|THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE
Series: Faith On Trial - Part Ten
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
October 22, 2006
Please turn with me to James 5.
Over the past few Sundays the section of James that we’ve been looking at has focused on what happens when we mess up in our relationship with God. When our faith gets focused on ourselves and not God. James wrote in the first part of chapter four that we get into quarrels and conflicts with each other when our focus is on pleasing ourselves - gratifying our own selfish desires. James went on to write about how when we look at time as a birthright - like something we’re entitled to - something we own - we start to use time for our own self-focused desires and not God’s purposes for giving us time. James wrote about our attitude towards wealth - when we see wealth as our possession and not God’s - we use wealth to gratify our insatiable desires - rather than using wealth according to God’s purposes for giving us that wealth.
In all that focusing on self - people get hurt - wounded - they go uncared for - they get trampled on as we climb over them to get our needs met. For people focused on themselves their really isn’t much room left over for God and others.
Coming to James 5 - starting at verse 7 - James is going to look at the other side of the coin. Not the tramplers - but the tramplees - the people getting stepped on. Which, I would suspect, is probably where most of us would see ourselves.
James 5 - verse 7: Therefore - ask.. “Wherefore the therefore” Glad you asked. The therefore is there for to remind us of everything James has just written. Because you’re getting trampled on by the self-focused tramplers - therefore, be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
Let’s stop and notice three things we need to do when we’re getting trampled on.
First: James writes, “Be patient.” Say that with me, “Be patient.”
Patience is the Greek word “mackrothumeo.” Its made up of two words stuck together: “macro” meaning long and “thumos” meaning hot passionate anger. Think about a thermonuclear bomb going off. You’ve seen those pictures of mushroom clouds. Patience means having a long fuse. Take a long time before you explode.
Second: “Strengthen your hearts.” Say that with me, “Strengthen your hearts.”
Literally, the Greek word has the idea of the “Gutting it out.” Like the guy who jumped off the Empire State Building to show his girlfriend he had guts. That’s old. James is saying, “Be strong in the inner man. At the core of who you are - purpose to be unmoved - unshaken from your faith.”
Third: James’ reason for this is that “the coming of the Lord is near.” Say that together, “The coming of the Lord is near.”
In Palestine the early rains come about now - in October and November. A farmer sows grain and the early rains get the growth process started. Then the farmer waits patiently - tending the fields - waiting for a crop to harvest. Waiting for the late rains that come in spring - in April and May - that are essential for the last part of the plants growth.
What we’re waiting for is what? the coming of the Lord. The day when God will put and end to trampling and being trampled upon.
Grab onto this. God is not off someplace taking care of stuff in some backwater remote corner of His universe unaware of what we’re going through. God is in control. He sees what’s going on. He knows your circumstances. And at the right time - what works best for the harvest - us - Jesus is coming back and all that’s wrong will be made right.
The pain from this surgery is easier to endure knowing that there’s an end.
Bottom line: Be patient. Strengthen your hearts. This isn’t going to go on forever.
Verse 9: Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.
There’s a story about two apples hanging out on a tree. The one apple complains to the other apple, “Look at all those humans who can’t get along with each other. Why did God put people in charge of this place? If it were up to me apples would rule the world.” The other apple said, “Which one’s. Green or red?”
The Greek word here for complain has the idea of what goes on inside of us - those deep down inner attitudes and thoughts. The little conversations we have with ourselves. “We’re sacrificing so much why aren’t they?” “They think they’ve got it rough. They should try to live my life.” “If they really understood they’d never say something like that.” “They act like that because they’re just superficial Christians.” Anybody not know what I’m talking about?
When our Adversary attacks us - when things get tough - if our focus is on ourselves - then we’re going to get bent out of shape because our little desires are getting trampled on. Its so easy for us - rather than turning to God - because of course we don’t need God because we’ve got me, myself and I - rather than turning to God we turn against each other. We start comparing apples. We blame each other. We complain about each other. All those little resentments start leaking out in the things we do and say - caustic under the breath gossipy words that our Adversary loves for us to lob at each other - stuff that destroys unity in the of the Body of Christ.
Jesus - speaking to His disciples - Jesus said, “Do you suppose God, patient as He is, will not see justice done for His chosen, who appeal to Him day and night? I assure you He will not delay in seeing justice done. Yet, when the Son of Man - Jesus - comes, will He find men on earth who believe in Him?” (Luke 18:8, Phillips)
James writes that the Judge - Jesus - is standing at the door. His hand is on the door knob. He’s ready to step through the door at any time. When He comes there’s going to be judgment. Do we believe that or not? That question gets answered in the way we treat each other under fire.
If we’re running around complaining about each other - living in our own little self-focused world - it shows that while we’re waiting for Jesus to come back we’re not faithfully trusting God to take care of what needs to be taken care of. In fact - James writes - we’re actually setting ourselves up to have our faith judged by Jesus when He does come back.
Verse 10: As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
James is writing to Jews spread out across the Roman Empire. The accounts of the prophets we’re well known to them. It’s a powerful illustration - coming right out of their own history. The prophets were God’s men who spoke in God’s name and yet they suffered - terribly.
Elijah was called upon by God to stand against the political and religious power of His day - to call God’s people back to faith in Him. It was Elijah who called down fire from heaven - challenged the people, “If the Lord is God, follow Him; But if Baal is god, follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) Remember that? God’s man. But Elijah suffered with his people through drought and famine. He was often in fear for his life. He spent long days in the loneliness of the wilderness. Elijah suffered. But he was patient.
Elisha became the first of a long line of prophets that encouraged and cared for a remnant of God’s people through very difficult times. God’s man. But for Elisha to follow God meant giving up wealth and being part of loving family - to give up everything in order to suffer and identify with the poor - the outcasts - the downtrodden. Elisha suffered. But he was patient.
Hosea was called on to marry a prostitute as a testimony against the spiritual adultery of Israel. He endured ridicule, humiliation, disgrace, the infidelity of his wife. Hosea suffered. But he was patient.
Isaiah stood for God at a time of great political turmoil. He suffered. But he was patient. Amos was kicked out of Bethel by King Jerobaoam II on trumped up charges - slandered. He suffered. But, he was patient. Jeremiah was put in stocks - thrown in prison - lowered into a miry dungeon. Jeremiah suffered. But, he was patient.
The writer of Hebrews tells of those who have gone before us in the faith, those who “experienced mockings and scourgings… chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated… wandering in the deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:36-38) They suffered. But, they were - what? patient.
James holds up these heroes of our faith - those who suffered and yet were patient - they hung in there trusting God. James says, “You - the one’s being trampled on - the one’s suffering - you need to be patient. You need to trust that God will bring about His justice. They did it. You can do it.”
Verse 11: We count those blessed who endured.
Endurance is not just learning to put up with stuff. “We’re gonna’ die. I’m just hangin’ on.” Endurance is persevering with expectation. Its what James wrote about way back in chapter one, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” Why? Because God is on the move. He’s up to something. Growth is possible. There are victories to be had. Blessing is around the corner. We need to choose to trust Him and keep going.
We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.
Remember Job? One day a messenger comes and tells Job, “The Sabeans attacked and stole your oxen and donkeys and killed all your servants with them.” As that messenger is finishing up another one shows up. “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up all your sheep and all the servants with them.” Then another messenger comes up. “The Chaldeans stole all your camels and killed all the servants with them.” Then another servant comes, “Your sons and daughters were having a party and this wind came and blew the house down and they’re all dead.” (Job 1:13 ff.)
Talk about having a bad day. With no time to absorb each blow - within one day - everything is taken from Job. The devastation is complete.
How does Job respond to all that? He gets up - tears his robe and shaves his head. Gestures of the deepest grief. Then he falls to the ground and worships God. Remember these words? “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20 ff.)
That’s Job - in the midst of unimaginable suffering - Job turns to God. Worships God. Declares the sovereignty and justice of God.
Then God blesses Job. Right? No, actually not. After Job worships God he gets boils. From the top of his head to the bottom of his feet he’s suffering. The only relief he has is to use pieces of broken pottery to scrap the sores.
Someone has said that God never created anything useless. But, mosquitoes come close. Sometimes just itching a mosquito bite feels good. Even tearing at the skin. It makes it itch more. But it feels so good to itch that it seems worth the pain. Amen?
There’s Job. Condemned to suffer. Sitting in ashes - a sign of mourning - and in the dust of the street - itching. His body bloated and discolored by the sores. He’s ugly - repulsive. People probably to one look at Job and turned away in disgust.
And then God blesses him. Right? No, actually not. Then his wife turns against him and gives him instructions on how to commit suicide. Finally - finally - his friends turn against him. And he has to go through this chapters long dialogue of useless spiritual platitudes that goes on forever.
Few people have out suffered and out endured Job. But, Job endured - with expectation. Through all that he kept looking to God. Through all that Job knew what James writes here, that God is the God “full of compassion and is merciful.”
Compassion is the Greek word “polusplagchnos.” It’s a word that James created to use here in verse 11 - just to describe God’s compassion. There is no place else in Greek that this word is used. James put two words together to make this word. “Polus” which means great or much. And, “splagchnon” which was the word the Greeks used to describe our inward parts - our heart and liver and lungs - our guts - the core of our emotions and feelings.
Isn’t that a great sounding word? “Splachnon” He’s got “splachnon.” He spilled his “splachnon.” Try that with me, “splachnon.”
The truth is that at the very depths of the core of who God is God feels what we feel in the very depths of the core of who we are. That’s co-passion. Feeling exactly what the other person feels.
When James wrote - back in verse 8 - be strong in the inner man - “gut it out” - we’re never alone in that. God is gutting it out with us. When we patiently endure God patiently endures right along side us - understanding everything we’re going through.
James writes that God is merciful. Merciful is another unique Greek word: “oiktirmon.” The only other place in the New Testament where its used is Luke 6 - where Jesus is teaching about how to respond to people who mistreat us - who hate us - who abuse us. Jesus reminds us that God is “merciful - oiktirmon - towards His enemies. (Luke 6:36) God - instead of pouring down His wrath on sinners - offers them salvation through the crucified body and spilled blood of His only Son.
Point being that if God is merciful to His enemies certainly He will be merciful to those who are patiently enduring trusting Him.
Do your remember how all this ends up? The account of Job? In the end God totally blesses Job’s socks off. He lives 140 more years with blessings that went way beyond what was taken away. Job 40:17 says that, “Job died, an old man and full of days.”
Bottom line: Where James has been going since 4:1 - when we’re being persecuted - trampled on - or just goin’ through the stuff of life - rather than focusing on ourselves to meet our needs - which only lead to quarrels and conflicts and self-destructive attitudes about time and wealth and which destroys unity in the Body and which keeps us back from being who God has created us to be - we need to trust God. With patience and endurance to look to God - who knows what we’re going through and will - with justice and mercy - will put all things right.
Thinking about what James writes and how we can begin building this into our own lives even today - I’d like to share to words with you. First: Focus. Say with me, “focus.” We need to get our focus on God. Because focusing on God is the opposite of focusing on ourselves.
In Psalm 27:14, David writes, “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord!”
There are three truths here that can help us get our focus on God. The first truth is expectation. Say that with me, “expectation.”
David says, “Wait for the Lord.” The Hebrew word for “wait” is “qäwâ” - which means to wait in eager expectation with our whole being.
A watched pot never - what? boils. Depending on altitude and temperature and how much water is in the pot it’ll boil when its good and ready to boil. We get all stressed out because its not boiling fast enough to meet our expectations and schedule.
Biblical waiting involves eager expectation. God has great things in store for us. But eager expectation that’s tempered with patience - the understanding that God - in His time - in His way - will move. But only when its the right time to do so.
What do we expect from God? Should He operate in our time frame - in the ways we understand - to meet our needs in the way we think is best? In every situation where we’re getting trampled we need to ask ourselves, are we focused on what God desires for us or on what we want for ourselves?
The second truth is commitment. Say that with me, “commitment.”
David says, “Be strong.” The Hebrew word is “häzaq.” It has the idea of a conscious - dogged decision to stand firm - to dig our heals in - to gut it out. No circumstance - no obstacle - no interval of time is going to move us from what we believe.
We’re in an election season. In Ancient Greece, to prevent idiotic statesmen from passing idiotic laws, lawmakers were asked to introduce all new laws while standing on a platform with a rope around their neck. If the law passed, the rope was removed. If it failed, the platform was removed. (1)
How firmly are we convinced that God will fulfill His promises? How strong is our faith in God? In every circumstance where we’re getting trampled we have the choice to commit ourselves to trusting in God.
The third truth is courage. Say that with me, “courage.”
David writes, “Let your heart take courage.” The Hebrew is “amets” - literally, “strengthen yourself.” In the words of James, “strengthen your hearts.”
Imagine soldiers on the battlefield during a cease-fire - scattered - wounded - ammunition spent. There’s no idleness. There’s an urgency to regroup. To take stock of what remains. To distribute supplies. To bandage wounds. To use the time wisely to prepare. To gather strength for what comes next. The cease-fire will end. The enemy will come.
In the midst of being trampled on do we let ourselves loose sight of who God is and what He’s blessed us with? Or, do we choose to regain our focus - to realize His presence with us - the Lord of the armies of Heaven bringing all the resources of the Kingdom of God into our lives.
When we’re under fire it is so tempting to follow Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “God helps those who help - what? themselves.” We’re very clever people. We need to focus on God. To make choices to wait on Him with expectation - to remain committed to Him - and to take courage because of who He is in our lives.
The second word I’d like to share - thinking about what James writes and how we can begin building this into our own lives even today - the second word is Follow. Say that with me, “follow.” Because there are times when we need to follow God’s will for our lives and simply trust Him for the results.
In the mid 1800’s Robert Thomas was the first Protestant missionary to North Korea. In Robert’s day North Korea was a very spiritually dark country. Even today it’s a death sentence to be a Christian in North Korea. Robert spent years preparing for his mission. In 1865, he arrived on the coast of Korea for the first time to learn all he could about the people and their language. Lacking Korean language material, Robert handed out tracts and New Testaments in Chinese. But, he had to return to China, where his wife died the following year. That’s an uphill climb against really discouraging circumstances - designed by the Adversary to turn us from following after God’s will.
In 1866, Robert Thomas, armed with 500 Chinese Bibles, undertook his journey to Pyongyang, the current capital of North Korea. He was on an American Navy gunship, called the General Sherman. That August, the ship sailed up the Taedong River. Robert tossed gospel tracts onto the river bank as the ship proceeded. When the ship ran aground on a sandbar, Korean soldiers on the shore, believed the foreigners had hostile intentions, and set the trapped ship on fire. They slaughtered all those who came ashore. Sensing death was near, Robert Thomas held out on of his Bibles and said in Korean, “Jesus, Jesus!” Then the attackers cut off his head and threw it into the river.
Robert Thomas died without leading one North Korean to salvation in Jesus. All that adversity - the hardship - and death. Many felt that his life was a waste.
In 1891, a discovery in North Korea revealed God’s conclusion to the so-called “failed” mission. A visitor noticed some interesting wallpaper on the walls of his guesthouse - pages of a Chinese Bible. The owner of the guesthouse was named Park, and he was the soldier who ended Robert Thomas’ life. Sensing the missionary was a good man, he had picked up the Bible, read it and later dedicated his life to Christ. Park wanted to preserve the Bible’s writing, so he pasted the pages on the walls of one room. Park said, “Many people have come from all over Korea to read my walls.”
Today, nearly 100 North Korean families secretly worship Christ near an area where Robert Thomas, the first missionary to North Korea, was martyred. (2) God will do His work in us and through us. We may never see the results. But we need to follow.
How many of you have seen the play, “The Time of Your Life”? “The Time of Your Life” was a Pulitzer Prize winning play written in 1939 by William Saroyan - who of course was from Fresno - and more importantly an Armenian.
The play takes place in a bar on San Francisco’s Embarcadero - where a number people come in and out of this bar with all kinds of things going on in their lives - some good - mostly bad. It’s a microcosm of life - ordinary people trying to live while being trampled upon. There’s a theme running through that play that’s captured in this line: “In the time of your life, live…”
Say that with me, “In the time of your life - live.”
That’s what James is calling us to build into our lives. Trampled on - yes. Hard circumstances - yes. Knowing God is not an immunity pill for life. But, in the midst of all that - this is the time of our lives in which we’re called by God to follow after His will for our lives - even if we don’t see the results. But to trust Him and to keep living focused on Him.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.