It's hard to believe that we are wrapping up our time together in the book of James already. We have learned so many amazing things along the way on this journey. Most recently, we talked about patience, materialism, obedience to God, and loving others. We have also seen verses that tell us about applying wisdom, favoritism, showing our faith in our work, and closing our mouths. If you missed any of these posts and wish to read them, you can find them in the archive on the right side of the blog. They've all been labeled with the tags "Book of James" and "Bible Study." You can also find them by clicking the labeled tabs above or using the search bar at the bottom of the page.
Next week we will start a new study in the book of Titus. This time, though, we'll be applying the truths that we learn from Titus- well, Paul writing to Titus- to marriage, family, and parenting. These three areas are places that I am not only currently living, but they are also very near and dear to my heart. I'm looking forward to digging into Titus with you to see what we can learn there.
Today, let's take one last look at the book of James. These are our final two verses:
"My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off. Go after them. Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering away from God." (James 5:19-20)
I can't say this enough. Jesus loves us with this amazing, extravagant, unparallelled love. He longs to live in relationship with you and be a part of your everyday life. He never promises an easy or always happy life, but there is always the ability to have a deep-seated, Jesus centered joy deep within you. We need Jesus to live our lives effectively and well.
There's a story in Luke 15 that Jesus tells about a shepherd and his lost sheep. In the story, the shepherd owns and herds one hundred sheep. Now a shepherd grows close to his sheep. He loves them. He spends all of his time with them. They are valuable to him. So when one of those hundred goes missing one day, the shepherd doesn't just let it go and write it off. He doesn't say, "oh well, at least I still have these other ninety-nine!" No. He drops everything and goes off in search of that missing sheep. And when he finds it? He doesn't scold it, call it stupid or bad, or try to punish it in any way. Instead, he embraces it and carries it back home with his other sheep. He has this deep joy at finding the missing one.
Jesus told this story in order to compare lost people to those sheep. The shepherd is Jesus. This story shows us that Jesus doesn't just give up on us. Once we are one of his children, he will always be there for us. He loves us too much to do anything else. And we are called to live like Jesus as much as possible in our lives. In my life verse, Ephesians 5:1-2, it says:
"Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."
So when one of Jesus' own wanders away, we should want to get them back on track. If we are living and loving like Jesus, we want what's best for his people. That's really loving others. Seeing a family member, a friend, a fellow believer falling away and coming alongside them, loving them, praying with and for them, helping them back on the right path- that's some extravagant love.
Typically, our first response when someone else messes up is judgment. We look at them and just know that we could have done it better. Except we don't know. We don't know what is truly going on or how much they are hurting. A better response is prayer, empathy, guidance.
The other day I was on Facebook reading through posts from my friends. One of them wrote about something that was a source of conflict in Facebook Land. Big surprise, right? I read through the comments on that post; most of them were loving, insightful, and full of ideas for change. Others were sadly overly harsh, judgmental, and full of angry words. And you know what? Every word that was written on that post could be seen by believers and unbelievers alike. Did every person's words represent Jesus well? I don't know and I'm not going to make any judgments. The point of my telling you this is that there was a wanderer in that fight on that thread. Every word written- whether meant in a loving and guiding way or in a harsh, judgmental way- was thrown back at the writers. That wanderer was angry at God. I assume that he or she still is. At some point, one lone believer came on the post at the very end and wrapped his/her virtual arms around the wanderer by apologizing in place of whoever had hurt the wanderer and offering prayer.
I have no idea how that story turned out. This was a week or two ago now and I haven't heard anything else nor do I expect to. We don't get to know everything. But God knows. And I just love that one of his children came alongside a wandering, angry soul and tried to guide that person back. The guide knew that the wanderer was still loved and cherished by God himself and wanted to do his/her best to put them back in line with Jesus so the hurts could be healed.
What would happen if we approached more angry and hurting souls like that? I was reading about conflict resolution and how to approach angry people in my devotions from Ecclesiastes today. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:17 that "the quiet words of the wise are more effective
than the ranting of a king of fools." That means that when we speak gently and kindly with a loving voice, we are far more effective at conveying our point than when we fly off the handle and scream at everyone.
This is my challenge today- and it's not just for you. I'm working hard on this one too because, if I'm honest, I struggle with this sometimes. Let's work to yell and scream less. Let's try quiet words, soothing voices. Let's seek to understand and explain rather than forcing our opinions on others. Let's believe the best of those around us. I'm starting with those in my own house. Where will you start? At work, at home, online, or at church? Somewhere else?
I pray that we can do this together. The world could be an amazing place if we could all communicate well and love each other, believing the best first, rather than fighting. Don't just be blessed today, strive to be a blessing to others.