A story that illustrates an important truth in James 1:12:
Behind the city of Colorado Springs, at the back of the U.S. Air Force Academy stands a mountain called Eagle Peak which is popular among the Boy scouts and local hikers. From it’s summit you can see into the depths of the Rocky Mountains on one side or overlook the vast expanse of the Great Plains on the other. Each summer the trail attracts experienced hikers and first time visitors.
The inexperienced hiker is told that the hike will take all day to go up and back. He is told to start early and to set a strong, steady pace for the journey will be difficult and rigorous. The new hiker who follows this advice is easily disappointed or confused upon reaching the beginning of the trail, because he can see with his own eyes from the parking lot that the hike to the summit and back would take far less than half a day with little difficulty at even the most leisurely pace.
Many people change plans. He meanders up the trail wandering frequently from the path, taking numerous side-trips and detours, after all, time is now not important. He stops to play and to snack on some of the supplies he had brought since he obviously won’t need so much for such a short trip. This he does until about half way through the day when he finally climbs to the summit only to discover that it was his eyes which had deceived him and not the words of those who had gone before. For he now stands on a false summit which had blocked his view of the higher summit far above.
Realizing his lack of foresight, this hiker reevaluates his time and decides that if he pushes himself hard enough he can still make it to the summit and back before it gets too dark. And so he sets off at a frantic pace; stumbling, crashing through the brush, receiving bruises, scrapes and scratches as the sun moves steadily toward the horizon. Until at last he reaches his mark and looks up at still another summit.
You see, Eagle Peak has two false summits, both of which must be traveled over before reaching the ultimate goal. Our inexperienced hiker now sadly begins his trek back down the mountain knowing he fell short of the real goal. Wiser, he will try again another day, for there are many beautiful days in Colorado Springs.
Today I first want to consider perseverance towards the ultimate goal, then we’ll go back and take a look at James 1:9-11, which speaks of one of this world’s common false summits: money. If only I had a little bit more….For those of you who bought a lottery ticket in the past week and lost, you won. You really do not want the curse of a billion dollars!
Perseverance: Enduring Trials. Why do bad things happen? Back in James 1:4 he answers that as we persevere we become “mature and complete”. This message is about how to persevere. From last week we saw we must ASK for help and be consistent. Today: the negative way of saying how to endure is to NOT have false summits (like money) or to say it positively: keep focused on the right goal. Endurance is the process of victory, the goal is the last words of James 1:12: “To those who love [the Lord].”
Life is a series of trials: illness hits. The economy tanks and takes your job. The church splits despite prayers. A former friend lies and tries to destroy your reputation. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it seems like we are in one of three places:
- Either we’re coming out of a trial.
- Or we’re in a trial.
- Or we’re about to go into a season of trial—and we don’t know it yet!
A few months ago Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad, was interviewed on American Family Radio (Canon is a title equivalent to Pastor). He said the West has no idea the depth of suffering of Christians in the Middle East at the hands of ISIS. Muslim terrorists have systematically burned churches and killed Christians in Syria and northern Iraq. As an example, a few months ago, Christian children in Iraq were beheaded because they would not renounce Jesus. Canon White said, “ISIS turned up and they said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed….The children, all under 15, four of them, they said, ‘No, we love Yeshua (Jesus), we have always loved Yeshua, we have always followed Yeshua. Yeshua has always been with us.’ They said, 'Say the words!' They said, 'No, we can't.'”
“They chopped all their heads off,” said Canon White. “How do you respond to that? You just cry.”
READ James 1:12b. the endurance is all the way to death on this earth for some. Keep the true summit of love for God in focus for wholeness, completeness, maturity.
We live in dangerous times. Muslim terrorists have struck in New York, Ottawa, London, recently in Paris, San Bernardino, Philadelphia. One expert was asked if we could expect beheadings in America. He quickly replied, “Nothing is more certain.”
When Canon White told about the four children who were beheaded, he also told of a Christian man to whom the Muslim terrorists said, “Either you say the words of converting to Islam or we will kill all your children.” What would you do in that situation? It’s one thing if they threaten to kill you; it’s something different when they threaten to kill your children. Under enormous pressure, the man caved and said the words of conversion even though he did not mean it. He did it to save his children. Later, deeply ashamed of what he had done, he phoned Canon White and said, “Does this mean that Yeshua doesn’t love me anymore? I said those words because I couldn't see my children being killed.”
That sort of question makes you think. Consider how far you would go to save your own children. Canon White replied to him: “Jesus still loves you. He will always love you.” The world is not easy. I include this part of the story, because God ultimately knows your heart… I could not condemn the man.
It is good for us to hear these stories to know what is happening to our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. They also help to prepare us for what we in the West may face. Trials are certain. Troubles affect us deeply at many levels. One way to look at life: a series of tests. Our test may not involve terrorism, but it will be something: a fight in the family, great loss, sudden change. Your friend may desert you, or you may struggle with depression. You may feel so overwhelmed you can’t imagine going on another day. Chronic pain may be your constant companion.
Standing strong in hard times brings its own reward. “having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12c). The Christian life is hard! God intends for us to fight through to victory. But it will not come without struggle, pain, & loss. A favorite hymn of many says it clearly:
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
We love the grace. The dangers, toils and snares, //// not really. The dangers, toils and snares are a normal part of life that we are called to endure by focusing on the true summit of seeking after God so we can attain the promise of victory!
Hard times teach us to depend on God. If life were easy, we would be tempted to think we don’t need God’s grace. But we are sinners. We live in a fallen world. And God invites us to turn to him for salvation. Hard times break us of our independence, expose our weakness, and show us our need for God. Endurance is the process to reach the summit, but we must keep our focus on the true summit: Love of God.
There are many false summits ~
- Power is a false summit. Many endure, work hard, but when power/high status is achieved, the satisfaction is fleeting.
- Happiness is a false summit. You will never achieve it if you seek it…
- One of the most deceptive False Summits: Money. READ James 1:9-11. Over and over the Bible speaks about the love of money as a false summit that never brings the satisfaction we imagine.
Years ago a former neighbor described her sister who married a very wealthy man. Overnight, her sister started giving very expensive gifts and living a lifestyle beyond what my neighbors family could match. That would be fine, but a rift formed because it was like her sister forgot what average meant, and she was hurt when the gifts weren’t reciprocated and they could not join her at the same restaurants and vacations. My neighbor felt like over night her sister became a snooty person.
Money has the power to change people. The illusion of money is that if you have enough you will be happy, independent and many problems will be solved. (BTW: The truth is that the person in middle class America is still fabulously wealthy by world standards. We need to be careful when we read a verse like this in how we assess ourselves.)
The problem with money is that it is temporary. This week, for those that were paying attention, stocks plummeted. A few days ago I think I read the wealthy lost several trillion in value. Boom. Over. Gone. Yet we are tempted to strive for more. To buy a lotto ticket. To dream. According to these verses, the way I read it, the problem isn’t about the money itself, it is the attitude, where you put your trust, how you see yourself. “rich” = people who trust in their wealth to measure their self worth.
One person said it this way: “Prosperity cannot be endured.” /// Money is a false summit. When you make it to the top, you soon realize there is another summit that is higher still. Perhaps you think more money will solve the problem, so you start in on the long trek, and when you make it, you soon realize there is a higher summit that was previously out of sight. Years ago I read an article about GREED with a title I have never forgotten: “The Monster Called More.” The fact that James includes this paragraph about the false summit of money shows money has always been a problem. True or false? it is easier to reach a poor person for Christ than a rich person. [I’m not answering.]
Obviously we all need money to cover basic necessities, including retirement. James says that if you are poor you can hold your head high, you can be a complete person and the goal of the true summit can be attained because money is not the ultimate measure of a man. READ James 1:9. And if you are rich James says that you can still make it to the true top, you just have an extra heavy bag to carry, for the pressure of money brings it’s own problems and you are more likely to fade, to be distracted, to take your eyes off the prize of God. READ James 1:10-11. The heavier the pack, the harder to make it to the summit!
If you are not in a trial of life, one will come. Prepare to be a person that ENDURES. Do not give up. Do not put your faith in a false summit that only provides a hollow answer. Find strength in seeking God. Victory comes to those who Seek God and strive to love the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.