Thursday, March 29, 2012

Reflections: James chapter 1

Ohhhh, sweet James.  How I do love you.  There was a time in my life when I had read very little of the Bible.  It was not that long ago to be quite honest.  And the Bible was, well, intimidating.  And a bit boring to be frank.  And I'm not a reader.  Yeah, I had a million excuses.  And then one day, I randomly opened to James... and lo and behold, I read the whole chapter in a sitting (yes, it's short) and felt like I got so much out of it!  I've read plenty more of the good book by now, but James is still a favorite.  To me, it's almost like Cliff's notes for the Bible... the mini-version if you will.  There is so much you can draw out of it, so if you're looking for a good place to start or just a chapter to complete, I would highly recommend it.  Don't have a Bible?  That's okay, too... you can always go to my favorite resource online- YouVersion.  What's great about it is that you can set up daily reading plans and read the Bible in all different translations.  If you are not understanding something in the King James Version (which those of us who grew up in church are most familiar with and which I never read anymore... because really, who thus does readeth in that fancy language?) try it in something easier like the New Living Translation (NLT) or New International Version (NIV).  If you still need it broken down farther, you can even check out the Message (MSG) translation, which is written in modern language.  Find one that works for you then head to James and check out what he has to say.  Which brings me back to today's point... James 1 and Brittany's pick for this week's Reflections post.

Before I get into what this chapter really said to me, I think it's important to tell you (in case you did not know already) that James was Jesus' brother.  Well, half brother I guess since Joseph is the father of James and God is the father of Jesus, but Mary is the mother of them both.  I grew up without really thinking about Jesus having siblings, but I now feel it's one of the most important facts about the man.  Why, you ask?  Well, because sometimes our siblings can be our biggest doubters.  Seriously, if I told my sisters that I was the immaculate child of God and the savior of the world, don't you think that they would have me committed?  And until after Jesus' resurrection, James basically had that opinion, too.  He was not convinced until after the resurrection, and for him to admit that he saw it with his own eyes and became a believer, I think that says a lot.  I think in the long run, he is one of Jesus' biggest advocates, which is why I think the relationship between the two is important.

But anyway... back to the book of James.  James wastes no time and immediately jumps in with:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,t whenever you face trials of many kinds,3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Say what?  Consider it joy when we face trials?  When our faith is tested?  That's just crazy!  Nobody wants to face opposition in this life, but nobody can escape it.  This is particularly true when we step out on a limb and take a "leap of faith" if you will.  Did people think that Josh and I were crazy when we moved from the sunny shores of Fort Lauderdale to middle-of-nowhere, Illinois - population 6000?  I'm sure they did!  And a few let us know it.  And then again, we saw some concern and opposition (in fact a few people outright gave us strong opposition) when we announced that we were leaving Small Town, IL to start a church from scratch in Lexington.  We hit some brick walls along the way, and this verse became so very important to me.  Over time, I learned that opposition is okay, and I do find a little bit of joy when I run into it.  In fact, at certain times it reminds me that I'm doing something right.  A lot of folks don't believe in spiritual warfare- that there's a real devil who really wants to tempt us and mess up God's plans, but I've seen too many "coincidences" to know that it in fact is a real thing.  The devil will do anything to get in the way, so when I am trying to accomplish something  for the growth of God's kingdom and I face opposition, I try not to get frustrated and instead see it as a joyful reminder that I'm pissing off the devil, to put it bluntly.  Now that brings great joy!  It's important to note, however, that sometimes we do face opposition because we are doing things outside of God's will.  A friend's concern for a friendship or relationship that you have or guilt and/or shame for decisions you are making in your daily decisions could simply be actual red flags to tell you that it's time to re-evaluate things.  Guild, shame, anger, etc... those are not feelings from God, so if they accompany whatever you have going on, chances are you are not acting within His will.  And speaking of temptation, our friend James hits on this, too, reminding us that it's not something that comes from God either.  Everything "good and perfect" comes from above, and temptation does not fall within those t boundaries.  If you are considering doing something that doesn't feel quite right, chances are you're being tempted in some way or another.  I once heard someone describe it as something you would want to hide from your grandmother, because it would give that dear, sweet woman a heart attack if she found out about it.  Yes, that's temptation, so steer clear.

Finally, James hits us with a zinger (see, I told you there was a lot in this short book... and this is only one chapter!).  

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

I will be the first to admit that I spent most of my teenage years and twenties doing the opposite of this.  I knew (well... sort of) what the Bible said about right and wrong, Christian values, and how we should be living this life we've been giving, but I chose a different path.  I could put on a very good front, was at church on many Sundays, joined a young adults' Bible study, and even though I was "getting fed" and learning more about being a follower of Jesus, my actions when nobody was looking were not at all reflecting these beliefs.  I was truly lost, and I think I knew it deep down but did not know  how to change.  Being lost was "fun" at the time, but now I look back and I'm not even sure who that girl was.  I love the part about looking in a mirror... that was me.  I knew what I wanted to look like deep down, but could not dig myself out of the patterns of sin and temptation.  My relationship with Christ was not real, but merely on the surface, and until I truly surrendered my life to Him, my face was one that I did not recognize.  I'm sure you've heard (and may have actually used the phrase "I lost myself," well, I think this is what it refers to.  We "lose ourselves" in certain circumstances because we lose our focus on what's important.  Instead of trying to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God everyday, we throw all of our energy in living in a way that is pleasing to others- whomever we want to impress at that time.  And before we know it, we've forgotten who we are... we don't recognize that face in the mirror.  I thank my husband for challenging me everyday to live a life that is pleasing to God.  At first I did it to please Josh, and now it truly is to make God smile.  Because when God smiles on us, there is no greater feeling in the world.... you should try it sometime.

So I'll leave you with this... wake up each morning and allow your first thought to be, "God loves me."  Sounds simple, right?  But seriously, do it.  Remember each and every morning that no matter how much you've screwed up in the past, where you've been, or who you used to be, God loves you deeply.  He made you in His image, and despite any insecurities you have, You are the most beautiful creature to Him.  And with that in mind, try to use those thoughts to guide your day, working toward pleasing Him as you go about your business.  You don't have to go preach a sermon on a street corner, but just love on people and go out of your way to show some kindness, building others up... even that is enough.

Thank you for letting me share and for allowing Brittany and I to reflect with you weekly.  As always, you can read her post here and if you've written your own you can link it below.  If you don't have a blog or don't want to share on your blog, please leave one of us a comment... the whole point of this is to share our perspectives and apply the things we're learning to our everyday lives.  It can be uncomfortable at first, but I can assure you that it sure feels good to the soul.  And everyone could use a little bit of that!  So link up below and then jump to the bottom for next week's topic.  I can't wait to hear about how James has shaken up your week!

Ok, so for next week I had considered continuing with James since he's such a rock star.  But then throughout the week a single word kept coming to me: FEARLESS.  So this week we're going to meditate on the verse that Josh and I focused on throughout our church planting process, which can be found in Joshua 1:9 which reads:

9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

Also, take a look at Psalm 27 this week... it's all about God being with us in whatever we do, too.  As we grow up, get married, have kids, go to our 9 to 5 jobs, and just go through the motions, we lose some of the adventure that once filled our younger days.  Growing up should not mean growing into something boring.  I know that God loves adventure.  I know that God wants to challenge us.  So this week, think about these verses and ask God to show you what He is calling you do, even if it's scary.  In what areas do you need to be "bold and courageous"?  Then be FEARLESS and share it with us!  Whether it's admitting that you want to lose 20 pounds, start your own business, write a book, have a baby, or even start a ministry... share it with us!  Putting it out there and applying the above verses to your life will make it real, and will hold you accountable.  I can't wait to hear what He's saying to you!  Thanks again for reading... have a lovely week and know that you are loved.

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