Monday, January 16, 2017

James: The cause of Joy


I love James. I wasn't sure of that for a while, but now, I know I do.

Yesterday, I had a first. I began studying the James study I have just written. As a participant. It didn't seem odd, because the first day's assignment was to read through the book of James. It spoke to me again. 

Today's focus verse is James 1:2. "Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials." 

I found something in my study that I didn't include in my writing. JOY. Thayer's Greek Lexicon clarifies the Greek word chara. In this verse, it means more than joy or delight. It means "the cause or occasion of joy."(1)  

It's not intuitive, that's for sure. When we encounter various trials (piercings that allow all the not-like-Jesus parts of us to ooze out during the trial), we are to consider it cause for rejoicing.

Just recently, the automatic waterer for my horses' water trough broke (or wore out). When the horses drank the water out, the trough rolled down the hill and the hose connected to the automatic waterer began to pour water onto the ground. I was out of town, and returned to find my pasture well-watered. (AKA flooded) 

I arrived just in time to unload my suitcase and get ready to leave again for Wed. night Bible study. Dealing with a farm crisis was not on my schedule. My first response to the water situation was not exactly joy, but James 1:2 was fresh in my mind. 

Here's what letting a trial be an occasion for joy looks like...

 I started with prayer. "Lord, I don't want to be late. I'm supposed to meet a visitor at church. I need you to help me deal with this." He did. "I need you to show me something positive about this." He did.

Turning something negative into something positive, at least for me, begins in a conversation with God. It's the right place to start.

I retrieved the barrel-turned-water-trough from the pasture, where it had rolled. Water was pouring out of the wide-open hose, so I washed the trough out. All the dead leaves that accumulated came out in a flash, and somehow I managed not to get wet. Two blessings right there.

My farm hand was already home, but returned just in time to help me turn off the water. The faucet is faulty, and we've taken this occasion to repair it. Two more good blessings.

He turned the water off and stopped the flooding. Another blessing. The pasture was well watered. Blessing #6. 

Right away, I had more blessings than I could imagine from something that seemed like a trial at the start.

When we encounter a trial, we can whine like an infidel or look for joy in the midst of it. If we're to live as disciples of Christ, we'll do what James says. Look for the cause of joy and celebrate it.

Scripture promises that, if we seek, we will find, so let's seek joy.

Today, let's look for the chara (occasions for joy) in every situation we encounter and watch God turn our trials into wonderful blessings. 
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(1) Thayer's Greek Lexicon Accessed 1/16/17
If you'd like to participate in the James study, here's how: More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living
If you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Trials, Endurance, and the James Bible Study
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#studyJames #Biblestudy #joy 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Trials, Endurance, and the James Bible Study



I'm not sure when I started writing the Bible study on James, but I began preparing to write it months ago. I read through James so many times that I started to memorize the words from the repetition. 

Finally, I actively memorized it because it was easier to have the words in my head. I didn't memorize it all, because there was writing to do, but I have a good start and I'm not quitting yet.

A pastor friend told me you're not ready to preach a sermon on a passage of Scripture until you've been through it forty times. It turns out you're not ready to write until you've been through it that many times, either.

I was up again this morning well before 4 am. I've been up that early for so long, trying to squeeze more writing time out of the day, that it's become a habit.

Writing this was hard. I worked eighty-plus hours a week, because the work of being a missionary doesn't stop while you're writing. I wept from conviction every day, despaired of getting through, cried over how hard the writing was, begged people to pray because I didn't think I could finish. 

God helped me. I made it to the end. Yesterday, when I wrote the last section, Praying Like a Prophet, I wept as I typed. I stood in my kitchen and cried like a baby. And typed.

When I typed the period at the end of the last sentence, I put my face in my hands and wept from pure joy. As I did, the words of James drifted through my head. "let endurance have its perfect result..."

I don't know that endurance has produced a perfect result in the Bible study, but it has done some serious refining in me. This was a kind of trial for me, and I counted it as joy while I did it, but I know it's a joy now.

This isn't the kind of trial most of us will have, but it was still hard, because trials are always hard. It seemed impossible to get through. Agonizing. Gut-wrenching. Intense soul-searching. Like all trials. 

I persevered and made it through.

And you can, too. No matter what you're facing, you take one step at a time, cry your way through if necessary, and keep going. You depend on God, who is the only One who can help, and you just keep going.

When you persevere, it produces endurance and refinement. It makes you more like Jesus, and that's the goal. You ask for wisdom and, in your desperation, you don't doubt, because what good would that be? You ask and receive, and it strengthens your faith.

Everything James wrote about how to live like his Big Brother is true. He grew up with Jesus. He knew him in a way few did. 

His words are not suggestions. They are rubber-meets-the-road truth about how the life of a disciple is to be lived. 

THIS is how our lives are supposed to look. Strong. Humble. Wise. Patient. Slow to anger. Generous. Respectful of all. In constant communication with our Lord. Demonstrating our faith with our good works. Bold. Brave. Kind.

Being a disciple of Christ is exciting, and hard, and gut-wrenching good. It's worth it.

If you put your whole heart and soul into this study, I believe you'll take a giant step toward being the disciple you were saved to be. I don't think you'll ever want to go back to the status quo.

I hope not.

So here it is. The refining fire that burned out so much sin in my heart. I hope it does the same for you.


Because I've completed the writing ahead of time with James, I'm giving you the entire file at the beginning. (and I'll be going through it with you as a participant.) The link below gives you view-only access to a dropbox file for the PDF. (That means you can download it, but you can't change my PDF.)

Don't forget about the Lessons in Discipleship closed Facebook page. If you're not my friend, friend me and ask to be added to the group. That's the place for discussion and questions.

When you click on the link, it will take you to the file. There's a download button at the upper right corner of the screen. If you click on it, it should download the file to your computer. Just check your downloads and you can open it as often as you want. 


There are links to click on in the James document that will take you directly to the reference mentioned in the text.


Here's the link to the study:


James/More than Enough: Living a Life Worth Living



As before, this book is free. If God leads, here's a link to make a small (tax-deductible) donation to cover some of the cost of producing it. You don't have to make a donation. It's free, no matter what. 

Click here if you feel led to make a donation. 


ps - the photo is of my granddaddy's rose. I have a cutting that's grown and endured for so many years that it's become a symbol of endurance to me.
#studyJames #Biblestudy 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Life We Were Created to Live


"I'm tired of repenting, Lord." It was one of the most pitiful prayers I've ever prayed, but perhaps one of the most honest. 

I'd been in a state of non-stop conviction for weeks. A few weeks in James will do that for you. I'd repented until I didn't think I could repent anymore, then found another sin in need of repentance.

I'd seen myself as I was, and I wasn't impressed. I had thought I was doing okay. James showed me different.


I loved James when I started writing. Midway through, my fervor wavered. It was only when I was nearly done with the work that I began to understand the powerful primer he's written.

James was Jesus' little brother. He knew about not measuring up. He knew what the walk of faith Jesus intended looked like, because he'd watched Jesus every day of his life. You know how younger brothers are. They idolize their big brothers, especially one as nice as Jesus. 

Private Jesus was one thing. Public Jesus was altogether different. His words sounded crazy to James. And then, the crucifixion. Resurrection. 

Suddenly, it all made sense.

James knew the Christian life because he knew the Christ. He'd lived with Him far longer than any of the disciples. He wrote what he knew.

This is a primer on how to live the Christian life. Quit whining. Get the sin out. Stop faking. Love your neighbor. Stop hoarding and start giving. Pray real and pray big. Get off the pew and get in the world. Tell people the truth you know.

THIS is how we, who call ourselves Christians, are supposed to live. James' words convict us because we're not doing it.

If I am to be the Leanna God created me to be, I have to live the life James described. It's the life I was saved to live. The life YOU were saved to live.

Even if you don't participate in the James study, I urge you to read through those five chapters in the back of your Bible. They will change your life. If you'll let them.

We were created for radical obedience, astounding adventure, unimaginable joy, and all-pervasive peace, but we'll never have it sitting on a pew. 

Today, let's make a start. Open our Bibles. Allow God to speak to us through those pages. Do what He says. It's that simple. 

"Consider it all joy, my brethren..." James 1:2 nasb
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The James study will be available January 15th at www.lessonsindiscipleship.blogspot.com. As always, there's no charge, but there will be the opportunity for a suggested donation to cover the cost of producing the materials.
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Step-Aside Power Retreat
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#Jesus 

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Step-Aside Power Retreat


After Jesus was baptized by John, he had three short years for ministry. With just over a thousand days for preaching and teaching, Jesus chose to invest the first forty days in the wilderness. Fasting. Praying. 

Not a soul in sight.

No one to listen to His preaching.

No one to teach.

No one to heal.

That's quite a chunk of time, with what looks, on the surface, like little return. Why spend all that time in the wilderness?

There's power to be found in the kind of retreat in which the usual distractions are removed. A sweetness of communion with God that can be found nowhere else. 

Jesus taught about fasting as a private mode of worship and sacrifice, warning that we are to make no outward sign of fasting for others to see. He, who was sinless, prepared for service in the most important way of all, quietly, privately, communing with our Lord.

Denying ourselves is not at all popular in this culture, and I don't like it much either, but there's power to be found there. 

Is our concern about the spiritual needs of our children and loved ones great enough to spend time fasting and in solitude with our Lord? If so, offer a sacrifice of fasting (either food or pleasures) as you pray today.

Is our concern about our own spiritual needs great enough to spend time fasting and in solitude with our Heavenly Father? Then do so today. 

The sweetest times with our Lord, and the most powerful, can be found when all the distractions are left behind, so pray for a heart willing to step aside with Him, if only for a few minutes.

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days..."(Luke 4:1, 2a NASB)

The James study will be available January 15th at www.lessonsindiscipleship.blogspot.com. As always, there's no charge, but there will be the opportunity for a suggested donation to cover the cost of producing the materials.
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: Fighting with a Dead Writer and Conceding Defeat 
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#Jesus 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fighting with a Dead Writer and Conceding Defeat


I've been fighting with a dead writer for weeks. I'm not only worn out, I'm conceding defeat. Sorta.

I loved writing the Hosea study. Tons of history and centuries of political turmoil to explain. Lovely literary techniques to tease out. Beautiful allegory. Stunning truth. 

James is an entirely different kind of writer. As plain as cornbread. As tough as shoe leather.

I wanted the James study to be beautiful, too, but it's not that kind of book. 

I realized last night that the entire book of James can be boiled down to one sentence. "If you want your prayers answered, get over yourself and quit sinning."

There's no way to make that message beautiful. Beauty would be a distraction in the midst of this simple truth.

What I've written is lean. Clean. Different from my usual. It feels a little like I've gone "off brand." I haven't.

James demands that we look at our lives and deal with our sin. It's that simple. The study I've written is that simple, too. "Straightforward," one young man called it.

I've complained about James until I'm sick of myself. I've whined that I was struggling until every one around me is sick of me, too. I've rewritten so many sections that I can't tell if I've saved the best parts or not.

Finally, I'm surrendering to James. His words have defeated me, and I've needed the beating I've taken. He's hammered my pride, my self-righteousness, and my sense of entitlement, as well as all the other sins I have, until it's a wonder I have any sin left. But I do.

If I finish writing the last fifteen days of lessons before Sunday, it will go up as one entire document. If not, it will be two. It's that simple.

I've hated James most days of this writing cycle. Today, I'm choosing to love him, his plain truth, and his simple words. His clean lines are beautiful in the way of a well-constructed Shaker chest. 

The truth he shares is easy to understand. Too easy. 

James writes in such a simple style that there's no way to misunderstand what he means. Tame your tongue. Swoosh. Just do it. 

I've never had this many days in a row where what I've written has left me in tears, caused me to repent, broken my heart over my own sin. It's been good for me. It's a perfect way to start a new year.

Whether you participate with the James study or not, grab hold of the central truth and let it soak through you. Convict you. Change you.

"If you want your prayers answered, get over yourself and quit sinning."

It's the way we, as disciples, were meant to live. Focused on Christ. Loving God. Loving others. Done with sin. Praying prayers that are answered. Make the change that changes everything.
_____________
The James study will be available January 15th at www.lessonsindiscipleship.blogspot.com
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Day Heaven Opened
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#James #sin






Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Day Heaven Opened



Social media is filled with prayer requests and promises of prayer. There are days when what I most want is for heaven to open and pour out a heavenly waterfall of answered prayer.

With that in mind, I've been pondering the possibility of being able to open heaven in search of answered prayers. One verse has occupied my mind. 


"Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, (Luke 3:21NASB)"

Ponder this for a moment: Heaven opened while Jesus was praying.

To be clear on the sequence, Jesus was baptized "to fulfill all righteousness." It was not for repentance of sin, but as an act of obedience to show us the way. 

He was obedient. He prayed. Heaven opened. 

The more I look at this heavenly opening, the more I'm convinced it was initiated by obedience combined with prayer. Jesus did what His Father asked Him to do, even when it was hard. Father God honored His obedience. 

We can't earn answered prayers by "being good enough" to deserve them, of course, but obedience is not optional. Jesus lived in right relationship with God, and we should, too. Love God. Love others. Those are the two laws that sum up everything else. 

Jesus said, "IF you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." John 15:7 esv

If we want answered prayers, we must abide. If we want to abide, we have to obey. It's that simple. It's that hard. 

Love. It's not optional.If we want answered prayer, obedience in love is a good place to start.
________
In case you missed yesterday's post, here's the link: The Prayer Primer that Broke My Heart 
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802
#prayer 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Prayer Primer That Broke My Heart


One of the verses I memorized as a child is, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105 

If you've spent much time reading Scripture, you know it's true. The Word of God gives direction and much-needed guidance, but it also shines light on the dark places in our hearts. Convicts of sin. Leads us to righteousness.

That's how James has been for me. I've been preparing for months. Writing for weeks. Weeping all the way through. The gentle light of God's word has been a search light, pouring light into dark places. 

I have not liked it one bit.

It's the most agonizing thing I've ever written, because it's the most convicting.  

I don't see this in the commentaries I've read on James, but I believe James, AKA Camel Knees, wrote a primer on prayer. The key verse (to my intercessor heart) is this:

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." James 5:16 nasb

Everything else James has written leads up to those precious words. We can pray prayers that are as effective as Elijah. There's no doubt about it. The problem is that we often miss the "therefore". 

All that goes before in James deals with getting the sin out of our lives. We want powerful lives of faith, therefore, we must get the sin out.

James doesn't pull any punches. We must stop using our tongues to slash people to shreds. 

We must quit whining our way through every trial and allow God to use them in our lives. 

We must abandon our foolish pride and embrace humility. 

We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. 

We must stop trying to "learn" our way into heaven and start using what we've learned to do what God has commanded.

When we get our being and our doing right, we'll be ready to pray. When we pray, we will pray God's will, and He will do it. It will be the most exciting thing we've ever done.

It's hard work, this getting rid of sin and keeping it gone. Frankly, sinning is easier than not. But those answered prayers... oh, dear brothers and sisters, those answered prayers make the struggle to become sinless totally worth it.

I find it hard to let go of all my sin. 

The temptation to sin is pervasive, and as stealthy as a chameleon, finding its way into every crack, changing its appearance to be more attractive every time.

And yet, there are those marvelously answered prayers that are addicting. I long to see God's power. I crave it like a drug. 

It's taken decades to reach this point, but I'd rather have answered prayers than sin. So I continue to struggle against sin and repent as fast as I can recognize my error, and beg God to help me be more like Him.

I haven't wept over my sin every day I've written this study, but I have more days than not. I'll be glad to be through with it. I'm glad I've done it.

The James study will be live on January 15th. I hope you'll participate. It's free, as always. You can make a donation to defray costs, but you don't have to. I believe that's how God works. The best He has to give is free. 

You'll get out of it what you put into it. This is different from Hosea. There's not a ton of history to learn. Instead, we're looking at our hearts through God's eyes. Most days, the lessons are short, but the soul-searching is long.

I hope you'll join me for six weeks of study. Repentance. Change. At the end, if we do the hard work God requires of us, we should be closer to the point of Elijah. Flawed but faithful. Ready to pray with the power only God can give.

Today, let's stop long enough to ask ourselves a hard question. How serious am I about doing what God says? What do I need to do about it?

Let's make the change that changes everything. 
__________
The James study will be live on January 15th. You can access it at www.lessonsindiscipleship.blogspot.com (Hosea will be up until then.) You don't have to sign up, but if you do, I'll tag you when it's live. 
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: How to Make God Laugh
If you'd like to help support this ministry, here's the link to give: Global Outreach Acct 4841 If you'd rather use a check or money order, make it out to Global Outreach. Remember to put "Account 4841" on the "for" line. Mail it to: Global OutreachPO Box 1, Tupelo MS 38802

#prayer