Monday, October 25, 2010

James 1-3: Count it all joy. Really?

From Garden to City reading:  James 1-3

I'm going to go on record and say I love the book of James. Most scholars believe the author was the brother of Jesus.  I'll go with that.  I do know that the author is nothing if not direct.  He really get to the point, and he doesn't mind if he sounds a little abrupt.

Most of the epistles begin with a blessing.  Sort of, "I thank God for you."  "Grace and blessings to you in the name of Jesus Christ."

James say, "I'm James, the servant of God.  I'm writing to the twelve tribes who have been scattered."  You might recall that after Stephen's death, persecution of Christ followers broke out in Israel, and most of them fled Jerusalem.

It's safe to say their lives aren't too easy at this point.  But he doesn't say, "Life is hard.  I'm praying for you, that God will comfort you, that he'll meet your physical needs, that he'll bring you home."

He's way more direct than that.

He says, "Count it all joy when you encounter trials of many kinds."  In other words, thank God for the difficulty, no matter what it is.  Rejoice in the Lord always.

Because God's at work in your life.  Because the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Faith is hard.  You need to know how to hang on.

And so perseverance must "finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."    Which implies that the people he's talking to are not quire mature and may be lacking some things in their lives.

Sort of like us.  We never quite arrive at that point when we're totally mature, totally complete, not needing any further spiritual growth.

But the trials produce growth.

I used to be hesitant to claim that God spoke to me, but sometimes thoughts jump in my head from out of nowhere, and they point me directly to God, to his principles, and to his word.  And I would have to say these ideas don't originate in my own imagination.  I believe this is God's Spirit, counseling me.

Back in 2000, a week after my fortieth birthday, I discovered I was pregnant.  Jason was finishing up his senior year.  Kirsten was in tenth grade.  Caitlin was nine.  I was in shock; Duane was overjoyed.

Okay, this must be God's plan, I thought.  I can embrace this.  And so I did.  And then, at twelve weeks, I miscarried.  This was my second miscarriage, and I remembered that it took me at least six months to recover emotionally from the first one.  The pain was overwhelming, and I didn't think I had the strength to walk through that pain.

I was running some errands a few days later, and had just parked the car at Time Warner Cable, when I heard God whisper, "Remember James 1."

I knew exactly what it said.  It wasn't what I wanted to hear, but I picked up my Bible from the floor of the car, and I read this passage over and over.  The pain didn't go away for a long time, but I held on to this piece of encouragement.  God was at work in my life, and ultimately that's what I wanted.  Over time, I saw God do beautiful things through this period in my life.

Years later, our family entered a traumatic time when my adult son began using drugs and told me he no longer believed in the existence of God.  I prayed and cried and sought God's intervention, but the situation seemed to get more impossible.  One day, in the middle of my pleadings, God asked, "Have I ever disappointed you?"

And then I began remembering desperate points in my life.  You know how people say that at the point of death, their life flashed before their eyes?  It was like that, as I saw images of my life in my mind, as I remembered disappointments and fears, and as I remembered the ways God worked through those disappointments and fears.  No, God had never disappointed me.

In fact, in every instance, God did amazing and awesome things.  My desperate situations opened opportunities for God to work.

Count it all joy.  I could trust him with the loss of our baby.  I could trust him through Jason's struggles with faith.  I can trust him now.

I think it's significant that James starts this book with these words.  This is exactly what the "scattered tribes" need to hear.  Count it all joy.  God is at work.

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