I heard it often, this past Christmas season: "I don't know how I would have made it without my church family." In fact, I have said those words myself. With my own extended family experiencing sickness and, at one point, encountering an untimely death, I have found guidance, encouragement, and support from my Lake Avenue Church family. Chris and I are grateful to be here. We need you.
I think that James of old would smile if he heard us saying such things to one another. The people he had pastored for many years had just gone through a very, very difficult year. One of their main church leaders, Stephen, had just been stoned publicly because of his faith. And the authorities in his city of Jerusalem were determined to drive these Jesus-followers from their city. The persecution had become so intense that church people had to run to any towns possible to find refuge. Scattered into small church gatherings in many, many places, the former Jerusalem church members were finding it hard to know how to live. When we read James' letter, we discover quickly that the dispersed Christians were facing huge trials and temptations. In fact, James opens his letter to them by addressing this issue of living in the midst of trials. It was his first pastoral concern.
James was writing in the first century and to people who lived far, far away from Southern California. But, we face trials here, too. And, I think that we will soon see his words speak to us as if they were written in our own 21st century. Because many of the biggest questions we face in our walks with Jesus are related to trials and suffering, we will be spending several weeks together listening to what James wrote and applying his words to our own situations.
In our first week, we will basically hear him say that trials have the potential of bringing about God's good in our lives. The atheist Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote (roughly translated), "What does not destroy me makes me stronger." I don't think that is always the case. However, the Bible will teach us how the struggles of this world have the potential of making us stronger—even of making us godlier!
Take time to reflect on James' concise teaching written to a group of hurting people he loved:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. But, let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
To His Glory,
Dr. Greg Waybright