As I explained in my previous post, Pastor Mike is doing a series on lifelines. Great stuff. You can check it out at StoneBridge if you want to hear him "in person" via podcast. I don't think this series is online yet, but it should be very soon!
Today's message revolved around James 1:2-8, 12. For those who don't have the whole Bible memorized (in other words, if you're like me) here is the passage, courtesy of BibleGateway:
"2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.
12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him."
The title "The Truth About Troubles" is quite accurate! As we know, troubles are a very real part of life. Anyone who says that he has no troubles or has never had any troubles in life is either lying or seriously delusional! However, your ATTITUDE throughout the troubles is what matters most! So, did James actually count (consider) trials a JOY? Come on, you gotta be kidding! I don't think so! He isn't saying "enjoy" trials but that we should be thankful for what the trials do for us and that our attitudes throughout them need to be born of that thankful spirit. Think about this for a minute. What choices do we have when facing troubles? We can get mad about them, we can resent them, we can feel depressed by them, we can fear them and their consequences or we can turn to drugs or alcohol to try to deaden our feelings toward them. But, in all honesty, does this make the trouble go away? Mostly, these types of choices just create another problem somewhere down the road. God's purpose is not to make us BITTER, but to make us BETTER! (Pastor Mike's words, not mine)
Example? A wonderful lady in our church was diagnosed with MS, Multiple Sclerosis, about ten years ago. When she was in the hospital, with another woman with MS, a nurse asked them both how they dealt with this disease that was taking control of their bodies. The first one responded "drugs". My friend said "God". It's a choice.
Reread that passage again, and you will see that James, Jesus' brother, is saying that these troubles are to develop your perseverance. He calls it a "testing of your faith". Perseverance or endurance must be developed in order for us to mature, to be a completed work. If it were not for trials, how would we ever really know what is good? Trials deepen our faith, strengthen our roots in our own beliefs and generally make us stronger people. Pastor Mike talked about the "Eden Project" in Cornwall, England. A group of scientists basically set out to recreate the Garden of Eden. Everything seemed to be going well until the trees started to droop. Experts were called in and it was determined that, although the climate was nearly perfect, one thing was lacking: wind. The trees needed wind in order to cause their roots to grow deep enough into the soil to sustain themselves. I think we do too! God wants to deepen our dependence on Him! But, we must BELIEVE that He is there for us, that He really does have our backs, so to speak! He does not want to see any of us destroyed, not one of us! Check out this video Mike showed and imagine yourself as that little bear! Baby Bear Video
Okay, so God is the big bear, always backing us up! But, we have to act like we know it! :) Do you know the lyrics to the Matt Redman song "You never let go"? They sum it all up in that God never lets go of us, even if we let go of Him. Through all of the storms, all of the troubles, God is there! And, the rewards are real. They are not always immediate, but they ARE real! Once again, though, verse 12 reminds us that although He would prefer that no one perish, the real rewards are only "for those who love Him". I know, that sounds harsh, but He has done everything for us to prove His love. He only expects that we return that Love to Him.
An example of persevering through unspeakable trial? A woman in our congregation shared a family tribulation, one that will undoubtedly pale through my retelling, but I will try. Her 15 year-old daughter was out on a cold January night with friends from the swim team. She had been swimming since she was about 9 years old and now in high school was still competing. Upon arriving home, she and her husband were greeted in their driveway by a police officer, holding their daughter's driver's permit. She had been in a terrible accident and was in the ICU at the hospital. The parents were told to "go there immediately". Here's what they learned. Their daughter had been in the back of a Camaro when it was rear-ended, at 40-45 mph, by a much larger vehicle and her two friends were so shocked by the incident that they did not realize that she was not with them when they were getting in the ambulance. One of the girls insisted that someone get her purse (typical girl!) from the car and when the rescue worker did, he saw legs sticking out from the crumpled, mangled back end. It took more than twenty minutes to extricate her. The tow truck crew had already started to put the car up! Remember, this is mid-January in Missouri. Brr. Oh, I forgot to mention that the rescue workers weren't actually called to the scene. They happened to be on the way back to the station from another call when they "happened" on the accident.
The girl's injuries were severe, they learned. She had seven pelvic fractures, internal bleeding and something else, which of course, I can't remember now! She was in a coma, on life support, including a breathing tube. The doctor's were amazed by the size of her lungs, from swimming, and said that the increased size had kept oxygen going to her brain whereas normal sized lungs would not have been able to. GO SWIMMERS! Mom and Dad were basically told that they should begin searching for a state facility because she would never recover, never walk or overcome her "vegetative state". Mom said "You don't know my daughter and you don't know my God". Mom hung on to God's promises and family and friends were praying and lifting them up! After convincing the doctors to give her just 24 more hours before removing the breathing tubes and doing a tracheotomy (tube through the throat), Mom went into her daughter's room, only to find all breathing tubes removed. When she asked where they were her "comatose" daughter picked them up and waved them around. She had removed them herself! Yes, she really was still in a coma but heard enough to respond!
It was not all pretty and the now 21 year-old still has some issues, such as no feeling in one of her legs, but she is surviving in more than a vegetative state! And definitely not in a state institution! Thank goodness the mother had enough faith and courage to wait it out and see what our God had planned! Honestly, I am not so sure I would have had the intestinal fortitude to stand up to a doctor! I hope that I would hear God's voice louder than the doctor's anyway!
In the end, it comes down to this: how are you going to respond to life's troubles? Do you have a lifeline to grab hold of? Are you already holding fast to it, even if the waters are calm? What is holding the other end of your lifeline? Is it the big unbeatable bear or is it something that is going to give way? If you aren't already holding on for dear life to God, may I suggest you reach out right now? Remember Peter, who believed that he could walk on water, and did until he took his eyes off of Jesus? He didn't say "Hey guys, throw me something!" All he said was "Lord, save me." and Jesus reached out His hand! Matthew 14:29-31