Sunday, November 25, 2007

James 1: 9-11

(James 1: 9-11) Christians who are poor should be glad, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should be glad, for God has humbled them. They will fade away like a flower in the field. The hot sun rises and dries up the grass; the flower withers, and its beauty fades away. So also, wealthy people will fade away with all of their achievements.

I am grateful for the people in my life that allow me to be who I am. They are there for me when I am suffering. I think without those people I would not be able to continue on this journey I am on. I pray that I can be as loving as they are to me.

Yet I also know that when people ask me how I am I find myself afraid to tell the truth. Not to those close to me necessarily but to those I don’t know as well or those I know will judge me. It seems like if I say I am experiencing pain some people attribute that to some lack in my faith.

I don’t know if that is what people intend to convey. Perhaps they are just trying to be helpful. I do know that there are people out there that think if you do not live what they consider to be an abundant life (pain free) there is something wrong with you. Maybe you don’t pray correctly or read your Bible enough.

Verses like this remind me that suffering does not mean there is something wrong with me. God is the great equalizer. Although James is talking about physical wealth I believe the same thing applies spiritually. Those who are poor should be glad because God has honored them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not So Happy Anniversaries

My mother passed away on November 20th, 1995. I remember November 20th, 1996 quite clearly. I was still in school. The loss of my mother was still quite acute in my mind. In some ways my mother’s death defined me at school. It is unusual for a young woman of 22 to lose their mother. My peers were ill equipped to walk with me through my pain. I don’t think I knew anyone else who had experienced the death of someone so close.

I did have some very good friends who knew the day was coming. One friend in particular wanted to make sure I wasn’t alone. We went to Applebee’s for dinner. It was kind of surreal. It turned out that thinking about the date was much worse than the actual day. Still I was glad that my friend and I had planned dinner. The anticipation of spending that evening alone would have been too much to bear.

After I left school things changed. Many of the people who were in my life at the time were no longer part of my inner circle. For those who are still in my life November 20th is not part of their history. It is mine. No one remembers unless I bring it up.

I had thought it would never happen but there have been a few years where the date has passed without my noticing. I was horrified by that. It was like I had somehow betrayed my mother. I had forgotten her and moved on with my life. The past few years I have remembered.

The thing is that it is really hard to find a context in which to bring up “Hey Tuesday is the anniversary of my mother’s death.” It seems so long ago. I should have gone through all of the steps of grieving by now (and I have several times.) To say the day is painful seems like I am not letting go of a 12 year old wound. To let go of the day would feel like I am throwing away something very important.

I miss you Mom. Sometimes the world is a shitty place without you. That will never change.

James 1: 5-8

James 1:5-8 (NLT)
If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. [6] But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. [7] People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. [8] They can't make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.

James has just put trials into perspective. They help build us and shape our character. If we are going to get through trials and live well we need to know what to do. We need wisdom. The American Heritage Dictionary defines wisdom as “The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.” Wisdom gives us the ability to figure out what to do.

Wisdom is not the same as the answer. When I look up the Scripture references that use the same Greek word they all indicate a more general type of wisdom. So when we are looking for wisdom we are not necessarily expecting God to come and say, ‘pick the blue one.’ God teaches us how to figure that out. He shows us the path to figuring out what to do. He will use his own methods to tell us what to do.

At first glance James seems to be condemning doubt in general. The thing to keep in mind here is that James is talking about praying for wisdom. He is not talking about praying for healing, provision, rescue or anything else. He is talking about wisdom in this passage.

If I am a Christian does it not make sense that I would expect God to guide me? There is something larger here than an answer to prayer. Remember that the other gods available were idols. They did not answer prayer. People who worshipped idols would not expect answers would they? And if people do not expect the Living God to guide them they will not wait on the Lord.

I believe that the people that should not expect anything from the Lord as James says are people that do not expect God to intervene in their lives. Does this mean we should expect specific things? Of course not. But if we do not believe that God will guide us there is pretty much no point in being a Christian is there?

I seem to be pointing the finger at others. In some respects I am. It really bugs me when people will only be ‘Christian’ to the point where they might have to change something about their life. However I know that I do not always expect that God will guide me. Worse I forget to ask for guidance. Lately I have struggled with that most at work.

For some reason I got it in my head that God didn’t care about my work. I don’t work in any kind of caring profession (doctor, nurse, social worker, pastor.) I would not have realized I thought that until I figured out that I was acting as if God didn’t care about the work I did. I mean would God really care about the project I was working on getting done (or not getting done?) Would God give me the wisdom to make good decisions about my work?

In addition I often find myself doubting whether I have been given guidance from God or not. Yes it can be difficult to know whether something is coming from God. But if I have asked for wisdom I need to believe that God is giving it to me. I waste too much energy trying to figure out if something I have asked for wisdom on is from God. I need to believe that God is telling me what to do (and that if I mess up after earnestly seeking Him he will protect me.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

James 1: 2-4

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. [3] For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. [4] So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

When I first became a Christian I held onto this verse. In fact it is probably the reason I read the rest of the book. It made my life make sense in some way. I put a premium on being strong and tough. It made a lot of sense for someone who described herself as coming from the ‘school of hard knocks.’ (Actually I don’t think I ever used that term out-loud. It was more of an internalized attitude.)

As I began to live out my life as a Christian and come across more ‘trouble’ I would encounter Christians who would throw out this passage rather than attempt to empathize. I could go into a long rant about why I think people shouldn't just quote Scripture in an answer to pain but that would detract from what I am trying to say. The point is that I stayed away from this verse for a long time. I have spoken on the topic of pain, I have walked with people going through pain, I gone through lots of pain, and I never pointed anyone including myself to these verses.

When I step back and look at the context it changes the way I look at this passage. The this letter was written very early after Jesus’ resurrection (in comparison to other letters in the Bible.) There was no formal established Church. Christians were scattered and probably marginalized. For those of Jewish background they would have lost a lot of friends and even family. Most interactions would be difficult. Not only would they fear for their safety but daily life would be very difficult. And if this book was actually only written 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection most of them knew a life before becoming Christians.

I can imagine if that was me I would wonder what the point of the daily drudgery of living this way was. Rather than the word ‘trouble’ another translation uses the word ‘trials.’ I started to wonder if James was talking more about the difficultly of living out life than specific dangers and crisis'. After the greeting this is the first thing he says. He is trying to reach Christians who are scattered and don’t have access to the resources we have today. The next thing James writes is this:

James 1:5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.

If I am in the middle of some trauma (say a car accident) I don’t ask for wisdom I ask for help. If someone important to me dies I ask for God to be near me, to bring me strength, to help me get through, not for wisdom. If I have just hurt myself or someone else is hurting me I would ask for God to rescue me. We don't need wisdom when something bad has already happened. Wisdom is a very practical day-to-day thing. We might ask for wisdom to know what to do when we are struggling with a physical problem but that is more of an issue of how to move forward.

The more I look into this and the more research I do I am convinced that James was not referring to specific ‘trouble’ but life in general when he talked about endurance. God is near to us in our pain. But we also learn a lot as we live out a life that is difficult. James did not say ‘if trouble comes’ he said when. We all have difficulty in our lives. It teaches us to endure. It makes us ready for anything.

These verses have much application for me today. I think about the stress at work. I think about living with chronic pain. I think about financial stress. All of these things teach me to endure.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Book of James

In the past few months I have woken up a lot in the middle of the night and been unable to get back to sleep. It seems like my mind races and won’t settle back down for me to relax. I have figured out recently to read the Bible. It calms my mind. Oddly it also seems like whatever I have read sticks with me. I don’t know if God is waking me up to read the Bible. I don’t think so. It is just a natural part of having the pain from an injury.

A couple nights ago during such an episode I read the Book of James in the Bible. James is a book that is often pointed to as a ‘how-to-manual’ for Christians. Although I would never describe the Bible in it’s entirety as a how-to-manual for life as some Christians do we have reasons to think that much of the book of James is prescriptive. The book of James is one of the earliest letters. It was written only 20 years or so after Jesus’ resurrection. The Christians were scattered. Without an organized church they really didn’t know what to do.

I have read the Book of James before. I didn’t like it. There were too many rules. This time when I read it I found a lot of wisdom. I have been looking for such wisdom on my journey lately. As much as I found wisdom I also found a lot of passages I didn’t understand. So I thought I would reflect on the Book of James in this blog. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Room Temperature

I have a programmable digital thermostat. It works well except when I happen to be home on a weekday. Then I have to manually override the temperature. Usually my target temperature is 20º. There is something weird about my thermostat. No matter what I do the thermostat seems to go from 19º to 21º. It is the strangest thing!

I have been home more lately. I have discovered that if I go up to 21º, I can easily come back down to 20º. It seems like my thermostat needs to go past the perfect room temperature and correct.

I am like that. Except I go from the equivalent of -10º to 30º before realize I need to be at 20º. There are so many areas of my life where the pendulum seems to swing back and forth. No matter what I do, I always seem to go too far.

I wonder if part of that is natural. If we need to go past the point of perfection so we can have perspective. We need to see the perfect point of balance from the other side. I am pretty sure that the perfect balance is something only God can achieve.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What to Say or Transition (I can't even pick a title today)

Wow I can’t believe it has been more than a month since I last posted! I have thought about posting quite often but my thoughts seemed too abstract. I find myself in a season of growth but also of confusion. I have so many questions and not so many answers. Nothing seems like it used to right now. Everything is different.

I find myself in a very lonely place because even if I answer the ‘How are you?’ question honestly I don’t know what to say. So I just say I am okay or I recount the status on my injuries (yes I am now limping in addition to the tear in my wrist.) But I am NOT OKAY! I am tormented. I am also great. Both of those things seem to be going on for me in the same week. Sometimes I experience both extremes in the same moment.

I have been thinking about so many things. One of which is how much attention one should pay to spiritual warfare. I learned a long time ago that paying too much attention to what the devil is doing is merely a distraction to looking for God. Yet the spiritual battle in my life has been tangible, brutal at times. I find myself to be a warrior in a battle I am only just learning to fight. In the past I have been a ‘civilian’ of sorts in the war. I have been affected and even wounded in the battle but I have not really fought back. Now I am fighting back and I am battle weary. Part of me wonders if I am just getting too caught up in it.

I have also been wondering if Jesus understands unbelief. The Christian faith teaches me that Jesus came to earth and lived with us so He understands everything. Yet Jesus is the son of God. Jesus is God. So how can Jesus have experienced unbelief? The experience of doubt is central to the struggle of humanity. I find myself experiencing a new doubt all the time. Does Jesus understand that?

Then there is the confusion about God’s strength. I have focused on my weakness and brokenness a lot. I have been honest about the places I am broken. Yet on some levels I have not allowed myself to be vulnerable in the moment. Now I have been able to do that. The thing is that I know I need to allow God to see my weakness but I also need to draw on His strength. It is God’s strength I need to bring change in to my life. Yet it seems that allowing myself to be weak is a prerequisite to that. I am just not entirely sure how to take the next step.

I am seeking God’s will in the area of discipline. This is an area I have struggled with. I have only wanted God to help me. I have seen myself as unable to be disciplined until some switch flicked in me (note to self see God’s strength above.) Now I have been a lot more disciplined but I feel like I am going over the top. I am afraid to do anything that may cause me to stumble. I haven’t wanted to spend any money or do anything all that fun for fear it will cause me to sink into the pit. This is legalistic and not God’s will for my life. Yet I don’t know if I can live in the grey.

I also feel God calling me to bring some healing to my relationships. I don’t know where to start. This new 'softness' in me has brought me into a vulnerable place where I have been hurt. In some cases I need to be honest with some people in areas of hurt. In other cases I need to step out and love some people. In still others I have some apologies to make.

I think that in the next few weeks I will perhaps allow myself to explore my questions (this post is really long and I haven’t even listed them all.) I hope you will be patient with me and follow my wanderings. I also hope that you will feel free to contribute comments.