James 1,

Listening in Trials,

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      In the most famous Bell Tower story,  “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” you have a sharp contrast between the hunchback, Quasimodo who lives walled up among the bells, and the beautiful Esmerelda who lives wide open among the gypsies and the abusers of life.   Quasimodo faces abuse because of his ugliness.  Esmerelda faces abuse by people who want to just use her because of her beauty.   They become friends out of a mutual kind of understanding and mercy.  The trials that we face can bring us together and we all have trials no matter how much we have, where we live, what we do.  It is a part of life.  This is the premise of this passage- “When you face trials of various kinds.”
I. THERE ARE TRIALS- We are under no illusion that trials do not happen.  We are under no illusion that because there are good things that come out of trials that the pain does not matter.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation- but be of good cheer I have overcome the world.”  In other words, even in the trials of life it is possible to lift up your head.  Pain matters, but it is never the end.  Trials will come but we can be of good cheer and even have joy.
Tim Keller, once said that our society/culture does one of the worst jobs of preparing us for trials than any other on the face of the earth.  Most other societies will say that this life is temporary and brutish.  Our secular society wants to take away the hope of heaven and say live for only this moment this day.  There is a problem with that.  The problem is that the things you value in the moment will be taken away.  Many Christians in America will believe in God but will at the same time put other things ahead of God in their mind.  So, for example, if you value someone you love ahead of God, and then they get sick and die you are left with no value.  If you value your sports so much- and then you get injured what do you do?  If you value your job and wealth and if you get demoted or lose your wealth in a stock plunge, what do you do?  Trials come whether you have a lot or have a little.  They come whether you are beautiful like Esmerelda or not beautiful like Quasimodo.  Now I am not trying to throw a wet blanket on your life- and neither is James.  He says “consider it all joy when you face trials.”  Jesus said we can be of good cheer.  Trials can teach us things- like Paul’s thorn in the flesh that taught him to rely on God.  Trials can remind us to look to God- and tragedy can be alarm clocks to wake us up to Him.  Trials can give us wisdom- perspective.  I am a better father for having gone through trials.  I am a more sympathetic person because I have faced my own grief.  Life is not just a bunch of theories and philosophies to be theorized about in an ivory tower.  Today we will have communion.  Communion is a reminder that our Lord faced trials.  He came to earth for us.  But he gave his body and blood for us in a horrible trial that He overcame.
II. PERSEVERANCE IS IMPORTANT IN FACING TRIALS- The word here is “hypomenos” and it means to stand your ground steadfastly.  Jesus persevered.  He stated at the very beginning of his ministry that he would be going to a cross.  Yet he did not hide, run away, raise up those who would defend him.  Instead he “set his face like flint” toward Jerusalem.
My father, and later my older brother used to sign their letters with the words “slow and steady wins the race.”  Often they would draw a picture of a turtle- reminding of the story of the tortoise and the hare.  Today there are many people who give up the faith.   There are many causes- many fingers could be pointed.  But it doesn’t matter who is to blame or what is the excuse.  God is love and we need His love and we do not need to forsake that love.  We need to stand our ground- keep the faith passed down to us.  When we fail, remember God’s grace and get back up- don’t stay in your guilt and aimlessness.  We need to learn to persevere and not give up.  Paul talked about our light and momentary troubles do not compare with what we will see in heaven.  Paul’s trials weren’t light- beaten, thrown to animals, stoned, but compared to the glory of heaven they were meaningless.
Two years ago Ryan Pitts received a Medal of Honor award for holding the line in what President Obama called “the fiercest battle in Afghanistan.”  He and eight others manned an outpost against 2-300 Taliban fighters.  This outpost, if overrun would allow the Taliban to overrun the whole base below.  Ryan did not retreat, but kept fighting even though he was the only one left.   Eventually some fellow paratroopers broke through and air support came and he was rescued.  But what courage!  The word “hypomenos” means to stand your ground or hold the line until God comes to help you.
III. BELIEVING PRAYER IS IMPORTANT- He asks us to pray to get through these trials.  But he asks us to pray in a certain way- without doubting.  The word “doubting” (diakinomenos) literally is “going back and forth in deciding.”  James is basically saying trust in God steadfastly.  James says to doubt when we pray is like being a double minded person.  That is, one person is asking God Almighty who loves us for something, and the other person is asking a weak un-mighty, powerless god who may not love us for something.  Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 21:22- “we should ask believing.”  Perhaps you remember the story of Peter in the boat.  Peter saw Jesus walking on the water- some said he was a ghost.  Peter said, “Lord if it is you command me to come to you on the water.”  Peter was saying, “If you are walking on the water, and you love me, then help me to do the same.”  Jesus said come, and Peter went out of the boat.  But Peter was a double minded man.  On the one hand- he believed “You can’t possibly walk on water.”  On the other hand he saw Jesus walking on the water.  What happened to Peter?  He started sinking and panicking.  Still Jesus rescued him- but he didn’t meet his potential because he waivered.  Build up your ability to trust in God.  Remember the times God has seen you through- and focus on that.  Keep your eyes and trust in the right direction.
One day not too long ago, I was riding behind a car behind a car behind a car behind a car going 25 miles an hour down highway 76.  Of course I was in a hurry.  After all the other cars had managed to pass the car, I saw the old rusted car that seemed to be sputtering just at 25.  It had a bumper sticker.  It said, “Please be patient with me, I’m pedaling as fast as I can.”   Sometimes the trials that others have-  that are teaching them patience, are also our own trials and teach us patience too.   I learned to persevere behind that pedaling car that day.  I learned to lift up my situation to God.  Patience and perseverance are hard lessons- but they cannot be taught in a classroom- they must be learned in the laboratories of life- our trials and our errors.