Sunday, June 3, 2012

James 1:1-8

"Wisdom or FUD?"
MasterPiece Church
03 June 2012

A lot of what we encounter on a daily basis is FUD. Manufacturers use FUD to sell things to us. Politicians use FUD to get our votes. And the devil uses FUD to turn us into wimpy Christians -- FUD -- “fear, uncertainty, and doubt.”

Of course, there are some legitimate causes for concern.

In the 1970’s the following, purported to be an excerpt from a Peace Corp manual, was circulating.
"How to survive an anaconda attack." (You know what an anaconda is -- right?) 
1.  Do not run. The snake is faster than you are.   
2. Lie flat on the ground, put your arms tight against your sides and your legs tight against each other. 
3. Tuck your chin in.  
4. The snake will begin to nudge and climb over your body. 
5. Do not panic. 
6. The snake will begin to swallow your feet first. 
7. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time. 
8. When the snake has reached your knees, reach down, take your knife, slide it into the side of the snake's mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg. Quickly rip upward, severing the snake's head. 
9. Be sure you have your knife.  
10. Be sure your knife is sharp.
What an ordeal! I love that story -- use it often -- although I’m pretty sure that the Peace Corp never issued such instructions. But some of us are going through real trials and tribulations that make an anaconda attack look like a cake walk. We feel like we’re being swallowed whole -- one thing after another -- job loss then health -- then some issue with your children.

It seems to come in bunches. For us the other week it was two big things went out on the van and then within hours the washing machine died. And we were dealing with that on a weekend when some of our MasterPiece set-up crew was gone. And we didn’t have the van available to haul the trailer. It felt a little more chaotic than normal.

But really -- those are just minor stresses compared to some of the life and death stresses that we face -- that you face.

Sometimes we want to do the ostrich thing and stick our heads in the sand. Although ostriches don’t really do that. They’re tall birds so at the first sign of danger they tend to duck down to lower their profile. And someone way back when, thought that it looked like burying their heads in the sand. Even before the internet, we had urban myths.

But it’s not a myth that we when the unending trials come at us we don’t always deal with them in healthy ways.

Sometimes we do hide our heads in the sand and pretend that nothing is wrong.

Sometimes we construct alternative realities to lose ourselves in -- and the internet is great for that.

Sometimes we act out in overtly sinful ways. Trials and temptations.

There is a great line in the Phantom of the Opera.

"Mystified baffled Surete say,  

we are mystified - we suspect foul play!" 

 Bad news on soprano scene - first Carlotta, now Christine! 

Still, at least the seats get sold gossip's worth its weight in gold ... 

What a way to run a business! 

Spare me these unending trials!

That could be the life motto for many of us -- “Spare me these unending trials.”

So, I think we’re all in a pretty good position to hear what James is saying to his readers -- to us.
1 This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to the “twelve tribes”—Jewish believers scattered abroad.

That is, this letter is written to the Jewish Christians (“the twelve tribes”) who had to leave Jerusalem – those who were living in an exile of sorts.

They were living the “one more thing after another” kind of life. Perhaps run out of their homes by the Roman government and into places that were not particularly excited about having more Jews in the neighborhood. Racial and ethnic prejudice are not new!

But also, many of their fellow Jews were unhappy with them because they followed the controversial Jesus -- claiming he was the Messiah.

It was difficult.

So James is writing them in order to help them thrive in this kind of chaotic life. And he starts out by giving them two things that he wants them to do. Two responses to the testing or the trials through which they are going.

Are any of you going through a trial right now?

Do any of you think that you might ever go through a trying time?

Hear what God has to say through James, the apostle, the brother of Jesus our Savior.

First of all, when you’re going through a tough time REJOICE IN THE OPPORTUNITY.

If you don’t take this quite right it sounds kind of shallow. But this isn’t at all polly-anna. And it comes from someone who really knows about suffering himself.

Remember, James eventually died a martyr’s death. His enemies took him up to one of the pinnacles on the Jewish Temple – threw him off – and then they stoned his body.

So he’s not saying these things as an armchair theologian. He knew trouble.

James 1:2-4 (NLT)
2 “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”
The NLT -- "troubles” is a great rendering in verse 2 of what is often translated as “trials.” It could, and is in other places, also be rendered “temptations.” Troubles can be temptations. Troubles, trials, and temptations is the same word in the Greek -- pirasmos.

And trials, troubles, and temptations are depressing if you’re not really all that excited about developing depth in your faith.

If you are happy just being a shallow Christian then you can certainly get depressed when things aren’t going right.

But if you’re among those who want to grow – who want to develop endurance in your faith – then when these tough times come your way, you’re going to rejoice because you know that God uses the tough times to develop spiritual stamina and depth in us.

If you don’t care about such things – well, you have my sympathy and pity – but if you want to grow... There is no other way than to experience difficulty – that’s how we learn to trust God.

Billy Graham once said, “Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.”

So, instead of stressing out when you’re in the valley of the shadow of death – rejoice – praise God – not in a shallow trite way – but in your heart of hearts get excited to know that God is at work refining you into a new person.

St John Chrysostom, the 4th century church father says it well:
“Suffering is a real bond, an encouragement to greater love, and the basis of spiritual perfection and godliness. Listen to the one who says: ‘If you want to serve the Lord, prepare your soul for temptations (trials).’ And again, Christ said: ‘In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage.’ And again: ‘straight and narrow is the way.’ Everywhere you see suffering being praised, everywhere it is accepted as necessary for us. [In scripture] For in the world there is no one who wins a trophy without suffering, who has not strengthened himself with labors and dieting and exercise and vigils and many other things like that. How much more is that true in this battle!”
Well, some people worry because they like to worry. It makes them feel important or significant.

Others worry because they are concerned that they might be overwhelmed by the testing and fall apart.

But remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 –
“But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it.”
I’ve had more than my share of root canals. I never look forward to the dental work – but I don’t stress over it either. I trust that my dentist is putting me through the ordeal of holding my mouth open -- the shots of novocaine -- the drilling -- the foul taste -- all to strengthen my teeth.

I know that once I get through the process my mouth will be in better shape than it was. And I also know that I am not the first person in the world to have a root canal.

So, even though I’m not excited about the dental appointment itself -- I’m not terribly stressed or worried about it either.

No pain – no gain.

So James is saying, “Don’t freak out when you’re in or a root canal or you’re having trouble getting things lined up for a trip – or your health is depressing – or the garbage keeps coming at you -- or people reject you because you’re too much of a Jesus freak...”

God will use these opportunities as weight training in your life to build up the endurance you need and to make you into the kind of person that really and truly brings honor to God. By the way, remember, too that this was not so much written to individual Christians as it was to the church -- at least primarily.

James is talking about the collective trials that they were facing as scattered little churches spread over the face of the Roman world.

He’s saying – even when your congregation faces a tough time -- has a root canal so to speak -- don’t turn on each other – don’t get upset with each other – God is training your congregation in endurance and you’re going to come out on the other side stronger for it.

I’m actually quite pleased with the way things are moving forward at MasterPiece. Yes, I’d like them to move faster. I know that’s true of most pastors in most churches.

But we’re actually in a season of growth and expanding ministry. And you all are significantly engaged in the development of God’s Kingdom -- carrying out his agenda. I really look forward to being with you throughout the week -- and am excited about the way that you are responding to what God has called you to do.

But I can guarantee you that we’ll have our trying times, too. So tuck this encouragement into the back of your minds. And be ready to rejoice when we hit some rough road – because you’ll know that God is at work in the life of his church.

So, rejoice in the tough times knowing that God uses them to form us into the people God calls us to be.

REJOICE IN THE OPPORTUNITY. That’s the first response.

There is a second response that James champions in the face of testing – ASK FOR WISDOM AND EXPECT TO GET IT.

By the way, James is really into wisdom. In some ways this letter or sermon or whatever it is – is like a New Testament book of Proverbs.

This is the reason I decided to work through James this summer. We were talking about wisdom in our study of Colossians and Psalm 119 discussion and it struck me that we ought to hear what James says.

We’ll get to see more of the wisdom discussion as we go along. But first look at James 1:5. The CEB is great here:
But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give (actually more literally – whose very nature is liberal. For all of us conservatives, note that James says “God is a liberal” – that is he gives liberally -- even to people who don’t deserve it.) But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.
As I mentioned, we talked about the nature of wisdom a few weeks ago during one of the discussions about Psalm 119.

Here is my biblically informed definition: Wisdom is the ability to navigate – to make good choices – especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Eugene Peterson’s Message translation here is good – James 1:5 (MSG) “If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father.”

If you don’t know what you’re doing ASK – ask for wisdom – and God will surely give you what you need.

I know it sounds kind of basic but sometimes basic is what we need to hear – especially if we’re a bit discombobulated.

Now, I know that a lot of times when we’re in a life crisis we become very devout prayers –
  • God get me out of here. 
  • God beam me out of this mess. 
  • God I need more money. 
  • God I need a new job. 
All of these are very fine prayers – as far as they go. But what we really need to ask for when we’re in crisis is not so much for a way out but for wisdom through – wisdom to deal with it appropriately.

Stop, that a deep breath, count to 10 – and ask for wisdom – and then plow forward assuming that God will give it to you as you move along.

Don’t walk forward three steps and then stop, thinking – Oh am I going the right way. I know I asked God for wisdom – but what if he doesn’t come through What if he’s on vacation?

That would be silly.

James 1:6-8 (NLT) --
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
Now, some translations render vs. 6 -- “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt...” (NIV)

That is, don’t have a doubtful mind -- literally, “don’t be double-minded.”

Remember that the “mind” is the center of action.

Now, this is not saying – “Oh, you’re such a bad person because you have intellectual doubts at times.”

That’s not at all the focus here. Yes, you might have some intellectual struggles with why it is that God allows so much suffering -- or whether such and such is really a sin -- or whether God knows with certainty all the details of how things are going to play out.

Yes, those are doubts -- but that is not the kind of doubt that James is talking about here. He is talking about the kind of doubt that makes you waver in receiving the wisdom that God is giving to get you through the trying time.

If you hesitate to act on the wisdom -- why did you even ask?

James is talking about the action that flows from the mind. And even though he doesn’t use the word right here, he is talking about faith.

Remember, faith is not so much a feeling and it’s not so much even an internal decision that you make.  I mean it has those dimensions but biblically speaking faith is what you do. It’s not a feeling of trust but a trusting action.

It’s the old story of the guy who strung a tight wire between two skyscrapers and then asked the gathered crowd whether they had faith that he could walk the tight wire between the two buildings.

And since he was a famous tight wire artist everyone cheered and said they believed that he could do it.

Well, then, he asked, who believes enough to get in a wheelbarrow so that I can push him across on the wire.?

The crowd – at that point didn’t have nearly the same level of faith.

Biblical faith isn’t about cheering on the guy on the wire – it’s a matter of getting in the wheelbarrow to be pushed forward across the wire.

Now, while you’re out there between the two buildings –- thousands of feet up –- and the wind is bouncing you back and forth in your little wheelbarrow -- which you realize was actually designed to be used on the ground in the garden -- not on a wire -- as you’re out there.

It is possible that thoughts of doubt might cross your mind.

But at that point, says James, it would probably not be a good idea to try and get out or to turn the wheelbarrow back. You’re only going to cause more turbulence on the wire. The more you squirm the more unstable the situation becomes.

This is what James is saying in vs. 8 -- "And they are unstable in everything they do."

When you start to trust God – don’t give into the doubts that might flash across your mind.

Allow things to move forward. Stay the course. Assume – act as though the wisdom you asked for is going to come your way. You won’t see it all at once. Wisdom is not a flash of enlightenment. Rather it is the exact thing we need as we get to the place where we’ll need it. And God gives it.

James 1:5 (CEB) --
“But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.”
Over the next several weeks we’re going to be probing the book of James – looking and listening for what God has to say to us. It would seem, though, that the thing God most wants to impart through this book is his wisdom – His way of dealing with life – of dealing with the challenges to life.

So it is appropriate that we would ask for him to speak his words of wisdom – - for he says -- no, he promises, that he will give it.
Let’s pray:
Loving and Generous God, you have asked us to ask. So we are asking – we are asking for your wisdom. Just as you have saved us eternally through the death and resurrection of your son Christ Jesus – we ask that you would save us from the troubles, trials, tribulations and temptations that come our way until we are able to fully enter into our salvation. Use your wisdom to save us. And free us from the FUD -- the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that hold us back. We want to grow and to mature in our faith – and even through the tough times – not so that we can be proud of ourselves and our accomplishments – but so that Christ might be fully recognized and honored for who he is. Amen.

Unless otherwise noted all scripture is from the New Living Translation ©2007 Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.

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