August 23, 2020
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 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. 6 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. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.James 1:2-8, 12
Dogs love going for walks. Most dogs love going for walks so much, that if they hear the sound of a leash or anything that sounds like the buckle on a leash, they will sprint from anywhere in the house to the door for their walk. Dogs love going for walks and are ready for a walk when they hear the sound of a leash, but they really do not like the leash itself. Once a dog is outside, a dog will do anything possible to get off its leash. Dogs want to be off their leash envisioning a life of freedom; chasing squirrels, drinking from a babbling brook, sleeping in the grass, chasing butterflies, rolling the mud and investigating fire hydrants. Dogs think they have life all figured out, so they have a hard time staying on their leash and trusting their owner is leading them to good things.
Dogs like people think they have life all figured out. You and I often believe we have life all figured out. You think you have the virus all figured out, or at least you think you have the mask debate all figured out. You think you know what kind of people matter. You think you have the coming election all figured out. Fill in the blank for countless other things in your life that you think you’ve got figured out. You thinking you’ve got life figured out puts you in the same boat as Elijah. Actually, you are in the same cave as Elijah. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah was hiding out in a cave because he had life all figured out. God had called Elijah to share his message with the people of Israel. And, in a world without sin, Israel, the people of God would have been happy to listen to Elijah tell them God’s message, but this world is filled with sin and sinful people who hate God’s Word. Israel did not want to listen to Elijah or God, and they took out their anger against God on his prophets. Israel thought they had life figured out, believing they did not need God. And, after facing so much persecution and watching other prophets suffer, even die, Elijah thought he had life figured out, so he hid in a cave to escape his calling to share the Word of God and escape suffering at the hands of the people.
God did not leave Elijah alone in the cave. Instead, he came to him asking, 9 … “‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’” Elijah faced major trials in his life and believe he had the solution all figured out, but he had not turned to God for help. God, on the other hand, did not leave Elijah alone in his trials, in his own evaluation and his own feelings of defeat. God came to Elijah, listened to what he was going through, what he thought about it and how he felt about it, then 15 “The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came… 18 … I reserve seven thousand in Israel.’” Elijah feared rejection, death for his calling, but God promised to be with him and told him to go back to what he was called to do. God also encouraged him that he was not alone, and there were thousands of other believers who needed God’s Word to be shared. And, at the end of Elijah’s life, he did not face death, but was miraculously taken to heaven in a flaming chariot.
You and I like Elijah have all kinds of trials in our lives right now, and we may think we have them all figured out, which in many cases leaves us feeling like it is going to be too hard and we are not going to make it. Now, the point God wants you to know as you face trials is not that if you believe, you will be taken to heaven in a flaming chariot. Instead, in our reading from James 1, God wants you to see the temptation we all face when trials come into our lives as believers. James wrote, 6 “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.” These words reveal our temptation to half-heartedly ask God for help in trials. In other words, you cannot face trials in life, conclude they are too much for you and too much for God, but still say a little prayer anyway. Faith and doubt do not go together, and yet they often appear together. Where there is faith, doubt is there to tempt us away from God. A good definition for doubt then is faith in a future without God. Faith in a future without God is doubt because doubt trusts that God is not able to get you through a bad situation to a good place on the other side. Faith on the other hand trusts that God will get you through a bad situation to a good place on the other side, even if that good place is heaven. Doubt wants you to settle for a quick solution to trials so that life is temporarily easier in this world. Faith means persevering through trials in this life confident of eternal joys in heaven.
Evaluate the trials in your life through the eyes of faith and not doubt, and you will have joy. Your faith is only as good as what it trusts in. For example, I can believe, trust and have faith that pigs can fly, but at the end of the day, there is no way a pig can fly because it does not have wings and in fact pigs have no favorably aerodynamic qualities. On the other hand, faith in Jesus is good because Jesus has the power to get you through all your trials as James wrote 2 “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Jesus promised you a crown of life. Jesus promises you eternal life in heaven. He made this promise on the basis of his power, which he put on display at the cross and empty tomb. Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross to take away your sins, and then he rose from the dead. No one else has ever done what Jesus did. There is only one who rose from the dead, and he is the one to put your faith in. Your faith in Jesus is faith in the unshakable. The term for perseverance James uses is the picture of pushing something up like a weightlifter pushing up a bar. Jesus is your strength to keep pushing, he is the strength behind your faith that does not sink under the weight of more trials but trusts even more in Jesus to be the one to bear the weight.
God is the source for strength, not yourself. Again, through faith we see the trials of our life as burdens God carries for us. We do not look to our own evaluation or understanding, but to God’s. God gives us wisdom from faith to face our trials as James wrote, 5 “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.” God is the source for wisdom and so we go to him for wisdom. Not in the sense that we pray for it and then wait for him to magically zap us with wisdom, but we pray for it and then go to the Bible for God to work through his words to build our faith and wisdom. And, when your habit is to be in God’s Word, James wrote, 2 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Going through trials with faith and Jesus, rather than doubts fueled by unbelief builds perseverance and joy. Jesus’ disciples grew in their faith, joy and maturity going through a trial recorded in Matthew 14.
The disciples were in a boat in the middle of a lake, while Jesus had remained on the shore. During the night, Jesus walked out to the disciples on the water, and when they first saw him, they thought he was a ghost. Jesus calmed their fears by calling out to them. Peter then asked if he could join Jesus, and Jesus said, 29 “Come.” Peter then walked on the water to Jesus, 30 “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” Jesus never gave the disciples a reason to doubt him. The night Jesus walked on water, all the disciples should have been filled with joy jumping out of the boat onto the water with Peter running to Jesus with their GoPros on confident he would keep them from sinking no matter what happened. Instead, only one disciple went out and when the water grew rough, Peter did not remain confident that if Jesus could allow him to walk on calm water, what difference would it really make if there were waves. Doubt robbed Peter of joy when going through a trial because he did not keep his faith in Jesus.
Dogs love going for walks, but they really do not like the leash. Dogs think they have life all figured out, envisioning a life of freedom off of their leash, but their owners know that their pampered pooch would not survive in the real world knocking over garbage cans to find a meal, battling with wild animals, fleas, ticks and busy roads with unforgiving car tires. You might think you have life all figured out when it comes to things like the virus, masks, which people matter, the election, and wide range of personal trials, but Elijah in the cave, the disciples in the boat and drowning Peter thought they had life figured out too. As believers doubt threatens to diminish our trust in God to be what we rely on to get us through trials. You are tempted to chase after freedom from trials, rather than facing trials confident God will get you through them. Your faith remains strong against doubt by hearing all God has done for you. God created this entire world, the universe itself, he continues to maintain the world, he promised to save the world when it fell into sin and death, Jesus gave his life to save you, he rose to give you eternal life, he sent the Holy Spirit to give you faith, to give you wisdom and a clear vision of a future in heaven that sees past the empty promises of this short life. With all of these unchanging truths in your heart, go, go back home, to work, school, to trials. Go with these reminds from God’s Word of all God has done for you and face your trials with joy through faith in Jesus. Amen.