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Joy, Persecution & Doubting, Oh My!

Have you ever been so excited about something? And you just have to tell someone about it? Me too! I’m totally pumped about our Ladies Bible Study on Monday nights. We have decided to be big girls and dig into the Bible ourselves. No study book. No workbook. No DVD to watch.  Just us, God and His word. We are learning to study on our own. To learn hermeneutics, exegesis, and ask who, what, when, where, why and how. Yes, we will miss Beth for a semester, but it will be good for us and I’m sure she would approve of this, maybe even be proud of us big girls!
Last night we discussed James chapter 1 verses 1-18. Everyone was eager to share what they pulled out in their studies. Which led to an hour and a half of good conversation. I absolutely love a good theological conversation, don’t you? It truly feeds my soul. It strengthens my heart. And it inspires me to study some more.

For those who can’t make it to the study and for anyone else who just loves studying the Word, I will be sharing some of the highlights of our study here for the next few months.  So, grab a cup of coffee and your bible and sit down with me to study the book of James. Dig in, do your own studying and share your thoughts! This is gonna be so much fun!
Here we go….This is going to be much longer than my usual chatter here, but I think it will be worth it.

Vs 1 James was written by the half-brother of Jesus. He was not a believer until sometime around the resurrection. He then became a leader in the church. (John 7:5; I Corinthians 15:7) The book was written to Jewish Christians – probably because the faith had not spread to the Gentiles yet and is applicable to all Christians.

It was written about 14 years after the stoning of Stephen.(Acts 7:54-60) Paul was still Saul at that time.  The Christians had scattered, left homes and families because of persecution.(Acts 8:1-3; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

Vs 2-4  James doesn’t waste any time getting right to the point. He addresses their main issue head on and with what seems like an unrealistic suggestion at first.  Trials = pure joy? Really? We’re not talking trials as in a flat tire on the way to work, or a broken washing machine, or a child getting sick in the plane on vacation. Nope. We are talking fearing- for-their-lives kind of trials. (This kind of puts trials in our lives into perspective, right? Clearly, God’s goal in this is not our happiness, but our growth.)

So how does he expect them to consider this pure joy? Its all in perspective, as he points out. And he reminds them of the truth that they already know. (John 8:32) The perseverance – we could call it aggressive endurance- required to make it through many kinds of trials will produce maturity in Christ, and bring with it completeness. (Romans 5:3-5) Not lacking anything. I like that. Isn’t that what we all want? To not lack anything? To have all we need? There is such a security in that, a security even amidst trials. Serious trials.

Vs 5-8  Find yourself needing wisdom in the midst of life? It’s not a complicated thing. No training course to buy, no shipping and handling. Simply ask God. He gives it freely and generously.  But wait. There is one catch. When you ask you must believe and not doubt.  This is a biggie. Doubt is like waves. Waves are influenced by a number of things.  Wind, the pull of the sun and moon, boats. And waves appear to make much activity, but in reality that’s all it is, the water is not really transported to a new location, only the energy is transferred. So the water never makes any progress. Envision with me: you plan a day at the lake with your family. Everyone is in their swimming gear, flip flops on, floaties in hand. But when you arrive, your mood changes. The waves have churned the water. It no longer looks clear and inviting but murky and dirty. Ick. That’s what doubt does to our minds. Instead of total commitment to God and His ways, our minds are murky and we see God’s way one option in a sea of choices. It is easy to let life toss us around, easy for doubt to get a foothold.  We are tossed back and forth and never get anywhere in our faith. Double minded vs. total commitment. Unstable vs. Wise. The choice is ours to make. (Mark 11:22-25)
Vs. 9-12  Two men are contrasted here. The poor and the rich. To God, the financial situation we are in does not affect how He sees us. We can be glad for that. He is interested in our souls, not our bank accounts.  The poor man, who is overlooked in society is reminded that he really has a high position in the eyes of God. He is God’s son. An Heir to the throne. The rich man, knowing that his riches could be gone with just one crash of the stock market is reminded to be thankful his real worth is not found in his 3 figure income but in Christ alone. The Psalmist in 119:37 asks God to turn his eyes away from worthless things. I Corinthians 7:31 & 35 reminds us to not be engrossed in things of this world but to “live in undivided devotion to the Lord”. Things of this world do not matter in view of eternity; they are worthless things.  Remember the goal – maturity and completeness. Remember the truth – eternal life is the real life, not the life we live here on earth.  (Matthew 6:19-21) Set your mind on things above. (Colossians 3:2) Persevere under trial = receive the crown of life, just as God promised. Now that’s worth living for.

Vs 13-16  Why does James put a passage on temptation in with encouragement to persecuted Christians?  It almost feels as if he is beating them while they are down.  Possibly because when trials come, it is easy to give in. To give up and wave the white flag.  It feels like the comforts of the world are better than God’s way.
When we are tempted, we often like to place the blame on Satan. After all, he is the deceiver, the tempter, the father of lies. But that is not the only place temptation comes from. Our own evil desires tempt us. We must place the blame where it belongs and deal with the evil in us. If we don’t face this, we won’t beat it. Sin has a process. It begins with an evil desire. It’s not sin yet. But once we let it linger and give in to it, allow it to conceive, it becomes sin. Which we all know grows and leads to more sin… and more sin… and…. you get the idea.  This leads to death. Spiritual death. Sin is not harmless. It is a baby polar bear, it looks cute, cuddly and harmless at first, but when it grows up, it will eat you alive. Don’t be deceived.

Vs 17-18  James reminds them that every good and perfect gift is from their Father. That they serve a God who is unchanging. He chose them, He hasn’t changed His mind and deserted them, left them to fend for themselves. I’m sure it would have been easy for them to feel that way.  Persecution is a powerful thing. It is not only an attack physically, but mentally as well.  While listening to Christian radio yesterday a news story stated that 2 men had been killed in North Korea because they were Christians. This is the kind of stuff the Believers in James were going through. But this is 2013, and it’s still happening to Believers. Those men knew the danger of being Christians in their homeland. Yet they considered the cost and found it worthy.  They found Him worthy of giving up comfortable lives and risking death to go to Bible School so they could teach others, and for that they were killed.
I have to ask, in this letter to Christians fearing for their lives, James talks about good and perfect gifts? Gifts? At a time like this? Seriously? Again, we are back to perspective. We are given new birth. We are chosen. We are daughters of the King of kings. He will not desert us. Yes, gifts. Turmoil turns to peace when we direct our hearts toward the right perspective. And that is the goal of the letter. To give the displaced, uprooted and struggling an eternal perspective that will carry them through.

To study the Bible without applying it is not of much use except to sound really smart at Bible study. We don’t want to just talk it, we want to live it, so what is the application for you and I here? I had an awesome high school English teacher and I can’t read anything without mentally diagramming it. (Thank you, Miss Edwards! What was a pain at 16 is a definite asset at 30-alot-of-something.)
There are a few action verbs in this passage which point to the fact that I am responsible for those things.  They require me to get off my tushy and do something. To actively pursue the faith.

Consider it pure joy- I need to watch my view point and thoughts on situations.

Ask God – Too often I try to figure things out on my own, I need to train myself to get on my knees and ask Him for His direction.

Believe, not doubt- Question for self: do my actions show that I am believing or doubting?   What do I need to do about this?

Take pride in your position as child of God- It doesn’t matter if I don’t fit in with society, I know  who I am – I am royalty, and I need to walk worthy of that position.

Persevere- It’s not just keeping on keeping on, its aggressive endurance, attacking the things that threaten my faith, throw off everything that holds us back and run with endurance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Don’t be deceived- I need to watch what I listen to and buy into, study the Word and know what God says so I won’t be led astray. This is serious business.

Like I said, this is just some highlights from our study, there is so much more we could pull from this passage. So join in the fun and please, please, please share your thoughts with me! What insights do you have on this passage? What has God directed you to apply?


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