Face Trials in Christ Alone
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
Face Trials in Christ Alone
Text: James 1:2-12
“Children! Put your heads down! Backpacks over your heads!” The teacher tried to remain as calm as possible. But this was no drill. This was real. She had hurried the students into the hallway, lined them up against the wall, and had them sit facing the wall. Hopefully with heads down and backpacks covering they could avoid danger, possibly even avoid thinking about the impending danger.
Unfortunately there was a window at the west end of the hallway. The teacher and the students could not only hear, they could also see the F-5 tornado barreling down toward them. Tower Elementary School in Oklahoma City was in grave danger. Minutes later this teacher and her students were buried under rubble. Miraculously, she was uncovered an hour later with her students—all alive. But seven students from the class next door and many others did not make it.
The woman teacher who survived is a member of our sister church, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Oklahoma City. She’s also the lead teacher and planner of the congregation’s Vacation Bible School program every year. She’s a fine Christian lady.
How could this happen to her? Why would God allow such devastation to Tower Elementary School, to the families of those children that died, to all those who lost so much in that tornado?
These kinds of questions plague our minds daily. How come I have to be sick so often? Why did that have to happen to my family, to my mother, to my spouse? Why do I suffer so much and how can I deal with all these trials?
Today James helps us sort through the rubble of our trouble and gives us some answers for our trials. It all comes down to this: Face Trials in Christ Alone.
Here’s an update on a story I shared with you on Easter Sunday. As a refresher, my friend Pastor Ben Pederson is a pastor across the state in Spring Hill, Florida. He and his wife Emily have five children. A few months ago Emily found out that she has leukemia. Her cancer was very aggressive and she was in need of a bone marrow transplant immediately.
Yet I have not once heard even one complaint from Ben or from Emily this entire time. Their Email updates to friends and family and their Facebook posts are almost more encouraging to us than they are for them. If they didn’t give updates on the chemotherapy, you wouldn’t even know anything is wrong. There are prayers shared, words of trust in Jesus’ resurrection, thoughts about God’s grace and blessings. But not one complaint. Only patient endurance and trust in the Lord.
How can that be? How can they be so upbeat? How can they be so strong? How could Emily be so positive as to write this two weeks ago: “On Sunday, June 27, 1976 [I] was born. Two weeks later on July 11, 1976 the Lord granted [me] new life through water and the Word, creating faith and forgiving [my] sins. Today, May 15, 2013 God has granted [me] a third birthday with a new life through a bone marrow transplant from [my] sister . . . Praise to our gracious God!” How could she be so joyful?
Listen to James: “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.”
When was the last time you said, “Oh, boy! What a joy to have the flu and to be puking my guts out!” “What a joy that my family member just got cancer!” “I’m so happy that I lost my job and can’t find a new one.” “I’m so glad that my family is having so many problems!”
Sinful, simple humans that we are, we often lack the perspective of understanding our trials and troubles. We become consumed and overwhelmed with our sufferings and can see no possible reason for God to allow such trials in our lives.
Yet consider the wisdom and perspective of our God. You wouldn’t think that an innocent man being wrongfully accused would do any good. You wouldn’t think that an innocent man being beaten and tortured would ever be a blessing. You wouldn’t think that an innocent man hanging from a cross was anything but the victim of another corrupt conspiracy.
But our God used this great suffering to carry out our salvation. God himself came to be that man wrongfully accused and executed. He made that suffering and death to be the payment for all of our sins, the suffering and death that redeemed all of mankind. With our Christian, 20/20 hindsight we look backwards and we take great joy in the suffering of Jesus because it brought us salvation.
God always knows how to use suffering and trials for our good and the good of others. Thus, James reminds us today that we can find joy in the face of trials because we can trust that God is using them to test our faith and develop perseverance. That perseverance makes us more mature and complete Christians, not lacking anything in our faith lives.
It is good for children to wait for things they want or to earn things they want, rather than to get every video game or Barbie dream house the minute they want it. It is good for children to wait in line for rides at Disney World even if the parents can stand hearing “I want to ride the Tea Cups right now!” 25 times in a row. These things develop patience and perseverance in children though (I hope!).
In the same way we can be joyful in suffering because God is strengthening our faith. He is developing patience and perseverance. He is making us into mature Christians.
But there is only one way that we can ever find such joy in suffering. It’s through the one who suffered for us. So Face Trials in Christ Alone.
The students and staff of Tower Elementary School were not the only victims of that horrible tornado in Oklahoma City. This rare F-5 tornado traveled with a warpath that was one mile wide! Many people died. Billions of dollars worth of homes, property, and possessions was destroyed. In our sister congregation alone, four families lost their homes. Many more have some kind of significant home damage. Many lost their cars. I’ve read that it’s often thought that the safest place for tornados or hurricanes is in the bathtub with a mattress over the top. It didn’t matter with this one because many bathtubs were picked up and landed hundreds of yards away.
We of course sympathize because we have similar situations with hurricanes. We know the damage and devastation that natural disasters can cause. We know how even the bravest surfers who think they can ride the gnarliest waves during a hurricane will quickly find doom and death.
Sometimes that’s exactly how we feel when we are facing trials and troubles. It feels like F-5 tornado winds are blowing us around. It feels like we are riding a monster wave in the middle of a hurricane. One moment we are on top of the wave. We trust in God. We trust that he is working for our good. But the next moment it feels like we were slammed to the sand and the entire wave of suffering is crashing down upon us. It feels like we are drowning—drowning in tears, drowning in doubt, drowning in disbelief.
Why would God let me suffer like this? How could he work this for good? Maybe I understood my last trial, but now another one? Maybe I could handle the last trouble, but now a bigger one? What are you doing, Lord? I’m drowning here!
James helps us sort through these thoughts to find wisdom in our trials. Verse 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. 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. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
If you are lacking wisdom in understanding the problems and trials in your life, then ask God for the wisdom to understand. Ask God for the wisdom to understand how to find joy in that trial. Ask God for the wisdom to understand how it will make you a mature Christian.
God will always answer those prayers. He gives wisdom generously to his people. This is the God who generously gave us his own Son as a sacrifice for our sins. This is the God who generously forgives all our sins. This is the God who generously offers us eternal life. Trust that God will generously give you the wisdom to understand trials.
Then you can be wise like the people described in the next two verses. Verse 9: “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position.” If you have lost your job, if you are looking for a job, if you got a big pay cut, if you are struggling to make it, if you are underwater in your house, if you are barely able to provide for your family and certainly aren’t able to save for retirement—God will give you the wisdom to understand that the trials of those humble circumstances are actually a blessing. You have a “high position” in life because you aren’t carried away with your countless riches.
On the other hand, verse 10: “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.” If you are blessed with moderate or great wealth, God will also give you the wisdom to understand what a “low position” that can be. You can’t take any of it with you when you die. Your temptations to hoard it or abuse it are extremely great. God can give you wisdom to understand how to use your wealth.
In any and every situation in life—well-fed or in want, rich or poor, safe or unsafe, you’ve made it in life or you’re barely making it in life—God will give you the wisdom to understand your trials. We need not doubt like we are riding a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by hurricane winds. We can be confident in our generous God who forgives us, who blesses us, and who watches over us.
But there is only one way that we can ever find such wisdom in suffering. It’s through the one who in his great wisdom generously gave himself for us. So Face Trials in Christ Alone.
I’ll give you one more pair of updates this morning. Both of them come from Jacob Hoff. Most of you know that Jacob was our vicar, or intern student pastor, here at Christ the King. I shared with some of you last week the good news that Jacob has graduated from the Seminary and has been assigned to be the pastor of our Christ our Savior Lutheran Church in Sterling, Virginia. Sterling, Virginia is in the vicinity of Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The church is 24 years old, but they are restarting it and considering it like a mission church as they reach out to the growing community. They may even have an opportunity to start a school there at the church.
Jacob called me this last week to discuss this assignment. He’ll be moving in about five weeks. He’s very excited about his new ministry. He also was told that his experience here at Christ the King will serve him well at Christ our Savior. We can be proud to have been a part of his training for the future!
But then I also asked Jacob how his mother-in-law is doing. I’ve also shared with the congregation several times that last fall Jacob’s mother-in-law was found to have a brain tumor and severe brain cancer. Jacob confirmed on the phone last week that this is not the kind of cancer you beat. The only questions left are: How painful will it be and how long will she last?
Yet Jacob also said this on: “We [the whole family] are getting very excited. She is getting worse and she is coming to her end. She probably won’t make it too much longer.”
“We are getting very excited.” Who talks like this? Who talks about a pastor’s wife, a mother of eight children, a grandmother of several dozen grandchildren in this way? Who gets excited over terminal cancer? Who gets excited for death? Who acts like this?
We do. Christians do. Listen to James in the last verse: “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.”
It’s called perspective—Christian perspective. This is why we are joyful when we have cancer. This is why we sing hymns of praise at funerals. This is why we grit our teeth and smile when we lose our job. This is why we comfort and console each other in troubles. This is why we stand fast with patient endurance in suffering. This is why we have stable wisdom in trials. We Christians know what’s coming next. No matter what happens to us, no matter how awful things get, even if we die—we know that we will receive the crown of life.
God has promised it. And God never breaks a promise. He promised to send a Savior. He did. He promised to take away our sins. He did. He promised to always be with us. He is. He promised to work all things for our good. He does. He promised to give us the crown of life in his heaven forever. He will.
We humans are such feeble and frail creatures. It’s hard for us to understand things bigger than us, in particular troubles and trials. Why tornados and hurricanes? Why sickness and cancer? Why suffering? Why troubles?
We don’t know. But God does know how to use the ill-effects of a sinful world in our lives. He knows how to develop our character and make us mature Christians. He knows how to strengthen our faith and draw us closer to him. He knows how to lead us on the path, as rocky as it may be, toward eternal life.
We know suffering will come. God allows it. So how then can we endure it? How can we find joy in suffering? How can we find wisdom in suffering? How can we pursue the crown of life in suffering? How can we face trials, endure trials, and make it to heaven? The answer is easy: In Christ Alone AMEN
Posted on June 7, 2013, in Church, Sermons and tagged Cancer, Christ, Church, Endurance, Hurricanes, In Christ Alone, James, James 1, Oklahoma City, Patience, Sermons, Suffering, Tornados, Tower Elementary School, Trials, Troubles. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.