This is the book of James: A Survival Manual. James is like the Boy scout Handbook of the Bible ~ when lost in the wilderness, you don’t need a scientific explanation of heat and oxygen, you just need to know how to start a fire. You just need to know some basic knots. Getting out of the cold. How to survive. This is James: A Survival manual. How to survive when you are alone, feeling lost, confused… James is not only HOW to survive the wilderness, but how to survive it well. I appreciate a quote from Catherine Booth that makes an awesome summary of James: “The Waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over.” The message of James is going from barely surviving to thriving.
There are a 100’s of people in Sumas that need to hear the book of James. People feeling lost/stuck/confused/lonely/depressed. Invite them. Print off the messages from the website and go over it with them. This is a survival manual. Why study this amazing survival manual? I love one person’s advice: “when hard times come, be a student, not a victim…A victim says ‘Why did this happen to me?’ while a student asks, ‘What can I learn from this?’”
Everyone faces problems. James 1:2 cuts straight to a major point of the book. The second half of v. 2 is a fundamental truth of life, and the first half is SHOCKING. READ. Sooner or later we face problems… Many people reject Christianity because they have concocted a God in their own image that would not allow tough stuff, innocent victims, death, brokenness. That is not the God of the Bible. “whenever you face trials of many kinds.” life comes with problems. Don’t ever give the message to un-believing friends that if they give their heart to the Lord their life will be nothing but peace and bliss. Christianity is not about avoiding problems. Christianity is about surviving and thriving in the middle of a living hell.
The word “face” has the idea of tripping over a problem. Picture yourself driving down the highway in a convertible. The top is down, the music is blaring. Not a problem in the world. Suddenly there is a boom and the car stops. The car hit a huge pothole; instantly the carefree journey is over. Life is like that. Trouble is a phone call away. A doctor may say, “You’ve got cancer.” Or “your son has just been arrested.” Or you may be fired with no warning. Or someone you trusted may start spreading lies about you. Crisis is lurking around the corner.
The shocking statement: “Consider it pure joy!” Pure joy??????? The survival manual of a problem-filled world begins with a command to be joyful when you stumble! Putting your faith in Jesus Christ does not change the fact that we face problems, it changes the way we are able to see the problems. J.B. Philips has a challenging translation of James 1:2 that almost makes the command even more shocking: “When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives… don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends!”
If you come to the Lord Jesus Christ expecting your problems to go away, you are coming to faith with wrong expectations. James is a survival manual of faith written to teach us how to face problems and ENDURE. Like the Boy Scout in the wilderness. Making it through. I remember going on a Mtn. Rescue trip with my father during a winter storm. Three goat hunters did not return at the appointed time. After several days the three were found huddled in a stand of trees trying to stay warm. They were blessed to be found alive because they used very poor judgment. Before the storm hit they shot a goat. When the storm hit they were so proud of their trophy, they decided to ditch the sleeping bags, tent and backpacks, and decided to carry out the goat’s head.
James is about enduring. Not hanging on by a thread like the goat hunters, but thriving when facing problems. “Joy” seems out of place. JOY when facing problems. If you are climbing Mt. Baker and suddenly a wall of snow gives way and you are swept up in an avalanche, do you know what to do to give yourself the best chance of survival? You start swimming to the top. When swept up in a problem, don’t panic, don’t give up, find joy. Not giddiness. Not happiness like when seeing a good movie, but an internal JOY… It is not natural to be joyful. You may never think of swimming in an avalanche until somebody tells you. JOY is supernatural. JOY is a choice. JOY is a way of viewing the world. Not an unrealistic attitude of trying to forget problems, but a deep sense that God is in control, God will be with you. The gift of Joy from the Holy Spirit is to have confidence that while you may not know how the story will end, you know God is the author.
James 1:3 uses the word “perseverance” which is the same as “endurance.” Not only making it through our problems but doing it well. All is well. James 1:3 gives us the reason we can be joyful: God is refining us: READ. Often when we look back at problems we can see with greater clarity the refining process. Here is a testimony of a man that went through a job loss, a relocation and the news of cancer: “Now that I am on the other side of those two years, I can see quite clearly what the Lord has had in mind, and I rejoice in it and praise him for the time in the crucible--how it has sharpened me, further deepened my faith in him and love for him, and multiplied my opportunities to serve him.”
The reason we are able to face problems with Joy is grounded in the knowledge that God is refining us. I love the Phillips Brooks quote in the bulletin: “You must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing.”
In James 1:3 when James says “you know” he is not referring to head knowledge, but to heart knowledge: You know in your heart that God is good, you know God will be with you, you know God has a future for you….
A common question: why do bad things happen….the facts are that God allows them or sometimes God causes them ~ the word “testing” is used in v. 3. During the time of James, you would probable hear that word and think about the process by which gold ore was purified. The “testing process” ~ gold ore is packed into a furnace and heated until it melts, the impurities were burned away so that all that was left is pure gold. The Lord is testing you through the fires of life. Everyone goes through fires; the goal is refinement. Job 23:10 says it this way: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” While it is a natural question to ask why, the better question is ~ HOW do I endure?” HOW do I survive. HOW do I thrive? Our faith grows through the hard knocks of life.
Problems are a Fact. The way to survive is have a supernatural joy, a calmness and peace even when the world is overwhelming. The purpose is to be able to endure so you will be refined like gold in a fire. James 1:4 is the promise of what you will look like READ.
Joy and perseverance are possible when you believe with all your heart that God has something in store for you. Let perseverance finish it’s work… the temptation is to give up too soon, the temptation is to take matters into your own hands because it is too hard. The temptation is to give up and curse God for allowing heartaches. The temptation is to take the easy path, to lay down and die, to grumble non-stop, to feel sorry for yourself, to live without any joy, no peace, no expectations…The promise for those who do not give up is an amazing one: READ James 1:4.
Years ago, after a rough time in a church (for those of you who know the story I’m not here to put any group down, but it is part of my story, I am not casting blame but take responsibility for my part….) many times I wanted to give up. A week or two after I resigned a former pastor of the church showed up at the door, Alan Shore. Alan is the friend of several of us that plays the Apostle Paul in a one man show around the world, so in spirit it was Paul that showed up. He knocked on my door, I answered, he had driven from Bellingham to tell me a story. He would not come in the house. He told me he was sorry about all that happened, and then he pointed to my front yard and said “Imagine a giant boulder in your front yard, ten feet high… and the Lord comes to you and says I want you to move that boulder down to the stop sign at the end of your street. Everyday you go out, Alan told me, and you put your shoulder to the boulder to try and budge it. Everyday you strain and push and shove and sweat, and you can’t get the boulder to move even a smidgeon of an inch. Yet you keep at it day after day with the same results. After a couple months the Lord returns and you unload your frustration, “Lord, you told me to move the boulder, I go every day and sweat and break my back and I haven’t gotten it to budge at all, let alone to the end of the block.” And the Lord says, “That’s true… but look at the changes that have been made in you, look at the rippling muscles, the stamina, the strength that has developed. You are a changed person.”
Over the years I have thought about that prophetic story many times. I am not ready to declare myself “mature and complete, not lacking anything” ~ not even close ~ but I am doing my best to stay on that path, the path of Joy, the path of endurance, the path of expecting God to fulfill his promise. The process of how we face our problems is what shapes us…refines us…
When hard times come, we can know God is at work in our trials for our benefit and for his glory. The Christian way is not an easy way. There is the promise of abundant life, spiritual victory, joy in the Lord and the filling of the Spirit. Most often those things come through our problems. In various ways we all struggle every day as we make our earthly journey. In a fallen world, there can be no other way. For the most part, we can’t choose our trials nor can we avoid them. But we do choose how we respond. God does not intend to destroy us. You hear the word JOY and at first it is shocking, yet for those who are able to have the calmness and presence of mind to swim to the top of the avalanche, you will live. James is a survival manual teaching us not only how to survive, but also to thrive. Amen.