Faith That Works - Not What I Had In Mind - How To Deal With Tough Times

Learning how to respond during the trials and tribulations of life

Chuck Martin
Jan 5, 2020    32m
In this sermon Pastor Chuck Martin teaches from the Book of James and shares practical advice on how to deal with trials and tribulations we will all face in life. He explains that because trials can test our faith, they will build our perseverance and will also produce spiritual growth. Video recorded at Frisco, Texas.

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How many of you still have your Christmas tree up? Christmas tree people? Okay, how many of you go like the full 12 days? Do we have some... We are in the full 12-day camp and I think part of that is just because we love the Christmas season. We love having kids here and we don't want to interrupt that by putting stuff up. So anyway, you come by our house next 12 days. You'll see the lights, you know, you'll be golden. Well today, we begin a brand-new message series where we're looking at the book of James; and it's a great way to start the new year because James is a very practical book. It was written by Jesus' younger brother by the name of James - some of you go, I didn't know Jesus had a brother. Yes. Yes, he did. And, one of the most remarkable things to me personally is the fact that James became a leader in the church in Jerusalem. And just think about that for just a moment. What would it take for you to be convinced that your sibling was the Messiah, the promised one, the Son of God? If you know something of the backstory, it wasn't until Jesus rose from the dead that James was convinced. A matter of fact, we know from history that James actually died for his faith around 62 A.D. as a martyr declaring Jesus is the son of God, the Messiah, the Savior. And so he speaks with great authority, is one who was there, one who saw Jesus, one who knew Jesus in a personal way and what he offers in this book is very practical --- kind of like a coach would get the team together before the big game and say, "All right, if you're gonna live the Christian Life successfully, here's what you need to know." Matter of data in five chapters, in the Book of James, they're 50 commands, very practical not a lot of you know high theology, very practical living straight talk if you will.

Interesting thing, in 2002 a discovery was made public something called the James ossuary. Now I mention this because I know some of you are interested in that and I find it fascinating how archaeology oftentimes support scripture, right? And they found out in the outskirts of Jerusalem a neighborhood there, this box that dates back to the first century. Here's what it looks like. Ossuary was basically a practice in in first century and early centuries what they do in the body was put in a grave, after the body had decompose, they would gather the bones and put them in a box. This was a limestone box; and on that limestone box, which dates back to the first century, is the following inscription in Aramaic, which is very interesting because Aramaic was the spoken language of Jesus and would have been his brother James. This is James son of Joseph, brother of Jesus. And of course, people wonder is that the real James? We don't know; some believe that it was certainly it's the right place certainly the right time. Whether that though that was in fact the burial spot of James, we don't know. But we do know that he died for his faith in 62 A.D. and he wrote an incredibly helpful book that we can learn from today. And so if you have your Bibles turn to James chapter 1; I'm going to just jump right in today and give you the setting of this... James chapter 1, verse 1 it begins by saying James the servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ is interesting uses the words doulos, a bond slave in other words. He says my life is about following Christ willfully and as a choice. And he says, to the Twelve Tribes scattered among the nations greetings. The 12 tribes, you may think what is he talking about, the 12 tribes? James was Jewish; let me remind you that the early followers of Jesus, the early disciples were all Jewish and so Christianity grew out of a Jewish culture and a Jewish faith. And so what he's doing is he's writing to the early Christians of that day, which were Jewish who were being persecuted within the context of the Jewish Community for declaring that Jesus was the Messiah and the promised Son of God. And so, he's writing to these early believers, we believe, somewhere around 38 to 44 A.D. Acts 11:19 gives us the context of exactly what's taking place. In Acts 11:19, it says, now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Steven, who was also a leader in the early church, was killed (first martyr for the faith) and they traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, (but notice) spreading the word only among the Jews. So little Jewish gatherings of believers in Jesus scattered because of persecution going through difficulties, going through personal trials.

That's the context those were the recipients. It's right in group of people whose lives are not going as they envisioned them to be. I mean, none of us really choose persecution, do we? Let me remind you that approximately one out of every seven believers, according to some missiologist, are experiencing persecution today. Matter of fact, I just remind you that we live in a culture that was founded on Judeo Christian culture, that is certainly very friendly to the Christian faith, has been - but there are so many places in this world where if you are a follower of Jesus, you will --- take it to the bank --- face persecution. That was the case of the believers then and it's the case today in many places in the world. And so, the question, and really the theme that I want to address today, which were the first opening verses of James chapter 1 is: What do you do when life does not turn out as you planned or hope? What do you do? How do you respond in the middle of trials? In the middle tragedies? In the middle of the difficulties of life? When the reality of life slaps you upside the face, what does God say, how do you respond? How do you grow and not be defeated? How does your faith grow deeper rather than be destroyed? That's the subject of James chapter 1 and so let's read together in the first few verses James chapter 1, I want to begin in verse 2 - we'll read down through verse 4 and skip to verse 12. Notice what he says, consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds. I don't know about you, but I don't associate trials with joy. So, when he says consider it joy when you face trials, that's not our natural response - not my natural response - not your natural response. I'll talk about what he means by that. Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds - many kinds of meaning multicolored in other words trials come in a variety - maybe a health trial; maybe a relationship; maybe a job; maybe a conflict; may be a temptation. Verse 3, because you know that the testing of your faith - that word testing is a word that was used to refer to the smelting process; the process by which silver or gold was refined. It was removed from impurities in other words when your life is in the furnace. When you're in a position of adversity, that was not of your choosing - not necessarily of you're making - how do you respond to that? That's what he's going to address because the testing of your faith, he says, produces perseverance in other words. God desires to allow the trials to be the things that produce growth and he says because the testing your faith produces perseverance - it can produce perseverance. Verse 4 let perseverance finish its work so that you may be, and here's the goal, we're going to see, mature complete not lacking anything.

James is saying on the very outset is - the purpose that God allows these difficulties in your life - is to grow you deeper in your relationship, your love, your trust of him. Verse 12 blessed is the one who perseveres under trial having stood the test that person will receive the crown of life. In other words, he's pointing to a goal outside of our circumstances, even outside of this very physical life, this present reality. What James is saying is there is a greater reality - in view of eternity, in view of heaven, in view of God's plan for us beyond this life. We can live in this life with certainty even in the difficult times - that this life is not all there is, and that God has a purpose even in the trials, the tragedies, and the difficulties that we experience. And that's what he alludes to... verse 12, blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because having stood the test that person will receive the crown of life... speaking of eternal life, that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

So, what I want to do in the time we have this morning is the address: How do we respond to the trials, the challenges, tragedies of life? The first thing I would point out that James says, is he basically points out the reality in the certainty of trials. Look at verse two - consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters - notice what he says, whenever you face trials of many kinds - he doesn't say if, he says when; whenever you face. Because the reality is - is really for all of us that are here today, there's only three kinds of people in the room today, right? There are those who are currently going through a trial or a challenge, and if that's you you're probably leaning forward saying, "Alright. I need, I need to take, you know, I need to pay attention - and you're describing my life." It may be a job challenge, may be a relationship challenge, maybe a challenge with your child, maybe a challenge with your spouse. It may be a challenge with your health, maybe any number of things. If that's you today, you say I'm in it.

Others of you are just coming out on the other side. I think of a friend who just recently landed a job after time of unemployment and he's breathing a sigh - he's like glad to have that behind me that trial, I'm coming out of that, right. Some of your coming out of that, you're in a better place in your marriage than you were six months ago. Six months ago, things were tough. God's doing a work of grace in your life. You feel like glad to be where I am now, not where I was a year ago, two years ago.

So, there's some of us that are coming out of a trial, but then there's also a third group and that third group are those that everything's going relatively well in your life right now. Great! Just understand it's temporary. Just understand there is a trial coming, right... that has your name on it. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but reality check is, is James says whenever you face trials - trials are part of life.

You see trials a result of living in this fallen world. You want to wonder why or where trials come from? You have to look all the way back to God's perfect creation and how it was marred by sin. Now the effects of sin continue till this day and you will experience trials in life. Christian's also face the same kind of hardships as anyone else, sometimes we think because we're following Christ and somehow that allows us to be immune and certainly following Christ and living a life, God-honoring life, there certain things that you avoid. There a lot of a lot of trials we bring on ourselves because of sin and stupidity. Right? Can we just be honest? And so, there are those who create their own trials because of their horrible choices because they're not following God. So, for those of us who follow God, sometimes we think - well, if I'm following God then that protects me from all trials. No, it does not. But it does protect you from quite a few - the stupid choices that you could otherwise make and the consequences thereof, right?

So, all Christians face the hardships Jesus put it this way in John 16:33. Listen to what Jesus says: he says, I've told you these things so that in me, you might have peace. Notice that you can have peace in your relationship with me, not in the circumstances. And he goes on to say, in this world you will have trouble, mark it down, you're going to have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world. I mean think about this - Christianity is unique. It's unique, it was unique in the day in which Jesus appeared - Jesus appeared in the in a primarily Greco-Roman world where there was a pagan culture, where in that day the pagan culture, the pagans basically tried to appease the gods as an effort to manage the gods, to minimize their suffering, right. And there are folks who approach God, well if I do these things and maybe you know, God will bless me. And there are certainly some errant teaching in our day that treats God like a vending machine. Okay, that's pagan theology. We live in a very secular world - the secular world in which we live says, basically today this life - that's all there is, therefore if you and I experience trial or suffering there should be someone to blame or possibly sue. Right; is that not our culture? Who do I blame? Who do I sue for the suffering in my life? Because if this life is all there is and my life is not going well, then I'm not happy and I need someone to blame. That's the secular worldview.

The Christian worldview basically says this life is not all there is and although suffering and trials are a part of this life, God has a redemptive purpose in and through them and he will use them whether they're good or not - if we will allow him to. Think about it this way, if Jesus entered into this broken world - if Jesus experienced suffering, rejection - if Jesus himself was beaten, despised, abandoned, rejected, crucified - then how do we, as those who are followers of Jesus, somehow think that God owes us a better life than Jesus? Jesus said if they persecuted me, they will persecute you. Jesus said in this world you will have tribulation but take heart I have overcome the world.

So, what James addresses first, is the inevitability of trials, but then he talks about God's purpose in them. And let's look at that for just a moment. The second thing is, that the reason God allows trials, is for our maturity. Notice what he says, verse two: consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials; verse 3: because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, in other words, God sees these trials as a test. From his perspective, trials are an opportunity for us to grow. Verse 4, he says: let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature, complete. In other words, God's desire, not that he sends all of these trials, but the reason he allows trials in your life is so that you will depend on him and grow deeper in your love and your following him.

I love what Charles Stanley writes related to this. He says, "Adversity is not simply a tool. It is God's most effective tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as setbacks are often sometimes the very things that launch us into periods of intense spiritual growth. Once we begin to understand this and accept it as a spiritual fact of life, adversity becomes easier to bear." And that's so true. If I were to ask you about your growth in your relationship with Christ, you would probably point to times in your life where you faced difficulty and you prayed with greater intensity. You leaned into God and you saw him either deliver, work, give you grace / strength to get through it. That's how we grow. That's what James is saying. James is not saying that God sends these things into our life necessarily, but he says he has a purpose for them if he allows us allows them into our life.

So, what are some truths about trial? Number one, God sees trials as a test of our faith. In many ways, our life here - this brief time that we're here on planet Earth - is a test for eternity, is it not? It's a test of where our heart will be here and now, whether we will trust God with this one life he's given us. The Bible says that determines what our eternity will be like. Look at what 1 Peter chapter 1 says in verse 6 and 7, Peter says, in all this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief and all kinds of trials. He seems to imply that these were necessary. Verse 7, these have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith of greater worth than gold, this is from God's perspective, which perishes even though refined by fire may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. In other words, what he's saying is, the difficulties that you're going through now, if God, if you turn to God and trust him in those, then those are the very things that will bring honor and glory to Christ., when you see him face to face.

So, the second unpleasant truth, is that trials are necessary for growth. Let perseverance finish its work and that God will use trials even though the trial itself is not good. God would use trials for our good even though the trial itself is not good. That is so important that we understand that - that God will use trials for good even though the trial itself may not be good.

Romans chapter 8 verse 28 says as following: and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Notice, he doesn't say all things work out for the good; and he doesn't say all things are good. He says in all things God works for the good... for those who love him who have been called according to his purpose. In other words, God is big enough to take that which is evil and that which is tragic and bring good out of it and work good in it even though it's not good in and of itself. And the degree to which you can separate life in its fallenness and God in his goodness and recognize they're both true is the degree to which you're going to go deeper in your faith. And you're going to trust God in the good times and you're going to trust God even more in the not so good times, right? And that's what James is saying.

So, observations about God's role in my trials. Well, the first is that faith is theoretical until it's put to the test. It's easy for us to say I trust; oh, I'm trusting in God. Well, it's easy to say that you trust in God until you're in a position where you have something to trust him with or for, right? It moves faith out of the theoretical into the very practical in the very real.

Second thing that I know is true of me, and probably most of us, is that personal comfort tends to be my goal in life. God's goal in my life is my maturity. I mean think about this as a parent with your own kids - your goal for your kids is to develop maturity, to be responsible that develop a good work ethic, right? So, what do you do to help them grow in that? Well you give them chores; you give them responsibility... and what do they do? They cry and they complain, and they say I want to play Nintendo and you go, "no you're not, you need to study. No, you need to do your chores. No, you need to do this." And they're saying you're so hard. "You're right. I'm doing it for your good. If you and I understand and see that as a parent, then how come it's so difficult for us to understand that our heavenly father has the same purposes even in the difficulties and the challenges that we face. He wants to mature us and grow us in our faith.

Third thing I'd share with you, is that we get to choose what our response is in those trials. I take you back to verse 2, the hardest thing and the thing that I struggle with the most in this, is the opening line of verse two: Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds. That's not my response naturally and I doubt it's your response. So, what does he mean consider it pure joy? Is he talking about denial? He's not talking about denial. When he talks about joy here, he's talking about the difference between happiness that is dependent on circumstances and the confident awareness that God is with me, and loves me, and that God will bring about good in those circumstances. Is it possible to experience great pain and great joy at the same time? Yes, it is. Hebrews chapter 12 says, for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross. What was the joy? The joy was your salvation, my salvation. Was the cross pleasant? Was the cross happy? Absolutely, unequivocally not. Yet, he experienced joy in that because of the purpose behind it.

And so, what we have to do is recognize that we get a choice in how we respond. We can blame God we can become angry. We can choose to be a victim. We can say God, "Why did you allow that God? You must not love me." And I've seen, over the years, those whose faith has been destroyed by trials, as well as those whose faith has been deepened by trials. You have a choice in how you respond to the trials of life. Many times, you do not have a choice that you will face the trials of life; but how you respond is your choice. Matter of fact, I'm reminded of what was written by Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust Survivor, a number of years ago. He describes his experience in this way, he said, "They stripped me naked. They took everything from me, my wedding ring, my watch. I stood there naked and all of a sudden realized at that moment that although they could take everything away from me, my wife, my family, my possessions, they could not take away my freedom to choose how I was going to respond." And that's what James is saying, choose to trust God. Choose to worship Him despite your circumstances.

We see an example of that in the life of the apostle Paul and Silas in Acts chapter 16. The back story is they had done a good thing. They had helped a young woman who was in bondage. They had helped her become free of the demons that tormented her. But those who used her for their purposes were angry that they could no longer profit from her. And so, they brought charges against Paul and they riled up a crowd and here's what acts 16 says in verse 22, now listen to what happens to Paul, Paul and Silas, after doing a good thing, sharing the hope of Christ. It says, And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods; and they had been severely flogged. Then they were thrown into prison and the jailer commanded to watch them carefully; and when he received those orders, he put them in the inner cell, and he fastened their feet in the stocks. And then it says, about midnight Paul and Silas, remember they've been beaten, they've been accused, they've been arrested, all falsely, they were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them. Can you picture that? They're here and they're going, 'It's not what we had in mind God. That's not how we saw this going. Man! My back hurts. This place stinks!" Right? But what do they do in those circumstances? They say God, I'm going to choose to worship you despite these circumstances. I'm going to choose to worship you because you went through worse for me. And I know that you love me; and I know that you with me; and I'm going to sing your praise both in the good times and the bad times. And you know, when we do that, there is a power there is a purity. There is evidence of God's work that is undeniable in a person's life.

I don't know if you know a member of our church, Linda Grable, Linda's here today and she's not seen what we're about to show although I had the privilege of interviewing her and she shared her story with me and you're going to be blessed. Because if you want to know what James chapter one looks like, choosing to worship God in times of adversity, listen to Linda.

"The doctor leans back in his chair at the desk and he says, "Well, I'll tell you what we found was, it's probably nothing." But if they sit on a little stool and roll right up in front of you so they're close to you. That's bad news. I had two friends that had ALS and died of ALS and so ever since their death, every time I prayed, which was two or three times a day or night, I would say, "Father. I'm yours. I'm ready to die for you at any time; but please not ALS." And I prayed that all the years that I can remember throughout my careers. I didn't pray that I would get promoted. I prayed that I would not get ALS.

So, I bet, I was in my front garden Belfair, Washington and I was weed eating a dry creek bed and rolled on a river rock and broke my neck. Thank goodness for my daughter, Tiffany, and her family, but they said you need to come here because there's good surgeons in Dallas. So, I did, and I met a great surgeon, James Moody, and he operated on me and I was doing great, but then I started having some strange symptoms. And so, I went back to him and he said tell you what, I want you to go see this neurologist, he's a specialist. But he didn't tell me in what, but I had a terrible suspicion; and sure enough, he said, “Well, you have ALS," and I couldn't breathe. And I am not a hand ringer, but I started ringing my hands and, in my mind, I was thinking, oh, I can't do this, I can't do this. I don't want to stop breathing. I can't do this. What am I going to do God I can't do this. And all of a sudden, inside of me, I heard him say, "Because I'll be walking with you..." and then I felt this veil of peace go from my very head all the way down and I just thought, I'm okay.

God is, I see him at work in my life almost more than ever because I'm retired... and I had considered I knew exactly what I was going to do when I retired, and I was going to lead a mission to the Congo. I mean there was just no question about it. Obviously, God had other plans because there's no way in the world I could go to Alabama and run a mission and it's not gonna happen. But the strangest thing has happened is that I have a mission right here or whatever town I'm in; and being usually painfully shy, this is really a God-given mission. It has to be because I feel led when I'm in stores or taking a walk. I am led to specific individuals and I will go up to these people and say, "Well how are you doing today?" And you will be amazed at how many people need somebody to listen to them. And it gives me this great opportunity to say I know just how you feel. I have Lou Gehrig's Disease and I can't feel my legs and other things are going to happen; but I had the fortune to turn to God. He brought me to him. [So, it's my privilege to baptize you my sister, Linda Grable, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; buried with Christ and raised...] I don't know how people go through anything like this, these Monumental diseases that we could face, without faith in him. And I think that's one of the reasons he's allowed this ALS to hit me. I needed to know that my faith was not strong the way I assumed; and I didn't trust him the way I thought I did; and so, he taught me. And sometimes when I get a little weak, I feel him, I feel his strength; it isn't just strength, it's His strength.

I don't know what you're going through, but God does. The question is are you going to turn to him and allow him to not only work in your life, but tell you how you are to be a blessing to others? You can. The choice is yours can be bitter or you can be more like Jesus.

Recorded in Frisco, Texas.
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Frisco First Baptist Church
7901 Main Street
Frisco, Texas 75034