Saturday, March 12, 2011

Consider It Pure Joy

Here are a few notes I've written in advance of my preaching tomorrow at Crossroads.  I have accepted a six month part time interim pastoral position with this new church in the Cokato area.  More about that in the weeks to come.

(added 10:17 a.m. Monday - the audio for this time of worship including music, announcements, a "time for children" and the sermon for which I prepared the notes below can be found at  The time of free prayer was not recorded.  Thank you to Jeff for recording and uploading this hour of worship and others.  And, thank you to Gene for your comment.  His comment, and a place for other comments is found at the end of each post.)


Early last August I heard a message by Paul Anderson entitled "This is a Test" at Lutheran Renewal's "Holy Spirit Conference."  As a part of that message Paul shared a story about the renovations they did in their home in order to accommodate a community outreach ministry with young adults:
"We came to the halfway point in our home addition. Drew, living downstairs, came up early one morning in the late winter to tell me we had water in the basement. I followed him down—and found the rug floating in our living room. My heart sunk. I grabbed the shop-vac and quickly filled it up. After wheeling it outside and dumping it, I realized that I had made no recognizable change. I called a plumber and asked what one does when the basement floods. He told me to call restoration specialists, which I did. Then I woke up Clint, a young adult living with us, to help us start dealing with the multiplied damage.

We had only started when one of us realized what was going on. I had spoken on testing the previous Tuesday at our young adult community. The next three days our new boiler was malfunctioning, and we had no heat. We went to bed with our clothes on, and only our heads were cold. The night after the heat was restored, the pipe burst. One of us said, “Sounds like we are getting a chance to live out what we talked about on Tuesday.” Clint suggested we sing, and we started with “Jesus Loves Me.”

We experienced an incredible joy in the midst of this momentary disaster once we simply recognized that we were facing a test. We determined to go through it rejoicing rather than complaining.

The restoration people came an hour later. After surveying the extended basement of five rooms, they told me that they had never seen this much water in a residence. They did their part quickly and efficiently over the next four days. Insurance estimated the cost to repair at $12,000. Since we were able to do the work ourselves with the help of hired friends, we saved $8,000, which we used to complete the addition. I had run out of money and wondered how we would finish our massive upgrade. God knew all the time; through a basement flood! What looked like a disaster was turned into a huge blessing.
In James 1:2-4, we have these words:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
I was thinking of those words as I was watching the scenes of devastation from the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan.  I was thinking of those words as I learned of the possible disaster at the Fukushima Power Plant and considered all the death and destruction that came from this catastrophe.  And then I thought of all the people throughout the world that are dealing with unbelievably painful circumstances in their lives every day.

This isn't just a basement flood that can be repaired with insurance money and the help of a few friends.  Hundreds have died and thousands have been hurt.  On Friday someone phoned me saying that she'd had a dream, a dream that urged us to pray.  And we have, and we will.  But I don't know anyone who is praying with thanksgiving in their hearts, considering it (in air quotes) "pure joy" that the Japanese have been hit by this terrible "act of God" (air quotes again).

Still, we have these words from James, "Consider it pure joy..."

I've decided to start preaching on the book of James this Sunday, and, as of now, it's my plan to work my way through this book, though I'm not sure if it will be an every week thing or not.  I'm doing this partly because (1) someone came to me about doing a study of James, partly because (2) James is a book where prayer and action get equal time, partly because (3) my home church was named St. James -- the founding pastor named it that because he didn't want that new church to be just about "religion," and partly because (4) it's my prayer that this "church" will be less a "church" where people are members, and more a "ministry center" with people who are called to be partners in the work the church is called to do.

The book of James is written to people who are already Christians.  It's so important to know that.  The book of James is written to people who have already been captured by God's love, God's grace--people in whom the Holy Spirit has worked the miracle of faith.  That's why James can say, in one of his most famous verses, "Faith without works is dead."  I suppose I should apologize for starting with the assumption that I'm preaching to a mainly Christian crowd, since no one can tell who a Christian is from the outside, but I do think it's probably true.  You have come out here this morning, an hour earlier than usual, not because it's your long standing family tradition, not because you and your family have been "members" here for generations, but because you have found something here that is special--and I believe that "special" thing is a person--specifically, the person of Jesus Christ himself--crucified for you and risen from the dead.

And it's only because of Jesus that James can say, in the beginning of his letter, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds."

Trials and tests and temptations of many kinds.  That's our life.  And whenever those things come and stare you in the face, whenever hard times come, James dares to say, speaking to Christians only, to brothers and sisters who know Jesus, "consider it pure joy."  For those who are not Christians, for those who do not know the love and grace of Jesus, who loves us in our failures and in our successes, who loves us when we're good and when we're bad, who loves us when we pass and when we fail... for those who are not Christians they can not and should not "consider it all joy."  Because, not knowing Jesus Christ, life here is as good as it's going to get.  Without the certainty of eternal life with our Lord we cannot, and should not, consider pain and suffering and death itself to be anything other than terribly sad.

This letter of James, and that command: "Consider it pure joy," it is directed at Christian brothers and sisters only.  Normally, when you read the word "brothers" in the Bible, it means others who believe and trust in Jesus Christ.  Our relationship with one another in the Christian family, it's stronger than any natural family ties.  They will end.  Our relationships with other believers, they will go on forever and ever and ever.  How sweet.  How precious it is.

That's one reason we can consider trials and any hard times to be pure joy.  We never have to go through them alone.  In fact, those trials, and even the wounds they cause, they bring us together in love and dependence on God.  No Christian should ever think they need to face their trials alone.  Christian life is plural, not singular.  We share love beyond the Christian "family," but among those who know the Lord, tears, cries, failures, poverty, unemployment... even earthquakes and tsunamis, even the sins we confess--all of these things give us reason to come together for mutual support and encouragement.  We'll see that even more as we go deeper into the book of James.

The main thing we should be praying for and working for, in regard to the people of Japan, is that more and more of them will know the love and grace of Jesus, who died for each and every one of them, and who longs, through his Holy Spirit, that the would all know him.

But there is another reason, or, better, another set of reasons, that we can consider it to be pure joy when trials and difficulties come upon us.  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

If you and I are secure in Jesus, knowing that we honestly do not need to worry about anything in this life or the next because God has everything in his hands, then we can confidently and joyfully move through the worst of trials, difficulties and sorrows and dangers like the people were suffering when James was writing -- Christians were being hunted and deprived of their rights and even killed for their faith at the time -- if you and I know that Jesus blazed the trail for us through death to eternal life and promises to carry us through it all -- if we know that we can simply look at the pain and sorrow of this life as ways that God is working on us, so that, as James says, we will be mature, complete, not lacking anything.  When we are mature Christians, our lives will freely flow with faith, hope and love, and joy, and peace, and patience... we receive all these things because of the many trials through which we pass... and, by God's grace, in the end, it's an eternal life of joy!
  • There are so many places in the Bible where we hear about the good that comes to us once we have passed through fiery times of testing.  I don't have time to go through them now, but as you are reading your Bible, look for them.  Look for how God brings good out of bad over and over again.
  • There are so many people who have passed through times of testing and have grown so sweet as a result.  We'll have a chance to share testimonies and faith stories soon, so we can learn from one another that there's no reason to be afraid.
Tests don't last forever.  Remember that.  No matter how bad it is for you, this time of testing will end.  God would have us remember that and learn what we can from every moment of every day.  God would have us ask "What is it I can learn from this situation?" no matter what the situation is.

By the way, God does not want us to bring unnecessary suffering on ourselves.  There's no need to whip yourself or hurt yourself -- I've heard of people in some places who think they need to do that in certain seasons like Lent.  That's not good.  We just notice what we're going through, pray over it, reflect on it with Jesus and the Bible as a guide, and just keep going one day at a time.  That's what it means to persevere.

No matter how hard the test may be, we can learn from it as Christians.  Even Jesus was tested!  The Holy Spirit purposefully drove Jesus out into the wilderness where he was hungry and thirsty and tested and tempted by the devil!  From Jesus example we know, it will be okay--in some way, God is in control.  Just stick close to Jesus, stick close to a Christian friend or two or more--don't try to do it all alone like Jesus did--he was the Son of God after all... trust God's Word, and see what you can learn in the time of trial.  Oftentimes, as was true with Jesus, tests come just before a major spiritual breakthrough when we will become more and more a blessing to others.  Look for what you learn and praise God!

Here are a few other helpful things to know that will help us through these times:

* Through times of testing God is teaching us to live above our circumstances instead of just reacting to them.
* Like a loving parent who wants us to share his or her love and character, God is often more concerned about what happens in us than what happens to us.
* God doesn't usually tell us when we are being tested. We don't know what specific tests we're going to be facing.
* Through tests we experience stress, and in the stress God reveals our attitudes.  Notice them and ask God to work on them.
* It doesn't matter "who" or "what" brings the test. We can still thank God for how God sill use it to refine our character.
* As we go through tests, we get tougher and more mature.
* We can be confused, but, when tests are passed, they bring a reward.
* Tests don't last forever but we don't outgrow them.  Tests and the maturing process will continue throughout our lifetimes.
* Tests produce a testimony. By passing a test you will have the opportunity to witness to God's faithfulness.

"Consider it pure joy when you go through trials and tests of many kinds."  Lord, may it be so in us as we move ahead in this church.


  1. Wow! This is different! A different perspective on the letter of James that was staring me in the face, and yet slipped past me in both lanes. I can honestly say I had not thought in depth about trouble and suffering in this way.

    I liked how you kept bringing trials and sufferings back to the admonition in James' letter. Somehow, you were able to raise the instruction above the level of "Oh, no! Here we go again with the need to suffer!" Instead, you pointed out with great and positive effect that there is not a need to suffer, but when problems do arise, those who have entered into a relationship with Christ have, indeed, someone to walk with, someone who has been through more trouble in a week than most of us see in a lifetime. Someone who knows just what physical pain is, what the feelings of abandonment are like, what betrayal is, and finally what it is like to die despised and alone, or as alone as humanity could devise at the time. And someone whose love of and faith in God carried him beyond death to resurrection. Your message is powerful ... and most positive ... for Christians. You managed to capture the essence of why everyone should embrace Christ, and by extension, why those of us who have chosen The Way have an obligation to share ourselves and our faith with those who have not met Christ.

    Thank you. And may God bless you in all you think, say and do.


  2. Thank you, Gene. Many of the thoughts here I gleaned from notes I took at the Lutheran Renewal event mentioned at the beginning of this post - see Even so, it's deeply true that there has been deep suffering during the past year and a half or more and this time of suffering has taught me and others so much as we have sought God's wisdom in it and have not trusted in our own personal feelings.

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  4. "Prayer Conference Call" - I clicked on your link and found it interesting.