My dear friends,
Thanks for joining me on this crazy journey through James. I love that you even found this crazy blog of mine – RecklesslyAlive.com
The truth is I am not a biblical scholar, a pastor, a deep-sea diver, an Avenger or a mongoose whisperer. Some might say I don’t really have the “credentials” to write this thing at all… and to those people I say Shipoopi!
The truth is the bible was written for all of us. For you and me and yes, even your ugly stepsister Claudia that smells like chicken fat. We don’t need a fancy degree to learn about God, we just have to be willing to let Him (or if you want to get technical), the Holy Spirit, speak to us through this crazy book he left behind for us.
In full disclosure, I’ve never written a bible study. I am merely a completely sinful, messed up and strangely attractive man trying to live a life fully and recklessly alive.
And as it turns out, God (somewhat annoyingly) tends to use people like that.
(watch out, he might be coming for you next…).
Last week I started reading James on my own when I had this beautiful thought that perhaps you would want to come along and explore this challenging book with me. I mean, every Frodo needs a Samwise. Every Potter needs a Weasley & a Granger. Every Son of Man needs… 11 non-betraying Disciples and a glass of wine.
So, what do you say? Will you be my spunky, encouraging and sarcastic side-kick? Was that a yes?!
HOORAY! Let’s do this thing. Let’s commit to spending 17 days together in the book of James and talk about where we see God and what we’re learning..
BONUS you get Sundays off to reflect on the week (or catch up). You’re welcome.
Can I get a “What What?!?”
HOW TO DO THIS THING
I have often struggled to find a good rhythm of spending meaningful time with God. I have heard over and over that “getting into the word,” as dem Christian folks call it, is essential to growing in a relationship with our Father. Still, like a sad New Year’s Resolution, I always seem to get off track. I tend to tune out and think about jalapeno cornbread or tiger-striped unicorns until I get to the end of a page and give up.
If you can identify with any of that, I am glad to have you aboard.
This study is meant to be done slowly. As in NOT a mad dash. Like, 20-30 minutes.
“Jinkies Sam! But it’s only like 8 verses a day!”
Exactly people. That’s the point. As my homie RHB writes in her life-changing book “Sacred Rhythms,”
“We read slowly so that we can savor each word and let its meaning sink in. Rather than rushing on to the next chapter so that we can compete a reading or study assignment, we stay in the place where God is speaking to us, contemplating meaning for our life and for our relationship… like Samuel, we approach the scripture with utter openness and availability to God: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” -Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms p. 50
If you only have 5 minutes, yes 5 minutes is much better than zero minutes. (5 > 0 for you math nerds) Yet, what if you made space for God to come near.
In James 4:8, it says “come near to God and he will come near to you.” Make space. Come near. Light a candle. Sit in the quiet. Let him speak.
Got it? Great!
Let’s get this PARTY STARTED!
Commenceth Bible Study in
Day 1: Invitation to James
Here is a little background information and context to get us started. This text is quoted from one of my favorite resources: Books of the Bible from Biblica. Purchase your own copy here.
“Jesus had several brothers, and one of them was named James. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, James became one of the most important leaders of the community of his followers in Jerusalem. James was respected for the advice he gave and for the wise decisions he helped the community make (see Acts 15). Later in his life, James decided to write down some of his best teachings and advice and send them to other Jewish believers in Jesus who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. What he wrote to them has become known as the book of James.
This book begins like a letter because it’s being sent to people at a distance. But it’s actually not very much like other letters of the time. Instead, it’s a collection of short sayings, perhaps ones that James repeated often as he advised people. It includes slightly longer discussions on practical topics. These discussions could have been taken from sermons that James gave, since they use the same techniques employed by speakers of the day. For example, sometimes James anticipates and answers a question someone might ask. Or, he may pose a question to his audience himself and then respond based on how he thinks they would have answered. Also, unlike most letters, this book doesn’t treat its topics in logical or sequential order. Instead, it interweaves various themes as James raises subjects, leaves them and comes back to them again. The conversational style, the short pithy sayings, and the interweaving of themes all make this book similar to the wisdom writing found in books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Like those wisdom books, the book of James concentrates primarily on questions of daily living in God’s good creation. When James discusses directly what it means to be wise, he explains that wisdom is demonstrated in practical conduct: 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. The practical issues he considers include concern for the poor, the responsible use of wealth, control of the tongue, purity of life, unity within the community of Jesus-followers, and above all patience and endurance during times of trial. We can see that the people James wrote to face many challenges as they sought to practice a religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless. As we face similar challenges today, his godly wisdom remains as valuable a guide to living fully human lives as it was when he first shared it centuries ago.”
Day 1: James 1:1-8
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings. Trials and Temptations
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Read these verse through again, this time slower and lingering on each phrase as if it were a love letter. Underline, circle or highlight words that jump out at you.
A Few Thoughts:
How many times do you face a crazy obstacle like your car breaking down, a relationship ending, a difficult time in your marriage, a crippling addiction and immediately think “THIS IS AWESOME.” Yes, thank you God for this hard and tumultuous season.
The answer? Never.
No one has this immediate response, not even Jesus. Before being sent to the cross the son of God, the only perfect human who ever lived, first said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me;” (Luke 22:42) Jesus response to his upcoming pain is not HOORAY, he asks God to take this burden from him. Isn’t that how we all feel? Take away this pain God.
It is Jesus’ next words however, that are perhaps some of the most powerful he ever said,
“yet not my will, but yours be done.”
We all face hard, trying times when our first response is “Why God? Why is this happening to me?” This is completely and utterly normal (moo…). Yet, what is your next response? I pray that you choose to answer with submission to the will of God and the power to fight through the battle before you.
How do you do that you ask? What a great question. I think it starts with knowing that God has a greater plan than any of the muck we experience down here. Even in on the terrible no good, very bad days we know that God promises to use all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Yes, even what you are feeling right now can be used for His glory.
Not right away. Maybe not for a long time. But God will use every disaster, every heartbreak, every story of pain for good.
So my friend, whatever you are up against today turn towards your heavenly father who loves you more than any love you have ever known and take a deep breath. Sit with him a moment in this sanctuary he has provided for you and ask for wisdom and guidance through the hurricane roaring outside your window. Let the peace of his presence flow through you as you stand strong against the winds that try to release your eternal stability.
You are safe. You are loved.
Even if you don’t feel it now, the joy will come as you persevere and press on towards a life that is fully alive in God.
You can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil 4:13). You CAN face this. You WILL overcome. You WILL persevere.
A Few Questions:
1.) What words or short phrases jump out at you from these verses? Write them down in your journal with a little space in between. Define them in your own words (or look them up).
2.) What is a trial or temptation you are currently facing? How has this trial impacted your relationship with God? Have you prayed or shared with a friend about this struggle? If not, what keeps you from asking for help?
3.) Have you ever prayed for wisdom? Ask God for wisdom in an issue or trial that is permeating in your life. Don’t necessarily expect an immediate answer, sometimes these answers come through sermons, books, friends, or even strangers. Be on the lookout for where this answer might come from.
4.) When is the last time (if ever) you felt stable and anchored to God? When is the last time you felt like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the winds of this world?
Heavenly Father, thank you for the incredible love letter you left through James and for this time today to spend with you, my refuge from the chaos outside my door. The truth is God, it is not my first instinct to find pure joy when I am walking through my darkest hours and deepest struggles. Remind me today that I am NEVER alone and that you are stronger than any measly ol’ giant I face.
Help me to feel fully alive as you transform me into a child who perseveres, who never gives up when it seems all hope is lost, who encourages your children to trust in your constant protection and your gentle, guiding hand. Teach me to be wise, to pursue your will in every situation and decision that comes across my path. Help me to feel tied to you today God, to feel anchored as this storm tries to toss me like a wave in the sea. You are my source of strength as I persevere. You are my eternal companion. I will walk with you all the days of my life.