Preach // Trials and Temptations // James 1

Preached at TRINITY Church 8am/10am/11.15am 10/9/17

(And a lot of it is cribbed from the legend that is Tom Wright!)

James 1: 1-18 – Trials and temptations

Intro to series

So this morning we start a new series looking at the book of James. A book of just 5 chapters it is often overlooked and it has divided people. Martin Luther for example described it as the ‘epistle of straw’! because there is no reference to Christ’s death and resurrection, and later on he thinks that it contradicts Paul’s doctrine of justification.

Others feel like it is a breath of fresh air coming as it does after Paul’s somewhat weighty theology!

 

So before we really get into the passage today let me give you a bit of an intro.

First off we read that this is written by James, but who was James? Well we can’t actually be sure but the most likely author is James, brother of Jesus, whose name actually wasn’t James at all, but Jacob. James was a European variation that came via Italian and other languages. He was sometimes referred to in later writings as James the Just, and to add to the confusion he is referred to one more than one occasion in scripture as the Son of Alpheus. Clear as mud right? But, there is a reasonable amount of evidence for the writer of this letter being Jesus’ brother.

feel free to do some study at your own leisure!

 

James became a leader in the early church and Paul refers to him in Galatians along with Peter and John as a pillar of the church. (Gal 2:9)

 

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We read in v1 that this letter is written to:

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

 

And whilst Peter and Paul and other leaders in the early church headed off, James stayed in Jerusalem as the key leader in the Jerusalem church over the first thirty years of Christianity.

So, with a reference to Jewish heritage, which would have been important in that context, basically this letter is written to encourage Christians across the world – whom he seems to be seeing as as the new version of those ‘twelve tribes’ of Israel, now further dispersed – to encourage the, to face up to the challenge of faith.

 

Quite a challenge it was then, as it is now too.

 

For today //

 

In that sense it makes good reading for us today, some good solid advice for worldly situations.

It addresses common human needs, temptations and situations and gives instruction or advice.

It is a challenge to take seriously a Godly and radical lifestyle.

But given in a way that is encouraging and encompassing – for example in this chapter alone he calls the readers ‘brothers and sisters’ 3 times… so he is really embracing the nature of Christians on a journey together

 

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Here in chapter 1 as we are looking at today, the focus is on trials and temptations and the tools to deal with that – perseverance and trust.

James seems to give the expectation that trials are part of being a believer. He doesn’t say ‘if’ trials come, but ‘when’. Being a Christian doesn’t mean, as I’m sure most of us know, that the second we make that choice, everything becomes fantastic. No, not at all. I mean we all live in a broken world don’t we? The result of sin means that we don’t live in the beautiful perfect world God created.

 

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God dosent send this stuff…

But I do want to say, I do not come from the school of theology that says that God sends us trials and tribulations, sends illness upon us to toughen us up or increase our faith. Nor that God is the one who tempts us to try and trick us off course.

 

And neither does James it seems. He doesn’t say that our trials or temptations are sent by God, in fact the opposite.

In verse 5 for example he talks of God who ‘gives generously without finding fault’ – even though we all carry faults! And later in v 13 on temptation he says:

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed…

God does not tempt us !

In fact who is it that tempts Jesus in the wilderness? Not God but the devil. And here with a note perhaps to our own brokenness or sinful nature, James warns us that testing comes from within.

 

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Last week at the 630 we began a series looking at transformation. And I kicked off with spiritual transformation. I talked about the fact that we live in a spiritual world. There are forces at work that we can’t see but we can certainly see the evidence of – so of course we have the HS, at work within us, guiding us, we can feel that for ourselves and we are the evidence of the HS at work. But more than that, we see it in answers to prayer, or in the work of others.

But the same goes for the work of evil. We can’t see it but we can see the results of it. When really terrible things happen people often ask why God would do such a thing. But I don’t think it’s God, do you?

 

A story…

So when I became a Christian literally a week later I was struck down with a virus that meant I became ill with chronic fatigue and ended up with a year off work.

Now look I’m not someone who sees a demon behind every lamp post as it were! Sometimes things happen as a result of our own choices and free will, sometimes they are the result of others choices, but we can also be aware that there might be something else going on too, spiritually. So when I became ill, I knew my over-working probably had something to do with but, but I was also aware that spiritually it was very interesting timing.

Whatever we face in life, I think is a mixture. Some of it is as a result of being in a fallen world, we get sick, people die, bad stuff happens – it’s not how it was supposed to be.

But also as Christians, we do put our head above the parapet in some sense, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if we become a target or face trials. Tom Wright, theologian says:

The moment you decide to follow Jesus is the moment to expect the trials

to begin. It’s a bit like opening the back door to set off on a walk and finding that the wind nearly pushes you back inside before you’ve even started.

(Tom, Wright. Early Christian Letters for Everyone (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 4). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

 

When a Christian is tested it shows something real is happening. There are many kinds of test: actual persecution, which many face today; fierce and nasty temptations, which can strike suddenly when we’re not expecting them; physical sickness or bereavement; family or financial troubles; and so on. But you wouldn’t be tested unless you were doing something serious.

 

We are supposed to count, to make a difference in the world, whether through our daily walk, reflecting who Jesus is or in a wider more reaching sense.

 

  

BUT ///

 

Of course nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom. In Romans 8 a passage that looks at suffering particularly, Paul notes in v 28:

 

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose

 

God wastes nothing. In fact he uses things for our good and for his purposes. So when James says in v3:

you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance’, we can lay claim to that.

 

In v4 that we may become mature and complete,

 

He goes on: not lacking anything

 

he means, of course, in our journey towards becoming more like Christ, not lacking anything that would helps us be more like him, reflecting him. And it does not mean in a prosperity gospel kind of way! That we would be lacking nothing material

And he even stresses the very difficulties of being rich, in vs 9-11..

 

And on that can I just say – look God wants the best for us, he pours out his blessings on us, and some of us will have more than others, and with that comes the responsibility of using it wisely.

but one of the main themes of the bible is looking out for those worse off than ourselves, loving one another, sharing with those in need.

There are those who preach from texts like this that God wants us to be wealthy, materially rich, you know you see those Pastors (mostly in the US) with massive houses and 5 cars and uber wealthy ( and look this is the CofE so it’s not likely to happen to clergy!!) but really? Is that giving off the best example?

 

James warns against the temptations of hoarding wealth: he says the rich will:

pass away like a wild flower and will fade away even while they go about their business.

 

As we all will! But the thing is, what we do with what God gives us is a responsibility we have to face with Godly wisdom.

 

By contrast to some of those rich Pastors. some of the richest people in the world, Bill and Melinda Gates, have are living out their (or her) catholic faith and teaching in pledging to give away as much as they can. They along with others started the ‘giving pledge’ that the uber wealthy can sign up to, to pledge to give away their wealth to those in need. They run the bill and Melinda gates foundation that seeks to reach the worlds poorest, aiming to do amazing things like eradicate malaria.

 

MG says: For me, faith is about faith in action. With this deep-seated belief, Bill and I believe that all lives have equal value. We try to live that out in what we do as a foundation.

 

God doesn’t love any one of us more or less, we do all have equal value in his eyes but we don’t always see that do we?

 

Temptations can come in many forms, not just financial, but the root is usually about putting ourselves first or wanting something for ourselves… perhaps it comes from not being able to truly see our identity as children of God?

 

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Dealing with our own trials and temptations it’s hard.

When we see others facing things, it’s very easy to stand on the outside and say:

God is with you, or ‘I’m praying for the resolution of a situation. But when we are in it, ourselves it’s really hard.

 

It’s hard not to listen to the voice of the enemy that tells us God is not here or that God has done this to us, or that this is some kind of punishment.

But V 16 says ‘don’t be deceived!’ That is what the devil is, a deceiver, one who wants to take us from the path that God has put us on.

 

And I don’t want to sound at all blasé about this. I’ve lived with illness, I’ve lived with chronic pain, and until you’ve been in a situation like it you can’t begin to imagine it. But even saying that I know that my pain and suffering was short lived. I know there are people here in our church who going through really tough times. There are some of us dealing with illness and pain for which there is no relief, with grief that seems never ending, with suffering that seems inconsolable, and I know that as I stand here my words are probably not even scratching the surface.

But thankfully we do know that there is one who can always be with us in it. I honesty don’t know how people go through trials without Jesus. When I take funerals I always want to tell people there about the hope we have in Jesus, whether they are Christians or not, because in the midst of despair, sometimes hope is all we have. Hope in Jesus.

And James says that we should turn to him, to seek God.

 

In v5:

if any of you lacks wisdom (ie in the situation we are facing) you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault..

 

If only we had that Godly wisdom in our lives! If only we could see the wisdom of God in all that we face. Wouldn’t it make it so much easier to bear?

 

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I had a friend who sadly died of breast cancer some years ago. And when she was ill she shared on many occasions of how Jesus was with her, she was an inspiration as she really did seek him in the midst of her trials. On one occasion she was waiting to go in for a scan, just a normal scan, no medical procedures to happen. And as she prayed while she waited, she looked down and saw that she was covered in blood. First she panicked and thought that her illness had progressed in some terrible way, but then realised it was a vision and she felt God telling her, no, I’m with you, you are covered in my blood. It was a very profound reminder to her there and then that he had been there before her, that she had nothing to fear. If death was to be her end, he had been there before, and it was a huge comfort to her. She sought God in her trial and it was his presence and wisdom that comforted her.

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James goes on to say, v6, believe and don’t doubt. One who doubts is like a wave tossed and blown by the wind. That makes us unstable and double minded.

Again easy to say, hard to hear. but I don’t think it is said here to criticise, no it is supposed to be an encouragement, that if you focus on God, you won’t be blown around, you will be the boat that rides through the storm rather than being tossed around by it

 

You know, whilst waves seem to have energy of their own, when you see them crashing and moving about with such force, or just rolling in on a summers day, but no, they are actually the random product of other forces: wind and gravity.

It’s the same for us, when we feel like our faith is being bashed around, it is not God doing it. BUT if we focus on him, he gives us the wisdom, the rudder if you like, to steer through it.

 

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I’ve spoken before about my back injury but that was definitely a trial. It was painful and frustrating and I could have spent that time being cross, wondering why God didn’t heal me, wondering what I had done to deserve this.

But I focussed on God. And he was so faithful within it. I was able to focus on him and not be steered off course. I sought him in the pain and he revealed himself to me. And you know I think that time was a blessing, I grew in my relationship with God in that time, I know that in persevering it was just part of my journey towards spiritual maturity…

 

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ending //

 

We are all on that journey, everyone one of us, at different stages and places, perhaps even right at the start. And that journey will hold innumerable experiences and life encounters, both good and bad. and Learning who God really is and what he’s truly like – and reminding ourselves of it regularly – is really the key to it all.

 

How easy it is for us to imagine that God is stingy or mean? Or that he hasn’t heard us or isn’t there for us? We project on to him the things we see in real life – the fearful, petty or even spiteful character, or sometimes even the things we see in ourselves. But God is not like that, he’s a loving God he wants the best for us and we can trust in him.

 

Reminding ourselves of the truths of who he is can help to carry us through those trials and tribulations,

Reminding ourselves of the truths of how God sees us can help us through temptations

 

And seeking him in all things can help guide us through.

 

Remember those spiritual habits from last week – habits form 630

We need good spiritual habits to help us on our journey –

Get into God’s word, pray, seek the Holy spirit, and love one another. Those 4 things are so key to helping us stay focussed on God and who he is.

 

James says in vs 16-18 at the end of our passage:

 

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

 

Let us not be deceived, let us focus on the truth of who God is. He does not change even though we do, even though life situations come and go, he is the constant presence in our lives and he is the one that can help us through all things…

 

 

 

 

A Transforming Presence

BeingMissional_31daysv2
 Day 13 // #Write31Days

So on Saturday I published a quote from Tom Wright’s ‘Acts for Everyone’ which included  bit of a challenge – basically are we up for seeing the real thing? True transformation as people meet Jesus? Well that is certainly what I want to see.

At The Point, where I am Mission Pastor our vision statement reads:

Our Vision: To be a transforming presence throughout Mid Sussex…

Pioneering authentic communities

Becoming more like Jesus

Engaging with and serving the people around us

Demonstrating God’s love and compassion

Sharing the Good News of Jesus

So yes we fully take up the challenge, to see radical transformation as TW calls it. That’s more than a social action project, more than clearing a bit of rubbish or running a community cafe, it’s about people. About real people coming to know Jesus and in the process having their lives changed for good. But it’s also about us, about us actually demonstrating the love of God as we share the Gospel. That’s what our vision statement is all about, not just about out there, but about in here too. We need to continue to be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus, to be continually renewed, continually changed and as we do we will be a witness to those around us.

Faith is not a private thing for me, it is not just personal, it is corporate and out there and all over me. Of course that means the stakes are higher, if people know you are a Christian you need to act like one! (that doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes BTW) but we need to live out our faith in an obvious way. Personally I don’t believe you can do that quietly and by yourself, or just by going to church on a Sunday morning and nothing else.

So if we want to see radical transformation, we need to be radically transformed too…

Radical Transformation of Life? // Day 10 // #Write31Days

BeingMissional_31daysv2

This morning I was reading Acts 13 where Barnabas and Saul are sent out. There is so much in this passage and I will return to it on Monday (I won’t be posting on Sundays during this epic series of posts!). But for now I just want to share this below, from ‘Acts for Everyone’ by Tom Wright. I’ve been reading this alongside reading Acts and when I read this passage this morning, I just thought ‘yes!’ so I encourage you to give it a read and challenge yourself. (It might be helpful to read Acts 13:1-12 first)

Many Christians in the western world today simply can’t bear to think of confrontation (except of course with those ‘wicked fundamentalists’!). There really isn’t such a thing as serious wickedness, so they think, or if there is it’s confined to a small number of truly evil people, while everyone else just gets on and should be accepted and affirmed as they stand.

Christian mission then consists of helping people to do a little bit better where they already are, rather than the radical transformation of life that, as we have seen, was happening all around the place in the early chapters of Acts. And so, when we come to this great turning point in Luke’s story, this start of the extraordinary triple journey that would take Paul right across Turkey and Greece and back again, and then again once more, and finally off to Rome itself, we would much prefer the story to be one of gentle persuasion rather than confrontation. We would have liked it better if Paul had gone about telling people the simple message of Jesus and finding that many people were happy to accept it and live by it.

But life is seldom that is straightforward, and people who try to pretend it is often end up simply pulling the wool over their own eyes. It’s a murky world out there, and though the choice of compromise is always available in every profession (not least in the church), there is in fact no real choice. What’s the point of trying to swim with one foot on the bottom of the pool? You’re either up for the real thing or you might as well pack it all in.

 

So here’s the thing, are we up for the real thing? Personally I can’t see any point in just encouraging people to be nicer humans. Jesus is about transformed lives! Let’s pray that we will see radical transformation of lives in our outreach.

Do Christians Really Change?

So, recently I’ve been thinking about how we change, partly because I had to write a report looking at moral transformation, which if you follow me on Twitter, you will know has been a lengthy and somewhat difficult process… Plus in January’s Christianity magazine Jeff Lucas wrote an article entitled: ‘Nearly four decades of pastoral leadership has taught me this unpalatable truth: people rarely change’. And on top of that I preached a few weeks back from Philippians and looked a bit at how we change when we become Christians and how God uses that. So here’s a few slightly rambling thoughts…

I think we can assume that as we grow older we change. I always find it funny when people say, as an insult, ‘ooh she’s changed’, I mean after all, I’m not sure any of us want to be the same person we were at 16 do we? Of course we change! We grow, we have experiences, life happens and gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) we change.

So what about for Christians? I don’t believe that we radically change in terms of our make up/ traits etc, when we become a Christian. I believe that when we are conceived, or created that we have within us all that God wants us to be. So then when we come to know Him He takes all of that and uses it to its full potential for His kingdom. For example Saul, passionate, dedicated zealot, becomes Paul, passionate and dedicated – for God’s kingdom instead of persecuting it.

As Christians our aim has to be, surely, to become more Christ like throughout our lives. Our lives are a journey, and through that journey we come to know more of God, more of his plans for us, more of his character. I mean just as I have no desire to be the same person I was at 16, I wouldn’t expect to be in the same place with God in 10 years time as I am now. So then if our aim is to be more Christ like, then we are surely being morally transformed in this way, by our experiences and by life in general.

Jeff Lucas suggests that for many Christians life has become comfortable, got a bit boring and so we just plod on without any intention of changing. Which is rather a depressing thought isn’t it? I mean even if I weren’t a Christian I would hope that I would be shaped by life experiences – you know the old saying, we learn from our mistakes? Lucas says: ‘having tamed the bigger beasts, we settle down and wait for the sound of a trumpet, when everything will be changed in a moment.’ Can that really be the case that for some after the initial big bang, they just carry on as normal? I wonder then, if those people are getting the right teaching, or the right encouragement! 

I was having a chat along these lines with a friend after a particularly challenging ethics class, who suggested that if we believe that we become more christ like, does that not imply we have a better view of ourselves, than say, Joe Bloggs on the street? Can we say that we are a better person than we once were? The answer is I think, that we can and do change, but we only do so by God’s grace.

So then I wonder do we actually change or are we simply becoming more of who God has already intended us to be? When we are ‘changed’ by experience is that because of a deliberate choice to respond to experience? One of the books we looked at for my ethics module this term is  Virtue Reborn by Tom Wright, where he suggests that ones character is formed from a deliberate choice of action:

 ‘Character is transformed by three things. First
you have to aim at the right goal. Second you have to figure out the right
steps you need to get to that goal. Third, those steps have to become habitual,
a matter of second nature’

 Is a deliberate choice to change the key thing here? or will God shape us in this way no matter what? As with my report I find I am still left with questions… love to know others thoughts!

What is Heaven…?

Recently I’ve been thinking about heaven. It’s a word often used lightly: ‘this ice cream is just heaven’, a good holiday retreat is ‘heavenly’, even Belinda Carlise sang ‘ooh heaven is a place on earth…’, perhaps she wasn’t far from the truth…
I am reading (amongst a million other books, really must focus…) ‘Surprised by Hope’ by Tom Wright. It’s an interesting book and has challenged me in so many areas. What has got me thinking most though, is why we are obsessed with heaven. I mean as Christians we can pretty much guarantee that it is going to be a good place, right? So why do we feel this amazing need to know now what it is like?

The bible is surprisingly unforthcoming about what it will be like. There are a couple of visions but not much else. There is also very little said about what happens to us after death. Yet the world, our culture seems to have a specific view – heaven is ‘up there’, in the clouds, angels and harps that kind of thing, all generally speaking inspired from the art world – both literary and visually. But there is little descriptive scriptural basis for that kind of view.
Tom Wright is suggesting that heaven will be on earth. not just in the sense that we have the kingdom of God within us, but a future, post-death heaven after a bodily resurrection. And in that sense, it is important to clarify between the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God and the heaven of the afterlife. As Christians, followers of Christ, we carry Christ, and therefore the Kingdom of God, within us. But is it true that there is another Kingdom of God, a heaven where we will go after death? (if we’re lucky…;) )

Interestingly many of the references to heaven in the bible simply refer to it as the place God inhabits, where his voice comes from, where he rains various things down from. In that sense heaven is undoubtedly ‘up there’, above us (although when the bible was written they still thought the earth was flat – so is that above us in the UK or above us Australia, hard to know…) But is that the same heaven we will be going to after death? Well not according to the bible, because that says that there will be a new heaven and a new earth and that we will not remember the old one or have need of it. (Isaiah 65, Revelation 21, 2 Peter 21)

Personally I’m not that bothered about what it is like. It is an interesting subject, yes, but I believe that after my death I will, in some way, be spending time with God (assuming I don’t cock it up between now and my death…) and that is something I can really look forward to. Even if my body is resurrected (rather than some kind of spiritual resurrection of the soul) then I can’t believe it will be anywhere near what it feels like to be human now. We are talking about eternity so whatever its like, it’s got to be miles from anything I can imagine for myself and in that sense what is the point wasting my time trying to imagine what it will be like? And if I’m wrong, well then I guess that’s it and my body will rot away somewhere and I won’t be any the wiser anyway…

Some time ago I read on a blog (might have been Lesleys) an alternative view in which God came to earth whilst the believers were whipped away to heaven, and those that chose to stay with the desperate, non believing, hurting souls were in the true heaven, the true presence of God (thats how I remember it anyway…) and that really made me think. (whilst I am not sure it was particularly scriptural) Would a loving God really leave all those people behind to fend for themselves in some kind of ‘hell’ on earth? and wouldn’t it be far more like Jesus to stay and help those people even if we were condemning ourselves to a life on a broken planet with the desperate and hurting. Or perhaps we are already doing that?