Unfulfilled Promises and Dreams

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.
-Hebrews 11:8

If your promise or dream has not come true, you are naturally sad.

But it also means that God is working.  God is not done.

If your situation seems impossible, that doubly means God is at work.

God is going to do something in your life… If you let him.

This is the irony.

We are the only ones that can stand in the way of our destinies.

Because, God can overcome everything else.

But, he will not violate our will.

We must unfold our arms and raise our chins.

We must prepare ourselves, encourage ourselves, to be ready for God.

We must manage our attitude and keep the faith.

We don’t make it happen, but we let God take us there.

This means we will have to do things, say things, go places.

Because, faith is an action.

The Journey: Called, Going Out, and The Promise

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.

By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the one who had promised was faithful. Therefore, from one man—in fact, from one as good as dead—came offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and as innumerable as the grains of sand along the seashore.

-Hebrews 11:8-12
We are all on a journey.

We are all called to go out, on a journey, towards something that we are waiting for.

The text says, “By faith Abraham, when he was called”.  Calling is not something for the few, but we are all called.  Put your name in that sentence.  What did you do when you were called?

It says that, “By faith”, he did what he did.  What did you do?  He went out.  He left behind.

Is calling something for the few?  Is calling only for the extraordinary person, or are we all called?

If you think calling is for only a certain small percentage of people, then let me ask you a question.  How did you get saved?  Are you going to tell me how you saved yourself or are you going to tell how how God saved you?

If God saved you and God is still saving you, part of your story is how you responded to God.  God did call you and you responded.

This issue of call brings up the question of what did you do.  It brings up personal responsibility.  When you were called, what did you do?

Like Abraham, did God’s call to you set into motion a chain of events that forever changed your life?  Was it like, “From this day on, everything changes”?

If you did not leave something, someone, and go out into the unknown, to follow the call of God; I might not believe that you have been called.  Because nobody stays the same after God calls them.

You might think that being called is something for the few, but that is not true.  If you are God’s child, he calls you.

People that say they are God’s child, but don’t have a call story, are probably not really a true follower, because God calls his followers.  You can be a fan, in the crowd, investigating, researching, trying it out, a student even, and following, but not called.  You may be all those things because he is calling you.

And that’s the key question, “Is God calling you, and are you answering the call?”  Then, the question is, “What are you doing to answer the call?”

Stepping back, what is the call?  In the Bible, when people are called, they leave things, they leave people, and they are forever changed.

When we are called, we leave and go; and we do it by faith.  That means, we go forward, without seeing where we are going.  That is what Abraham did, and Sarah went with him.

And the call had some specifics.  He was to go to an unknown geographic place and become a nation there.  This couple that did not have children were to become the father and mother of a nation, in a new geographic space, unknown to them.

Between the calling recognized or discerned and promise in the call being fulfilled or taken hold of, is the waiting time.  And the waiting is a journey we go on from call to realization.

And waiting is not passive.  In waiting, we are attentive to the calling becoming manifest in our life.

You can not get from hearing the call to seeing the promise come to pass unless you go on the journey that is between the two.

To hear the call and then stand by the door to the journey, but then never going on that journey, and then to complain that God’s call does not work out, is foolishness.  Because the call will not become fulfilled unless we leave and go into the unknown of the journey from calling to fulfillment

Abraham and Sarah were called into the journey and were also waiting for something.  The journey also called them to look for something.

It is perhaps ideal if you hear from God when you are a child and grow up serving him for the rest of your life.  But that is not Abraham’s story.  He was called in mid life.  He was 75.  He still had 100 years to go.

With today’s average lifespan for men at about 80 years, Abraham would have been about 34 years old when he was called.  He and Sarah did not have kids.  They had probably been married for a while and were living among their family.  Suddenly, God called them, speaking to Abraham, to leave his dad and their hometown and go to a totally different place.

This is how it is documented in Genesis 12:

The Lord said to Abram:

Go out from your land,
your relatives,
and your father’s house
to the land that I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated, and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan. -Genesis 12:1-4

Has God called you?  Where are you on a journey to? What are you waiting for? And, what are you looking for?

Abraham and Sarah had a lot of unknowns.  They did not know where they were going and they did not know when they would get there.  They also wanted to have a baby and they did not know if they would ever conceive.
As they grew older, they naturally would have given up hope.  But their story is that God intervened.  God promised them that they would conceive.
As far as I know, God only spoke to the Abraham, so Sarah had to trust that her husband had heard it right.
Our singular relationship to God comes first in our lives.  What is God showing me to do?  In a relationship there are two people who both want to obey and follow God.  Me and I becomes we and us.

We have to ask, what is God showing us to do?  What if you don’t see what God has shown me?  Will you trust me or do we have to wait for God to show you?

A husband gets a revelation, a calling, he says from God, to go, to leave, to uproot.  Maybe it is the other way, and the wife gets the call.

What if one spouse gets the calling and the other spouse is comfortable where they are?

Every couple has to work this out.

But what if God calls you?

We are all on a journey where God calls us out of something or somewhere and into something else that is largely or completely unknown.  This calling may be completely metaphorical or spiritual, and will later take shape in the natural, physical realm of houses, people, vocation, ministry opportunities, and assignments.

When you are called to leave, you may very well be called, like Abraham and Sarah, to leave without knowing, without something, anything lined up.  Your destination is unknown.

The calling is clear on the leaving part and not so clear on the destination part.

As Tolkien wrote, “All those who wander are not lost”.

We are all waiting for something and we are all on a journey.  We get to spend our time between now and the time of the waiting to be over.  Spending our time well is what we want to do.

We can waste time and we can not get it back, although God can redeem it.  Wasting time might be one of the worst things we can do.  Leisure and rest were invented by God.  We call it recreation.
Some Christians might think of life as spiritual and sinful.  Spiritual is devotions, Christian media, church, and edifying fellowship.  Sinful is worldliness, addictions, and fleshly things; like the list of attributes juxtaposed and antithetical to the fruit of the Spirit, described in Galatians five.
But what about life in Christ?  Did Jesus see life and live life in that bifocal way?
A wise man said, “begin with the end in mind”.  What is the end of your life?  What and who do you want to be at the end and where do you want to go and to whom?
When you settle those questions and perhaps refine them before God, you can set up goals for your life.
If you read all on Hebrews 11, there is a shocking line in there, that says that many people never receive the promise they were striving towards, here in their lives.  And it says that we ought to be inspired by them and live the way they did, as sojourners or strangers here.

These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.  -Hebrews 11:13-14

Abraham was in the middle of his life when he was called to uproot and change everything, by following God into the unknown.  And he was five years older than his dad was when he was born.  I can imagine he was already getting concerned about his progeny.
Sarah found out that God was calling her to be a mother, not a step-mom or an aunt; but a mother who would conceive and give birth and raise a son.  
Life is made up of waiting and being on a journey.  We receive promises from God and then the promise works something in us, while we wait and walk forward in life.

This is the life many of us are living.

What are the questions that drive you?

Have you begun to understand your life in retrospect?

The artwork is Rembrandt, “Abraham Caressing Isaac”

Grace, Favor, and Mercy Bestowed

For the music director; to be accompanied by stringed instruments; a psalm, a song. May God show us his favor and bless us! May he smile on us!

-Psalm 67:1 (NET)
Psalm 67 is an invitation to partake of God’s favor.
The song is a priestly blessing.  We can say this to each other.
“May the Lord bless you!”, and we answer back, “May the Lord bless you!”
Where did this gracious blessing start?  It started with Abraham.  God said to Abe that he would be blessed and the whole world would be blessed through him.

The Lord told Abram, “You are to leave your land, your relatives, and your father’s house and go to the land that I’m going to show you. I’ll make a great nation of your descendants, I’ll bless you, and I’ll make your reputation great, so that you will be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you, but I’ll curse the one who curses you, and through you all the people of the earth will be blessed.”

Abraham was as good as dead, yet from this one man came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
-Genesis 12:1-3 and Hebrews 11:12 (ISV)

It is a good guess that this is what Psalm 67 has in mind.

Psalm 67 is a missionary Psalm.  It is about God’s mission to save all people.  The blessing of God on our lives is for saving the world.
Each of us are not saved in a vacuum, but through God’s blessing on other people.  That is what the blessing of God on your life is for.  And the more we realize this and let the blessing work for others, the more we will be blessed.
May God show us favor and bless us.  Other translations say, ‘show mercy’ or, ‘be gracious’.  The Hebrew  carries with it the idea of grace, mercy, favor, and kindness.  And to be blessed by God encapsulates all four of these.

I learned from a faith leader, to sign notes with ‘blessings’.  Blessings means, ‘grace, mercy, favor, and kindness to you’.

May God show us his favor and bless us! May he smile on us!

Ruth- The Book for 2018

But Ruth replied:

Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.

-Ruth 1:16
Is Ruth the book of the Bible for 2018?  Let’s see.  What is the book of Ruth about?  What’s the message?

Ruth is about salvation history. 

We have the book of Judges, that is a wild west, tumultuous time.  In the midst of that time, Ruth traces the family line of king David.

It is the backstory to the story of david.  We see in Ruth, God working among people to save them, individually and collectively.  God works in lives for lives.  Our stories of salvation are connected, in and by God.

Mother, grandmother, widow, field, gate, harvest, inheritance, covenant, promotion, and new beginnings; are some of the topics in Ruth.

The key lesson of Ruth is that God blesses faithfulness. 

Ruth means friendship, comfort, and refreshment.

Kindness, honor, safekeeping, and redemption are also themes of Ruth.

Ruth demonstrates that during the darkest times, we can make the choice to live in God’s story.

A remarkable and unexpected lesson from Ruth is God’s guidance: God working ‘behind the scenes’, to bless covenant keepers for His ultimate glory.  The characters in the story make choices, based on covenant, and kindness; which God orchestrates into a plan for His purpose, blessing, and glory.
Ruth illustrates redemption and reveals God’s providence. 

Ruth is a story of God’s faithfulness of people who were themselves faithful in an unfaithful culture.

Ruth is a book of ‘full circles’:
  • Leadership vacuum to David’s grandpa.
  • Childless to child.
  • Famine to harvest.
  • Bitter to pleasant.
  • Leaving to arriving.
  • Exiting one gate and entering a new gate.
  • Loss in motherhood to new life in grandmotherhood.
  • Blessing given and blessing received.
  • Redemption requested and redemption received.
Ruth is a story of hope and a way out, for dark times.  Ruth teaches that there is always hope and a way out.

Redemption is always possible, because of God.

Ruth is a story about transformed or renewed identity. 

Two widows become a bride and a grandmother.  The grief stricken person becomes joyful through new life, new friends and new family. 

Ruth happens during the time of the Judges.  Some scholars think that it was around the time of Gideon.  Famine is the backdrop and the characters begin in Moab.  The husbands are dead and the ladies are left destitute.

Ruth, chapter 1.

During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.

Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, may have been unfaithful to God, moving from Bethlehem to Moab.  But he may also have thought there was no other choice, seeing life there; because of the famine in Israel.

She and her daughters-in-law set out to return from the territory of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to his people’s need by providing them food. She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.

Whatever the case, he died and his two sons died as well, leaving three women.  Naomi had losses and was far from home.  She decided to go home and Ruth decided to follow her.

Naomi said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord grant each of you rest in the house of a new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.

They said to her, “We insist on returning with you to your people.”

Naomi tried to talk Ruth out of following her, but Ruth decided her destiny was with her mother-in-law.

Her tie to her was more important to her than her homeland.  Her home was with Naomi, wherever she was.

But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands?Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. Follow your sister-in-law.”

Ruth is faithful.  She committed her future onto and into life with Naomi. 

But Ruth replied:

Don’t plead with me to abandon you
or to return and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.

Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me,
and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.

When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped talking to her.

Everything began to change for both ladies, when they got back to Israel.  They changed locations and then their lives began to change.  They were encouraged and became inspired with plans.

The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

So Naomi came back from the territory of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

With everything that the two ladies went through, the author tells us that “they arrived at Bethlehem, at the beginning of the barley harvest.”  Bethlehem, means ‘house of bread’ and became David’s city.  You can see the timing is right and that the macro theme of the whole story is David, then Jesus.

They decided to try certain things and exercise faith in honest risk taking.  These two widows found Boaz, who took Ruth as his wife after the first in line guy passed, and Ruth had a baby, who finished the renewal of joy for Naomi.  And that baby, with faithful Moabites Ruth as his mom, became the exponential great grandfather of Jesus.

This lady who was not of Israel by birth, through life’s circumstances that no one could predict, became an Israelite.  Why and how?  Because of her faithfulness to a person and to the God of that person who became her God.
What kind of evangelism would you call Naomi’s towards Ruth?  Did Ruth find out about God through her first husband or her first father-in-law?  We don’t know.  What we do know is that Ruth expressed covenant faithfulness and kindness, mercy towards a widow who was her mom-in-law.
Ruth’s conversion was when she left her homeland to follow Naomi to hers.  Due to Ruth’s faithfulness and covenant love, gracious blessings came into her life.  Naomi was inspired to be kind and helpful back to Ruth, by guiding her to Boaz.
In turn, Boaz was kind to Ruth and the end result was blessing flowing back to Naomi of a new and renewed family life.  And this all happened during the ‘wild west’, dark period in Israel, between Joshua and Samuel.

Ruth is a book about new beginnings.

 This is 2018.  Eight is the number of new beginnings and Ruth is the eighth book of the Bible.

Ruth is a story of salvation. 

It illustrates how God saves us in our story.  Our story becomes God’s story as we become saved.

Ruth is a story about immigration.

 Some preachers might say that it was a big mistake for Elimelech to take his family to live in an enemy country.  They might reason that only bad can happen there, pointing to the man’s death, the death of his two sons, and the lack of grandchildren.

But Ruth, born a Moabitess, decides to immigrate to Israel with her mother-in-law.  What do we have here?  Tender loving care.  Ruth says in a sense, “My story is with your story now.  I will go where you go.  Your people are my people.  And your God will be my God.”

This is the foundation of everything that happens.  The lesson might be something like this:  Good things happen when we decide to follow with the one we love.

Ruth was a good person, kind and faithful, caring and unselfish.  But, her story only takes off when she completely hitches her destiny to Naomi’s.  In other words, her faith was fully acted upon.

It would have been nice if she hugged Naomi goodbye and wept.  It would have been caring if she tried to talk her out of leaving and permanently kept Naomi with her in Moab.

But, when Naomi became convicted that it was time now to go back to her homeland, and reconnect with her roots, and by faith, look for a place to live and finish her life that she was filled with sorrow about; Ruth let her caring of and love for this lady, take her into uncharted territory of faith.

Blessings were released into Ruth’s life because she hitched her destiny to Naomi and her God.  And this is how life has been for many of us.  We love someone and we step into their story, including their walk with God.

I have been like Ruth and had several Naomi’s in my life.  I loved them and they loved me and I made a decision to follow them and their faith in God, together.  And very good things happened, from God.  An adventure I would never have had, if I did not commit myself to each one of those persons, in seasons of my life.

The normal approach was the one taken by Ruth’s sister-in-law, Orpah.  She stayed in Moab and sought her own destiny there.  The normal method of life is that we go it alone and hitch ourselves to others (join them and work with them) only out of self-interest.

Ruth lived her life for the sake of someone else.  She took who she was, a kind person, and offered it to the most important person in her life.  This took her on a path of redemption, new identity, and profound destiny.

Bibliography and for further study:

Winn Griffin, God’s Epic Adventure; pp. 103-104
John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume One: Israel’s Gospel; p. 601
LaSor, et al.; Old Testament Survey; p. 820
Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Ruth, NET Bible on-line

Jodi Hooper, Ruth, Bible.org on-line
Younger and Philips (cited), Book of Ruth Bible Survey (article, notes) at gotquestions.org
Thomas B. Clarke, What is a Chiasm?
Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament)
Tim Hughes, For whom the Baby Ruth candy bar was named


Every year His parents traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. When He was 12 years old, they went up according to the custom of the festival.  After those days were over, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it.  Assuming He was in the traveling party, they went a day’s journey.  Then they began looking for Him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for Him.  After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.  When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for You.”

“Why were you searching for Me?” He asked them. “Didn’t you know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” But they did not understand what He said to them.

Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother kept all these things in her heart.

-Luke 2:41-51
I am searching for something right now and it is consuming me.  I have been preoccupied with it.  I have let my search stress me out to the point that I have been too anxious about it.
This story, from Luke chapter two, came to my mind.  In this story, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, after the festival was over; when his mom and dad, family and friends left.  Their group was big enough and Mary and Joseph were trusting enough of Jesus maturity, that when they travelled, they did not need to always have an eye on him.
I can really identify with them, because my son is eleven years old.  He is right at the age where we do not have to keep an eye on him all the time.  But we are still concerned about where he is and with whom.
I know exactly what the panic must have felt like for Mary and Joseph.  They were one day’s journey away from Jerusalem, when they realized they lost him.  Talk about losing something or someone special.
I’m talking about losing your own child.  When I became a parent, the stories of children being abducted struck horror in my heart.  I took it all for granted, before I became the parent of a beautiful little boy.
When Jesus parents realized he was unaccounted for, they first looked among the whole group that was travelling with them.  Maybe he was there somewhere?  But he was not.
So, they made their way back to Jerusalem, and looked all over, perhaps retracing their steps.  Then, they got to the temple complex and there he was, seated with the rabbis.  He was so engaged in the discussion that he hardly noticed mom and dad walk up.
Joseph and Mary perhaps had the chance to hear Jesus words as he dialogued with the teachers and saw the amazement at what he had to say.  Luke does not tell us that they scooped Jesus up or that they said, “Thank God, you are ok!”  Nope.
Instead, we are told that they rebuked him: “Son, why have you treated us like this?”  Mary was calling him to responsibility.  She is speaking to him, like we might speak to our 15, 16 or 17 year old; because maturity and responsibility came at a younger age in first century Jewish culture.
We say that someone becomes an adult at age 18 and the truth is that many young people do not even become adults today until their mid-twenties.  And the markers of adulthood are maturity and responsibility.
In that culture, where Jesus grew up, age twelve was the transition from boyhood to manhood.  He is more mature than our twelve year olds.  He is ready to be a man.
Have you wondered where he spent the night?  Probably at the place where one of those teachers lived or at the temple.  Have you wondered if those teachers would have asked him about his parents or if he should be going home?
Whatever those conversations entailed of if they happened at all, there he was.  
I had scenes in my childhood, when I ventured out of my mom’s sight and she lost me.  My mom was very upset.  I know the phrase, “Where have you been?”, when I was perfectly fine, in my mind, and having an adventure or just enjoying myself with others.
Mary’s rebuke to Jesus, “Why have you treated us like this”, puts the blame for her anxious turmoil onto the boy.  He neither responds with “Sorry, my bad”, nor, “Don’t talk to me like that”.  
Instead, he gently turns the issue back to her and reminds her that God, His Father, is the center of his life; even though he is rightly related to his earthly parents.  Jesus is teaching me how to talk to my mom.
In the same section of scripture, it says that Mary and Joseph were Jesus parents and that he also has The Father as his father.  This is important, because Luke is underscoring that Jesus was human and divine.  He was not delivered, as a baby or a boy, from heaven; but came out of Mary.
They lost him and were searching, searching, searching for him.  But all along, there he was, at the temple, consumed with his Father’s things.  These are the first words we have of Jesus: “Didn’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”
This is our English language rendering, and in the HCSB that I am using here.  The oldest translation that we are commonly familiar with, the King James, says, “Knew ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?”  But what it literally says is something like, “did ye not know that in the things of my Father it behoveth me to be?’
That is how we get the idea that Jesus was saying something like, “Didn’t you know that I am all about being consumed by the things of my Father?”  Jesus did not say the word “house”.  House is in our translations  there because the translators would say that it is implied.
Jesus is saying that they should have known that he would be at the temple, the figurative ‘house of God’, involved in the discourse with people about the things of God.
The motif of this story, for me is ‘searching’.  We could say that the human perspective was of the parents and their tribe, searching for the lost boy.  Searching equals seeking.  They were seeking the boy while the boy was seeking or involved with the work of  seeking God.
They were seeking Jesus, all the while Jesus was involved with the pursuit of the things of the Father.  Jesus did not take a detour to an alone place to seek or be with the Father.  Jesus went to or stopped and stayed at the place where people gathered to discuss God things.
This is where we get the phrase, “I had to be about my Father’s business”.  What is the Father’s business?  It is God’s whole enterprise of loving and saving the people in the world he created.
Today, I am seeking something or a number of somethings.  And at the same time, Jesus is seeking or all about, as in ‘consumed’ with something.  I believe Jesus cares about what I am searching for, but mainly to the extent that he cares about me.
He loves me and he is consumed with the Father’s business.  I am searching for something, while he is involved with doing what he sees the Father doing.
What I am searching for is not bad.  Some people in the world must search for their daily food each day.  Jesus is not too busy discussing theology with the teachers to care about his people.
He does care and he does understand.  But where we get in trouble is when we stress out in our searching for whatever and I am assuming here that we are searching for something wholesome.  Something we do not want to do is to  stress out and then say to Jesus, “Why did you do this to me?”
My grandmother never touched alcohol and never went to a 12-step group, but she had the serenity prayer on a plaque, above the kitchen sink.  I grew up, looking at that prayer, and thinking about it.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
People who blame God and do not accept responsibility and and do not take the initiative are not developing spiritually, and are half-baked and stunted in becoming men and women, and staying childish.
Another remarkable thing about this story is that it says that Jesus went with them, back to Nazareth, in obedience.  Let that sink in.  He just showed them that he was ready and they did not get it.
Instead of forcing himself on them, he submitted himself to them.  This should blow our minds and massively teach us something about submission.  God was ready, but they were not ready to let go.
This is how it is so often with us in our lives.  We think we are waiting on God.  “Why is he taking so long!”, we say.  And all along, God is waiting for us.
Jesus and history had to wait 18 years.  When he left home at age 30, his family still did not get it.  They had lived with him and did not get him.
This is very sad in a sense, but should also encourage you, if your family does not get you.
It is really nice when people get you, understand you, to the best of their human abilities.  But the default position or the case that is most common, is that they won’t get you.  And then there is the whole range of the ones you love actually opposing you.
When we fast forward to when Jesus is 30 and begins his public ministry, in one of his first times of teaching, they love it, but then say, “Wait a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  Somehow, many people can’t wrap their heads around ordinary people becoming extraordinary because of God in their lives.  Instead, they want to see extraordinary people as gods.
The whole ethos of Christianity is that God in Christ comes into you and makes you a person in-Christ, that Christ works through and points to God.
What does this story from when Jesus was 12 have in it for me and what might it have for you?  I am searching.  I am always searching for something to one extent or another.
Sometimes my searching overwhelms me and I get stressed out.  I am tired and I need rest.  That is first.
Then there is the issue where I realize that I am missing God.  I have been praying about my search to God, but maybe not enough because my search has taken me away from God’s presence.  Maybe I need to search a bit less or pray more or perhaps wait on God more?
What about time out for recreation?  But if my search is desperate, like for food or water or a place to stay when all the places say ‘no vacancy’, I probably do need to pray more and practice God’s presence. 
It is all grace right?  Not my works that make life happen.  But faith is only real if it is tested and tried.
The circumstances of life test and try our faith to make it genuine.  Faith involves risk and when we risk we do often fail.  But God loves riskers who fail.
It is worse to do nothing than to do something that fails.
I am searching.  Will Jesus follow me in my search and make it work out? I am supposed to be following him.  But I can ask him to grant me success in my search.  I can pray as I consider things and choose things.
I would rather be with him wherever he is.  When I am searching and he is not with me, that is not his fault.  I left him behind and he never left me.
Rather than doing a comprehensive search and then getting overwhelmed and saying “Where are you in all this?”, I want to be with him and then put my head on his chest and ask him about it.

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home.

When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

By faith, barren Sarah was able to become pregnant, old woman as she was at the time, because she believed the One who made a promise would do what he said. That’s how it happened that from one man’s dead and shriveled loins there are now people numbering into the millions.

Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. 

People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. 
If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that—heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them.

-Hebrews 11:8-16 (MSG)

Will you be home for Christmas?  What does coming home represent?  What does Christmas mean?

  • Coming home means reconciliation with God or reunion with your family.  
  • Coming home means placing your life on the journey towards God.
  • Coming home means traveling into the journey towards God.
  • Coming home means traveling towards your home in God.
  • Coming home means traveling towards your heavenly home with God.

What does Christmas really mean?

  • Mass carries with it the idea of taking communion or the eucharist and then going into the world.  
    • Going into the world, on the mission of God in Christ.  
    • Mass is where we take the eucharist, receiving the blessing of the bread and wine.  
    • Thankfulness is expressed.  
    • At the dismissal, we go out, in Christ, into the world, carrying God’s mission in Christ.
That’s ‘Mass’.

Christ means Messiah, Anointed One and the Son of God, who is endowed or invested with the authority of God.

Christmas means, ‘Christ’s Mass’.  The meaning is ‘Christ & Eucharist’, which means that Christ has come as the blessed gift that we partake of for salvation.  Taking Christ into our lives, who saves us and takes over our lives, transforming us and taking us into his mission; is the whole idea.

What is coming home, going home, finding home or traveling home all about?  We say a person ‘went home’ to refer to their passing from life, through death, and then into God’s presence.

I think that the whole Bible is about finding home and coming there.  God is our home and through Christ we come home.  Coming home means reconciliation with God and reunion with our family.
I think that Abraham and Sarah’s story encapsulates the story of the people of God, about our homecoming.

This is what we learn, from Abraham and Sarah; and that can apply to us:

  • They left their known home to go to the home God had for them.
    • This is the same for all disciples of Jesus.  He calls us to follow him, often away from our ‘know homes’, to his ‘unknown home’.
  • Their only map was God.
    • Jesus’ call to us of, “Follow me”, only has in it, us and him.
    • Jesus does not tell us where he is taking us.
  • God said, “Go out into the unknown”, and they obeyed.
    • Trusting Jesus, even blindly is discipleship 101.
  • When they got there, they lived there as strangers, in portable housing.
    • Surprisingly, they did not take over or buy and build.
      • The disciple of Jesus is a stranger and sojourner on earth.
      • The number one thing is to make a home in God, while living in the world.
  • Their home was built on faith before being built with brick and mortar.
    • And they taught and trained their children to live the same way.
      • Making a home in God, on earth is the task of the disciple.
      • The home of our lives becomes the evangelistic door for people to meet God.
      • Building the spiritual comes first before building the material.
      • The height of spirituality is to find your home and living space in God.
  • God gave this couple their child when they were barren and past their prime.
    • They conceived what was inconceivable.
      • The story of God is making the weak strong, the blind see and the lame walk.
      • God takes the people that the world would reject and makes something good out of them.
      • God loves to provide, answer prayers and heal us.
  • Their faith was such that they were ok with not getting what God promised, yet.
    • Instead, they continually grew in their trust and revelation of God’s faithfulness.
      • We learn that our faith is more about growing in being loved by God and knowing his faithfulness, rather than getting stuff.
      • Maturing faith that is ‘no matter what faith’, that is like Job’s.
  • They discovered and were transformed into ‘heavenly-home-hearted people’.
    • On earth, they learned to make heaven their home.
      • Serenity, tranquility and contentment were theirs.
  • Rather than go back to where they were born and raised, they continually chose God’s upward call to ‘heaven country’, even while they lived in the desert on earth. 
    • Disciples of Jesus don’t look back.
    • Disciples of Jesus continually choose to not go back, but prefer barrenness and a desert wasteland, pursuing God’s call, rather than the easier life, in the place they came out of.
The whole message of the Hebrews 11 story of Abraham and Sarah is traveling towards God’s home for them.  And on that journey, they participated in making their home in God.
This has always been God’s call for all believers.  That is the point that the writer or preacher of the Hebrews letter is making.
For anyone who has either had an unfulfilling Christian life or is just beginning their journey, this is what it is all about.  Coming home and being home.
God has wanted his people to come home to him, make their homes in him and for them to have their lives be a home for him to live in.  This has always been God’s plan from Adam and Eve, through Moses and David’s times and up to when Jesus walked the earth and then into the present.
Look for and listen.  Open your heart to the possibility of your life changing.  Anticipate coming home for Christmas.

I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love light gleams
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams

Songwriters: Buck Ram / Kim Gannon / Walter Kent


If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
-James 1:5-8, 4:8 (NIV)

In James, chapters one and four, James uses this peculiar word, ‘double-minded’.  I’m not sure I have ever heard it spoken outside of ‘Christianese’ conversations.  Every preacher that quotes this verse has to explain it.
‘Double-minded’ literally means ‘double souled’.  James was the first person to use this word in Greek writings.  Scholar Douglas Moo wrote, “James, who uses this same term again in 4:8, has probably coined the term in order to accentuate his concern that believers display a wholehearted commitment to God.  However, while he may be the first to use this particular word, he is certainly not the first to enunciate the concept.  The OT blesses those who pursue God with “a whole heart”: (Ps. 119:2) and condemns the person who exhibits a “divided heart” (Ps. 12:2; Hos. 10:2).  Jesus singled out Deut. 6:5, with its demand for total allegiance, as one of the greatest commandments in the OT: “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”…  James concludes with a final negative characterization of this “doubter” who will not find his prayers answered: he is unstable in all his ways…  The “all he does” reflects again James’s concern to portray a basic inconsistency in attitude and spirit rather than an occasional doubt or lapse.  It is what we might call “spiritual schizophrenia” that James criticizes in these verses explicitly throughout his letter: a basic division in the soul that leads to thinking, speaking, and acting that contradicts one’s claim to belong to God.”(1)
Being ‘double-minded’ means being ‘half-hearted’ or ‘wavering’, according to The Passion Translation.  ‘Double-minded’ is translated as ‘divided loyalty’ in The Phillips and The New Living translations.  Eugene Peterson’s The Message has the word as, ‘keeping all your options open’.
James says that this will not work.  He says that such a person will not get their prayers answered, for wisdom in their trials.  James’s antidote for double-mindedness is repentance: Returning to God.  Washing your hands signifies getting cleansed.  Purifying your heart means to get your heart set right, toward single loyalty to God.
Here again is the context of James 1:

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

If any of you lacks wisdom, 
you should ask God, 
who gives generously 
to all without finding fault, 
and it will be given to you. 

But when you ask, 
you must believe and not doubt, 
because the one who doubts 
is like a wave of the sea, 
blown and tossed by the wind. 

That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In my last message on James, I focused on ‘asking God for help’.  And the help we are asking for is wisdom.  The next thing James says is to be careful how you ask: don’t ask with doubt, but with belief.  Doubtful people are like wave on the sea: unstable.

And the person with a doubtful open mind, that says ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time is a double-minded person.  They will not be able to receive from the Lord and their doubtfulness makes them unstable in how they live.

The NET Bible note says this about ‘double-minded’: “A double-minded man is one whose devotion to God is less than total. His attention is divided between God and other things, and as a consequence he is unstable and therefore unable to receive from God.”  By the way, the word ‘man’ means ‘person’, even though it can be translated either ‘man’ or ‘individual’ or ‘a person’.

Rather than get into a discussion of what Schizophrenia is and how spiritual schizophrenia is related, it is better to let the text define the word.  ‘Double-minded’ simply means, ‘of two minds’.  And James says that you don’t want to be like that.  The double that is trouble is doubt and belief.

Faith has to do with believing and then living based on believing in something that someone said or did.  Someone promises to love you and to be there for you and you believe them, even when you can not see them.  That is faith.

When the one you put your faith in breaks your trust by deliberately being unloving or betraying you, we call them unfaithful.  But if that one is being faithful, but you mix in doubt in your heart with your thoughts of faith in them, that can become a problem.

Imagine a person who is not capable of betraying you or being unfaithful.  That person is God.  If you approach God with faith in God’s faithfulness, but also doubt in his faithfulness, that is a problem, says James.

If, for whatever reason, based on your life’s experience or just your personality or journey of faith; you have trouble trusting God and can not believe, but rather doubt; then that is something to work on.

In human relationships we build trust.  It is natural to start out somewhat trusting and then it builds to the point where you might feel like you trust that person to pull you up, if you are the one behind them, climbing the figurative mountain in life.

Some people start out not trusting anyone, because they have been hurt or abused.  We can carry that brokenness into our relationship with God.  We can also have all sorts of misconceptions about God including ‘bad theology’ that misrepresents God and God’s love, goodness and affection towards us.

Working on that and getting clear on just how good and trustworthy that God is, is the homework for the doubter with ‘trust issues’ to work on.

James does not go into any details like that though.  James just says, “don’t doubt”.  Remember though that this is from the person who grew up next to Jesus and even during Jesus public ministry years, filled with the incredible things he said and did, James doubted!

James is not degrading or condemning the doubter.  He is simply saying, “faith and doubt together won’t work: you can’t hold onto both.  You will be unstable, like a two minded person.”  And he basically says, “stop it”, or, “stop doing that”, which is his encapsulation on the ‘double-minded’ connotation, when he starts to wrap up his letter and says: “purify your hearts, you double-minded”.

There is no in-between place of faith and unbelief.  If you have unbelief, you don’t have faith.  There is a coming to faith and a growing in faith.  There is a cry of a hurting heart that wants to have faith, but has been disappointed with faith that says, “I believe, but help my unbelief”.

There is also the lament of heartsickness that believes, but has not seen very much of God’s faithfulness that it has longed for, that is expressed in the words, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled if the tree of life”.  And the heart longing for God, in the midst of waiting and suffering in a wilderness or lack of fruit, can cry out, “how long oh Lord?”

Unbelief or doubt are different than grief and suffering that laments as it looks to God.  Remember that lament is the highest form of worship.

James is addressing folks who God is being revealed to and yet they still doubt.  Again, this is not unique to James’s church.  The Bible is frank about people who stood at arms length from the risen Jesus and still doubted (Matt. 28:17).

The context here is that James is saying you have to stop the doubting, stop holding thoughts of doubt in your mind while praying to God for help, for wisdom in your suffering circumstances in life.  In the trials and temptations and the tumultuous circumstances of your life, wherein you call out to God; you can not hold onto doubt and expect for anything from God.  That is what James is saying.

James is saying don’t expect results if you are holding on to doubts about God.  You are either all-in or it won’t work.  It is the same today.

The Christian life only works if you surrender all and give up everything.  The kingdom of God is indeed like a person who found the pearl and sold everything to have it.  Jesus does not come into your life as an add-on, but to takeover all of you.

The Christian life is ‘goodbye you’; and ‘hello Jesus’, throughout your whole life, every room, every inch and every part.  He does not obliterate you, but renews and remakes you: Him in you, all that God created you to be.  That means when there are doubts about Jesus or about God, they have to be discarded and thrown out or put to death.  You may not or ever have the answers, but the unbelief and doubt must go.

Faith is rooted in God who is faithful.  His faithfulness empowers our faith which is rooted in his person.  My faith is not built on doctrine, theology, my denominational or non-denominational affiliation.  My faith is not built on my father or fathers.

Neither is my faith built on my experiences or what I have felt, seen, heard or read.  My faith is rooted in the person of God and God’s faithfulness.  And God’s faithfulness and love is most expressed in the gospel, which is the good news about Jesus: who he is and why he came.

Walking through the doorway of belief in the gospel of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is faith.  Life begins to be defined, measured or seen through the door of Christ.  If we are looking at him and have walked through the door which is him, then doubt has to go: it is incompatible.

Check yourself at the door.  See yourself in Christ and take off or walk away from doubt.  Rid your mind of doubt.    And again, this is not a condemning word, because James himself was a doubter, and he is saying, “you have the truth: cultivate it and don’t pick up doubts”.  If you do, the life will not work as it is designed to and you are the one who can make the change.

Don’t be double minded.  Recognize it and don’t cultivate it.  Even if my faith is weak and has many questions, I don’t doubt Father God, Christ or The Spirit of God.

1. The Letter of James, Douglas J. Moo, pp. 62-3

Stay A Little Bit Longer

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its  perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord.  See how  the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient.  Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.  Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!  My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.  Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by  the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

-James 1:2-4, 5:7-11 (NKJV)
My message is:  Stay a little bit longer, and let patience have its perfect work.  Stay in the place of your suffering.

Don’t stay in abuse, flee abuse, set boundaries on abuse.  Stay in that trial you are in, where your patience has worn thin and God has not opened the door to the next thing for you, yet.

Let patience work.  Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘don’t waste your trials’?  That is what this is.
Before the Lord promotes you, he wants to transform you.  We have been asking to be transposed.  We have been imagining and planning on a better place for ourselves.
But before God does that, he does this.  He puts you through trials to refine you and synergize you with  Christ.  God has you in the place of transformation.  Stay in it a bit longer and let patience have its perfect work in you.
I know that many people want more out of life.  We want success and to have lives with impact.  We want to enjoy doing what we have been given to do and get recognition for it.
Some of us are content and very thankful for the blessings that we are living in.  But we also have something we are frustrated about and it seems like it will never get better.  We have little hope or almost none and even no hope left.
Some of us have given up on our dreams.  This is like the heartbroken father of the boy who was afflicted by a demon, who said to Jesus, “I believe, but help my unbelief” (Mark 9:14-29).  Our hopes have been deferred for so long, that our hearts are just sick (Prov. 13:12).
We are in a window of time.  We are always in a window of time.  But what if God asked you, at this time, to stay a little longer and let patience have its perfect work?
The alternatives are opting out or resisting.  Opting out is when you leave before the work is done, in you.  You might say, “I don’t have time for this”, or some other excuse, but you disengage from the suffering and your persevering faith trial.  “I haven’t got time for the pain”, or “I’m out of here”; you say.
Resisting is when you don’t hit the eject button, but you don’t let patience work in your life either.  Resisting is when you push back, deny, blame, complain and present yourself as a victim.  You feel sorry for yourself and others do too, but in the game you are playing, you avoid the growth of letting patience have its perfect work in you.  Nothing has changed inside you.
Letting patience have its perfect work in you is when you seek or cultivate union with God.  Your prayer of, “O God help me”, becomes a cry for intimacy, communion and fellowship with God.
God is drawing near to you, beckoning you to share your life, especially the pain, suffering and disappointment.  We might have in mind that when God comes it means I get my prayers answered, I get the stuff I have been asking for and I get rescued or delivered, healed or made whole.  But what God wants is to be with you in your trial.  God wants more to transform you than to make it go away.
God is saying today, to some people, including myself: “Stay a little bit longer and let patience have its perfect work in you”.  How much longer?  I don’t know.
There are times and seasons, general for everybody and particular to individuals and groups of individuals who make an ‘in the same boat’ group.  A bunch of people need to stay and not opt out, resist or leave their place of trial right now, because God is wanting to finish a work in you, called by James, ‘letting patience have its perfect work’.

Asking God For Help

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

-James 1:4-6 (NIV)
I want to talk about asking God for help.  We continually have challenges in life that stretch us beyond what we know to do.  And we must learn to ask God for help.
When we ask God for help, it is not like asking someone to lend us a hand.  Asking God for help is availing ourselves to God’s goodness, grace and love.  Asking God requires my listening and following God.
Asking God means that when God answers, I must follow.  God makes a way for me, with him.  This is very different than my asking God to help me do things my way.
God is always expanding my awareness and experience in him as I walk along in life.  And this is what asking for wisdom from God is all about.  I am asking God how to do something I can not do.
Life serves up a challenge and I am not doing well with it.  I might say, honestly, “I can’t do this”.  The next step is to ask God for help, saying, “How can I do this?”
James brings up this issue, because his whole letter is a catalog of wisdom from God, that James wants to share with his audience.  The original people who James was ministering to had real problems.

The message from James is: “Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems”.  The message, “Come to Jesus and you will no longer have problems”, runs counter to the book of James.

Here, in chapter 1, is the first of four times that James is going to mention wisdom in his letter.  About the theme of wisdom, Brian Simmons writes: “His letter could be considered a wisdom sermon, for the style is similar to the Proverbs.  Throughout his letter James taps into the long tradition of Jewish wisdom and applies it to various practical topics for wise Christian living.  He recognizes wisdom as necessary for trying circumstances; it involves insight into God’s purposes and leads to spiritual maturity; and God is the source of all true wisdom.”(1)
A good way to understand the whole message of James is to read the whole thing in one sitting.  If you had just done that and then circled back to chapter one, you would have probably noticed that James contrasts God’s heavenly wisdom with earthly wisdom that can be demonic.
Some Christians are afraid of the idea that there is a demon behind every bush.  But the demonic and the dark powers are a reality and they influence how the world functions.  And people who are not walking with God come under the influence of the demonic.
The Christian who is not growing in godly wisdom through a living relationship with God is vulnerable to all the demonic traffic of ideas that is going through the air and it is only natural that they may adopt these ideas and pet them and feed them and believe in them.  They are not from God but are opposed to God.
Before we ask for wisdom and before we realize we are having trouble and need help, we need to understand that our faith is being stretched and grown through persevering under trials.  James says that we are all in a maturing process.  Over the years, I have met young and old believers, who resisted the idea of the long process of maturity.
I will never forget a man, who I was in a class with.  The instructor was sharing a model on the whiteboard of how people grow and mature.  This man shared with the class, with stars in his eyes, how God had taken him through all of these steps in just one night.
This brother was the oldest person in the room and a full time minister, who planned on getting a Doctorate, after finishing his Masters degree in Christian counseling.  And he was arguably the rudest, most selfish student in our class, based upon how he treated others.  Later in the program, several students openly confronted him, during a group sharing session.
I share that story, because many people want overnight change and do not want a long growth process.  But perseverance and learning godly wisdom usually comes from a lifetime lived, walking with God and asking God for help.
God does touch us and heal us.  We can have a life changing experience with God.  But maturity, mature faith and a godliness that has God’s character usually takes time.  We can most definitely be touched by God, but not have very good fruit in our lives, because the cultivation of that fruit occurs in a process over time.
Perseverance means that we have persevered.  We have walked through the severe circumstances:  Circumstances that tried us and tested our faith.  Our faith has been refined. 
Part of perseverance is to ask God for help.  And asking God for help takes humility.  I already mentioned that when we ask God for help, we have to be willing to follow God.  If you are asking God to “give you a hand”, it is not going to work.
That person might say, “I have asked God for help over and over and he just seems to ignore me!”
Are you asking God to lend you a hand, or are you humbling yourself and availing yourself to God changing your life, through the help he gives you?
We need wisdom,  We need God’s wisdom to be godly people.  We have to be in the habit of asking God for help, which involves constantly humbling ourselves, saying, “I don’t know”, and even, “I have no idea”.  Then we ask for wisdom, for advice, for God’s perspective.
If you get in fights with people, if you are hurt or offended by people or you are mad that you are not getting your way; be prepared and don’t be shocked when God says, “You are wrong”.
If you are in the maturing process and you are going through your first world problems and you decide to start asking God for help and you discover that asking for help is not asking God for a hand, but coming under God as God and asking God to be God in your life and give you help as God: you are probably going to hear or sense, “You are wrong”.
God who loves you, will tell you that you are wrong, just like how Jesus told his disciples they were wrong.  “You are wrong”, does not mean you are bad or unloved, but means you don’t get it.

A person who never acknowledges they are wrong is a small person and may become a psychopath.  That is not a person to follow or that you want to be.

Living a life of not asking for help and authentic help requests say, “what am I doing wrong?”, is a life of pride.  Asking for help, as in asking what I can do differently or what should I do, takes some humility.  God opposes pride and give grace to humility.
The issue of asking for wisdom without doubting is about perseverance.  That means that you burn the ships after you reach the island or burn the bridges, so that you can not go back to where God led you out of.
You can’t say, “It did not work, so we are going back”.  That is not faith or perseverance.
Abraham is the man of faith, in scripture.  He had a promise that took a very long time to be fulfilled.
Sarah did not have the encounters with God that her husband had, as far as the record of scripture tells us.
But they both had to wait.  And they made a mistake, to try to ‘help the promise come about’, that was not God’s wisdom.  But God still entered into their situation and redeemed it.
Maybe you are like Abraham and you are worried that you either ruined your chances or that somehow God has forgotten you.  Maybe like Abe, you have a wife or a husband that did not receive the promise like you did, but they nevertheless must live out your life in God, as a couple in covenant.
I am encouraged that despite Abraham and Sarah’s fumble, that intimately affected two other people, God still kept giving them wisdom, guidance and grace.  The point is that despite the flaws that were huge, the scripture says that their faith did not waver (Rom. 4:20-21).  Yes, I see them as one, a couple.
This is message on persevering in faith and asking for wisdom unwaveringly.  If you think that your faith is not pure enough, strong enough or laser beam straight enough; think again.  Decide to believe and keep deciding, keep believing in the one who is faithful.
Keep your confidence in God.  Make it a habit to not worry.  Do not worry about things God does not worry about.  Instead, ask for wisdom.
Generous grace is available every day to those who turn their humble hearts towards God.  Generous grace is available every day to those who humble themselves to ask God for wisdom.  There is always grace for today, but we have to avail ourselves to God’s open hand by humbling ourselves and asking for it.
Being ambivalent towards God or keeping your options open as you look around will destabilize your faith and your life.  There is only faith or unbelief and no neutral.  If you are undecided about God, that is called unbelief and you will not get or grow in wisdom or grace.
The place where James takes you is to become, like he was, a servant of God, in the service of others.  That is why we need to do all these wise things that James advises in his sermon letter.  You will know God, serve God and serve others, finding meaning and purpose.
Our destinies are called out and developed in the seeming darkness of troubles and problems in our lives.  Every single person has equal standing to be redeemed by God and employed in God’s service.
Ask God for help and find wisdom.  Make that your lifestyle.
1. Brian Simmons, Hebrews and James: Faith Works, The Passion Translation; pp. 67-8

Living in Difficulties with Great Joy

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

-James 1:1-4 (NIV)

Do you ever have times when it seems like everything is broken?
It seems like all of life is discovering brokenness.
Broken things, broken people and broken relationships.

Will things ever be fixed?
When one thing gets better, it seems like a new problem arises.

Why is this happening to me?
I would prefer to avoid difficulties.
I look for a way around it, or above it.

The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.

Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

I am saying ‘difficulty’, but the text from James says ‘trials’. Some translations say ‘temptations’. The CEB has ‘tests’ and The Message has ‘challenges’. The Passion Translation has ‘difficulties’.

I prefer ‘difficulties’ or ‘challenges’, to describe the brokenness of life: things, situations, people and relationships. The other words may fit you better. That thing you are facing is a temptation and also a test and a trial and a challenge and a difficulty.

The word ‘trial’ is about something that is trying to us or testing us or ‘putting us to proof’. In other words, proving us. It is like a person saying that an object is made of metal and not plastic or wax. To prove it, the object it put into heat. The metal is proved to be metal and if it is plastic or wax, it melts and is proven to not be metal. That is a trial.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

James is strongly echoing Jesus when he says that faith must be tested. There is never a question of what saves us. God saves us and we believe it and that is faith.

But then our faith is always tested, tried, or tempted. These trials are difficulties and challenges. When we face them, growth occurs inside us and we become more mature and complete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. It is not an escape hatch or an ejection seat, but a grace package from the Father (James 1:17).

I long for things to be made whole. 

I am learning to live in brokenness. 
These two things are ‘the life’.

Difficulties stretch us. 

Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.

I have been thinking about a book called, “Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness“, by Jerry Cook and Stanley C. Baldwin.  In the book, they talk about how the church ought to be a place where people become whole.

Their message is that God loves, accepts, and forgives people.  We often do not love, do not accept, and do not forgive people; including ourselves.

The seventh chapter (p. 103-119) deals directly with the text from James that I quoted, about difficulties.  The authors list these as difficulties that Christians encounter:

  • Criticism: Learning to give receive constructive criticism.
  • Sensitivity: Learning the distinction between being sensitive to others and taking offense.
  • Divisiveness: Learning to have differences without dividing over them.
  • Traditionalism: Learning to live from Christ for the sake of others, as the center; and making traditions peripheral. 

To me, these four represent common ailments that Christians have today.

The message from James is: “Now that you are a Christian, you have a lot of problems”.

As a pastor and a teacher, James preaches about how to navigate your challenges.  James has a very commanding voice.  His letter is the bossiest book in the New Testament. See Jeffrey Kanz’s post on this (2nd place goes to Joel).

James is a ‘how to book’.  Do you want to know what to do?  James has 54 commands of what we should do.  Timothy Sparks made a list, here.

In this beginning section of James, the commands are:

  • Consider it pure joy
  • Let perseverance finish its work
If you choose to not take James advice or obey the commands he gives, then what are the consequences?  I ask this because we are a people who get a lot of advice, but sometimes do not take it.  Our Christian culture is a culture where advice or commands or bossiness abounds, but the follow through is very small.

In most churches, we have a lot of sermons.  A person stands up and tells us something.  It is sometimes something we already know.

And often that something we already have heard before is something we are not doing.  The preacher’s job is to tell us something we usually already know that we are not doing.  Nothing has changed since James pastored his church and preached to them.

Imagine that James is a collection of his sermons, in newsletter form.  The problems Christians were encountering, who were scattered far and wide, were the same as those who lived in Jerusalem.

The people had difficulties: problems just like we do today.

And the way life worked then and today, is that we have problems and then we have to decide how we will navigate them.  James says, “You have problems”.  Awareness is the beginning.
Okay, I have problems.  Now what?  How do I escape?
James says that you do not escape your problems.  He says something that sounds like the opposite.  He says to celebrate the fact that you have problems.
This is verse number two of a lengthy sermon/letter.  He does not tell a joke or tell a sentimental story, to warm his audience’s hearts; but immediately gives what we would call, ‘a hard word’.
Can you already tell that this is Jesus’ brother?  Does he remind you of Jesus?  What is ironic is that James did not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, before he died on the cross and rose from the dead.
James became a believer, after Jesus rose from the dead.  He was a late adopter, when the truth had been right in front of him.

James was written to Jewish Christians that realized Jesus was Messiah, but many other Jewish people around them did not and perhaps gave them a hard time.  That might be the number one trial that the original readers of James were going through.
People got saved and became Christians, followers of Jesus.  That is really good.  The negative side though, was that many of their kin, did not not get saved, but became antagonistic to these believers in Jesus.
Circumstances, that are negative, stretch us to touch God.  Our lives today, with the troubles, form us to become who we need to be.  God uses trials to shape believers into people that will glorify Himself.[1]

The theme of James is: How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?[2]  Serving Jesus is the theme of our lives.

James begins his letter with a piece of advice.  He says, that it is a great thing that you have troubles, challenges or trials in your life, because these are an opportunity for you to grow in joy.
This sounds very paradoxical, because difficulties are the opposite of joy.  He is saying that your difficulties are an opportunity to grow in joy that you should celebrate.
How can this be?  This does not make sense.
Here is what I think James had in mind.  When our lives are not working well,  and it could be any kind of troubles; we simply must turn to God.
Christians live in the paradox of total dependence on God and the stewardship of our lives.  In our covenant relationship to God, we are totally dependent while being totally free.  In our freedom, we are completely wedded to God.
We live in the tension of being set free, but being in need.  When troubles come, of any kind, they are an opportunity to connect deeper with God and become authentically joyous.
There is something called ‘strangely encouraged’.  That is when something bad happens, but you have a measure of joy in the Lord.
What God wants is to form us into being like Jesus.  When things hurt or when we are irritated or discouraged, our job is to turn to God.

With every negative, there is a positive.  When something bad happens, God has something good for us to receive.

When things happen that are unpleasant, we may ask, “why?”  We might reason that we do not deserve it or we may assume it is happening because we do deserve it.  But many things happen to us, not because we do not or do deserve them.
Conversely, many things are related to cause and effect.  We do one thing and it makes us vulnerable to this other thing happening.  
But what if you don’t do anything wrong, and in fact you do a lot of right things, but bad things happen to you.  Cause and effect is not the answer.  
“Why?”, is usually the wrong question.  “What?” is a better question.  “Who?” is the best question.
“What is life about?”  “Who loves me?”  “What is God doing?”  “Who is God making me to be?”
These are the ultimate questions.
The way of wisdom and the way of wholeness is to take on and go through difficulties that meet us.
If we turn away from difficulties that face us, we are stopping the maturing process that God has for us.
Difficulties are where God grows us.  This is is why we are happy when a difficulty arises.

When we go through difficulties, our faith is proven real. There is a secret about faith.  It only gets grown through difficulties. There is an equation here that says faith plus difficulties equals perseverance.

The goal is not just faith, but maturity and completeness. Perseverance is a part of maturity and completeness. Faith alone, without perseverance, means lacking maturity and incomplete.

And a secret behind this process is that with every difficulty, challenge, trial, test or temptation that comes against us; there is a gift from God. The gift is the provision that God has placed there for you, next to that difficulty. 

This is the secret of trials, temptations and difficulties:
Joy from God.
Embracing the brokenness is the doorway to Joy.
Surrender to God.

I long for things to be made whole. 

I am learning to live in brokenness. 
These two things are ‘the life’.

Difficulties stretch us.   In the stretching, we experience uncommon joy.
Our lives today, with difficulties, form us to become who we need to be tomorrow.

I am longing for wholeness and living in brokenness.
With great joy.
1. Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes On James
2. George M. Stulac, James; p. 30

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