James’ letter found in the New Testament is likely the earliest of all the writings in the New Testament. It is filled with straightforward and practical teaching about the faith of followers of Jesus Christ. James refuses to pull any punches, but with the immense compassion he challenges those who read it to take seriously their walk of faith, recognizing that how we live reflects who we are. Then, as today, there are many who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, yet their lives do not reflect their identity as children of God. This series will challenge each of us to live lives of faith full of action that is consistently and continually authenticating our identity and Christ’s body.
Along with the 7 annual feasts that God established for His people, He also established the weekly rhythm of 6 days work and one day rest. We call this one day of rest the sabbath, and though it is grossly misunderstood and misused within the body of Christ, God designed it to be a glorious gift that we need in our lives to function as He has created us to function. One of the benefits we see through Scripture of seeking to enjoy the gift of sabbath is that through practicing sabbath our heart rejoices as we abandon ourselves to God’s sanctifying grace.
Normal is an interesting word. The American Heritage Dictionary defines normal as “conforming, adhering to, or constituting a usual or typical standard, pattern, level, or type.”
It took until my junior year in college for me to realize my eyesight was not normal. I was oblivious to the gradual deterioration that had taken place over the years, so I thought the way I saw the blackboard was the way everyone else saw it. While everyone else was seeing sharp lines and distinct shapes I was seeing fuzzy lines and blurry shapes.
What finally triggered a visit to the eye doctor was a drive home from Western New York after a long day on the ski slopes. The sun had set and a light snow was falling as I edged my little Ford Festiva onto the road home. The road was dark and curvy and the snow began to fall harder the closer we got to home. My brother-in-law was with me and I remember repeatedly saying to him, “boy it’s bad out here tonight. I don’t know if I can make it.” Since this is not the type of thing you typically hear a 22-year old male saying when he is with another guy, I should have immediately recognized that something was not normal. Later on my brother-in-law shared with me that I kept creeping farther and farther over the steering wheel as if I was trying to crawl out onto the hood or something, and by the time we pulled into a gas station at his suggestion I was squinting so tightly he wondered whether my eyes were even open. He graciously offered to drive the rest of the way home and I accepted feeling relieved that I didn’t have to navigate the elements any longer. As we pulled back onto the road I began to realize just how poorly and slowly I had been driving. I felt like we were in a rocket as Rob pressed down on the accelerator. I was a little concerned at first because it appeared reckless until he began to share that he could see things. Things like signs…with words and symbols on them…and oncoming cars. But the biggest shock to me was that he could see these things long before they were at the nose of the car, which is quite short on a Ford Festiva mind you. The next morning I scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor.
Our mind has a tendency to play tricks on us when it comes to “normal”. If we have been born into something or it’s all we’ve ever known, then our propensity is to label it “normal”. For example, it is “normal” in our culture to date. As a matter of fact, though parents differ on the appropriate age for their teenagers to begin this practice, it is not considered bad parenting to allow our sons and daughters to go out on dates. It’s even considered “normal”. But if we were living in the early 1900’s shortly after the word “date” entered the American vocabulary we would have a completely different understanding of normal. Few parents, or sons and daughters for that matter, would have wanted to be caught dating, since it was a lower-class slang word for prostitution. If someone wanted sex for money they went dating. (Mark Driscoll, Religion Saves, 181-183).
Oh how things have changed, but maybe not as much as we think. We may think we define dating differently than the way it was understood back in the early 20th century but how many times do our young women get taken out on dates in which the young man pays for everything and then expects he will get something in return. Couldn’t that, by definition, be loosely understood as a form of prostitution? Just a little food for thought.
Just because something is considered “normal” doesn’t make it right. There are a lot of things considered “normal” today that weren’t a decade ago. Some of those changes are good and some are not. I’m concerned that it is more common for followers of Christ to live life by conforming to what is classified by the surrounding culture as “normal” than it is to transform to the standards of the One we are to be following. We are far too happy with “normal” when Scripture clearly teaches not to conform or adhere to the patterns or typical standards of this world. Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Our minds, like my eyes, need an appointment and regular check-ups with the Doctor. Some of us may need a new prescription so we are able to see the road signs – words and all – and the oncoming traffic. Then we stand equipped to navigate life in such a way that people see clearly we are followers of Christ. We need to stop letting our mind play tricks on us, stop accepting “normal,” and embrace God’s will by allowing Him to renew our minds.
As I watch my children grow and experience the bittersweet frustration of needing to repeat things over and over and over again only to have them still not get it, I am struck by how similar this is to our spiritual growth, at least my spiritual growth. Through the years I have heard these stories of men and women who have walked into a closet with God, left their sin behind, and came out never to struggle with that particular thing again. Those are great stories, but I can’t relate to that. My path to maturity has been much more like my children’s journey to remembering that the first thing we do when we get in the car is buckle in. I have been repeating it for years and wouldn’t you know it – I still have to repeat it or the seatbelts won’t get buckled. I feel like a broken record and I wonder if my voice is just on some frequency that isn’t registering. Of course then suddenly it happens. It’s like a light goes on and they get it and when they get it I really never have to say it again. Those are glorious days – and when we finally ‘get it’ in some area spiritually it must be glorious for God too.
I was wondering if this was just a ‘me’ thing, but then I started thinking about the 3 years of ministry Jesus spent with His disciples. Talk about a group of guys who heard it and saw it over and over and over again and yet just didn’t get it. It’s kind of funny to hear Jesus say things like, how long have been with me and still you aren’t getting it. That’s a paraphrase of course but it captures Jesus’ message. I relate to the disciples in that way, but I also want to relate to the disciples when they finally did get it, because when they got it, man did they get it. That is one of the many things I love about the book of Acts. The disciples finally get it and the church spreads like wildfire.
I know there are areas right now in my life that Jesus just keeps repeating…the first thing you do is…and I’m just not getting it. But the day is going to come, and watching my kids is just an encouragement that just as I am patient with them and willing to repeat and keep molding and shaping until they can walk on their own two feet, God will continue to do the same with me. He’s OK with the crock pot journey of spiritual growth rather than the microwave – and you know, I am too.