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You don't always spell "Trouble" with a capital "T"
Scripture: James 1:1-18
Track 1 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 26 minutes, 58 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, January 2, 2005
1st sermon in an 11 part series
"You don't always spell 'trouble' with a capital T"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 1:1-18)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

That section in Ginny's Bible is absolutely correct. Tough times come. They come for all of us in a variety of kinds of ways. If you've been watching the news at all you know that somewhere near a hundred thousand people have died in Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands more are homeless, are left with vast questions about where their loved ones are or how they will ever have a future again. Seems like a long ways away and yet, because we are brothers and sisters with many of those people there, they are our family and we are to be concerned.

Not nearly so far from home, even this morning, Bruce is over at Janet Hynek's because Janet is not doing well. They have not expected her to make it through the night and she did. Um. . . .tough time, hard!

If you watch the newspaper, it doesn't take you very long to realize that it happens to a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Just two weeks ago, we learned that one of our students, Scott Ewing, on vacation in Ohio just before Christmas, was killed in a head-on car wreck leaving his wife and two year old son. The week before that Laurie Tauckey was killed out near Camp Point, a chaplain at the local prison. Tough times come! It's the way they happen.

On Thursday of this week I sat at the Catholic church in Lincoln with my grandson and watched as he's trying to figure out where did my great-grandmother go and as he went to the visitation he stood next to the casket laying in the picture that he had drawn for her, the back of which says, "I hope you are having a good time in heaven. Can she hear me?" Tough times come.

It doesn't seem to make any difference if it's a physical kind of ailment. If it's something that you have no control over, like your doctor saying you have cancer. If it's something that happens to you because your company downsizes or because there's a tragedy in your family or just down the street, a friend. It seems like there is plenty of trouble to go around.

One of the email's we got this week was a request from World Vision to pray for those who have been impacted by this tsunami and we want to take a moment and do that this morning.

"Father, it's hard for us to imagine what it's like for a hundred thousand people in one area of the world to die. It's hard to know the feelings of those who are struggling with the questions about whether or not their family even exists any more. It's hard to understand the depth of the heartache of those who stood and watched their entire lives be swept out to sea. Father, we're grateful for those people in the world who are bringing aid to those folks; for those who are supplying food and water and clothing. We're thankful for our missionaries who are there with the hope of Christ in their hearts to help them deal with these tragic issues.

We're praying too, this morning, right here at home, for Janet and her family. That you'll watch over her and them. And we give you thanks for their faith in you.

And Father, for others whose troubles have not even been mentioned but whose hearts are broken and aching because of the hurt. We pray, that what James has to offer us will be comforting and strengthening and challenging. We pray all of this in Christ's name. Amen."

We are getting ready to take a look at the book of James. We're going to be spending the next several weeks looking at what James has to say to us about living our Christian experience out. He opens the book rather simply.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings

One of the simplest of introductions of all the New Testament letters. It's to those twelve tribes that are scattered. That shouldn't sound dis-familiar to you, unfamiliar to you because we went through Acts this last summer and in Acts 8, those early Christians out of Jerusalem where James would have been one of the key disciples, key apostles, had been scattered because of the persecution.

Here he is a bit later writing to them, to those who have been "scattered". To those 12 tribes, to those who belonged to God who represent his people, who have been dispersed out among the nations because of their faith.

There are a lot of issues that bring trouble into people's lives. One of them is a faith issue. The fact that you happen to be Christian and people not understanding that. Not being about to live with the fact that you live like a Christian.

James says in this opening chapter and what we'll see unfold over the entire book over the next several weeks, he says that Christians are faced with choices. Every time we come into one of those situations where we have trouble. And there are two choices, James says in this first chapter. One of them is in James 1: 2-4. Consider it pure joy, (well there's a challenge for you. . . .to take a look at life at its very hardest and to say, I am going to somehow respond to this in a way that is joyful.) Secondly he says, you can submit to sin and you can suffer the consequences of what that means. That, he says down in James 1: 13ff. I want to take that last part first and get it out of the way so if you'll come over to James 1: 13, we're going to read the latter part of this section first.

James 1: 13. When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James says some people choose under the trial, under the duress of persecution, under the situation that they find their life in, literally, to choose to sin rather than to have joy. It's a pretty simple progress, he says. There is something about the trial, something about life's situation that tempts you. And the temptations are primarily these two. One is to blame God for the situation you're in. The other one is to ignore God in the midst of the situation that you're in but you're tempted to try to explain away in the midst of this particular trial that this isn't, in any way, related to me. I'm going to push it aside. It's God's fault or I'm going to ignore God in the midst of it. James says, when that temptation comes, when you harbor that temptation and you allow that temptation to lure you (that's the language) it's to bait you, to pull you in. You find yourself succumbing to that temptation and the next thing you know, you have found yourself in sin and that sin, he says, ultimately will result in death.

That death will be first of all, your own personal, spiritual death. Because you will have separated yourself from God, the source of your help. It will separate you relationally. In the midst of those trials, the people that you need most will have been pushed away from you. They will not be there to help you. Ultimately, it will separate you from God eternally.

Now, pretty important that you understand that having questions in the midst of trials is not a problem. I don't know that any of us have ever gone through hard times that we didn't have surface for us great questions. Wanting to know why is this happening? What's going on? Is God involved in this? The questioning is not the problem. The blaming is the problem because it's a clear misunderstanding of who God is. James is very clear when he comes to this text. You don't blame God because God is good. He doesn't tempt anyone. Now don't misunderstand. This text has two different words that are used interchangeably here. One of them means, literally, an outside trial. The kind of thing that was being talked about in the text that Ginny read, something beyond your control. Something you don't have anything to do with. But there is another word in here that is used sometimes to talk about those trials but is often just personal temptation. When you have been attracted to something that you shouldn't be doing. Those two get woven in here. God does not tempt us but it would be unfair to say that God does not use life in order to test us, to establish our character. Don't blame God, he says, when you are under temptation, when you are being tested. Don't blame him for what's happening because when you begin to blame him for what is going on you begin to lose the possibility that this trial will have benefit for you. And it really is a temptation. It's a temptation to allow yourself to become the focal point.

George Stulac on his commentary on this particular text says, "When you encounter a trial, such as unjust treatment from another, you may experience a temptation to retaliate by criticizing, gossiping, withholding love or inflicting injury." And he says, "Instead. . . ." and he gives a fairly lengthy list of things you should do on the other hand and in other words, don't succumb to that. Don't allow the trial to produce in you a response that's going to be that which is sinful. But rather allow the trial to do its work, which we will see in a minute, is to produce in you some kind of character. The end result of temptation is sin and the end of sin is death so he says, don't blame God and find yourself sinning against God in that process. On the other hand, don't ignore him. Sometimes in the midst of trial we find ourselves turning away from him and ignoring his presence.

James 1: 16 says very clearly Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. It would be a tragic mistake in the midst of trial to ignore God as if God has no interest in what your doing. The trial doesn't indicate that God has gone anywhere. That he has somehow moved. He is still there. In fact, he might be right in the midst of it hoping that in the mist of this particular trial and difficulty, you will find him and will allow him to work in you in ways that you have never allowed him to work before. He is good. He cannot be tempted. He will not tempt and he is (the fancy word for it is) immutable. He doesn't change. He cannot be tempted to be something different than what he is.

So we come to him in the midst of trial, in the midst of difficulty, knowing that this God who is good gives good gifts which in this text may include the trials. The trials may, in fact, be a gift from God to strengthen who you are and to shape you into what he needs for you to be. So he says, don't be deceived. Don't blame God. Don't ignore God but rather allow God to work in the midst of that, which goes back to the beginning of this chapter, James 1: 2, consider it all joy.

Some people in the midst of trials find themselves submitting themself to sin. They allow the trials to drive them to do things that they shouldn't do. But the other choice is, to choose to grow in the midst of it. Come back to James 1: 2 and look at this text. The first part of James Consider it pure joy, my brothers (it's a command). Consider it joy. . . .something you choose to do. He says, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The Christian perspective when it comes time to face trial is to recognize it in the midst of the trial, in the midst of the difficulties, is an opportunity for God to help us to grow into the shape that he desires us to be. It will produce in you perseverance which is a statement about character, a statement about integrity. It's fortitude, it's strength, it's steadfastness, it's faithfulness. Trials produce in us growth when we let them.

It is, as a matter of fact, related to that very vision that we have as a congregation that we will be a body of people where we all look like Jesus. That we grow into his character. That we take upon ourselves his likeness. You can't grow to be like Jesus if you can't allow trial to have its shaping work in you. It's like asking God to make you patient without accepting what patience requires and that is trials to produce them. So James says, listen to this command. God wants you to have a change of perspective so that you will allow trials to produce in you a maturity of perfection that comes only through enduring the trials. He wants you to grow.

Now I know, as a matter of fact, some of you have been in a position where you have said, looking at other people's difficulties, "I could never do that." "I would never survive that. I could never go through that. I don't know how that person went through that and kept their head up. I don't know how they endured that." And the response to that is, you are absolutely correct. You probably couldn't at this point in your life. But when it is time for you to face that kind of difficulty, when it's time for you to face that kind of trial, you will be able to. Because that accumulation of trial, that accumulation of difficulty produces in us steadfastness beyond what we can imagine.

Paul said it this way. There is no temptation taken you but such as is common demand and God is faithful and will make a way of escape. You're not going to be tempted beyond what you're able. Now what's a little scary is when you look at the situation your life is in and you recognize as hard as this particular situation is, it could be preparation for something in the future, which I think is why Jesus says, don't worry about tomorrow because today has enough difficulty of itself. If this trial is tough, why worry about the one that may come down the road when it isn't yet here.

Consider it all joy. My guess is, that it would be important for us to understand that joy is not "happiness". There are lots of words for "joy".

One of which means laughter. This is not it. There is a word that has a tendency to mean that which is just happy, giddy. That's not this one either. Those kinds of things are dependent primarily upon your circumstances. Obviously if you're under trial, the circumstances don't lend themselves to being "happy" as we typically mean the term.

This term for joy is that deep seeded sense of contentment. It's a peacefulness that goes beyond expression. Paul says, "a peace that passes understanding". There is a joy that exists in people that comes even in the midst of trial and in the midst of mourning. It's the kind of thing that's almost unexplainable. You look at a person who carries themself with that kind of demeanor and you wonder what that is in them. That's biblical "joy". It's a statement of contentment. It's, well, it's the Betty Kruse's in life who after 25 years of praying for her husband's salvation finds out that he is having an affair and leaving her anyway and yet here she is in the service of the king continuing to be this outgoing solid, content person. Even though the pain runs deep. You look at her and you say, I don't know how she does that. That's joy. The kind of joy that he is asking for us to begin to look for in our life, not the circumstantial happiness, but to allow ourselves to become that kind of deep person in the midst of joy that exudes that kind of peace that says in essence, I know that life is out of control, but God is not out of control. God is in control.

Now, you ought to be asking James this question. How in the world do you do that? That's certainly my question. How? And that's the explanation that he gives us in the remainder of this opening paragraph.

Look at James 1:5 after he has said to consider this all joy, he says in verse 5, If any of you lacks wisdom,. . . . . .If any of you don't know how to consider these things joy. If you don't know how to turn, allow those difficult issues to turn into perseverance, he says, then ask God. And this God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But 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. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

The first thing that James says you need to do when trials come that you can't quite get a handle on is turn to God. Pray. Ask him for the wisdom to see in these things that which he desires for you to see. To recognize - "I don't know how to handle this. I don't know what to do with this. This is bigger than I am." And turn to the person who is able then to give you what you need.

The description of God in the midst of this is, I will supply for you. I'm generous (I'll give it to you). You need wisdom, ask me for it. I'll give it to you. I'll give it to you generously and I will give it to you without (the old King James word is "upbraiding") without making fun of you for needing it. Without reminding you how dumb you are because you had to ask for it. You know those times you've asked somebody for something the second or third time and they look at you like "I've told you this before. . . . .I've already answered that question. . . . . ." You never get that from God. You come. You ask. He gives it and he gives it without any kind of difficulty on his part. He never makes you feel bad for having to ask again for strength or wisdom to be able to handle this situation. This generous God is the God who gives to us and asks us simply to trust him for the answers. But you can't do that if you're double-minded he says. This isn't a term about those of us who struggle with issues. This isn't about just having questions and doubting. It's okay. That part is alright. The problem is the double-minded standard whereby we have really not created an allegiance to God of "Trust". We only go to him when we think we need him, but he isn't the center of our life the rest of the time.

I remember in those early days of being a Christian, trying to engage my mother in conversation and quite honestly, knowing without any doubt I have offended her on more than one occasion, had offended her on a number of occasions because I didn't know how to try to raise this question of being Christian. And I remember distinctly one day she looked at me. I don't remember what I said. I only remember what she said. "Don't you ever think that I don't pray." Well, I don't have any doubt. I did at the time. I didn't even think that my mother would have ever prayed. Didn't strike me as something she would do. But the more I thought about that, the more I thought, I don't know what kind of evidence that is. Lots of people pray whenever they're in trouble.

That's exactly what James is talking about. You can't be double-minded and think that because you happen to be in this particular trial I'm going to pray but, when I don't need God I'm not going to worry about him any more. The double-minded person can't expect God to honor their prayers because they have a divided loyalty. When God is needed, fine. But when you don't need him, then just ignore him. That person, James says, should not expect God to answer their prayers. There needs to be a unified heart that we need God all the time and we ask specifically under trials for wisdom. And he says, I'll give it to you. I'll give it to you generously and graciously.

But it's not just that you pray for wisdom, it's that in the prayer for wisdom, you learn to trust God.

Look at verses James 1:9ff. This is an admittedly tough section of James 1. Many don't know exactly what in the world it's doing in the first chapter. I'm not sure I can answer that question, but I'll give it my best shot.

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Just as we will see wisdom show up again in this book of James, we will see this issue of wealth come up more than once. It seems that what James is trying to indicate is that whether you are rich or poor there is a need to depend on God. For the one in low circumstance, for the poor person, there isn't any question that they need God. They know that. They understand it and so in that dependance upon God there is this very clear sense that they have a high position or trust. They have been honored by God taking care of them. He takes care of the widows and the orphans. He is interested in the outcasts and the fringe people of society. That becomes clear in James. This person of humble circumstances can't do anything but depend on God.

The rich, he says, must also learn to depend on God because they can't depend upon anything else.

And he goes to quite some elaboration to remind us that which we have in this life, we cannot depend on. It's like grass. It withers away. I don't remember which famous person it was, but when they passed away, somebody asked, how much did they leave behind? And the response was, "Everything!" You can't depend on your riches to get you through trials either or to produce a new character or to give you the kind of wisdom.

So James reminds us that all of us in some way are dependant upon God. Wealth tends of breed in us a sense of worth, a sense of security, a sense of power and James will remind us on multiple occasions that our worth is not based on our bottom line. Our worth is based on our relationship with Jesus.

He will remind us later that our security has nothing to do with what our bank account or our IRA says. Our security has to do with our relationship with Christ. That our power is not a power of authority. It is the servant relationship that we have with Jesus. In fact, that's the way James starts this book. He could have said, James the brother of Jesus. . . . .position. Instead he said James, a servant of God because he understood that relationship.

Trials produce two choices. You can consider it joy or you can succumb to sin and blame God. James 1:12 comes back to this statement of Beatitude - Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. It's the same word that's used on the Sermon on the Mount in the Beatitudes. To be blessed. To have contentment. To be at peace. To have biblical "joy" in the midst of trials. That person who is able to stand up in the midst of hard times is the person who is literally blessed.

What James will guide us through are words to "grow by" and the very first word he offers us is this word perseverance. In the midst of hard times, to hang in there, to be steadfast, to be faithful, to not be distracted, but to keep your focus where it belongs on God and to see what he can produce in the midst of it.

James 1:18 is a fitting conclusion to this particular first paragraph in James where the writer says that, He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. This one who is consistent in whom there is no shadow (he doesn't change as the light changes) is the one who has chosen to produce in us a new birth and a new character if we chose for that to happen, if we allow the trial to be what the trial needs to be. Something that can produce in us joy, perseverance, character. So the challenge of James is really very, very simple. Allow God to "grow-you-up". Through his word he produces in you his character and so that will be the challenge of these opening weeks as we come together as a body of people to allow God's word to begin to generate in you the ability to handle life in a way that is Christian by developing the character of Christ. To literally consider your trials "joy" because in them there is an opportunity to be Christ-like. This same God who wants to produce in his children that kind of character wants to produce in those who don't yet know him, a new life, so they can become his children. This same word is the word that gives new birth. James calls those of us who seek to know God to that same faithful listening while God produces in us life.

James is a book to grow by. It will be a challenging book to look at because he will ask us to face issues that we, sometimes, don't want to face. Things like trials and to see in them what God can do in us to make us a different people with the character of Christ.

Let's stand together.