- Faith in Christ does not mean a carefree life. “Whenever you face trials of many kinds” the scripture says. Not IF but WHEN.
- Faith in Jesus Christ shows us HOW to face our problems. I used to climb Mt. Baker. The standard climbing route is a long hike. You need stamina, but it is not technical. Most of the time nothing goes wrong. I once met a climbing party as we were descending that were so foolish because they were doing so many things wrong: wearing jeans, heading to the top late in the day, flimsy shoes, few supplies. They made it to the top and back down again in one piece. But they were fools. Here’s the thing about climbing Mt Baker: you need to know what to do in case something goes wrong. Climb enough, and something will go wrong. You will be caught in a storm. You will slip. This is why you come to a book like James, to learn basic survival skills of faith when you are suddenly faced with trials. You will likely make it to the top of Mt. Baker and back wearing jeans, but if it should start to rain jeans get wet and take away body heat. Most days you will make it through the day fine, but someday a crisis will hit. The phone call will come. An accident will change your world.
James is a book of wisdom. It is the Proverbs of the New Testament, filled with wisdom. In the book of Proverbs, over and over again you get the command to seek wisdom with your whole heart. Listen to Proverbs 1:1-7. READ. As a Christian we must be prepared to face adversity, to face each day with faith. This is wisdom. James 1:5 says the same thing much simpler: READ. If you are driving and in a fender bender, nobody is hurt, if you are wise you have thought through what to do: pull over to the side, exchange insurance info, I’d write down the license plate of the other car and take photos of any damage. Wisdom is to know what to do when in an accident.
When crisis comes, the first thought many Christians have isn’t to ask for wisdom./// You know what people ask for who haven’t read the survival manual? A miracle! HELP LORD. GET ME OUT OF THIS MESS. Make the problem miraculously go away. Do something spectacular. People of faith ought to be asking for wisdom from God before a miracle. It is not as spectacular, but it is also more satisfying because wisdom brings a spirit of calmness, confidence…
There is a place for miracles. I love miracles. I see the most amazing “coincidences” from people showing up at just the right time. Effective prayer. Just the right word. But the time to ask for a miracle is when we reach the end of Wisdom. Psalm 107 illustrates how Wisdom and Miracles go together. The Psalm is a series of stories. In Ps. 107:2 it says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” and then you get all these wonderful examples of faith. Listen to Ps. 107:23-31. READ.
Following the way of the Lord takes discipline, learning, asking for wisdom, preparation… There is a place for miracles, God can do anything, but first ASK for wisdom. This is the way of the Lord. Don’t worry, there is plenty of room for miracles. Being a Christian is not passive, simply waiting for God to bail us out of every problem, but rather we are instructed to gain wisdom and understanding.
“If any of you lacks wisdom…” James 1:5 begins. Surely James says this tongue in cheek. It’s a joke. Anyone in this room ready to declare you don’t lack wisdom? Visiting with Ivan and Anne Oakes a few days ago, one of the things he is passionate about is discipleship, seeing young people and others grow in faith and understanding. That’s a vision of Wisdom. The truth is that many Christians aren’t looking to gain knowledge of faith. They are too content, not looking to grow, not looking to change, not looking to increase their faith. We need a Holy wrestlessness, a striving, a desire to gain understanding. ASK GOD FOR WISDOM. Make this your prayer every day when you wake up: Lord, give me wisdom that I will be prepared when trouble comes, as I face the day, increase my understanding, my discipline, show me the way you would have me go.
ASK. The time to ASK is before the crisis hits. Sometimes our lack of wisdom creates the crisis. From time to time people seek my advise (they must be desperate!!!!). I got a call from a Pastor: “Carl, things aren’t going so well, what should I do?” Then he explained the situation which was created by him trying to push through a change in the church that was being rejected…. “I would have never done it that way, you work with people not against them….” When James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom…” that is an invitation to examine yourself ~ it’s a question disguised as a statement. Do you lack wisdom in matters of faith. Not knowledge, that is a different topic, not facts of the Bible stories, that’s a great discipline, but the basic survival skills of being a Christian and knowing what to do when the storm hits…. ASK. It sounds so simple, but many Christians don’t ask…. ASK for divine wisdom.
Wisdom is given GENEROSLY to those who ASK. God wants us to ask for our sake. It’s part of maturing in our faith. It is only when we are asking that we change. It’s like the difference between court ordered drug treatment and when a person sincerely wants to change their behavior. The person who ASKS for help is ready to change. One of the wonderful principles of evangelism, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those who are searching, is that you do a lot of listening. You listen for the questions. Until people are asking they won’t hear what you have to say. That’s what God does with us. And when we ASK, he gives “generously, without finding fault” which means anyone can ask, God gives wisdom without discrimination.
James is full of hard wisdom sayings. Advice that seems impossible. We had one of the last week, one of the hardest most incomprehensible sayings in all of scripture. READ James 1:2. There is no trick to this statement: JOY means JOY. “but it’s Impossible to face problems with JOY” you say. If you say so, then for you it is. Until you get it.
In James 1:6-7 there is another impossible wisdom saying. READ. How can you not have some measure of doubt in your mind? How? Yet here it is as clear as can be. Don’t we all have some level of doubt? What this means is that the Christian life is not an easy one. God has high standards. Faith becomes easier as you mature, but until you get it, there may be some struggle… this hard saying also means God has a lot of expectations of us and a lot of belief in us. I have always liked the saying, “Believe in a God who believes in You.”
My life is a product of other people believing in me. If I appear to have confidence in my role as a pastor it is because many people along the way have had more confidence in me. How much more God. “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” Impossible, yes, but on the other hand, God is saying you can do it…. God believes in you.
“Do not doubt” refers to more than an intellectual doubt ~ it is saying you can’t be torn between choices, you can’t constantly be going back and forth between options, like the child pulling the pedals off of a daisy to see which “truth” wins (She loves me, she loves me not, she loves me, she loves me not). Stay the course! Consistently do the FROG thing we sometimes talk about (What’s FROG mean? Fully Rely On God.) In your heart there may be an element of uncertainty, that is not the criteria of “Do not doubt,” but you still trust God with your actions and don’t flit back and forth. Another way of saying it: “Live life without a Plan B.” Whatever you are facing…don’t give into the temptation to short circuit your faith, but choose the way of God. The “doubt” is more about your actions than your heart. Don’t doubt. I tell people struggling with the temptation of addictions all the time that are trying to live a clean life, “99 out of 100 days isn’t good enough, you need to stay sober 100 out of 100 days.” Doubting means to get off track and abort the way of wisdom.
James is a Survival Manual for the Christian faith. You follow God by not doubting, staying committed to your commitments. Christianity is not just a Sunday thing. The doubter is when I sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” on Sunday and curse my co-worker on Monday. That’s what it means to be tossed to and fro by the waves. Inconsistency. Back and forth in our actions. James 1:8 calls the person who goes back and forth double minded ~ living with two conflicting sets of principles. In school I took a class titled, “Evangelizing Nominal Christians” meaning bringing the message of Salvatiion to those who are kinda sorta Christians in name. The first question of the class was a call to self-examination: “how nominal am I?”// the point: we all have elements of inconsistency. The saying of not doubting like that. James states the best case, the one who does not doubt, and while that is impossible to perfect, we can grow as we practice the disciplines of surviving by faith in this world.
In a few minutes we are going to sing the song, “Come Thou Fount.” I chose it partly for the words of v. 3: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,/Prone to leave the God I love. But then the last lines of the verse give such amazing hope: Here’s my heart, O take and seal it/Seal it for Thy courts above.
It’s a hard saying to hear the words “Do Not Doubt.” But here’s the thing about the Bible. If we were easily able to obtain such a high level of righteous living, never doubting God, consistent living, there would be no reason to say “do not doubt”. The reason James says it is because we need to hear it, we need to envision what we can become in Christ Jesus. God already knows your heart, he know we are divided and pulled in a thousand directions, so he’s saying I want you to not only survive this very difficult old world that is getting ugly, not only survive, but thrive. Left to our own devices, and to our own wisdom, we will always “leave the God we love.” We must ASK for wisdom, get rid of plan B. Learn to live as a FROG person. God knows we are prone to wander, He knows the conflicting desires, the back and forth. He knows how much you want to do right and how quickly you do wrong. The only hope we have is to return to the God who loves us so much that he will not let us go even when we run from him.
Our world is changing. The way to survive is learn to consistently follow him with the patterns of our lives by ASKing God for wisdom. Amen.