“Sometimes we can know something is right, wonderful, and as it should be yet still be pierced by it.” Beth Moore tells us in the opening week’s study of James: Mercy Triumphs.
If you’re a mom, that quote resonates in a way that can bring tears to your eyes. Watching home videos of our kids in younger days can make our hearts ache. I used to joke when my boys were younger that I was going to stack books on their heads to prevent them from growing taller. A few months ago, my thirteen year old surpassed me in height, much to his delight and my chagrin. In a few years I’ll be buckling my seatbelt as he begins driving. Being a good parent ultimately means that we work ourselves out of our jobs. We raise our kids and eventually they mature to a point where they are adults standing on their own two feet. We can lament it or embrace it, but change is an inevitable part of life. This is “right and wonderful” but it pierces us.
Continual change is a fact of life for kids, but sometimes adults do all they can to keep things the same. We find our niches and stay put. We tend to struggle with fairly minor things like switching small groups or deviating from the usual church service we attend. Welcoming major, life altering changes and perspectives takes us way out of our comfort zones. However, if we are earnest in our desire to apply the Word of God to our lives, then studying the book of James is not going to let us stay the same. It is going to stretch us and pierce us to the core.
From the first week of homework, Beth Moore sets the stage: God uses unsettling things to grow us and to further His kingdom. She references Acts 11:19-21 and describes how the disciples scattered as a result of persecution after Stephen was martyred. She says “The very thing meant to stamp out the fires of Christianity only kicked the coals across the land and set a parched forest ablaze” (p.26). Followers of Jesus fanned out to remote locations to escape persecution, but also continued sharing the good news of Jesus with Jews and Greeks. Acts 11:21 says: “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”
During this time, three men arose as leaders of the Christians: Peter, John and James. James grew up in the same household as Jesus. They were literal brothers sharing the same mother. Beth Moore says: “James skyrocketed to a place of tremendous prominence in the early church. He bounced from doubter to leader in a mind-spinning flash of time” (P. 31). Peter, John and James are referred to as the “pillars” of the faith in Galatians 2:9. They extended “the right hand of fellowship” to Paul and Barnabas after they recognized God’s grace in Paul’s conversion. At the Jerusalem Counsel described in Acts 15, these leaders grappled with hard questions about what it meant to live out the Christian faith- especially for newly converted gentiles. (Melissa Moore Fitzpatrick goes in depth on this in her “Next Level” articles in Week 1 of the study). Because the church was so new, they had no traditions to follow, no clearly defined protocols or best practices. They had to rely on the Spirit, the teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament to guide them. There was no option for saying: “Let’s do it like this because we’ve always done it that way.” Tempers likely flared, feelings might have been hurt, but they pressed on. Life was not predictable or ordinary; it was full of the unexpected and was changing rapidly all the time.
Conversely, today it can be easy to be lulled into complacency and not to feel that same sense of urgency to lean into God and seek His wisdom. We have protocols and policies. We know the spoken and unspoken expectations. If we want to live life by a checklist, we can easily find one. Sometimes we might follow the Christian lifestyle more than we actually follow Jesus. It’s safer and less messy but not really full of abundant joy.
The book of James is not going to be safe, easy or comfortable to study. It is going to make us squirm from the very beginning as we study about trials producing joy. Things will continue to heat up with topics like actions vs. words, faith vs. deeds, taming our tongues, favoritism, wealth and more. The things we are challenged to think and do are going to pierce us. However, they are also “right and wonderful.” So, let’s all buckle our seatbelts and get ready for the ride. Change is coming, and we’d be wise to embrace it so we can discover all that God has in store for us.