I hate this question.

I’m in the second week of the James read-along and I literally just had the thought that maybe my current near-nervous-breakdown (don’t freak out on that one…I use that term fairly regularly to describe my ridiculous overly-dramatic reaction to things) might be related to it. It’s going to take a while to piece it all together, but I’ll put that little idea in my back pocket for a sec.

Anyhooooo….moving right along from that ADD moment…Here’s the killer verse this week:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Flashback to The Help movie, which I just saw a few weeks ago with my book club gals. I keep thinking about how Hilly the Terrible (that’s my personal name for her,  a high-society, self-righteous, racist snob in the 3rd degree)  responded when her maid asked her for an advance in pay in order to be able to send both of her boys to college, rather than choosing which one she would be able to afford to send. Hilly the Terrible responded by saying that she, as a Christian, was going to “help her out,” and you could see the smile faintly crack on the maid’s face. That is, until Hilly the Terrible continued on to explain that “God doesn’t give charity to those who are able” and told the maid that she’d just have to find a way to come up with that money herself.

Nice.

So what does that have to do with the book of James? Specifically that chunk above? Well it has a lot to do with me, a high-society (aka richer than 99.9% of the rest of the peeps on this planet,) self-righteous, (albeit non-racist) snob in the 10th degree. You know why? Because even though I have my moments where I feel that double-edged sword cut through me and divide my self from my spirit and I truly feel love for someone else to the point where I would just meet their needs (like Danny, for example) …the other side of that coin is that most of the time I catch myself thinking: How far does that verse really go? I mean, if I have the means to do anything I can to meet the needs of a fellow human being, how detailed do we get here? Does that mean in the big stuff that comes my way, like sponsoring a child in a faraway land? Because I have that box checked, twice (yay, look at me, right!?) But does it even “count” if there’s no sacrifice involved for me? I mean, I can provide education, clothing, food, shelter, medical care, stability, and spiritual growth for  a child for less than it costs to fill up my gas tank 1 and 1/2 times. So….what did I really do that cost me anything?

And even if that stuff counts, then how much am I expected to give, really? Giving (money, anyway) is not really an area where my husband and I struggle. Now I’m not saying that to sound all awesome, because believe me, there are a million other areas where we do struggle that others just plain have it goin’ on in, you know? But that’s one we’ve always been on the same page with since we’ve met, and I believe God has given us a great measure of grace regarding that area because He led us to begin teaching others about financial responsibility and giving. Makes sense, right? But if I think I’m doing just fine and then I’m holding a $6 Starbucks, did I really show my faith? That $6 could go a long way in India, my friends. The other night I was at a party where goods were being sold from a catalog.  Accessories, not necessities. (UUUGGHHH I can’t believe I’m telling this story….) When it was over, the total sales were tallied up and they amounted to several hundred dollars. HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS. Enough to sponsor another girl for an entire year. I pushed down the little twinge of guilt I felt when I heard the total because I wasn’t sure if it was real conviction or a piece of equipment on the devil’s playground, so I pushed it away and decided I’d deal with it later, that I’d ask God to clear all that up for me. This is the first time I’m revealing it at all. In fact, I kinda forgot about it until just now.

So did I, in effect,  silently say, “go, be well and have a good day” to an orphan somewhere overseas because I pushed away that feeling, that thought of Oh, my goodness, a room full of people just spent enough money to take care of an orphan for the next year without saying anything or doing anything differently? I mean, I did want my new purse, after all. And plus, mentioning that after everyone has purchased their items isn’t exactly the best way to keep a party going, now is it? [Here comes Debbie Downer!]

Now, I am certainly not against Starbucks or pretty purses or any of the people who buy them. But those are good examples of the things that race through my mind when I hear this whole “faith without works” verse. HOW MUCH is really expected of us? I know we are allowed to enjoy some pleasures here on earth, but at what point is it just too much excess? Is it wrong for me to enjoy something even though I know choosing not to enjoying it could benefit someone else? In my mind I think well, it’s not like I’m directly hurting anyone or taking something away from someone who needs it. Or…am I?

The fact that I am even thinking so much about the details involved with how much good I have to do is disturbing to me. Since when did my faith become that I-still-want-to-get-away-with-enjoying-as-much-as-I-can-for-myself-while-still-meeting-my-Jesus-quota kind of thing? While I don’t consciously think that whenever I’m going through my daily life, this digging through the book of James business is making me want to get to the bottom of this It’s  like digging out a splinter. Ouch.

Lord, help please dig out this splinter before a full-blown infection takes its place.

What about you? Is this a valid concern or more false guilt? If faith without works is dead (and it is, because, um…the Bible already told us so) then how are you doing? Thoughts, please.

I am being torn up.

Advertisements

The DO-ing part: phase 1

During the first week of our read-along of the book of James, we’ve been challenged not only to read the words of the scripture, but to actually do what James says to do: DO WHAT IT SAYS.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (v.22)

There are many instructions for us to follow throughout scripture, some of which are not explicitly clear or can be applied different ways. But this one is pretty clear…no matter the command, James reminds us to DO what it says! Seems overly simple, but although I have read the bible and have a fairly good understanding of it, I admit that I still find myself daily failing at that tiny little detail of doing what it says. There’s that darn obedience thing again, right?

In fact, James pretty much tells us we’d be idiots not to do what the Word says. He says that a person who just listens to the Word of God but doesn’t do what it says is like a person who looks at his face in the mirror then walks away and forgets what he looks like. (v. 23-24.) I don’t know about you, but a person like that would seem pretty daft to me.

So, my daftness aside, I’ve come to a realization. I am the queen of trying to be an overachiever. (Lord help me with those “mmmm-hmmms” that I’m getting right now just from admitting this publicly!) I have a hard time just saying no to people.  I have a tendency to jump head-first into something without a lot of prayer, then I realize I’ve bit off more than I should have, then I can’t do my best at whatever it is, then I get grumpy and run-down, then I’m all bitter for having ever done the thing in the first place. What is that about!? For some reason I always feel like I have to do the biggest and best thing, and I end up ignoring all the little things along the way that really make up the person I am supposed to be. (You have no idea how hard this is for me to be confessing right now….ugh) So the whole big-shebang is not the point. The big events aren’t what make me who I am.  I’m starting to see that the little, everyday moments– the everyday choices that I make– are the actual threads that make up the fabric of my life. So I can sew a big flashy decoration on it if I want, but if the fabric is bad, nothing pretty and shiny will hold anyway.

So, of course when I read the challenge to share what I plan to do to become a DOer, and not just a HEARer of the word, my mind went to all this big stuff about studying for hours every day and starting a big prayer thing and all this other business. But God was so gracious to shut off that line of thinking for just a second and make me breathe. He’s nudging me in the direction of this to-do list instead:

  • Ask God for a bit of wisdom each day before I do something, instead of wondering later if I should have done it
  • Be slower to speak (that’s going to be a tough one!) and more eager to listen (equally tough for me!)   
  • Write letters to both of our sponsored girls this week, Zoila in Guatemala and Donna in India  
  • Spend some time with my mom, without any other reason to visit.
  • Keep a tighter rein on my tongue, by not participating in gossip or other negative talk when the opportunity presents itself (I’m pretty sure I already blew it this one, but I’m hitting the reset button)

What are you planning to do to become a DOer?

ALL joy, ALL the time

I started my read-along of the book of James today. I’ve read this book several times and there’s always something fresh to be seen. One thing that never changes is that I’m always appalled by one of its opening verses, one that will be very familiar to you if you’ve read this book before, or even have been around church for a while. You probably know it…. Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of every kind.

Or maybe you’ve heard it and a few other verses like this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

WHAT!? Joy? When I face trials? Like when life is unfair and bad things happen to good people (even if I think that’s me) and when I lose a bunch of money in the stock-market and when my friend’s daughter gets cancer and when my job demands too much of me, and when a relationship gets broken and when people say things about me that are hurtful and untrue (or true) and when I just can’t take another minute of it all? That’s when I’m supposed to count all those things up and claim that their sum is still joy?

I like how The Message translation puts it:

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

So, not only am I to consider my trials a joy whenever they come at me, but as they come at me from all sides. And furthermore, it’s going to be trials of all kinds! And that really is what it feels like sometimes, isn’t it, friends? Everything’s coming at you from all sides at all times.

Consider it pure joy, a sheer GIFT, even, that you GET to go through this junk. I love that next line, because it’s really true: We all know that under pressure, our faith-life really does get forced out into the open and its true colors are shown. In fact they spill right out into the open, where everyone who was already watching and those who hadn’t before noticed get to see who this Jesus really is to you and if He can actually withstand a bit of shaken ground, or even a full-blown earthquake.

What does James tell us to show?? Joy. That joy can still be found right in the midst of those crazy life-happenings. That moment (or 50) that is just about to be the very last straw…we can rest in real joy. And doesn’t that have something to do with peace that transcends all understanding? Well that may be for another time…

Many more thoughts on this book and believe me, there’s much more application for me to do. Right now I’m sleeping and I have a lot more processing to do before I post on my next thought from chapter 1 of James.  

Sweet, joyous dreams to you, fellow readers.

 

Can you hear me now?

So, I finally took some time tonight to catch up on an amazing little blog that I can’t even recall how I discovered, written by a local author by the name of Marla Taviano, who seems pretty darn amazing herself. I’ve been reading one of her books lately, entitled Is That All He Thinks About?: How to Enjoy Great Sex With Your Husband (way more on that later!) and I must say, I am enjoying the way that through her writing, this lady just brings it —the truth, that is— in a way that is  gentle but also a little bit in-yo’-face when it needs to be. Now I don’t know her personally, but she just seems very….real.  That’s my kinda gal.

Anyway, she’s decided to invite folks to do a read-along of the book of James, starting this week. Now, I mentioned to her once through a comment on her blog that I was a little freaked out by how timely some of her posts have been for me recently. You know that weird feeling when you’ve been thinking of something for a while and all of a sudden the whole universe  seems to confirm your thoughts and point you in the direction you need to go? Well that’s happened a few times recently through this little lady’s blog, among other things, and seeing this invitation to read through the book of James, it’s happening again.

I’ve been pondering what to read next in just about every way.  I’ve been shuffling back and forth through the pages of my bible lately, not really giving myself to one particular book or topic. I have several professional books that I’ve recently purchased and I’m trying to figure out which one will give me the most bang for my buck, since my personal reading time just got slashed by about a million percent when school began a couple of weeks ago. (FYI: A workaholism post will be following soon…maybe.) My book club just finished up an awesome novel and we’re looking for a new book to read…should we do another novel or try another book that is more life-application-ish?? The decisions…

Well, at least one of those decisions has been made for me. Whether or not this will be a book club pick or not, I know I’ve got to do this read-along. Because all these little road signs and nudges have been pointing to something to do with this verse, what I like to call the second scariest verse in the bible:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

Guess where it hails from? The book of James. Mmmmm-hmmmmm. Anyone joining me?? If so, check out the details and introduce yourself over at Marla’s blog here.  

I know I’m not good at it, God, but You’ve got me listening, and that’s a start, right?  I am listening.

Obedience: I’m in love, again.

I met a new friend today. His name is Danny. I’m in love.

It’s okay, you can tell my husband. I plan to.

It started when I saw him this afternoon, while I was out and about going several different places across the city in a [failed] attempt to buy some new clothes. Not because I’m running around threadbare or naked. Not even close. (You’re welcome.) I just like to buy a couple of new things each year when school starts. You know, new school clothes.

So in all my driving around I was downtown near the arena district when I spotted my new love. There he was, in the afternoon sun, wearing what appeared to be the same clothes he’d worn for days. His scraggly beard was fairly long. He was missing several teeth (which I could tell from quite far away) and he was at least 5 inches shorter than me.

PERFECT.

However, it was not exactly love at first sight. It was more like love at first nudge. I was in my car, coming up to a red light and in the middle lane. He was standing on the sidewalk to my right, slowly walking. His sign said “Homeless and very needy. Please help.” I watched him from the corner of my eye for just a couple of seconds. I could see the disappointment and a little speck of disdain on his face as every driver and passenger kept their eyes starkly facing forward as he walked by, refusing to acknowledge what they’d surely already seen.

A person. A man. A man in need of something. In need of something so badly that he resorted to begging anyone –everyone– to help.

That’s when I heard our love song. Cranking in my car at that exact moment was:

Your love, Your love/ the only thing that matters is/ Your love, Your love/it’s all I have to give

Your love/ is enough/ to light up the darkness/ It’s Your love, Your love/ All I ever needed is Your love

I knew then that I was his answer, at least for that day. God wanted to use me to deliver some love and maybe even provide him with the means to eat that day. So I started to reach for my purse, to get some money out. The light turned green. All the cars around me started to move and I needed to get over. No one was even thinking about acquiescing to my turn signal. I was starting to create a line of angry drivers who were behind me since I was inconveniencing them by making a last-minute decision to change lanes. It was annoying, I admit. So I hit the gas pedal and moved forward onto the freeway ramp I was right in line for. I had a moment, just a moment, where I thought well, it wasn’t meant to be since I wasn’t able to get to him quickly enough. I’ll pray for him. Then…

Why worry about someone’s soul but don’t bother to give them a basic need when you know you can?

FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD. (James Ch.2, the kinda-ghetto Krysten version)

I thought about all the other songs I’d listened to that day while I was out and about doing my thing. The lyrics shot through me light lightning bolts, one right after another.

I want more of you, God…

        I’ve found a love greater than life itself….

                     No place I’d rather be/ than here in Your love…

                                         Nothing can tear us from/ the grip of His mighty love…

                                                            He lavishes His love upon us/ He calls us now his sons and daughters…

                                                                        We’ve only glimpsed/ His vast affection/ heard whispers of/His heart and passion…

So I DID pray, but not for the man. I prayed that he would still be there so I could go do what I knew God was asking of me.  (So I guess I was praying for myself?) I got off at the next exit. I turned around. I got back on the freeway. I spotted my man and found a place to park. I walked toward him and was keenly aware of all the confused and frightened scares of the people in the cars when they realized I was talking right up to him.

I tapped him on the shoulder and told him how happy I was that he was still there. (again, was this for me?)

He smiled his toothless smile and hugged me.

I told him I saw him a little earlier but couldn’t get to him, but that I’d turned my car around and came back so I could come give him some money to help him through the day.(Why did I tell him that? What did I expect, a medal!?)

And you know what he said?

He said: “Well, you didn’t have to do that! All you had to do was love me!”

ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS LOVE ME.

He told me his name was Danny. We talked for a while about how the weather was nice even though it was hot, and how his back hurt and how he just sleeps any place he can find, and how he knows the people who owned the building he was standing near but they don’t have anywhere for him to stay in there. He hugged me three times and introduced himself twice in the span of 5 minutes.  He’d been on the streets for 25 years. YEARS.

I told him I would look for him again, and I will. I told him I would be praying for him to stay safe and for his back to heal. And I will. He was so thankful to hear that, of all things.

The whole experience took less than 15 minutes, surely. But he will last forever whether I see him again or not. I’d been wondering lately if I’ve been obedient to God, I mean anytime recently. I’d seen such beautiful pictures painted in several lives around me, of just pure obedience and the lovely results that follow. I couldn’t remember the last time I was obedient to a nudge from the Spirit. I’d asked Him to bring something to mind so I could remember it, but  God was gracious enough to do me one better…. He gave me a new opportunity to be obedient to his voice. It’s almost romantic.

All I had to do was love him, he said.

Done.