Who Is Your Calling?

Last week, I told you to Abandon Your Calling. We often think of calling as a set of skills or a defined direction our life is supposed to take. Ironic though that in pursuit of the “calling” we often forget to listen to the One who is calling…

James is the just the guy to pick an argument. He’s the New Testament author who seems to take issue with our free grace. He’s the one that seems to poke the smoldering flames of lingering guilt over failures, expectations and performance.

From the very first chapter of the book by his name, he tells us that without works, faith is dead. So we better get busy proving our faith. Right? But, the second half of James chapter one has always stumped me. What does any of this have to do with a guy looking in the mirror?

Check out verses 23-25:

“Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

I took a few minutes to look up the words in the original Greek. Let me share my personal paraphrase:

For is anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, is like a man who is attentive to his course of life and knows his circumstances and understands his inward thoughts and feelings. Then, he follows after his “calling” oblivious to the quality or purpose of his life.

Let’s give James a break, not worry for a minute that he’s calling us back to works, and find out what is this course of life, this calling, that we are in danger of discarding to oblivion.

Isaiah 43:7 says, “‘Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’”

We were created for God’s glory. We are in danger of living oblivious to this, the ultimate course of our lives.

Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

We are in danger of living oblivious to the calling of His glory and goodness.

Bear with me.

What if we are not made for specific careers, individual ministries or one unique calling? What if we are wasting our time praying, “Oh God, what do you want me to do with my life?”

The work we are called to is obedience to God’s commands. Jesus couldn’t have made these commands more clear in John 13:34, “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you,”.

Obedience is not performance. If we look hard into the Word of God and truly know who we are and what we are to do—to love others as Christ loved us—but turn around and merely perform, our grace is worthless, our knowledge vain.

In Matthew 7, Jesus said that the man who hears and does not do the Word of God is like one who built his house on sand. Though he might work hard and build the finest house, worthy of admiration, when the storms of life come all of his work will collapse—useless.

Our work is the obedience of love. This comes out of our very nature which matures in Christ when we look intently into His word. This word informs not performance but our personhood, not good work but the obedience of love. It doesn’t inform our own special calling, but informs the world of the God who saves us.

 

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Does Mercy Truly Triumph Over Judgement?

Talk of injustice brings to mind apartheid, racism and lawful matters. It makes us think of courts and authority and right versus wrong. When a hurricane is hurling toward our doorsteps, we usually don’t stop to wonder about the justice of its attack.

My husband and I didn’t respond to Hurricane Sandy with the prescribed panic and preparations. I didn’t buy any extra batteries, water or canned food. We didn’t board up our windows or batten down hatches. In fact, the only thing I was concerned about was whether or not we would lose power.

During the freakish summer storm that caught most of the east coast by surprise, we lost power for about 2 days. With heat indices topping 110 degrees, we lay motionless in our basement complaining mildly. It’s a terrible inconvenience to not be able to make my morning coffee, dry my hair, do the laundry or watch TV. So as Sandy came, I dreaded another few dimly lit days.

Sandy rattled our windows and threatened to toss the neighbor’s trees into our roof, all day long. Suddenly I thought of a little old maI see almost everyday on my dog walks. He sits serenely on a wooden bench in the shade beside the public library. Usually, he is surrounded by newspapers and a couple of small, flattened boxes. He’s always dressed in the same brown, mid-weight coat, black pants and plain shoes. I don’t think he speaks English, because when I nod politely and murmur, “Hello,” he just looks simply back at me.

What startles me every time is the shine in his eyes. Blackest black, they glisten and glint in the morning light. The sparkle belies what I wonder about his situation: is he homeless, hungry, hot or cold? Does anyone know he’s out here everyday and does he have any family?

One quick dash to our mailbox that afternoon, proved that Sandy was ushering in winter. The temperature had dropped to low 40s and wind whipped, slapped and stung as it played pingpong with raindrops. I wondered, Is he out there in this? Was he out there this summer?

The next morning, my dog and I hustled down our usual route past the library, and there he stood in the narrow doorway, hands stuffed deeply into his pockets, elbows locked defensively at his sides. His chin was down as if he could disappear inside his coat collar.

Impulsively, I ran down the hill toward the library and pulled what little cash I had from my pockets. “Here,” I said. “Please, go get something warm to eat or drink.”

At first he wouldn’t take the money from my hands, but I stood for a second, really wondering what to do. He didn’t answer me either. Finally, both brittle cold hands wrapped around my own, and cupped the money then slid away, concealing the bills. I touched his arm and said, “God bless you.” Then hurried away.

I was fortunate to show the man mercy, but what about justice? Is it just that I will finish my walk, shed my layers and curl up on the couch beside a husband who loves me? Is it just that even if he manages to get a hot meal and a pair of gloves, tomorrow he’ll be right where I saw him today? Is it just?

That day, my heart began to simmer in my chest. I wondered helplessly, at first, What could I possibly do? The next day, I got a sweet letter from the child we sponsor through Compassion International. Innocently, she asked about my life, but what could I reply?

Is it just that she is an orphan? Is it just that her lot in life is to scrap and save and rely on mercy just to live; while I enjoy variety in my food, advanced education, warmth and relative comfort?

“He has shown thee oh man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

It’s just like the Lord to leave me without excuses. Through the volunteer coordinate from another organization, I recently learned about a group called FACETS that reaches out to the homeless specifically. Starting in just a few weeks, they will begin a special program to prevent hypothermia among the homeless in our county. I called immediately and was put to work the next day.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Despite the social urge to do something about these injustices, judgement cannot reconcile innate discrepancies. Romans 12:1 tells us that God has shown us great mercy. To live out this mercy, to be a conduit from God’s heart to an unjust world, this will triumph.

To Write or Not to Speak

I know I said I was taking a hiatus, but my heart keeps breathing thoughts that I have to write somewhere. I can no less write than sleep, eat, be. And I might as well finish out this week, right?

I have decided to step away from my keyboard simply because I believe I’ve gotten too casual with words. “Living” out loud here, publicly on a blog, it’s easy to forget the vastness of my audience. I take thoughts from my journal and burdens from the bottom of my heart and without even the mid-step of airing these dangerous words to a close friend, I publish them for the world to see.

The most shocking thing to me about my mistreatment of words, is that I just studied James – James, the quintessential herald of the tongue’s flaming potential. I have been told, “You don’t need to express every thought you have.”

My husband once told me that he would talk more if I let him get a word in edgewise.

My mother warned me that I confide too broadly, that I don’t need to share my secrets with every new or passing friend.

But I want to live raw and out there. I want to talk through my sloppy mess-ups. I want to share my pain and salve other’s scars by assuring them of empathy. Where do I find this balance? Where is the line between living vulnerably and being too guarded? What is the proper use of words?

One organ that does not require a regular workout, and will not improve your health in any way, is your mouth. Proverbs repeats the warning numerous times, “A wise man keeps his mouth shut.”

On the other hand, God spoke the world into existence and Jesus is called the Word. The entire cannon of Scripture is God’s written, love letter to us. And often he wrote words we don’t want to hear. And He did bear the very essence of His heart on those pages.

I think the caution must be taken like medicine. There will be different doses for varying illnesses. Someone who struggles to share their heart and closets their secrets, will one day discover that those secrets decay and leave a mass of rotten bitterness.

However, I fall in the other category. One who is quick to speak is often slow to listen. Where there is an abundance of words, folly abounds. I think a prudent woman (I’m reading about this character trait) measures, weighs and considers her words before she speaks (or writes) them.

I like being impetuous. I like being colorful with my language and unhindered in sharing. But I have a heavy responsibility to use those qualities wisely – especially in the context of my words.

Law of the Harvest

Think fast, word association: Rain?

Sunshine?

Patience?

Let me take a gander at your first reaction. Rain: dull gray skies, cold wet feet, messy floors, mud, potholes, dreary people, painful seasons of life

Sunshine: beaches, smiles, suntans, newness, brilliance, light and hope

Patience: grit your teeth and bear it, a virtue, waiting and waiting and waiting, a tough place – your kids? your spouse? (-:

Four girl friends and I are wrapping up Beth Moore’s study on James called Mercy Triumphs. We recently came to a verse that I have scanned over in previous readings.

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.” (James 5:7)

What do you make of that? Does it mean we have to wade though the rainy season to hopefully reap the precious produce of the soil? We’ve been talking about the privilege of pain. Beth calls it the “Law of the Harvest.” Ancient farmers (and modern ones as well) anticipated the early and late rains. However stormy those seasons might be, the rains are vital for the growth of the precious produce of the soil.

In James 1, he reminds his readers of what they already know, the testing of their faith will produce endurance. Pounding rains strengthen thirsty, fledgling leaves. There may be hail and lightening. Perhaps flash flooding. Perhaps the farmers have to plow and tend their fields in the midst of mud. Would they ask to be relieved of the rains? In life sometimes, pounding circumstances strengthen young faith. Eventually flooding sorrows seep into the soil of our hearts and press the precious produce of our souls through the surface.

It’s the law of the harvest.

A few other writers have thoughts on this passage too:

http://shannonsauer.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/between-the-rains/

http://www.heatherlilly.com/?p=5952

http://keeplifefresh.blogspot.com/2012/03/be-encouraged-between-rains.html

Considering Consider

Recently, someone shared with me their least favorite verse in the Bible. “You therefore be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.

James 1:2 used to be a hang up for me. “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,”. How can God possibly expect us to consider trails joyful?

In our modern vernacular, consider often means, “ to ponder, to bear in mind, to have an opinion, or make allowances for.” (www.dictionary.com) That usage is not very conclusive; it implies an either/or stance.

My sisters and I recently took each other to task, two on two, debating the color of our mom’s car.  Jennifer and Rachelle considered it gray, Kelsey and I considered it bronze or taupe. The battle escalated until we called our mom. We finally insisted that dad pull the car’s original paperwork to prove one side of the discussion. Kelsey and I won.

This brings consider into focus, regardless of how Rachelle and Jennifer considered the appearance of the car, there was a verifiable truth. Truthfully, if I meditate on my trials for very long, I will most certainly not conclude that they are joyful. But, maybe it doesn’t matter how long we ponder our trials. Maybe it isn’t a case of analyzing all the possible good that God may bring out of our pain.

The Greek word for consider, in James 1:2 is hégeomai, meaning, “I lead, I think.” Additionally, it can mean, “to lead, command, have authority over.” When you replace consider, in James 1:2, with the fuller definition, one way it reads is, “Have authority over all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds.” That’s a different perspective!

This broader explanation of James 1:2, leads us to 2 Corinthians 10:5b, another verse that I have long wondered how to obey, “…and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”. A captive is under the authority of his captor. Biblically, even in the midst of trials, we are the captors, we are in authority of our own joy.

Now on to the rest of James 1:3-4, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.”

Do you see the linkage back to my friend’s least favorite verse? James is telling us how to be perfect. Could it be that God will bring us to speechless awe at His never ending ability to reconcile the most polar opposites: trials and joy, perfection and pain?

For what it’s worth, let me offer you my personal paraphrase of the these two passages side by side: Brothers, take authority over your joy when you encounter various trials. Take captive under your authority all your thoughts and fears. It is an indisputable fact that when you remain obedient in the hardest situations you will become more perfect, more like your Heavenly Father. 

And the crowing conclusion: The fulfillment of this obedience, this increasing Christ-likeness, is God’s glory.

“Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:13-14

Ultimate Pain

Privileged Pain.

Privileged pain might mean that no matter how well-off one is, how wealthy or comfortable or perfect the family – pain plays no favorites. Or, Privileged Pain might explain the ultimate, beautiful outcome that suffering has the potential to produce.

Just mulling these thoughts over, I considered the polishing of a pearl, the rain before a rainbow, the pressing of a grape and the squeezing of citrus. Most of those are not new metaphors but true nonetheless and sometimes we forget the most common affirmations of difficult truths.

I think one thing that suffering accomplishes is to kill any remnants of dead religion that sometimes cling to Christ followers. I heard of a book that I’m dying to read, Jesus Hates Dead Religion, by Eric Metaxas. This book follows on the heals of his New York Times bestseller, Bonhoeffer. Both books have been added to my Kindle’s to-do list.

No one can testify to the privilege of pain as can a martyr. Bonhoeffer died for his faith – he was certain that the weight of glory prepared for him was greater than any momentary suffering. I want to endure like that!

As to the other book, James says that faith without works is dead. If Jesus truly hates dead religion, then the effectual proof of my faith must be a consistent growth in Christ-likeness. And if pain slays nothing else, it will slay dead religion. It will destroy the trappings of false charity, disguised pride and shallow empathy.

Faith and religion are not the same thing. Sometimes they are bitter enemies. Think of Jesus, and then think of the Pharisees. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and then the German religious establishment enslaved to Hitler and the Führer principle. Think of William Wilberforce, and then his complacent countrymen, piously permitting the traffic of people whose skin was darker than their own. Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce stood against the evil of their times, evil so easily peddled as religious. Will we do the same?

This is a Bonhoeffer moment, as Eric Metaxas says. Modern culture offers us comfort, distraction, even piety to keep us from a living faith in the God of the universe. But Metaxas’s rousing message calls readers to follow in the steps of men like Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, godly men who lived the gospel instead of following the path of dead religion to the approval of their respective societies.

Real prayer is only possible with living faith. And living faith is the only kind that can be used by God for transformative change in our world. But dead religion is a deceptive substitute. Jesus came to deliver people from dead religion. Let’s not be its defenders. – Amazon book description of Jesus Hates Dead Religion

Whether or not the day ever comes that I will be asked to suffer the ultimate pain for Jesus, I want to have such a living, vital, ready-to-die faith, that I can stand next to Bonhoeffer and James in heaven.

Perspectives of Pain and Perfection

Is happiness dependent on whatever life throws our way or do we have a say in the matter? We can find peace amongst chaos, contentment despite limitations, and joy even in our lowest moments. It all comes down to Perspective… Craig Groschel in his recent series on Philippians

Everyone is blinded by their own perspective. Perspective is the angle at which you view something. A pauper views a sandwich and shelter as the essence of life. A king views those same principles of sustenance as bland and ordinary, nearly an assault to his majesty. Before I lived in Georgia, I believed that Oklahoma was humid. An athlete views a difficult workout as a challenge and something to be mastered, a couch potato views the same drills as agony and next to death. Do you see where I am going?

Recently I brought you some stories about the persecuted church. After a few days of reading about the physical abuses that Christians in Nigeria and Egypt were enduring, we read about discriminative abuses against Christian businesses in the United States. I am not diminishing the pain of the Christian businesses, but put in perspective, what is endurance?

I am going somewhere with this (:

Craig Groschel has convicted me on many occasions through his online sermons at LifeChurch.tv, but his series on perspectives has been very humbling. I’ve begun to consider the privilege of pain. “Count it all joy, my brothers when you encounter various trials,” says James, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”            (James 1)

Like the example above, my own pain, in perspective seems minimal and sometimes petty. But my Father knows the testing that my faith requires in order to perfect me. Be it struggles in my marriage, the constant humbling need to destroy my personal idols of food and fitness, loneliness, feelings of failure or any other hurdle that God places in my path in the future, He is intentional.

Intentional. Intentional and repetitive. As He is known to do, God has been echoing this one message in my life from various angles. I am also preparing to lead a Beth Moore Bible study in my home. God chose the book of James this time. As I read through the first chapter, I was skewered by the passage I quoted above…

For you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

That’s what I want. I want to be perfect, clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness, perfectly and contentedly reliant on Him for all my salvation and life. That’s going to require a change in my perspective – a new perspective on my own good works, my own sin, my own struggles and my own forgiveness of others. I hope you find the LifeChurch.tv catalogue of sermons effective for your own training in righteousness. Start with the series on Perspectives.