Building Relationships with Students

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We love students!  It’s why we do what we do!  Why do we love them?  Lets count the ways:

  • They’re so full of life
  • They don’t take themselves so seriously
  • They’re funny as all get out
  • They’ve got all the energy we wish we had
  • They’re so full of untapped potential
  • They’re world changers
  • They’re yet-to-be-tainted versions of us
  • They just wanna have a good time
  • They’re hungry for something real
  • They haven’t yet perfected the art of lying and deception
  • They start prank wars
  • They love our own children like family
  • They’re ready to get after life
  • They’re relentlessly optimistic
  • They greet you in public like a puppy greets you at home
  • They know all the great videos on youtube
  • They keep us young
  • They remind you that life is a joy

On and  on I could go.  And I know you’ve even got a couple in mind right now to add to the list.  Students are just great!  But you know that already.  It’s why you’re reading this.  It’s why God’s called you to minister to them.  You lucky person, you.

So God’s called you to them.  You’re there.  In front of them.  With them.  They’re surrounding you.  Now what?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it happen, whether in church or school or anywhere.  Person X feels led to work with students.  We’ll call Person X Malachi.  Malachi is what I wanted to name Owen, but Megan said it sounded too Amish.  But that’s neither here or there.  But ‘chi wants to work with students.  And he’s all hyped up to do it.  ‘Chi even read a book about it before starting.  And he walks into the room full of students and life does one of those super-fast-tunnel-vision-zoom-ins right up to his face and he’s terrified.  I had a volunteer one time tell me that their first Wednesday night was like going back to high school itself.  Like they were the new kid in school standing in the lunch room not knowing where to go.  So what does Malachi do?  I mean, he’s read a book on mentoring, so he knows how to share wisdom, but that’s for down the road.  How does he build a relationship with them at all?

Well since I made up the guy and I made up the situation, I’m pleased to tell you that I’ve got the answer.  I’m even going to share it with you.  Malachi needs to be the guy God created him to be.  That sounds too simple.  Lets dig a little.

Malachi needs to walk right up to some guys in the room and be the most him he can possibly be.  Because rule number 1 with students is always be real.  They’ve got a nose for b.s. and they can smell it a mile away.  Acting like you’re someone you’re not?  They’ve got you picked already.  Pretending to be into something you don’t care about?  They already noticed.  Students are surrounded by lies all day every day.  They know real when they see it because they’ve been trained since infancy to doubt everything and everyone.  They’ve grown up in a super cynical world.  That’s why you’d be hard pressed to find a young Trump supporter (sorry it just got political, but it was low hanging fruit).  Because of that, authenticity jumps off the page.  There are so few genuine things in their world, when they see it, it stands out.

Maybe this first group of guys clicks with him.  Great!  If not, this isn’t the end of the world.  Too often, it’s at this point that bubbles are burst and hopes sink as swiftly as Jack & Rose and their beautiful Titanic in the icy Atlantic waters.  This is not a deal breaker.  I don’t develop deep relationships with every single person I meet.  You won’t either.  This is why your first several weeks in youth ministry should look a bit like speed dating.  Jump around, hang out a bit, laugh, be the you you’re comfortable being, move to another group, and do it all over again.  Sooner rather than later, you’re going to find a group of students you genuinely enjoy.  When you find your crew, settle in to a nice, comfy spot.

Now it’s time to invest.  Start just in conversation.  Ask them about themselves.  Show them you’re interested in them.  Make them the focus.  And when they talk, listen.  Make mental notes of things worth remembering: family, birthdays, hobbies, interests, extra-cucciculur activities, etc.  When you see them next time, follow up on a previous conversation.  This tells them that you care enough to remember them.  Unfortunately, not enough people do.  Especially adults!  When they ask about you, give them you.  Be real.  Don’t try to be perfect or have every answer.  Just be you.

Maybe one night for church you bring your group drinks from Sonic or DQ.  Give them a little something to tell them you care and you’re willing to do a little something extra for them because you value them. Or maybe you’ve always got gum you give away.  Think of silly little ways to bring them in.

Hang out with them outside of church.  While you’re at church, they’ll see themselves as your ministry.  Outside church, they’ll see themselves as part of your life.  This is where the relationship gets real.  Because until you show them that you truly care for them, they’re going to keep you an arm’s length away.  They even will a little after.  But it’s when you go to their games or plays or have them over to your house that they start seeing themselves differently.  Suddenly it’s not just about church.  You care about them.  And when this relationship is fostered, you’re finally able to really pour into them.  You’ve earned the right to speak into their situation.  You’ve earned the respect.  They know the truth you speak is in love.

The funny thing is that none of that is groundbreaking at all.  That’s just relationships.  The problem is, we realize how vital a mentor can be in a student’s life.  So we make it all serious and programmed.  And when we do that, we stop building genuine relationships because we’re no longer being genuine.  We think that we need to memorize the Bible so we can quote it to them.  Or we have to walk perfectly in our own lives so we’re not being hypocrites.  And we make the joy that is youth ministry something much more difficult than it really is.  Sure, you need to have wisdom to help them along.  Sure, you need to live out your faith the best you can.  But when life gets hard, they’re not going to the most scholarly person they know.  They’re going to the ones who have best show them love.

And isn’t that why we do it?  Life is tough.  It’s a long, difficult road to manage.  We just want to help them like we needed help.  And this is such a great place to take a moment and ask a very important question: what type of adult did you need at their age?  Maybe you had that adult in your life, maybe you didn’t.  But what did you need?  Be that for them!  Be that person who loves them well.  Be that person who lets them in.  Be that person who is truly concerned.  Be that person who isn’t afraid to speak truth.  Be that person who genuinely enjoys their company.  But I want you to stop reading for a moment and actually give that some thought.  That has the potential to be a game-changer.  So don’t just read on, take a moment.  What type of adult did you need growing up?


 

Students don’t need a babysitter.  They don’t need someone who is always pointing out their faults.  They don’t need someone reminding them of how they got it wrong.  They just need someone to walk beside them.  They’ll give you opportunities to speak truth and they’ll give you moments to help them grow.  That will come with the relationship.  But they’re not going to seek that type of relationship out.  That’s what God’s called you to do.  That’s why you’re involved.

So who are your people?  What students form your squad?  What can you do to bring them closer?  How do you get to know them better?  How do you let them see you?

Or maybe you don’t have a crew yet.  Keep meandering and talking.  Keep working the room.  Pray that God would show you.  Then do what you can to build on what He gives you.

Building relationships isn’t easy.  But it’s one of the few things in life that will just happen.  If you commit to just being there, you’ve taken the most important step.  So be a person who’s there.  You just being the you that God’s made you so far could have more impact than you could possibly imagine.  God has made you, equipped you, and led you to be exactly what a specific student needs to help conquer life as a teenager.  Are you in?

 

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Praying for Your Family

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What’s up team?  We’re in week three of our February theme of relationships and I hope by now you’ve gotten to have some good conversations about the greatest relationships in your life.  No earthly relationship is more important than the ones we build at home.  So I hope you’re being intentional about the time you invest in your spouse and kids.  This week, we’re talking again about or families, but in a slightly different way.

We’re gonna talk about how we pray for them.

I’m not going to waste any breath on the importance of prayer.  You guys know that already.  You’ve seen the power and difference it can make.  But how many of us really devote time to praying for our family?  Now I’m not talking about the generic, “God bless my family” or “God, take care of my family.”  That prayer is weak.  And if I hear it, I call it out.  Seriously.  I really do.  Every night, we pray together as a family and we take turns leading it.  Just the other night, Owen was tired and gave one of those half-hearted prayers.  And without even waiting for him to finish, I interrupted and blurted out, “Weak!”  It led to a short, but good conversation about what we give to God.  Do we give Him our best or do we give Him our leftovers?  And when we pray, are we having a conversation or are we just saying words.  A good litmus test is asking yourself this question: would anyone enjoy this conversation?  If it’s not good enough for a friend, why would we offer it up to God?

…I’m getting off track.  Anyway…

So often, when we pray for our family, we’ll pray generalities.  Keep them safe.  Keep them happy.  (Like safety and happiness are God’s ultimate concern for us).  But our prayers often look like a list of things we want.  And so often, it’s hard to pray this way.  Because we wonder, does this honor God?  Could this move His heart?  Am I even moved by what I’m praying?

A couple weeks ago, we had a conversation as a staff about bold prayers.  What they look like and why we don’t pray them enough.  And one of the things that was brought up was that we often don’t pray boldly because we’re afraid they won’t be answered and we don’t know if it’s what God desires.  And that led to another cool conversation about prayer that I want to share with you.

Of course we want our kids to be safe and happy.  Of course we want them to grow.  We want them to have good relationships, we want them to be challenged, …fill in whatever blank you want here.  But what does God want?  How can I pray God’s will for my child when I’m not even sure what God’s will is for me?

One of the greatest things that we can do is pray scripture over our family.  Because here’s the cool thing with that: it always honors God.  We don’t have to question, “does God want this?”  They’re His words!  It’s what He’s telling us He desires for us!  So when we pray scripture over our kids, we’re not asking God for things that He may or may not want.  We’re asking for things that God delights to give!  We’re not strong-arming God into getting our way, we’re asking for His will to be done.

So thanks to the help of Pastor Jeff, here’s a list of prayers that God delights to answer.  There’s one for your spouse and one for your kids.  And I encourage you to make this a part of your daily prayers.  That every morning, you cover your family with prayer, not just prayer that benefits them, but also honors God.  And watch how God will move as you do this.  Bonus points to the parents who also pray these over their kids’ future spouses!  It’s never too early!  And feel free to copy and paste this.  Print it out and put it on your nightstand.  Or bookmark this page so you can access it easily every morning.  But if we say we believe in the power of prayer, let’s put our money where our mouth is.  Nothing has the power to benefit our family  more than this.  So join me and lets get after it!


17 Prayers for your spouse:

Pray For His/Her Strength  “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)

Pray For Increased Faith  “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Matthew 21:21)

Pray For His/Her Peace  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Pray For His/Her Work  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Pray For Encouragement  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

Pray For Freedom From Fear  “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Pray For His/Her Health  “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (3 John 1:2)

Pray For Self-Control  “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28)

Pray For Grace  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15)

Pray For Confidence  “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Pray For His/Her To Recognize Her Purpose  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Pray For His/Her Needs  “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Pray For His/Her Influence  “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)

Pray For Transformation  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Pray For Sexual Intimacy  “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5)

Pray For Rejuvenation  “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Pray For A Humble Spirit  “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2)


8 Prayers for your kids

Bless and keep them throughout the day  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Let your light will shine through them  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Give them a spirit of power, love, and sound mind  “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

They will not be anxious about anything  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

They will know that You are with them  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

They will grow in the grace and knowledge of God  “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

They will stand for what is right  “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14).

They will know Jesus Christ more intimately  “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

 

This one’s for our kids…

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Kids are amazing!  I had no idea what I was getting into when I became a dad.  They’ve taught me so much about myself and about growth and about my relationship with my Heavenly Father.  And it never seems to stop.  They’re just always showing me new things.  And even when they’re not showing me new things, God is showing me new things through them.  I can’t count them times I’ve been disciplining the boys for doing something and God suddenly says, “I hope you’re listening to what you’re saying.”  And through their bad behavior, God sharpens me.  It’s so crazy.

And now that the students in my first couple youth ministries are getting married and in the baby-making stage, I always say the same thing when they ask me for advice: “there’s nothing that I can say to prepare you”.  And it’s so true!  The only way we become better parents is through being parents.  Books might help.  Advice might help.  Blogs might help.  But to be a good parent, you’ve just got to be a parent.

One of the cool things about being a youth pastor is getting the opportunity to see what’s in store long before it gets here.  When I was new in ministry, I’d be shocked by the things some kids are doing.  Now, nothing surprises me.  Seriously, it’s almost scary the things I hear that don’t make me bat an eye anymore.  By the time my boys get to be teens, I’ll have seen everything a hundred times already.  I’m not even sure they could invent new ways to mess up.  It’s always the same, playing on repeat.  The Bible says that there are no new problems under the sun.  We’ve seen it before.  We’ll see it again.  Just wait.

But when talking to teens about their parents these last several years, certain themes keep coming up over and over.  And since most of our kids are still young, I feel like we can pull something away from each statement, so that the same might never be said by ours.  And if they’ve been said before, we can gain a little wisdom in how to grow going forward  So in the name of gleaning some wisdom from our ministry and growing our kids, lets look at some things I hear from students all the time…

My parents are so out of touch.

What do they  mean by that?  I think the answer may surprise some of us.  Because guess what, our kids could care less if we know how to dab.  Their view of us has nothing to do with acronyms they use while texting.  They don’t care if we know the newest songs or have seen the trailers to new movies.  They don’t care.  And so we don’t necessarily need to be in the middle of pop culture.  So stop watching MTV and take TMZ off your list of shows you’re recording.  You don’t need them.  Perhaps stop dancing while chaperoning their formals though.  For everyone’s sake.

What these kids are saying is that their parents are out of touch with them.  And to be honest, most of the time, they’re right.  We parents have a way of thinking that if it’s not on fire, it doesn’t need our attention.  If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.  So often, we truly are out of touch with our kids.

Here’s a test:  What’s your kid’s favorite show?  Who’s their best friend?  What did they talk with their friends about last weekend?  What are they excited about this week?  What are they nervous about this week?  What prayer request has been on their list these last couple weeks?

Hopefully you did pretty good answering those questions.  Maybe you did awful.  But here’s the even scarier part: it only gets harder.  When kids are young, they’ll help you out.  They’ll tell you everything unprovoked.  Later on, you’ll have to pry such simple things from them.  And they might even act like they don’t want you to know about them.  But in my time in youth ministry, I can tell you with absolute certainty, that teens desperately want to be known by their parents.  They want so badly to be understood.  But so often they’re distant.  So often they hold things in.  Why?  I’m glad you asked.  Because statement number two that I always hear is…

My parents only love me because they have to.

Maybe they say my parents only take care of me or my parents only spend time with me.  But the sentiment is always the same.  It’s because they have to.

“That’s not fair,” all the parents cry as one.  But take a step back and think about it.  They are almost completely without responsibility.  Sure, we give them chores and rules.  But they’re really not completely accountable for anything.  They don’t pick out cars and make loan and maintenance payments.  They don’t make a budget, buy a house, and pick out a mortgage plan.  They don’t have kids of their own they have to grow into adults.  They have school.  That’s as close as it comes.  And while school is important, you and I both know from living on this side of it, that life in school truly effects very little of our current life outside of school.

My point is that they don’t have very many things they have to do.  They don’t understand the responsibility of paying a mortgage or putting new tires on the car.  They don’t get that we do these things, not out of obligation, but out of care.  They only have one responsibility: school.  And they despise it.  So when they recognize that you are their responsibility, they assign that same emotion to it.  You care for them because you have to.

See where this is going?  They see responsibility as awful.  We see it as a privilege.  We want to own a home.  We want to have a nice vehicle.  We want to love our children.  Those are responsibilities, but they’re ones that we take on with gladness.  Remember how elated you were when your babies were born?  So do I!  But they don’t.  They know that they require money, rides to and from  everything, grief over disobedience, on and on we could go.  But they recognize they’re a pain.  They don’t recognize that they’re our joy.

So how do we remedy this?  Well, I’d like to say it’s by doing something simple.  But truthfully, it’s a long process.  And the process is this: allow them to witness you choosing them.  Not just once, but over and over again.  Let them see that you had an opportunity to go out with the guys, but you chose to go to play a pickup game of ball with them instead.  Let them see that you could have seen a movie with the girls, but you stayed home to watch a movie with them instead.  Let them see that you had a big dinner planned, but you did frozen pizzas and a couch fort at their request instead.  Let them see you repeatedly choose them.  And make sure they see it.  Make sure they hear it too.  Tell them that you chose them.  Tell them that your time is best spent with them.  Be careful in doing this though, because when done wrong, you’ll only exacerbate the problem.  They’ll think that you’re sacrificing for them.  And while there may be truth to it, the purpose of the whole thing is to show them that they are not only more important, they are more desired.  They need to understand that you’d rather have a relationship with them than any other person, outside your spouse.

So show them and tell them.  But be sure they see and hear your heart, not just your sacrifice.

My parents don’t care.

Here’s where we’ve gotta own up.  Because most of the time this isn’t just an errant thought.  It’s taught to them.  By you.

Can I be honest and say this is where I struggle the most?  I’m absolutely terrified of this one.  Growing up, my uncle was a pastor.  And his youngest son, my cousin, was my best friend.  But he would always comment that his dad loved the church more than he loved him.  If Oz or Jax ever said that, I’d be devastated.  The scary thing is they’ve come close.  When you put shoes on Jax, he says, “church, church”.  His assumption is that if we’re not at home, we’re at church.  Life isn’t spontaneous or joyful.  It’s lived in one of two places. Owen has said on more than one occasion that I’m never home or I’m always working.  This isn’t their fault, it’s mine!  I’ve shown them, through the use of my time, that some things are more important than them.  And I would tell you all day long it’s not.  I would sacrifice anything for those guys.  Literally, I would give up anything.  I’d walk away from my ministry right now if I needed to.  But I doubt they know that.

I don’t think I’m alone here though.  Actually I know I’m not.  I hear that said all the time.  And to be fair, sometimes it’s completely undeserving.  They’re hurt or want attention or something.  And they just say it to be proved wrong.  But most of the time, it’s just an observation of theirs.  They make time for what’s important to them.  So should you.  “But it’s harder for adults!”  You’re right.  But it’s also more important.

I’m reading a book right now that I’d recommend to anyone.  It’s short and you can read it in a day.  It was written by Andy Stanley, one of my favorite pastors.  He was the guy in the clip last week on marriage.  He’s awesome.  But he wrote this book called Choosing to Cheat.  And the premise of the book is that in life, everything and everyone wants our time.  And not just some time, as much as it can get it’s greedy hands on.  No matter how great we are, our boss always wants more.  No matter how effective we are, our ministry always wants more.  Everyone always wants more.  And when it comes down to it, we need to learn that someone’s gotta be cheated.  God forgive us if we choose to cheat our family.  The last people in the world I want to feel cheated is my family.

But that means we’ve gotta be intentional.  We can’t just hope.  We have to choose who gets the best of us.  So often it’s not our kids.  If you want to have any voice in their lives, make the change now.  Because our words are useless.  They’ll believe what we live, not what we say.

And while we’re on the topic of balancing work and play, there’s yet another way we need to balance work and play.  Some parents only discipline.  Some parents only act like friends.  The goal isn’t choosing the right one, it’s choosing both and finding balance.  I lean more heavily on discipline.  I’m pretty hard on my boys.  I need to look for ways to play more.  Some parents are like me and they discipline and not play.  They’re going to raise sad, distant kids.  Some parents only play and don’t want to discipline.  They’re going to raise horrible entitled monsters.  Finding that balance is just as hard as balancing anything else in life.  But we can’t hide from it because it’s scary.  We’ve gotta face this head on.

So these are the three most common things I hear from our teens.  Will I one day hear them from your’s?

I encourage you to take a moment and pray.  Ask God where your parenting needs to be more intentional.  He’s probably been telling you the whole time you’ve been reading.  But join me in prayer and see where God leads you.  Then have the wisdom and courage to do it.  No matter how hard it is.  For the sake of your kids.

God, thank you for my family.  Thank you for my kids.  I love them so much.  I understand that they’re on loan from you.  I understand that you’ll one day ask for them back.  God, in the meantime, help me to be a good steward of them.  Help me to invest in them and grow them so they live a life that honors you.  Lead me to lead them.  Dad, I don’t know what I’m doing here.  So I submit to your plan and will follow your leading.  I’m listening…

Marriage as a Verb

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Kelly Kapowski.  My first love.  The first girl I ever truly wanted to marry.  Alas, it wasn’t to be.  Turns out she’s not real.

I did however learn alot about relationships from these two.  Being a kid from the 90’s, Zack and Kelly was my Ross & Rachel, Cory & Topanga, Carrie & Mr. Big, Jim & Pam, and Kevin & Winnie all rolled into one.  I thought they were it and wanted my relationship to be just like theirs.  So this blond haired high schooler found himself a brunette cheerleader and they lived happily ever after.

…except that’s not quite true.  Marriage, it turns out, isn’t as easy as putting one and one together.

But I’m not going to tell you how hard it can be.  You already know.  And I’m not going to give you failure statistics.  You know that too.  I’m not even going to give you a list of “don’ts” because you’ve seen all those.  And I’ve far too often seen marriage compared to war.  Heard about the battle.  Seen remarks about dominance over women and the emasculation of husbands.  That’s all crap.

What I want to do is allow you to see again just how awesome marriage is!  Because the goal isn’t to not get divorced.  If that’s as high as your aspirations go, good luck.  Maybe you should just test your loyalty with your favorite brand of toothpaste.  The goal is to grow together, have lots and lots of mind blowing sex, laugh really often, and while all this is going on, cheer each other on toward love and good deeds.

So a good marriage takes action.  And I want us to start thinking of our marriages, not as a thing that needs constant care and attention, but as a daily adventure that you get to experience.  That we don’t think loving, we act loving.  We don’t care for them, we give care.  There’s a big difference.  So often love is internalized.  But marriage isn’t lived out in your head.  It’s lived out in the world.

SHOW Appreciation

The other week, I watched a documentary on slavery and the Civil War.  And when it was over, I was swept with this overwhelming guilt that even though I am so blessed, I’m not nearly as thankful as I should be.  So I decided the next day I would fast.  And during that time, I’d pray and make a list of all the things I was thankful for.  So I started making the list and the first 25 things I wrote were all about my wife.  And what struck me wasn’t the fact that she was so prominent on my list.  What struck me was how clueless she would probably be that I would write those things down.  I doubted that she even knew how much her character and her care mean to me.

I typically make an assumption that Megan knows what I love about her because the things she does are worthy of love and gratitude.  Like it doesn’t need to be spoken.  So I make assumptions based on assumptions and expect that to see me through an exceptional marriage.  But the truth is, we spouses can go for weeks wondering why we’re loved at all.  And even though we may not admit and we definitely wouldn’t say it, we’re dying to hear from our other what it is they love about us.  We want that care and that affirmation.  So give that away.  Share that.  We don’t need to hold it close to our vest.  We need to lay all that out on the table.

The cool thing is that this creates a deeper bond in both people.  For them, it reassures them and gives them security and positive feedback.  For us, it reminds us of all the little things we take for granted.  Pastor Brian asked the question once: What if God only gave you tomorrow what you thanked Him for today?  Think about your marriage with that regard.  So make a list.  What is it you love so much about your husband/wife?  Got a list?  Tell them!  Write a letter.  Give a passionate monologue.  Send daily texts.  Take gratitude one step further and express it!

BE Intimate

Every single day, we slowly fall more in love with some things, while we fall away from others.

This isn’t rocket science, it’s just life.  But it’s still a profound statement.  Every single day, we slowly fall more in love with some things, while we fall away from others.  I used to love Kelly Kapowski.  I used to love baseball cards.  I used to love playing video games.  I used to love pizza.  I used to love being single.  I used to love a whole lot of things.  But as I grew, I fell away from those in favor of falling more in love with other things.  I turned my attention away from them and onto others.  Now I love reading.  I love steak and sushi.  I love watching documentaries.  I love my kids.  And these may be simple and silly things, but think about life.  That emotional attachment to a coworker didn’t just spring up overnight.  It developed.  You grew closer to that and further from your spouse.  That getaway used to be a hobby, now it’s an excuse to be away from the family.  It was slow and it was intentional.

You decide what you’re falling more in love with and what you’re falling away from.  So…

Have lots of sex.  Husbands, you’re welcome.  But do it!  Alot!  Tired?  Drink a Red Bull.  Stomach hurting?  Stop eating nachos and ice cream before bed.  I don’t care what you need to do.  Take care of it and… well… take care of it.  Because lets be real, we men are different people when our wife takes care of us.  We hold our heads higher and our eyes stay focused.  You ladies even look different when you’re well loved and confident you’re treasured.  So have fun.  Let your freak flag fly.

Date each other.  Get away from your kids.  Shirk responsibilities.  Act like teenagers.  I’ve heard it said that marriage is falling in love over and over again with the same person.  We people change as we grow older.  None of us are the same person we were ten years ago.  None of us will be the same ten years from now.  As couples, our relationship needs to grow in the same way the individual does.  And it can only happen when we intentionally make it happen.  So whether it’s sandwiches in a park or drinks in the city, date.  As often as possible.  And even when it’s not.  One night on a winter retreat with the teens, Megan and I met in the hotel lobby for a 30 minute date over vending machine snacks at 1am.  It wasn’t much, but it ended up being one of our favorite memories from the trip.

Flirt, joke, hold hands, tease, act dumb, tickle, kiss in public, woo.  These were all things you loved doing at the beginning.  These were all the things that led to the two of you falling in love.  Let them also be what sustains you.  And don’t make excuses.  You’re either falling more in love or falling away.  It’s your call.

WORK Together

What’s crazy to me is how little couples work together.  They’re involved in the most intimate relationship present on Earth, but they really just run into each other at morning and at night.  Life happens, they react, and get by.  Life happens again, they react again, and get by again.  But living the same 100 years over and over isn’t life.  Life is dreaming and creating and building.  It’s growing something that in turn grows you.  And when we dream and build with our spouse, we unlock potential that’s long been dormant.  So begin working together in these couple ways…

Volunteer: Be a part of something bigger than the both of you.  Impact the world as a team.  I love that Megan volunteers in the youth ministry.  And getting to see her in action is amazing!  I get to see her laugh and goof off, building relationships with the teen girls.  I get to see her heart when she’s crying late at night, while texting girls who are going through tough circumstances.  I get to see her care and attention pay off when a girl lays her head on Megan’s shoulder while she’s worshiping at church.  Seeing her do these things fills me with awe.  She’s amazing!  And on top of that, we get to introduce teens to Christ.  We get to work together on how we want to influence the schools for Christ.  But it doesn’t have to be that.  Maybe you want to build homes for Habitat for Humanity or work in a soup kitchen or tutor at schools.  Whatever it is, influence the world and stand in awe of the amazing person God made in your spouse

Experience Life: Find a hobby and do new things together.  Stretch yourself and discover new passions.  Being a part of each other’s growing is so gratifying!  Take a cooking class, go hiking, join her knitting group (seriously!).  Be a part of each other’s happy place.  Recharge together.  Because lets be real, you and your other don’t have enough fun together.

Cheer on Growth:  It’s easy to get lazy and become stagnant.  And I told the youth group this last Wednesday and I become more and more certain of it: that maybe God didn’t give us marriage just to be happy.  Maybe he gave us marriage to be holy.  Several years ago, I was stuck in a bad place.  And one night, Megan had enough.  She called me out with tears in her eyes and accused me of being a bad leader.  Not that I was leading poorly, but I wasn’t leading at all.  And I had to sit there and eat it, because she was exactly right.  But Megan wasn’t nagging at all.  She was fighting for the family.  Her voice woke me up.  Years later, Megan felt led to start a women’s Bible study.  She was scared and unsure of herself.  I challenged her and helped her and she got to see 40 or so women walk closer with Christ.  My voice gave her courage.  Paul says in 1st Corinthians (One Corinthians, if you’re a Trump supporter) Chapter 7, verse 2 “…since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.”  And here, he’s talking directly about immorality that leads to adulterous sin.  He said it’s better to marry than to burn with lust.  But I wonder if even Paul realized how profound this statement is.  Because Megan’s voice in my life has led me to be a better man than I ever would have been on my own.  This world has so many things to turn our attention to, but we get to navigate it together.  We have to be speak with love and we have to be open to guidance.  But how awesome is it to grow closer to Christ with our spouse!

Be a Team:  Andy Stanley says it better than I ever could, so watch this…

So marriage is awesome!  Make yours more awesome!  All it takes is a little intention and a whole lot of action.  Take that to mean whatever you want.

I love you guys and I’m cheering for you!  Make sure your spouse reads this too and talk about how you want be an even better couple.  Because you guys aren’t just going to make it, you’re going to love it!

James wk4

mourn

What’s up, guys!  So today is our last week in our study over James.  And while the business of what we go over today isn’t very groundbreaking, I think there’s some really good stuff we’ll all take away and be challenged by.  So get someplace comfy and continue on…

Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you.  Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn, and wail.  Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.     -James 4:7-10

We read this passage and we think that James is wanting us face-down groveling in front of the Lord.  To be fair, that’s partly what he is actually saying.  But what James is outlining here isn’t a demand.  It’s pleading.  Since it’s James, our first reaction is that he’s barking at us like a drill sergeant in boot camp…

drillsgt“Grovel, you filthy, worthless maggot!”

But as we look closer, we can see that he’s outlining our means to a saving grace.  How we should come to God in repentance for salvation.  And this is step 1 for any new Christian.  But it’s absolute gold for we who have been following Christ for years.  So as we go through this, think of it as a litmus test for your own relationship with God.

James uses this succinct little passage to list ten active ways a sinner turns to Christ.  It’s funny that we don’t hear much of it though, because it’s quite possibly the clearest call to salvation in all of Scripture.  But it’s not eloquent and it’s not even very compelling.  Because at the heart of it isn’t a promise of future blessings or growing relationship with Christ.  That just wouldn’t be James.  James’ only mission is to encourage appropriate action.  Just like everything else we’ve read!  Man, James is so James.  I love this guy!

But lets take a closer look at the ten actions a repentant heart needs:

  1. Submit to God – I love the idea of submission.  So often, we give it negative connotations and think that submission is for the weak-willed lemmings that go through life with a need for others to make their decisions.  But submission is one of the strongest and most unifying things we as people can do.  Think about it.  Without submission, no wars could ever be won.  Without submission, no agreement could ever be made.  Without submission, no relationship could last.  Because at the heart of all of these is the idea that we as people must submit to each other.  We fall under the same plan and commit ourselves to serving that plan and that person – i.e. submission.  So if we say we’re unwilling to submit to anyone or anything, we’re basically saying that we look out only for ourselves and desire folly over unity.  I think so often of submission in terms of military.  I’m a huge nerd and love studying American history, specifically the Civil War.  And I look at these men who fought on the lines and carried out the orders of their commanders.  These men weren’t weak individuals willing to die on the whims of the elite.  These were men who believed in what they were setting out to do.  And they realized that they couldn’t win the war on their own, so they submitted to one another and came under the same plan.  If they weren’t completely sold out to their cause, there’s no way they’d risk life and limb to take a silly hill.  But because they submitted themselves to the cause, they willingly did whatever it took.  And because they were part of the plan, they were resourced beyond what they themselves could do.  In this case, the government and the people saw to their needs to give them what they needed to fight.  James tells us here to submit ourselves to God.  To come under His command.  To take on His cause.  To be in unity with Him and every other person who calls Him Lord.  Because the life of a Christian is difficult.  We can’t live it on our own.  And the only way we’d ever be willing to face trials and help others is if we are sold out to God’s plan and using God’s strength.  So when we submit to God, we aren’t becoming mindless robots who do what we’re told.  We’re coming under God’s plan, to be fueled and resourced by God Himself.  Our battles are faced with the infinite wisdom of an omniscient God and we’re given everything we need through the infinite strength of an omnipotent God.  But a person must submit to God before His care can ever begin.
  2. Resist the devil and he will flee – The Bible doesn’t tell us to stand idly by and not fall into sin.  It tells us to resist.  Anthisetmi literally translates to stand against or to oppose.  When temptation, accusation, hostility etc comes from the enemy, we are to stand against him.  This is an active verb.  This isn’t like running away from a bully. This is standing up to him and his tactics, just like Jesus stood up to him during his temptation in the desert.  He battled with the devil and the devil fled.  We are to arm ourselves with Christ and His Word.  And we’re given assurance that we WILL have victory.  As powerful as he is, even those under his oppression can resist him.  Because he can only hold someone if he has their permission.  And when we oppose him, he flees.
  3. Draw near to God – Here’s a thought we take for granted.  James grew up in a culture where one couldn’t just draw near to God.  Only priests could be in close proximity to God in the temple.  As gentiles, we could never get closer than outside in the courtyard.  But when Jesus was crucified, the temple was shaken and the veil between man and God was torn.  And now we, through salvation, have access to an intimacy with God that was previously unheard of.  As salvation begins the relationship, we get to see and taste just how good God is.  And our natural reaction, as to any healthy relationship, is to draw nearer.  This drawing nearer is an ongoing process that takes us further and further in.
  4. Cleans your hands – Going back to the temple, priests had to ceremonially cleanse themselves before they could enter God’s presence.  Here, James is telling us to repent.  To turn from sin and seek forgiveness.  A bride would never walk in off the street for her wedding day.  She bathes, she wears her best dress, she does her hair and makeup.  She wants to look perfect for her groom.  So we should present ourselves before God.  Not satisfied with just showing up, but wanting to give Him the best of us.  And neither James or I are saying anything about Sunday.  This is an attitude that carries us every day into every situation.  Not an occasional event.
  5. Purify your hearts – This takes the cleansing one step further to find the root.  “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” Matt 15:18&19.  Jesus says that our sins start in our heart.  This is why David prayed, “Search me, God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts” Psalm 139:23.  If we strive to honor God with our life, our hearts must be purified.
  6. Be miserable – God’s grace doesn’t matter if sin has no consequence.  The only way we can truly love grace is if we truly hate sin.  And misery isn’t a command, it’s the result of knowing what our sin cost us: a broken relationship with God.  Our misery is a result of facing up to what we’ve done.
  7. Mourn – Detest sin for what it really is.  If something came in the way of your marriage, you’d hate whatever it was that broke you apart.  You’d want it to be gone and out of your life.  You’d have no love for it.  And you would mourn that it ever found its way in.
  8. Weep – The manifestation of misery and sorrow.  The brokenness between us and God isn’t just spiritual.  It’s physical, emotional – it’s part of our whole being.
  9. Laughter to mourning, joy to gloom – James isn’t condemning legitimate joy and laughter.  He’s regarding the sinful pleasures that we willingly seek and take part in.  That our sensual laughter gives way to mourning what it’s brought on.  Where we once, while lost in the world, took our lives lightly and enjoyed the desires of our flesh, we now mourn our wayward self and that time is regarded as sorrowful.
  10. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord – And we’re back to square one.  We humble ourselves in acknowledgement of who God is and who we are.  Written on the board in my office are words that I pray often.  “You are God and I am not.”  It’s so simple, but to be honest I often have to remind myself.  In my arrogance, I think that I can solve the problems that people give me.  In my pride, I think that I have what it takes to save the world.  But the truth is, I have very little to offer.  On my own, I can’t do much.  Which is why I also have written on the board the words God gave to me one day when struggling with how little I could do for someone: “you be you and I’ll be Me.”  I’ll do what little I can do help someone and I’ll lead them to the one who can do infinitely more.  And when I do what I can, I can be sure that God will do what only He can.  I am weak.  He is strong.  God can’t use a heart that thinks God isn’t needed.  God can’t save someone who believes they can save themselves.  We must recognize who we are and who God is.

So this is how James instructs us to come to God.  And it sounds so extreme and miserable that we think maybe he’s going over the top.  But be James for a minute because I believe his perspective is one we should all see.

James is the earthly brother of Jesus.  Born the natural way between Joseph and Mary.  The Bible tells us that not only did Jesus’s siblings not believe He was the Messiah, they mocked Him publicly and scorned Him.  They urged Him to move against Jerusalem and Rome so the authorities would take Him away.  Pretty harsh!  “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind”” Mark 3:20&21.  And “…Jesus went around in Galilee.  He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him.  But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the words you do.  No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret.  Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.”  For even his own brothers did not believe in him”            John 7:1-5.

James did an awful lot that he would later regret.  He mocked Jesus, tried to hide Him away from people, urged Him to take dangerous action.  And while scripture doesn’t tell us how James finally saw the truth, we do see just how much of a 180 he did.  In James’ own letter, he called Jesus Lord and Savior.  He humbled himself to the level of a servant.  He testifies to Jesus being the King of the Jews and the long awaited Messiah.  Imagine for a moment that you’re James.  How would you be feeling?  Saying what you said and acting how you did, only to realize who Jesus was!  You’d be heartbroken!  You’d have no words for how awful you treated your own brother.  You’d be miserable thinking of what you said to and about the Messiah.  And this was pain he would have to deal with.

So when we says to humble yourself, submit, be miserable, mourn, and weep: he isn’t being a masochist who enjoys seeing people suffer.  He’s depicting his own repentance and attitude toward God.  And if we were truly honest, we’d see in ourselves the same mockery and betrayal that James did.  So our response should really be the same.  We have done no less.  We have pursued other gods.  We have lusted over money and influence and success more than we’ve yearned for God.  We’ve taken His teachings so lightly and have treated our sin as if it’s of no consequence.

So today, I want to ask you this: when you look over these ten actionable steps, where do you see yourself falling short?

Maybe you allow sin in your life and don’t regard it for what it is.  Maybe you shy away from proclaiming him at work and in the world.  Maybe you chase after your own plan, rather than ask God for His.  But going over this list, and thinking about James’ response: how’s your heart?  How’s your humility?  How are you on board with God’s plan?  And ultimately in life: who do you follow?  Because this, my friends, tells you just who it is that you truly worship.

James wk3

wordshurt

Welcome back, friends!  I hope you’re enjoying reading through James and I hope you’re finding yourselves sharpened by God’s Word and your discussions with others!  If you haven’t already, take a minute to read James chapter 3 before you jump into today’s discussion.

Today’s discussion is pretty damning!  Not like James ever holds back, but he begins chapter 3 with a slap in the mouth.  Literally.  And it’s not like in some areas of the Bible where we can say to ourselves “I’m glad I don’t struggle with that in my life.”  Because no one can possible say that.  This hits every person of every demographic of every country.  You, reading this.  This is something you struggle with.  That even includes me as I proofread this post!  Today we’re going to talk about our words.  And how bad you are at using them well.

We all stumble in many ways.  If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what  great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.     -James 3:2-10

Boom!  Your jaw hurt?  Cuz you just got struck!  Slapped the taste right out ya mouth!  I read that and I almost want to be like, “Alright, that settles it.  I’m never opening my mouth again.”  But James obviously isn’t calling us to live lives as mutes.  But he wants to be sure he’s crystal clear in what he says about speaking because it’s not just important.  It’s vital to the life of a believer!  And it can make or break the people who live life alongside us!

So James begins by saying, “look, we all sin.”  And because we live in a society where we never want to offend and people’s words are always set to pacify & justify, we almost expect the next words to be something along the lines of “…but it’s okay.”  But it’s not okay.  So James just barrels in to his point.  A man who can control his tongue must be absolutely perfect.  Because the tongue is the hardest part of the body to control.  I’ve seen alot of guys who tempt me to argue the point, but it’s true.  Because we can speak evil so easily.  We can do it away from the ears who will care and correct.  We can make the evil we speak sound lovely.  We can make it appear as news.  We can even disguise it as a prayer request.  Controlling our tongue is like trying to eat spaghetti with tongs.  Or playing the piano with baseball gloves.  It simply can’t be done.  And we’re all guilty.

James goes on to give three examples of the power of the tongue:

  1. Guiding a horse: You ever been beside a horse?  They’re huge!  Most horses average just under 1,000 pounds.  And when you’re up close, you don’t just see them run.  You feel them run.  With every hoof that hits the ground, your heart jars with the impact.  These mighty beasts were ridden to battle for centuries.  They’re fast, strong, and courageous.  And yet, a hobby of rich little girls is to ride them around obstacle courses and jump over walls.  This mighty 1,000 pound beast is controlled by a 50 pound girl who is still afraid of the dark.  And this tiny little girl puts a tiny little bit in the mouth of the horse.  And that’s all it takes to make the horse do what you want.  Control the mouth, control the horse.
  2. Steering a ship: Boats, no matter how big, are controlled by a small rudder.  The ships that James saw were not the same we see today.  They were powered by wind, not motors.  But the steering was the same.  All you needed was a paddle in the water behind the boat.  And these rudders only accounted for about 1% the size of a ship.  Tiny part of the boat, controls the entire thing.
  3. Forest fires: I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Tahoe.  It looks like such an incredible place during all four seasons.  But I’m glad I wasn’t there in the summer of 2007.  It was then that an illegal campfire began a fire that would take weeks to control.  By the time it was finally contained, it would claim hundreds of homes, nearly 100 businesses, over 3,000 acres, would do nearly $150 million in damages, and cost over 10 million to put out.  All that damage from just a small campfire, begun by a little spark.

These are pretty big claims!  But think about it: the unbelievable power of words.

Just this morning, I was at Owen’s basketball name.  Owen loves playing ball and he’s really good at it!  Problem is, he’s just not an aggressive guy.  But I’m watching him play and he’s got a cheering section, with family and some teens from the youth group.  And we’re all cheering him on.  And at one point, he’s right in front of where we are and the guy he’s guarding was dribbling the ball really high and sloppy.  I can literally see in Owen’s eyes his desire to go after the ball, but he was holding back.  And since he was just a couple feet away, I called out “Get it, Owen.”  Immediately he stole the ball, ran down the court, and scored two.  His cheering section erupted and a smile spread out across his face.  Owen was poised to win that battle.  He was completely able.  But he was holding back.  Just three words gave him what he needed to make it happen.

On the other hand, look at three other words I’ve said to Owen.  I remember like it was yesterday.  We were living at the house in Finley and Owen was riding his bike.  And cars flew down that road, I’m really not sure why.  It was a neighborhood.  But anyway, one time Owen wasn’t paying attention and he just flew out of the driveway, into the street, and into the the neighbor’s driveway across the street.  He did that with a car, unbeknownst to him, flying at him.  I was so scared I ran across the street and yelled “That was stupid!”  The moment I said it, I felt horrible.  Was it stupid?  Of course it was!  But what did those words do?  I could have said “Be more careful” or “Pay more attention” or “That car was coming right at you” or something.  But I blurted out “That was stupid”.  And immediately his face fell.  I didn’t do a single thing to help the situation or help him learn.  I backpedaled and tried to make good of the situation, but it was all lost.  He hung his head, put his bike up, and went inside the house.

Our words have so much power!

Consider this: you’re walking down a sidewalk and you overhear a group whisper about how attractive you are.  Feeling good, right?  Those words had the power to lift you up.  But you keep walking just to overhear a group making fun of you.  Those words had the power to tear you down.  And the sad thing is: which instance carries more weight?  Which one sticks with you?  The negative!  Those words doused anything that was said before.  Those words cut you.  And you put those words on your back and carry them with you the rest of the day.

And the scary thing is: words have the ability to haunt.  I don’t know how many people I’ve counseled who have talked about things that were said to them.  Things they can’t get past.  Things they’ll believe no matter the contrary evidence.  Words can not only destroy in the present.  They have the power to destroy permanently.

We teach kids “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.  I don’t know who first said that crap, but it’s obviously not true.  We should be teaching them “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will utterly destroy me.”

James goes on to say that the tongue is a world of evil” that …corrupts the whole body” James 3:6.  That men have tamed every creature, but no man can tame the tongue.” James 3:8.  That’s why James is being so blunt.  Because our words have so much power!  But that power is impossible to control!  It’s like giving a child a gun.  Lots of power, can’t end well.  James pleads with us: “be careful with that thing!  It could go off any second!”

And then he brings it home:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.     -James 3:9&10 

You can say whatever you want about me.  Call me names, discourage me, slander me.  I won’t like it, but I’ll take it without a fight.  You say things about my boys?  I hope you’re ready.  Megan’s the same way.  Matter of fact, I’ve even got names for that side of her: Mama Bear & Magilla Gorilla.  She will defend her boys at all costs.  And nothing makes her go from zero to one hundred like the thought of her boys being mistreated.  It must be a parent thing.  We just lose our minds when we feel our kids are hurt.

And yet, here we are.  We praise God with song.  We worship Him with our service.  We pray earnestly to Him.  But we use our mouths to berate His kids.  We call our neighbors names.  We undermine our bosses at work.  We speak harshly when we discipline.  We spread slander about others.  We discourage those with the bravery to risk.  We bring down the more successful.  We’re hurting God’s kids!  We’re either really brave or really stupid!

Ouch!  I hope you’re feeling convicted!  I know I am!  How much differently would we treat people if we really saw them for what they are?  They’re sons and daughters of the King!  They’re heirs, just like we are!

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:10.  James may as well be yelling “You kiss your mama with that mouth?”  How are we going to pretend to be living holy lives when our mouths are filled with such trash?

James says in verse 6 that the tongue is “set on fire by hell”.  Outside of this verse, his word for hell is only used by Jesus in the gospels.  The word for hell “gehenna” refers to the Valley of Hinnom.  This deep gorge was used by Canaanites before the Israelites took up residence in Jerusalem.  It was a place that they would sacrifice burnt offerings, including children, to the pagan god molech.  When King Josiah put a permanent stop to the practice, the place was considered unclean and indecent for any sort of use.  So it turned into a garbage pit, where trash, dead animals, executed criminals and all the sort were continually dumped and burnt.  Because the place was disgusting, infested with maggots and worms, and constant fire, Jesus used it to represent hell.

That leads us to ask the question that James poses this entire section.  What garbage comes out of my mouth?  I’m not perfect.  I don’t have complete control, no matter what I want to believe.  So how is my mouth setting a fire from hell?  How is it doing the work of the enemy?  How am I letting Satan and his demons use what God meant for good?

  • gossip?
  • discouragement?
  • spreading discontent?
  • slander?
  • cheering someone’s misfortune?
  • name-calling?
  • wishing ill on others?
  • inciting anger?
  • complaining?
  • lying?
  • speaking truth in anger?
  • condemning?

James is forcing you to confront the horrible truth that your mouth causes great damage.

But we excuse it away.

We say we’re not gossiping.  Bull$#!+.  Gossip is Christian America’s favorite sin.  That and lust.  We dedicate entire television stations to it.  There’s a whole aisle of magazines just for that in every bookstore and every checkout line in America.  We huddle closely together and whisper in dark corners.  We disguise it as prayer or present it as informative.  But lets call it what it is.  It’s gossip.

We try to divide.  We speak of others to lower their status and raise our own.  We decide the only way we can get ahead is by bringing others down.  We can’t achieve way up at that person’s level.  We’ve got to bring them down to ours.

We don’t like how that person is so courageous.  They take risks that we could only dream of.  Our jealousy causes us to discourage them and make them fear, and hopefully abort, that dream.  We want them as hopeless and self-conscious as we are.

We complain.  About the weather.  About work.  About family.  About things close to our heart and things we couldn’t possibly care less about.  We find ourselves without anything worth saying, so we say worthless things to fill the space.  Be more interesting than that.  I always tell our students: you’re not bored, you’re boring.  Same thing goes if you complain out of lack of things to say.  If that’s the best you’ve got, keep your mouth shut.

On and on I could go, but I don’t need to.  You already feel God’s Spirit working on you.  So take a moment and pay attention.  Sit back for a minute and process what He’s saying.  How are you guilty?  How do you need to tighten your grip on reigning your tongue?  Now tell someone.  Confide in your spouse and ask them to help hold you accountable.  Get with your buddies and determine to be people who speak life.  Start taking steps immediately.  And when that moment comes up and you’re getting ready to use your words in destructive ways, think to this passage and ask God to give you the strength to hold your tongue.

And if you’re brave enough, text me.  Let me know how I can be praying for you and motivating you.  I love you guys and I’m so thankful for your friendship and for partnering with me in ministry!

 

 

Extra Credit reading: Here’s a blast from the past!  I’ve always been a bit of an antagonist.  Growing up, I loved listening to the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine and 2Pac and all that.  Because I’ve always had this bit of hostility toward what I thought of as corruption: whether it’s political or personal or whatever.  And I’ve never been one to shy away from a fight and I always feel the need to make people think deeper than they are and see new perspectives.  That’s why I’ve started more than a couple interesting conversations on Facebook.  But there’s a song from 2007 that I’ve always loved and it captures this idea of our power for good and power for evil.  The song talks about man’s path from purity to corruption.  Man’s incredible capacity to do great things, but its propensity to do great harm.  We have the ability to feed the world, but our energy is spent on selling products.  We could heal the hurting, but we seek to rule the weak.  We could invent all manner of helpful things, but it’s been the war machine that furthers science more than anything else.  And I feel like James would stand up with his fist in the air listening to this song.  Because up to this point in scripture, he’s been beating the same drum.  Let your life match your convictions.  Act out what you believe.  Don’t be a tool of hell.

James wk2

deadfaith.jpg

Welcome back to week two of our study in James!  I hope you took an opportunity to talk to someone about the image God put on your heart.  I know for me, it was pretty convicting.  I started a short reading plan on youversion the other day that encourages you to focus on one goal for the year.  It was pretty interesting.  It said this:

Clutter and complexity lead to procrastination and paralysis, while simplicity and focus lead to success and clarity.

So true!  But the purpose of the plan was to seek God for one word.  One word as far as how he wants you to grow this year.  And for me, the answer was simple because it’s the same thing God put on my heart after reading James 1: Time.

This year, God is calling me to be a better steward of my time.  To not spend an hour frivolously or take for granted a task I’m working on.  To be a dad when it’s time to be a dad.  To work on a project when it’s time to work on a project.  To be able to put a project aside when God puts d divine appointment in front of me.  And being diligent and open to discern where God wants my time spent.  He’s convicted me of being both too loose with my time and at other moments, too rigid.  God wants to determine my days.  I have a habit of predetermining everything and leaving little room for His movement.

Anyway, on and on I could go, but I hope that by now, God’s begun giving you a clear image that you’re fueled with the conviction that it needs to happen.  Today we’re going to turn to the next chapter and look at James 2:14, where it talks about faith and deeds.  Notice the chapter before, we talked about listening versus doing.  Today, we’re not pitting one against the other, as is often the argument with these verses, but we’re going to see how they relate to a degree of inseparability.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such a faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2:14-17

People really don’t like this passage.  Why?  Because it’s scary!  Paul is saying here that there is a certain type of faith that does not save us from anything!  There’s a belief system out there that its subscribers gain absolutely nothing!  So they think this verse must be wrong thinking.  But declaring any of God’s word as inaccurate is dangerous territory because then, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong in the Bible?  Is God’s word, then, erroneous and conflicting?  And many times when people feel this way, they’ll put up Paul’s words in the book of Romans as their evidence that James is just exaggerating to get his point across.  But lets look at it:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  -Romans 3:28

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  -James 2:24

What’s interesting to note is that at first glance, the two seem to contradict each other.  But we know that scripture is God breathed and inspired.  It is perfect, not lacking anything.  And these two verses were inspired to be both written and placed in the texts that make up our Bible.  What’s more is that the early church had no issue with them both being in there.  And even more, both James and Paul were church leaders who would meet in Jerusalem to participate in the council to determine this and they walked away in agreement.  So what do we make of all this?  What dynamic does faith play and what of works?

First it’s important to note not just the verse, but gain a perspective on the teaching and the framework it’s placed in.  Let’s start with Paul…

Paul obviously believes that a person’s righteousness, their right-standing, their salvation is done through faith in God’s grace through His son, Jesus.  That nothing apart from this is required.  “…to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” -Romans 4:5.  Here, he’s saying that we don’t work our way to righteousness, it’s a free gift.  We’re justified by faith.  Again, he says in his book to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” -Ephesians 2:8&9.  There is no work required to attain righteousness.  If one can attain it apart from faith in God, they would be able to boast in what their hands make.  But our hands can’t make both sin and righteousness.  We rely purely on faith in God’s grace.

But Paul also acknowledges that this faith has action.  In the very next verse in Ephesians, he says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”  -Ephesians 2:10.  That’s interesting.  We’re justified by faith, but it’s not so that we can just have faith and be saved.  We were created to do works.  Our faith justifies us, but also prepares us to do work.  This faith can’t just live alone.  It is followed by action.

How does this compare to James?

We’ve already read what James thinks: “Every good gift (there’s that word again) is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” James 1:17&18.  So this good gift is from God.  And we are brought forth through the word of truth.  Does the word make us righteous?  Surely not!  We’re to be doers and not hearers!  So faith in this truth, given by God, brings salvation.

Again ”…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  -James 2:5.  What is an heir?  Is an heir a laborer?  Someone who works for pay?  Or is an heir someone who is given a gift?  A beneficiary of the one who already did the work and earned the gift?  So we are heirs, not laborers, who receive God’s gift.

Just like Paul, James says that faith works!  James isn’t advocating that our works earn our salvation.  He says that our works are the natural follow through of our justification through faith.

And this is why it’s scary: we can believe and not be saved.  So often, churches try to make it easy to be a Christian.  But the truth is that it isn’t easy at all!  The first step is simple: “ …if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” -Romans 10:9&10.  But we’re not reciting a secret verse to enter a club, we’re beginning a relationship with God.  That’s why faith is so much more than just believing.  Need proof?  “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that — and shudder” James 2:19.  If a mere belief or stating that Jesus is God brought salvation, then wouldn’t the demons, who know God alot better than we do, also be saved?

But genuine faith cannot exist without it changing you.  So accepting Christ as Savior costs us nothing, but living for Christ costs us everything.  Paul even believed this so much he repeatedly tells us that we’re to die to ourselves.  Jesus instructs us to pick up our own cross.

That’s why James says “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead” -James 2:17.  Our faith is transformative. A non-transformative faith is one that simply believes something to be true.  But God calls us to so much more.  And he uses James’ words to speak it so forcefully.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” -James 2:26.

I can tell Owen that I love him.  I can tell my son every day that I cherish him and will care for and protect him.  But what if day after day, I allow him to be hurt?  What if I never provided him another meal?  What if my only acknowledgement of him were the drive-by I love you’s?  Would Owen believe me?  No!  Owen can only judge my actions.  His determination of my love for him isn’t done when I tell him I love him.  It’s done when I show him I love him.  It’s my deeds that reflect my heart.

In the same way, we’re called to be different.  We’re called to faith.  And that faith, if it has any power at all, transforms us to a person who acts out God’s word.  See how this is tied so closely to last week’s study?

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller.  He wrote a book called “Blue Like Jazz”.  And the premise of the book is that he hated jazz music until he witnessed someone genuinely love it.  And their passion for it was the catalyst for him beginning to love it.  In the same way, he argues, many people are turned off by the Christian faith.  But witnessing someone who truly loves Jesus can be a catalyst for others.  Anyway, the book was a wide success and they were looking at turning it into a movie.  And another book of his was written that detailed the process of turning the previous book into a movie.  This book is called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.  I highly recommend both!  But this book, while detailing the process of making a book a movie, talks about how in a book you can go on and on into the thought process a person goes through.  You can go for page after page to tell the mind and heart of someone.  But a movie is so much different.  In a movie you only have the story and the story only has actions.  So in a movie, you have to communicate a person’s thoughts and beliefs through their actions and nothing else.  That’s why in the movie Rocky, the main character Rocky Balboa saves a dog, befriends a boy, and cares for a needy waitress before he even acknowledges boxing.  The movie can’t just go on and on about how Rocky is caring.  They have to show it.

And I love how Miller’s book lines up so perfectly with these verses.  It’s our actions that reveal our heart.  They don’t earn our reward, but they allow the world to witness what’s going on inside of a man.  And so if a person does nothing for the needy around them, what faith do they actually have?  Surely not a faith that is active and life-changing!

So my question to you is going to be really pointed.  What does your life say about you?  If your life were a movie, would it inspire people?  Would the audience even cheer for the main character?

Or maybe a more intimate way to ask it is: does your faith inspire your children?  Do the students in our ministry see your work and glorify our father in Heaven?  Is your faith real or is it more like the demon’s, a simple belief in truth?

Again, talk to your trusted person about this.  Because these questions should be wrestled over.  James’s words and his challenges aren’t to just be heard.  They’re a slap in the face, a shaking by the collar.  Are you in or are you not?

In Revelation, God says to the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15&16.

Many times we hear this verse and think of lukewarm as the middle ground between hot (good) and cold (bad).  But hear how the church in Laodicea heard it:

At nearby Hierapolis, there was a hot spring that people would come to from far and wide to drink from and bathe in.  Imagine living in a day before hot water heaters and modern hospitals.  Imagine traveling a long time and having sore and tired muscles.  Imagine you’re sick and your body is stiff and rigid.  Now imagine entering the hot spring.  It would be almost miraculous!  Your body would immediately relax.  Your joints and muscles would find instant comfort.  How amazing would this hot water be?!

Also close by was the city of Colosse.  Colosse stood at the foot of Mount Cadmus that brought pure ice cold water down to them.  In the same way, the pure cold water was great for drinking and bringing immediate relief.

Laodicea had no water supply.  And if they brought it from Colosse, the pure, cold water be lukewarm by the time it traveled those twelve miles.  Likewise, the hot water from Hierapolis would be lukewarm by the time it traveled the shorter route, five miles.  So Laodicae built an aqueduct from Hierapolis to them to bring water.  And the people of that city only ever had lukewarm water that was so hard, they had to design the pipes in a way that they could regularly take out the mineral deposits that would build up.

So when you’re a Laodicean, you know how awful lukewarm water is.  It isn’t medicinal, it isn’t comforting, it isn’t refreshing.  It’s barely enough to keep you alive.  So when God says, you’re not hot and not cold, but lukewarm, he isn’t saying you guys are somewhere between good and bad.  He’s saying, “you’re worthless!  You disgust me!  You’re good for nothing!”  And as a result, “I spit you out of my mouth.”

The measure of our faith isn’t our temperature or our fervor to what we read.  The measure of our faith is to the works it inspires in us.  Faith without works is lukewarm.  It’s dead.  But a faith in action, a faith with works, is a faith that saves us.

Team, let’s keep it simple.  What’s the spirit telling you right now?  Listen closely to what it says and do it.  Then your faith will be made complete.

“…show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  James 2:18