Knowing Is (Only) Half The Battle

I used to be a know-it-all.  Now I purposefully say used to be, because truth be told, on the far side of 30, I am much more accurately described as a forgot-it-all.  But in my younger, fresher, sharper days, I really knew some stuff.

Now when I say “knew,” what I really mean is “memorized and filed away in my ridiculous mental library of random facts and figures.”  For as long as I can remember- up until recently, of course- it is just how my brain worked.

Need to remember a date or time?  I got you.
Need to know a phone number or address?  I’m your guy.
Need to know some random sports statistic from the late 1990’s?  Embarrassingly, it’s probably in there somewhere.

So why do I tell you this about myself?  I promise I’m not bragging- because seriously, it isn’t that impressive (or even very necessary in our new age of ultra-connectivity!).  No, the reason I share it is because it calls to mind a deep concern I have for the spiritual wellbeing of many in our church and in our community- including myself, and maybe you too.

Here’s what I mean- The vast majority of my youthful knowledge, although in many cases wide in breadth, was altogether lacking in depth; there was a lot of it, but it wasn’t really doing much; it was “in my head,” but nowhere close “to my heart.”  In other words, it was little more than facts and figures, and while facts and figures can be at times interesting and helpful, in the end they don’t affect change in our lives in any real way.  Let’s face it- A list of all fifty U.S. state capitals never changed anyone’s life!

The problem is, many of us treat spiritual truths- most notably the Gospel itself– as “been there, done that” facts and figures, merely filing them away intellectually rather than allowing them to sink down deep into our hearts, minds, and lives in a radically transforming way.  But the Gospel of Jesus Christ- this glorious proclamation of a holy God rescuing undeserving rebels from sin and death by sheer grace- was never intended to be merely a message to be memorized, but rather an experience to be lived and celebrated every moment of every day.

Pastor and author J.D. Greear compares our common perspective on the Gospel to that of a diving board- that is, we see it as a “jumping off point” into the pool of a life of following Jesus.  Once we’re in the “pool,” we see the Gospel as something that in our past; it was helpful to get us started, but the real work of “swimming” is now on us.

In the “pool,” we’ve got obligations- verses to learn, religious events to attend, needs to meet, money to give, service to render, trips to go on, etc.  Not that any of these are bad things in the least- quite the opposite, they are very good!  The problem is that many of us go after them while leaving the Gospel in the past as a “been there, done that” reality.  We try to follow Jesus in our strength rather than relying actively on God’s grace.  This is a recipe for spiritual exhaustion- and ultimately, for a heart that grows cold toward God and toward people.

What’s the solution?  To shift the Gospel from primarily “in our heads” to first and foremost “on our hearts”- something that is being experienced deeply daily, an unending well of ever increasing joy in Jesus Christ and in His undeserved grace lavished on us.  To use Greear’s analogy, the Gospel no longer functions as the “diving board” only; it is the entire “pool” in which everything in our lives happens!

When we read the Bible, it is to get to know better this God who has loved and saved us through the Gospel.  When we participate in the life of the church, it is to love, serve, encourage, and challenges others as they grow in the Gospel.  When we give and serve and go, it is in humble and grateful response to God’s generosity toward us in the Gospel.  Obedience is no longer fueled by a sense of grudging obligation, but rather by a motive of gratitude and love for God and for people.

None of this happens, though, if the Gospel is treated as merely one spiritual “fact and figure” among many.  It must remain, in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “that which is of first importance.”  What can you do this week to intentionally consider and meditate on the gracious saving work of God through Jesus Christ alone?  How would such consideration and meditation change the way you approach your everyday life following Jesus?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Ask God to deepen your heart of humility, gratitude, and love in response to Him, and then to express it generously toward others as well.

Don’t be content to just “know” the Gospel in your head.  Really know it- and be transformed by it- in your heart.

The Best of It

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James 2:2

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I lack in a lot of things in life. I really do. My pride always needs a check mate sometimes from the Lord, and I welcome it with open arms…even when it hurts. I lack patience with people who talk too much. I lack patience with special needs people (that sounds horrible for a pastor to admit I know). Though I am a very intuitive person, I still lack the ability to see around blind spots in my life, and I need men around me to point them out. I sometimes lack “looking to the interest of others” as Philippians 2 says. And most importantly, I sometimes lack faith! I always want to get better at having faith! However I can’t do that alone! The truth is, my lack of faith needs testing. And so does yours!

Growing up, pop quizzes were the worst! You never knew when they were coming! However, the teacher would always give you a schedule of when each test was so you could be prepared for when it comes. I put emphasis on when because the book of James is clear when it comes to our own spiritual testing. James says “when troubles of any kind come your way…” Trials are assumed in this text. So in all honesty, suffering should surprise no one. Not only should suffering not surprise us, but “any kind” of suffering shouldn’t surprise us. It is to test our faith. So what is it?

Any kind could mean…

  • You’re going through or have been through a divorce
  • Someone in your family or a close friend may have died
  • You just went through a broken relationships (romantic or friendship)
  • Persecution in another country for being a follower of Jesus
  • Maybe most recently your house just flooded
  • You struggle with anxiety and it’s a weight you are constantly fighting.
  • And Etc.

James also says to “consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete needing (some translations say lacking) nothing.”

How in the world do we make trials an opportunity for great joy? In other words, how can we make the best it knowing we will go through it?

I want to give you three ways we can make the best of it. Mind you these aren’t three points to make your life better or three ways to get out of it easier. These are three ways on how you can go through it with the best in mind.

  1. Don’t Curse God: While crying out to the Father is essential during our times of pain and sorrow, the worst thing we can do is curse Him. When Job lost his family and all his cattle, he may have cursed the day he was born, but he coined one of the greatest phrases we all use until bad stuff happens to us, “God giveth, and God taketh away.” He never cursed God. Cursing God for what he allows is sin. While it is so hard not to ask God “why” it is far different than blaming God for what happens to us in life. WE believe that “all things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to His good purpose.” I believe that we sometime don’t know this better than when we are facing tough times in life. God is good, and He is not to be cursed.

 

  1. Look to God’s promises not at your circumstances attack: James promotes a promise in this text for those who make the best of it: “When your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow…for when endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect (mature) and complete, needing nothing.” There’s a promise that God will make you better not bitter. However we must not look at what or who is attacking us, but to the Father who provides all good and perfect things for our good! God makes us stronger in our weakness. But our attitude must be to make the best of it for growth.

 

  1. Use your circumstance to be brought to the feet of Jesus: So let it grow…” James says. Sometimes we have to be brought low to experience Jesus like we have never experienced him before. God sometimes breaks us to make us. That is brilliant in theory, but we must let our trials of any kinds bring us to the feet of Jesus to experience this truth. We cast our cares on Jesus. We become more honest with Jesus. We allow Jesus to rule and reign in us instead of us as finite beings trying to make it better on our own. But we can’t do it alone. Let it grow by letting Him Work.

Jesus saves, Jesus sustains, Jesus serves, and Jesus sanctifies. He can help you make the best of it. Don’t curse him, love him. Don’t let your circumstance dictate his love for you, look to his loving promises. Don’t run away from Jesus, fall to his feet!