Inner Strength for Outer Chaos

Chick-Fil-A employees, COVD-19 face masks, and Roger Goodell. All marked by repetition. We’re all familiar with the repetitive and memorable phrase by Chick-Fil-A employees, “My pleasure.” We’re also all familiar with the COVID-19 face masks and reminders to remain “Six feet apart” in public places. But I doubt many of you are familiar with Roger Goodell. As the NFL commissioner, many watched Goodell recently during the NFL draft say, “And as the [number] pick of the 2020 NFL draft, the [team] select [player].” Yes, over a couple of days, Goodell said basically the same phrase 255 times. That again, repetition at its finest.

As I finish up this blog series on James, I’m reminded all the more of the importance of repetition. Think of even certain rhythms and routines that you haven’t been able to repeat consistently in this COVID-19 season? Gathering with the body of Christ in person on Sundays, working out at the gym, enjoying a good meal at one of your favorite restaurants. And even more specifically regarding your growth as a Christian, what are those consistent rhythms you repeat? Reading the Word, praying, journaling, serving at church. 

We remember what we repeat. I remember the taste of a Sweet Heat Carnivore pizza, Itis style. Why? Because it’s my favorite pizza in Wichita, and thus I’ve eaten it several times. I remember the anguish after rounds of burpees. Why? Because I workout at a gym a couple of times a week. Many of you reading this remember truths about God’s character and his purpose for our lives? Why? Because you read, listen to, and discuss gospel truths. 

James ends this letter with repetition. Go ahead and read James 5:13-20. Did you catch the repetition? In six straight verses, James uses the word prayer. Why? Because he wants us to remember. He doesn’t want us to move past the significance of prayer. He doesn’t want us to neglect consistent communion with our Father. Simply put, James wants us to see both the purpose of prayer and the power of prayer. 

James tells us in verse 13 to pray when we suffer, in verse 14 to pray when we are sick, and in verse 16 to pray when we sin. He litters this passage with both the example of the elders to pray (James 5:14-15) and the faithful example of Elijah in prayer (James 5:17-18). James uncovers the inner strength found in prayer in verse 16, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16). Our Father in heaven who created the world and sustains all bends his ear to us in prayer. We might not always get “what we want” in prayer, but we always get what we need – namely God himself. James’ call for us to pray in all circumstances is twofold. Of course, we pray as God works in all circumstances, and we also pray that God would work in us, conforming us more and more into the image of his Son. The circumstances might not change. We might not get rain as Elijah did (James 5:18). But the Spirit will change us. Yes, the cliche instagram post and Christian coffee cup slogan really is true. Prayer really does change things – maybe not always our circumstances, but prayer definitely changes us.

And then James closes this letter in verses 19-20 with a call to confession, a call to repentance, a call to community. Confession is thus a catalyst for healing. We often get stuck in sin when there’s a lack of confession in community. James 5:19-20 exhorts us to be a people to help “bring back a sinner from his wandering” and thus requires we know others deeply and be deeply known by others.

The book of James shows that God prunes his people through suffering, and these closing verses of chapter five show that God preserves his people through prayer and community. We seek God in prayer for his glory and for our growth. We pray both with the community of saints and for the community of saints. We pray for strength in the midst of suffering. We pray for healing as a foretaste of the future healing in the kingdom of God. 

Friends, may the book of James remind us of the comfort of the gospel – namely, that we are beloved as children of God (James 1:19) and the call of the gospel – namely, to suffer well, to speak wisely, to pray fervently (James 1:2-4, James 3:13-18, James 5:13-18). May we all grow in repetition in these pursuits. May we our words be just as memorable as those spoken by Roger Goodell or a Chick-Fil-A employee. After all, we remember what we repeat. Be encouraged as you remind yourself today of the great hope we have in the gospel. And then again, tomorrow. And then the next day. And then the next day. May the tune of the gospel of Jesus Christ be on repeat in all of our lives.

Waiting Well on Road Trips, at Ranches, and in COVID-19

“Is Easter lunch ready?” a question asked by many of us yesterday following joining our church service online. “Are we there yet?” as asked by so many of us in the middle of a road trip. “Why do I have to go through this?” This last question, if we’re honest, we often consider in the midst of trials. And yes, many of us are asking that very question in response to COVID-19. Why? Why is this happening? And yet, it’s the same question asked around Easter lunch (or any meal for that matter) and the same question asked on road trips – do we have to keep waiting? What’s the purpose? When will this end?

And for these questions, James gives us an answer in James 5:7-12. Namely, James cuts to the chase with one command starting in verse 7, “Be patient” (James 5:7). This thread of patience litters this passage. Go ahead and read James 5:7-12 if you haven’t already done so. See it? Patience is mentioned twice in verse 7 and once in verses 8 and 10. And to help color the patience James calls his readers to, he compliments his exhortation with the theme of steadfastness in verse 11. Just as you told your kids to be patient in the car yesterday on the way to grandma’s or to be patient while the Easter pie finished baking, James calls us to be patient while we wait. 

And yes, waiting is hard. Do any of us like to wait? Our culture continues to attempt to form us into a self-consuming, instant gratification type of people. Technology, social media, and even now with “curbside grocery pick-ups” serve as means that eliminate our need of waiting. We don’t wait for the 10 pm news or Sunday paper, but rather, we scroll through any number of apps on our phone to get the inside scoop as soon as and whenever we want it.

Now with that said, James writes to those suffering (much like us today in this COVID-19 season) and what does he say? Wait, be patient, be steadfast, endure, persevere. James helps us understand how to wait by giving us a couple of illustrations and examples. Look again at verse 7. James tells us to be patient like the farmer who “…waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it…” (James 5:7). Any farmers reading this post? For those of you who know me, I am certainly not a farmer with no hint of a green thumb in my body. But I do think of my dad raising cattle, and past summers with a long drought. My dad needed rain for his ranch, for his cows, and yet, there was nothing he could do to make it rain. He had to wait for the rain. And he also had to work hard while he waited for the rain.

So what does this look like for us? James 5:8 encourages us to “…establish your hearts…” (James 5:8). We reorient our perspective as the Spirit redeems our pursuits. We seek to honor Christ with the work of our hands while we wait on the Lord to bear the fruit. He calls us to be faithful as he bears the fruit from our faithfulness. And to the truth that “…the coming of the Lord is at hand…” (James 5:8), the waiting is worth the wait.

James then continues his exhortation to be patient with calling us to patience like that of “…the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord” (James 5:10). In the midst of suffering, of hard days, God calls his people to speak truth, to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are commanded to use our words to herald the beauty of the gospel, the redemptive story, the hope we have because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is this exhortation to proclaim the excellencies of God that James reminds us of Job’s example in James 5:11. James says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). Job’s confession, repentance, and restoration didn’t happen until chapter 42. Just a reminder for anyone who hasn’t read Job lately. After forty-two chapters of suffering, of waiting, the purpose of the pain was revealed. And it is this example, that we remember.

The Lord shows compassion and mercy to us in the midst of hard days, hard weeks, hard months. There’s purpose in our pain. He isn’t wasting this season of COVID-19. As we wait for the stay-at-home order to be lifted, as we wait in the midst of other suffering, we remember. We remember his compassion, his mercy, his providence, his purpose. And as the Spirit establishes our hearts in what is true, may we wait well – in whatever “waiting room” we might be sitting in today.

More Social Distancing and Less Boasting in COVID-19

Meetings cancelled. Weddings postponed. Disappointments continue. We all have and will continue to experience the effects of COVID-19 in both some similar and significant ways. Don’t hug your family members. Don’t shake your neighbor’s hand. And certainly don’t share a meal with friends. Yes, much of what we are experiencing feels so very foreign, so very unexpected, and so very uncertain. 

And yet, as Christians we must cling to what is beautiful, good, and true. We must remember what we know, what we can trust, what is certain. God himself. God has made himself known to us, He is not surprised by any of this, and He remains so very certain and stable in the midst of our circumstances.

The end of James 4 reminds us of our faith that perseveres. A faith that brings both peace and bolsters our perseverance. As we consider the end of James, be reminded of what James has previously said in this chapter. James 4:7-10 called us to be a people of humility, who walk in repentance, as we turn from our sin and turn to God. And now James continues this theme of humility as he closes the chapter. 

James 4:13 makes a claim that many of us might make. Just be honest, it’s okay. We (myself included) probably all do this. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’” (James 4:13). We make our to-do lists, schedule our meetings, plan our weeks. And then COVID-19 hits. And everything changes. Isn’t verse 14 just a balm for our current days? Check it out. James is right. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Our lives are a mist, and yet our God remains sovereign over both life and death.

So how do we respond to these realities? How do we recognize when we’re walking in entitlement and arrogance as described in James 4:13? How do we react to the uncertainties of our days? James 4:15 provides an example of the humility needed to persevere well. James says, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). Now James isn’t of course saying that before we do anything – unload the dishwasher, send an email, or attend a Zoom work meeting – we must say, “If the Lord wills, I will do this.” But rather, James encourages us to have this mindset. A mindset that both recognizes the sovereignty of God and responds in humility before God. It is this posture of submission that says, “God rules and reigns over everything. And I’m in desperate need of his sustaining grace for every single area of my life.”

But when we don’t respond in this posture of humility, James boldly calls out our arrogance. James doesn’t beat around the bush when he says, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil” (James 4:16). Now, if we’re honest, we can all at some point find ourselves in this camp. We think we know what’s best. And yet, we must remember that our good and perfect God knows what’s best. Why? Because, he is ultimately what’s best. He’s writing a better story. He’s the author of our story. And yes, COVID-19 is now a part of all our stories. 

May our God who works miracles and keeps his promises continue to write a better story. May we respond today with a posture of James 4:15, entrusting all of our lives to what God wants rather than what we want. For every Zoom call and temporary business closing, our God remains on the throne. Let’s entrust ourselves and our days to the Lord. He hasn’t left us. He is with us and for us. And we get to look to him, our hope and our help, in this time of trouble.

 

When Strife Shows Up with COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Orders

Everyone is home. Your spouse. Your kids. Your roommates. Yes, everyone is home. Probably either all the time or definitely much more than usual. And how’s that going for your household? You probably know where I’m going with this. While I personally am loving this stay-at-home order, I recognize that some reading this may really be struggling with it. And it might not be due to the comfort of not being able to get out of the house, but rather due to the conflict within the house. 

James has much to tell us about our conflict and our response to conflict. Turn to James 4 and go ahead and read verses 1-12. It will help you see what James draws out as we consider our experience with conflict. If you remember, James 3 ended with him giving us two pictures of wisdom (wisdom from the Lord and wisdom from the world). Now, James opens his next chapter with giving us two pictures of friendship (friendship with the world and friendship with God). 

Look at verse 1 of James 4. James asks the question that many parents have probably already asked their kids today, “Why did you two get in a fight?” James says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1). Isn’t that the same question you ask yourself or others? And isn’t the answer the same? The fights are caused by the desires. Why does the toddler throw a fit? She doesn’t get to play with her new American doll. She doesn’t get what she wants. And friends, we are no different. Conflict arises when comforts go unmet. Anger surfaces when apparent needs remain threatened or withheld. Fights happen when fleshly desires aren’t fulfilled. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and read verses 1-5 again. Our sinful desires of our flesh only serve as a catalyst for our friendship with the world. These sinful desires are dangerous. Yes, I’m referring to verse 2, but no, James is probably referring to hyperbole with the vivid language he uses. The point is simply this: our conflict surfaces when our comforts (our desires) remain unfulfilled.

Look at verse 4. James explicitly says that “…friendship with the world is enmity with God…” (James 4:4). When we pursue friendship with the world, we not only have conflict with others and within ourselves, but we also have conflict with God himself. James goes so far to say that our friendship with God results in spiritual adultery against God when he addresses his readers as “You adulterous people!” (James 4:4). Throughout the book thus far, James has addressed his recipients as “brothers” but now he refers to them so very differently. And why does he do so? Ultimately, because our God wants what is best for his children, namely himself. Check out verse 5. James reminds his readers that God jealously longs over the spirit that he made to dwell in us. And this isn’t a kind of jealousy that we often see today (think social media, think reality TV shows, think jealousy at work/at home, you get the idea). This jealousy instead is based not on comparison, covetous, and insecurity but rather on the character of God – he is ultimately good and wants ultimate good for his children. 

And then to encourage us all, James reminds us that in spite of our “friendship with the world,” we can have hope. Why? Because of who God is and what God does. Look at verse 6. James says, “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). Friends, this is incredible news. In spite of us, God remains gracious. He gives more and more grace. He gives us what we don’t deserve time and time again. And to whom does God give grace? The humble (James 4:6). Those who are needy. I think of a professor who gave me grace in seminary when I was really struggling. I was needy, aware that I needed help. I needed a miracle of sorts. And he gave me grace. And how much more does our merciful and loving God give us abundant grace in our time of great need?

Last night, Tanner and I finished eating a venison roast. Yes, we eat deer. It’s actually quite delicious. That aside, this roast really didn’t have much flavor. I followed a well-respected recipe, and yet, the roast lacked flavor. Too simple of a recipe in my opinion. Not enough ingredients. Well, this is not true of how James speaks of humility. He’s not lacking in “ingredients” or clarity of what a humble spirit looks like. He instead gives us several commands that reflect humility, multiple commands that portray submission. For the note-takers, you love this. For all of us wanting to grow in our love for God, we should all love this. These verses don’t lack flavor. They are sharp, bold, and so very clear. Read verses 7-10 again to see these commands. James tells us to resist the devil (James 4:7), draw near to God (James 4:8), pursue purity (James 4:8), see the severity of our sin (James 4:9), walk in humility (James 4:10). These commands thus help us to walk in humility, as friends of God and not friends of the world.

I recently finished reading Mere Christiantiy with my apologetics class (a.k.a. my CSW C.S. Lewis Reading Group). One central theme that stuck out to my students and me was that of pride. C.S. Lewis encapsulates the heart of pride when he writes, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). Pride breeds itself upon comparison and leads to both a lack of love for God and love for others.

James then connects our speech with our humility in James 4:11-12. He commands us in verse 11 to “…not speak evil against one another…” (James 4:11). James recognizes that when we are humble before God and others, it directly affects our speech. When we see ourselves and our sin accurately, we will speak to others and about others in a way of humility rather than arrogance. Our friendship with God will thus overflow into our friendships with others. Think James 3. Yes, I’m specifically thinking of James 3:9-10. With our words come both honor and dishonor. And of course, the encouragement is that God gives more grace (James 4:6). 

In the midst of conflict, how do you respond? Do you walk as a friend of God in repentance that James outlines in James 4:7-10? Or do you walk in arrogance, as a friend of the world? Where do you need to respond in greater humility, recognizing your faults and sin before God and others? May this season of stay-at-home orders and extra time with our household compel us all the more to both recognize the source of our conflicts and respond in humility before God and before others. And this is the good news – He gives more grace. For all the conflict we observe and/or encounter, our God gives more grace. May we receive this grace from our Father who deeply loves us and gives this grace to those around us who deeply need it. After all, we surely need it. We are all really needy. And our God is really sufficient.

 

The Power of Words in the COVID-19 Pandemic

So much talking these days – on the news, over the phone, in person (with social distancing, of course). And all of these words primarily revolve around COVID-19 and rightfully so. What should we do? What shouldn’t we do? How are we to respond? We are literally encountering the power of the words of others. Because of the words of others, students cannot attend school, employers cannot work, and others cannot leave their homes. Words carry power. Words can both protect and preserve. And James, himself, illustrates this for us in his third chapter of his letter to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. 

But before jumping into James 3, let’s consider the words of others. Yes, right now, we are eagerly listening to the words of the governor and other leaders regarding the limitations due to COVID-19. My boss even yesterday said he has never received so many emails in his life. So yes, we (as people) are talking and often have much (and usually too much) to say. And yet, let us not forget that God himself is both the first to speak in history and the most important speaker in our lives.  Genesis 1:3 reads, “Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’” God himself creates with words. That is how important words are; the universe is created by them. And yet, man is also deceived not by the words of God, but by the words of Satan in the garden (think Genesis 3). Satan’s words both contradict and twist’s God’s Words. So yes, words carry immense power – both for life (God’s creation) and for death (Satan’s deception).

So how do we respond with our words? Well, the first verse of chapter 3 of James has had an incredible impact on my life. God used James 3:1 to literally direct me to leave my job in ministry and pursue seminary. Yes, check out James 3:1 if you haven’t already done so. Convicting right? James says, “Not many of you should become teachers…we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). The weight and responsibility of teaching God’s Word should cause us all the more to walk in greater humility before God and his people, seeking the Spirit to equip us for the good gospel work of teaching.

James then backs up the great responsibility of teaching God’s Word with recognizing the opportunity for sin due to the destruction caused by words. Verse 2 highlights that we will all struggle with what we say (and how we say it). Look at verse 2, “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). Does this verse remind you of another verse in this book? Yes, James 1:26. Turn over to it in your Bible or pull it up on your device. I’d recommend using a Bible though if you have one (more on that in a future post). James says that if you don’t bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless. And yes, this bridling of our tongue is a process in our lives as Christians, but that’s just it, we must recognize where we need to grow, less we deceive ourselves (and others).

And then James continues to build his argument with not just telling us about the power of words but showing us. Yes, he gives us three illustrations in verses 3-6 to show us that the tongue carries great power. The control of a horse and a ship, both driven by such a small element. The fire that spreads uncontrollably yet just starts with a small flame. And so too, with our words, our words carry such power for our whole bodies and thus our lives. 

Given the power of the tongue, James warns of our inability to tame it ourselves in verses 7-10. Take a look at James 3:8. James says, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).  I know of a few dogs who are tamed really well, and I thank their owners for that. But for all of the tamed dogs (and children for that matter), James basically says, ‘Good luck, but you’re not going to be able to tame the tongue like you can tame your golden retriever or your young toddler.” And yet, if we are honest, we use our words both to bless God and then to hurt others (James 3:10). This predicament reflects our hearts. Friends, our words don’t just need to change, but rather our hearts. And the gospel promise for believers is that the Spirit transforms our hearts, which thus overflows through the words we speak out of our redeemed hearts. 

So this is the good news. There’s hope for us. God gives grace for all of the destructive words we have spoken and all of the destructive words we have believed. And God provides wisdom in himself that brings peace rather than chaos. James contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God in James 3:13-18. May we be those who seek wisdom from God that is “…first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). In all of the words we hear today, primarily about COVID-19, we must remember that we know the One who has spoken and continues to speak, the one who has authority over all. Let us quiet ourselves before Him that we may both hear from Him and speak of Him. And yes, that’s all I have to say. Enough words for today from me, anyways.

Work That’s Smarter and Maybe Harder

Cancellation after cancellation. Yes, we find ourselves in a most unexpected time with the effects of the coronavirus. But if there’s one effect of cancellation after cancellation, it is time. With no March Madness to watch, we have perhaps some unexpected time, maybe more time than usual to consider. And the back end of James 2 has much for us to consider. 

When you think of the book of James, I’m guessing one verse might come to mind. Look at James 2:17. Yes, James tells us that faith without works is dead. So faith acts; it is alive. James 2 also shows us that faith sacrifices (think Abraham) and yes, faith risks (think Rahab, not your friend who still decided to go to Europe last week in the middle of the coronavirus craziness). 

Before reading any further, take a minute and read James 2:14-26. Faith in our hearts is manifested by the fruit in our lives. But what does active faith look like? How does our faith both make sacrifices and take risks? Before I jump in and give a few thoughts, I just want to give a disclaimer. These verses are packed with truth as you probably know. And you might think these verses are confusing or seem to contradict other passages. The possibilities for misunderstanding these verses in James 2 are many. That said, I want to help us see clearly and accurately what Scripture is saying here as well as how these verses in James fit within the entire metanarrative of Scripture. These verses should both significantly challenge and change our lives, but I don’t want them to confuse us. So where there’s confusion, pause and ask the Spirit to help us read the Word as the Word reads us.

Imagine seeing someone laying down, seemingly unconscious, on the sidewalk as you walk out to grab the newspaper in the morning. Are you going to walk up to them and ask them where they are from or when their birthday is? No! You’re going to make sure they are alive. So too is James as he exhorts us to have a faith that is alive and active. And yes, James too converses with an imaginary person in this passage, a person who claims to have faith but has no works. But don’t miss this. James isn’t addressing someone with an immature faith with that of a mature faith. James is saying in verse 14, you have an active, saving faith or you have dead faith, a faith that doesn’t even really exist. The answer to the question that James asks in James 2:14, “Can that faith save him?” is absolutely not! Saving faith overflows as an active faith. Saving faith bears fruit.

Now consider verses 15-17. Yes, these verses might sting a bit. Do they sound like the words of Jesus himself? Read Matthew 25:35-46. Yes, as we minister and serve the poor and needy, Jesus reminds us it is as if we are caring for Christ himself for that person bears the image of God. James is hinting here at the same truth. While acts of mercy are not the source of our salvation, acts of mercy do show our salvation. Friends, if we fail to help the needy, we must consider our great need before our Redeemer and how that need has been met in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is this posture as recipients of mercy that we do extend mercy.

James continues to build this argument for an active faith in James 2:18-20. Yes, he continues to use an imaginary person, not that we would ever know anyone like he is describing (hear my sarcasm). Look at verse 19. James makes it crystal clear for us here that faith is not simply intellectually ascribing to something, like the demons do. Nor is it simply an emotional response of the heart based on the overplayed worship song of the year. But rather, faith reveals itself through obedience, through action. And for that, keep reading in James 2:20-24. Thank you, James for all of the rhetorical questions in these verses. And for not beating around the bush in verse 20. We get it – dead faith doesn’t save and doesn’t act, and living faith does save and does act.

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room. Read James 2:21-24. How can James say in verse 21 that Abraham was justified by his works? We must recognize that there’s both a positional righteousness we have before God (salvation) and a practical righteousness we have before God (sanctification/our daily lives of growth as Christians). When James refers to the “works” three times in verses 21-22, he is referring to the works as fruit of an active, saving faith. These are not “works” that earn salvation but rather reflect salvation. In the sense of Abraham’s faith that “…was completed by his works” (James 2:22), his faith is matured by his obedience. And so too with us right? The more we obey God and walk in actions of obedience, the more our faith grows. The growing fruit reflects the growing faith. The sacrifice of Abraham serves as an example of sacrifice for us. Now God of course, isn’t calling you to offer up your son on the altar, but what might God be asking you to sacrifice? Security of your job? Finances? Time? Other comforts? 

And in light of considering an active faith that does works and makes sacrifices, James closes the chapter with a punch. Yes, good ‘ole Rahab. Take a look at verses 25-26. Was she not radical as James describes her as a “prostitute justified by works” (James 2:26)? And yet, as she had received abundant grace, she took great risks “…when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way” (James 2:25). Rahab knew judgement awaited her, and yet she feared God and thus obeyed, taking a risk by allowing the Jewish spies to stay in her home. Rahab risked much so that God’s people might take Jericho and thus spread God’s glory. 

And so, how do we respond to these words and these examples? James has shown us that faith does works, faith makes sacrifices, and faith takes risks. Where do you need to examine where your faith is lacking in fruit? Where is God calling you to be obedient in good works, generous sacrifices, and significant risks? I’m not talking about coronavirus risks and works, but maybe. May all of us grow as people whose faith bears much fruit for the good of the church and glory of God. Now, go wash your hands, stay away from the coronavirus, and get to work.

 

Your “Favorites” Matter

 “Mrs. Stevenson, are we your favorite class?” I am literally asked this question most days at school. And yes, as a new teacher, I quickly made the mistake of telling the 10th graders that they are my favorites. I know, not wise on my end. But don’t you have favorites? For the parents reading this, don’t you have a favorite child? For the March Madness fans, don’t you have a favorite bracket buster team? Tough to answer, but James himself calls to consider favoritism in James 2:1-13.

First things first, context is key. James begins by addressing the fellow Christians and then commands them to “show no partiality” (James 2:1). And he tells them to not do so as they “hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (James 2:1). James reminds them to be so caught up in the glory of Christ that partiality does not in any way surface. Friends, this speaks to the  bigness and majesty of God over, through, and in all! And, if we are captivated by this, we will not be Christians who show favoritism. 

And then, James puts a bit more flesh on his argument in verses 2-11 of chapter 2. . Look at verse 5 again. God chose the poor  “to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5). God’s choosing reflects God’s grace giving. God has given his people, his poor and needy people, the gift of faith and identity as heirs of the kingdom. Friends, this is incredible news. We’re called to see others as image bearers of God, in need of the grace of Christ. It is this grace of Christ that compels us to not show partiality.

But James builds his case all the more with verse 8. Look at verse 8 again: “the royal law according to the Scripture” (James 2:8). Look again at James 2:8-9. James is saying, if you “fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures”…”you are doing well” (James 2:8-9) – you are crushing it. But if you “show partiality” – then you are a lawbreaker. James is dialing down that if you show favoritism, according to James 2:9, “you are commiting sin”. And thus when we walk in favoritism, we are dishonoring God himself. Favoritism dishonors man and thus dishonors God who made man in his image. Look at verse 10. James says that if you break one law (which newsflash – you do),  you are guilty of breaking the whole law!

So yes, favoritism matters. It’s a serious sin. And thus, James calls us to consider divine judgement (James 2:12). We will be judged by our words and actions.  James is saying – don’t mess with favoritism. God will judge us based on what God has said matters. And yes, favoritism matters.

And yet, before you pause here without finishing this blog thinking, “Wow, Lacey, another gut punch. I can’t do this. I can’t speak and act well enough for God.” Well, you’re right. You and I can never do enough to stand before the judgement of Christ. And yet, we remember that we need the mercy of Christ.  Look at verse 13 of James 2. This is the message of the gospel – we need mercy. And what is mercy? Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve. When I don’t sign my student’s card, I give them mercy. They deserve a card mark, and instead they get a warning. And we need mercy that “triumphs over judgement” (James 2:13). And you know what is amazing, justice and mercy met in the cross. We should be judged, we should receive death for our sin, and yet we get what we don’t deserve – salvation, the righteousness of Jesus. When you have received that kind of mercy, you give it to others. 

So friends, as we have received mercy, we will extend mercy. When we are forgiven, we forgive others. When we receive mercy, we give mercy. But the opposite of this is also true, when we don’t give mercy, we show that we haven’t received mercy. And again look at verse 13. James says that “judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).  We want judgement with mercy. We don’t want judgment without mercy. And may this gospel application grow us in showing mercy rather than favoritism. Is it difficult? Yes. And for these commands, there’s grace. Receive that grace as you give it. May mercy triumph over judgement all the more in our lives.

 

Remembering (or Forgetting) What You See, What You Read, and Where Your Park

October 22, 2016. Walking around Dallas Cowboys Stadium, hopeful yet lost. Tanner and I were enjoying our second date of a country concert, and yet, we were absolutely lost. The excitement for the second date had completely overshadowed the fact that we could not remember where Tanner’s white chevy truck was parked. Tanner had parked his truck, and we could not remember where it was parked. And don’t we do the same thing. We do something and then forget. We read the Word and then forget what we have read.

Friends, we’re just too much like the man James describes at the end of James 1. He tells us in verses 23- 24: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:23-24).

But before we consider how we fail to remember God’s Word, how do we receive his Word. Look at James, giving us more of those 54 commands that he promised. He tells us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” in verse 19. James first tells us that we should: receive God’s Word with humility. Don’t come to the Word with your guard up, like I know what this says which might lead to anger and/or disregard for the Word. Come humble and ready to listen. But don’t we sometimes do the opposite – we come ready to talk and argue about why we don’t have to obey the Scriptures.

Think about instruction in your life. When the doctor gives an aging grandpa instruction, he diligently follows the guidelines to improve his health. When the plumber gives you instructions about your pipes, you don’t try to tell him he is wrong. So too, are we to respond to God’s Word – not slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to anger – like we might do with other instruction in our lives, but rather with humility, being  “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” in verse 19. For this anger, James says, “does not produce the righteousness of God” (verse 20).

And then in verse 21, James gives us yes, yet another command: “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness”.  So how do we receive the Word? Do you treasure it? Do you read it with arrogance or humility? Do you come to the Word with neediness? If not, what affections of this world do you need to “put away” (verse 21) so that you can grow in your affection for the Word? 

And then look again at verses 23-24. James contrasts this kind of man with another man who doesn’t remember the Word. He uses the analogy in verse 24, of a person who looks at his face in the mirror and then can’t identify himself. He forgets what he looks like. James is saying – don’t forget. Remember with intentionality. 

As I mentioned earlier, Tanner and I didn’t remember where his truck was parked. We failed to remember with intentionality, and so to, do we often follow the same suite. This command to not forget reminds us of all the times through the redemptive narrative that God tells us to remember. In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, God gave his people his law, before the people go up into the promised land. And then Just a couple of chapters later, God warns his people to not forget his commands and decrees (Deuteronomy 8:10-18).

Friends, we need to remember God’s Word with intentionality. And how do we remember? We memorize. We meditate. Psalm 119:9,11 “How can a young man keep his way pure, by guarding it according to your word….I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”  Scripture memory is an essential discipline for every Christian. I know that memorizing Scripture can be difficult, but consider Psalm 19, verse 10 “The Word is more precious than an abundance of pure gold.”  So the question is, do we value Scripture? We value our shows, our sports, our songs. We seem to memorize those things we value most. Think about it. Convicting right? 

And yet, James gives us some encouragement in verse 25. The last four words of the verse read: “…blessed in his doing” (James 1:25).  James is telling us that there is a glorious blessing with the obedience to God’s Word. Joy follows obedience, yet joy is not always present in obedience. For the parents, think of your children. They don’t always have joy in their obedience, but joy follows their obedience. And it’s true for us as well.

May the grace of King Jesus continue to help us to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word. Let’s not forget and rather intentionally remember, both where we park our cars and the promises of the Word. 

 

Jeweled Crowns and Fishing Hooks

Jeweled crowns and fishing hooks. Anyone else have these images in your mind after reading James 1:12-18

James has exhorted his readers to persevere in trials. And then in verse 12, he calls his readers “blessed.” But what kind of blessed? Blessed like that feeling I have when I drink out of a coffee cup that says “blessed”? And how in the world, do I consider those suffering to be “blessed”? Here we see one of the many times in James that he specifically alludes to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5). One of the keys to understanding and correctly applying James recognizes that James relies heavily on what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. 

But what does James mean when he says “the crown of life”? He definitely doesn’t mean jeweled crowns worn by the kings of England. Rather, picture the Boston marathon runner who will receive the crown next month on Marathon Monday in Hopkinton Square. And yes, the “crown of life” that James speaks of in verse 12 represents not a physical crown of glory but rather the eternal reward of glory. Think 2 Corinthians 4:17, not shiny jewels. 

And James adds a “plus 1” to our trials. Yes, every trial has a plus 1. Every trial is accompanied with temptation. When our jobs seem difficult, we often find ourselves tempted to not trust God’s provision. When a family member becomes sick, we question God’s love. And yet, we must remember this: God may test us, but God does not and will not tempt us (James 1:13). You and I are responsible for our temptations. 

So let’s consider two spheres regarding our temptations: the presence of sin and the practice of sin. First, the presence of sin. If we understand our responsibility in temptation, then we must always understand where sin is present. Look at verse 13 again: “God cannot be tempted with evil.” And this is because God is perfectly sinless. God always resists sin, evil stands as a foreign language to him, like me learning Greek my first semester of seminary.

Now look at verse 14. Thanks James, for pointing the figure at us. We are the guilty one. The chocolate is on our hands from the cookie jar. While God is perfectly sinless, we are positively sinful. Now some of us might be thinking, maybe James is going to tell us that Satan causes us to sin, but he doesn’t. Now hold on, yes Satan is involved in the temptations of this world, and we’re going to see that later in James 4:7. But James wants this to be crystal clear for us – the responsibility for temptation and sin are on us – our distorted desires are to blame. 

But let’s be real. We all want to point the finger at someone or something else. We want to say that it is the fault of our parents, our friends, our long days of work, our government, anything right? Now yes, different factors affect us, but it’s not your long work meeting’s fault that you come home in a sour mood and lack patience with your household. 

God’s Word is clear. We point the finger for our sin on ourselves. And anytime we are seeking to justify ourselves and our actions, we are probably walking in sin. The problem is with us – at our core. “For I know nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” Romans 7:18

So that’s the presence of sin – you and I. Now to the practice of sin – it doesn’t just happen. There’s a process to the chaos.

  • Look at verse 14. We are “lured and enticed”. Think of the garden (Genesis 3). Eve distrusts God. The heart of sin is unbelief. We don’t believe God knows what is best for us. We question God. We walk in deception. Think of the serpent’s question, “Did God really say?” Gen. 3:1. And then, out of distrusting God, we are dissatisfied and deceived in our desires.
  • And what’s the last word of verse 14? Desire. The language here refers to that of a baiting hook. I don’t know a lot about fishing, but I do know you hide the hook. Temptation is done the same way – it appeals to our desires like that of bait on a hook, attracts us, but doesn’t tell us that it will kill us! Think about how a struggle with pornography or adultery or dishonesty at work starts. 
  • Sin starts with disordered thoughts which lead to disordered desires and then to disobedience. Look at verse 15. The desire is conceived – “formed”. And sin is birthed.
  • And how does this go for us? What’s the last word of verse 15? Death. This is the result of our disobedience. We are destroyed. Adultery can kill marriage i.e. divorce. It’s destroyed. Think of the smell of death. A dead animal stinks. Think of when you walk outside and smell that dead skunk or rat. We need to sit in the weight of this imagery. Sin will kill you. 

So how do we need to respond? We fight through our trials; we remain steadfast (James 1:3-4). And we flee our temptations. But don’t we often do the opposite. We want to run from trials and fight through our temptations, thinking we are strong enough. We aren’t. Friends, we must flee the temptations and fight through the trials. 

James has definitely come out of the gate in this letter – hard and fast. You’re going to face both trials and temptations. So how do we respond? We need to remember that God is both sovereign and faithful. Look at verse 17: “there is no variation or shadow.” In the midst of change, God doesn’t change.  Don’t believe the lies. Trust him in the trials and turn to him in the temptations. God’s goodness remains unchanging, reveals his grace, and reflects eternal glory (James 1:17-18). 

Friends, take heart. God has saved us from our sin, and he will sustain us in our struggles. We can thus fight through trials as we consider them a pure joy and flee from temptations, the bait on the fishing hooks, with confidence in God’s sovereignty and faithfulness. After all, there’s the crown of life awaiting us.

 

Home Inspections, Hard Days, and Abundant Wisdom

I love homes. Shopping for them, looking at them, visiting them, buying them. Yes, scrolling through Zillow brings me great pleasure. And as we all know, home inspections are required when buying a home. Following a detailed inspection report and a check for a couple of hundred dollars, the worry sets in – “should we buy this home?” The unsteady foundation, the increasing cracks, the aging roof. And yet, the home inspection is required to buy a home, it reveals all of the problems of a house, and thus is painful to observe, and yet, profitable if the end results in shiny house keys to your new home.

And so too, with trials.  The beginning verses of James show us that trials are required, revealing, painful, and yet oh, so profitable. James exhorts us in our response to these trials in verse 2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds.” The command to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) addresses how we think. This is not about how we feel. When the world is crashing in on you, how do you count it all joy? Think of John 11. When Lazarus died. Jesus didn’t say, “Count it all joy.” He comforted them. He wept with them (John 11:35).

Look at verse 2. “Trials of various kinds.” Various means – well, various. Small trials, big trials. Minor trials, major trials. Trials of course are not joyful in and of themselves. Depression is not a joy. Divorce is not a joy. Cancer is not a joy. But these trials can be joyful when we realize they are under the authority of a sovereign God who is accomplishing his purpose through them. 

Friends, we can rejoice in trials not so much in what they are, but in what God sovereignly accomplishes through them. And what does God accomplish through our trials? The goal of shopping for a house is buying a house. The goal of trials is – well, look at verses 3-4; “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4). The testing of our faith produces steadfastness.  What is steadfastness? Endurance. And endurance must finish its work in you, so that you may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4). This is the goal. What does Paul say in 1 Thessalonians 4:3? The will of God is our sanctification. God’s goal in our life is our maturity in him, growth in his likeness – for our good and his glory.

Friends, consider a trial you are facing…whether major or minor, and now think of James 1:3. If James 1:3 was your chant – your lifestyle. If the goal in the trial is simply to fix the circumstances, it might not get fixed. But if your ultimate goal is to know God and grow in him, you will achieve the goal. Trials are joy when God is the goal. Trials help us to know God, love God, trust God.

And for these trials, we need wisdom. None of us are as smart as we think we are, right? And just as James does in verse 2, in verse 5 he gives us a command, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).  So why can we ask God? He gives generously. This is a beautiful promise to us. God gives wisdom generously, abundantly. He pours out wisdom without hesitation.

Just as a home buyer seeks wisdom from a realtor, mortgage lender, and home inspector, we too are to seek wisdom from the Lord. God’s wisdom displays his grace to us. The trials we face have purpose. There’s purpose in the pain. May we humbly seek God’s wisdom in the midst of our trials. God is wise, and he is both for you and with you. Painful, profitable, required, and yet rewarding – are our trials. May the Spirit continue to grow us in godliness and give us wisdom. Here’s to the purpose in the pain in our trials – for our good and his great glory.

 

Kobe’s Death, Our Response, and Kingdom Glory

Olympic medals won, NBA records set, and a grieving audience of family, friends, and fans. The athletic arena lost a legend on January 26, 2020.

Kobe Bryant’s death has stunned not only the city of Los Angeles and Lakers fans, but also continues to overtake primetime news, Instagram feeds, sports channels, and perhaps every other communication medium. And why?

Everyone’s death is imminent, yet our culture stands immersed in the death of a former professional basketball player. The unexpected loss. The fame of athletes. The influence of legacy. While the tragic loss of “the Mamba” reveals his impact on players, coaches, and fans alike, but why has the culture responded to Kobe’s death with such sadness and disbelief?

The redemptive story sheds light on this tragedy. In the midst of grief, there’s hope for redemption and the future kingdom. How do we engage with grievous death—in particular, Kobe’s tragic death—in light of gospel hope? How do we view death, whether of a legendary athlete, our aging family member or longtime friend, or even ourselves? And more broadly speaking, how does our present suffering today precede our future glory?

Read the rest at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Welcome to College. Join a Church.

Greek life, intramural sports, and midterms. The daily rhythms of attending (or skipping) classes, sipping a hazelnut latte in the library, dressing up for yet another sorority event. The late-night trips for greasy tacos, the multiple campus-ministry Bible studies, and the Saturdays packed with college football. During the four years of college, life seems to be about you. Do what you want, when you want, with whomever you want.

And if the weekday schedule isn’t spontaneous enough, Sunday mornings can be more self-directed than the cafeteria’s salad bar: Attend any church in the area for any service with any group of friends.

My college church involvement prioritized low commitment with high comfort, and I’m not the only Christian with this experience. This semester, many students will likewise attend various churches (or skip worship altogether).

But even though college can feel like it’s all about you, and this attitude can shape our church attendance, Scripture compels college students to be meaningful members of a local church.

Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition.

Encouragement for Preachers of the Word

An unexpected note in the mail, a kind word after service, or an encouraging phone call. The body of Christ is called to encouragement. The writer of Hebrews calls us to encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13). And let’s be honest, sermon prepping and sermon preaching is always demanding, often discouraging, and usually exhausting. I’m sure each of you reading this are doing so with hope for some needed encouragement. And so, may we be encouraged as we consider both some equipping tools and encouraging words.

When a Good Sermon Becomes a Great Sermon

We all know the difference – a good sermon is not a great sermon. And while the Lord graciously will use a good sermon to save and sanctify his people, we should seek to preach great sermons. Great sermons reflect excellence, the glory of our glorious Giver. God calls his people to faithfulness. In desiring faithfulness in preaching, let’s consider a few elements that distinguish a good sermon from a great sermon.

  • Passion from the preacher. Paul tells the church at Rome to “not be slothful in zeal” (Romans 12:11). There’s a call to preach with passion. If you’re not passionate about the words you are saying, do you really expect your listeners to be passionate about applying the words you are preaching? Now, we all have a different style, a different voice. Preach in your own voice. Be yourself to the glory of God. But please don’t be boring or lacking in zeal. And yes, this also involves both a sense of intentionality and authenticity.
  • Hope for the listener. Can you remember a sermon that just made you want to go crawl in bed and never get up? You know the sermon that made you feel awful about your sin, all of the suffering, and all of the evil – and yet, gave you absolute no hope. I’m sure we’ve all heard one of these sermons. And while there most certainly is a place and time to be especially somber in our awareness of our sin, we must certainly always couple that with a Kingdom hope. We have hope because of the resurrection of King Jesus. A better day really is coming.
  • Illumination by the Spirit. Pray that the Spirit will do what only the Spirit can do. It is the Spirit who draws, illuminates, and awakens. Fervently pray for the Spirit to work. Your well crafted sermon is just words on a paper and words spoken from a stage apart from the divine intercession of the Holy Spirit. Ask the Spirit for a “waking up” to the reality of brokenness and the redemption in Jesus.

A great sermon zealously preaches the hope of the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. A great sermon is preached when the pastor is compelling, clear, convicted, and in community. A great sermon is preached when the Spirit wakes up the hearers to story of redemption – to the reality of sin and to the redemption in our Savior.

Words for Every Preacher to Daily Consider

Some of you reading this have faithfully preached God’s Word for decades. And while you’re seasoned, you may be exhausted. Others of you may be young, fresh out of seminary, and eagerly await your next opportunity from the pulpit. And for all of us, I’d like to close with a few words of exhortation to daily consider as a preacher of the Gospel. And while there are so many words of wisdom I could share, I’ll keep it clear (my application in light of a common preaching error previously mentioned here) and simply share one foundational and essential encouragement.

Examine yourself before the Lord before you exhort others in the Lord. We’ve all seen the recent fall of several well-known preachers. Perhaps, even one of your favorite preachers has disqualified themselves from ministry. Or maybe you find yourself walking in hidden sin. Friends, I urge you with these words – examine yourself before the Lord prior to exhorting others in the Lord. You can’t give others what hasn’t gripped you. James reminds us to “look in the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25). Brothers and sisters, we must examine ourselves. We must ask the Lord to search us and show us any grievous way that we might walk in godliness (Psalm 139:23-24).

So how we do we faithfully and consistently examine ourselves? Fight the urge to be busy. Fight for a rhythm of rest and reflection. Slow down before the Lord before you serve the Lord. The Lord will sanctify you, sustain you, and keep you. Position yourself as needy prior to preaching to others who are needy. And “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 5:10-11).

Evaluation of Sermon Prep and Preaching

A desire for growth demands a desire for feedback. Whether you’ve preached five sermons or five hundred sermons, the Lord continues to grow us. And this sphere of growth happens both on the front end of preparation as well as on the back end of evaluation. The sermon doesn’t end when you say “Amen.” We all know that, right? The Lord works by his Spirit to help the flock apply the sermon. And the Spirit and his people help us evaluate the sermon. Don’t worry, you’re not in a preaching class and getting an official number grade. But feedback fuels growth. And growth reflects glory. So in order to faithfully and carefully evaluate a sermon, we want consider both some common errors that preachers typically make as well as what components are essential for a great sermon.

Common Errors in Preaching

That moment when you spouse points out how you always use a certain phrase or when a fellow pastor tells you what your “filler” words are in your preaching – they are our habits of safety, and yet some habits need to broken while other habits need to be established.

Preachers aren’t perfect. And sermons aren’t spotless. Thus, we want to consider the follow common errors often made in preaching. And yes, other pastors and we too often make these. Of course, there’s grace for our mishaps, but let’s grow in light of these common errors:

  • Not clear. Preachers often try to say too much. I often struggle with this. An excess of material leads to an absence of clarity. You can’t say everything every week. So what can you say? And say that – clearly.
  • Not expository. The Word of God is sufficient, authoritative, and inerrant. We are not. And thus, we go to text, and let the text preach. Stay in the text and exegete the Scriptures.
  • Not contextual. Know your context, and preach to your context. Many pastors do not know their flock well, and thus do not preach a sermon that’s contextualized for their people. A sermon preached in Dallas, Texas should sound different that a sermon preached in rural Kansas or on the California coast.
  • Not Gospel-centered. Always get to the gospel of the Kingdom. Keep the gospel at the core of every sermon. I can’t emphasize and encourage this enough. Every sermon is to be a gospel sermon.

 

Central Components for a Great Sermon

We’ve all said it to our pastor (or maybe to ourselves if we are honest) – “that was a great sermon. You (or I) nailed it.” Now, if you’re a pastor, you might often feel a bit awkward with knowing how best to respond to this feedback. And you might also be curious on why your member gave you such encouraging words, maybe to affirm your calling but perhaps to acknowledge some specific strengths in your sermon. In light of perhaps the often tossed around phrase “that was a great sermon!” in the lobby after service, what actually comprises a great sermon?

Let’s consider the following the components of a great sermon. No, this list isn’t exhaustive, but I do hope it exhorts you for “great sermons.”

  • Gospel-centrality. Get to King Jesus every single time. Whether you’re preaching in 1 Kings or 2 Peter, preach the person and work of Christ Jesus in every single sermon.
  • Expositional. Stay in the text and when you come up, get back in the text quickly. Read the Bible and read from the Bible. Don’t be make assumptions of the flock knowing the Bible. They probably don’t.
  • Contextual. Know not only the text but know your people. Use illustrations that connect with your people. Preach with them in mind, their sufferings, their struggles, their joys, their gifts.
  • Communal. Call the listeners to the local church.  Call them to mission. Call them to not just be hearers but also doers (James 1:22). My husband (and favorite preacher) often points out that most of the commands in the New Testament are in the second person plural – “you all.” We are called to grow together and not alone.
  • Delivery. Prepare a clear sermon. Transitions demand attention. They are are like a crisp new uniform for the upcoming season. Use them. End your sermon strong. Land the plane, and when you land it, say “amen” and get off the stage. Practice your sermon. Color-code your notes. Do whatever you need to set yourself up for a “W.”
  • Disposition. You are a preacher, and you are imperfect. Your sermon won’t be spotless. But while you aren’t perfect, preach out of a disposition of progression and pruning – the Lord is working in you, through you, and always in spite of you. Preach humbly and hopeful. A better day is coming.

 

Careful Evaluation of a Sermon

Friends, we all want to grow in preparing and delivering great sermons. And a desire to grow in this way demands a desire for feedback. Pursue others for feedback after you preach a sermon. Talk with your spouse, other pastors, the flock. Send your sermon to other mentors, pastors, friends. Be willing to receive feedback, both positive and negative. Be intentional to ask helpful question, like the following:

  1. Was it clear? Evaluate the transitions, main points, and illustrations. What was unclear about the sermon?
  2. Was it compelling? Evaluate if there was a call to obedience and a to call to respond. How is your flock applying the sermon this week? What wasn’t compelling about the sermon?
  3. Was it communal?  Evaluate the presence of a call to community, to be known, to belong in the body of Christ. Or was the sermon individualistic and if so, how so?
  4. Was it convicting? Evaluate the call to repentance and hope in the Gospel. Was there a call to holiness? How was the flock compelled to deeper devotion and greater affection for the Lord?

Brothers and sisters, we are meant to be students of the Scriptures and servants of our Savior. We’re called to preach the Word with both great humility and great hope. Consider these common errors and some central components of a great sermon the next time you prepare to preach. And use these questions, and invite others to do so also, to evaluate your sermon. May the Lord help us, grow us, and use us to be faithful preachers of the Word. May our sermons be clear, compelling, communal, and convicting for the good of the church and the glory of our God. Friends, Sunday is coming. Your next opportunity to preach will be here before you know it. Entrust yourself and your sermon to our good and faithful Shepherd.

Experiences as a Pastor’s Wife and Preacher of the Gospel

I’m married to a pastor, the one who preaches the sermon on Sundays. And yet, let’s discuss preaching. After all, as the wife of a preacher, I’ve often heard the sermon five times before it’s preached on Sunday mornings. Lucky me, right? Now while I’m no expert, the Lord has generously given me and grown me as a teacher of the Word. And thus, I want to first address my experience as both a preacher of the Word and listener to hundreds of sermons – some on Sunday mornings, some on a podcast, some excellent, some awful. Friends, this conversation matters. We’re called to preach the Gospel of Kingdom. So humor me as I share my experiences with the hope to encourage you in yours.

Learning how to Preach/Teach

Learning how to preach is like learning how to do anything – growth in knowledge and application in practice. Whether learning to bake a homemade pie, speak another language, or preach a sermon, there’s an element of both acquisition and application. We acquire knowledge, and we apply the skills.

Through years of ministry both in a parachurch ministry as well as on a church staff, the Lord has afforded me opportunities to teach the Bible – to young people, to old people, to 10 people, and to a 1000 people. In addition, getting a masters of theology provided me with some of the skills to both study the Bible rightly and then craft a sermon effectively. And of course amidst a ton of mistakes, I continue to grow as teacher of the Word.

So as you continue to grow as a preacher, remember this: we are all learners. We’re all being discipled. You’re being discipled by the preachers you listen to – whether weekly at your church or frequently on a podcast. You’re being discipled by the authors you read – whether you’re reading a puritan who is no longer alive or the most recent blog article. Good writers are excellent readers. And good teachers/preachers are excellent students/faithful sheep.

Read books. Sit under solid preaching. Listen to strong preachers. Teach. Preach. And do so consistently, whether on Sunday mornings or to your family and of course, always to yourself.

Learning in the Midst of the “First”

While many of us maybe can’t remember our “best”, we all remember our first. The first time, we walked up to the podium, leather-bound “preaching” Bible and notes anxiously gripped in our hand as we fought the temptation to vomit. Yep, I said. And let’s be honest, many of you can relate.

Maybe your first sermon was awesome, but I doubt it. Mine sure wasn’t. I was in college when I first spoke to a group of high school students at a FCA meeting. It was early in the morning, I was nervous, and the kids were probably really bored. I had 5 pages of single spaced notes for a 15 minute devotional for a FCA meeting. What in the world was I thinking?!

It wasn’t clear. I had too much material, and I tried to say too much. It wasn’t relatable. It wasn’t memorable. People connect with story. And they will remember a good story, so tell one. And it definitely wasn’t exegetical. I jumped all around the Bible with too many verses.

Learning from Other Preachers

Of course, so many great pastors and teachers I don’t know have influenced me. But the greatest influence has been those closest. Men who I’ve been blessed to sit under week in and week out. Pastors I know. Ladies who have discipled me. Ladies who I disciple. Perhaps, you’ve had the same experience?

Your community influences your teaching. Change happens in the context of community. Growth happens in and through suffering. Suffering begets glory. Just look at the cross, brothers and sisters. The suffering of our Savior preceded of the glory of King Jesus.

So I’ve been shaped by suffering and those who have both endured with me and encouraged me. Mostly by men and women who you probably haven’t heard of, but yet, in mentioning them – I hope you’ll consider those men and women who have and are shaping you in similar ways.

Mark Hitchcock is an exegetical preacher, verse by verse – every single week. Jay Risner is a Gospel preacher. I’ll always remember him saying “never move beyond the Gospel.” Matt Chandler is an incredibly compelling preacher. Jen Wilkin is a studied teacher of the Word. Brady Goodwin a compassionate shepherd as he preaches. Matt Younger is transparent in the pulpit. He often has reminded me “to not take myself too seriously” but of course, to always take the Gospel seriously. Mike Dsane is clear and consistent in his preaching. And my husband, Tanner, is Gospel-drenched in his sermons. Last month, he said “In the Gospel, we get to come out of hiding.”

I share some of my greatest influences both as a way of example and encouragement. Consider who is shaping you as a preacher. Pray for them and thank them for their ministry. Listen to and learn from other preachers. And remember, whether you preach on Sundays as a pastor, on the playground with your kids, or at work – this preaching work is a Kingdom work, for the Gospel of the Kingdom is at hand.

The Difficulty of Learning to Be a Pastor’s Wife

I can’t sew. Outside of pre-made chocolate chip cookies popped in the oven for 11 minutes, I can’t bake. I definitely can’t sing. I actually enjoy a good whiskey. I’m far too passionate about college football.

And yet I’m the wife of a pastor.

Soon after our wedding, my husband, Tanner, and I moved to Kansas. He began serving as a pastor, and I began navigating the role of pastor’s wife. A new marriage combined with a new state, new job, and new church—let’s just say there was a lot of new. And while there’s been much joy in entering this role, there’s also been much fear, anxiety, and grief.

Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition.

Hungry Appetites and Holy Affections: 4 Gospel Truths to Combat Food Addiction

People with eating disorders, disordered eating patterns, and body image struggles fill our churches. And what are we telling them? What are we not telling them? Or, even the better question might be, are we telling these people anything?

In December of 2002, I was hospitalized for an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. Three months later, I left the hospital AMA (against medical advice) tired of bed checks, knitting circles, counseling sessions, doctors appointments, and Ensure smoothies. And twelve years later, I no longer cry over eating a banana or feel the urge to run ten miles to work off a piece of grilled chicken.

I believed the lie that if I tried harder, I wouldn’t struggle anymore.

Read the Rest at DTS Magazine.

1 Peter 5

The Tension of Conflict and the Hope of Resolution.

College football, PGA golf, and Dateline. Those are my top 3. Yes, if my husband Tanner and I are going to be watching something on TV, those are always my first choices. Not The Office (though I really am starting to enjoy it) or The Voice or even a good chick flick. And if it’s not the weekend for some football upsets or the spring for a strong leaderboard going into the weekend, it’s rare that I don’t find myself enjoying an episode of Dateline. Call me old. Call me boring. Call me simple.

I realized last week why I love Dateline so much…yes, it’s short so I usually can manage to stay awake for an episode and yes, it’s a true story so that obviously makes it more interesting.  I enjoy Dateline because there’s conflict and there’s resolution. I know that in the first 45 seconds of the episode, Keith Morrison or another one of the Dateline anchors with one of those investigative type voices, will present the conflict and tension of the episode. And by the end of the hour (or 2 hours for those longer “special edition” episodes”), there will be resolution. A criminal will be in prison. A missing person will be found. And all will be right in the world, until the next episode of course.

As we find ourselves in chapter 5 of 1 Peter, I’m experiencing much of the same feelings. There’s been conflict. And there’s coming resolution. In teaching a Bible Study on 1 Peter at Journey the Way church, we’ve spent over two months walking through 1 Peter. We’ve talked about themes like enduring suffering, and submission to others. We’ve seen Peter provide an example of suffering and submission in the person and work of Jesus. And now, we look at chapter 5 and see how Peter exhorts both leadership within the church (verses 1-5) and living within the midst of suffering (verses 6-14).

In verses 10-11, I resonate with both the conflict and the resolution of Peter’s letter. Remember, Peter has written this epistle to elect exiles to encourage them in the midst of their suffering. As Christians, we too are elect exiles in this world. And we too will suffer. Your suffering probably won’t look like mine. My suffering might be complaining that Wichita is too cold. Or that I miss my friends in Texas. And your suffering might be your demanding job, crumbling marriage, or recent health scare. Regardless, we are all going to suffer. We will all experience the conflict. And for most of us, it is relatively safe to say that our suffering in this life won’t look like the conflict Tanner and I will probably see on Dateline tonight. But for those of us in Christ, there’s resolution. There’s a better day coming. And Peter tells us this at the end of this letter.

Dial back just for a second. In the second half of chapter 5, Peter is encouraging the reader of how to endure suffering. We are told to humble ourselves before God (verses 6-7) and then to resist the devil (verses 8-9). And then Peter gets down right to the basics in verses 10-11. In implicitly calling us to trust God, Peter gives us the resolution to our conflict of suffering. He’s already told us in verse 9 to be “firm in our faith” and now he tells us the way: a better day is coming. This suffering isn’t forever. Those moments of sadness will cease. The smiles of joy will come.

And yet, it’s not the easiest thing when your life is falling apart to just “trust God.” That can often come across as not the most helpful counsel when a relationship shatters, a job overwhelms you, or exhaustion sets in fully. And yet, Peter helps us in verses 9-10. Here are four ways to be strengthened in our faith in the midst of trials:

(1) See the trial clearly. Peter tells us the trial will only last “a little while” (verse 10). Even earlier this week, my husband so patiently reminded me of this. Hard days don’t last forever. And even more than that, our entire lives here on earth are still so short in light of eternity. Paul also speaks to this in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18.

(2) See God continually. He is “the God of all grace” (verse 10). He is not the God of a little bit of grace. He is not the God of some grace. He is the God of all grace. His grace is abundant and sufficient. And yet, remember that Peter has told us that God gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). And thus in the midst of our trails, we come dependent. We come needy. After all, God actually really does delight in our dependence.

(3) See God’s calling for you confidently. He “called you to His eternal glory in Christ” (verse 10). We didn’t call ourselves or chose ourselves. God called us apart from us. And he has called us to himself – to the richness of his eternal glory in grace. Friends, this is a living hope. This is living hope to remind ourselves of our calling that is sure even when our days seemed to be marked by suffering. Our calling is sure. And we can see it with confidence.

(4) See God’s purpose for trials correctly. God will “perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (verse 10). Trials refine us. Just as metal is refined to make the finished product, God is refining us like metal, sharpening us, molding us – all to make us look more like Jesus. God is using our trials to render us complete as followers of Jesus. He is strengthening us. He is laying a foundation of our identity in Christ and his authority as God. Just as Jesus described the house founded on the rock that weathered the storm (Matthew 7:25), you and I are called to stand on sure footing in the midst of our storms.

Friends, we just don’t see what God sees. In the midst of our conflict, in the midst of our suffering, we just don’t see the resolution. But may we be encouraged that resolution is coming. God isn’t wasting your suffering. Keep his glory in view. After all, God is always writing a better story.

So for those of you who are suffering today, who are coming out of suffering, or who will be suffering in the days to come, I pray that the “God of all grace has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

1 Peter 4

Running Races and Making Deposits.

“Lacey, R & R!” I can remove those words so vividly. I’d be rounding the curve on the final laps of a race, only to hear Coach Brown’s voice in the midst of a crowd of spectators. Those words became not just words but a mantra. In the midst of heavy breathing and increasingly tighter hamstrings, I would remember “relax and run, Lacey. That’s all. Relax and run.” And friends, after years of attending track camps and early morning practices, those simple words have carried this runner to the finish line time and time again. In the midst of all the suffering, all the sweat, all the pain, the reminder to “R & R” – to relax and run.

In teaching through 1 Peter 4 this week, I felt myself a bit overwhelmed. How do I teach this entire chapter clearly and fully to these ladies? What is the most important point to land on in this passage? What kind of “R & R” reminder to do we see in this text? What is our “coach” (i.e. the Holy Spirit) reminding us of as we make the turn in the midst of pain and fatigue?

Well, I’m going to call us to do two things in this article. Read the first 18 verses. And then join me in verse 19. We’re going to camp here.

Peter begins with the word “therefore” and thus draws us to what he has previously said. And since all of you just read the previous 18 verses of this chapter (and if you didn’t, now you will), we know that Peter has given us encouragement regarding both the responsibilities of following Christ (verses 1-11) and the reality of suffering like Christ (verses 12-19). The apostle here simply acknowledges the truth that we will suffer. As Christians, it is not a question of if we will suffer, but rather when we do suffer.

You might be reading this and think “How can my suffering be according to God’s will?” How can my struggle with my current job, uncertain health, or extended singleness be according to God’s will? In the same way that Christ suffered according to the will of God, we too suffer according to the will of God. In the same way that the suffering of Christ achieved a purpose so too does our suffering achieve a purpose. That at the Cross, Jesus Christ endured the greatest suffering, dying under divine judgment as the just for the unjust and also accomplished the greatest triumph over sin and the power of death. And that in our suffering, we are refined in knowing that there’s always purpose in our pain. Just as the suffering of Christ preceded the glory of Christ (his resurrection) so to our suffering precedes glory (our future glorification). Suffering always precedes glory. Friends, there’s purpose in your pain. And your suffering has passed through the hands of God.

So in light of being reminded of the will of God, Peter tells us to “entrust our souls.” The word “entrust” is a banker’s term, referring to a deposit for safekeeping. Jesus actually uses the same word on the cross when he  committed his spirit to his father (Luke 23:46). Why does Peter call us to entrust our souls and not our bodies? He’s intentional here to contrast both the perishable with the imperishable. We are called to trust God with the imperishable. It’s simply more weighty. And if you haven’t already, you can read an article I wrote on this verb “entrust” here.

So we make this deposit, if you will, of our souls to who? Peter tells us – “a faithful Creator” (verse 19). Just as we make the deposit into our savings account and wait for the return investment, Peter tells us to do the same with our lives, to entrust our souls to our faithful Creator.

Now before you speed read the rest of this article, let’s look intentionally at the emphasis on God as the “faithful Creator” (verse 19). The combination of “faithful” and “Creator” reminds us of both God’s love (he cares) and his power (he creates). And thus, in the midst of our trials – whether with raising children, starting a new job, or battling depression – we can remember both the interest and ability of God. He cares. He creates. Because God is faithful to himself and his promises, we are to rest in his power and his purpose.

And then Peter tells us that we entrust ourselves “while doing good” (verse 19). Let’s have some real talk. When you are suffering, you know in the middle of a week that just has been “one of those weeks…”, probably one of the hardest things is to keep doing the right thing. Now let’s think of Peter. We know his history. Was he good at this? Not initially, but God grew him in this. Whew. There’s hope for us, too. Our continuation in good works in the midst of suffering reflects the assurance of our identity in Christians. And thus, we do the next right thing. Take the next step of obedience. Make the next right play.

So that’s the last verse of chapter 4. We entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator and wait for a better day to come. We keep doing the next right thing in the midst of our suffering. We remind ourselves to “E & E” – to entrust and to embrace. We entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator. We embrace the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Friends, there’s just no better way to run this race as disciples of Jesus. So as we turn the curve today, let’s drop our shoulders, take a breath, and remember to “E & E” – entrust ourselves to our faithful Creator and embrace the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 3:13-22

The Lens that Makes All the Difference.

Just when you can’t take the Texas out of a girl, we can thank Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights for helping us to understand 1 Peter.  Don’t think I’m joking. Three of my favorites collide – the state of Texas, football, and the Word of God. And here we are in 1 Peter 3, verses 13-22.

Peter is finishing chapter 3 of this letter with an exhortation of how to live in the midst of suffering. In doing so, Peter provides a couple of principles for the church at large – be zealous for goodness (verse 13), be willing to suffer (verse 14), and be devoted to Christ (verse 15), be ready to defend the faith (verse 15). In reading verse 15 and teaching through this passage this week, it hit me – “Lacey, are you ready? Both in your heart and with your words?”

Now you might be thinking, “ready for what?” In all my attempts for achievement, whether athletically or now even as a wife, my husband pointed out this morning that I don’t like down time. He’s right, per the usual. I like to be active. I like to be busy. I like to be ready. But ready for what? Ready for a job interview, a date night, or a doctor’s appointment? Ready to take a vacation or ready to watch a great football game?

In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter tells us to be ready. Ready “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). And we are to “always be prepared” (verse 15). Always ready is not sometimes ready. Always ready means always ready. It begs the question if I’m always ready for anything – obviously not. Let’s be honest, a good night of sleep and caffeine usually help, but it calls us to consider how we are to always be ready to give the right words in response to the hope we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are people of hope. Peter has already reminded us of this earlier and the call the “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

So how are Coach Taylor’s high school football players “always prepared” for the kick-off every Friday fall night under the beaming stadium lights? How are you “always prepared” when you get asked why you go to church, why you have hope in the midst of infertility, or why you’re not leaving your spouse despite difficulties in marriage? How are you always ready to defend the faith?

Now before we think we need to flip out of 1 Peter, stick right there. And read 1 Peter 3:15 again. Peter tells us to “regard Christ the Lord as holy” in our hearts (1 Peter 3:15). Friends, we must be devoted to Christ. In the same way that we’re devoted to our exercise routines, our Netflix shows, and our social media scrolls, Peter is calling us to be devoted to Christ.

Here Peter alludes to Isaiah 8:13 in the call to regard the Lord as holy. Thank you, Peter. Once again, you’re taking an Old Testament passage and connecting it with Christ. And once again, we’re reminded that there’s a right pursuit in and purpose for how we fear Christ as the Lord. We live differently when we see the Lord the right way. We see him as transcendent God. We see him as Lord of the universe. We see him as beautiful and better. And thus we want to obey.

Think about this in your own life. When was the last time you saw the Lord with great adoration and awe? When were you moved by the Spirit with greater worship and affection for Christ? Maybe it was earlier this morning over a cup of Chemex coffee as you spent time in the Word or perhaps last Sunday during your pastor’s sermon? Or maybe it was last summer when your family took a trip to Colorado, and the beauty in the Rocky Mountains captivated you with greater worship for your Creator? Or maybe, if you’re really honest, it’s been awhile. And you’re actually feeling like you’re stuck and unable to see God.

For all of us, we need eyes to see. We need the Spirit to open our eyes to see Jesus, that our minds might be renewed, that our hearts might be refreshed. And it is here, that we’re able to always “be ready.” A constant readiness requires a consistent dependence. A daily submission to the Lord, confessing our need for fresh bread, a fresh filling of the Spirit. In own submission to our Great Giver, we see our Great Gift – we see God. We commune with him. We adore him. We exalt him.

And when we see God, the purpose of our pursuit unfolds. Here are two takeaways of how seeing God changes us. Obviously, this is not exhaustive, but hopefully encouraging.

  • Seeing God rightly leads to rightly serving God. When we see God, we are compelled. We behold him, becoming more like Christ. And out of the overflow, we serve our King and his church. We serve with the right motives the right means. We serve for the glory of God and the good of his church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seeing God correctly leads to obeying God consistently. When we see God, we are changed. We see who he is, what he does, and what he calls us to do. We see that we are loved and chosen. We see the Cross and the hope of the resurrection. And out of this hope in the person and work of Jesus, we seek obedience – not to earn his love but because we have received his love.

Friends, there’s just no better to be prepared. To have eyes to see with clarity and courage. To have a lens that views God rightly, not with fuzziness and frustration but with faith and fervency. After all, any coach (especially Coach Taylor) would tell us, with clear eyes and a full heart, you just can’t lose.