Last night we began a study through the letter of James. Here are the notes on the first passage:
Now, a lot of us know these verses, and they’re probably not in our list of favorite verses. And if you’ve never read them before, they might just sound crazy. So what’s going on here? Before we think James is just giving us a mountain that’s too tall to climb, let’s look at his reasoning. When you first read this, it kind of seems like he’s telling us to have an impossible emotional reaction to trials—“get happy when something you hate happens to you.” But actually he tells us to think first, and then feel. Notice, James says, “When trials come your way, consider it to be a reason to rejoice.” In other words: think this: “This is a good thing, and a reason to be happy.” Why? In verse three James says it’s because we know something before that trial comes—we know that the way trials work in a Christian’s life is that they becomes means for testing and refining our faith; for proving it out. Specifically, James assumes that we already understand something about how life works—that endurance is a crucial thing for us all to have. When we understand how crucial endurance is, we will see the trial as an opportunity to increase our endurance, and face it with an excitement about growing, even if we don’t have any excitement about the trial.
In verse 4, James encourages us no to short circuit this process, but gives us incentive to allow endurance to do its work. He says the final goal is not simply that we’d be people who endure, but that we’d reach true maturity. The two words he uses here have the idea of “reaching the highest level” and “having everything you’re supposed to have.” In other words, James wants us to not be satisfied with our current state. The Lord wants to stimulate us to want to progress to the highest level of humanity God has designed us for—fully mature humanity.
It seems like James is saying, here’s the process:
- When trials come, go through the mental exercise of remembering what we know about the things that will help us become mature
- This give us the right mental stance towards difficulty,
- which will lead to this kind of emotional reaction which would otherwise be impossible.
So the reason for Joy is not the suffering in itself, but in what it produces.
Verses five through eight add an important piece to this discussion. There are two related ways to look at what James is saying here. First, whenever I’m in the middle of trials, one of my biggest needs is wisdom. I need help understanding how to navigate through the difficulty. I need help making decisions, knowing what to do. James tells me how to get the understanding I need in order to make it through trials. So far so good. But a major part of this wisdom I need to navigate through trials has to be the wisdom James mentions in verses 2 through 4. The first thing I need in a trial is the understanding he tells me to have—the understanding about what God’s aims for me are and what will get me there. If I just can’t see it this way—if every time something hard comes into my life I just hate it, and if James’s teaching about Joy seems unrealistic, he says—“if you need this wisdom, ask.” And in verse five he says, “Don’t worry, God won’t make fun of you or criticize you for not having this understanding, he’ll just give you wisdom—that’s who he is.”
So this is big—wisdom doesn’t come automatically through trials. I’m sure we all know lots of people who’ve gone through all kinds of difficulty and aren’t any wiser than when they started. A lot of people just get broken by their trials. They don’t end up more mature, or more whole, or more strong—they end up weak and small. What’s the difference between people who grow through trials and people who shrink? James says it’s whether someone personally involves God in the situation by asking him for the wisdom they need—especially the wisdom to see the trial in the right light. When they do, God gives them wisdom, and that triggers the process of verses 2 through 4.
When you do ask for this wisdom, you must, as James says, ask in faith. It seems like he’s not simply saying, “you need to have utter confidence that God will answer your prayer,” but something more like, “you need to have decided once and for all if you really trust God and want to follow him.” I get that from James’ descriptions of what someone who does not ask in faith is like. He says they’re “double minded” and consistently unstable. The picture seems to be of someone who hasn’t really decided if they trust God enough to follow him, so they vacillate. They flip flop. They haven’t really cast in their lot with Jesus. They are like a wave driven back and forth with every passing breeze. If that’s someone’s state, and a trial comes, and they ask for wisdom without settling this issue first, they won’t get the wisdom they need for trials. If that sounds mean, all we have to do is look at the kind of mindset you need to have to grow in trials up in verses 2 through 4. How could God give that mindset to someone who didn’t even know if they wanted to trust God and follow Christ?
In verses 9 through 11 James gives us two different situations as a kind of case study. If someone is currently poor (which is easy to identify as a “trial”) that person can rejoice, because they have what he calls “exaltation.”
- They have a new status in the family of God that is not based on their socioeconomic status. They are full members of the family, regardless of their income.
- They can also rejoice because they have a change coming—one day they will be rich beyond the highest level of riches this world currently has to offer.
The rich are also told to “glory” but for a seemingly opposite reason. If I’m rich, I should glory in my new status that associates with things other rich people consider beneath them. Low people. Low things. Low ideas. James points out that I can do this because I recognize that all my wealth is going to pass away. Everything economically that seems to make me different from someone who’s poor is destined to wither up like an old flower. So I’m only being called to live in reality. Like, why would the rich person get excited about this? Because they can kow that their wealth hasn’t blinded them. They haven’t forgotten what’s really true—that all the riches of this world are temporary, and so even though they’re rich, it hasn’t ruined their eternal perspective. They glory in the fact that they know who they are. Who are they? Just children of God. What excites them? Things that can’t pass away. Identifiying with those who are rich spiritually, but not physically—especially Jesus.
Who should really be envied? Who really has a life worth living? The person who endures temptation.
Because one day the Lord will give him the crown of life. This is the eternal reward of ultimate life.
Summing up: James is all about having a True Understanding of Life.
An Eternal Perspective
- In Trials: there is something beyond the trial, and this whole life. (1:2-4, 1:12).
- In Wealth or Poverty: (1:9-10) expect the eternal riches and admit the temporariness of riches.
In order to understand life, and not to give up in hard times, or lose your head and “good” times, you need to remember eternity. What is god really doing in trials? Why do we need to be people who endure? Think…the new earth? This life has a point. The point of it all happens when we meet Christ.
Last night we took the evening to glean from a story which spans the 17th and 18th chapters of the book of Judges. Here are the notes:
After reading Judges 17 and 18, notice how many, and how deep, the layers of sin are. I count at least 20 instances of something being totally wrong–which leads to a confusing history, many layers deep. And when we say that something in this story is “wrong,” we don’t mean simply by our own judgments. These people had God’s written word, and the Law of Moses to guide their actions. So the things wrong in this story are wrong specifically because they clearly violate actual commands.
Layers of Sin in Judges 17-18
- Micah stole from his own mother (17:2) That violates God’s law twice—Commandments 5 and 8.
- His mother’s response to the theft was to utter curse (17:2) (Micah only seems to have returned it because he feared the curse.)
- His mother invokes Yahweh’s name in response to the money’s return (17:2)
- His mother dedicates the returned money to make an idol (17:3)
- She claims the decision is dedicating the money to the Lord (17:3)
- Micah makes an idol for their house out of the money (17:4) (Violates commandment #2)
- Micah already has a house hold shrine. So they have a history of family idolatry. (17:5) (Violates Deut 12:3-5)
- Micah makes one of his own sons a priest. (17:5)
At this point, notice that both people have committed the ultimate crimes you could commit in Israel. But neither of them seems to notice. Even thought their religious feelings seem sincere—we know from the other scriptures it’s totally pagan and not approved by God. They talk about God a lot, but he’s actually nowhere in their thoughts or actions, and we know he’s totally not approving of their actions.
- Everyone was living like this. (17:6) So they probably couldn’t figure out they were doing anything wrong by looking at other people.
- A Levite is staying in the country of Ephraim (17:7) (Deuteronomy 18:1-9, Joshua 21)
- The Levite becomes the personal priest of Micah’s shrine, for a shirt and some money. (17:10-12)
- Micah declares that the Lord will bless him now, because he has a Levite as a priest (17:13)
- Dan still doesn’t have their inheritance (18:1) (see 1:34-36)
- The Danites think they can get an answer from God by asking this Levite who’s officiating at a pagan shrine. (18:5) All they care about is the success of their self-chosen mission.
- The Levite claims to speak for God (18:6)
- The mob-army from Dan steals the shrine. (18:16)
- The Levite becomes priest for the mob-army (18:20)
- Micah’s mad enough to fight about his stolen Gods. (18:24) He thinks he has a just cause.
- The mob threatens Micah (18:25)
- The tribe of Dan sets up the idol for everyone to worship (17:30-31)
Why is this situation so wrong, and so confusing? The answer is given in 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25. The two halves of the formula here give the author’s explanation for why things are going bad.
- There is no king in Israel. No True authority to execute God’s will.
- Everyone doing what’s right in their own eyes. Everyone let their own desires be the law they followed.
Summing it Up: When God’s word is ignored, and his king is absent, everyone starts thinking that it’s ok to do whatever they want. This creates a situation where people’s desires conflict. Since two people who want the same thing can’t both get it, what happens then is that strength and deception rule the day. Whenever people disagree, the one with the bigger army will win the dispute. In addition, people act like God is on their side, and keep talking about him even when they totally ignore him and defy his commands. When all this happens, chaos becomes the dominant state of people’s personal lives. The longer society goes on like this, the more people it hurts, the more lives are wasted and destroyed, and the more clueless people get about everything, especially about what’s wrong and how to fix it.
The point: This is a picture of what it looks like when sin rules. Sin complicates everything. Everything becomes confusing, and it’s hard to tell what’s right anymore.
- This explains what’s going on in our culture today. Things are so confusing that it’s getting difficult to tell what is right. If you’ve tried to help a friend recently, or tired to help people figure out what they should do in a difficult situation, you’ve probably run in to this. When the layers of sin are so deep, it gets so complicated that it’s actually hard to know what’s right.
- This explains what we need to preach to those around us—The King and his kingdom. We need to tell people that their issues are directly related to their need for God’s king. They need to begin to live lives which acknowledge his authority. They need to turn away from the things which ignore him and dishonor him, and stop assuming God’s with them when he’s not. See Rev 19:11-15, Mt 28:18-20, Luke 24:46-49.
- This challenges us as believers. Like Micah and the Levite, we have no excuse—we have God’s word. Furthemore, we have the true king if we’ll acknowledge him. We need to make sure we’re not bringing the complications and chaos of sin into our lives, as if we could do whatever was right in our own eyes, and we won’t reap the consequences.
The video above is footage of something I didn’t know existed until a couple days ago. It’s called an Aeolian Harp–which is a harp that is built outside, specially tuned, and then played only by the wind. That’s right–no one touches it. And it sounds like something out of a modern synthesizer. Evidently it’s an ancient thing.
What led me to look it up was the quote below, which I read in a passage about how to study the Holy Spirit. The author was discussing why it’s difficult to “study” the Holy Spirit–and it has a lot to do with who He is–as a person, as a Spirit, as God. For instance, since the Spirit is a person (as opposed to a force or something) he can’t be reduced to a set of facts to memorize. You have to get to know him. And since he’s God , you have to get to know him on his terms.
…and it seems like his terms have more to do with him living through us–enlivening us, filling us, directing us–then for us to pin him down. And so, here’s that quote:
“The Spirit is breath. The wind sings in the trees.
I would like, then, to be an Aeolian harp and let the breath of God make the strings vibrate and sing.
Let me stretch and tune the strings – that will be the austere task to research.
And let the Spirit make them sing a clear and tuneful song of prayer and life!”
What an image! The true study of the Holy Spirit is to “stretch” and “tune” the “strings” of our lives so that we are a fit instrument for him to play. And then…Let the Wind blow where it wishes!
Do I really want to know him? Am I willing to let him play his song through me?
Last night we took some time to study the second coming of Jesus by looking at two things:
First, does the world look like the Bible predicted it would (as we near the return of Jesus), 2000+ years ago?
Second, How does the Bible say we should respond to this? Here are the notes:
Part 1: Current Trends Which Match Prophecy
1.The will, and the ability, for a whole earth government and economy. See Daniel 7:2-7, 15-17, 23; Revelation 13:1-8, 16-17
2. …and the line-up of certain alliances and confederacies. See Ezekiel 38:1-13
3. Israel as an actual nation, and it’s the center of controversy and hostility. See Ezekiel 38:8, Zechariah 14:2
4. Climate, disease, and geo-politcal issues take center stage: See Matthew 24:6-8
5. A certain moral state: See 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 2 Peter 3:1-5
There’s only a very small point to be made here, but it’s an important one. To get at it, let me set it up like this. Imagine if the bible said, “Things will get better and better. Israel will cease to exist. No one will care about Jerusalem, and the Middle East won’t be a point of contention. People in general will get more and more kind and less and less selfish. The environment will get more mild and pleasant. Natural disasters will cease and sicknesses will die out. Nations will gradually get more peaceful and wars will go away.” Then we could simply look around at us and see that what the bible predicts is totally off.
But that’s not the case. And as you study the bible, you find out that it does a lot of describing the future. God put himself out on a limb there, so to speak. So all we have to do is ask ourselves—Does the world we see around us, does the news, give us any reason to think that the bible’s view of the future is not legitimate? Do we see things moving in the direction the bible predicted, or away from it? And, do we see current events lining up, even in detail, so that it could all spring in to being very quickly?
I think the upshot of all this is not simply to say, “there’s more earthquakes and some countries are angry at Israel, so Jesus must be coming back in the next three years!” The point is this—the world looks more and more every day like exactly the kind of place the bible predicted it would become. This gives us another reason to know that the bible is true, and that we should trust what it says. And a main teaching of the scriptures is that we are always supposed to watch and be expectant for return of Jesus.
What should be our response to these things? Wait and Watch! See Mark 13:24-27, 32-37.
Part 2: What are the characteristics of those who are watching?
1. They are excited for Jesus to return because there’s affection for him in their hearts. (Luke 12:35-40)
- If I’m not excited to see Jesus, I’m not really waiting for him.
- If I don’t care when he comes back, I don’t really have affection in my heart for him.
2. They pursue holiness. (1 Peter 1:13-16, 1 John 3:1-3, Isaiah 26:8-9)
- If I’m insisting on keeping sin in my life, I’m not waiting and watching for Jesus.
3. They are faithfully doing what God’s given them to do. (Luke 12:41-46, 19:11-15) Waiting often looks like working.
- Are the commands of Christ directing my life?
- Do I know what he has commanded?
- Am I faithfully doing what I already know he has given me to do?
The other day on his blog Justin Taylor highlighted a note by David Talley—a theology professor—who has pointed out that the majority of the story or narrative told in the Old Testament is found in the following 11 books:
- 1 Samuel
- 2 Samuel
- 1 Kings
- 2 Kings
If you were to read these eleven books, beginning with Genesis and reading them in succession to Nehemiah, you would read through almost the entire story of the Old Testament. The reason it must be stated that it is “almost the entire story” is because there are some additional stories isolated in parts of other books.
This is a really helpful pedagogical move, as it allows readers to distinguish between the main ongoing narrative and then to examine the way the other 28 books of the OT interpret, reinforce, and supplement this storyline.
I agree! One of the most helpful things you can do for yourself, if you want a better understanding of the Bible in General, and the Old Testament in particular, is to get a firm grasp on the storyline–What is the basic story that is being told? The history that the Bible recounts is a primary piece of this storyline.
If you feel shaky in that area, why not read those 11 books, take some notes, and get it down?
So if you’re in college, you’re back to school already. If you’re enrolled in a religion class, or any class where religion or the Bible is mentioned (which, today, is like every class!) you’re probably facing a familiar struggle–the barrage of “facts” about Christianity and the bible you might never have heard before, facts which, if true, seem like they’d undermine everything you believe in.
In this short video, Dr. Michael Kruger (read his book!) explains five important things that will help you navigate those cloudy waters.
Here’s his five main points:
- Make sure your expectations are straight before you head into college.
- Understand that professors aren’t neutral; they’re biased.
- Know that there are answers to your questions.
- Don’t just look at opposition as a curse, but as a blessing.
- As you walk through these things, don’t do it alone. Get involved in a local church and a solid Christian Fellowship on campus.
Today we’re rolling out a new website which we hope will be a platform for online ministry to those among us who are currently students, and hopefully to students beyond the boundaries of our young adults fellowship as well.
Over at www.truthoncampus.com we’re collecting a growing library of (for now) literature and videos aimed at (as the site says) “cultivating Christian thinking and living in the academic environment.”
Currently we have some updated literature (which many of you have read) and several series of videos. Several videos are in production at this moment, and more are planned. The idea behind it all is that we could give those of you who are currently in school things which will help you as you speak with friends about the gospel (“Hey, some of my friends are putting together videos about some of the things we’ve been talking about–would you like to see one?”). Like the literature, we hope the videos speak to non-believers (and commend the gospel to them) and believers alike. The larger idea behind it all, of course, is the spreading of the gospel where it’s needed.
The first video we’re featuring is a full interview with our friend Barb (the rugged girl from the last camping trip!) about her spiritual search and conversion. She speaks about real spiritual experiences in a way that anyone could understand. Her story is a testimony to the reality of God and his work in our day. It’s definitely one to share with friends who feel, like their searching for God.
Let us know what you think…