James on trials and uncertainty

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

James, though a pastor comes across, at least to us as rather blunt, and certainly to the point. He doesn’t waste words. His letter is considered the one New Testament book more in line with the wisdom writings of the Old Testament: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

James lived during a time of uncertainty. The church was young and he was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter certainly a pastor, but more of an apostle to the Jews at large in the world of that time. God had given the church as he does today the gift of the Spirit to be a witness to the gospel by deed and word, first by the difference evident in their lives, and a witness as to what makes that difference.

Fast forward to today. We live in a different time for sure. And depending on where we live, possibly quite different circumstances. But one thing is for sure, as evident in this passage: trials will come, and many kinds of them.

As this passage makes clear, our response to such will determine whether or not we grow in Christian maturity, and to what extent we do. None of us will get this perfect. And there will be moments and maybe even times when we don’t consider such pure joy. But when, apart from our feelings, thoughts or anything else we choose to consider such pure joy, then we can begin to enter into what God has for us in the midst and through such trials.

We’re invited when we lack wisdom, which in ourselves is always the case, to ask God for it. That’s a relief, because left to ourselves, we more often, or at least I more often than not resort to something that is less than that, and can even be foolish. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life, since I’ve either failed to ask God for it, or operated as if God wasn’t much in the picture. Maybe a bystander who created everything, but then is not involved in that creation, certainly not the God of the Bible. It’s interesting how we might believe something intellectually, but act as if we don’t. We need to then ask ourselves if we believe it at all. God can help us with our lack of faith, as we call out to him, like the man did to Jesus.

So there’s purpose and encouragement in this passage, both short term and long. This is true regardless of what we face, whatever trial it may be. As we respond in faith according to God’s word here, God will be with us, and continue to mature us, giving us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

little by little over time

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3b

Oak trees are among the most sturdy and long lasting trees, it seems. But they don’t grow quickly. The kind of growth required for the tree it is takes time.

In Isaiah, people are likened to oaks, those God is “planting.” When you read Scripture and consider the spiritual life, all of this takes time. Christian spiritual maturity is not arrived to overnight. Nor does some overwhelming experience add up to Christian maturity. In fact that can easily lend itself to deception, someone thinking they’ve arrived when they haven’t, or couldn’t. We need the young saplings, exuberant in their new life, glowing in their witness of that. But it will take time, wind, storms, sunshine and rain, and more time for them to grow into the sturdy, mature trees they need to become.

Some of us are pretty full grown, but as Christians we know our growth never ends in this lifetime. We have weathered many a storm, learned to stand firm in the winds with roots embedded in the water of life found in Christ and Scripture. And as part of God’s community, the church. But if we don’t watch out, we could become diseased and in danger of no longer standing. It is sad, the accounts of those who didn’t end their Christian lives well. Sometimes the older trees are not appreciated for all the blessing they give. It’s like, they’ve seen their day, they’re old now and not of much consequence, not to be paid attention to. But we need to keep growing, and in silence and prayer continue to bear fruit from and for God.

Little by little, over time. That’s what it takes. And to keep on doing that come what may. That God might be honored and glorified. In and through Jesus.

do we suffer for the Name?

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”[a]

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:12-19

I’ve been impressed in going over 1 Peter this time the prominence suffering in the sense of being persecuted for Christ has. Most often our suffering is due to our own faults or sometimes the problems of others. It seems most rare that we’re actually suffering for the name of Christ.

I know there are more than a few Christians nowadays where I live (the United States) who think they’re suffering for Christ. In most cases I would beg to differ. At least not when you consider this letter (1 Peter) and church history. And start considering the world scene today, the many Christians who are undergoing persecution.

Just to simply draw near to Christ, to be faithful to him might draw some persecution here, although most of us where I live will never find our lives in jeopardy over our witness.

1 Peter doesn’t mince words or try to make it sound easy. The mark of a Christian is to suffer for Christ, and thus to be in participation with the sufferings of Christ. It makes me wonder about myself. Not that we’re to look for persecution, but are we ready to suffer for Christ if that time ever comes?

1 Peter seems like an austere book when you consider the theme of suffering etched in it. Surely not one of the most popular books of the Bible, except for the verse or two you’ll find tucked away in precious promise books. But needed for our full development into Christian maturity. In and through Jesus.

growing up in one’s salvation

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

1 Peter 2:1-3

Aside from the question of precisely how to translate it, and exactly what it means, I was captured yesterday by this rendering in the NIV, “you may grow up in your salvation.” It could mean growing until one’s salvation is completed at Christ’s return, given what this letter says earlier. The idea is of babies growing or growing up to salvation, perhaps into that salvation. Whatever precisely this means, for me the idea as translated above begs the question just what growing up in one’s salvation might mean.

It’s always best to stay in the same book/letter when asking such questions, before scoping out beyond, and then to do so in similar book, like say, 2 Peter, and then beyond.

Salvation like sin has almost become a despised and therefore neglected word. It has been hijacked by “easy believism” and what Dallas Willard called “bar code Christianity,” in which salvation doesn’t mean much more than getting a one way ticket to heaven. But biblically speaking, it means so much more.

Salvation in the New Testament is past, present and future. All three have ramifications in what’s being said here. Because of God’s work in Christ, the Spirit shields us in the present in and for the salvation that is to come when Christ returns.

And that salvation is always from something to something else. From our sins, who we were before Christ, to the new person we’re becoming in Christ. All kinds of details are involved in that, as one can see from the passage above. It’s definitely a work in progress. Certainly we can say toward Christ-likeness and full maturity in Christ.

To be a part of our everyday lives now. In and through Jesus.

 

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

what’s next?

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Greetings.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:1-8

James was probably the best known pastor of the early church, certainly of Jerusalem. And as such, he was a pastor at heart. You can tell from the way he starts out the letter from him we have in our Bibles in the New Testament. He wastes no time, but gets to the trials believers face. The trials of many kinds covers it all: any kind of trial.

James takes more of a constructive than comforting approach. They’re to consider it pure joy because of the maturity it can bring. Namely because it tests their faith which leads to endurance or perseverance, which leads to mature well rounded out character.

The testing of one’s faith is related to seeing that it is genuine through and through. We can have a saving faith, enough to be forgiven and enter into life. But God wants more, and in our heart of hearts as God’s children, so do we.

Nevertheless a trial is a trial. It’s not something that in and of itself we’re going to like. And James expresses that there are many kinds of them which intimates that perhaps we will receive quite a few ourselves. The critical point is our faith essentially meaning our trust in God and God’s promises to us in Scripture. Everything stands or falls over our faith or lack thereof.

But it’s good to hold the big picture in view, in fact that’s what James’s words tell us. Faith results in perseverance which results in character. That’s more constructive to me than comforting, though we might say it’s something of both. And more of that comes when James points to the needed wisdom we can receive from God in answer to prayer. With the additional thought that if we fail to believe that the generous, gracious God will give us that wisdom, then we will remain stuck in whatever condition we’re in.

Perhaps we need to work on the very first point then all else will more easily follow. That is, we’re to count such pure joy. Instead of shrinking in horror, or whatever our conditioned response is from such experiences over the years. Knowing what God says the outcome will be, and what we’re to do in the meantime.

Everything we need is present in this passage. As we go on from day to day in this life in and through Jesus.

waiting for the change to come

“If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal[e] to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

Job 14:13-17

I’m not sure, but I like the NIV choice within the context here of “renewal” over “release” (NIV footnote). I would vote that direction, given the book of Job and its context. Job was wrestling through with a hope before God, but understandably feeling hopeless and in despair.

It is easy to despair when one considers their own weaknesses and shortcomings. And that can turn into a vicious cycle which actually feeds on itself and makes matters worse.

While I think I’ve experienced some substantial change over the years, I want more change in my life. It seems mostly all incremental, so gradual, so that it’s easy to miss any change that has occurred. And ironically the more light we receive and live in, the more acutely aware we are of the dark spots left in our character and conduct. Sometimes in just lacking what we wished we had, but too often in displaying thoughts and attitudes not worthy of Christ.

In the case of Job, and ourselves, that doesn’t mean there isn’t much good. Job was acknowledging his offenses and sin here, but he was a man of faith and good character, as we see from the entire book in the way he conducts his arguments, even if they may not be entirely blameless. It’s degree. Any misstep by those further along is more egregious.

I want to bracket this post dealing briefly with the charge that such considerations are mere navel gazing, just being all taken up with one’s character while not caring about the world at large both close and further removed. Can’t it be a case of being concerned with both? Actually in Job’s case he certainly was. He defended the cause of those who needed it, as we see from the book. A big part of the problems in the world is lack of character. And before we decry everyone else, we must see to ourselves.

The hope Job expresses is after this life. We know that when we see Jesus we’ll become like him entirely, since we’ll see him as he is (1 John 3). And somehow we’ll be completely open to not only reflecting that light, but being transformed by it. That actually does begin now insofar as we see Jesus by the Spirit through the gospel.

I look forward to my own change to come. I’m tired of myself, of my deficiencies. I look to God to help me grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. And I look forward to the day when all struggle in the way we do now will cease. My sins covered and removed, and with others set free to live completely in God’s love then by the Spirit in and through Jesus.