I am so happy to:

a) be at the end of James 4

b) be able to say that I have largely moved past the admonition found here  (largely, not entirely)

 

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

I think, overall, we tend to put too much stock in our future.  I know I still do it, although not nearly as badly as I used to.

It’s very easy to say what’s going to happen… and then have a Job-like moment when everything goes awry.  Having that plan taken away from you is worse than never having planned in the first place, because you end up somehow feeling like you’ve been cheated.  I used to do that a lot.  I’d make a very detailed calendar, then when something made me late (or, worse, made me absent), I literally fell apart.  I lost my temper.  The world around me experienced Armageddon.

It was not pretty.

If, however, we bank on the idea that God has a plan and He knows better than we do what we need, then running into traffic that makes us miss a big job interview isn’t an occasion for cursing, stress, and high blood pressure.  It’s an occasion to thank Him for keeping you out of a job you’d hate… or an accident that would be far worse than showing up late.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans.  I’m a big fan of a schedule/ calendar/ life plan.  But we should accept that, if things go awry, maybe we didn’t have the perfect plan and it’s okay to take a detour.

So… I make plans.  Then I wait on God to remake them.

My pastor spoke on James 4 yesterday.  I took that as a nudge/ reminder to come off hiatus today.

 

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister[a] or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

I have to be really careful with this verse, because it would be so easy to be caught judging myself while I’m talking about not judging.  So, rather than use certain people I know as an example, let’s talk about me.

I used to be perfect.  Not really perfect, but I was doing such a good job that I pretty much thought I was doing better than everyone else.  I didn’t use strong language.  I went to church at least three times a week and served in multiple ministries.  My kids had a Bible story and prayer every day.  I was working my way through one of those “Through the Bible in an Insanely Short Amount of Time” reading plans diligently.  My house was spotless, I was in very good shape… I was perfect.  (We’ll leave out the areas I was failing in, other than one big one.)

I was an excellent judger.

I passed judgment on everyone.  My friends at church were judged because we attended a Southern Baptist church and they’d get together to have a drink.  My sisters were judged for when their children misbehaved.  My coworkers were judged on what they ate and how much they worked out (I worked at the YMCA).

Every time I judged them, I judged myself.  I judged that I was above God’s law and somehow worthy of picking who was naughty and who was nice.

If that was true, why did Christ need to die on the cross?

I’ve since fallen so hard that I wouldn’t dream of judging anyone else… or would I?

I judge friends who post “inappropriate” things on Facebook.  I judge overweight or out-of-shape friends, even though I’m well aware that my current state of health is inspired in part by my chronic illness.  I judge clothing, language…

… maybe I didn’t learn my lesson.

I don’t want to be judged more harshly than I need to be.  I have no delusions that I’m perfect.  So why do I persist in judging?

I think I’ll post this on my computer to remind me not to judge.

I am still struggling with James.  Forget the fact that I’m busy with the kids being off on summer break; I just cannot wrap my head around my next (tiny) section of verses.  Time for some research.

Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:9-10

I’ve tried commentaries, word searches, topical searches… verse 9 largely has me stumped.   I even tried the dictionary… no help.

Perhaps God is saying to grieve the state of the world, mourn where we are versus where we can be, and wail over the sin round us.  Perhaps He wants us not to laugh from false merriment (or the laugh track on the television), but to regret the obvious damage that our culture is doing to our society.  Maybe we’re valuing and finding our joy in something we’re not supposed to be valuing above God.

Maybe we’ve just put ourselves above furthering the Kingdom.

If we humble ourselves, don’t value our own entertainment so much, and are willing to be humbled, God will lift us up.  God can provide our laughter and joy.

I find it hard to tithe– or even to donate to the homeless man on the corner– but I usually manage to find a few spare dollars for a run by Starbucks or Coffee Bean and I protect my over-priced cell phone bill fiercely.  I hate that my kids encounter issues I didn’t even know existed at their ages, but I gloss over it when the same issues show up in books, television shows, or movies.

Perhaps I’m too focused on  my own joy and laughter and not focused enough on letting God provide my lifting up.

I’m still not sure that I’ve got this all right, but it does give me something to think about.

 

I’ve been struggling with what I should say about this next section and I let it stall me completely for a bit.  Honestly, I’m still not sure in a few areas, so if this post seems a little confused… I am.

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.

James 4:7-8

Alright, let’s start with the “easy” part.  Submit yourself to God.  Unfortunately, we have a very bad connotation for “submit” in our contemporary American culture.  Submit means you are weak.  Submit means you don’t win.  It’s not at all what the word should mean.

The Bing dictionary shows this prejudice.  For “submit”, it shows:

  • propose or hand in something: to hand something in or put something forward for consideration, approval, or judgment
  • yield: to accept somebody else’s authority or will, especially reluctantly or under pressure
  • agree: to agree to undergo something

Mirriam Webster is a little bit more unbiased:

1 a   : to yield to governance or authority
   b   : to permit oneself to be subjected to something <had to submit to surgery>
2      : to defer to or consent to abide by the opinion or authority of another

That’s where we currently miss the mark.  It really takes more strength and position to submit than it does to yield (or lose).  I always picture a king choosing to yield his power or a mighty lion choosing to obey his trainer.  It’s a choice… and one that doesn’t detract from the power of the creature submitting in the least.
The next part, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” seems simple, but it’s  not.  Too many people (myself included) tend to think that as soon as we fight back, Satan is going to run.  This is the being who dared stand up against God… we have to do more than some easy resistance, especially if we usually yield.  Resistance is more of the “entrenched home defense against enemy forces” type… the kind where you have to hide out, take shots from a safe distance, and occasionally pray like crazy that stronger forces arrive.  As long as you’re still resisting, rather than surrendering, however, then you’ve done your part.
The part that follows is a contrast: “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”  Based on statistics, most of us don’t come near to God very often… and we usually do it through the proxy of church (yes, even the non-Catholics).  It was once (and still, in some societies, is) a great honor to be invited to come close to the reigning monarch.  Not only are we being invited to come near to our King, but He promises to meet us if we do.  If that doesn’t give you shivers, then you may be taking the sheer awesomeness of God far too much in stride.
“Wash your hands, you sinners” seems almost to not fit in.  What good, really, does washing your hands do against sin?  Yet I’m reminded of the scene in Macbeth where Lady Macbeth continually dry-washes her hands, seeking to remove the blood (and guilt) only she sees there.  We need to “wash our hands” of our sins and walk away from them, rather than indulging in them time and time again.
Finally, “purify your hearts, you double-minded”.  Purify, per Mirriam-Webster, means:
: to make pure: as

a   : to clear from material defilement or imperfection
b   : to free from guilt or moral or ceremonial blemish
c   : to free from undesirable elements
I like the first definition the best, for some reason.  Clearing my heart of material defilement doesn’t just mean getting rid of impure thoughts or anger… it means finding forgiveness (something I’m lately finding harder and harder to do).  I can’t talk the talk, though, and still leave all those unforgiven issues clogging up my spiritual arteries.  I need to purify my heart and wash away even the stuff I’d like to hang onto just because “I deserve better”.  (Maybe, but so did Jesus and He went faithfully to a cross.)
I was originally going to do a bigger chunk here, but there is just so much in those two verses that I had to stop.  Submit.  Resist.  Draw near.  Wash and purify.  Seems like those should be in reverse order, when I list them this way, but God rarely does things the way I expect.  Maybe I just need to get my order straight.

They say familiarity breeds contempt.  While I’m not contemptuous of the latter part of James, I am more familiar with it.  Perhaps that’s why I’m struggling to write up the last bit.

You adulterous people,[a] don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us[b]? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud     but shows favor to the humble.”[c]

      • James 4:4 An allusion to covenant unfaithfulness; see Hosea 3:1.
      • James 4:5 Or that the spirit he caused to dwell in us envies intensely; or that the Spirit he caused to dwell in us longs jealously
      • James 4:6 Prov. 3:34

The word “adulterous” has lost not only some of its meaning, but some of its power.  Adultery is fairly common in the Western world, even though most religions still officially condemn it.  But the definition from Merriam-Webster of “promiscuous” or “two-timing” is the closest to what is meant here, still lacking in the strength of the original word.  There is a covenant broken that is implied.  In marriage, it implies the breaking of the marriage covenant.  In relations with God, it’s the breaking of the salvation covenant.

This verse uses very strong language intentionally: friendship, enmity, jealously.  Some people make friends easily and they are more like acquaintances.  I make friends slowly and they are, in my heart, at least friends forever unless they choose to walk away.  I think this is similar to God.  He allows us friendship once we open the door and He is always there… until we close it.  However, if we are being “friends” with the world, we are declaring enmity with God.  Ouch.  Now, again, it depends on where you draw the line for friendship, but I try to keep the marriage analogy in here as well.  If I just idly flirt with another man, am I committing adultery?  (For my part, I say yes.  You decide for yourself.)  In the same way, if we are idly flirting with the world, are we being unfaithful to God?

I know some people don’t like the idea of a jealous God.  I don’t get it, personally.  If I love someone and they say they love me, I want them to be jealous of my time and attention.  If they don’t, do they really crave it?  Do they even miss me?  In the same way, to me, a jealous God craves my time, attention, and energy.. .and He’s entitled to it.  The world isn’t unless I’m planning on divorcing myself from my Christianity.

The next time that you think it’s okay to just once watch a movie (*cough* Magic Mike *cough*), read a book (Fifty Shades of Grey, ladies?), or dwell on a thought you shouldn’t have, remember that Someone jealously covets your attention… just as any good spouse would.  I know I just stepped on some toes, by the way.  Feel free to defend those choices to me if you want… or talk to God about them.

By the way, I used to think it was okay to flirt with the world occasionally because I was a “strong enough” Christian.  Let me tell you, I wasn’t.  Baby steps led to a slow jog led to a fast run led to a downhill slide.  I think that’s the meaning of that last bit: “God opposes the proud     but shows favor to the humble.”  If you think you’ve got it all together, you just put God on the opposing team.  That’s like going to play pickup basketball and putting Kevin Durant, Michael Jordan, and Shaq all on the other team, ’cause you “got this”.  Yeah… good luck with that.  I’d rather admit my weaknesses and have God on my team.

God’s team wins in the end.

I’m going to step all over my own toes today.  Ouch.  I’m feeling it already…

4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:1-3

I have so many of these things that I don’t even know where to start.  I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?

I’m a divorced mom.  I don’t exactly get along with my ex, especially when it comes to how to raise our kids (whatever we once believed the same, we now seem to believe the opposite).  But when I fight with him, am I fighting for my kids, for my own desires, or for what’s right with God?  This makes me uncomfortable (which is a good thing for growth, but terrible for peace of mind).  It doesn’t help that I’m naturally a bit on the… pugilistic side.  I’m going to have to work on that.

You do not have because you do not ask God.

You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t, especially if you know me well) how many times I try to do things on my own instead of asking God.  It’s no wonder I’ve been stuck in a very deep rut for a while!  I’ve gotten better about letting people help me, but I’m still terrible about asking God for help.  Hopefully I’ll use this wake-up call to change that.

When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

In a lot of ways, this is the most painful part of this section.  Yes, my finances are tight, but how many times have they ended up tight because I just had to have a chai tea latte from Starbucks?  How often do I think I need to wow my kids with a purchase instead of teaching them to be good about finances?  Worse… how often have I put my tithing before myself lately?

I would still be paying off debt if I watched my spending more closely… but I’d be further along.

I would still be tight, financially, at the end of each month if I watched my spending more closely… but maybe not so tight that I have to not buy any groceries for five days just to hold off to the next paycheck.

I have this crazy thought in my head that I deserve to have an occasional nice treat.  Maybe.  But I find that if I do it once, I do it again very soon after. 

Once upon a time, I was very good at denying myself temporary pleasures for the long-term.  I could hang on to a $20 for emergencies for a very long time.  I lost that somewhere in my five or so years of prosperity during my marriage.  I need to find it again.

Until then, it’s no wonder I don’t have.  If God blessed me with a financial windfall, I’d just blow it into the wind.  Time to fix that.

 

If you struggle with financial issues, there are two Christian writers I wholeheartedly endorse.  Crown Financial Ministries speaks financial truth in a no-nonsense manner.  Dave Ramsey seems to rub some people the wrong way, but I’ve never heard him say something that was either contrary to the Bible or financially stupid (not that I’ve checked everything, this is just my personal take).  I get nothing for mentioning either of these sites.  Take from them what you will.

Ah, the search for wisdom.  The ancient Greeks valued it so much that they worshipped Athena, goddess of wisdom (the Romans downgraded her a bit to Minerva).  King Solomon valued it more than riches or fame.  The Bible is full of advice on it… and James is no exception.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

I’ll be honest with you, this isn’t normally the picture I get of wisdom.  There’s Yoda, grammatically-challenged, sitting on Luke’s back to train him.  In real life, there’s Stephen Hawkings, apparently very intelligent, who flatly declares there is no God.

James says wisdom is shown by a good life and deeds done “in the humility that comes from wisdom”.  Clearly, intelligence is not the same thing as being wise.  (Not to throw stones at Yoda, but his kind of wisdom is denounced as “earthly, unspiritual, demonic”.)

There’s a meme that’s been going around for years that says, “Teens!  Move out of the house and on your own while you still know everything!”  The implication, of course, is that teens don’t know everything.  In fact, the wisest people I know are the ones who realise just how much they don’t know.  Even those wise ones, though, might not make the hall of fame for this list of wisdom’s attributes:

  • pure
  • peace-loving
  • considerate
  • submissive
  • full of mercy and good fruit
  • impartial
  • sincere

There are several potential blog posts right there, but I hate losing readers, so I’ll keep it succinct (no, really). 

Wisdom is pure: without any unnecessary elements.  Far too often we try to puff up our wisdom with other things.  We get degrees; we ask for others opinions; we follow the latest popular televangelist or Christian author (ouch).  True wisdom comes from God… and nothing else.  (No additives or preservatives)

Wisdom loves peace… probably because peace is the most productive way to do things.  Want to stop a bill in Congress?  Bicker about it.  Want to get your parents to say no to a family outing?  Fight with your siblings.  Wisdom loves peace because peace is good for everyone involved.

Wisdom is considerate.  It’s very hard to be wise when you’re in the middle of a road-rage-induced moment of rudeness.  Your focus is on nothing but yourself.  Wisdom knows you get more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Wisdom is submissive.  The verse doesn’t say who to submit to, but at the very least, I would say wisdom submits to God.  If wisdom is a wife, she submits to her husband.  (One day I’ll write a full post on my take on submission, but not today.)  If wisdom is a child, he submits to his parents.  Wisdom also submits to the authorities in power, so long as it doesn’t go against God’s law.

Wisdom is full of mercy and good fruit.  Not only does wisdom not hold a grudge (offering mercy), but wisdom is fruitful… in a good way.  No one can argue that Stephen Hawking is a productive man… but does he produce good fruit?

Wisdom is impartial.  I think this goes back to not honoring the rich over the poor, the famous over the unknown, or even the believer over the unbeliever.  Wisdom gives everyone a fair chance.

Wisdom is sincere.  It’s pretty easy (for some of us) to fake an action or a feeling long enough to get through a moment.  Wisdom takes the moment and uses truth to get through it.  I’m reminded of The Hiding Place, when Corrie’s family had to decide whether to lie or tell the truth.  The truth often got better results than the lies.

I’m not wise… not even close… so I’m sure some of that was a little, well, incorrect.  But it still makes me think.  Maybe, like with so many other things, being wise is more a matter of doing all the things that make you wise first.  If so, then I’d call this the first step on a very long road.