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James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

It may seem at first glance that James has jumped from one subject to another as we read verse 5. He had just been writing on trials and the necessity of them and now he quickly moves on to wisdom. James has not changed subjects. On the contrary, it is as if he is saying: “The help you need to understand the meaning of your trials and tribulations comes through wisdom, and you must ask God if you want that kind of wisdom.” This term James uses here for “wisdom” was a common one used in that day for knowledge of godly things. Getting through the trials and tribulations of this life requires knowledge far beyond what is offered in man’s meager brain. This kind of knowledge only comes from God, so our first response in looking for it is to pray. Additionally, it is important that we ask for that kind of wisdom before the trials begin, preparing ourselves in God’s wisdom so that we respond in godly knowledge. Pray today, asking God to give you the wisdom you need to look beyond this world to the eternal purpose behind your life. We prepare by praying.

Study/Meditation: Many of the sayings in the book of Proverbs have to do with wisdom, saying that looking for wisdom is like looking for gold or silver. (Proverbs 2:1-11) Why is that an appropriate comparison? How do we look for this kind of wisdom?

*Father, please give me the wisdom necessary to see the things of this world from a godly perspective. Help me look at my problems through a lens that is You. Amen.

ONE, TWO, THREE…..GO!!!!

Those were the famous last words I yelled at the 2013 Women’s Retreat I was both directing and teaching.  One of the activities we had planned was a large scavenger hunt spread entirely around the resort where the retreat was being held.  The plan on this particular afternoon was the 100+ ladies, divided into teams of 8-10, would do the scavenger hunt and then return after about an hour when the next lesson and small group activity would take place.

Great plan, right?

Well, little did I realize that scavenger hunts are HARD to plan.  One wrong clue, one incorrect step, and the entire thing is flamboozled, which is the best word I can think of right now to describe what happened next–flamboozled.

Within about 5 minutes the first confused cell phone call came in from one of the groups.  My assistant frantically looked at me and began exclaiming that the hunt wasn’t working and the ladies were all ending up at the same place.  Nothing was working!  She was panicking and I needed to make a decision immediately.

I told her to call each group and tell them to return to the chapel.  I would go ahead and teach while she and the other workers fixed the problems with the scavenger hunt, and then it could occur after my message.

I turned from her and began to get my thoughts together, praying for guidance in this turn of events, when I noticed the volunteer workers around me.  One of the young men there who was doing all of our sound and media was calmly taking action, seemingly nonplussed by this new occurrence.  My assistant and others, however, were not so calm.  They were panicking.  This wasn’t the plan and the plan had to stay intact.  What will happen?

Then the groups started arriving back at the chapel and I saw the same two manifestations of this new course in the participants.  Some of the ladies came back laughing and smiling, simply enjoying each other’s company, while some of them came back clearly upset that the plan had not worked.  Why hadn’t it worked?  What was going to happen now that the plan hadn’t worked?

It just so happened that the theme of this particular retreat was “The Amazing Race” on Hebrews 12:1-2,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

As I watched the women return, I began remembering a scene from one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, “Parenthood.”  In this movie, Martin plays a man whose life is not turning out the way he expected.  His job is wrong, his children are wrong (and he’s just found out that his wife is pregnant AGAIN), his family is wrong, his friends are wrong…  In essence, he was feeling much like some of these ladies at the retreat were feeling when the scavenger hunt hadn’t worked:  What was going to happen now that the plan hadn’t worked?

In the movie, just when Martin’s at his wits end and about to go to a Christmas play that his daughter is in, his grandmother walks into the room and tells the now famous “Roller Coaster Story”:

 

Of course, we can see that Martin has missed the point, though his wife hasn’t.  In the next scene, they go to the play, and Martin begins to see just how smart his grandmother is:

 

Why, do you ask, did this particular scene come to my mind as I prayed for guidance in my next message to these wonderful women?  What does the message of “Enjoy the ride!” from a secular movie have to tell us, as Christians, especially in terms of our running this race called life?

Well, the answer to those questions became the new subject of the message I gave in the minutes following the scavenger hunt debacle.  I began my message by telling the women about the scenes from “Parenthood” that you just watched.  Then I told them that there were some of them who were a lot like Martin in the movie.  I watched them.  I saw them come into the chapel frustrated and somewhat put out that things hadn’t worked out as planned.

They were not enjoying the ride.  They were certainly running the race, but they weren’t enjoying it.  Why?

The simple answer is a lack of trust in God, because a Christian who truly trusts that she serves a sovereign and loving God who is wonderfully in control of every aspect of her life will enjoy the ride.  She’ll enjoy it because she doesn’t worry or fret about the unexpected, knowing that none of it is unexpected to God.  She’ll be able to run the race set before her not in constant agony over how things don’t go as planned, but in joyful anticipation of both eternity and the amazing ride God has planned for her.

After all, God promised us in Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

He know the plans He has for us!  John Piper once preached on this verse and said that the word that the prophet Jeremiah used here for “plan” is actually the word we might know as “plots.”  God actually plots for His children!  That’s beautiful!

The point here is this:  Christians should enjoy the ride of this life–every one of the ups and downs, ins and outs–because they are all part of the plan of the Creator of the Universe, plans that are promised to work for our good and His glory. (Romans 8:28)

So life hasn’t turned out exactly like you expected?  How are you going to respond to that?  Instead of fretting and worrying,  why not enjoy the ride of your life?  God’s driving the roller coaster, and He is the perfect Operator.

Christian, Enjoy the Ride!

 

James 1:4 “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

When the scientists were building the Biosphere in Arizona, they included all manner of flora and fauna, including many different kinds of trees. Once it was completed and filled, everything seemed good. However, the scientists ran into a perplexing problem. All of the tallest trees were simply falling over. The trees seemed healthy and were well-fed and watered, but without fail, as they got to a certain height, they would topple to the ground of the sphere. The scientists were confused and worked diligently at a solution. Finally they saw the problem—there was no wind in the Biosphere. Without wind, the roots of the trees could not grow stronger and eventually the weight of the tree itself was enough to topple it to the ground. This is exactly what James is telling us in today’s verse. Trials and troubles are the wind in our lives, wind that is needed so that the roots of our steadfastness will grow stronger and stronger. Without those problems, the weight of our own existences would take us to the ground. But God loves us much too much to leave us that way. James tells us to let the trials of this life be what they are intended to be; put them in the perspective of the King where they are a means to our sanctification and to His glory. Only then will we be “complete, lacking in nothing.”

Study/Meditation: What is it about trials and tribulations that make us steadfast? How do they also bring us into closer communion with God?

*Father, thank You for bringing me through all of life’s trials, and thank You for orchestrating only that which is for my good and to Your glory. Amen.

James 1:2-3 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

We must remember first that James is writing this letter to the “Dispersion,” that is Christians who were scattered throughout the lands, and they were being threatened and tortured and killed for the sake of their beliefs. They were enduring trials, and James starts his letter off by telling them to count these trials as “all joy.” Now, James is certainly not mandating that any of us run around in ecstasy when we suffer, but what he is reminding us to do is to remember the eternal picture. He’s telling us to remember that all our steps are ordained and each one is numbered, including those we don’t enjoy very much. We have been promised trials and tribulations in this life, but James doesn’t give us a secret here. As a matter of fact, he says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” These are things that we know; James is simply reminding us that in the middle of these trials to look to God’s purpose in them, which is toward our sanctification and His glory. Then we can do so with joy, or as Paul calls it, in the “hope of glory.”

Study/Meditation: How do trials and tribulations produce steadfastness or endurance in your life? What times in your past can you name that did exactly that?

*Father, help me to remember the eternal perspective while I endure this life’s trials. You are good and glorious and loving. Forgive me when I doubt those things, and thank You for them. Amen.

James 1:1  “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.”

We begin today on our study of the book of James, a letter sent to the scattered Christians from James, the brother of Jesus and the leader of the Jerusalem Council. This letter has often been referred to as the “handbook for Christians” in that it is…
from beginning to end packed with practical, day-to-day advice for any believer in Christ Jesus as Lord. As we look at the greeting of this letter, James sets the tone for the entire discourse in the way that he introduces himself. He was a man of some esteem and very respected among the Jewish community. Additionally, as the brother of Jesus, he most likely joined the rest of his family in doubting his Brother’s authenticity as the Christ while Jesus lived on this earth. As a matter of fact, James’ conversion didn’t come about until after Jesus was resurrected. In spite of all of that, we see that James introduces himself only in terms of his devotion to our Savior and as a servant of God, not in terms of his earthly position. No matter who we are or what we may accomplish, it is nothing unless it is done in the shadow of God’s glory and for the sake of our Savior. James knew that and begins his letter with this attitude and introduction. (The James study will be based on “James on the Mount,” by Dr. Deborah Waterbury, Xulon Press, 2008)

Study/Meditation: Why do you think it is often said that pride is the root of all sin? Why is humility foundational for any believer?

*Father, guide me as I begin this study of James. Help me to receive Your Word in humility and gentleness, seeking only to please You and bring glory to Your Name. Amen.

The proper response to the #grace of #Jesus is praise and thanksgiving.

Galatians 6:18 “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”

At the end of the day and when all is said and done, our eternal destinies and everything we look toward lie in that one little word—“grace.” And yet, everything in our natures—our sinful, fleshly natures—either rails against the need for that word or works to add to that word, as if it wasn’t enough on its own. Paul’s final prayer on behalf of the Galatians was that they would accept not just any grace, but the “grace of our Lord Jesus.” His prayer was that they would know and understand and accept this amazing gift in its entirety. He prayed that they would realize that it is the complete gift of love from the complete work that could only be done by the Son of God. When Jesus healed the ten lepers, there was nothing they could offer Him in return. He gave them the gift of life. However, one of them understood the magnitude of what was done for him, and when he did, his response was not to go back and try to pay Jesus or to work for this gift. Luke records that this healed leper, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” (Luke 17:15) When given something from the Lord of the Universe that we absolutely could not earn nor gain for ourselves, our proper response should be to recognize this grace and worship our Savior in light of it.

Study/Meditation: After reading the entire passage in Luke 17:11-19 (http://www.esvbible.org/Luke+17/), what other lesson do we receive from how the other nine lepers reacted to Jesus’ healing?

*Father, thank You for Your grace. It is undeserved and unmerited, and I know that it is given because of Your love and mercy. Thank You that You chose to give it to a sinner such as me. Amen.