Here I am. I am still here.
The last four months were kind of an unexpected sabbatical from blogging. It has been a really good time for me to focus on things at hand and get some good perspective. Okay, the first few months I was just busy or lazy, but the last few weeks have been all about a new perspective and a fresh motivation.
Many years ago I was in a bible study group with several other wonderful women. (whom I love to pieces and miss like crazy!) We took it upon ourselves to stop studying out of the usual published book format and instead to just study God’s word bit by bit. We would each break down and analyze the same passage of scripture during the week, and then get together and compare our notes and impressions. It was studying the word of God. Plain, pure and simple. We worked our way through several books of the New Testament and eventually landed on the book of James. Yikes. I still have all my notes from that time, but I have to say that my clearest memory of that particular part of the study was just – phew! I can check that one off the list and be done!! Ironically, my dismissal of James at the time goes against some of the very behaviors James teaches on. And, perhaps one of the reasons God led me and my co-leader to pursue teaching a semester on James this spring.
The book of James is just a relatively short letter towards the back of the New Testament. Why so intimidating? Well, for those who are unfamiliar, the book of James is a very direct and practical book for Christian living. Similar to, say, Proverbs, in that so much of it can be put directly into physical practice. In my humble opinion, it is confrontational and challenging. If you know me, you know that I am an organized, Type-A, list-making girl. Therefore, it should be natural that these more practical books of the Bible would appeal to me…they are like a checklist of what ‘to do’ to be a Christian. WRONG. Yes, they are a checklist. The only problem is that they reveal how many things I am not checking off the list most of the time. I just don’t know if I can face an old checklist that I have not completed, much less one that will show just how insincere and disobedient I can be at times. Which is exactly why it is good and time for me to dig into the book of James. I can’t stand a coward…especially one in the mirror.
At this time I have really only gone deep only through the middle of the 2nd chapter of James. What I have gotten a hold of so far is that there would appear to be two mega-themes in these chapters. I call them mega cause they’re big to me. The first would be that true faith results in actions. The second would be that mercy triumphs over judgment (vs. 2:13). But, on top of both of these themes I have sensed an even bigger message, which would simply be that God is God. He is so much more amazing and worthy of praise than we could ever comprehend. Once we genuinely recognize this truth it will manifest itself in practical ways.
First, it shows through our actions. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” God has given us the privilege of being His, here on earth, and we bear the awesome honor and responsibility to reflect Him to the world so that they can know Him, too. I don’t want to miss that! Practically, I need to study and then obey his Word. Put hands and feet on my faith. Some ways of doing that are to care for the poor, widows and orphans, and to not be ‘polluted by the world’ – in other words not choosing worldly values over Christ’s. To rein in my tongue (yep, that one stings), be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”vs.19. More often than not, the things He calls us to do don’t come naturally to me as a ‘passionate’ woman (that’s my husband’s word for me), but if I blend into the world, how will anyone recognize God in me?
Secondly, the truth of God’s awesomeness is manifested in the mercy I show others. This has to begin with my heart. I cannot allow favoritism to shadow how I consider or treat others, regardless of their appearance, background or status. But, if I really think about it, favoritism can be so much subtler with me. We all have relationships that are more intimate than others. The apostle Paul was obviously close with Timothy. This is not a warning against intimacy. It’s a warning about treating them differently in my heart. Let’s face it, we often give those we are closest to more of a pass with some things we wouldn’t let others get away with. No matter how well we know or don’t know people, we can’t allow favoritism to rule our judgment. If favoritism was a God value, let me assure you, I would not be a member of the in-crowd. He is a loving, merciful God. He has brought me out of the pit. It wasn’t pretty. It was grace and mercy from a loving heavenly Father that did it. Favoritism has no place in Him, and should have no place in my faith in Him.
My new motivation is not to check things off the Christian ‘to do’ list. It is to recognize everyday that Christ is worthy, God is worthy, of me giving up my worldly habits in order to look a little more like Him so that others can experience the mercy He has already shown us all through the sacrifice of His son. But, as James would say – motivation isn’t enough. Just do the thing!