Assurance

 

Assurance : The acknowledgment or confirmation of anticipated items or events

The 12 chapter of John has several recurring themes: the theme of light and the theme of glory. In this chapter, this is the week before the crucifixion.  This is the last week of Jesus’ life.  These are the last actions of Christ earthly ministry before the resurrection.   

In the beginning of the chapter John recounts the gathering at the house of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  At this particular gathering we given a setting tasty is very familiar throughout Christian theology and tradition: The preparation of Jesus’ death.  Mary uses  the perfume that is equal to a year’s salary.  Mary uses her hair to wipe the Jesus’s feet.  She is using all of her being to glorify and bring light to the dark times coming ahead.  This is a type of light and glory Mary is preparing Jesus body for his ultimate sacrifice and the glorification of his time earth.

While at Lazarus’ house, people are coming to see and experience the man that has been brought back to life.  This was one of the most profound miracles that Christ had performed.  Lazarus was not only dead, but he had been in the tomb for several days.  We have gotten accustomed to going to funerals and having the benefits of modern medicine to help assuage the true morbidity of death , but this was not the custom in the times of Jesus.  In the manner of hours the body begins to decompose and the natural process starts.  By the time Jesus got to the town of Lazarus, he was in full decomposition.  But now several weeks to months later, Jesus is eating with Lazarus and people want to come and see the miracle.   This is shows not only show that Jesus is capable of miracles, but he is Lord over life and death of others and God will do the same for him.  This this act is glorifying God‘s domain over life and death.

Each piece of the gospel is there for an intentional purpose,  here John mentions the group of Greeks. This is very poignant in this section because the Greeks deal with life, death, and gods in different ways. He uses examples of the wheat and how to death of the wheat to springing back to life for new plant to the Greeks. He also uses the other metaphors here with the Greeks of light and glorification. 

He uses light and glory several times in this chapter. He shows how light overcomes darkness how he is the light that overcomes the darkness of the enemy. He shows how the anticipation of his death and resurrection would normally receive as the final blow but he uses it as a catalyst to show the light and the glory of God.

One of the most profound portions in this entire chapter is the force of God. I’ve read this chapter many times in my lifetime but the most our inspiring section is when God the father acknowledges and glorifies the person of Christ in actual audible and meaningful terms. God completes his qualification and assures us that Christ is the one who is glorifying God and fulfilling the Scriptures.

John 12: 27- 30 

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

There are not many times in the Old Testament or in the New testament in which God’s true voice is heard. In this verse God‘s force is not only audible but it is heard by the entire multitude. This gives us the assurance that God‘s plan and words are true. Many during this time in Christ life, many did not believe that God‘s word and actions were true. Many today do not believe that God‘s words and actions are true. But this brief, yet powerful moment gives us assurance, that undeniable realization that all things are working in God‘s favor.

I know that in today’s society it is hard to grasp that God plan is still valid. A year ago so many things in my life changed. My family members were passing away at young ages. My son was diagnosed with different things. And close friends we’re passing away day by day.  In the current situation there are thousands of people passing away daily. In these times it can seem as if we are in a mess of darkness. But we have to understand that God‘s light and glory will be shown and glorified, if we believe in Him. 

May God reveal Himself to us as he did to the multitude and give us Assurance: Allow us to hear him in thunder of the storm or in the whisper on a breeze.

John

Today’s reading is 1 John 1-2 and Revelation 1.

The Greek word for sin in the original New Testament was “hamartia” which is translated as missing the mark. Have you missed the mark? I know I have…every hour of every day of my life…maybe every minute. It is clear John wants us to realize this. God is the mark, and we miss it and Him. I’m taken back to my roots and part of the Lutheran liturgy with the words of 1 John 1:8-10…

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and His word is not in us.”

Paul also states in Romans 3:23…

..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

John is clear not only that we miss the mark and sin, but also tells us how to avoid it as much as possible in 1 John 1:15-16…

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life- is not from the Father but is from the world.”

Constantly the world is trying to tell us what is “ok.” It’s on the internet, TV shows, commercials, movies, books, and the list goes on and on. And not only is the world trying to force things God says is wrong upon us, but the world tries to tell us that if we don’t agree with the world we are not only in the wrong, but we are also practicing hate. Isn’t it crazy what Satan is capable of and how he works? He can twist things not only from what is actually bad to make it look good, but also make the world believe what is good is hate. The world tells us we cannot dislike a sin and still love the sinner. We can because we in fact ourselves as Christians are sinners (1 John 1:8-10), and yet Christ loves us.

The first step in finding Jesus is realizing we need Him. How? We have to be truthful with ourselves about our sin problem. Let’s go back to 1 John 1:8 for a moment. We must specifically name our sins. That’s how we realize we have missed the mark and need Him. We must not compare ourselves to others and what the world says is acceptable. John tells us the world is not the mark…God is!

So, what do we do now that we realize we’ve not done what God wants? 1 John 1:9 tells us we must confess our sins, and He makes us white as snow..cleaning us from all our dirty deeds. John wants us to know we have an advocate in Jesus who took our place; He is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-2). Through Him, and only through Him, do we please God. He knew we could not do it on our own..that we would miss the mark. John is clear that God had a game plan all along. John tells us God knew we needed Jesus, and Jesus was their all along with the Father from the beginning of Creation (John 1:1-5 and 1 John 1:1-2).

There is no relationship like with Him. All relationships are two sided and conditional….know matter how much we say, or even try not to make them that way. This is not the case in the relationship with Him though..He loved us before we loved Him and still loves us today when we miss the mark. All we can do is try to do our best to follow His will by walking in the light John discusses, and say, “Thanks! Praise be to God!”

Show Me the Sign

Today’s Reading: Luke 11:29-36

Today’s reading from Luke follows Jesus on his preaching journey on the way to Jerusalem. Written in about 60 AD, Luke sets the scene:

“When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation. It seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” Luke 11:29

So basically, not much has changed in the last nineteen hundred years. We are just as focused on the desire to be uniquely blessed. Everyone wants to have a special experience that sets them above others in terms of their salvation and closeness to God. We ask for signs and look for signs in order to confirm the validity of our faith in Jesus. Jesus points to the sign of Jonah as a foreshadowing of his death and resurrection. Just as the prophet Jonah was rescued after three days in the belly of a whale, Jesus will die and rise after three days. God had asked Jonah to preach the importance of repentance to the Gentiles. Jesus is now affirming Jonah’s message; salvation is not only for the Jews but for all people. This specific part of Jesus’ teaching got me thinking about how we too seek for signs in our modern everyday life. I loved the sermon we had last week at Eastview when Pastor Jordan Rice talked about turning to the “big G in the sky….Google!” Although I laughed out loud, his insight spoke to my heart. As a medical professional, I am so guilty of turning to science to solve a problem before turning to the big G: God.

In our generation we are always seeking proof. We want evidence of that which we cannot plainly see.  In Jesus’ day, the people demanded signs. When Jesus healed a blind man, his doubters demanded another sign, more proof that he was the Messiah. Are we perhaps demanding the same? Are we satisfied by the gifts he’s given us, the miracles he’s performed in our lives? Are we able to truly say, “Christ IS enough for me!”

Jesus goes on to teach about the light within us:

“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.” Luke 11: 34

 In this moment, Jesus is holding the light of the gospel for us all to see. Those that reject Him and his message have poor vision. That lack of clarity turn the light of Christ into darkness. In contrast those who receive Christ by faith are filled with light. The lamp is Christ and the eyes are representative of our spiritual relationship with him. Sin distorts our spiritual vision. It blinds us to the ability to see God at work in our lives. I challenge us as we focus on our own relationship with Him to work toward identifying sins that are blinding us to life with Him. Pray intentionally for eyes that are healthy and ask God to fill your body with light.

 

 

 

 

 

Light of the World

So Jennifer has asked me now for a few days when I plan to change the bulbs that have been out in our house for the last couple weeks. Whether its in our room or in the kitchen I’m sure the darkness cast on these places has made a difference. Same with our life, whether its replacing a bulb, flicking the switch, or maybe you just forgot to plug something in; being in darkness makes a difference. In the dark you can lose sight of some of the detail. For example you may grab two different color socks or papers can build up on the kitchen counter because there is a darkness cast on that part of the counter. That is the same in our life. When there is darkness sin has space to slide in. Things build up without being noticed. What a difference it makes when His light is cast upon us. What a difference it will make when I put in the bulbs this week. 🙂

Jesus said,
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

And just like the difference it will make of putting those new bulbs in, Jesus said, “We are the light.” In the midst of seasons or circumstances, are we like the bulbs I needed to replace? Do we still shine bright in the midst of our busyness? Are we shining bright when faced with adversity?

Here is our reminder for this Tuesday. By His grace we have been given an eternal kingdom, a Living Word that is breathed by Him. Isn’t it great to know we have a Father that cares more for us then anyone! He willingly sent his own son to live a perfect life and provide us with an example of the light we should be shining for others today. I’m praying our 811 readers are reading today and understand the light you are able to shine on others today. That no matter our current circumstance, God has great plans for us! That on this short term camp out here on Earth we have the opportunity to share this light with others who are still living in darkness. Think of the difference we can make in our workplace, neighborhood, community. Praise God!

Let His light shine today through you.  If you need a new bulb, put it in! If the switch needs to be hit, do it.  Praise God!

This weekend I had the opportunity to share a life verse with my son Jackson as he moves over to the next Sunday school classroom. It was Joshua 1:9.

9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Dear God,

You brought us out of the dark.  You gave us light and asked us to share this good news with other so they can see to.  God help it not to be our words but yours.  God we love you and ask for your support and guidance we need in holding Your name high and sharing,  so all can hear, see, and be part of Your kingdom one day.

Today’s Readings: Matthew 5:14-16
Psalm 95
Come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our Salvation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=8RpLB7bAlYc

Shine Bright Today!

Salt Life

SALT

• Adds Flavor to Life,

• Purifies Set apart,

• Preserves  the souls of man for the Kingdom of God

Good Morning,

Today we get a chance to look at Matthew 5:13-16. The Salt Life image that we see on cars or shirts is imprinted my brain. Verse 13 says how we are the salt of the earth. A couple characteristics of salt that can be seen as a parallel to our Christian life includes the ability to make me thirst.   Last week as I battled a cold and went to the good ole’ gargling of salt water,  it made me thirst.  That even as I poured the salt into liquid it never lost its saltiness.  As we are living in this world do we lose our flavor? As we are watered down by worldly pressures do we keep our saltiness  in every part of our life? Colossians 4:6  says Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. 

Salt also adds seasoning. It makes a better taste. Does the flavor of being a Christian make others come back for seconds? Seasoning brings out the best flavor of our foods.  Do we bring out our best and point it all back to God?

 

I have learned I can’t always control the circumstances I face, but I am the keeper of my “saltiness.” Will I be bitter, broken down or better and making a difference? Less seasoned or more flavorful? When God comes back, what good am I if I’ve lost my flavoring?

 

Light of the World

If we all understand that the light of the world is God we will be able to see. Matthew 5:14-16 what living for Christ is like. That God’s light should be in full display in our hearts, minds, works and actions. That as we let our light shine others will see the reality of God in us.   God’s light will guide us as we speak to Him and for Him. God’s light will shine when we are trying to avoid a situation.  Let’s not let sin dim our light.  Let’s not put our light to the side when others need to see.

Ephesians 5:8 says For you were once darkness, but now you are the light of the world. Live as children of the light.

Have a blessed day being the salt and the light.

Today’s Readings: Matthew 5:13-16, Psalm 59

But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; you are my fortress , my refuge in times of trouble.

The Christmas Story Continues

Revelation chapter 12 gives us the truth about Christmas. It is about the eternal destiny of all mankind. It is about war, Satan and his angels, Michael and his angels, God, a virgin birth, a mass murder of infants by evil in high places and principalities of this world and, Praise God, Christ’s ultimate victory. But it doesn’t stop there. It is not just a historical view. It reaches forward to where we are now and where we are headed. The Christmas story continues. It helps us understand the realities of the post war world we are living in.

Often times when thinking about a past war, victors will recall images of celebration. Their post war snap shots are flooded with newspaper headlines that read “Peace!” or “It’s Over!”. These types of images often come from the victors territory and can give the victors a false sense of finality. The war may have been won but the reality may be that the victory was the beginning of the end, not the actual end. However on the other hand the losers’ dominion presents a very different picture. One that is easier to discern; the war has been won, but battles still rage and lives still hang in the balance. 

On the other side the picture will often look something like this; failed states left in ruins, void of leadership and often rampant with lawlessness. The victors have left behind remnants of their soldiers to help the failed state find their way. These soldiers are most always up against remnants of a different sort, remnants of the enemy. 

Post war, the enemy most often deploys a covert strategy. They go underground to continue the fight covertly, doing all they can undermine the victor’s agenda and to strengthen their camp. What seems to motivate them is the hope of carrying their agenda forward at some future time. Living to fight another day. History has shown us that of these sorts the worst is often the hopeless. The ones who know they will never gain the strength to ultimately win but deceive and give false hope to that end anyway. Who still refuse to let go of their agenda and determine themselves to ‘take as many with them’ to their hopeless end as possible.

The end of Revelation chapter 12 makes it clear, the War is won but not over. the battle still rages and Christians are in enemy territory. The enemy is present, powerful and hopeless. In my estimation, a Christian’s role then is that of the remnant of the victor in enemy territory post war, there to help people find their way to the right side. There to provide a beacon of truth amidst all the undercurrents of deception. There to save people from hopelessness.

Perhaps this is the gift of Christmas that Christians wield in post war enemy territory. The light that Christians have been given to shine in the shadow of deceit and through the darkness of hopelessness that the enemy works so hard to create. May your light shine this Christmas season. May your Christmas be merry and bright!

 

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 25; Revelation 12; Zechariah 8; John 11

Suggestions for prayer: Ask God to help you steward the gift of Christmas well for Him. Ask Him to help you give the gift of Christmas.

All You Need Is Love

When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.

Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.

Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.

I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.

Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.

Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.

God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.

We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.

More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”

Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”

1 Chronicles 15; James 2. Secret: Amos 9; Luke 4

Be Still

I was honored to have my talented sister-in-law, Lisa Pruitt offer to write this week’s Journal Post. She loves caving more than anyone I’ve ever met. She is the adored older sister of my wife Heather and the adoring mother to my wonderful nieces, Chloe and Camile. Thank you Lisa!

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” -Psalm 46:10.

Today’s reading: Judges 21; Acts 25; Jeremiah 35; Psalms 7–8

Imagine with me we are in a cave. It is a landscape beneath the landscape. Some enter caves with trepidation and fear. But a cave – to me – is the very essence of God’s work right before our eyes. Caves are a fragile ecosystem, dark, damp, flowing water, the pungent smell of earth. Caves are our final frontier and they contain indescribable beauty.

I am drawn to caves, not because they are dark and scary but because it is a place where I can experience God in a new way. I can be still there in the dark and quiet, my senses are tamped down. When I turn off my headlamp, sight is absent, taste is minimal, I can touch the cool damp rock and smell minerals and soil. I can hear the delicate musical and echoing sounds of water dripping somewhere. It is a perfect environment for meditation, for prayer.

The Celtic Christians appreciated a concept known as “thin places”. A thin place is where the divide between our earthly world and God’s kingdom are narrowed, where we can experience a glimpse of God’s majesty, feel his love in surround sound. Sometimes I experience a cave as a thin place. It is not a place of fear but a place of beauty, a place where I know that God is at work, molding and sculpting hard limestone into natural art. As written by T. Augustus Forbes Leith, “from the star-spangled canopy of heaven to the far bottom of the majestic ocean, created earth is teeming with wondrous beauty”.

I went with a group of people to a cave in Mexico a few years ago. We went in single file, walking and talking quietly in the dark, our voices echoing. We walked about 15 minutes before encountering water. We slowly and gently entered the water and got acclimated to our surroundings and the unfamiliar feeling of swimming and floating in a very dark cavernous space. The water was warm and so clear that it appeared to be only 6 or 7 feet deep but it was actually 60 feet deep. There were extravagant formations everywhere I looked, hanging from the ceiling, along the walls, some emerging from the edges of the clear deep water – as if an artist had placed them there. I felt so peaceful, so blissfully happy, so overwhelmed with all my senses – that I began to weep. I experienced a thin place that day.

When I read the scriptures for today, what I continued to ruminate over was Psalm 8. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” God has set his glory in the heavens and the earth. When I consider the tangible and visible things that God has created, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, the innumerable bugs – so colorful and specialized, high mountains, deep oceans, the rebirth of spring, the delicate soft features of a baby, the miracle of unfolding life, flowers, fungus, and the amazing array of colors our eyes can perceive, I am humbled. Our God is majestic.

Appreciating the beauty of our natural world around me reminds me of the Lord’s majestic name! Anytime I can stop and notice, anytime I can be still and think of God’s love, I am reminded of God’s majesty and I experience a thin place. Sometimes the cave’s environment facilitates my experience of a thin place, sometimes it’s a mountain top, other times it is when I lie in the grass at night and allow the grandeur of the night sky to flow into me.

These profound thin places are not experienced by me every day for they require 1) the right environment, 2) the proper state of observation by me and 3) most importantly – my willingness to be still. What I know is that without Jesus at my side, even at times when these three ingredients converge, they would be meaningless and would not coalesce into a thin place without Jesus, because I would not be worthy of the familiarity of a thin place. I would be there but could not reach out to God, could not feel Him.

The indescribable beauty of all that God has given us on this earth is majestic but it is nothing compared with the gift of Jesus.

Contrast and Choice

Life leads to death, but from death comes life.

Contrast is how we evaluate things. Usually this is on a relative basis. We compare one thing to another and it is easy to tell the difference. If we try to compare too many things we are easily confused. The bigger the contrast between things the easier it is to choose one thing over another — but not always.

Everyday we make choices. By comparison deciding between one thing or another and by contrast we are able to make our clearest choices. Sometimes the contrast between two things is so stark that it seems impossible to miss the importance of the distinction.

Comparison and contrast is usually easier if we consider things in pairs. Sort of like having our eyes examined. Discerning something clearly from a large group can be very difficult, but when we can get two things side by side it is much easier to select our preferences, even between things with subtle variation. By comparison, starker contrast make our choices even more certain, harder to miss.

Having recently been away from home for a couple of weeks, living in a big city for most of that time, I was amazed at the sharp contrast as I drove back to Bloomington from O’Hare Airport. imageWe had been living in a rooftop apartment in Paris, undoubtably one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Still, it was good to be heading home. Past the Chicago Metro fringe, at that perfect time in the early evening when the stark contrast of the green fields under the big blue sky seemed unreal.image

We had been living in grey’s and brown’s of limestone and marble. Now I was bathed in the beams of new light that opened my tired eyes. As we drove southbound Interstate-55, I looked toward the expanse of the heavens, to clouds painted by the fluttering of the wings of angels. Majestic thunderheads building before patterns of scattered cirrus, shaded with the pastels of the setting sun and twilight shadows. I’m not sure I have ever seen more beauty in that prarie I’ve called home for the last twenty one years.    image

In today’s reading, what stood out for me was Sampson’s riddle.“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” Eating honey from a lion’s rotting carcass certainly represents an extreme contrast. It made me think of how Jesus was born from a rebellious nation, one that rejected God’s prophets and incredible blessings, often turning towards their own understanding. The savior of the world reflected the contrast of God among us, in the midst of people so confused and broken that they rejected and crucified the very source of love and creation. But this didn’t stop Jesus from transforming the lives of believers and He is still doing it today.

The contrast of a changed life is extraordinary. A life filled with love, patience and peace, once filled with strife, anxiety and self seeking is hard to ignore. The contrast of sin and its destructive emptiness when considered against the healing power of God’s grace shows us who we are, with and without God. It shows us who God is. It opens our hearts making us long for perfection.

For me it wasn’t until the latter stages of my life that the light of truth began to shine and despite my imperfection and brokenness it continues to get brighter.

I thank God for His truth everyday. In His grace I am bathed in forgiveness and the power to continue to change. Jesus I praise your holy name. You are the way, the truth and the life.

Judges 14; Acts 18; Jeremiah 27; Mark 13

Consider it Pure Joy

Today’s Readings: Numbers 17-18, Psalm 55, Isaiah 7 and James 1

James!!!! Oh friends, it’s Monday and I’m so joyous because today we are starting the writings of James. For once I know a whole lot about this particular scripture and I’m so excited to share it with you. Let’s begin at the beginning:

 “And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ”Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:53-55)

 There you have it. James was the brother or more accurately the half brother of Jesus, the one and only. Doesn’t that change your perspective a bit? More research shows us that at first James wasn’t a believer. In fact, he didn’t become an “ambassador for Christ” until after the resurrection. In Acts 1:14 and then in 1 Corinthians 15:7 we learn that Jesus appeared to James and then his twelve apostles shortly after the resurrection. This appearance convinced James that Jesus was indeed the Christ, he later went on to lead the Jerusalem church. The book was probably written around 48-52 A.D. James died somewhere between 62-66 A.D. James’ letter was written to address the broad audience of Jewish Christians living in or around Palestine. These early believers did not have the support of established Christian churches, James wrote to them as a leader, to encourage them in their faith during difficult times. He opens with this:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

 I first studied the book of James from the NIV translation which begins with: “Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds….” I LOVE that sentence. I say it to myself all the time. When my infant is just screaming in the back seat on the way somewhere, or when work stress is just crashing down on me. Notice that James does not say, “consider it pure joy IF you face trials” it’s “whenever you face trials!” When I think about the point of view of our author today, it puts these words into even more perspective. Imagine growing up as the younger brother of Jesus. As Jesus grew, the gospel of Luke describes his evolution into a young man filled with wisdom and gaining the favor of God and fellow man. How did his lowly younger brother feel then? Is it possible that he spent some of his young adulthood jealous of Jesus? Did part of him want to deny Jesus’ perfection? Do I ever deny God’s plan despite knowing that it is right and perfect for me simply because I want to exert my child-like will?

It’s not until after the resurrection that Jesus appears to James. We can infer from the scriptures that they are alone. (1 Corinthians 15:4-7). It is then that the transformation occurs. James, who had a history of persecuting Christians is now a Christ follower. James becomes a fearless leader of the Jerusalem Church, a witness to what later cannot be seen or heard for the people living as Christians among the Gentiles. I love this story because it reflects my own. Before I really knew anything about Christianity, I was a Gentile living among Christ followers. People that quoted scripture and met in little groups at home studying the word of God seemed strange and somehow naïve to me. Now, here I sit surrounded by 3 different bibles and book on James at my desk. I’m no modern day James, but what I am is someone that can tell my “turn around” story. It was me that was so naïve, in fact the truth is; I didn’t experience Christ until I let go of my jealousy of the Christian’s around me. Of course I didn’t know I was jealous. I only know now that the silent persecution I waged was really just a mask covering my inmost desire to be part of that chosen group. If only I had realized sooner that you don’t have to be asked to become a Christ follower, there is no audition.

Finally we arrive at the part that I find most comforting. James gives the best advice if we can just see past ourselves and take it: Count it all joy when you meet trials. In other words, we are going to have had times, James is encouraging us to use them as learning opportunities. He goes on to say that these trials will test our faith and produce steadfastness. The NIV uses the word perseverance in the place of steadfastness. Isn’t that encouraging? Imagine for a moment that you are in a large room with other Christians when suddenly all the lights go out. Then imagine that James is there with you. Instead of turning on the light, he hands you a flashlight so that you can find the switch and turn it on yourself. That’s the purpose of this message. James is giving us a flashlight so that we can bathe our trials in the light of Jesus’ promise. Our daily struggles aren’t just for the purpose of frustrating us, they are to strengthen us so that one day we will be “perfect and complete lacking in nothing.” James ends this first section with these words:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be first fruits of his creatures.” (James 1:16-18)

 Of his own will he gave us little flashlights so that we could shine a light on the truth. How many of us are carrying these flashlights in our pockets, never bringing them out and flipping the switch. I consider it pure joy that He gave me enough trials that I had no choice but to find my light. He is after all the Father of lights. I hope you’ll consider turning yours on today.