What to do with the Difficult Times

Ecclesiastes 3

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Whether you know it or not, you’re probably familiar with the first few verses of Ecclesiastes 3:

1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

3  a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,

4  a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5  a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6  a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7  a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,

8  a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

I like about half the things listed, and would rather not have the other half, but life just doesn’t work that way.  We have to take the bad with the good.

I was at a funeral last Saturday when these verses were read.  It seems like this passage is mostly referenced during difficult times – because we don’t need to be reminded about these things during happy times.  When someone is born, we don’t want to be reminded that they will eventually die.  But when someone dies, we need to be reminded that this world has both good and bad, and we can’t just pick and choose what happens in life.

Verse 11 goes on to say, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…”.  

Does this mean that death is beautiful?; that cancer is beautiful?; that problems are beautiful?  No, not in themselves.  But the rest of the verse goes on to say that God has set eternity in the hearts of men.  I think that means these experiences make us long for the time when these problems will be a thing of the past.  When there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain – in the Kingdom of God. 

We mentioned Romans 8:22-23 a couple of days ago, which says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

In addition to pain and suffering being consequences of the Curse (Genesis 3) as a result of sin, I believe God uses these to help us long for His coming kingdom.  This longing helps us refocus our lives on following Him.  It also helps us not place too much importance on the temporary things this world has to offer.

James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I believe this points out that difficulties we face in life can produce perseverance, helping us mature in our Christian walk, and helping us become more persistent in living for the Lord.  And if we finish strong – living our lives for the Lord – we will be in His kingdom, experiencing delight for eternity.  

So because difficulties can draw us closer to God, which will cause us to live more dedicated lives for Him, with the ultimate result of being in His kingdom, in this sense, everything works together for our ultimate good, and is therefore beautiful.  Even though it might seem like something stinks at the time, it can be beautiful – but only if it makes you long for the Kingdom of God and then live your life devoted to following Him.

If difficult times make us resent that God permitted these times, and if we reject God as a result of this, then we can look forward to Ecclesiastes 3:17 which says, “…God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked…”

I’d like to challenge you to let the difficult times draw you closer to God.  But it’s entirely up to you how you respond.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What difficult times have you been through? What good times have you enjoyed?
  2. What can be learned through the good times? What can be learned through the difficult days (and seasons)?
  3. Looking back on your own life (or the example of someone else) can you see times when the trials and hardships have prompted spiritual growth and perseverance and a re-focusing on what truly matters, including of course eternal life with God and Jesus in the coming Kingdom of God?

Chasing after the Wind

Ecclesiastes 1

Solomon was the wisest person who ever lived (see 1 Kings 3:10-12). He wrote the book of Ecclesiastes to probe the meaning of life.  It’s widely believed that he wrote this toward the end of his life, after he had experienced much of what life had to offer.

Let’s look at some of the treasures of wisdom Solomon wrote down:

  • Ecc 1:2, “Meaningless! Meaningless! says the teacher.  Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”
  • Ecc 1:11, “There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.”
  • Ecc 1:14, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:17, “Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this too is a chasing after the wind.”
  • Ecc 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

We’re only covering chapter 1 here, but chapter 2 goes on to point out the uselessness of pursuing wealth or pleasure or accomplishing great things.

What’s going on here?  Does life just stink?  

Solomon is pointing out the futility of living this mortal life to the fullest – apart from God.  If all we have to look forward to is death, life is indeed meaningless.  It doesn’t matter how much we pursue pleasure, wealth, or anything else that our hearts desire – our life will be unfulfilled, without satisfaction, without joy, without purpose, and without hope.

When my wife was dying after a four-year battle with cancer, we could both take comfort in the fact that we have the hope of the resurrection, and eternal life to look forward to.  Even in death, we have hope of future joy.  Living a life for God gives us hope.  Our life can be fulfilling, with satisfaction, purpose, and joy.

It takes a lot of people a very long time to figure this out.  My challenge to you is to carefully consider the meaning of your life today.  Choose a life of submission and service to God, and your life won’t be meaningless.  Or go your own way, and identify with Solomon’s Ecclesiastes.

–Steve Mattison

Question Application

  1. What do you spend a lot of time (effort, or money) on that Solomon, or God, might consider “Meaningless”?
  2. Have you found anything that gives life satisfaction, purpose and joy? Where would you look?
  3. What will last?

Which Will You Be?

Proverbs 10

Monday, July 18, 2022

In Proverbs 10, we see several contrasts between a person with Godly wisdom who lives a Godly life versus someone who doesn’t.  I thought it might be nice to summarize those contrasts here.

A person with Godly wisdom and who lives a Godly life:

  • Brings joy to their father (v1)
  • God doesn’t let this person go hungry (v3)
  • Hard-working (v4, 5)
  • The memory of this person will be a blessing (v7)
  • Accepts commands (v8)
  • Their mouth is a fountain of life (v11)
  • Love covers wrongs (v12)
  • Wise and discerning (v13)
  • Receives life (v16)
  • Holds their tongue (v19)
  • Delights in wisdom (v23)
  • Desires will be granted (v24)
  • Stand firm forever (v25)
  • Adds length of life (v27)
  • Has joy (v28)
  • Will not be uprooted (v30)
  • Mouth brings forth wisdom (v31)
  • Knows what is fitting (v32)

A person who doesn’t:

  • Brings grief to their mother (v1)
  • God thwarts this person’s cravings (v3)
  • Lazy (v4, 5)
  • Violent (v6, 11)
  • Name will be cursed (v7)
  • Fool comes to ruin (v8)
  • Hatred stirs up dissension (v12)
  • Punished (v13, 16)
  • Conceals hatred (v18)
  • Spreads slander (v18)
  • Their heart is of little value (v20)
  • Finds pleasure in evil conduct (v23)
  • What they dread will overtake them (v24)
  • Swept away (v25)
  • Their life is cut short (v27)
  • Hopes come to nothing (v28)
  • Will not remain in the land (v30)
  • Only knows what is perverse (v32)

Which list would you like to describe you? If you see some attributes in the second list that may be used to describe you, you can change.

Hebrews 3:8 says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”.  If something here got your attention, take action.  Don’t let this moment pass.

2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”  Now is the time to act.

James 4:4-10 says, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.  … That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and he will come near to you. … purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

You can be a friend of the world, and fall into the second list, or be a friend of God and fall into the first list.  But in order to be a friend of God, you first must submit to God, resist the devil, and draw near to God.  You must humble yourself before God, only then He will lift you up.  Only then will the first list fully describe you.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. What 2-3 points do you find most appealing from the first list for the Godly life?
  2. What 2-3 points do you find most distasteful or disturbing from the second list?
  3. Both lists include some actions/attitudes as well as consequences. How do your choices now determine your future? How often do you remember this?
  4. If you choose to humble yourself before God and submit to Him, what will that look like for you today? How will you work to remove something from the second list to replace it with something from the first?

Trust

Proverbs 3

Sunday, July 17, 2022

There are so many great nuggets in Proverbs 3, each of which could have a devotion centered on it.  Some of these include:

  • Proverbs 3:3, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you…”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”
  • Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.”
  • Proverbs 3:11-12, “.. do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
  • Proverbs 3:27, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.”
  • Proverbs 3:33, “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous.”

Today, I’d like to focus on Proverbs 3:5-6.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

It’s easy to praise and thank God when things are going well.  And when life is sailing along smoothly, its hard to even think about having to trust in (rely on) God.  But when times get rough, that’s when the rubber meets the road for our faith.

So what does it mean to trust in God when you face financial hardships?  When you’ve lost a loved one?   When you face serious health problems?  When life seems to just stink? When you’re dying?

1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I know from personal experience that it is easy to, “Cast my anxiety on Him” by crying out to God, telling him all my problems, asking Him to solve them, and asking Him to give me peace.  I also know it’s hard to not pick up those problems again and try to shoulder them myself.

In other words, this passage is easy to acknowledge as right, but very hard to really put into practice.

Jesus passed along some wisdom about how to accomplish this in Matthew 6:24-34.  This section starts with Jesus telling us not to worry about our lives, what we’re going to eat, or wear, or anything else.  And the reason he gave was:  God knows what you need, and will take care of you.  Instead, Jesus gave us something else to focus on in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

So the trick to not focusing on our problems is to instead focus on God’s promises.  In Revelation 21:4, we’re told that in the Kingdom of God, God himself ‘… will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Think about the Kingdom of God and the conditions there.  Obsess over it.  Long for it.  Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and then live your life in such a way as to be in God’s kingdom.

I have learned from personal experience that the closer we draw to God during our tough times, the more he seems to lift us up and help us through – in situations where it seems we couldn’t have gotten through on our own.

And while we’re talking about problems, have you ever thought that God may allow problems in our lives to help us focus more on Him and his kingdom?  Romans 8:22-23 says,” We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

So, while you’re experiencing loss and pain, focus on God and on his kingdom.  Long for it.  Draw close to God.  In doing this, you will learn to trust in the Lord with all your heart.  And then He will direct your life.

–Steve Mattison

Application Questions

  1. How has God shown Himself to be trustworthy so far – in the Bible? In the lives of people you know? In your own life?
  2. How does remembering God’s promises help get you through tough times?
  3. What does it mean to you to not have to rely on your own understanding?
  4. Would you like to be known as a person who puts their trust in God? How can you work towards increasing your trust in God?

Wise Enough to Ask for Wisdom

1 Kings 3

March 12

If an Almighty Being had just offered to grant you one wish – what would you wish for? Oh, so many great possibilities. What about that new house you’ve been dreaming of? Or, even better, a long and healthy life – not just for yourself, but for your family as well – that’s a good one – or is it more than one wish? Imagine how much you could help others if you were the richest person in the world, that could be a good wish! This is hard. Maybe you should ask for more time to decide what you would ask for. It would be a pity to throw away a great wish opportunity.

When Solomon (the second son of David and Bathsheba) became king after his father, God appeared to him in a dream and said:

 “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”

1 Kings 3:5-9 – NIV

Ah, good choice, Solomon. God thought so, too, as He rewarded Solomon with not only the wisdom he asked for, but also great wealth and honor. Make sure you read the whole chapter to hear the impressive story of how he displayed his God-given wisdom to administer justice, which left his subjects in awe. (Wouldn’t it be nice to feel awe at the wisdom of your nation’s leader.)

I admire Solomon’s humility in knowing that he didn’t have all the answers and could use some divine assistance in leading the nation of Israel. There are many times I still feel like a child, unsure of what is right and best in many situations or questioning how God would want me to proceed, even though I have been an adult for about 30 years now. I’ve never led a country before and probably will never need to, but when I am honest, I know I need a good amount of Godly wisdom to do the jobs He has given me to do: wife, mother, servant of God, follower of Jesus.

And, the best news is, I don’t have to wait for God to appear to me in a dream and hope I will be wise enough in that groggy moment to ask for wisdom.

In James 1 we read: “ 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. 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. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” (James 1:5-8 NIV)

God loves giving His people what they ask for when they are wise enough to ask for what He wants to give them. And when we ask, it is not a wish or a hope or a “wouldn’t it be nice if…”, it is boldly believing that the Almighty will answer. Solomon had asked for a discerning heart to know right from wrong to lead God’s people well. God said He would happily deliver. But, what if in that famous case, Solomon would have heard God’s prompting to suggest cutting a baby in half, but rejected the idea because it seemed so outlandish or unpopular or unlike anything he would have said before. Solomon would have missed out on truly “receiving” and using God’s wisdom. So, pray for wisdom. Then, when God gives the promptings to act – ACT, even if it seems uncomfortable or unpopular. Ask God for wisdom. Then, when God leads you to speak – SPEAK, even if it seems a little foreign. For all of us not wise enough on our own (all creation), it will take some courage and tuning into God to truly receive and use the wisdom He is ready to give when we ask.

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern the nation well. And God provided. The nation of Israel had an exceedingly peaceful and prosperous time under his reign and the fame of his wise leadership spread. How did Solomon fail to use this wisdom in his own personal life as well?
  2. Where do you sometimes struggle in discerning between right and wrong? Is it important to know the difference between right and wrong? Why? How can you find godly answers to these questions?
  3. Are you wise enough to ask God for wisdom? Are you bold enough to ask God for wisdom? How can you increase your faith, believing that He will answer?

Praise Him

Psalm 111-113

Most of us say that we would like to have wisdom and good understanding. This seems pretty obvious but it is so easy to loose track of what brings these things. We search in books, on apps, listening to podcasts, and on websites. When we search in these and other places like these for wisdom and understanding we find that it all falls short if it is not based in faith. Thankfully we have a source of both wisdom and understanding. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; All those who follow His commandments have a good understanding; His praise endures forever.”

When we search for wisdom we need to start with fear for the LORD. This does not mean we need to cower and hide when we think of God. He absolutely has the power that He could instill that type of fear but that is not who He is.  Instead it means that we need to have a respectful awe or reverence for the LORD. Although He is mighty and powerful beyond our capabilities, He is also loving and compassionate beyond our understanding. He is the God who is powerful enough to speak and create life as we know it and loving enough to send His Son to overcome death that we may live. David said that wisdom begins with this reverent fear of the LORD. When we know who we serve and the love He has for us we can truly focus on what is important. That is leading as many as possible to a relationship with God as we serve Him with our life. 

David does not stop there. He says that following the commandments of God shows “a good understanding.” We follow His commandments because we understand what has been done for us. We have a desire to serve the one that has blessed us so incredibly with hope, both now and in the life to come. We understand that we have been given a gift that we could not have possibly earned and as such we desire to show thanks in the best way we can. That is to follow His commandments. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments, upon which hang all the others, are to love God and love people!

David ends this verse by saying that “His (God’s) praise endures forever.” At first it may seem a simple statement of just four words. Upon further thought though we realize that this statement has long lasting reach. Also we find that His praise will endure forever. This means that even if I do not praise Him others will. It also means that His praise did not stop when David died, when Solomon died, when Job died, when the apostles died, and it will not stop when you and I die either. If His praise endures forever; this is an eternal statement with implications into the Kingdom of God! It is with great pleasure that I tell you that you can praise Him both now and FOREVER!

Those who have wisdom and have understanding will praise the LORD!

-Bill Dunn

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading plan passages at SeekGrowLove.com here – Psalm 111-113 and Ezekiel 19-20

Words, Works & Wisdom

James 3

The two prominent subjects in James 3 are the tongue and wisdom.  Though the tongue is a body part and wisdom is intangible Godly knowledge, James manages to successfully contrast their attributes for the reader.  And as we have seen in the previous chapters, he does not “sugar-coat” his words! 

James again uses word pictures to introduce us to this most necessary part of our body, “the tongue.”

“Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their whole body as well.” (verse 3)

The bit is an important part of a horse’s tack and controls the horse’s mouth.  The bit, bridle and reins work together to control the horse’s head for its rider.  The average bit size is 5 to 6 inches, quite small compared to a horse’s size. 

James continues with another word picture to “set the stage” for his coming discourse on the tongue. 

“Look at the ships too: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are nevertheless directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot determines.”  (verse 4)

A rudder is a flat piece hinged vertically near the stern or rear of a boat and is used in the steering process.  But as James points out, compared to the large ship it directs, its size is incredibly small. 

  • Small bits control/direct—large horses
  • Small rudders control/direct—large ships
  • Small TONGUES control/direct large bodies—US!

“So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.  See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of unrighteousness; the tongue is set among our body’s parts as that which defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one among mankind can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (verses 5-8)

Tell us how you really feel, James!  Oh, he did!

Our tongues can get us into so much trouble!  Remember, James told us in 1:19, let everyone be, “quick to hear, slow to speak.” Once we share that small bit of gossip, respond with rudeness, call out a mean-spirited comment, or answer in anger, the “fire” has started.  It quickly gains ground and can no longer be easily extinguished. 

Proverbs 12:27 says, “A worthless man digs up evil,
While his words are like scorching fire.” 

Think of the massive forest fires that have destroyed thousands of acres in the USA and Canada this past summer.  Think of the devastation of homes and property and the loss of human and animal life.  NOW, think of the lives wounded, ravaged, and ruined because of thoughtless words from tongues. 

 “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” (verses 9-10)

What a humbling reprimand!

James finishes this serious warning with another word picture.  “Does a spring send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brothers andsisters, bear olives, or a vine bear figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.”  (verses 11-12) James wants his readers to “see” the disparity of an uncontrolled tongue.

James’ discourse on the tongue, (“a world of unrighteousness”), contrasts with the wonderful wisdom from above, wisdom from our heavenly Father.   Worldly versus Heavenly.

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom” (verse 13)

Notice that if we have Godly wisdom, it will be evidenced in our daily lives—what we do, who we help, how we serve.  Don’t you love that James says our deeds should be done “in the GENTLENESS of wisdom?”  Softly, thoughtfully, kindly.

These WORKS contrast greatly from the “LIP service faith” of the tongue.  As James said in 2:17, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

Verses 14-16 tell us jealousy and selfish ambition have no place in our “works.”  If they live in our hearts, we don’t have true wisdom, but instead, “disorder and every evil thing.” 

What constitutes the wisdom from above?  “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”  (verse 17)

When we have this wisdom described in detail by its eight desirable characteristics, the end result is peace—peace within ourselves, peace in our relationship with others. 

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (verse 18)

Be wise and grow a Godly garden of goodness, living out your FAITH through your peaceful words and WORKS.   

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 49-50 and James 3

How-To-Do-It Manual

James 1

We begin a new book of the Bible today—James.  James is one of my favorite Bible books.  I participated in Bible quizzing on James as a teenager in IL, and coached Bible quizzers on James in IN and MN.  More than half of the verses of this first chapter of James are underlined in my Bible.   

James’ writing style differs from the author of Hebrews.  He is blunt and forthright in his writing.

The author of James was most likely the son of Joseph and Mary, which made him the half-brother of Jesus.  Interestingly, James and other family members did not initially accept the teaching of Jesus.

In Mark’s account of Jesus, we find these verses.    

 “He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own people heard about this, they came out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, ‘He has lost His senses.’” Mark 3:20-21

The book of John tells us “For not even His brothers believed in Him.” John 7:5

However, after Jesus had risen from the dead, (“then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles” I Cor 15:7), James’ life was transformed.  He became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem and the surrounding early churches.

The first verse of James ties in with his widespread influence to the churches.  He addresses his letter “to the twelve tribes which are dispersed abroad.”  This audience was actually Jewish Christians, many of whom had been forced to leave their homeland due to persecution.  They were new in their faith and needed instruction and encouragement that was straight forward and easily understood. 

Think about the opportunities and choices available today for people who want to be a “do-it-yourselfer.”  Whether it is home building or remodeling, cooking, gardening, crafting, “you name it,” there is a book, a manual, a TV program, a YouTube video, or a website that can help you out.  (DIY network, HGTV, Craftsy, are a few that come to mind.)  Paul A. Cedar calls the letter of James a “how -to-do-it manual for the Christian life.”  James offers solid, practical instruction for Jesus’ followers.

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials,knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

Verse 2 tells us to be joyful when we face trials.  It seems like a difficult thing to do, but remember, the Christians who first received this letter had experienced extreme trials to the point they had fled their homes to survive. 

Paul writes in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except something common to mankind; and God is faithful, so He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

This is the joy we should have when trials confront us.  And, as verse 3 says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  When we experience trials, our faith grows in the Lord, as we work towards our “perfect self” in God’s Kingdom.  (verse 4)

James’ brother Jesus, our Savior, often told parables, or simple stories to help his audience understand his teaching.  I find it interesting that James, like his brother, uses several illustrations in his letter to further explain his instructions to his readers. 

If you lack wisdom, ask God for it, but don’t doubt you will receive it.  One who doubts “is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.  Let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”  (verses 5-8)

Blunt and to the point!  No commentary by me needed! 

Story/illustration #2–Verses 9-12

“Now the brother or sister of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; but the rich person is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so also the rich person, in the midst of his pursuits, will die out.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

A Christian with limited means for livelihood “glories” in his coming inheritance in God’s Kingdom.  A rich man/Christian should glory in the fact that his wealth is temporary, only of this world.  Verse 11 gives us a visualization of the fleetingness of this life—hot sun, scorching wind, dead grass and flowers.  (This picture reminds me of the drought areas around the US this past summer.)  Both men are equal in their future reward, a “crown of life,” IF they “persevere under trial.”

James continues with straightforward, sensible instruction.

“No one is to say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it has run its course, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers and sisters. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

God, the Father of Lights, loves us, and is a generous giver.  His greatest gift was His Son Jesus and the plan of salvation, but He has also given us the beautiful natural world to delight in and discover its wonders each day.  God has given us our families, friends, jobs, food, homes.  How blessed we are.  And His care, His protection, His love never changes—“with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  This phrase reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Malachi 3:6a. “For I, the Lord, do not change.”

James continues with his direct approach in verse 19.  He tells his readers to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  Why? Verse 20 says, “For the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (Insert drum rimshot here!)  Obviously!

Quick, Slow, Slow.  In other words, 30 seconds to think and respond during a contentious conversation.  Even Thomas Jefferson had this sage advice.  “When angry, count to 10 before you speak.  If very angry, a hundred.” 

Verses 21-25 bring us another story/illustration to make James’ point, if we still don’t get it!  The guidance is repeated with action words this time to begin the illustration. 

  • Put aside filthiness and the remains of wickedness.”
  • Receive the word”
  • Prove yourselves doers, (not merely hearers, who delude themselves.)”

Don’t hold back, James! 

Here comes the explanation/story.  “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does.”  (verses 23-25)

A man looks at himself in a mirror, walks away, and immediately forgets what he looks like.  This man is like a person that listens to God’s Word, hears what “the preacher says,” and then leaves church on Sunday and lives his life the rest of the week not connected to God. 

However, one who not only looks into God’s Word, (the perfect law of liberty) abides in it, and follows through with appropriate actions, is truly blessed in his life.  Paul said it this way, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” Galatians 5:4.  Where do you start? 

James gives us an example in the last verse of James 1, verse 27.  “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” 

Simple love in action.  The Bible is our guidebook/how-to manual.  We can’t just read it and not follow through.  James 1 is direct instruction for the do-it-yourself generation. 

-Paula Kirkpatrick

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway.com here – Jeremiah 45-46 and James 1

The Part Where the Bible Flirts with Nihilism

Ecclesiastes 1-2 and Galatians 1

Often I think that mowing the lawn is pointless. Why do we mow lawns? Who decided for all of us that it is just something we have to do? Wouldn’t the grass and weeds exist happily without being cut down every week during the warmer months? How does it really benefit me or anyone to mow the lawn? Also, it’s time consuming, and costs money for gas and to maintain the mower.

Yet, I cave to societal expectations and take reasonable care of my lawn. It isn’t so bad. Often it is enjoyable, and can be therapeutic or meditative. It’s a chance to sort out my thoughts. But still, there are so many things on the list of things I’d rather be doing.

We could all come up with lists of what we think is pointless. It would be an easy project. The harder project would be to see what is left over. What actually matters? What has true significance?

This is the question brought to the table by the book of Ecclesiastes. Our Qoheleth (Hebrew for teacher) is beginning to let us know about all the things he thinks are pointless, and there are a lot of them. All the work we do is pointless, because you can’t take the results with you when you die. Someone else gets all of it (2:18). The pursuit of wisdom is pointless because “in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow” (1:18). The pursuit of pleasures is pointless too, like chasing after the wind. He tried all of them, and gained nothing from it.

Are these things bad? The teacher doesn’t say that. Surely working is something we have to do, otherwise we can’t provide for ourselves or our families. Wisdom and knowledge are positive things. Isn’t it beneficial to understand things? Pleasure is a good thing given a few healthy boundaries. We all need opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.

The teacher does mention a few things that might be worthwhile: eating, drinking, and enjoying your work. They are from the hand of God, he says. Also on the list of not-so-pointless things is pleasing God. This is a good start. If we think about it long enough, maybe we can figure out what the essence of something meaningful is. Could we decide what is meaningful or not based on a set of criteria? I currently don’t have a good method of deciding this, but I’d like to get better at recognizing what is meaningful and what is not.

What if we spent more time thinking about and pursuing things that are truly meaningful? Doesn’t that allow us to focus our efforts on things that will actually benefit us and others? If only it was easy to know what those things are. We constantly have to prioritize the many options for how we could spend our time, whether we consciously think about it or not. The teacher is not giving us a complete guide for what should take priority, but he is challenging us to think about it.

Looking at Galatians 1, we might be able to pick out a few things the apostle Paul thinks are pointless. Perverting the gospel, being a people-pleaser, persecuting the church, and climbing up the ladder of Judaism all could make his list. What does Paul think is worthwhile? Serving and proclaiming Christ! As we continue on through Ecclesiastes and Galatians, maybe we will get more insights into what these authors think is important, and by doing so, improve our understanding of what God thinks is important.

Seek ye first…

Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ecclesiastes 1-2 and Galatians 1

The Under Pressure / I Will Survive Mash-up

Job 39-40

I’m intrigued by tardigrades. They are eight-legged microscopic animals that look almost like bears when they move, earning them the alternate name water bears. They can be found anywhere on earth, surviving the most extreme temperatures and pressures. Apparently it is no big deal for them to have no air, water, or food for a while. They can dehydrate in a water shortage and sit dormant for decades until more water comes along, and then rehydrate and continue their life as if nothing happened. They can even survive exposure to outer space unshielded from dangerous radiation. They have a resilience of almost mythical proportions.

Consider Behemoth (Job 40:15-24). He seems pretty solid. He makes me think of an elephant, hippo, or in the Harry Potter universe, an erumpent. Who knows what he is anyway? All I know is that I’d rather not cross paths with one. The most a tardigrade could do to me is crawl on me, and I wouldn’t notice it. Encountering a black bear could be scary, but they’d likely run away, especially if we are in a group. They don’t want to run into you any more than you want to run into them. But Behemoth doesn’t care. He’d trample you.

“Even if the river is turbulent, it is not frightened; it is confident though Jordan rushes against its mouth. Can one take it with hooks or pierce its nose with a snare?” (Job 40: 23-24)

Like the tardigrade, Behemoth is resilient. You or I would be swept away by the current, but not Behemoth. He makes his way through the turbulent Jordan and doesn’t lose his confidence. He knows the struggle is real, and the waters may even slow him down, but this is not the end of Behemoth. Not even close.

We’re of “small account” just like Job (40:4). We all have our struggles, our raging Jordans, that we are trying to make our way through. During the process, it’s fair to want to know why we have to struggle and suffer, and where all of it comes from. Is it from a broken world paying forward the hurt? Is it the natural consequence of our poor decisions? Does it come from God, like the author of Psalm 88 might suggest? Is it from evil forces trying to discourage us? Is it just general suffering we’re guaranteed to experience? Is it some combination of all of them?

But do you think Behemoth or the tardigrade worry about why they suffer? Probably not. They just try to get through it. Maybe while you are suffering, the “why” questions aren’t going to be the most important thing. You may only have the energy or capacity to react to the crisis and pick up the pieces later. Figuring out the deeper questions might be something you only worry about on the other side of suffering.

The ability to think about suffering is both a blessing and curse. If you think about your situation and realize that you are at least partly responsible for your suffering or the suffering of others, you have the ability to learn from your mistakes and avoid making them again. In that way, being able to avoid unnecessary suffering is a blessing. But it can seem like a curse to keep thinking about the purpose of your suffering when it comes from something completely beyond your control. This is the carousel of painful thoughts Job was on.

In that situation, it is fair to want to challenge God, like Job did. Where is his supposed justice? Go ahead and challenge God and have the wrestling match (Gen 32). He can handle it. Just be prepared to be challenged back. Be prepared for the possibility of injury. Be prepared to grow and receive a new name. Be prepared to be more resilient, more Behemoth or tardigrade-like.

To quote someone who voluntarily took on suffering for our benefit and was resilient through death itself: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)

-Jay Laurent

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading passages at BibleGateway here – Job 39-40 and Psalm 87-88

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