To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion, Greetings.

James opens his letter, in verse 1, with this:

“To the 12 tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

Then he jumps right into it. We would expect in any other letter like this, as we see in Paul’s letters, something more. Some statements about how he misses them, or longs to be with them, or how thankful he is for them.

But James is quick to get into his content.

HOWEVER, there is a lot here in this opening statement. And we could see it as a theme of the entire book…

“Twelve Tribes” of course refers to the original configuration of Israel. God separated them into 12 tribes, each with its own identity. But at the time of James’ writing, those 12 tribes didn’t exist. At least not in a distinct way.

Commentaries say that this phrase had become a kind of Jewish colloquialism. It was a way referencing their Jewish, cultural identity as God’s chosen people. James chooses it here on purpose.

These people had been violently persecuted, the temple destroyed, and they had been scattered as a result. They no longer lived in culturally protected areas. They were living among the pagan world, among people that did not think like they thought, act like they acted, or worship the same God.

And so James is out to remind them of who they are. To remind them that though they have been separated from home and each other, their identity has not been changed.

You could make the case, that everything that follows in his letter from here is James putting definition on what it looks like to live out of this identity.

Their Identity

They are God’s people. They are the living stones that Peter talks about making up the new temple, the Church. They are disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. They are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. They are friends of God. As Jesus said, they have been born again – new creations in Christ.

James is telling them that how they live should not betray, or war against, their true identity in Christ.

So he says,

  • Don’t be double minded. That’s not who you are now.
    Bridle your tongue, use it for building up not tearing down. That’s what God does.
    Don’t treat people differently based on distinctions God doesn’t make.
    Serve the poor and the outcast because that’s what Jesus does.

Lessons from Parenting

One of the things that I’m continually learning as a father is to discipline my children without teaching them internalizing their mistakes so much that they think that their sin is all that they are.

I want them to know the difference betwe en discipline and punishment. Punishment is about justice. It’s about paying for your sin. Discipline is about training. It’s about learning not to sin again, because that’s not who you really are. You are a new creation, you have the Spirit of Christ in you. So, I say things like “You’re better than this. God made you for more than this.” Instead of, “Why do you always do this?” or “When are you going to ever get this?”

I think God wants us to get the same thing. It is the essence of what we mean by the process of sanctification. You are becoming what you already are in Christ. You are learning to live out of your true identity, and not your old dead one.

Closing

What do you confess about yourself, to yourself? Who do you think you are? If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that he is risen from the dead, then you have be re-created with a new identity as a holy, loved, welcomed, child of God.

Maybe what we need to do is learn to agree with God about what He says about who we are.

Today, I want to encourage the parents. We are doing a baby dedication for Mother’s Day this Sunday at the church. It has me thinking once again about how parenting is not for sissies. Parenting is a 24-7 contact sport that you have to play without a helmet. In the span of just a few minutes you can go from extreme joy and satisfaction to total devastation and emotional meltdown. IT’S HARD.

So in today’s episode I just want to encourage you a bit. No tips for being a better parent today. Just a little perspective to lift your weary hands.

Formed by His Hand…

Psalm 139:13-16
13For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.a
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

We usually see this verse as being for our children. And, of course, it is true about them.

However, it is also true about us. The Psalmist is talking about himself. He himself was formed by God’s hand.

This is profound because it shows us clearly that God creates each person specifically. There’s no factory spitting out people in heaven. And this isn’t just biological processes at work. There is specific intention and design directly by God happening here. And it’s happening both for parent and child.

God sovereignly chose to form a specific child in a specific womb. The days of the parent and the days of the child are formed by God before birth even happens!

We use this verse to (rightly) say that no child is an accident. But this ALSO means that no parent is an accident. God did not give you that child by accident, or as some temporary oversight. He meant it to be you, He chose you, and He chose you for this before you were even born.

No parent is an accident.

But, I’m Blowing It

Welcome to parenting. One of the hardest things to come to grips with as a parent is that you are going to be part of your child’s cross to bear. Your weakness will be a burden on them, no matter what you do.

But the grace of God guarantees that the cross that they bear, no matter how heavy, will produce Godliness in them. Jesus will make it work together for their good.

No, this doesn’t let us off the hook. Despite the grace of God, it’s never easy to watch your kids carry their cross. It’s especially hard when you see that part of their burden is your weakness and your sin. And that is a good and right motivation for dealing with your own junk!

But we can’t lose sight of the gospel of grace! We can’t lose sight of God’s providence in choosing us as parents.

God Is More Invested Than You Are

I’ve been a Father now for almost 17 years. I’m sure I’ve grown in some areas as parent in that time, but it’s hard for me to see. And any change that has happened in me during those years, it doesn’t account for how my children are turning out.

The only thing I’m really sure of at this point is that God is more invested in my children than I am, or ever could be. As much as I love my kids, God loves them more. As faithful as I am to my family, God will always be more faithful.

God has ordered their steps. He formed them in the womb, and He formed their days as well. My parenting skills are no guarantee on their future. The only guarantee I have is God’s will.

Conclusion

So, yeah, we all need to get better as parents. But don’t lose sight of God’s sovereign choice of you, and your child. He knew you would be like this. He knew you would be a mess. He knew you would lose your cool, meltdown in the middle of the kitchen, lose your mind on the road in your minivan. He knew you would be terrible at family devotions. He chose you anyway.

There’s no greater motivation for becoming a better parent than realizing that God chose you for it. He did it because He sees something in you that maybe you don’t see. He sees His Son Jesus at work in you. That’s all your kids really need.

Jesus came for the weak and broken, the poor in spirit. Not the strong, the whole, the rich in spirit.  He doesn’t need our strength because He is the strong one.

In fact, our strength most often gets in the way.  It deceives us into thinking we can get along just fine on our own.  It makes us think that we can at least get part way to heaven on our own steam and then rely on Jesus for the final stretch of the journey.

Jesus avoided the proud, the religious, and the strong.  He worked to avoid them, and when He couldn’t avoid them He tried to drive them away through strong words and confrontation.

And so Paul says that he boasts only in his weakness, because God is strong in his weakness.

This reminds me of a story…

Youth leader, just needed some tweaking in one area…

Vs.

Broken heroin addict of 20 years, in straight from the gutter — dramatic transformation

Conclusion

Don’t fool yourself.  God doesn’t need your strength.  In fact, it is probably getting in your way.  Your works, apart from Christ, are filthy rags to God.  Not just unhelpful, but gross.

Let the gospel so saturate your thinking that you begin to look at your weaknesses like Paul did, and the way God does.  Each one is an opportunity for the redemption of Jesus to be displayed. And conversely, repent of your pride in thinking that you are going to meet God halfway.  You can’t even get started without Him.