Monday 9 July
This week at #Sligo18, Jonathan Rue is leading the morning Bible Teaching exploring lessons from the book of James. Jonathan is the Lead Pastor at Desert Vineyard - a multi-ethnic, multi-generational church in Southern California. Here, VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary of his first message:
Great to be here - it is quite an honour. I have never been to Ireland before. I grew up in the Desert Vineyard in California. My father planted that church and pastored there for 16 years before he died of cancer. David Parker pastored for 20 years. My wife and I began to explore the possibility of leading the church. We came to the decision that God was calling us for me to become the lead pastor and about a month later, David was diagnosed with cancer. It felt to us like the grace of God that we had come to that decision before David was diagnosed. We have transitioned into leadership. (Please pray for David in his on-going treatment for cancer).
We are going to look at this amazing book of James together. James is concerned about whether our faith in God makes any difference in our actual life. It will get a little bit uncomfortable as we look at these passages. Stick with the tension of this! You might struggle with certain passages. We can’t cut these pages out of our Bibles.
Yes, it is all grace. We are saved by faith in Jesus alone but when that happens, faith ought to be making some kind of difference in our lives. We need to close the gap between what we believe and the rest of our lives:
- The decisions we make
- Our finances.
- Our sexual life.
- Our relationships.
- Our work.
- The things that come out of our mouths.
It is just as relevant a problem today as it was when James was writing.
Barna took a massive survey of people who don’t go to church and asked them, “What is keeping you away from faith?” None of the top answers had anything to do with Christian apologetics. One of the top reasons was hypocrisy (people who say they are Christians but their lives are different).
Maybe some of us have some baggage. Maybe you have had negative experiences with Christians - people who said they believe in God but then hurt you.
James, the brother of Jesus, is writing this epistle to the diaspora, to the refugees and the marginalised. They are people who are going through struggles because the have been pushed out of their homeland. How do they work out their faith in Christ in an environment that is hard?
James wants us to move forward in our faith but so many of us get stuck. That process of becoming more like Jesus is not automatic. You can put your faith in Christ as a child, live your whole life and die as a spiritual baby. James says, “Don’t do that.” Let us keep growing!
Three things keep us stuck and stun our spiritual growth.
Giving up when things get hard
Maybe you are a little bit frustrated. Maybe you have reached a plateau. Maybe you don’t have passion anymore. Maybe you encountered some trials and difficulties. Maybe you found consistency of spiritual disciplines difficult. When we give up, this can keep us stuck in spiritual adolescence.
James says, be joyful about the “testing of your faith”. Let us have joy, “pure joy”. He does not say that the only emotion allowed is joy. When things get hard, we don’t have to be happy, clappy people all the time. Life is hard but there is a way of going through difficult things with “pure joy” even in the midst of trials. It comes when realise that God is using the hard stuff in our lives to produce perseverance.
This is a signature idea. Perseverance is so important in our Christian faith. It is not about drumming up passion. It is about “bearing weight”. Perseverance is a word that means “remaining under a heavy load”. Perseverance is not about throwing off the load - it is being weighted down with something but remaining under it and keeping moving forward.
At the gym, we lift heavy weights and when we do that regularly, muscle builds up. You can’t go to the gym once and expect muscles! There has to be constancy for muscles to grow. That is perseverance. It can only be developed when you are remaining under something heavy and hard! We need to re-orient ourselves. James is not saying that every trial is sent from God but rather that everything hard in our lives can be used by God to build perseverance.
This idea is so important. When Paul is boasting about churches that he has planted, he boasts about them in a different way. Paul would have none of the “numbers game”.
2 Thessalonians 1:4 Paul boasts about their perseverance and faith in all the trials they were enduring. This is the sign of real spiritual maturity. "Have you heard about how they were getting “hammered” but remaining faithful to Jesus?" They are not fair-weather followers.
Their covenant was not for richer and richer and in health and health... Jesus wants a commitment that is for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health!
Jesus went through suffering and hardship. If we are following the suffering servant, we will go through hardship but there is a way of walking through that. We are trusting Him. James is interested in what is produced in our lives as we walk through those tough times.
This is the key here. If you are going through something really difficult in one area of your life and you remain obedient and faithful. As you develop perseverance, that will help in every single area in your life. All of a sudden you have a strength.
In the book David and Goliath : Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants - there is a chapter on people who have “disadvantages” in their life. The author writes about how a “disadvantage” turns into an advantage because it forces us to develop perseverance that other people might not have.
A study done in London about entrepreneurs and massively successful people revealed that one third of them are dyslexic. One possibility is that people succeed in spite of their difficulties or disadvantage but another interpretation is that people succeed because of their difficulties because that has produced in them the necessary strengths that enable them to succeed.
Perseverance yields benefits in every area of our life.
One of the things that gets us stuck is when we stop asking God and inviting Him into the difficult decisions of life. James calls it a lack of wisdom (I call it stupidity) - thinking that we know everything and that we’ve got it all figured out. In v5, James says, "If you lack wisdom ask God!"
There are areas in our lives when we think we have figured it all out. We haven’t consulted God at all. Can you imagine if we never had anything difficult in our lives? We’d think we had everything sorted. When the floor drops out of our lives, then we cry out, “God help me!”
James says, “Let’s not forget to call out to God for His wisdom.” There are people who think they are wise (those are the fools). There are people who know they are fools (those are the wise ones). It is about us recognising our deep and desperate need for His help and guidance in the tough decisions of life. These are not decisions you should make on your own. We need to be on our knees crying out, “What is your wisdom? I don’t have the wisdom to figure out my life. God, I need you to lead me."
V6 When you ask, believe and don’t doubt! If we ask God for something, don’t doubt that God is actually going to answer. This is not the doubt of an atheist. James is talking about doubting that God will answer when you cry out for wisdom and guidance. It is throwing up a prayer and then continuing on as if God does not exist instead of recognising that God is a better leader than we are followers.
It is easy to say God is leading my life when things are amazing. It is so much harder in the trials and difficulties. When you are trying to survive in difficult circumstances and you say, “What happened?” Don’t commit the sin of doubting that God is involved in your life.
A double minded person says, “God I believe in you” but goes on with their life as if God wasn’t there. There are two different lives going on. Making all the decisions by ourselves. Let us close the gap of hypocrisy in our lives, places where there is double mindedness. Then we will start to move towards spiritual wholeness.
At the end of this section, James goes right back to perseverance. There is a great reward for those of us who persevere.
Perseverance is so much more important than passion. It is what gets us all the way through to the end.