Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trials & Temptations

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Shannon opened the service by mentioning that he was beginning a new series of messages on the Book of James, followed by announcements.

Announcements included a reminder that our 2008 Vacation Bible School will be held June 16-20. This year’s theme is “Cosmic City.” Stay tuned for details.

The quartet led us into worship again this morning with some wonderful and fun classics including There Is Power In The Blood, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Just a Little Talk With Jesus, and That Glory Bound Train.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Matthew 6:24-34

Trials & Tribulations

Pastor Brad Shannon began by noting that there is value in getting background on the books that we study. The Book of James, he said, was probably written by James, the brother of Jesus.

It is a letter that jumps around from topic to topic, without always connecting the dots. Not written in a linear fashion, it is more like the book of Proverbs and other wisdom literature. There is, however, an overriding theme: that we mature and become like Christ.

Scholars believe the book was written earlier than many of the other New Testament books, probably around 45 A.D. The audience was generally poor and enduring much hardship. The early church during this period was suffering from Roman persecution and probably impacted by the famine that was occurring at this time.

The sermon today focused on verses 2-8 of chapter 1.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Verse two begins the section, “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” The instructions here are counterintuitive. James encourages us to have a joyful attitude in the face of trials. This stands in stark contrast to our society with its preoccupation with comfort. Pastor Shannon enumerated a number of the features on new cars devoted to comfort and convenience.

There are two kinds of trials in Scripture. The enticement to sin is one kind of trial. This passage, Pastor Shannon stated, addresses our response to external pressures, adversity, persecution and hardships.

The testing of our faith develops perseverance, which is integral to developing maturity. The fires of adversity strengthen us. If we learn to be steadfast, we will grow stronger.

Pastor Brad cited an insight from a book by Henry Cloud and followed with a personal sharing of a time of trial in his own life. Brad told about his first experience as a pastor after seminary. He entered the ministry with dreams of a loving church reaching out to the surrounding community. But the realities were very disillusioning. In four years, two people were fired, marriages ended, and others from his congregation left the faith. The dream blew up and challenged him in deeply profound ways.

The issue is not about who has suffered more. “It’s not about comparing levels of pain, but in how our pain contributes to growth.” God is generous. God’s focus: when we go through trials it is vital to have it firmly rooted in our minds that God is for us.

God chooses to discipline us to help us grow. To illustrate this point, Brad told the story of a woman with no self-discipline who managed her money badly, never accomplished the things on her “to do” lists. Eventually she came to understand that her parents had done everything for her and failed to really teach her responsibility. Her failures were a growth experience.

Our usual response to trials is not joy. Often we adopt the attitude that we are victims. Another common response to the challenges life throws at us is escapism. James states that we need to remain faithful and persevere.

We’ll never, in this life, know why bad things happen to good people. There are some things we’ll never understand till the hereafter. But it’s not what happens to us that is significant, rather how we respond is what is important. Our job is to keep running the race.

God is good. He loves and cares about us. If there were easier or better ways to mature us, God would do it.

We need to remember to look beyond adversity. God has promised a crown of life to those who persevere. Take the long view to the eternal prize, for “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Life is not about comfort. It’s about becoming more like Jesus. Pay attention to your responses to trials. Are you choosing to be joyful? Are you believing God is for you, even though you do not understand why you’re going through this difficult trial?

We know that God is big, but He also cares about the little things. He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads, and the number of tears you’ve shed and have been unable to shed. You can trust Him. He cares about you.

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