah-print undies, she was all in. She was up for just about anything, ready with a smile and, when needed, an “oh well” when things didn’t quite go as planned.
On Monday, February 20, 2017, after a few miracles even at the grocery store, a team of moms and their kids arrived at my house. I didn’t know who would show up after I sent out a few text messages explaining what I was planning on doing that week. I put the kids in charge of decorating our paper bags. The moms created a production line of soup, crackers, fruit, and utensils. We made 105 bags that morning. Those that could joined us in the cars as we headed to that ballpark downtown. What we saw upon arriving was eye opening. As a I mentioned, by July, news of the homeless crisis was splashed across every headline in America. This was 6 months prior to that. We had no idea of the hundreds, if not thousands, of people living in a few square blocks in our downtown. It’s not that we didn’t go downtown. We didn’t go to certain areas of downtown. Street upon street were tent cities. Homeless filled the ballpark parking lot – which during night games was emptied out to allow for cars. As we gathered moms and their kids around my car, we grasped hands and prayed. We prayed that the food would be a blessing, we prayed for our safety, and we prayed thankfully for the opportunity to do His blessing. In less than one hour we had given out our 100 lunches. We saw young and old. Infirm and, yes, insane. Drug users and drunks. We talked to those in despair and those desiring a better life. We also were blessed. We were called “angels.” We saw smiles and received thank-yous. They told us “God bless you this week.” We saw crosses—so many crosses—around people’s necks. These people wanted to be sure WE received God’s blessings. We who have so much and they so little. But we all have God’s grace and forgiveness. This was just day 1. And after a truly amazing day of handing out food I had plenty to send up in praise. I laughed out loud when He stepped in and put people in just the right places.
I spent the next months, once a week, making a minimum of 100 and usually at least 200 bags of food. People I didn’t even know offered to drop off packaged food items. Teachers who were friends of friends had their students collect toiletries for me to distribute. God led the way every single step of the way. He told me what to buy, when to buy it and where. He told me where to deliver the food. But more importantly he told me to trust Him. I went to some scary places, by myself with God hovering over me.
Had I just woken up that morning and thought, “well, that was interesting” and never embarked on the deeds He called me to I would have missed out on so many God moments. People marveled at the work God was doing in me. Thousands of people were blessed and were truly thankful. I didn’t wear a t-shirt proclaiming myself as a Christian when we gave out food. But every single person assumed I was with a church, by my deeds. I would tell them, I’m just here because God asked me to come.
What is God asking you to do and maybe you’ve ignored Him? If you are stuck because of fear you need to do it anyway. Close your eyes, take the step, and Trust Him.
She was rarely “late.” With each passing day she began to worry more. She and her boyfriend knew better but they were young, just 15 and 16. They frequently met up for sex while his mother was at work. And they didn’t use protection. So, five days after she should’ve started her period, she found herself sitting on the toilet, with a small Tupperware bowl waiting to catch her urine. She had never been to a clinic before and had called to see if they could do a pregnancy test. As she sat there, she prayed. She wasn’t a church-goer. In fact, her parents never spoke of God. Yet she regularly was moved to pray. She didn’t know what it meant to trust God or receive justification through faith in Jesus. She just knew she needed to pray. She had prayed for a lot of things over the years. For her mom to stop hitting her. For her dad to speak to her. For her brother to stop tormenting her. She didn’t know if God was listening but she kept praying.
As she sat there praying for mercy – because that’s what would have to happen – she swore she would change her ways. She made empty promises, begging to not be pregnant. And just as she began to capture a sample, her period started. God had not only granted her mercy but also mercy on her potential child. For had she been pregnant she most assuredly would have aborted it.
That girl was me. I didn’t deserve His mercy. I was living in sin, regularly. I created my own set of rules – a false sense of “righteousness.” I deserved the punishment. I deserved to have to face a difficult choice and live with it for the rest of my life. But He showed mercy. I’ve remembered that day for the past 39 years like it was yesterday. But how many times have I failed to show others that same mercy?
I was recently listening to a podcast by Joyce Meyer. She spoke about not being mediocre. Mediocre is halfway between being a failure and being successful. The work of not being mediocre is constantly seeking knowledge, constantly improving ourselves. So, the other day I set about creating a Christian definitions list. We sit in church, listen to podcasts, read devotionals but how many times do we hear buzz words or theology that we just don’t grasp? Here’s my starting list:
Righteousness: our outward appearance of God’s truth. Our actions and our words. It’s important to note that without the ingredient of God’s truth we create a “false, man-made righteousness.” (2Tim 3:16)
Sanctification: the process by which the Holy Spirit molds us into Jesus’ image (1Thes 4:1)
Justification: when we pronounce our faith in Jesus Christ and we are instantly saved. (Gal 2:16)
Grace: simply put, God’s favor and kindness towards us. And He shows us grace in different ways:
Salvation Grace: is when our freedom was purchased through Jesus’ blood (Eph 2:8)
Numerous Grace: God forgives me each time I sin (Rom 6:14)
Forgiveness Grace: When God helps me to forgive others (James 4:6)
New Grace: each day I have the opportunity to begin again (Heb 13:25)
Freedom Grace: I am free to forget about other people’s opinions and just be me (1Cor 15:10)
Future Grace: God has promised to be with me at all times (Heb 4:16)
Mercy: when we are not given the punishment we deserve. (PS 40:11-13)
When I wrote all this down I received clarity of the amazing work God, through His Holy Spirit, does in each of us. But most of all I thought about mercy. I understood that God forgives us each time we fall into the traps of sin. We all have been in the situation Paul lamented when he wrote the following:
Each and every day we find ourselves sinning – worried about money, hoarding our gifts, being judgmental and unkind to others, unforgiving of our loved ones or even strangers. Gossiping, stealing, or even hating or causing injury to others. There is only one being to have ever walked this earth that didn’t need God’s grace, forgiveness and mercy – Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon wrote in his prayer “Deliver Us From Evil about mercy.
“We come for mercy, great God. It must always be our first request, for we have sinned against a just and holy law of which our consciences approve. We are evil, but Your law is holy and just and good. We have offended knowingly.”
I knew having sex outside of marriage was wrong. I knew having unprotected sex outside of marriage was stupid. And yet I did it time after time. God gifted me with mercy over and over. He also gifted me with mercy when He delivered the right man to me to become my husband. I didn’t deserve him. I was a mess. After 31 years of marriage I still thank God my husband has stuck with me as I erase the ways I learned while outside of God’s justification. And I know now, it’s time for me to pick up my part of the bargain.
I’m grateful that God flipped this admonition. He has done it with so many of us. He has shown us the mercy we didn’t deserve. We need to pass that glorious gift along to others. There are those in our lives that we hope to fail, that we wish ill will, that we hope will “get their just due.” Aren’t we thankful that God doesn’t think the same about us?
For about two years I worked as a substitute in a high school office. I job-shared for a woman who was completing her counseling certification. There were two positions like mine. When the other position was filled with a young woman I was encouraged by her enthusiasm. She was full of ideas and brought a cheery face to the job. And then she started being late every day. At times she wouldn’t even show up. When she did show up, I would find her on Facebook or on personal phone calls. Her failings impacted my job. I became bitter because, hey, I was just a substitute. Why should I have to make up for her issues when she was an actual employee? I found myself driving to work dreading what was to come. I actually prayed she would get hit by a bus so I wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. Yes, I did that.
The turmoil got so bad I considered quitting. But I knew that would leave others, whom I considered friends, in a difficult situation. Three months in, I sat at an intersection on the way to work. It was a long red light. The Holy Spirit descended on me in the car. I had my Perspective Change Moment. What I should have been doing all along was praying for God to intervene positively in her life. I could have left her to do two people’s jobs and/or complain endlessly to the supervisor, but I needed to show mercy and love. So, I prayed every day for the next week that God would resolve the problem. For God to help her. For God to take control. The peace that came over me was amazing!
After that one week she resigned. And a good friend of mine who had been a finalist for the job previously was hired. God is good. God is forgiving. God, thankfully, is merciful. I love this quote by Christopher Columbus about mercy:
I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence.
To whom do you need to show mercy? How has God been merciful to you?
I look at the current news and wonder what part we Christians have played in allowing the destruction and violence that has permeated our society. There’s the climate change activists who burn down car dealerships. Antifa groups who want to destroy basic societal norms. Abortion rights, LGBTQ, and BLM protestors who scream in other people’s faces. And on and on. The amount of hate that exudes from our tvs and cell phones is almost unbearable. But how do Christians play a part in any of this?
James reminds us of Jesus’ second most important commandment He gave to the disciples before His death.
You notice it doesn’t say that whatever your neighbor does is ok and we should agree that it is good and right? And yet so many of us think we either need to agree or deny the truths of our faith in order to love our neighbors. Our fear of man, rather than God can lead us to stand on the wrong side of the room. Just as Peter did when the disciples all were called back to Jerusalem to discuss the issue of circumcision and whether Gentiles must first become Jews before accepting Christ. After having lived as a Gentile and bringing Gentiles to Christ without the requirement of circumcision, Peter took one look at the disapproving traditional Jews at the meeting and caved. He separated himself from the Gentiles. Paul had to admonish him for his hypocrisy.
When I saw that they (Peter and Barnabas) were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said, to Cephas (Peter) in front of them all, “You are a Jew yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it then that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Peter is many of us. We fear discord. We fear disagreement. We fear being judged. And at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion Peter feared physical harm. So instead of standing firm knowing God is by our side when interacting with our neighbors, loved ones or strangers, we sometimes, if not frequently, cave.
It’s almost as though our church leaders have failed to teach us one of the most important lessons that Jesus lived out — how to sit and dine with sinners while remaining faithful to God. In a recent Bible study session, we asked the question, “What does it mean to allow Christ to live through you and is there anything specific that you should be doing?” One person said we should guard our hearts and avoid situations where there is temptation to sin. I had to laugh and say that would mean I would never go to the grocery store. They knew what I meant – I struggle with being annoyed by all manner of behavior by other people. If I could just not be around other people I don’t think I would sin at all! I’ve come to realize that God puts these tests in front of me each day, waiting for me to finally “get it” – love my neighbors, show grace and give mercy. And yes, even when I disagree with them.
Jesus himself sat among the sinners as the Ambassador to Heaven. Instead of the dread of facing people who disagreed with him he seemed to enter those situations with hopeful anticipation. So, when my Bible study group discussed the idea of avoiding people or places that give us open avenues to sin we looked at each and pointed out the areas we individually would need to always avoid. In other words, raise the white flag and retreat from the full life for which we are called. But we are called to be Ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor 5:20.)
How does this relate to strife in our society? As Christians, so many of us have flown the white flag high in hopes we won’t be hated. In hopes we wouldn’t have to face disagreement. We accept the sin of “almost right” laws and the non-Christian definition of what loving our neighbors mean. Loving and accepting others is not the same as agreeing and going along with them. Satan is always looking for ways to drip like water on a stone onto our commitment to the Almighty God. Phrases such as “Love is Love,” “All Science is Real,” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights,” hide the true meaning behind each. We get lost in arguments about “why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to marry whom they want” or “well, if you don’t adopt a baby yourself then you shouldn’t decide about abortion.” So, we vote for laws that go directly against our core Christian beliefs. We agree that there shouldn’t be time for prayer in school, much less allow a student to read the Bible as their reading assignment. We agree that marriage doesn’t need a man and a woman and children can do without a parent. And we watch our moral society slowly chip away. We miss opportunities to share God’s messages of love, grace and forgiveness by being afraid of the disagreement. But Jesus’ behavior throughout His time on Earth was not one of retreat or agreement with sinners.
It’s interesting to realize that Jesus didn’t preach to “fellow” Christians. They didn’t exist. He preached to people who didn’t know what being saved by grace meant. He preached to people who may have been living as Jews but in name only. He preached to High Priests who broke Mosaic Law on a regular basis. He spoke to us — sinners. And when He commissioned the disciples, He sent them knowing full well the people they encountered may not even believe in a monotheistic God. So, the argument made that we, as Christians, shouldn’t “impose” our ways on non-Christians falls flat. If what we believe and the life we are called to live out is so amazing, so marvelous, then why wouldn’t we want to see everyone live in that same grace? God didn’t give us the gift of justification to hoard it. He gave it to share with the rest of His people.
I recently found an article by a pastor who was raised by two lesbian women. He defines them as activists in the LGBTQ community. He came to Christ one night when he attended a Christian meeting, fully loaded to disagree and fight against everything being preached. Instead he walked away saved.
“I lived in the tension of accepting my parents that I dearly loved, but not theologically agreeing with their choice to be in same-sex relationships.”
Caleb Kaltenbach, Pastor, City on A Hill Church
He calls this “living in the tension” when we find ourselves in disagreement with our non-Christian neighbors and loved ones. His family kicked him out for a short while. But his work as a Christian brought them back into a loving relationship. One that requires work to maintain. He goes on to say,
“Don’t settle for cheap love based merely on agreement. Pursue priceless love that accepts the person (no matter who or where they are) with the understanding that while you can’t “fix” them— God can.”
He acknowledges this is a two-way street for a successful relationship. But when the other party doesn’t do their part it doesn’t give us license to then act non-Christian. We are always called to love and accept people for who they are at that moment. Love of others that is based on acceptance instead of agreement can reunite relationships, heal families, save lives, and even change eternal destinations. And that’s the message we so infrequently hear at church. There’s a fear of discussing the big issues facing us as we live in the new Babylon. But we need to practice and be reminded how to show love and while “living in the tension.” And remembering our job as Ambassadors is to ACT like Christians, as defined by Jesus, not Pharisees.
The next time you hear condemnation coming from a group or a person of which you disagree with their morals and values stop for a moment and pray. Listen to God’s voice. Rest in the fact that as Christians we don’t need to fear man. Jesus saw everyone as a potential person to bring to eternal life and so should we. And the life God wants for all His people is good. It’s time to stop retreating, stop waving the white flag. It’s time to step up in confidence with the love from God leading the way. Our neighbors, our communities, our children, need us to spread His message. We are his soldiers in His Army of Love.
Is there someone that lives a life against Christian morals that you need to give up to God? Let Him solve that problem. Your job is to just love them.
My husband used to watch The Sopranos religiously. I for one, have never enjoyed any mob-related tv show or movie. The reason being is in order for the “Mob” to be successful it requires a willing citizenry to, at best, look away or at its worst, show favoritism. Never has there been more a blatant example than the Italian Mafia and the Catholic Church. Until recently the mafia had unfettered access to the church in Italy. Many priests would almost be part of the “family.” And why? There lies the question of favoritism.
James goes on to ask the reader what they would do if you saw a beggar and a rich man enter your church. Who would get the seat of honor? And why? It’s typical for churches to seat VIPs front and center. But did you know churches didn’t have places to sit for about 1,400 years? During the protestant reformation, churches began selling boxes to the wealthy for them to sit in, along with their families and special guests. The poor still had to stand at the back. And of course, there’s the private wings so common throughout Italian churches where wealthy families have their patriarch’s painting and own altar. It’s as though the entire biblical message about favoritism had been lost.
The underlying theme of favoritism comes down to a perceived value — real or imagined. Yes, we can say people are afraid of the mob. But they sure did love the money those mafia families provided the Italian churches and other communities in which they currently operate. Favoritism also is born of the desire for power or fame. Which results in, typically, more money.
“Privileged groups work for greater power consolidation through favoritism.”
Bryant McGill, Voice of Reason
In other words, we humans love to have other humans adore us and vice versa. We favor those we think can provide us more wealth and power. This is not based on race, color, etc. If someone has what we desire, we’ll cozy up to them. It’s not reserved for just adult relationships. “Stage moms,” “dance moms,” “band dads,” “pool parents” are just some examples of how we adults use children to elevate ourselves. We make sure our kid is friends with the best athlete on the team so they can be “in.” Or we just promote our kid to anyone who will listen, thereby rubbing some shine on us.
The dangers of favoritism and the sins it fosters can been seen throughout the Bible. Stories of brotherly jealousy (Joseph and that coat!), wives wanting to be favored (Rachael and Leah), kings worried about losing power (Saul vs David) and whole churches fighting over leadership (Corinth) all include favoritism within.
And yet it’s God’s words that tell us to treat people equally – even our slaves. We are admonished to “Treat your slaves in the same way (as the slaves are to treat their masters). Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven and there is no favoritism in him.” Note, the subject of slavery was different at that time. Many people sold themselves into slavery to pay off debts or even to be under a “master” who would take care of all their needs. Even professionals – such as doctors, artists, etc – sometimes made this choice.
The funny thing about God is He is always looking for ways to teach us and get us to see His truth of Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. Like showing favoritism to a mobster, the true consequences are what we would normally wish to avoid. Frequently the person or group receiving the favor will then wield that power and authority over you. We see this when Jesus speaks in the synagogue.
“Beware of the teachers of the Law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.”
And all the people bowed to them as they walked around like “cock of the walks.” Showing them favoritism while spitting on Jesus. But here’s the result:
“They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished severely.”
Today we favor celebrities, overlooking all their sins. For a glance from them some would pay any price. We favor famous pastors and pretend we don’t see how they twist scripture. We favor politicians because they know how to say just the right things to make us feel good, even though their years of actions are in direct opposition to us. We favor certain races because its “socially aware.” We might favor one of our children or a teacher, a student in our class, a player on the team we coach, or someone with a higher status. But we must also be aware that favoritism toward what we’d think wouldn’t be in this category is wrong — toward the perceived “lesser.” Those that expend hate for the rich because of a supposed love for the poor are still in the wrong. What they get out of this type of outrage is a sense of piety. Even being a champion of the disabled while having disdain for able-bodied is not equality. It doesn’t matter if the subject of your favoritism is rich, poor, black or white, high or low in status, young or old, the Bible is clear — it’s wrong. The sin comes in what we expect out of that favoritism and what have we done to those “out” of our favor. It creeps into our lives sometimes without us being fully aware. And what’s worse, it can bring out hatred. We can feel jealously while still favoring others. People outside our little “clicks” feel left out, ignored or even abused.
It reminds me of a children’s book I once read and it helps me to put it all in perspective. It’s a reminder that everyone that day will poop. A very “undignified” and messy action that everyone, no matter their status, wealth, race, color or creed will undertake. The pope, the US president, Lebron James, Tom Brady, Oprah, Lionel Messi, Christina Aguilera, the mafia boss, your mayor, your pastor, your mother in law, the homeless person, you. Everybody poops. God did that. I think it’s one of His little winks.
Write down all the people or groups you tend to favor. Pray about how you can flip that script and treat people equally.
Even though I can pretty much talk to anyone at anytime I don’t particularly like to talk to people when I’m coming home on an airplane from visiting my daughter. I only get to see her about 4 times a year and when I leave her, I’m sad and contemplative. I prefer to put my headphones on and read a book. On one trip home, I sat next to a man who immediately started talking to me. I’m not sure how we got on the subject of God, the Bible and faith but he was prepped. He was ready to make sure I knew how much he knew about the “truth” of the Bible. He could quote any scripture that would back up his point of view. The trinity was false, according to him, because it promoted multi-theism. And on and on he went. When I would disagree, gently, he peppered me with more questions for which he already had answers. He was looking for ways to “catch” me with improper theology. It didn’t bother me. I’m always interested to hear more about the Bible. And I’m sure he wasn’t completely wrong. He just seemed to be taking scripture out of context. Towards the end, he started telling me about his church journey. He jumped from church to church based on obscure theological differences. He went from a large church, to a medium one, to a small gathering. He finally landed on his perfect church – the church of one. He called himself a “sabbathist.” He didn’t practice the sabbath on Sunday. It had to be Friday through Saturday. So, if you were thinking you could join his group of one, you’d better make sure you worshipped and followed the rules on the right day.
When we arrived in San Diego and exited the plane, I had one thought. I had just met a real life, modern day Pharisee. I had one regret. I realized, squeezed into that packed airplane there had to have been multiple people hearing our conversation (or at least him talking since he did most of it). The opportunity I missed was to stop talking doctrine and scripture and ask him the most important question, “But do you love Jesus?” In that 3 ½ hours on the plane he never spoke of being a true disciple of Jesus. He only spoke of following the Mosaic law. I missed the chance to introduce him to the Royal Law – the Law of Love.
This week James takes us through additional, difficult subjects: favoritism (yes, we all do it), loving our neighbor (even the gay couple), mercy (we all want it), and deeds (without being a “church lady”). He recognizes that when we try to live by Mosaic Law alone, it’s like playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” When we stop doing one thing another sin pops up. We can never feel fully successful at living a sin-less life. But what we can do is love one another.
Warren Wiersbe says this about James 2 and the steps we are to take to go from being a “baby Christian” to a mature Christian:
“Immature people talk about their beliefs, but the mature person lives his faith. Hearing God’s Word and talking about God’s Word can never substitute for doing God’s word.”
Warren Wiersbe, New Testament Bible Commentary
Each of last week’s topics — trials, wisdom, listening, and living a clean life — were the personal building blocks for what James calls us to this week. Without faith that God is ever present in our trials, without wisdom to discern what God calls us to, when we don’t listen to God, and when we give into immoral situations we continue to live by this world’s standards.
James tells us we are called for something better. We need to be living outside the box, not trapped inside. First up tomorrow we will delve deeper into what following Jesus’s Law of Love looks like when we treat people like God does – equally.
Have you ever met a modern-day Pharisee? What was your reaction? Do you find yourself trying to adhere to scripture but forget that one of the most important commandments is loving others?
She remembered that night when she laid in her bed waiting and expecting. Waiting and expecting her father to enter the room and sexually assault her, again. But as she lay there she thought, “One day I will do something great.” And great she did. In 2005, Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” ranked her as 17th. She is known all over the world by her ministry and volunteer work. Joyce Meyer overcame constant sexual abuse as a child because of hope and faith in God.
This week we looked at just one chapter in the Book of James. Chapter one brought us front and center in how to deal with trials. He spoke of spiritual wisdom and the wise act of listening and controlling our anger. In just 26 sentences He stands in front of us in admonition to wake us Christians up. And show the world what trust in Jesus Christ, our savior really means.
He goes on to say that when we leave church, after we pray each morning, or read our devotional each day we ought not to then turn out into the world and forget who we are. We are not like everyone else. Isn’t that what our parents told us when we wanted to go hang out with the “cool kids?” There are expectations and responsibilities to accepting Christ.
When I was a “baby Christian” I had a conversation about church with my mom. She is the daughter of a Baptist minister. She hasn’t regularly attended church since she was a child. She doesn’t pray. She says she believes in God but anyone that knows her couldn’t tell that to be true. She told me that when she was a child at church, she would watch all the ladies attend church dutifully. And then, they would gossip, hate each other, complain endlessly to her father, lie, cheat, and all other manner of sin. My mother had and still has a dim view of “Christians.”
How many of us live our lives fully realizing that not only is God watching how we handle trials and temptations, but our non-Christian friends and neighbors? Do they see you getting angry and yelling and gossiping? Do they get a sense of peace from you during difficult times? Are you easy to talk to because they know you will listen without judgement? And are the words you speak back coming from a Godly place? Do you turn down offers of socializing with friends and tell them it’s because you have a Bible Study you are committed to? Have they heard you speak about your quiet time you spend with God, praying for others? Do you tell others you will pray for them and do it immediately, with them? What was the last book or movie or tv show you settled into? Was it something where you could gain wisdom of God’s ways?
While sitting and listening to God to speak through me before I sat down to write this, the song “My Father’s House” started playing over and over in my head.
When we invite God into our lives during hardship, when we seek His wisdom, when we listen for His voice, and act as He wants us to, we experience His strength and love. The shackles of sin and anger, the ugliness of self-degradation and self-centeredness give way to freedom. Freedom to see His beauty in resolving problems. Freedom to experience joy in even the most difficult of times.
James pulls no punches. But he always reminds us, in the midst of admonishment, of the “why.”
We will develop maturity and perseverance
We receive the “crown of life” that the Lord has promised
We are given the Word of Truth so we can be “firstfruits” of all God has created
We live in the righteousness that God desires for us
When we rid ourselves of immorality and accept the Word planted in us, we are saved
We are given freedom
We will be blessed in all we do
James is not asking us to do anything more than what we ask of our employees, our children or our friends. If we make a commitment, promise, accept a job, want a friendship, then we must work on it and act in such a way as to say we are all “in.”
My challenge for this weekend it to be fully aware of our actions and words, especially while around non-Christians. Good luck, my prayers are with you.
One of my favorite types of tv shows are the ones where brave souls go in and clean out other people’s houses. In one show, just one room was to be completely re-done. The host would help the homeowner remove all the items from that room and put them out on their front lawn. There were three piles: Keep, Toss, Sell. I’m a confessed tv “back talker” so I yell at and talk to the tv all the time. What typically happens during these shows is I yell at the homeowner saying, “What on earth do you need that for?” or “That is the ugliest chair I have ever seen! Get rid of it!” I’m always mystified by the amount of junk people pile up in their homes and how difficult it is for them to get rid of it all – even under the threat of eviction or possibly social services removing their children.
Most of us look at a hoarder’s life and recognize how destructive it is. The filth, the squalor, the sheer quantity of stuff is appalling. We sit in judgement thinking, “I would never get to that point in my life.” The truth is a hoarder’s problem isn’t with the “stuff” it’s with their heart. Even on shows such as “Biggest Loser” we find most contestant’s real issues lie within their hearts, it’s just that they have turned to food to fix their pain.
Now doesn’t that sound easy? Just about as easy as a hoarder having to let go of the paper their 40 year old son wrote as a second grader. On day 1 James made it clear we would have trials and tribulations. Some of us have been physically or emotionally abused. Others have been neglected by loved ones. While others have experienced unbearable loss – of a child, a parent, a friend, a job, a home. And there are the multitudes whose dreams and hopes have yet to materialize. And yet none of those gives us license by God to sin, to bring “moral filth” into our lives.
Warren Wiersbe says this about filling our lives with immorality:
“For God to be able to use us as vessels we must be empty, clean, and available. He will take us and use us for His glory. But if we are filled with sin or defiled by disobedience, He will first have to purge us.”
Purge us. That is the death we read about frequently in the Bible. In Matthew 16: 16, Jesus states this, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We purge the world from our hearts and minds and live a life worthy of being God’s vessel.
Some might think this means we take away freedoms, we remove fun and laughter, we become like monks or nuns. But think back to a hoarder’s house that is now cleaned out. Or even your own house after a good purging and cleaning. We breathe a sigh, put our hands on our hips and declare, this is good, this is real good. We even start imagining being able to invite our friends over for dinner, new uses for that now empty cupboard, or how easy it is to find what you need. We feel a sense of freedom, of joy, of completeness.
Now take that same feeling and apply it to our other actions or decisions. Do you have that same sense? When we are unforgiving, rude, vengeful, deceitful, unfaithful, untrustworthy, does that give you the same feelings of joy?
One of the reasons we might not take a stand against the filth infiltrating our lives is the fear of man. In fact, the disciple Peter was a great example of this. He talked a good talk about being faithful to Jesus and the other disciples. But when it came time to stand firm, he chose to protect himself. He was afraid of what servant girls would think or do to him if he confirmed he was a disciple. And yet, in John 18:15 the story clearly states “another disciple” also stood with Jesus in front of his accuser. That unnamed disciple wasn’t afraid of man. He wasn’t afraid to declare himself a follower of Jesus. What in your life do you know is wrong, is moral filth, and yet you are afraid of the people around you attacking you or judging you should you declare it would no longer be a part of your life?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said about constantly fighting the battle against the moral filth of the world, “When all is said and done the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every weapon against the flesh.” Meaning just like a severely overweight person who needs to battle their demons to help them lose weight, the road to cleaning our hearts and minds is constant and challenging.
Even Nelson Mandela said,
“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
So how do we go about this cleansing? We definitely don’t want to be like the Pharisees that Matthew admonishes in 23:25, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Remembering that James is written to people who profess to be Christians, we need a heart and mind change, not just a physical one.
Have a conversation with God: We already know some of the areas of our life that don’t measure up to God’s desires for us. But He may also reveal other areas that we have hidden away, possibly underlying causes for our behavior and actions. Ask Him to shine a light on your “moral filth.” Ask him to take it away. Ask him to strengthen you. Ask Him first thing in the morning to set up your day for success. Ask Him to help you as you encounter your trouble areas, thank Him for His protection.
“In the morning Lord you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”
Listen to God: He speaks to us through His Word, the Holy Bible so read it and study it like any other self-help book. Write down passages that speak to your particular issues and needs. He speaks to us through other people. There are probably people in your life already telling you what areas need to be cleansed. Stop being defensive and start being thankful! God whispers to us directly and guides us. If, as you’re walking into the bar you know you shouldn’t and that voice keeps telling you to go home, then go home. Stop ignoring Him.
“I will listen to what God the lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants.”
Act on His Words: We all know people whose lives are a mess. They’ve heard the message over and over about how to fix their lives. The part that’s missing is just doing it. When we absolutely know we shouldn’t text that person and yet do it anyway we dismiss God’s will. The recognition that God is the most powerful, all seeing, all knowing being must be part of our lives. We can’t hide from God. We can think we are deceiving Him but we aren’t. He is our “over watch,” – He looks ahead and see the enemy’s position and provides us protection. But if we choose to take a different path we put ourselves in danger.
“Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.”
What is distracting you or holding you back from fully following Christ? What rooms in your life need to be purged and left clean? Ask God for his loving spotlight to shine in every recessed area. Listen for His guidance. And walk with faith and strength knowing He is guiding you.
What is an area that you are struggling with the most when it comes to following Christ?
My friend Andrea and I walk our dogs every week together. I typically have my dog on an “e-leash” so I’m very careful to make sure people around me know I have complete control over my dog when it appears he is off leash. We decided to take a new neighborhood route one day. As we passed one house my dog stopped to sniff a small sign at the edge of the grass. It said, “Keep Dogs Off Grass.” I gave my dog the command to heel and he quickly took up the short distance between us. The homeowner bolted from the far side of his car and commenced yelling at us. “Get your dog off my grass!” We were both taken aback at his aggressiveness. My first response was to get my hackles up and yell back, “He wasn’t on your grass.” Andrea, in a nicer tone, confirmed this to the owner. But he wouldn’t let up. He yelled at us as we walked by. And I yelled back. The war had commenced. Salvos were lobbed. In the midst, Andrea became the peacemaker. She had the peace of mind to realize this was not the hill to die on today. She started saying, “Ok sir, have a nice day.” He continued to yell at us while we were about 4 houses away. My anger was apparent. And I realized I had failed gloriously that morning’s first test.
James’ admonishment sounds so simple. And yet I would guess amongst millions of Christians our failure rate in accomplishing this is fairly high.
Think of how much those millions of Christians could change the world if we accomplished just this one act. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Now, being of warrior spirit I struggle with this. But I realized the ingredient that makes a difference – anger. When God sent out Joshua to take cities he didn’t tell him to do so in anger. In fact, many of the actions he directed him to take were strangely non-warrior like such as marching around cities in circles and blowing horns.
Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger do not sin; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” God knows we get mad. But he also tells us to be careful and not also take that anger and sin. When Jesus cleansed the synagogues of “thieves” he was more sad than angry. He wept to see what Israel had become. Think of the destruction and affliction Jesus could have wrought on everyone! But instead He cursed a tree. If Jesus – the most powerful being to grace the earth — could restrain himself can’t we tamp down our anger at the grocery store clerk for taking a bit too long? Or the person who doesn’t immediately bolt forward at the green light? All the while our cross necklace dangles around our neck.
But let’s back up a bit. James first tells us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” How many of us, while someone is talking to us, are working on our own story or rebuttal in our head as that person speaks? What we miss are opportunities.
#1 Opportunity to Show Empathy
We can tell when someone is really listening to us. It’s called active listening. According to Mat Apodaca in his article, “How to Practice Active Listening,” active listening involves using many of our senses. It means giving your full attention. You need to show the other person with your body language that you are truly listening. He says doing this builds mutual trust, it boosts self-confidence, we have less miscommunication, have fewer arguments, and are more productive. Here’s his steps to active listening:
Maintain eye contact
Watch for non-verbal clues
Restate and clarify
Use some encouraging words such as, “and then?”
Probe for more information
But keep your talking minimal
I had invited a friend out to lunch awhile back. I wanted to try and recover our relationship. We had grown apart in various ways and it had come to a head with some back and forth justifying of our hurts. As we sat across from each other I looked for ways to bridge our gaps. Topics we could both agree on. But the entire time she kept looking down at her phone that rested in her lap. She murmured responses. I finally asked her if something important was going on that she needed to keep reading her phone. Her two younger children, around ages 15 and 13 were at home. They were bickering and sending her text messages. No one was dying. No one was hurt. I realized she not only wasn’t interested in the conversation, she wasn’t interested in our relationship.
#2 Opportunity to Hear from God
When we find ourselves listening to people who are angry, hurt, sad, or fearful we so often want to help. We might share our own past situations or try to convince that person to think or feel differently. But we always end up coming from our own view of the situation. Our wheels are whirling for solutions to their problems, or how to get them to stop being angry at us. With all that jumbled up thinking going on it’s awfully difficult for the one true voice to be heard. God can see all solutions. He knows exactly what to say, and more importantly what not to say. Charles Spurgeon says about praying continuously: “We need to have such confidence about our prayer life that prayer becomes like breathing, effortless, that we do it every moment we are alive.”
How many times have you left a conversation and later thought, “Oh, if only I had thought of that then!” When we are actively listening, we can be more like a super highway. Sending your friend’s, spouse’s, child’s, co-worker’s, stranger’s, words straight up to God. Acting as more of a conduit for God’s instruction, rather than the encyclopedia of all things of how to do (fill in the blank) right. You might just hear God remind us of Jesus’ words:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
Had I been listening to the angry neighbor I would have heard a few things: 1) He has had issues with dogs on his grass. 2) He really loves his grass, a lot. 3) Love him
#3 Opportunity to Find A New Solution
You really cannot have a relationship with someone you don’t listen to. That includes God. If we want to transform our relationships, we need to hear what people and God are saying. Ecclesiastes 5: 1-2 says:
“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.”
When we offer up our own solutions, based on our own limited thoughts, they are made within a small framework. But God knows all and sees all solutions. We so frequently want to hear our own plans and arguments because we still want to control everything – even God.
In 2 Chronicles 20, the ruler Jehoshaphat was faced with destruction by the Moabites and Ammonites. He gathered up various advisors to discuss solutions. You can only imagine the various types around the tent. The warrior, demanding they strike first. The appeaser, begging for them to send out an ambassador to beg for mercy. The fearful, worried they were all going to die. But verse 3 says, “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord.” He resolved. He made a conscious decision, after listening to everyone to then listen to God. And God came up with a solution that not one of those in attendance had even dreamed. To not fight, but instead to take up their battle positions, standing firm and have faith in God. The king then appointed men to sing. Yes, sing. And they watched God destroy the enemy.
It is our faith that God loves us — God wants the best for us that we must first rest upon. With that as our anchor we can know when we actively listen we show the same love and empathy we receive from God. When we are slow to speak it is because we are listening for God’s voice to channel through us. And when we keep our anger in check we honor the God that thankfully does not condemn us each time we fail.
When was there a time that you either realized you had failed gloriously at this lesson or when you were successful? How did you feel after?