Friday, September 30, 2011

James read-along, Chapters 3 & 4

So I'm a little behind on the read-along.  Who's surprised?  Not I.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. James 3:9

The Tongue-Taming section of James.  My-oh-my.  The verses prior to this talk of how a big ship is controlled by a small rudder and forest fires are started by a single spark.  What we say has huge consequences for all of the other parts of our life.  How dare we both praise Jesus AND speak poorly of others?  Jesus, help me.

And I also think that the words that come out of us are very telling of what's inside.  Jesus says in Matthew, For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (12:34). 

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13

There's a significant link here between wisdom and humility.  I love the description of true wisdom, a couple of verses later:
full of mercy and good fruit

Lord, let these things be said of me.  Just thinking of difficult relationships and issues I've had with others, I ask myself, was this list true of me in that situation?

Not exactly.

But praise Jesus.  He gives wisdom generously without finding fault - if we just ask for it.  (James 1:5) 

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?  James 4:11-12

Hmm... doesn't this sound familiar to the first verse I listed?  Yes, indeedy. 

Leave the judgment to God, and don't speak out against others. 

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:14-15

A reminder of the fact that my life isn't my own - it is in God's hands and he determines the specifics.  Lest I be too boastful, too quick-to-map-everything-out, too prideful.  Nope, it's God's will for me that matters.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lora's Baby Shower

A year ago or so my friends Lora and Meribethe threw me a beautiful shower.

And last week I got to return the favor for Lora!  Her baby is due next month and I'm so excited for her and Patrick.
Lora's professional life has centered around reading, learning, and school, so I thought that it would be fun to incorporate some "bookish" elements into the decor.  Also, they're going with mostly primary colors for the nursery, so I wanted to keep that for the shower too.


Alphabet blocks seemed logical - and fun - choice.

And each guest was asked to bring a favorite childrens book as a part of their gift.

I also had fun with the food... like cake pops! 0910_4652-1

One week before the shower I received a cake pop maker for an early birthday present. I was already planning on making cake pops for Lora's shower, so it was a perfect, timely gift! And it made making them SO easy.
Anyone who knows Lora knows of her Aquafina love! I almost bought Dasani water bottles (gasp!) but thankfully caught the mistake before I left the grocery store. They were easy to "spice up" with paper and ribbon.

Lora also has a soft spot for cakes from Dairy Queen.  When I ordered this one (yellow, bottom left) I asked for stripes.  I thought the result was an interesting interpretation of my order.

Here's the mantle... who knew kids books could be used for decorations? 0910_4644-1 
I had so much fun planning this shower! Can't wait to meet Baby Kaiser in another few weeks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

James read-along, Chapter 2

There are some hard, kick-you-where-it-hurts passages in James 2.  The words are downright blunt and nothing if not sobering.

But, as someone who believes that Bible is true, perfect, and God's Word, I've got to deal with Chapter 2.  It'd be easy enough to skim over it.

Here's what stuck out to me:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10

Marla calls this a classic "we're all screwed without Jesus" passage. Totally true.  I step one toe out of line - one harsh word, one moment of pride - and I've failed God's high standard.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

What's especially convicting to me about James 2:10 is that, if I truly believe this, I have no business being judgmental. Why think of others are their sins when mine are just as bad?  We all are guilty of breaking all of the law.  It's so easy to think of "big bad sins" and "little somewhat-passable" sins.  That's nonsense.

I'm praying God protects me from pride and judgment as I dig back into James. Just because I happen to be spending a little time in my Bible doesn't mean I'm better than those who aren't. Any sin of mine puts me on completely even footing with every other person on earth... screwed without Jesus.  Small moments of time with Jesus have nothing to do with that.

Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:15-17

The second part of James 2 was the real kicker for me this week.  At least four times it mentions that faith without action is dead/useless/no good. 

These verses are really easy to misunderstand.  Don't put the cart before the horse.  James is not saying that a bunch of good works/obedience/mercy-toward-the-poor makes for salvation, or a relationship with God.  Nope, that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.  [See above comments about being screwed without Him.]  James is saying that true faith - the type that leads to life with God - naturally overflows into action.  Just like an apple tree makes apples.  Mercy, service, and giving-'til-it-hurts should spring forth from a life with God, and a true understanding of what He's given me.

The example in the text above is helping the poor - those without clothes and daily food.  In a world where thousands of children die daily from malnutrition and preventable disease, this one hits me.  As in, thousands of Carolines die daily.  A sermon I listened to this week even encouraged me to think, before I make purchases, is this more important than feeding a child?

Yikes.  I don't think much about getting a Starbucks or ordering a cute pair of shoes for my non-walking daughter.  And while it'd easy for me to write that question off as "holy-cow-way-too-radical," isn't faith supposed to be radical?  Lukewarm has never been a good thing.

So, where does that leave me?  I don't know.  I'm wrestling through it.  Starbucks in hand or not.  Sigh.  God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness toward me is there.  Freedom is there.  But chapter 2 of James is there too.  Lord, help me.

I don't think deeds should be done out of guilt.  That's not the point.  They should be the overflow of joy and freedom in Jesus.  And out of a relationship with Him.  So for now I'm going to focus on that relationship-with-Him part.  It's needed - I'm rusty.  We're going to pray as a family for direction on our actions, and our spending.   

And for the official discussion questions...
1. What one verse stood out to you as oh-my-wow (or however you would say it)? See above.
2. What do you think of this quote from DP–”People who claim to be Christians but fail to help poverty-stricken believers are, in fact, not saved.” This is so hard. I listened to that sermon for clarification and was convinced that the man had a point. Faith in Jesus - the true kind - bears fruit. Mercy and forgiveness and love and patience and a host of other things. When we truly know and love Him, we can't help but be led toward these things.
3. What questions/concerns do you have about this chapter? Jesus, what does that mean for me? For us? Right now? In your grace and mercy toward me, show us the way.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An apple core. Also known as...

... 15 minutes of pure entertainment

... delicious

... an excuse to use those two teeth

... and 15 minutes during which her Mama can get dinner ready.

also known as a win-win.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It gets me.

I was sifting through a bunch of newly-printed pictures of Caroline from her 9 month shoot.

And I kept thumbing to this one.

It isn't the kind of shot I'm going to print in wallet sizes and hand them out to family members. I'm not going to hang it on my wall. It wouldn't feel quite right in that context.

But I keep coming back to it.

The sweetness.

The eye rub.

The baby-ness.

The bib overalls and board book.

The tired baby.

But mostly, the innocence.

An innocence I desperately want to protect. An innocence that's been entrusted to us. She's so sweet, so trusting, so joyful. I don't want anything to take those things from her. I just want to protect her.

Like, until she's 30.

It's daunting. We don't want her to grow up too fast, and yet we don't want to her to be so sheltered that she's clueless. How do parents do it? What boundaries to you set? When do you set them? How do you raise a child to be wise, but still protect that little heart?

Lord, help us.

Lord, help us, indeed.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Random musings about friends, fall, and football.

1. College football season is upon us again. Holla! It's my favorite time of year.

2. We've seen some slices of delightfully cool weather. Jeans weather. Sweatshirt weather. It reminds me of Pumpkin Spice Lattes, apple picking, and a host of other fall goodness.  And then today I was boiling in my long jeans. Come back, cold!

3. Life can change a lot in one year, can't it? We hung out with our friends, the LeComptes, on the first Michigan game of the year last year, on Labor Day weekend. I was 30 weeks pregnant, and DeeDee was 39. We were both wearing our husbands' shirts in this picture. DeeDee and Chris' twin boys were born the next day.

And then we saw them again this past Labor Day weekend, for the first football game. 3 kids later. And, DeeDee and I are wearing Michigan t-shirts of our own this time around. Gratefully.

I can't speak to what Noah (big kid in the background) is doing in this picture.

I watched all four kids solo for an hour or so. The LeComptes helpfully dressed Drew in blue for me. Will is in "maize", while Caroline is sporting a cheerleader outfit.  We start 'em young.

4. The rest of Labor Day weekend was spent on the West side of Michigan, with my family.  Caroline went on her first Big Whitefish Lake boat ride.

She was seriously harassed by the life jacket.

And really now... how cute are these kids?  Caroline with cousins Aiydan and Aiyannah.

Aiydan drove the boat with my dad.
And then Caroline felt the need to check out uncle Ben.
All in all, a great holiday weekend.

5. Michigan just had them one of the BEST COMEBACKS EVER against Notre Dame. My heart still races just to think of it. I don't know if I've ever felt such a range of emotions in a mere 72 seconds as I did in the last moments of the game.

6. Go blue and happy fall.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

James read-along, Chapter 1

Let me first make a confession: I really, really struggle with cracking open my Bible on a consistent basis.

Do I believe it's God's Word, His story of love and redemption? Yes. Do I believe it has immediate, important, practical application in my life? Yes. Do I believe that His love for me is splashed throughout the pages? Absolutely. And yet, I still struggle.

Praise Him for His abundant grace. 

Anywhoo, by that same grace I had a desire to break open my old Bible last week, and was casting around for ideas about what I should read. And what do I stumble upon? Marla's blog post about a read-along about the book of James. Basically, it's a group of people connected via the internet, all reading and discussing the same book of the Bible. One chapter per week.

Marla posted her thoughts yesterday.  Great insights.

Here are some thoughts/insights/challenges that struck me as I was reading James 1 this past week. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1: 2-3

Really, pure joy? I've read this verse before, but the sheer audacity of it is startling to me this time around. And, the reality of just how much I fall short. Would I consider it pure joy if we lost our jobs and our house was foreclosed upon? Probably not. Or if Caroline got really sick? Sigh... no. Heck, I get grouchy sometimes because the Diet Coke I just bought at McDonalds is flat. But true joy is different from happiness, from comfort, from security. It's rooted in trusting God for His provision, His goodness and His blessing.

I also appreciate that in this verse it's obvious that trials aren't a sign of God's displeasure. Rather, they're simply inevitable. And they come in a variety of forms. Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds. That's comforting.

Also, the ideas of "trials" and "temptations" are linked in the first part of James 1. Ordinarily I think of those as separate concepts. But as I pondered those verses, I realized that embedded in each trial is a temptation. Perhaps a temptation to think more highly of myself than of someone else. Perhaps to harbor anger in my heart. Or - most importantly - to doubt God and His plan for my life.

Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19b
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. James 1:26.

If those two verses don't punch a double-whammy against a loose tongue, I don't know what does. Very, very convicting.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27

I don't know many orphans or widows, and certainly don't actively care for them very often.  My heart is still for adoption someday, and this verse comes to mind when I think of it.  But a potential future adoption doesn't check this verse off of my to-do list.

And then that second part... polluted by the world...  

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22

If i find it difficult to study my Bible, that difficulty is multiplied many times over when it comes to personal, real-life, gritty and un-fun application.

Yes, I actually need to be caring for widows and orphans.  Not just talking about it.  Yes, I need to be slow to anger and keep a tighter hold on my tongue.  I can't just read this, check my "Bible time for the day" box, and then go about life as usual.  I think I'd miss the whole point about why diving into the words of the Bible is so important.

All in all, it's a bit of a breath of fresh air to dig back into the text.  There's zero chance of me perfectly executing each one of these lessons into my life.  But isn't that the point?  I strive a little more after God, realize how far short I fall of His high standard, and are left with open hands, ready to receive his steady stream of grace.  A grace that's that much more meaningful.

And here are my answers to the posted questions:
1. If you could remove one verse from James 1 and never have to deal with it again, which one would it be, and why?
That one about doing what the Bible says.  
2. What one verse would you like (or feel compelled) to focus on/live out in the coming weeks, and how do you envision it playing out in your life?
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." This is one that I'd like to make a conscious effort toward... and I plan to start in my own house with my own husband.  
3. If you could ask James for clarification on one verse/topic, what would you ask him and why?
How to I keep from being polluted from the world? I'd like a 5 step program, if possible.