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Lifeway Christian Stores carrying 'So Called Christian' 

Lifeway Christian Stores carrying So-Called Christian: Healing Spiritual Wounds Left by the Church This is an amazing blessing since we did not even market the book to them. It was presented in the proverbial 'stack of books' that many distributors place in front of book buyers hoping that one or two of them will be chosen. We are thrilled and honored that ours was selected! Praise to God!

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Entries in Joy (2)

Friday
May182012

Welcoming Royalty.

Do you remember the incessant media frenzy over the fairytale wedding of Prince Charles to the relatively unknown Diana Spencer? The event brought into sharp contrast the gulf between “commoners” and “royalty”. Constant pictures of everyday people clamoring for the slightest glimpse of royal pomp flash into my mind. It was a magnificent affair for the ages that kept populations from Britain, to Australia, to the U.S. entranced. It’s estimated that 750 million people tuned in to view the ceremony! That kind of riveted attention, the honor given to the couple, the amazement at the trappings, the appreciation of the imperial graces on display, all melded together into a sort of public joy. It’s the sort of joy James encourages when trials come into our lives. His language is truly remarkable. Listen to what he is communicating.

James is encouraging us to treat as the prince of graces, every trial of every kind that surrounds us. Usher in every trial as if it were a king, esteem its presence as you would a great royal (not a royal pain): whether it be from God (Luke 22:28, Acts 20:19, 1 Peter 1:6), from internal battle with sin (Luke 8:13, 1 Cor. 10:13, 1 Tim. 6:9, Luke 4:13), or from external pressure to sin or despair (1 Peter 4:12 Matt. 26:41).  These variegated trials are to be cherished as means to holiness and grace. Conflict is a minister of grace. James is all-inclusive of the types of trials – the word “various” meaning many-colored, multi-striped, or dappled with different hues.

This is an incredible picture to describe what our attitude toward conflict should be! James is asking us to welcome trials/temptations as we would welcome a regal king or queen. Imagine the fuss and toil to prepare for such a visit!  This idea of conflict as royalty comes from the word James uses. The word esteem (consider or count) is a word rooted in the idea of giving honor to imperial figures. James uses this word to describe the joy, anxious anticipation, delight, and diligence we should exercise when engaging with trials that enter into our lives. Not that we are signing gold leaf invitations for more of them – but that when they come we see them as gifts of God sent to perfect us. Even more powerful is the nuance Thayer’s Greek Lexicon adds to the use of the word. He says esteem “denotes a belief not resting on one’s inner feeling or sentiment, but on the due consideration of external grounds, the weighing and comparing of facts.” In other words when we consider the usefulness of conflict to create character it is not a subjective (touchy, feely) whim, it is a truth proposition based on the integrity of God. God says to “consider” conflict a joy! Weigh the evidence – God is working in your crucible of grace!

That’s driving in the rearview mirror to me. Joy is the last emotion I conjure up when facing trials. It’s a contentious correction of my normal response. I’m provoked by this approach and also humiliated that I so seldom get there. But it’s such a radical challenge that it summons me. I want an about-face in my attitude toward suffering. I want to bow to it in honor, expectation, and triumph. I want to be in the holy place of welcome for those friends who would make me more like Jesus. I want joy in the midst of trial so I want James to continue drawing me toward this extreme contradiction to my standard response.

Is God’s instruction a shock to you? Does it surprise you that the Lord directs us into an entirely supernatural attitude toward suffering? Does it irritate you that He does not allow us one moment to gripe about our circumstances or wallow in our “woe is me” self pity? Isn’t it a little perturbing that we can’t invite the attention of others to our trials for a little sympathy? Can’t we indulge ourselves in a rousing chorus of the old Hee Haw number, “Gloom, Despair, and Agony on me, Deep Dark Depression, Excessive Misery. If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, Despair, and Agony on Me!”

The short answer - No! Why? Because to do so denies the very reason God allows trials to come. These royal guests come with Gifts! They come bearing “an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones” like the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon. (1 Kings 10:10) God sees the gifts brought by His noble ambassadors as worth more treasure than all the empty dainties brought by our self-appointed kings and queens. The store of wealth they bring is of eternal value – unfading, stainless, lasting, fulfilling, and precious. Once their incomparable value captures us, penetrates us, we will find ourselves welcoming these imperial visitors in ways we never imagined. James is going to give us unrestricted access into the regal planning room to reveal to us just what God has in mind for us. He is the giver of “every good and perfect gift” – Want to see what He’s got working for you?

Thursday
May102012

Conflict Sucks! But it just might be my best friend.

Conflict Sucks! But it just might be my best friend. That’s a bit crass, I know, but it comes closest to hitting the mark of how I typically react to conflict. My very conservative background tells me not to use this common colloquialism. My sensitivities to my social circle are clanging in loud alarm. But the word “sucks” works! I hate conflict! The knots I get in my stomach and that tightness on the right side of my back – the one that always gives me a headache if it doesn’t get relieved – testify to my displeasure at any sign of conflict. I could be polite and say, “Conflict is an irritant” but that just doesn’t say it. I suppose if I had the vocabulary of a Harvard professor I could come up with a word that says the same thing, in the same shocking tone, but with less offense. My education was great but I missed that class.

Saying that conflict sucks is shouting the human perspective out loud. It’s the earth’s-eye view. Seeing conflict as a good thing is almost never in my range of thought. I see trials, temptations, testings, and the like as gross inconveniences to my comfortable daily doings. I can say very glibly (especially with no conflict on the horizon) that we all grow when tested. I can repeat the worn illustrations of the tree that is strong because it endured the fiercest winds. I can trip merrily along on these quaint idioms until real, raw, conflict stalks into my world. Then I hate it. I want it out faster than it came in. I want relief and I want my comfort back. I don’t want the pressure and I don’t believe that it can really do me any good. There it is – that’s where I live. How about you?

So where did I get this idea about conflict maybe being my best friend? From James, the guy that many would characterize as being the sternest apostle of them all. We are going to learn that the various trials that come into our lives, regardless of their origin in evil or good, are to be esteemed like royal monarchs. They are to be honored and given heed as if they were kings and queens in full ceremonial regalia. They are to be treated as some of our dearest friends – not because of the pain and displeasure they bring – but because of the refining and fruit bearing they produce in us. James will show us that great gain often hides in the folds of displeasure and great loss is sewn tightly into the broad fabric of self-interested pleasure.

And what about the things that make me happy or bring pleasure? Where do you get off telling me they may be my worst enemies? We love pleasure don’t we! We are all closet hedonists. We want what we want. We know that pleasure as a gift of God is not evil so we excuse many of our wanton pursuits. I’m not speaking of God given pleasures and neither is James. James will be pointing out to us those pleasures that have slithered into the camp of the righteous masquerading as virtues. Those masked manifestations of our dark but lively old man. The ones we excuse and nurture and brandish at the time most appropriate to our advantage. The ones that are truly our darkest enemies posing as our dearest friends. He is about to expose them to the white-hot light of holiness. He will show us our love for them and make us recoil from ourselves in the realization. James never shoots but that he unloads the whole clip. Gird up, my brother, to face the man in the mirror.