**We had Bible class every day in high school and I think 75% of the lessons were from James, frankly because there’s no other book of the Bible as confrontational and clear about gossip and the wicked ways of the tongue. It’s as if ol’ Jimmy’s original audience was a room full of teenagers.
It actually served as a constant conviction for me, and yet for many years all I associated James with was preaching about the tongue, I never flipped it open for anything else. What a treasure trove waited to be discovered! Because in this brief book of the New Testament, a whopping five chapters, there is much more dense truth to be studied.
So! Your Hopers are going to camp out in James this week and we’re very glad you’re joining us.**
If I want to stick to a semblance of reasonable word count today, and I do, there just isn’t enough time to talk through ‘why’ so many tears, but today was one of many tears. As they streamed and streamed behind my sunglasses, I turned up the volume and rolled down the windows. There’s a solace in having worshipful words wash over us when we’re too weak/tired/confused/hurt/sad to sing. These are just a few of the cries that rang out as I cruised south…
“Here at Your feet, I can see the unseen, truly one look at You and I’m undone.”
“I know it’s all you’ve got, just to be strong, and it’s a fight just to keep it together, together. I know you think that you are too far gone, but hope is never lost. Hope is never lost. You’re gonna be okay. ”
“You can be honest. I won’t try to promise that someday it all works out. ‘Cause this is the valley, and even now, He is breathing on your dry bones. And there will be dancing, there will be beauty where beauty was ash and stone. This much I know.”
– Casting Crowns
“I had all but given up. Desperate for a sign from love, something good, something kind, bringing peace to every corner of my mind. Then I saw the garden… Hope had come to me, to sweep away the ashes and wake me from my sleep. I realized You never left and for this moment, You planned ahead. That I would see Your faithfulness in all of the green.”
My tears dripped and dried and I kept hitting repeat, 45 minutes on the highway with those four songs on repeat. I was able to turn the volume up on comfort and truth…
And that is my heart’s hope for you as we read from James… that you’d let your tears fall if they need to, but that you would make the space to receive this passage for it’s healing but also for it’s exhortation. I often turn to musicians to help me understand God and His word, but gosh darn it sometimes I just need to sit in His word.
This season is one of those times.
There have been harder seasons. There was one chapter of my history that comes to mind in particular – when my skin was a shade of zombie-gray and my eyes were constantly swollen from sobbing and glazed over with hopelessness. I was a real treat at work, letmetellya. Survival was paramount.
Of all the chunks of story, of history, of instruction in the Holy Bible – when I was wasting away in the valley of the shadow of death… this was where I fed. Over and over and over and over I smoothed back the pages until I could nestle in James 1.
I remember a day that August where the pain had reached a pinnacle and I sat on the porch swing of my little green house and ate these words like they were physical bread. I was starving for them. Nothing else, no platter of sandwiches or substitute of saccharine platitudes would have sustained my heart…
“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. 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. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they 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 will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1:2-18
The enemy’s playbook is pure evil but I reckon it’s not overly complicated.
If only he can get us distracted, exhausted and/or believing God to be the villain instead of the Savior, he wins.
I sat on the porch swing then much like I sat in the car today – distracted. exhausted. believing God to be the bad guy.
But what does my brother James holler at our hearts?
That this pain won’t go wasted. That we can and should cry out to God with the faith that He might not repair in the way we demand, but He does offer wisdom and offer in generously. That His ONLY BUSINESS is what’s good and perfect. And that will never change because He never changes. The evil that pains us, the brokenness it causes, …that is not of Him nor has it ever been.
And tonight I realized that the songs I was clinging to for dear life this afternoon echoed the same theme of James 1 that have sustained my life over and over again –
FAITH IS HARD. Hope is hard. And our rewards are on the other side of eternity … not here. But when we truly see Him, for who He has been since before time began – we will be undone. We will be okay. The valley won’t last forever; even if it lasts the entirety of our time on this side of heaven… it won’t last forever. And the ashes WILL be swept away as He continues to be faithful to redeem His creation.
This week let’s feast on His word and pray together for wisdom and faithfulness… for eyes to see and believe the One who never shifts in shadows and discernment to see and not succumb to the one who lives in the shadows. May God’s truth win our hearts as we fight to stay faithful.
I love you dear brothers & sisters.