About twenty years ago, our friend, Steve, was building a home in the foothills of the Antelope Valley. There was no water to his property, so he had to drill a well. Anyone who has built in this valley knows it is not easy to dig a successful well and when you do, it is measured by how many gallons of water it produces in an minute. Many times multiple attempts are made until a well is drilled that can produce the water a home will need. However, Steve, hit the jack pot on his first try. As the first hole was drilled into the dry earth that morning, all of a sudden water flew into the air like an oil geyser! Steve hit an artesian well and the water that came from it was immeasurable.
That is how I feel right now as I study James. I've hit a geyser and I am a cup...a small one. There is just SO MUCH WATER it is blasting me in the face!!!!
Do you get the feeling James knows we need to learn some very important lessons so he repeats himself in different ways in hopes that we get it? He does not care if it makes us uncomfortable. He has no trouble "getting into our business" and showing us ourselves but then neither did Jesus...I guess he learned from the best.
These past two week, as I studied in James, I honestly did not know what to write simply because there was so much! My head was swimming with what I was reading and thinking about. It was overwhelming...all of it! I had never recognized James nearly yelling out from the pages “Don’t be self-deceived!!!!” It’s as if he had to mention it every few verses, in some form or another, in a desperate attempt to wake me up. How many times have I heard a message that has emotionally hit every soft place in my heart, stood at the end and lifted my hand to receive? How many? God only knows. In a flash at least one thing became clear this week; I realized many times I listen intently, read intently, study intently, worship intently, even pray intently, and then as the days wear on, so do all my intentions until they are a vague memory or maybe no memory at all. I am self-deceived.
I received a phone call some years back from my daughter, Aimee, who was at a school of ministry in Boise, Idaho. The students had barely settled in when they were given the opportunity to feed the poor at a local park and that was the subject of the phone call. She had just gotten back from her first ministry time in the park, and these were her words to me: “Mom, feeding the poor is not as romantic as I thought it would be.” As she and her friends arrived at the designated spot were food was routinely given to those who gathered, some of the students began to get out their guitars to sing worship songs as others handed out meals. Aimee, so excited to begin to DO what the Bible says walked over to a group of men, her blue eyes sparkling with anxious delight, when one of them looked up and said, “We don’t want your singing, just give us the food!” Whoa!!! Reality smacked my girl with an arrow straight to her sweet, innocent heart. This was NOT what she had pictured in her mind...not at all. All her thoughts of words and looks of gracious gratitude, of hearts open to the gospel message she was ready to give, vanished in an instant. Her words came back to me as I read James this week and thought of how much I want my service to God to be comfortable and rewarding...to me.
Am I self-decieved when I think I have “done enough” or I need to be “balanced” in my life? Really? What does a “balanced” Christian look like? Just the right amount of service? Of humility? Of giving? And what is on the other side of the scale? I'm actually a little nervous to take a look at what might be there. Selfishness? Fear? Comfort? Am I self-deceived when I romanticize what “pure religion” looks like, thinking that it will be a gift of gratitude back to me? Could I be self-deceived when passing a sign-holding man or woman on the street and think: “There are better ways to serve the poor then handing a couple of dollars out a window?” Is it self-deception to romanticize my giving and be disappointed and discouraged when I am slapped with reality? Self-deception has so many facets, no wonder James had to be so persistent throughout his message.
I was taken advantage of some years back by a gas-can holding man who had the sad story of a car out of gas as he was on his way home to Lake LA after a job interview and all he needed was five dollars. I bought it, hook, line and sinker, and he reeled me in like a trout. I gave him the money, which at that time in my family’s life was just about all we had at the moment. He took my money and sprinted off for the gas station. I was stunned when after he thought I had left, he turned around and walked over to another “trout” who was getting into their car. I was angry and felt like a fool. That night I confessed to my husband, Peter, what had happened to the last of our money for the week and how stupid I felt for being used and taken advantage of. Peter said something to me that night I have always remembered. “Your heart was right, Cherri. You did what was right and good.” So I guess my job is not to determine whether someone is needy enough or even if “his heart is right” because, after all, only God can judge the heart. I will lose out on many moments to bless and serve, of practicing “pure religion” if I stop to analyze every situation I face. Peter told me recently that usually God will prompt him to give when there is money in his pocket:) He said he gives because he doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to do what God has asked him to do. He wondered if we had, say, one hundred dollars in cash to give each month, would we be looking for opportunities to give? We might just have to try that.
Is there a balance to James' message of service, giving, and self-sacrifice? I think there is in the other letter written to the Jewish Christians. Hebrews 13:20-21.
"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."
The balance is we don't have to do what seems overwhelming alone. God does not say: "Here is what you do...listen, serve, and love others...Now get out there and do it!" His Word says He equips us. He gives us everything we need to live a life that brings glory to Him. Now that just puts a smile back on my water-soaked face:)
So, this is a rambling message of just thinking "out loud" with my keyboard today. What do you think, my friends? What are your thoughts on James and a message that takes you by the shoulders and shakes you silly? He has definitely drop-kicked me right out of my comfort zone. I would love to hear what you have to say.
Love to you, my friends!