Self-Control = Waiting

I’ve started reading through the book of Titus as part of my morning devotional time. This morning, as I read through Chapter 2, I was struck by how often Paul uses the word self-controlled. As he instructs Titus about the behavior that should be encouraged, he says both older and younger men should exercise self-control, and older women should teach self-control to younger women. Then he goes on to say all Christians should:

… live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ …”Titus 2:12-13

My Bible dictionary defines self-control as “the exercise of restraint and discipline over one’s behavior.” This was important at the time for a number of reasons: the early church was made up of both Gentiles and Jews, people with differing customs and traditions; it also existed in a hostile pagan environment. Christians were bound to come into conflict with one another, and with others. Yet, it was important that they make a witness worthy of their Savior. Why would anyone believe them, or want to join them, if they exhibited the same bad behavior as the culture around them? Guess what, this is still true today!

The thing is self-control usually involves waiting. If we react quickly to an insult, a slight, and unpleasant person, our response is usually sinful, because that is our default position. Our sinful nature tells us to strike back, to speak up, to defend ourselves. Self-control doesn’t mean being a door mat, but it does mean taking some time to respond in the correct way — with gentleness and respect. So if you’re confronted with a difficult situation, take a breath, pray and take this advice from James:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

Just wait!

For more about the book of self-control see these posts:

Producing Fruit

Trust God’s Process

wiser by Dilip Jest, MD., with Scott Lafee–Book Review

Perpetually Discontented

Discontentment seems to be a constant of human life. I guess it can be a good thing in some cases. If we’re not satisfied with our health, we may be motivated to exercise, eat healthy foods, and so on. If we’re unhappy with our spiritual life we might begin to spend more time in bible study and prayer. If we have an inventive bent, being discontented may lead us to imagine and produce a better product. Unfortunately, most of the time being discontented doesn’t work for our good. As James put it,

“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet, but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” James 4:2

Think about Adam and Eve. They had everything a human being needed to be happy, but it wasn’t enough. Then came Cain and Abel — Cain killed his brother because he envied the approval Abel received from God. So, as you can see discontentment may damage our relationship with God and with others. It can quickly lead us into sin.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.” James 3:16

What’s the remedy? A change of focus. We need to stop looking at ourselves (what we want, what we think will make us happier) and at others (those who have something more or better than we do). We must focus on what God has given us and be thankful. We must also unselfishly rejoice in what God has given to others. If we follow the way of love described in 1 Corinthians, we’ll be content. Our relationship with God and with others will be better, our health will improve (because we’re not angry or worried) and we’ll be happier.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

For more about contentment see:

Content in All Circumstances

Good Stewards are Content

Truly Blessed

James Chapter 5–What Stands Out

Well, I’ve made it to the final chapter of James in my lectio divina study. Here’s what stands out to me:

You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence.” James 5:5a

When I compare my life, and the things I own, to others around me, I like to imagine my lifestyle is modest. However, the truth of the matter is:

*My husband and I own two cars

*We have a nice condo in a quiet neighborhood

*We buy pretty much whatever we want at the grocery store

*We have a tidy sum set away in our retirement accounts

*We go on vacations and other trips a couple of times a year

*We go out to eat several times a month

*We have a closet full of clothing

To most of the world, somebody like me, somebody with a pretty “average” life in the United States is living in the lap of luxury. Most people in the world live in poverty. 85% of the world live on less than $30 per day, two-thirds live on less than $10 per day, and every tenth person lives on less than $1.90 per day. In each of these statistics price differences between countries are taken into account to adjust for the purchasing power in each country. In addition, many of the consumer goods we enjoy (things like clothing, electronics and even chocolate) depend upon the work of people who are either enslaved or forced to work in horrible conditions.

I feel guilty and I should. However, I’m not sure what to do about it, or how to change things .I can only rely on the forgiveness of God and His mercy.

 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.””

 Those who heard this asked, ‘Who then can be saved?

 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:25-17

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

What Will Tomorrow Bring?

I’ve been making my way through the book of James, reading in a slow, meditative way. I’m up to Chapter four and what stand out is this:

“… you do not know what tomorrow will bring.” James 4:14

If you’re anything like me, you spend quite a bit of time worrying about the future. Big things like — Will I stay healthy? Do I have enough savings put aside? Small things like — What will I make for dinner? Do I have time to fit my exercise minutes into this busy day? Planning is good, but I can get carried away, becoming tense and anxious about things that I can’t control or things that really aren’t that significant in the long run. It distracts me from the present, and from the thing or things God wants me to notice right now.

Instead, James goes on to say, we our plans must leave things in the hands of God. We should say:

If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:15

Many things happened during the past year that we couldn’t have predicted– a world wide pandemic? Church services on Zoom or Youtube? Virtual classrooms? Not to mention sickness and death suddenly becoming a real possibility. Who would have guessed? How could we have been prepared? It’s been stressful, and many are still anxious and depressed.

The only way for me (and you) to have peace is to put our trust in the One who made heaven and earth and holds our lives in His hands. Whatever the future holds, He’s with us.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

For more about trusting God see these posts:

When Things are Unclear–Trust God

Trusting Your Leader

Grow Through Surrender and Trust

James Chapter 3–What Stands Out?

In my lectio divina reading of James, I’m up to chapter 3. Here’s what stands out to me:

“The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:6b

James already warned us that we should be slow to anger (James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?) and now he is telling us what may happen if we don’t think before we speak. I’m particularly struck by the phrase “setting on fire the entire course of life.” A cruel word cannot be called back, and it can burn bridges for life. Family members have become estranged, friendships have ended, divorces have been set in motion, all because of unwise words spoken in anger.

Hateful words are destructive. They do not come from God. In many places the Bible tells us to encourage, not discourage. Relationships will be more pleasant, conflict will be avoided, and life will be happier, if we watch our words. It’s a no-brainer, but one we all seem to find hard to observe.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

It shouldn’t be that hard. Listen to James and use your kind words! It will make your life better.

For more on the book of James see:

Luther and the Book of James

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

James Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” James 2:20-22

The phrase that stood out for me in my lectio divina reading of the second chapter of James was: “his faith was made complete by what he did.” When we come to belief in Christ, it’s the beginning of a process — the process of sanctification. In many places in the New Testament, we are told that our faith will transform us. For example:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

Our faith is not a simple philosophical assent — it’s meant to take over our way of thinking, and also our way of behaving. Here’s a comparison for you. A while back, I took a “Prevent Diabetes” class at the local Senior Center. One of the participants came to every class. She learned about counting calories, portion control and exercise. She believed what she was taught — but she never put what she learned into practice. At the end of the year, she had made no progress toward her goal of lowering her blood sugar count. Simply sitting in class week after week didn’t get her the results she wanted. She didn’t really get with the program.

God has a program too, and it’s very simple:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.(and) … ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Mark 12:30-31

The emotion of love is not complete until we follow it up with loving deeds. So, make sure your faith and actions work together. You’ll be pleased with the results, and so will your Father in heaven.

James Chapter 1 — What Stands Out?

After reading the first chapter of James through slowly several times, here’s what stood out for me:

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” James 1:19–20

I am particularly struck by the idea that we are to be “slow to anger” because this doesn’t seem to be the case these days. Everyone’s angry about something –we’re angry about politics– often the other side is not just wrong, they’re enemies; we’re angry about how others people should respond to virus — should we continue to wear masks, should the vaccine be required, and so on; we’re angry at people of other races and other Christian denominations. Social media makes it easy to respond in anger quickly, and yet be safely distanced from the repercussions. We can fire off nasty tweets and encourage others to join in, without facing a real person. The verse above warns against this.

God Himself is described in a number of places as being “slow to anger” and as His children, we should imitate Him, not the world. Here’s what else the Bible has to say about being slow to anger:

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” Proverbs 14:29

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”Proverbs 19:11

Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32

“Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Psalm 37:8

It sounds like a no-brainer. Even if you don’t want to take the Bible as your guide, scientific studies show that anger can lead to heart disease and strokes, it lowers your immune system, impairs your cognitive skills and affects mental health.

So, before you get angry, stop and think. Anger is destructive in so many ways. Take it slow.

For more on the subject of anger see:

Do Unto Others, part 2

Are You Angry?

What Should I Do When I am Angry?

Luther and the Book of James

After a long bout of minor ailments, and then a round of travel, I’ve been trying to get back into my routine of spiritual disciplines, and I’m making some progress. One practice I’d abandoned for a while was taking time to read the Bible, not so much as study, but in a slow, meditative way. This is called lectio divina — letting the text speak to you personally, or as I like to put it, see “what jumps out.” I’ve decided to start doing this with the book of James.

In case you don’t know, this book was written, not by the apostle James, but by James, the brother of Christ. He became the leader of the church in Jerusalem, which was mostly comprised of Jewish believers.

Martin Luther didn’t have a high opinion of this text. He called it a “straw epistle” when compared to the writings of Paul. He didn’t think it correctly expressed the message of the gospel, in particular the teaching that we are saved by faith alone, without dependence on our own works. He went so far as to say:

““We should throw the epistle of James out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much. It contains not a syllable about Christ. Not once does it mention Christ, except at the beginning. I maintain that some Jew wrote it who probably heard about Christian people but never encountered any. Since he heard that Christians place great weight on faith in Christ, he thought, ‘Wait a moment! I’ll oppose them and urge works alone.’ This he did.””

Although I’m a staunch Lutheran, I have to disagree. I’ve been told that James does not teach that we’re saved by our work, he teaches that good works are the “fruit” of our salvation. If we’ve been saved by God’s grace, we will naturally produce good works.

So, this month, join me in reading through the book of James and see what you think. How important are works to the Christian life? Maybe by August, we’ll have an answer!

Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution by Tony Merida–Book Review

Disagreements are a part of life, and as Christians, we all want to resolve conflict in a Christlike manner. This short book by Pastor Tony Merida is chock full of good advice for doing that. In fact, conflict can actually be seen as an opportunity to show God’s grace and grow personally.

Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution: A Guide For Turbulent Times

First of all, the greatest problem in every conflict is: YOU! Conflict with God and others came into the world with sin, and it’s still going on. The book of James tells us:

“What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from you passions that wage war within you? You desire and you do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and wage war.” James 41-2

The internal war with sin within us eventually leads us into conflict with others as we seek to satisfy our own desires.

The author walks us through these steps to peacemaking.

*Me-First–is there a log in my own eye?

*Minor–Is the offense a minor one that I could and should overlook?

*Major–Does this offense require the purpose of restoration (as outlined in the Bible)?

*Material–Does this offense require restitution related to property, money or other rights?

*Mediation–Does this offense call for the help of another party to assist in peacemaking?

Above all, love should prevail. Pastor Merida states that we should take the commandment to love expressed by Jesus in John 15, as seriously as we take the commandments to refrain from murder or adultery. Christian love is a sign of maturity, and most conflicts are easier to resolve when we’ve already demonstrated love over time to that person.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. The advice given is clear, concise and Biblical. The author takes pains to say that he is a pastor, not a counselor or therapist, and he does not address the problem of abuse. I would recommend it.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

For more book reviews see these posts:

The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John C. Maxwell–Book Review

Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review

Discernment by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

When You’re Sick

Both my reunion group sister and I have been suffering from minor complaints lately: infection, fatigue, aches and pains. All of these “thorns of the flesh” interfere with my spiritual disciplines and make me feel guilty. The book of James tells us:

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. “James 5:13

We should not stop praying when we’re ill, but it’s okay to be patient with ourselves. If you are struggling, as I have been, here are some comforting quotes:

“Make allowance for infirmities of the flesh, which are purely physical. To be fatigued, body and soul, is not sin; to be in ‘heaviness’ is not sin. Christian life is not a feeling; it is a principle: when your hearts will not fly, let them go, and if they ‘will neither fly nor go,’ be patient with them, and take them to Christ, as you would carry your little lame child to a tender-hearted, skillful surgeon. Does the surgeon, in such a case, upbraid the child for being lame?

Elizabeth Prentiss

“When you feel ill and indisposed, and when in this condition your prayer is cold, heavy, filled with despondency, and even despair, do not be disheartened or despairing, for the Lord knows your sick and painful condition. Struggle against your infirmity, pray as much as you have strength to, and the Lod will not despise the infirmity of your flesh and spirit.”

Father John

And remember:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Romans 8:26