The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

You Want Me to Consider What?

James 1:1-4

Honey Rock

We heard our names called out in clusters of 10 and assigned a facilitator.Our group’s leader was nicknamed Jaks.We gathered together and introduced ourselves.A few of us were camp directors and counselors, two youth ministers, a high school grad, a college professor and couple of pastors.We had come to the backwoods of Wisconsin to attend a leadership seminar.We were expecting the worse.The camp had an outstanding reputation but we knew that they accomplished their goals through a high stress wilderness experience.I had read about similar programs and so was prepared for a physically demanded two weeks in the woods.But nothing prepared me for that first night.

After our very brief introductions, Jaks told us that we were going for a short walk.He turned and started down a dirt road at a leisurely pace.We followed.He then started to jog slowly.His jog turned into a run, and then suddenly, without explanation, he darted into the woods weaving around trees.Some of the group members struggled to keep up.We climbed a small hill and descended toward a lake.A few of us had gotten slightly ahead of Jaks who kept turning around to make sure everyone was still together.We stopped at the shoreline to wait for directions.To our amazement, Jaks never stopped, without hesitation he plunged into the water and waded out.We were obliged to follow.The water was cold on the May afternoon.We could feel the mud oozing into our boots.Jaks stopped when the water got about waist deep for everyone, then opened his Bible and read:

Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds…

It was not what I wanted to hear.The wilderness can be difficult enough without intentionally creating stressful conditions but Jaks did his best the first couple of days to introduce us to one difficult situation after another.Before the seminar was over, that Scripture became the theme verse for our wilderness experience.

The Brother of Jesus

The author of James would have enjoyed Jaks use of his words.He would have appreciated the practical application.The book of James is a practical book.You will not find lengthy discussions about the incarnation, nor an explanation of Creation or theoretical presentation of the Spirit in the Christian life.James was not concerned about dogma; he had little use for information for information sake.The Christian life is too important.The issues confronting believers are too critical, for James, to worry about speculative theology.

During the next few weeks, we will be considering the lectionary passages from the book of James.They will be practical, down to earth messages about the responsibility we have to live out the Christian life.James concern stems from his understanding of the coming judgment.The brother of Jesus believed that a judgment awaits each person.The verdict would depend upon the person’s character.James warned them to be diligent and persistent because they would face two situations that would lead them astray—trials and temptation.

Theologians have written volumes on the possibilities of it authorship.Until someone presents a more convincing argument, I support the traditional Protestant view.The author of James was the brother of Jesus.The physician Luke and Paul give us bits and pieces of information about him.He appears to be part of the 120 who gathered in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. (Acts 1:14)He was the designated leader in Jerusalem for an important council (Acts 15) and Paul mentions him before Peter and John as a pillar of the faith. (Ga 2:9)While this ‘evidence’ does not prove his relationship with our Lord, it surely moves the question of authorship beyond a state of reasonable doubt.

All My Trials

The author of this letter begins with the premise that trials and struggles are to be expected.The opening sentence of M. Scott Peck’s book highlights this theme, “Life is difficult.”The person who expects to enjoy an easy, carefree life will be terrible disappointed.Mechanical appliances are prone to breakdown.Computers will become infected with viruses, worms, and spam mail.Every office will always have at least one annoying person and a supervisor that never seems to be satisfied with your work.And these are just the minor inconveniences of life.Each of us knows someone who has had to endure situations that far worse.

On our vacation, we visited a friend who was forced to change careers after a car accident.A businessman was late for his golf match.He choose to ignore a red light so that he could make his tee time.Ken must now endure days of constant back pain because of the thoughtlessness of another person.We heard about another friend who at 62 was suffering from Parkinson forcing her to live in a nursing home.She has also been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer.While we drove through Vermont, I noticed that many of the farmland was no longer cultivated.I wondered how many of those fallow fields could tell a story of the years of hard work and struggle that the farmer endured before he and his family finally surrendered their dream to the insurmountable economic woes of farming.

Choose Joy

James opens his letter by reminded his readers that throughout their lives, they would encounter both good times and bad.While this suggestion is not profound or original, his advise on how to respond is quite startling. He advises his readers to consider all the junk of life as pure joy.He basic premise is that while we cannot always change the circumstances, we can change how we view the circumstances.James is not suggesting that we deny or problems nor is he recommending that we take a Pollyanna approach to life.He is asking us to fully understand the gravity of the problem.We should careful recognize the severity of the crisis.But rather than allow these circumstances to produce bitterness, resentment, a depressive spirit, or anger, we should maintain an attitude of joy.

This advice will be a bitter pill to some unless we understand James’ rational.The brother of our Lord had a deep belief in both the sovereignty and providence of God.The God of Israel was the supreme God of the universe; who created the heavens and the earth; who called Abraham and Sarah; who delivered the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians.No other power, no other god, no other force in the universe could compete with the Sovereign Almighty God of Israel.The God who James worshipped is also providential in his dealings with his people.He cares so much about his creation that he provides a home for the sparrow and swallow.The dwelling place of God is so lovely that the psalmist longs to abide in his presence.The house of God is so wonderful that he would rather live one day in the courts of God than a thousand days anywhere on this earth.

James believed that such a God would never let anything happen to him that was not designed for his own benefit.Sorrows are not meant to break our heart but make us stronger.Failure is not meant to defeat us but teach us persistence.Turmoil is not meant to send us into confusion but develop patience.

Shortly after her appointment as provost of Stanford University, Condoleezza Rice preached a sermon at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church on The Privilege of Struggle. 

Struggle and sorrow, she said, "are not license to give way to self-doubt, to self-pity, and to defeat," but are "an opportunity to find a renewed spirit and a renewed strength to carry on." How else but through struggle, she said, "are we to get to know the full measure of the Lord's capacity for intervention in our lives? If there are no burdens, how can we know that he can be there to lift them?

"The affirmation of that paradox of the human condition, a belief in the privilege of struggle, is heard in the words of a Negro spiritual. In the most horrendous of conditions, when it must have seemed that there was no way out, nowhere to go, slaves raised their voices in 'Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen.' Glory, Hallelujah."[1]

Pray for Wisdom

Before an experience can truly be classified as a trial, it is required to extend over an extended period.Temporary setbacks or infrequent problems simple do not qualify as trials.However, this poses a dilemma for our quick-fix society.Problems that last for a week or a month seem endless.We forget that God took twenty-five years to mold Abraham and Sarah before he fulfilled his promise and gave them a son.Joseph had to endure thirteen years for problems before he was released from prison and assumed his position of honor at Pharaoh’s right hand.Moses wandered through the desert for forty years before God appeared to him in the burning bush.Waiting is an essential theme of each of these saints.God does not reveal his and purpose in a few days or weeks.Often we must wait years before we understand the sovereign will of God. That is why James advises us to pray for wisdom.

We will learn that James is a devote man of prayer but even he understands that prayer cannot change the intended purposes of God.Rather, than waste valuable time asking God to change the situation he advises us to pray for wisdom so that we will understand the circumstances.Once again, the mistake most often made by people is the failure to wait.We rush to judgment.In our pride, we try to master the lesson quickly.We treat character develop like a merit to wear on our sleeve.We forget that the will tree grows quickly but its wood is not nearly as valuable as the slow growing oak.

John Hicks by his own admission was an arrogant Bible student.He and his wife and decided to become missionaries to Germany.He wanted to study under a prominent German theologian.That dream was shattered when a postoperative blood clot stopped his wife heart and she died.After much prayer and soul searching Hicks decided that he had set the wrong goal for his life.He came to affirm the words of Psalm 119:71: "It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:71).But his affliction was not over.

After remarrying, he and his new wife had a son who suffered from a terminal genetic condition called Mucopolysacchar idosis IIIA (Sanfilippo Syndrome A).One of the accompanying symptoms is lose of bladder control requiring him to wear diapers.One day Hicks watched as his son board the school bus.The older students mocked him as he stumbled down the aisle.Hicks spent the rest of the day in prayer.He wanted to lash out at those older kids, to heap some abuse of his own upon them.Instead he turned to lament.He poured out his heart to God.Somewhere in the middle of a complaint, he became aware that God heard him.He would write “In that moment God provided a comfort that I cannot yet explain but one that I still experience in my heart…Joy still abounds in our family, but it is a joy that lives alongside of lament, alongside of anger, sadness, and sometimes doubt.It is a joy mixed with tears and refined by suffering."[2]

Yet I Will Trust Him

Maturity cannot be produced in a greenhouse.It is not produce by quoting silly little clichés.By definition, the mature person is the one who has endured the test of time.The person mature person has probed the depth of his pain and suffering.She is the person who has cried out with the psalmist “How long, O Lord?” The mature person is the one who has walked the lonely path of suffering, asked the questions of why to discover and enjoy the Sovereign God who reigns supreme.

[1]Sheryl Henderson Blunt, “Hard Line on the Road Map,” Christianity Today, September 2003, Vol. 47, No. 9, p. 46.
[2] Greg Taylor, “Joy Amid the Pain,” Christianity Today, August 7, 2000, Vol. 44, No. 9, p. 77 quoting John Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him, College Press

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390