Photo by Lynn Cummings from FreeImages

I need a break. Does anyone else feel like you are going insane in this COVID-19 situation? Actually, I feel like the world is going insane around me. We are confronted with overwhelming crisis, mountainous challenges, desperate fear, which ignites fierce anger, piercing hurt, and creeping suspicion of everyone and everything.

We are on thin ice. We are caught in the rapids. We are stuck in the quicksand. Our economy, our health, our sanity all needs to be rescued. And here we sit arguing about it. Does fighting make us feel better? Is attacking people we used to love and who used to love us really making a difference? Is our growing bitterness and resentment moving us one inch closer to peace (AKA Jesus)?

Stop the madness!

Take a pause. Take a breath.

Out of the Fray

I invite you to leave the fray for a minute and enter the safety of God’s grace. Because God is extending grace, to you, to me, and to this broken world. Feel your pulse even out and your jaw relax as I hopefully share some truth and hope for a moment. Hold on to the life raft of God’s word and know that you will be safe here for as long as you choose to remain.

“When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.”

ISaiah 43:2

I would say this qualifies as a river of difficulty! And it seems we are all pretty worried about drowning. Do our actions and words show our faith or our fear?

Endurance

Photo by Andy Steel from FreeImages

“For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

James 1:3-4

Last time I checked, endurance doesn’t come easily. I have done cardio kickboxing the last few years, and the trainers love to torture us with this evil thing called “endurance sets” during the workouts. They last forever! And we build up. This time it’s 1.5 minutes. Next time it’s 2 minutes. You try doing 6 minutes of roundhouse kicks and burpees and then tell me fully developed endurance isn’t hard work to come by! But you push through. And then eventually you get those heavenly endorphins and sweet glutes as your reward.

In our lives we are challenged with situations that God can use to build our endurance. COVID-19 is for sure one of them! But if we look above the fear, worry, and anger all around us, we can see that God intends to use this to develop an enduring faith within us so that we will be “perfect and complete”.

Let me be clear. God has not caused this to happen to our world. This fallen world spins trouble and grief at every turn all on its own. But one amazing aspect of God’s grace is that He can use what the enemy intends for evil to create enduring beauty in us.

Humility

What I am about to share is not the feel-good vibes that you may have thought we were headed towards with my talk of grace and beauty. But it is the safety of God’s word. I invite you to let it change you. Stick with me for a little “endurance set” of hard truth for a few minutes. I want to look at the entire chapter 4 of the Book of James. James is the “practice what you preach” book of the new testament. He implores us to live out our faith in actions. Chapter 4 has some strong and powerful words about Who is really in charge and how we should be acting in response to that knowledge. James doesn’t mince words, so get ready.

Drawing Close to God

1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. 5 Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. 6 And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. 9 Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

Warning against Judging Others

11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. 12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?

Warning about Self-Confidence

13 Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.

17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

James 4

I don’t know about you, but this passage brings me down a few notches.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble…”

This verse is sandwiched on both sides with James addressing Christians who are fighting with one another.

I have a secret to share with you. Pride is my biggest issue. You might be surprised to hear that. Oh, I put on a good front. I’m good at appearing humble and helpful. But there is a spiritual pride that I am constantly fighting. Especially that hidden pride. That pride that walks around like righteousness. That pride that leaves no room for grace.

But when I see authentic humility, it is like Jesus has stretched out his hand and spoke peace to the storm. And that’s what this world needs right now. Humility. Humility that looks for the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck in our neighbor’s. Humility that cares for the person and not just winning an argument. Humility that puts others above ourselves. Humility that loves our enemies.

We have not loved our enemies. Our anger and fear often overcome us in hurtful and spiteful words. And for the sake of our self-declared righteousness we become what we despise. I’m not singling anyone out here. I’ve seen ridiculousness from every side of every argument. I’ve been ridiculous, even if it was just in my own brain. But what does it cost us? God resists the proud.

I have a friend who is an example of true humility. Terrible, ugly words were exchanged, and then this friend extended a heart-felt, all cards on the table, “I am ashamed for what I have done” apology. That is a very hard thing to do – it fights against every ounce of pride inside us. But God promises to give grace to the humble, and so this person is now in the perfect position for a download of it. And I suspect that through the act of humbling themselves and truly owning the hurt that they caused, their relationship with Jesus just took a deep dive of authenticity.

Grace = Power

In our culture it is seen as weakness to admit you are wrong. But that’s one of the keys of humility.

“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

There’s God’s grace again. And this time we see that it is not the fluffy, gushy, “oh, it’s ok” kind of sentiment we sometimes attribute to it. Grace is God’s power. We need it now more than ever. And it doesn’t come from demanding or fighting. It comes by being humble.

My humble, broken friend has more power right now than politicians, doctors, the media, and YouTube combined. God’s power is made perfect in their weakness, and God’s kingdom has taken some ground. I’m not sure my friend sees it that way at the moment, but I do. They knew what they needed to do, and they did it. Feel that? It’s life emerging from death.

I pray for more of these moments to pop up around the globe from God’s people everywhere.

Manure

Photo by Gerla Brakkee from FreeImages

Nothing is wasted when it comes to God. We seem to be in a pretty sh***y situation in this world at the moment. But this is fertile ground for some beautiful things to grow.

We recently moved into a lovely neighborhood with lots of cute houses and families and kids, which happens to also be surrounded by farm fields. A week or so ago, I came out my door to the strongest smell of manure I have ever experienced! The farmers had spread it on the fields, and it was ripe! The farmers endure the smell and disgust of the manure because they know it is the best way to help their crops grow.

Hmmmm. Maybe this crap we are going through is just getting the fields ready for something beautiful – God’s grace overflowing to a hurting world. And we get to be a part of it.

“And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.”

James 3:18

We get to choose which part of the equation we are on. I prefer not to be the pooping cow. The world doesn’t really need more manure right now. Let’s be the humble farmer, planting seeds of peace, so that we can watch righteousness grow. Those seeds of peace are an extension of God’s grace. He gives us the grace we need – He extends grace to the humble.

“As God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.”

2 Corinthians 4:15

Let that sink in for a minute before you return to the fray. In fact, don’t return to the fray. Let’s sit a while in God’s grace and let Him do His work in us. Then let us go out and sow seeds of peace so that God will receive the glory.

Amen.