Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Faith That Works: The Treasure of Trials, pt 2," James 1:4–5

One of the most fascinating characters in early American history has always been our 7th president, a man who went by the nickname "Old Hickory." Andrew Jackson. If you were to ask his neighborhood friends growing up, he was the least likely of all of them to become president one day. Jackson’s boyhood friends just couldn’t understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States. They knew of other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded. One of Jackson’s friends said, “Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now.” Another friend responded, “How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn’t they usually say three times and out?” “Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat—he would never stay ‘throwed.’ Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andrew Jackson would throw him and be the winner.”
It’s not if you get “throwed,” or how many times; but what you do about it! (From Our Daily Bread).
The first point to observe is James 1:4, "perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." God’s people must persevere so they may be mature and complete. The twelve tribes of scattered believers should have continued persevering so they might be mature and complete, and so should we.
What does "mature" mean? "Complete"? The word for mature in Greek means “to meeting the highest standard; perfect.” This is the same root for the word “finish” in v. 3, meaning “finish, complete, end.” Persevering during trials is not just an end in itself; but for the purpose of becoming more mature; eventually “Holy as God is Holy.”
It's like going to work everyday. Some of us do it because we like it. We’re “special.” Most people work because at the end of so many days of working they receive money. So too, persevere through trials because you will receive the reward of spiritual growth and maturity: one step closer to being like Christ Jesus.
The same way with trials. They are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. We're supposed to be more mature in the end, so if that trial comes up again we are not as affected. If someone picks on you, makes fun of you, or gossips about you everyday, and everyday it affects you terribly, then you have passed through the trial without perseverance or maturity. Ralph P. Martin, observed correctly that the idea of maturity pertains to character, not works.
James emphasizes later in 2:14, “what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”
The goal of being "Holy as I am Holy" is such a high and lofty goal. I watched a martial arts instructor show his students a new form, and it was very difficult for the students to hold that stance for 15 or 30 seconds. He calmly said the goal was to hold it for 4 hours. What! The instructor did not expect them to hold that stance for 4 hours that day, or the next day, or the next week, or even the next month! Perhaps in 5 years if they were disciplined.
That's what James is telling us. Eventually, after a life of discipline and perseverance, you should be mature, complete! Lacking nothing! By God's grace it is possible! One step at a time. Just keeping taking one step.

One of my mentors in ministry used to tell me, regarding reaching the world for Christ, "How do you eat an elephant?" (I have to admit, the first time I was confused, maybe like you are right now, but stay with me). "One bite at a time. It's too big." Take maturity one step at a time. One trial at a time.
Another question comes to mind then: Isn’t perseverance performing the proper acts or actions that please God? Isn’t God happy about that? Yes! But God wants people whose hearts are changed for Him, not just their outer acts. The prophets condemned Israelites for outward acts without an inward motive towards godliness. They said to “rend your hearts not your garments." They had a habit of repenting and showing their deep repentance by grabbing their front shirt collars and ripping them in two down the center, reflecting the broken heart. In Isaiah God said, “I hate your worthless sacrifices and festivals," or in 1 Samuel "to obey is better than sacrifice."
God always has and always will desire character over all.
Ask the question: Who are you when no one else is around? Are you meeting the highest standard or perfect? Are you better than the last time you were alone? How about with others?

Have you heard of a grindstone? DEFINITION OF A GRINDSTONE: a disc-shaped stone that revolves and is used to sharpen, grind, or polish edge tools. James Hewitt said, “Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you are made of.”[1] What are you made of? Think about that. D. L. Moody said, “Character is who you are in the dark.”[2]
James spoke exactly about this when he said "determine it joy when you encounter various trials." The grindstone will come, but you persevere.
This concept is very important to me as a pastor. Every pastor has a different emphasis, usually one of these five: teaching/discipleship, worship, evangelism, fellowship, or service. My focus has always been the first one, on making mature believers. Jesus called us to make disciples not decisions. A mature Christian will properly worship, witness, love the other brethren, and serve the Lord. Mature Christians will understand that God is the owner, they are the manager. James' point is to become such a mature Christian.
Character and perseverance working together combine to make the great "d" word. Discipline.
Jerry West said, “You can’t get too much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.”[3]
Another word is here, the word for complete, which means in the original language, “being complete and meeting all expectations.”

Principle #1: Trials are guaranteed; treasures are not.

Review what James said earlier: "consider it joy whenever you encounter various trials," not "if ever," but "whenever." Trials are guaranteed.

Now he says to let perseverance finish its work so that you "will definitely" be mature and complete? No, so that "you may/might" be.
We have a choice when we come to a trial, that we don't automatically experience a trial and come out with a treasure. It is possible you're reading this, and disappointed because during a previous hardship you think you came out without anything in the end. It may not be over, but it you may have missed the treasure too.
It's not just the people who come on Sundays and show more flamboyant expressions of their faith who are more spiritual. If you're in a trial, God is interested in you, and is looking for your character and nature.

Attitude is so important enduring a trial. We have to have the attitude of persevering through it if we are to become more mature. Joe Theismann illustrates this. For twelve years he quarterbacked the Washington Redskins, and during the 1983-1984 seasons he helped lead his team to two Superbowls. He finished his career as Washington's all time leading passer. He had an interesting insight reflecting on the two Superbowls, and the two different rings. The first Superbowl he was so passionate and excited, and the team won. The second Superbowl he left with the loser's ring instead of the winner's. He said later on, "I got stagnant. I thought the team revolved around me. I should have known it was time to go when I didn’t care whether a pass hit Art Monk in the 8 or the 1 on his uniform. When we went back to the Super Bowl, my approach had changed. I was griping about the weather, my shoes, practice times, everything.
Today I wear my two rings--the winner’s ring from Super Bowl XVII and the loser’s ring from Super Bowl XVIII. The difference in those two rings lies in applying oneself and not accepting anything but the best."[4]
Can attitude make that much difference when we experience a trial? Absolutely! Fill a glass half way with water, and ask someone if it is half full or half empty, and it will reflect their attitude.
So first, we must persevere through trials in order to be mature. I pray for our church, family, friends, community of Darlington, and other family and friends spread out all over the world that they might be more mature and that they might persevere. I especially pray for our church family to persevere and become more mature.

Second, if you lack wisdom, ask of God who gives it graciously. Earlier James had said we should be perfect and complete, lacking nothing (remember, hold that stance for 4 hours!).

If a Christian finds him or herself lacking wisdom, they should ask from God.
If any of you lacks” piggybacks off of the previous conditional phrase: “you may become mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
So James, do I have the ability to persevere through the trial not lacking anything, or will I discover after my trial that I am lacking something? Which is it?
Someone may be reading this, and despite all that has been written, you have come through a trial and can't find one good reason for it.
That's why James wrote verse 5. For the times when we cry out, "What good was my suffering?"
Ask God. He gives better and more graciously than the haughty people around James when he wrote this. Many gave to be seen by men (see Matthew 5-6), but God gives without haughtiness or arrogance, or spite. He gives graciously. Aren't you glad?
Implied is that we have to realize we don't have wisdom in order to ask of it. In spite of all our accomplishments, our house, cars, kids, symbols of status, we don't have all the wisdom that we could have.
This verse has been so instrumental to me and my faith. I claim it and pray it all the time, especially as a pastor. Sometimes I cry out to God saying, "Lord, I have no idea how You want us to handle this situation! If you don't give me the wisdom, we will sink!" That happens once every two years or so (hopefully you're laughing. If not, well . . .).
Proverbs 2:6 says, “The Lord [Yahweh] gives wisdom.” Isn't that good to have memorized? Proverbs also tells us more on how to find wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom,” (Prov 1:7)
If you've decided to be god in your life, you're off to a bad start on finding wisdom. Seek God, find wisdom. If someone is crying out for help, God is listening! Asking here means prayer, talking to God. I have yet to ask for wisdom and God not provide it. The wisest people I have met are those who have suffered through a trial.
I am amazed at finding some teachers once in a while who say that if you're suffering it's because you don't have enough faith. Then I have to take out 2 Timothy 3:12 from the Bible, which promises everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Also tear out James 1, "whenever you encounter various trials." (by the way, all those I've known who are preachers and teach this--they all suffer greatly. I find that interesting).

Jonny Erickson Tada, 1967 driving accident left her paralyzed (CLARIFICATION; yes a DIVING ACCIDENT—updated 2/15/09 after finding out from I at first said she was in a diving accident, then during the audio copy of this message I had found a misinformation capsule, and changed it to "driving." However, I am sure now it was a "diving" accident.) She could have remained anonymous and paralyzed, but the treasure of her trial was to use her disability and good attitude to share the love of Christ with the world. She has done so.
Some trials in life invite perseverance, and leave us a choice. We can grow and mature if we take the initiative. For example, we can witness, attend the Contagious Christian class, and possibly find a way to share Christ with that person who we know who is lost. Or we can wonder what would have happened to them eternally if we had stepped out in faith, and how we might have matured. Part of the process of trials is the gift of wisdom.

Principle #2: Every Trial is an opportunity for a treasure

God is sovereign. James doesn't say, "God will give you wisdom," he says, "it will be given to him." It means that when you find that wisdom, you may not find it in a vision of Jesus like Paul saw on the road to Damascus, it is from God directly or indirectly.
“It will be given” is passive, even though we know it comes from God. It shows God’s sovereignty, as the Mover behind all the scenes.
We miss so much of what God wants for us because we go through trials, but don’t get the treasure.
Let me leave the reader with one last illustration that shows sometimes our trials have treasures we miss. Persevere, have a proper attitude, trust in God, look for wisdom. A boy went everyday from his cottage to the river to collect water in his bucket. He had a pinhole in the bucket so it would leak all the way home along the trail. He complained everyday because ¼ of the water in his bucket never made it home. One day in spring a long row of flowers budded, and gradually grew all along the pathway between the cottage and the river, and though the boy still complained that he had a hole in his bucket, he really liked the flowers. Their scent of honey and the swarms of butterflies and bees made the trip to the river everyday fascinating. Yet he complained even more about his imperfect bucket. Finally he was so irritated and consumed by the bucket that he threw it away and spent all he had to get a new one. His problems were solved. It cost him a lot, but he no longer felt so frustrated. Life was good. Yet, after a few days the flowers wilted by the path, and the bees and butterflies were gone. He was consumed by his own trial so much that he didn’t realize it was also a blessing to him, and to others.
Will you do me a favor, and everyone else in your life? Will you stop during your next trial and look around. Maybe there is a treasure in that trial; maybe you are suffering for a greater good; maybe God wants to use you to bring joy and happiness into someone’s life.
Maybe the very thing that is a pain in your life is a blessing in someone else's, and one day will be a blessing in yours.

We must persevere to receive the treasure of maturity (v. 4)
Principle #1: Trials are guaranteed; treasures are not
If we lack wisdom, we can ask God who gives graciously (v. 5)
Principle #2: Every Trial is an opportunity for a treasure

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, s.v. character.
[2] Swindoll, s.v. character.
[3] The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell, p. 65.
[4] Reader’s Digest, January 1992, also on, as of 2/28/09, 6pm.

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