“Count It All Joy”…During Trials???

James 1:2 says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials.” The words “joy” and “trials” are in the same sentence. These words don’t go together! Who experiences joy during trials? James even uses the word “all.” He does not say, “Count it some joy…” or “Find a little joy.” He says, “count it all joy.” As contrary as this sounds, it is a theme in Scripture to find joy in trials:

  • Romans 5:3 says, “We glory in tribulations.”
  • First Peter 1:6 says, “You greatly rejoice [when] you have been grieved by trials.”

“Count It All Joy” Doesn’t Mean “Feeling” Joy During Trials

You might be thinking: “The Bible doesn’t make sense, because I definitely do not feel joy when I am going through a trial!” The Bible makes complete sense, because it doesn’t say to “feel” joy during trials. Instead, it says “count it all joy,” because we cannot go by the way we feel. Trials make us feel sorrow and pain, so we must evaluate them independently of our feelings. The word for “count” is hēgeomai, and it means, “To lead, go before, rule, command, have authority over.” Here are a few places it’s used:

  • Matthew 2:6—“Bethlehem…out of you shall come a Ruler (hēgeomai) Who will shepherd My people Israel.”
  • Acts 7:10—“[Pharaoh] made [Moses] governor (hēgeomai) over Egypt.”
  • Hebrews 13:17—“Obey those who rule (hēgeomai) over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.”

James tells us to “count it all joy,” because we must “govern” and “rule” over trials. We must control the way we view them, versus being controlled by our feelings. We must make a mental judgment about trials by considering the way God wants to use them in our lives. Then we can face them with joy.

God Brings Us into the Deep End

James 1:3 says, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” Sermons and books can teach the benefits of patience and how it is acquired, but only trials can build patience into a person’s life. Over the last few years, I have been taking my children to the pool to teach them to swim. I can talk about swimming with my children, tell them what it is like, or even show them videos of people swimming. If they are going to learn to swim though, at some point, they must get in the water. The same is true with patience. If we want to learn patience, at some point, we must be immersed in trials. Continue reading ““Count It All Joy”…During Trials???”

The Maturity Trials Produce in Our Lives

We have six children and our seventh is due May 2018. Our oldest child is ten, and while we have enjoyed our children at all ages, we still want to see them mature. When they make decisions that disappoint us, we feel disappointed with their maturity. Consider how tragic it would be if children remained immature throughout their lives.

God Is a Father and He Wants His Children to Mature

The author of Hebrews rebuked some of his readers who had been following Christ for some time, but had not matured. Hebrews 5:12 & 6:1 says:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.

Unlike these Hebrew readers, the believers in 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 had matured significantly:

We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure.

The Thessalonians were a wonderful church. Paul applauded their growth, which he attributed to the trials they experienced. This is one reason we can find joy in trials—we know they are producing patience that leads to maturity. First Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, [God] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” During trials we can tell ourselves, “This is strengthening me spiritually, giving me endurance, building my faith, and preparing me for the future.” Jerry Bridges said:

Every adversity that comes across our path, whether large or small, is intended to help us grow in some way.

Continue reading “The Maturity Trials Produce in Our Lives”

Expect Trials in this Life

Recently, I witnessed a sobering example of the need to expect trials.

My wife, Katie, and I grew up together in northern California. We lost touch after high school and then reconnected almost ten years later. At the time, Katie was living in our hometown of McArthur, California, but I was seven hours south in Lemoore, California. Some wonderful friends of mine, Pat and Kathy Mundy, graciously invited Katie to live with them so we could be near each other, even though they did not know her yet. The four of us became close. They performed our pre-marital counseling and made the trip north for our wedding. Seven years ago, Katie and I moved from Lemoore to Woodland, Washington. Although the distance changed our relationship with Pat and Kathy, we remained friends.

A few years ago, Pat retired from the police department, and he and Kathy looked forward to investing in their grandkids, traveling, and serving their church. Then everything changed. Kathy got sick, and a hospital visit revealed an aggressive form of cancer. The “golden years” have been replaced with doctor appointments and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. Nothing slowed the disease, and in a last attempt, they moved to Seattle for an experimental treatment. A few weeks ago, on their way north, they surprised us and stopped by our house to visit. Continue reading “Expect Trials in this Life”

There’s no blessing for being obnoxious!

There's no blessing for being obnoxious!
There’s no blessing for being obnoxious!

Do we suffer for Christ, or for being obnoxious?

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, exclude you, revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake” (Luke 6:22).

The last six words make an important point: there’s only a blessing for suffering for Christ.

There are times we’ve all been selfish, unkind, and harsh. We haven’t listened well, and we’ve acted arrogantly. As a result, people have hated, excluded, reviled, or criticized us.

But there’s no reward for this.

It’s unfortunate when we’re disliked or rejected because of our selfishness, but we say:

  • I’m suffering all this persecution, because of the way I live for Christ.
  • Everyone hates me because I’m such a strong Christian.
  • Others don’t have it as bad as me, because they’re not as committed to the Lord as I am.

Sometimes we’re persecuted, but it’s actually because we’ve failed to demonstrate Christ-like character. Yes, there’s rejection for living like Christ, but there’s also rejection for being an insensitive or inconsiderate person. Continue reading “There’s no blessing for being obnoxious!”

Quit Being A Baby

I can’t tell you how often what I’m preaching on is what I need preached to me. Last Sunday’s sermon had a real focus on trials, where the theme could’ve been: God uses trials for our good (Rom 5:3, 4; 2 Cor 4:17; Jam 1:2-4; 1 Pet 1:6, 7). That’s what I need to be hearing. I should probably listen to my own sermon and take notes. Seriously. The trials I’m facing mostly relate to feeling like I’m letting people down, not able to please everyone, not  able to keep up with everyone, not able to get everything done, etc. as opposed to physical or financial trials.

Here’s part of an e-mail someone sent me this past week: “I have no doubt you will look back on this season as a time of great learning if you can but learn what the Lord would have you learn.” It was good for me to hear these words. At least part of what I believe God wants me to learn relates to my need to toughen up. I don’t mean that relationally, like being less sensitive to people (I should actually probably be more sensitive). I mean toughening up like…not feeling sorry for myself. Not being a baby. I think that’s what God wants me to learn. There’s a verse I was really meditating on this past week, and I’d like to share it, but first here’s the context…

Jeremiah the prophet had one of the most miserable ministries in Scripture; when you’re known as The Weeping Prophet, you know things are bad. He was regularly mocked, beaten, imprisoned, and rejected. In one candid moment of discouragement after learning the members of his hometown were plotting his murder, Jeremiah poured out his heart to God, questioning what God was doing…and wasn’t doing. What you would EXPECT God to do is encourage the beleaguered prophet with one of those verses like Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous hand. We love verses like this. We cling to them and memorize them. When we’re struggling we picture God saying verses like this to us. That’s not what God told Jeremiah though. Instead he said, “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jer 12:5). Not only did God not comfort him, He actually rebuked him; He said, “If you can’t handle it now, how are you going to handle it when things get even worse?” God doesn’t always want to stroke us and make us feel better. Sometimes He wants to rebuke us and tell us to toughen up, and I think that’s what He wants me to learn.

cry-baby

Toughen Up

Last week I wrote about my experiences coaching two wrestling classes during Friday School: one class consisted of older kids (mostly teenagers) and the other class consisted of younger kids (Davin Cooper, Brooks Ordway, my sons Ricky and Johnny, etc.). I had to accept the fact that coaching – and I’m using that term loosely – the younger boys mostly consisted of me watching them run at each other, run away from each other, jump in the air, kick each other, climb on the pews, climb on each other, yell, cry, roll around with no concern whatsoever for whether they’re on their backs, etc. Basically, it looked way more like WWF than wrestling, and please don’t tell me WWF is wrestling. It was bad enough this past week having to put up with Landon Cooper, Joe Garrett and Ruth Zumstein trying to convince me that fishing is a sport. Although considering sailing, trampoline and dressage (aka horse ballet) are Olympic sports maybe fishing will be added too giving their arguments credibility.

Anyway, if you listen to me coach the younger boys it sounds like, “Stop…don’t…watch out…be careful…no you can’t do that…let go of his hair…don’t put your finger in his eye…don’t jump off the pew on him…yes, I know Johnny bit you which is why I told you to stay away from him.” One week I had so many boys hurt and crying that I sat them all down and said, “I know wrestling hurts sometimes, but wrestling is like riding a bike: if you ride a bike, sometimes you’re going to fall and get hurt. The only way to make sure you don’t get hurt is to not get on a bike, and the only way to make sure you don’t get bit is to not wrestle Johnny.” I came home and told Katie all this and she said two words to me: “That’s ministry.” I said, “You’ve been bit in ministry?” Just kidding, but…

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he prepared the young pastor for ministry by repeatedly telling him about the suffering he personally experienced while encouraging Timothy to expect the same (1:8, 12, 2:3, 9, 4:5). While Timothy was a pastor, the reality is if you’re going to serve the Lord in any capacity – not just in the church, but in your workplace, neighborhood, school, home, etc. – you’re going to be hurt sometimes. The only way to make sure you never get hurt is to never serve God. When the kids would get hurt in wrestling, I would offer them some encouragement that I preach to myself sometimes and would share with others as well: “This is actually good for you; it’s toughening you up!”

wrestling

Feeling sorry for ourselves and thanklessness

Elwyn, my friend I’ve discussed in sermons and bulletin letters and is attending camp with us (and is here today!), sent me a message this past week that started with, “We checked your weather and saw it was 81. Nice! Today it is 104 in Yuba City. We are thankful…that it is not 105!!!” A few days later he sent another e-mail that said, “111 degrees today. Yes, I said 111.” This made me think of something: I’ve been complaining lately to myself about the heat: What’s going on? Thought we got away from this when we left California? When I read Elwyn’s message two things came to mind…

First, 80’s don’t seem too bad compared to 100’s…or 110’s. Many times the struggles we’re facing wouldn’t seem as bad if we considered what other people are experiencing. Many times we feel sorry for ourselves because we’re thinking about ourselves too much and not enough about others. One of the benefits of praying for others is it takes our minds off ourselves and helps us to think about what others are going through. Our struggles start looking a lot smaller. If we think about ourselves all the time…and all we’re going through…and how tough our lives are…and how we’ve got it so bad, then we’re going to be miserable. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Paul lists all the suffering he experienced and I’d say second only to Job or Jesus (Isa 53:3) Paul might be the man most acquainted with suffering in the entire Bible. Amazingly though, he could write an entire book (Philippians) about all the joy he experienced. At least part of that must have come from how much he thought about other believers. In 2 Cor 11:28 he said, “what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” His beatings and shipwrecks weren’t upsetting him so much, because he was so burned for other believers…and non-believers.

The second thing I thought of is I’m not thankful enough. There are always reasons to be thankful. Elwyn was thankful it was 104 instead of 105…then, although he didn’t say it, maybe he was thankful it was 111 instead of 112. I’m not sure how hot it’d have to get before he’d finally complain. If we’re believers, just the thought of what Jesus has done for us as well as what awaits us should fill us with unspeakable joy (1 Pet 1:8) and thankfulness.

And here’s today’s (7/14/13) sermon: Luke 4:3 Wait on the Lord