Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When 'no' means 'yes:' Heart Diagnosis

When 'no' means 'yes'
How could saying 'no' mean 'yes' for the Christ-follower? Subtracting something or a habit can means space to add in quality time with God. A meditation on choices and how the traditional faith disciplines come alive in daily family life. Because I have a toddler who wants to know 'why' and 'how' when it comes to Jesus and worship.

photo credit: http://www.medcitynews.com/


James 3:13-18

13 Are any of you wise and understanding? You should show it by living a good life. Wise people aren’t proud when they do good works. 
14 But suppose your hearts are jealous and bitter. Suppose you are concerned only about getting ahead. Don’t brag about it. Don’t say no to the truth. 15 Wisdom like that doesn’t come down from heaven. It belongs to the earth. It doesn’t come from the Holy Spirit. It comes from the devil. 
16 Are you jealous? Are you concerned only about getting ahead? Then your life will be a mess. You will be doing all kinds of evil things. 
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is pure. That’s the most important thing about it. And that’s not all. It also loves peace. It thinks about others. It obeys. It is full of mercy and good fruit. It is fair. It doesn’t pretend to be what it is not. 
18 Those who make peace should plant peace like a seed. If they do, it will produce a crop of right living.

James 4:1-8

4 Why do you fight and argue among yourselves? Isn’t it because of your sinful longings? They fight inside you. 
2 You want something, but you can’t get it. You kill and want what others have. But you can’t have what you want. You argue and fight. You don’t have what you want, because you don’t ask God. 3 When you do ask for something, you don’t receive it. Why? Because you ask for the wrong reason. You want to spend your money on your sinful pleasures. 
4 You are not faithful to God. Don’t you know that to be a friend of the world is to hate God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Don’t you know what Scripture says? The spirit that God caused to live in us wants us to belong only to God. Don’t you think Scripture has a reason for saying that? 6 God continues to give us more grace. That’s why Scripture says, 
“God opposes those who are proud.
But he gives grace to those who are not.” (Proverbs 3:34) 
7 So obey God. Stand up to the devil. He will run away from you. 8 Come near to God, and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners. Make your hearts pure, you who can’t make up your minds.


How was that for you? What did you feel while reading? What memories were dragged into this moment by these words?

If you're like me or Nick, it seems that the book of James minces few words and cuts straight through to the heart. Repeatedly, the pastors at the church we attend call the book a "Diagnostic Tool for the Heart." On the one hand, James is comforting because it shows what life will be like with Jesus involved. But James usually points out the flip side, the side that's choosing to be far from God and wrapped up in selfishness. And what that self-absorbed life is like should give pause to Christ-followers and questioners alike: there's only one end to that road and it's isolated. Those who follow Christ can take comfort in the transformation of our hearts and lives that is in-progress. We have a 'before' and an 'after' that demonstrates increasing wholeness and reconciled relationship with God and others.

Let's take a closer look through two lenses. James himself uses many natural, daily life images in his writing. Reading this book as if it's the "Proverbs of the New Testament" can be helpful; the book of James is close to the genre of wisdom literature.

Lens of Masterpiece

James 3:13-18 repeats the word 'wisdom' often. Is that the same as 'world view,' the unconscious process by which we value and choose? No, the original word is closer to 'spiritual and practical wisdom.' James separates earthly wisdom and God-given wisdom.

Earthly wisdom is evidenced by bitter envy, selfish ambition, an origin apart from God, disorder, and evil practices. A person who follows conventional earthly wisdom will follow these maxims in daily life:

  • I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine.
    "Christmas Special #2" By Street Artist Banksy
    photo credit:
  • Looking out for #1.
  • I'm a self-made person.
  • Regret nothing.
  • Out-compete the competitors.
  • Pull yourself up by your boot straps.
  • The early bird gets the worm.
  • I can do anything if I put my mind to it.

Now it's easy to read about earthly wisdom and think, "I'm safe! That sounds extreme." But James is using extreme language to draw our attention to the end of that road... religious people could be functioning under earthly wisdom, too:

  • I've been good - God owes me.
  • What did I do to deserve this?
  • I just need to get __ under control.
  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • Be the good you want to see in the world.
  • I've been a church-goer my whole life.

In the end, if "I" am the source and the end goal, God has no place in my life even though I may know lots about God. "Even the demons believe - and shudder," James writes (2:19).

In the end, if I think that I have to earn, compete, achieve, or fight for more, more income, more social capital, and anything else, God's gifts have no place in my life. "You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?" James writes (4:14).

God-given wisdom is evidenced by a good life, humble deeds, pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial, sincere, reaping a harvest of righteousness.

  • Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expectation. Luke 6:35
  • Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful Luke 6:36
  • Do not conform to this world, but be transformed through the renewing of your mind. Then  you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Romans 12:2
  • As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34-35
  • My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice. Luke 8:21
  • The seed on good soil stand for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

The important difference between these wisdoms, is that all I do is surrender or yield all of myself and my ambitions to God, and he fingerprints my life as a work of art: full of beauty, wholeness, and Christ-likeness. There is nothing that I can 'do' to make myself good or achieve the good life apart from God reworking my life. He creates a masterpiece with even my most calloused areas. He makes me more than I could be on my own. All I do is yield to his masterful artist eye and he makes me his lovely, whole child. The heart diagnosis is, do I resemble my daddy more and more? Because his love and Holy Spirit transform my life.

Lens of Marriage

James 4:1-8 has a warning in the middle, v. 4 "You are not faithful to God." The word is stronger in Greek: "You adulteresses." James puts our relationship with God in terms of a faithful covenant promise of marriage. For many men and women, to consider God in sexual, explicit relational terms is difficult; bear with me and the texts. It is a blessing when we can see echoes of this Bride/Christ mystery at work in our earthly relationships. This meshes with Ephesians 5:21-33, a passage that parallels the people of the Church (Bride) and Christ (Husband) with the mystery that happens in earthly marriage that is centered on Christ.

Submit to one another our of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

As I lean into a deeper marriage relationship, I learn to love what Nick loves. I make decisions after seeking Nick's input and coming to a consensus, or I let him choose. I want more of my husband, stopping at no less than all of his affection, time, and focus. It is the same, but even more with God. He desires all of me. His name is Jealous.

Do not worship any other god. I am a jealous God. In fact, my name is Jealous. Exodus 34:14

But he is no jealous teenage boyfriend. God's jealousy doesn't want our hearts divided among many loves, far from him. God's jealousy comes from his loving desire to know and have all of me; and his delight is when my desire is for all of himself. His joy is found in my pleasure and joy; and my greatest joy is found in God's pleasure and joy. This is rather sexual language, from the Creator of sexuality. He's asking, "Make up your mind about us, please, because I want you."

The heart diagnosis for those of us who think we are Christ-followers is our prayer life. When was the last time God answered my prayers?

  • Ask and it will be given to you;
  • seek and you will find;
  • knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7
  • Many will say to me on that [judgement] day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' Matthew 7:22-23

God wants to have conversations with me, to hear from me -- encouraging my reasons and actions, or lovingly correcting my direction. God wants me to spend time with him, to form true love in me that loves what and whom God loves.
At a friend's wedding, just after our 1st anniversary

Deeper Together

Nick and I have been blessed in our marriage relationship in this Saint Louis season. We see it as no coincidence, we see it as teaching from God, that we are reading the book of James with our local church community. The first of many small answers to come as we walk in the dark, led by this surprising God. Small group members offered to babysit the kids over the dinner hour so we can attend the evening service together as a couple. And as God speaks into the details of our relationships and lives, we're growing deeper together, we're depending more, and we're joyful in the midst of huge changes.

Did this post spark something for you? Leave a comment to share :-)

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