How to Cope with Trials of Faith (James 1:2-11)

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.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls, and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (New International Version)

Where do you turn when unwanted circumstances leave you wondering how to cope?

The Apostle James, no stranger to adversity and stressful situations, likened our position in hard situations as faith being on the witness stand, put to the test. Faith is being examined and cross-examined. And it must stand the test. 

Our attitude toward such trials, in all their varied forms, determines whether we will become upset, hard-hearted, and calloused, or, come through having our faith confirmed with newfound peace and joy.

Christians are to view their adverse situations as an opportunity for their faith in Christ to develop and grow.

Rejoice in the midst of trials

Telling someone to consider their tough situation as pure joy is a really hard pill to swallow. 

James, however, was looking to fortify the believers’ faith. Whenever we get a cut or a laceration, the first thing needed is to apply peroxide to the wound so there will be no infection from the injury. It might seem insensitive because peroxide applied to an open wound, frankly, hurts like hell. Yet it must happen. It’s a necessary part of healing. 

The Apostle cared enough about the people to tell them what they needed to hear, up front. Without a positive, godly, and wise perspective on their difficulties, their faith would fail. Infection would set in and destroy the fledgling church.

Suffering is a significant part of the Christian life. God never promised that life would be or should be all cupcakes and unicorns. 

In fact, Christ promised just the opposite – that everyone who wants to live for Jesus in this present broken world will have a hard time of it. It’s not a matter if you will face the testing of your faith, but of whenever you face trials.

The good news is that adversity can become our teacher. We can learn patient endurance, which is necessary to the development of our faith. Spiritual growth only matures through the testing of faith through adversity.

These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold, which can be proved to be pure by fire but will ruin. But the purity of your faith will bring you praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is shown to you.

1 Peter 1:7, NCV

Faith is not a neutral or static thing. Faith is active and dynamic. It’s always either developing or degenerating.  Without spiritual peroxide, faith degenerates and becomes rancid. Eventually, gangrene sets in, and an amputation will happen. To avoid this, we need to learn how to experience joy in the middle of hard things.

Faith is challenging, and often hard. Yet, even within the pain, faith is incredibly invigorating and joyful.

Do not avoid trials

We need perseverance. Only through endurance is spiritual maturity realized. Let your hard situation do its necessary work. Immature people avoid hard things and instead put their energy into keeping up appearances.

Conversely, the mature person perseveres through the test and trial of faith. They understand that there must be pressure for spiritual maturity to occur.

God is looking to do something beautiful in our lives. So, if we constantly run away and do not deal with our hard situations, there will never be a pearl. It takes about ten years for a pearl to form in an oyster in the ocean.  Observing an oyster every day, you never notice any movement is happening. But it’s there.

In the Christian life, the consistent daily choices over a long period of time (perseverance) form the eventual beauty.

Pray for wisdom in the trials

Ask God for wisdom to see the adverse circumstance from a different angle – of its positive good, and for what God is accomplishing in and through it. The truth is, God is developing within people a strong vibrant faith, if we allow it.

Within a hardship, it does little good to ask, “Why is this happening to me?” It is much better to ask, “Why is this trial here for me? What can I learn from it?”

With no meaningful prayers, there is no meaningful wisdom for our circumstances.

Believe God is good no matter the trial

God is not mean, but generous. The Lord gives with no questions asked, and without giving us a hard time about our situation. Yet, there is a condition….

We must believe – that God is good, answers prayer, and gives wisdom. We may doubt a lot of things. Yet we are always to be secure in the knowledge that God has our best interests at heart. This is why there can be joy and perseverance, even when everything around us is going to hell.

Christians in humble circumstances actually have a high position because their poverty enables them to be open to God; and the pressures of poverty lead them to rely on God’s enablement and provision.

Whenever you find yourself with few material possessions; work hard but struggle to keep food on the table; and find it difficult to pay the bills – then, you are stripped of the illusion of independence and are left vulnerable before God. Trust isn’t optional, but absolutely necessary for survival.

Will we pour our lives into things, or into people?

Will we look for ingenuity and technical solutions in order to make our budgets budge, or will we come to God?

Will we define success as worldly wealth, or will we define success as acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God?

Do not trust in wealth during a trial

In the midst of hard times, those who love the Lord Jesus are realize their true position and draw strength from it. Yet, for those who do not trust God alone but trust in their wealth and resources, things will not end well.

“Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy.” Then he told them a parable: “A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21, CEB)          

Such persons fade away even while they go about their business. Those who trust in things are the real underprivileged people. They may grow up and look beautiful. And yet, the next day, they’re gone – annihilated by a hot wind. 

Like a cornfield in a massive hailstorm, or a flower in a severely hot sirocco wind, the rich cannot stand in the judgment, that is, if they are trusting in their wealth to provide power, control, attention, and status.

The upwardly mobile path of worldly success and financial security, never stopping to lay up treasure in heaven, will have a rude awakening with a major career change in hell.

Conclusion

Where are you on the spectrum of faith? 

Do you need to turn from trust in stuff, and trust in Christ? 

Confess to God a love of things over love of Christ.

Declare to God that you want to change.

Believe in forgiveness through the cross of Christ.

Tell a trusted person about your decision.

Grant, O God, that we may never lose our way through stubborn self-will, and never abandon the struggle but endure to the end. Help us never to choose the cheap way of avoiding or circumventing our trials but embrace the Via Dolorosa. May we never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown. Amen.

A Divine Perspective of Time (2 Peter 3:8-13)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (New International Version)

We are invited, through today’s New Testament lesson, to see the moving of history as God sees it.

The Apostle Peter addressed two questions and concerns the people had about the Lord’s coming:

  1. Will this coming be worth the wait?
  2. What should I be doing in the meantime, now, while I wait?

The Christians, for whom Peter wrote his letter, were impatient. They saw time from a mere human perspective. The believers needed a bigger and fuller understanding of God’s purposes. We must come to grips with the reality that God’s timing is different than ours.

There are two words for “time” in the New Testament: chronos and kairos

Chronos is where we get our English word “chronological.” This is time measured by the clock. It’s the way much of our lives are governed.

Kairos is seasonal time. It’s not determined by the clock but is event oriented. 

God is not time-oriented in the same sense that we are. The Lord is not ruled and controlled by the clock but is above all time. God is event-oriented, which is why the Lord’s understanding of time is that a thousand years are like a day, and a day like a thousand years.

In other words, God measures time differently than most Westerners do. When the Bible says Christ is coming soon, it means there are no events left in the course of history except the Day of the Lord, the return of Jesus, to judge the living and the dead.

I admit to being a clock-oriented guy. I also confess that my wife and girls are not. They are much more event oriented than me. So, I suppose when it comes to time, they are the godly ones. After all, the seasons will continue to come and go but a clock will eventually die when its “time is up.”

I cannot begin to count how many hours of my life have been spent waiting on my wife and girls. I used to get frustrated and impatient because I thought they should be clock-oriented, like me.

Yet, over the years, I have learned to accept this reality. Now I take the time of waiting and read. I have read a lot of books over the years through my waiting. I used to want to time travel because of wasted time, but that is all in the past now.

A clock-oriented guy like me needs to grasp that God has all the time in the world. God serves no clock. Clocks are merely playthings for the Lord.

When God wants a hot time, he just puts a clock in the oven. I, however, tend to get antsy, impatient, and frustrated, believing that God must operate on my time schedule. Yet, what seems to me is divine tardiness, is really something else.

God seems slow in keeping divine promises. But the truth is, the Lord takes all the time in the world because of divine mercy. While I am beating my chest trying to get everyone on my time deadlines, God beats up the clock, just to kill time.

In the face of so much that is not right with the world, we might wonder why God is not just stepping in and taking care of all the evil and unjust situations on this earth.

But what we view as a lack of mercy is, in fact, sheer grace on God’s part – patiently waiting for all kinds of people to confess their guilt and shame and come to Jesus. God is waiting for that lost soul to make their way to forgiveness. You cannot bear your secrets with a clock around because time will tell.

Whereas I tend to think I am waiting on God, God is waiting for me, too.

What should I be doing in the meantime while I wait? We ought to be living holy and godly lives as we look forward to Christ’s coming and speed its coming. Yes, God is the One who is waiting on us. Do you know the time of the Second Coming? No, me neither; we have not met yet.

The holiness and peace of God’s people will influence the timing of the Christ’s return. When God upends our current situations, it’s time to get a new set of circumstances. Since God is an event-oriented God, the Lord has all the time in the world to wait on us to be the kind of people we need to be.

The fact that we are two-thousand years removed from the first Advent of Christ probably does not speak very well to the church in general. It will do no good to sit on our watches so that we can be on time. God is still waiting for a lot of folks to come to repentance, as well as the church to take up her mandate of making disciples.

God is gracious and does not bully us or strike us with lightning when we disobey. Rather, God is patient, wanting us to approach and receive mercy. The Lord is waiting for us to avail ourselves of divine help to live holy and godly lives.

Holiness simply means to be separated from evil and connected to God. Godliness means to live a worshipful and spiritually disciplined life.  Our Lord’s patience means deliverance from all that detaches us from Jesus so that we might rightly attach ourselves to him.

Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home!”  How did his wife know? No one had called her, and the crew themselves had not expected to leave so quickly.

Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, my wife came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked.  ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once I knew the war was over, I knew you’d be home one of these days. I knew you would try to surprise me, so I was ready every day.'”

In the history of redemption, the war has been won. There is only one event left on God’s calendar: The return of Jesus.

When a clock stops ticking, it just hangs around. That’s not what the Lord wants.

Throwing the watch across the room will not make time fly; Jesus will come when he comes. Meanwhile, our focus is on living holy and godly lives as we wait….

Even so, come Lord Jesus.

2 Peter 2:1-10a – Beware of Spiritual Predators

But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They’ll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They’ve put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can’t tell right from wrong.

They give the way of truth a bad name. They’re only out for themselves. They’ll say anything, anything, that sounds good to exploit you. They won’t, of course, get by with it. They’ll come to a bad end, for God has never just stood by and let that kind of thing go on.

God didn’t let the rebel angels off the hook but jailed them in hell till Judgment Day. Neither did he let the ancient ungodly world off. He wiped it out with a flood, rescuing only eight people—Noah, the sole voice of righteousness, was one of them.

God decreed destruction for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A mound of ashes was all that was left—grim warning to anyone bent on an ungodly life. But that good man Lot, driven nearly out of his mind by the sexual filth and perversity, was rescued. Surrounded by moral rot day after day after day, that righteous man was in constant torment.

So, God knows how to rescue the godly from evil trials. And he knows how to hold the feet of the wicked to the fire until Judgment Day.

God is especially incensed against these “teachers” who live by lust, addicted to a filthy existence. They despise interference from true authority, preferring to indulge in self-rule. (The Message)

I wish everyone who claims the name of Christ was safe to talk to, interact with, and share life together. However, not everyone is. *Sigh*

Unfortunately, there exists spiritual predators who create chaos, keep others off-balance, and speak and act in ways that benefit their own consolidation of authority. They are like Sith Lords who come-off as well-meaning but always have a secret agenda for more power and control. *Sigh*

So-called teachers and leaders are not all trustworthy. Like mosquitoes drawn to warm blood, they seek to feast on the godly, taking advantage of their good nature – slowly, carefully, and insidiously draining the life out of them. All the while, the true believer doesn’t know what’s going on until it is too late. *Sigh*

Some are even more sinister. Like tarantulas, they immobilize their victims and slowly suck out their insides with the prey’s full awareness. Unable to scream or seek help, they lie in silent pain wishing for a miracle. *Sigh*

Yet, at the same time, none of those false teachers, emotional manipulators, and spiritual charlatans are putting anything over God. The Lord sees it all – and is incensed about it. The ungodly, masking as benevolent authorities, will not be able to carry-on with their hidden agenda of evil forever. Their time will run out. Judgment Day is coming.

The Lord knows how to deliver victims from their victimization. It rarely comes fast enough for us. Nevertheless, the destruction of all injustice is just around the corner. But how do we deal with all the unethical and immoral behavior now!?

We stay the course. Do not give-in to the temptation to play another’s Machiavellian game. The Christian life begins with humility, is sustained by a gentle spirit, embraces right ways of being with others, and typically results in trouble, even persecution. (Matthew 5:1-12)

We strive to always live into personal peace and be peacemakers. We understand that he who is within us is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

We choose to love and pray for our enemies, all the while being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. (Matthew 5:44, 10:16)

We embrace patience and persevere through each frustratingly mad situation, knowing that the Lord has promised to be with us, even until the very end of the age. (James 5:7-12; Matthew 28:20)

We give no one a reason to speak ill of us, blessing others and not cursing them. (Titus 3:2; James 4:11; Romans 12:14)

We trust God in all things, while being careful not to put a pearl necklace around a pig. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 7:6)

We keep encouraging and affirming others, even when we don’t get encouragement and affirmation ourselves. (Ephesians 4:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13)

We stick to a community of people with like-minded values and refuse to withdraw into isolation. (Galatians 6:2; Philippians 1:27-30)

We follow Christ, our true Teacher and Lord, one day at a time, one step at a time – focusing continually on his words and ways as our polestar through the morass of confusion and iniquity. (Matthew 16:24; John 8:12, 10:27, 12:26; 1 Peter 2:21)

Jesus knew the sobering truth of spiritual predators acting as godly when he said:

Not everyone who calls me their Lord will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only the ones who obey my Father in heaven will get in. On the day of judgment many will call me their Lord. They will say, “We preached in your name, and in your name we forced out demons and worked many miracles.” But I will tell them, “I will have nothing to do with you! Get out of my sight, you evil people!” (Matthew 7:21-23, CEV)

May you remain encouraged in faith, steadfast in hope, and forever in love with the Savior who has loved you and given himself to you.

Christ, light of light, brightness indescribable, the wisdom, power and glory of God, the Word made flesh: you overcame the forces of Satan, redeemed the world, then ascended again to the Father. Grant me, I pray, in this tarnished world, the shining of your splendor. Send your holy angels to defend me, to guard my going out and coming in, and to bring me safely to your presence, where you reign in the one holy and undivided Trinity, now and forever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:7-21 – Keep On Doing Good

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (New International Version)

I once rode a horse named “Old Glue.” The tired old horse got his name because he stuck to the ground like glue. I can testify firsthand that it took a furious amount of kicking to get that the old guy to move at all. 

I think about Old Glue every time I look at the final chapter of Hebrews. It feels like the author is firing off exhortation after exhortation trying to kick some life into a group of people who have lost their enthusiasm for Jesus:

  • Don’t forget about your spiritual leaders who faithfully keep watch over you and model how to live the Christian life
  • Don’t be fooled by a bunch of unfamiliar and strange gobbledygook teachings
  • Share in the disgrace of Christ by sharing in his sufferings
  • Keep offering praise to God in the name of Jesus
  • Don’t forget to help others through benevolence and generosity
  • Live a sacrificial life
  • Pray for your spiritual fathers and mothers
  • Be generous
  • Do good!

All these exhortations come kicking one after the other in a short amount of space. The reason why we ought to pay attention to them is that we were bought at the price of Christ’s blood. God has redeemed us with the ultimate price.

Let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit.

Galatians 6:9, MSG

We need to work at becoming holy and to serving with genuine Christian love as if this was the last day of our lives. 

We are to run like wild stallions for Jesus, instead of being stuck to the ground like Old Glue. 

Don’t be hateful to people, just because they are hateful to you. Rather, be good to each other and to everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:15, CEV)

There is no advantage to only moving when there is something in it for “me.” There is no benefit in griping and complaining. Yet there is eternal advantage in trotting along for the Savior. There’s life in following the trail outside the camp and meeting Jesus at the place of humility, disgrace, and suffering. 

After all, if it is God’s will, it’s better to suffer for doing good than for doing wrong. (1 Peter 3:17, GW)

There is no advantage to being stubborn and having to constantly be prodded into moving. However, there is joy awaiting the believer who learns to move with the unforced rhythms of grace.

Don’t be like Old Glue.

Keeping going. Keep doing good.

May Jesus help you do what pleases God. To Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever! Amen.