No one’s favorite verse

Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.            James 1:2-4

 At a ladies’ retreat where I was speaking recently, one sweet person had prayed for all the women who were attending by name, then specifically and personally chose a different Bible verse for each one of us and wrote it on the back of our name tags. I learned this just minutes before I was to get up and speak, so I looked at mine.

I’m not gonna lie, seeing James 1:2-4 threw me off a bit. I mean, I wasn’t going through any type of trial at the time, so my first thought was “Oh, GREAT. What terrible thing is about to happen in my life?” I didn’t even have my cell phone on me to check on my family and friends. Why couldn’t I have gotten a cooler verse, like that one about mounting up with wings like an eagle? Or the one about Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2:41 – “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them.” I bet that’s a really good verse to get you going when you’re about to speak from God’s Word to a group of people.

It’s sort of ironic, right? The message of James 1:2-4 is to be joyful about facing trials, but just the thought that someone felt led to give me a verse about trials had me a tiny bit worried.

Let’s face it; none of us look forward to trials. Challenges, maybe. But trials? No thanks. And so I think we might miss the key to these verses because we have trouble getting past the first 12 words.

I find hindsight helpful.

Next month Clay and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. We have a great marriage, but we’ve gotten where we are through some pretty rotten stuff. If I had known at 21 the struggles we would have to face together, I’m not sure I would have said “I do.” But here’s the more important thing – looking back, knowing what I know now at almost 45 years of age, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I think he’d say the exact same thing. Not because we’d enjoy going through the rotten stuff again, but because we know the result of it all. We are where we are because, by God’s grace and power, we endured the trials. Those tests helped make our marriage what it is now. I’m not gonna say our marriage is perfect, but it’s a whole lot closer than it was when we first got started.

Come to think of it, all the best marriages I know of got there through trials. Maybe that’s one reason the Bible uses marriage so often as an illustration for relationship with Christ.

So coming to terms with James 1:2-4 requires a shift in perspective.

God is far more interested in making us holy than He is in making us comfortable. He allows trials to test our faith because the trials grow us. The thing is, if we don’t adopt that same perspective, where the pursuit of holiness trumps the ease of trouble-free living, then we’ll never understand those first 12 words.

I didn’t need another verse that day. Turns out, the ones I got are pretty great. We’re going to have trials in life; there’s no avoiding them. But, in Christ, that’s not the end of the story. We can stay positive no matter what we face, because at the end of endurance, we find ourselves a lot closer to complete than we were when we first got started.

Can we please get these added to the driver’s handbook?

Back when I was learning to drive, I thought my parents greatly exaggerated their anxiety. That’s why I rolled my eyes each time my mom threw her body forward as if getting whiplashed when I came to a stop. It’s also the reason I laughed at my dad when I pulled up behind a fancy car and he started crying and pleading, “Please, PLEASE, Cynthia, don’t hit the Ferrari.”

But now that I’m parenting child #2 through the driver’s training process, I think maybe they weren’t so crazy after all.

When our firstborn was learning to drive, we lived in a smallish community. Now with our second, we’re in a thriving metropolis. There’s something to be said for teaching your child to drive on sparsely traveled country roads. There’s something else to be said for teaching your other child to drive on busy city streets, but those are words I can’t put on here. Nevertheless, driving is an important life skill, and there are valuable lessons to impart. I’m not talking about the written rules of the road, per say, but those rules of etiquette and culture that should be understood by all who sit behind the wheel.

That’s why I thought the following addendum to the handbook might be a worthy use of this week’s List Wednesday post.

kermit car

The meaningful drive-by stare. This is entirely appropriate, but only in certain circumstances. For instance, if you speed up to get in front of me only to slam on your breaks and turn into the Whataburger parking lot, I’m going to give you this look. However, if you give me this same look for any reason, I will likely just smile and laugh. Because nobody got hurt and you probably need to lighten up.

Driving under the speed limit in front of me. I applaud your relaxed outlook and slow-paced lifestyle, but Sonic happy hour ends in 2 minutes. Get a move on, pokey.

You can, in fact, make sound judgements about a person by the outward appearance of his or her car. Before you get upset with me, this has nothing to do with social class. Whether you have a silhouette of naked ladies on the window of your cab, apparatus hanging below your rear bumper to denote gender, or your BMW has a personalized plate with the name, “BMW OWNR,” I’m judging you. #stopit

When a policeman sethimself up on the side of the road or atop an overpass looking EXACTLY like a sniper as he aims his radar gun at you, I think it would be a good thing to mention to the judge that you were speeding because you almost had a heart attack as you briefly imagined yourself being shot in the face. Also, maybe it’s time someone came up with a radar instrument that more closely resembles a large smiley face. 4987

I don’t want to pull up beside you and see you on your phone if your front end is bashed in. Come to think of it, I don’t want to see your phone out if your back-end or either side is wrecked, either. Also, that white duct tape you used on your white car to try to hold your door together doesn’t make it look any less jacked up.

Dear guy riding my bumper, I would slam on my brakes to teach you a lesson but I’m speaking at a ladies’ event in a few hours and I need to be spiritual. Also, my teenager is in the car right now and learning to drive from me.

Stay gold
Stay gold

You might as well not even use your horn if it doesn’t sound tuff. Not tough, but tuff, because that’s how Ponyboy Curtis spelled it in The Outsiders and I think if he honked at someone he’d mean serious business.

While we’re at it, what about you? Is there anything you’d like to add to the handbook?

Appositive Identification

James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ: To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion. Greetings. James 1:1

I wonder why James didn’t start this letter by identifying himself as James, brother of Jesus. If he wrote the letter, and scholars are pretty sure he did, then he certainly could have. I think if I were Jesus’ sister, I’d probably make sure everyone knew it. Every time I wrote an article or stood in front of a crowd to speak, I’d probably drop a Jesus story right off the bat; something like, “This one time when Jesus and I were hanging out…you know, because I’m his sister…

It’s equally curious that James didn’t identify himself by his occupation or position in the church. When I write something, editors usually ask me to include a short bio, and when I get introduced before speaking to a group, that intro usually centers on the stuff I do.

So brother of Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s son, senior pastor of the Jerusalem church, or guy who made that awesome speech at the Jerusalem council…these could have all been part of James’ intro, or at the very least, printed on the jacket cover.

But James didn’t do that, and the apposition he used, instead, to start off his letter challenges me.

ap·po·si·tion noun \ˌa-pə-ˈzi-shən\
grammar : an arrangement of words in which a noun or noun phrase is followed by another noun or noun phrase that refers to the same thing

I guess my question is What’s my noun phrase? What’s yours? Are we even after an identity that aligns us completely under God’s authority, or are we chasing one that ascribes authority to us? It’s an important question.

James’ identity was wrapped up in his spiritual relationship with Christ – not in his family tree or a talent or any earthly position he’d been given. “Slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” was the sole basis of the authority by which he wrote.

Try James’ apposition out for yourself, and see if it fits.

__________________ (your name here), a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If it doesn’t ring true, then ask God to keep changing you until it does. When your identity is defined by worldly pursuits, then carrying out your God-given purpose is impossible. Instead, pursue an identity that is congruent with submissiveness to Christ. People may not know exactly who you are or what you’ve done, but it doesn’t matter, because through your life, they’ll come to know Him.

For the Winter Olympic suggestion box

I feel bad for Bob Costas. There probably aren’t many worse situations in which to get pink eye than when you’re the lead commentator for the Olympics. Maybe when you’re getting married or competing in the Miss America pageant, but that’s it. Let’s face it; Bob has had a rough go of it. Take the first night of this year’s coverage, for example. He kept referring to the Russian president simply as “Putin.” I’ve noticed that since then, he has prefaced that unfortunate last name with “Mr.” or “President” every time. That’s probably a wiser choice, and one made clear to Bob Costas by his grandchildren, if I had to guess. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear the name “Vladimir Putin,” it’s funny. When Costas announced, “Putin on the world stage,” I was afraid the teenager in my house might never recover.

But other than the misfortunes of Bob Costas, those USA sweaters, and of course the ski jumps, I’ve had a hard time finding things in these Winter Olympics to entertain me. You might remember our talk about that two years ago, but the Summer Olympics just seem to have more pizzazz.

So maybe a good use of List Wednesday would be to offer a few suggestions to the Olympic committee. Someone please make sure this list gets in the right hands.

Just a few ideas to help make the Winter Olympics better:

468670125-693X520Snow skiers dress like figure skaters. I don’t know, I just think it would be fun to see Shaun White take the half-pipe in the military style of Maxim Trankov.

The sport of curling had some added element of danger...like a wild polar bear on the ice, or having to sweep those brooms through a ring of fire.

The athletes in the mogul event were mic’d up…because “Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” 

Speed skaters have to take off their skates and run the final lap in Nike’s. It’s not because I want to see people fall. 

Male figure skaters wear beards. Think Duck Dynasty on Ice. I’m just trying to help, guys.

Dogsled races. I saw that movie Iron Will one time, and it seemed a lot harder than sledding down a track in a bodysuit, and far more interesting than cross-country skiing.

Chili cook-off. Just because I haven’t worked out the logistics yet doesn’t mean its a bad idea.

Driving. I’ve never really understood auto racing, but I believe I could get into watching people drive around if the course was covered in ice. Everyone likes a sport that’s relatable and speaks to the experiences of the common man; I mean, just look at synchronized swimming.

Dodge(snow)ball. U-S-A! U-S-A!

What ideas do you have to add?

The best letter you’ll ever read

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you. Jer. 31:3

Since Valentine’s Day is this week, I thought I’d share one of my favorite cards of all time. Abby made it for me in 2006; she was just barely 7-years-old.

buttaful

It’s awesomtastic, right? You might even say it’s buttaful. She’s 15 now, and you would probably guess that I will get no such sentiment from her this year about how I smell or look. No worries. I’ll just pull this one out and smile knowingly.

IMG_1161Anyway, I was after a few teenage-appropriate expressions of love last week and ran across this box of chocolates in the Valentine’s Day section at Target. It made me LIM. Maybe it’s because words are my thing, but the whole card buying tradition is a little strange to me. If you want to make me laugh, then by all means, get me a funny card. But if you want me to know how you feel about me from the bottom of your heart, then I’d rather you write it or tell me yourself. When I read a sentimental card from the store with your signature slapped at the bottom of it, I’m not quite sure who to thank.

There’s something about uniquely personal, hand-written expressions that just beats everything else.

The Bible is like that. Of course I love that people write about the Bible, especially since I am one of them; but I also think it would be a terrible waste to set aside the real deal in favor of someone else’s take on it. Just look at those words up there at the top of this page. How is someone else going to tell you God loves you better than He already has?

From beginning to end, God’s story is also His love letter to you and me. To make sure we understood how unique and special it is, He used 40 different people on 3 different continents speaking 3 different languages over a span of 1500 years to get it all down. And they all agree about the message He wants us to know – He loves us so much that He sent Jesus to take the punishment for sin, and now we can live with Him forever.

So, compared to reading the Bible itself, the 140-character tweets of pastors and teachers and the spiritual quotes your friends post on Facebook come up short. Reading the latest Christian best-seller is inferior. Even the most well-crafted sermon can’t make Scripture better or more powerful than it already is. Those things are meant to help us dig deeper into the Bible and treasure it more, not replace it.

If you went out to the mailbox this week and saw there was a letter with a return address from God, you’d hold onto that thing. You might be a little nervous at first, but then if you opened it and read how much He loves you, you’d read it over and over and over again. It would be your greatest treasure.

God has sent you that letter. It’s an old letter, but at the same time, as new as your next breath and as personal to you as it is to me. I hope you’ll read it.

Open my eyes so that I may contemplate wonderful things from Your instruction. Ps. 119:18

Expectations, part 3 (Pleasing people or pleasing God)

For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. Gal. 1:10

I don’t like people to tell me what to do. Even unspoken expectations are often a problem. True story: I recently purchased one refrigerator over another simply because I didn’t like the words “Fruits and Vegetables” and “Meat Crisper” printed on the drawers. My inner voice rose up and said, “HEY LG, YOU CAN’T CONTROL ME!”

If we’re honest, I think most of us would say we have that same attitude about the expectations other people place on us. I’m not talking about the expectation to be a decent, respectful, kind-hearted, hard-working person. Those are no-brainers. I’m talking about the kind of expectations that sometimes come in the form of invitations to serve on a committee, donate money to charity, coach a Little League team, or teach a class of 5th graders at church.

And you shouldn’t do what other people want you to do, just because they expect it. People’s expectations of you and God’s call on your life are often in opposition. It’s important we know which is which, and go with the latter.

That said, I also believe it is true that many of us say “No” more than we should. Our resistance to other people’s expectations – and resentment of them, because we have so often said “yes” to the wrong things – leads us to reject opportunities we shouldn’t.

When I confuse being a slave to God with being a slave to people, I fail to fulfill the purposes God has for my life altogether.

Unless I have another commitment, I don’t say no when people ask me to speak at their church or event, teach a class, or when editors ask if I will write an article, devotion, or unit of Bible study curriculum. I just don’t. God has given me certain gifts, and I want to use them. There have been times when my initial thought was, “I’m way too busy; I don’t think I can do this right now.” But it has been my experience that, even when my calendar says I have none, God gives me the time I need to do those things and do them well. And, in the end, I’m always glad I did. It makes sense. After all, He is the giver of all our gifts and abilities, and He is also the giver of time. You can’t truly give God credit for the gifts without also believing He can also organize the means to use them.

God has given you certain gifts, too, and whether or not those gifts currently fit in with the ways other people want you to spend your time doesn’t change your responsibility to be a good steward of them (1 Pet. 4:10).

Give me a microphone any day, but I’m horrific at making small talk. So if believers with the gift of gab don’t come chat it up with people at the big outreach event, opportunities are lost. We each have an important role; that’s God’s design.

You don’t have to wait for someone to ask, either. There’s a reason begging is not in the list of spiritual gifts. The New Testament assumption is that ministers wouldn’t have to search the church roll for people to serve in various ministries, but that believers would already be doing that; willingly using the gifts God has given them because they understand the urgency of the gospel and the needs within the body of Christ.

It’s like the refrigerator. Turns out, the less bossy model I chose that day sounds like it’s launching missiles when it dumps ice into the bin and the bottom freezer drawer is squeaky. It seems my desire to be my own person and make my own decisions may have caused me to miss the better deal. That’s not a huge problem when you’re talking about a kitchen appliance, but when we do that same thing in life, the consequences can have great effect.

You can live your life teetering between the urge to please people and the one that says “You can’t tell me what to do!” But there is a much better deal where the desire to please God is always greatest – don’t miss it.

When your team isn’t in the Super Bowl

It’s hard to watch a sporting event when you don’t care who wins or loses. I say “or loses” because I have watched games with people who don’t have a stake in the outcome, but are passionate still, simply because of their dislike of one of the two teams involved. Case in point, I would imagine that those who have strong pharisaical tendencies started looking for Broncos t-shirts two weekends ago when  Richard Sherman’s pride went viral. I find this cheer-when-someone-you-don’t-like-loses part of the human condition fascinating, but that is probably another blog topic altogether.

The point is that when we can’t root for our own team, we usually look for ways to identify with another…because that’s what makes watching sports fun. One thing I have noticed is that Christians like to rally behind players or teams who are vocal about their faith in Jesus.  I don’t know if other religions feel that same sense of community. Do Buddhists support players whose lockers are feng shui? Do Scientologists know which players refuse to see the team psychiatrist? I don’t know, but we Christians do love us some Tim Tebow.

Of course, he won’t be playing this weekend, but thanks to popular Seattle pastors Mark Driscoll and Judah Smith, the Christian community is being led to believe that the Seahawks are the team to root for. Judah Smith even goes so far as to pray for the Seahawks in worship services and calls them “God’s favorite team”…from the pulpit. Whatever you or I think about that doesn’t really matter; clearly, they do have some godly guys on that team. But last week I found out on Facebook that Peyton Manning is a Christian, too. Peyton Manning, y’all. How ya’ gonna begrudge all that success now?

It’s so conflicting.  How is a well-meaning believer supposed to pick a team when there are Christians on both sides of the ball? Lucky for you it’s List Wednesday…a full 4 days before you have to fully commit.

How to pick a team to root for in the Super Bowl this weekend:

Best dreads. And by “best” I mean those worn on the head of a wide receiver or running back.  If you don’t play a position where you run really fast to show them off, or one where other players are chasing you with the intent of snatching them right out of your head, your dreadlocks are significantly less awesome, even if you are the best cornerback in the game. So, you GO, Marshawn Lynch. You are a brave, brave man. Advantage: Seattle

osprey-with-bassToughest mascot.  It might be helpful here to know that a sea hawk is actually called an Osprey. I looked it up. Also, it eats fish, not wild horses…not even baby ponies, or a My Little Pony toy some 3-year-old left at the stadium, for that matter. I could get behind the sea hawk if they were playing the Denver Bass, maybe…but they’re not. Advantage: Broncos

The city that could probably use a good pick me up. It rains in Seattle all year long. Plus, their mascot is only intimidating to a fish. And Denver? Well, that place is only 1 1/2 hours from Summit County. Who needs football? Advantage: Seattle.

Coolest uniforms. I realize this one is a matter of opinion. But Seattle is wearing their white jerseys and pants with that weird neon green stripe going down the leg, and Denver is wearing Halloween orange. Clearly, no one asked my opinion. Advantage: No one

The team that didn’t steal Texas A&M’s 12th man tradition and try to pass it off as their own.  Advantage: Denver. Thanks, and gig ’em.

Google Tim Tebow. Find out who he’s picking, and go with that.  Win-win.

What about you? How will you decide who to root for in this year’s Super Bowl?