James on Trial

Help Understanding Hardships

Purpose of Trials – Defeat Satan

Written By: Ray - Aug• 14•10
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Purpose

It is a given fact that Satan (and his demon helpers) are in all-out battle for our souls.

1Pe 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

The Scripture that we based this series upon (2Cor 1 & 2) deals with this problem. The verse at 2Co 2:11 speaks about the “schemes” that Satan has hatched in his attempts to defeat us. The verse suggests that when we are aware of what he is doing, he cannot outwit us.

So, how does the pain that I suffer relate to Satan & his schemes? Well, in 2Co 2:10 Paul says that he had “forgiven in the sight of Christ.” So, forgiveness is critical in outwitting Satan. Why?

When someone does something to cause us pain or trouble, we have a choice – forgive them or not. For most of us, we do not even consider forgiving unless and until the “offender” admits their “sin” and asks our forgiveness.

However, they may not even realize that we have been offended — much less feel sorrow for whatever we consider their offense. That is the plan of Satan – to convince us to harbor unforgiveness for anyone whom we feel has offended us.

But failure to truly forgive causes problems for US – not the “offender.” That is how Satan wins. No doubt that is why the Bible tells us to go to the offender (rather than the other way around) and try to resolve the problem (Matt 18:15-18).

The alternative to forgiveness is the problem. In Ruth 1:20, Naomi was returning to Israel and told the residents, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” The word Naomi means pleasant and she did not feel pleasant. She had lost her husband and both sons while she was away. Now, she considered the name Mara more appropriate for her situation. Mara means “bitter” and she was bitter – with the Almighty God. “The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:21).

Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you and thereby many be defiled;”

That is what happens when you harbor unforgiveness. You become bitter and bitterness causes trouble for you. Rather, we are to forgive “in the sight of Christ” (2Co 2:10).

What Naomi did not realize was that God had a plan and a purpose for the pain that she had suffered. God did not kill Naomi’s husband and sons. However, He did use that event to fulfill His purpose. After time, Naomi watched God arrange for her daughter-in-law (Ruth) to be married to Boaz and become the Great-Grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:12-22) who was in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). As a result of Naomi’s great loss, she became an ancestor of the Savior of the world!

God had a plan and purpose for Naomi’s pain. He had a plan and purpose for Paul’s pain (2Co 2:10,11). He also has a plan for YOUR pain. Paul said that he & the Corinthian Church (and everyone who suffers pain) must “forgive and comfort” (2Co 2:7) those who have sinned against us. Then we are to reaffirm our love for the offender (2Co 2:8).

When we affirm our love for those who offend us (rather than harbor unforgivenss and bitterness), we outwit Satan. That is when he looses – and we win (2Co 2:11)!!

Purpose of Trials – Forgiveness

Written By: Ray - Aug• 10•10
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Purpose

In my last article I stated that trials are not always a direct result of our actions. But it is also true that some trials ARE the direct result of our own actions. It may even be the most common reason for hardship. When we overspend, we can expect to be pressed financially as we try to repay our creditors. The principle of reaping what we sow is true (with the exception of God’s gift of salvation).

There are some present-day “prophets” who announce that God cannot bless a person (or a church, etc) because “there is sin in the camp.” No doubt referring to the Biblical story of Achan in Joshua chapter seven. And, Paul commanded the church at Corinth to disfellowship a person in their ranks who had committed incest.It is important that sin be confessed and the offender repent. However, we are not to continue punishing offenders after they receive God’s forgiveness.

In 2Co 2:6, Paul told the church at Corinth that they had sufficiently punished the offender (the incestuous person is supposed). He even continued (in verse 7), “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him.” WOW! Evidently, that person had truly repented and now the church was expected to respond in the same way that God did – “forgive and comfort him.”

If the church failed to respond with forgiveness, Paul said that the man might be “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2:7). The Scripture (2Co 7:10) requires “Godly sorrow” which “brings repentance that leads to salvation.” Such sorrow “leaves no regret.” The devil will keep bringing up our past – even after we repent and God forgives us. But God said that He “will forgive their wickedness and will REMEMBER their sins no more (Heb 8:12). Nor should we rehearse our past sins and harbor “regret” (in the sense of feeling unforgiven).

Neither should the church keep such records. Paul said that to do so could cause the (forgiven) person to be “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2Co 2:7). Godly sorrow “leaves no regret” but “worldly sorrow brings death” (2Co 7:10). The difference? Evidently, it includes our “repentance”, “salvation” and living with “no regret.” It is in this last part (regret) that others (including the church) can be a hindrance. Without the forgiveness of others, a person may not be able to forgive themselves and stop the self-punishment of regret. If they continue in regret, they may be “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2Co 2:7). [Note: this may help us to understand Mt 16:19, “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”]

After a sinner offers godly sorrow and repents, God offers salvation and “no regret” should be the result. We should all leave it behind. Indeed, Paul told the church that rather than continue their punishment of the incestuous man, they were to “forgive and comfort him” (2Co 2:7). And to seal the matter, Paul said that they were “to reaffirm your love for him” (2:8).

To sum it up: We “reap what we sow.” When we sin, we should understand that God has set a price on that action and the “wages of sin” (Ro 6:23) will have to be paid. But, when Jesus pays a person’s debt, who are WE to still hold them accountable? If we are suffering in trials, it may be the result of our own actions – including our unwillingness to forgive those whom God has forgiven!

The next article in this series will deal with how to use trials to defeat Satan. Check back soon…

Purpose of Trials – Love

Written By: Ray - Aug• 09•10
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Purpose

When trials hit, observers may assume that “they are reaping what they sowed.” They think that difficult pain is the direct result of one’s actions. That was what Jesus’ disciples were thinking when they asked (John 9:2), “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This line of thinking is often dispelled when the “observer” is suddenly hit with a difficult trial and they become the supposed “offender”!!

However, the Bible says, (Mt 5:45) that God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” When hurricanes hit in our area, churches, church schools, Christian hospitals and other religious organizations experience the same destruction as the ungodly.

Instead, God uses some of our most difficult trials to prepare us for future ministry that we can provide to others. In my forty-odd years of ministry, I have been asked to conduct a lot of funerals. But it is a simple truth that it is almost impossible to adequately minister to the family of a deceased person if we have not personally experienced the loss of anyone close to us. In order for us to offer help to someone in the future, we must experience a similar pain today.

No doubt, that is why the Bible states that Jesus experienced the same difficulties as we do..

Heb 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.

Paul said that his love for the Church at Corinth was the reason that he had endured distressing hardships, saying “it is for your comfort and salvation” (2Co 1:6). Verses 3 and 4 state that, when we experience trials, God comforts us so that we can share the comfort with others down the road. And Paul said that it was his LOVE for the Corinthians that made him willing to suffer for them and that he wrote to them about it as a way to show them “the depth of [his] love for [them].”

The bottom line: Some trials are intended to prepare us to show love and ministry to someone that we will encounter in the future. In the words that God gave me recently, “If I am not willing to experience pain for you, I have no right to say ‘I love you.’

There are still two more reasons for trial found in the introduction to the book of Second Corinthians. I will post my thoughts on them here — real soon.

Purpose of Trials, Source of Help

Written By: Ray - Aug• 09•10
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Purpose

(Updated on 9 August 2010)

In the last article on the Purpose of Trials, I stated my firm belief that although God does NOT CAUSE trials, He ALLOWS them – in order to fulfill His purposes. So, what ARE the purposes that God has for allowing us to endure hardship and pain?

In the previous article, we read from James 1:2,3 that the overall purpose of the “trying of [our] faith” is to develop patience, to help us mature and to bring us to the point where we are complete and not lacking anything. However, this is a very GENERAL view. In order to more fully understand the particulars, I wish to direct your attention to the 1st and 2nd chapters of 2nd Corinthians.

First, trials teach us where to find the SOURCE of help:

Although in times of ease, we can easily SAY, “My help comes from the Lord” (Ps 121.2), when we are in the middle of severe hardship, we generally look for relief wherever we can find it. That does not mean that we are double minded. Instead, it points out that hardships are described as a “test of our faith” for a reason. Just SAYING “my help comes from the Lord” is nice, but it is just words until we experience it!

Paul told the church at Corinth (2Co 1:5) that as Christians, “the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives.” He described some of his personal experiences as times when he was under “great pressure” and said these trials were “far beyond our ability to endure” (2Co 1:8). He also said that his trials were so severe that he “despaired even of life.” Christians ALWAYS have hope but it appears that Paul reached the place where (in his mind), his only hope was Christ’s promise of eternal life – after death. He saw no possibility of surviving the trial in his  physical body.

Why did God allow such extreme trouble to enter Paul’s life? He answered that question in 2Co 1:9, “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” As with all of us, when we are compassed with comfort and ease, it is easy to say — but not practice — that we depend upon God. In reality, we depend upon our paycheck, our family, our insurance, our doctor, our friends, our possessions, our savings — or anything else except God. But when Paul was placed in a life or death situation, he learned NOT to rely upon himself (or anything temporal), but [to rely] on God.”

Paul wrote 2Co 12:7-10 to more fully explain it:

7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Like Paul, I am prone to take God’s blessings for granted and even become conceited about what I have done (for God, of course). But God had blessed Paul so greatly that OTHERS sometimes considered Paul to be a god (see Acts 14:11). So, in order for everyone to see that Paul was NOT God, he was given the particularly human trait of pain (a “thorn in the flesh”) to torment him.

The result of that episode was God’s declaration to Paul (and to all of us), “My power is made perfect [evident and complete] in [your human] weakness.” The John the Baptist understood the principle when he said (Jn 3:30), “He must become greater; I must become less.” As our physical strength diminishes (in trials), we learn to rely on God and His strength.

The simple answer is found in 2Co 1:3, our Father is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. That verse is so encouraging. To experience it more fully, I think that I am going to take a break from writing and just let my Heavenly Father pour some compassion into my heart and put His big arm around my shoulder and comfort me!

Look for the next article in this series… coming soon…

Purpose of Trials

Written By: Ray - Aug• 09•10
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Purpose

Why Do I Have To Endure Trials?

(Updated on 9 August 2010)

Recently, I saw that someone found one of my websites by searching on Google for the phrase, “Why does God give us trials?” First, let me say that I do not believe God causes the trials that come into our lives. Some of the hardships that we face are the result of our own actions, others result from the actions of those around us and some hardships occur to everyone in a particular location (like hurricanes). Since I believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), I must conclude that He ALLOWS these things to happen to us – and uses them to fulfill His purposes. Hardships are intended as “object lessons” to prepare us for some other event that is yet to come.

May I suggest that one of the themes of the Book of James is found in James, chapter 1, verses 2 & 3. It is summarized in the phrase: “Joy in trials.” God (through the writing of James) says that we must not only ACCEPT the trials that we face but that we are commanded to “Consider it pure joy” (verse 2). Before you turn me off here, let me explain myself. By “accepting the trials” I do not mean that we should just lay down meekly and let the world (and the devil) beat us up until we die. To “accept” the trial means to do so as a soldier accepts orders. He is ordered to go into the battle – not to just lay down and be killed – but to fight. The outcome of the battle is uncertain and he MAY die, but he hopes that after some unknown time and some unknown measure of pain, to come out of the battle victorious!

Still, accepting trials is a pretty tall request even in its most gracious form. But James says that we should do so even when we “face trials of many kinds.” I normally like the New International Version (NIV) readings better — but in this case, the King James Version (KJV) seems to be more vivid: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2, KJV). The Greek words describe one falling into a deep pit filled half-way up (and yet well over your head) with a fluid of the most disgusting kind (use your juvenile imagination here and you will probably get it right). He says that when you find yourself overwhelmed with temptations (of every kind and of the most disgusting nature – and without a visible end), then you should say, “This is going to be beneficial to me in some way” – and mean it!

The reason that you will be able to make such a statement is found in verses 3 & 4: “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.” Perseverance is the Christian virtue of patience. But God does not allow trials into our lives so that we simply become more patient. His intention is much larger — He intends for His children to be “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” For me, there is a vast chasm between where I am today and my becoming “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” To get there, God allows temporary hardships to help me develop and mature. And, BECAUSE I KNOW that the testing of my faith develops me into the person that God has designed for me, I can say, “This trial is going to be good for me.”

Many of us are familiar with Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The problem of that verse is in our interpretation of “good.” How most people today define the word is very different from how God defines it.

Think about the times that we disagree with our children over what is “good” for them. As parents, we know that our present decisions (which they consider harsh and unnecessary) will help them to develop into better people. We want them to avoid the future hardships and pain that they can’t conceive. That is precisely how God sees our “good.”

Looking for the “wisdom store”

Written By: Ray - Sep• 22•09

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Pet 3:18)

Several years ago, I did an in-depth study of the Book of James. I ended up teaching and preaching for a full year on the series! One of the primary concepts that I developed through that study was concerning the acquisition of wisdom.

I do NOT believe that God “sprinkles wisdom dust” on our heads. I believe that there is a PROCESS through which we develop wisdom. Here is my take on that line of intellectual development:

  1. Knowledge is the accumulation of “facts” (or presumed facts)
  2. Understanding is the comprehension of those facts
  3. Wisdom is the application (in life) of our understanding of the facts that we have accumulated

Most of the education today (up to and often throughout undergraduate studies) is simply sharing “facts” from a book (or from a teacher’s brain) to a student. Then a test is given where the student is expected to repeat the “facts” that he/she has been “taught.” Usually, an objective test (multiple choice, etc) is used to evaluate this. Some very talented & caring teachers make it their business to move from the sharing of facts to encouraging/forcing their students to think through an issue and develop an understanding of the facts that they possess. To evaluate such comprehension generally requires a subjective test (such as essay writing.) Since this is much more difficult to develop and to grade, many teachers revert to “teaching facts.” I do not believe that our schools/colleges/universities are equipped to teach wisdom.

Actually, it is my educated opinion (note1) that wisdom CANNOT be taught! In every case, wisdom must be learned through experience. But someone already has their “hand in the air” wanting to correct me using James 1:5 as the proof that Godly wisdom is given by God. But, like so many Scriptures, this one can be misconstrued if taken out of context.

James wrote this portion of the Bible to answer the ancient question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” In verse 2, he told Christians everywhere to “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Well, DUH! This guy’s got it wrong from the gitgo! Who, in his right mind, can possibly be happy when everything is going wrong? And, in that day, “going wrong” often meant “facing death.”

But James gives a reason for being joyful in such severe trials, “BECAUSE.” (Not like my mom used to answer, “Because I SAID so!”) Rather, this “because” explains things… “because… the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (or “patience” if you read the KJV.) Well, if I wanted patients, I would have become a doctor! <grin> But bear with me (actually with James) here for a minute: Verse 4 says that “perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Let me reverse-analyze James’ thinking here:

  1. We NEED/WANT to be mature & complete (v.4)
  2. To get there, perseverance must be finished
  3. But, to acquire perseverance, we must face trials of many kinds & our faith must be tested (vv 2,3)

Did I get all of that right? If so, then it appears that when we get patience/perseverance, it is NOT because God sprinkled it down from heaven upon our heads – it is the result of our having undergone severe trials that test our faith. And, as we put that patient attitude to work, we move further along in the PROCESS of becoming mature & complete.

Now, I have not forgotten about verse 5 here. After moving through the “patience process,” at some point, we should reach maturity & become “complete, not lacking anything.” Now, does it seem strange to you that the very next verse says, “If any of you lacks…”? If I read that correctly, when you finished with your trial, you should have become “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (at least in reference to that situation). How can you then say, “I am mature and complete, not lacking anything, EXCEPT I lack wisdom”? The only answer to that dilemma is that you are NOT mature and complete and you did NOT pass the “testing of your faith.” So, when you ask God for wisdom, He sends you back around the mountain for another “dose” of trials. He does not find fault, just “generously” allows you to retake the test!

That answers another question: “Why can’t I ever catch a break? Why do I just keep going around in circles and never get ahead?” The answer is, “You didn’t pass the test (of your faith) last time so you have to re-take it. You went through verses 2, 3 & 4 but you still LACK something so you must go back to verse 2 again!

Note1: Ray Waldo holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Psychology earned at Mississippi State University.

Note2: Robin Sampsom has written a nice article on this. Read it at http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/when-trials-comes-rejoice/

I Need Patience

Written By: Ray - Sep• 15•09

Sometimes, I just need to “cool it” – to take a “chill pill” and calm down. Even a simple task like going to the store can develop a state of agitation in most of us. People fight over a parking space, then grab the buggie that you were about to take, they will run over you in the aisle and break line at the checkout! The cashier is totally inept and rash. Then there is a traffic jam and you cannot even get out of the parking lot. And when you get home and realize that you left your most important purchase in the buggie. Life is frustrating and sometimes I feel like calling out, “Lord, I need patience – and I need it RIGHT NOW!

In the book of James, God seems to be telling us to trust that “whenever you face trials of many kinds” remember that He is working behind the scenes to bring about something truly good in us. We are told that we can “count it all joy… BECAUSE… the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). Perseverance is another word for patience and the two words are interchangeable in the Book of James and in our discussions.

Patience is a trait that is in short supply today. More common in our language are phrases like “Road rage” or “going postal.” Our society is fast-paced and instant-oriented. People become enraged when another driver pulls out in front of them and causes them to go a couple miles per hour slower than they want to go. They place their own lives – and the lives of many others – in jeopardy just to pass and “get to the front of the pack” so that they can arrive at their destination a few seconds quicker. It is as if they do not even know about patience.

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God Has A Plan

Written By: Ray - Aug• 31•09

What does God really want from me?

I have a very positive view of humanity. Not that I believe that everyone is a wonderful individual. What I believe is that, basically, if each person on earth had an absolute understanding of what God wants from them, they would try (and fail) to accomplish it. Written in those terms it sounds like GOD is to be blamed for all that is wrong in the world. Not so fast there Nelly! The issue is not whether or not God set unattainable goals for us – He has not.

A lot of people speak about things that happen “by coincidence.” Personally, I do not accept anything as being coincidental. Instead, I believe that it is God’s providence that brings seemingly unrelated events into our experience.

Inherent in my understanding of God is that He has a plan. The plan is not always clear to us but that does not mean that there is no plan. God’s plan is intended for mankind in general, for nations, communities, churches but it also includes His specific plan for individuals – even a plan for me. And if I understood it better, I would please God more.

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Help Me Write

Written By: Ray - Aug• 23•09

Would you help me write this book?

I would like for you to keep up with the development of this book and provide comments and constructive criticism. What I really need are some “beta testers” or “focus group members” to give me feedback on how each book “feels” from the reader’s perspective.

As a participant, there are few demands placed upon you but each time you comment on a section of the book, you will make the book better for all of us. I have not decided whether I will publish in paper and electronically or just electronically but I probably will put some price on the finished book. Anyone who helps will, at a minimum, get an electronic copy. No other financial offers are made.

If you would like to participate, you must register with the IntenseDebate Comments site (that is the application running my comments subsystem.) Read more about it (and get instructions on signing up) here. You should also register on this site. Registration is free and your email address is secure with me.

Also, if you register here, you will also be registered on other CDN Today sites and welcome to make comments on them as well.

Ray

Why I Wrote This Book

Written By: Ray - Aug• 21•09

Around ten  years  ago, I  experienced an event that, for me, was devastating! The particulars are not significant because few of us ever experience exactly the same circumstances.In this time of devastation, I cried, I prayed, I sought for others who would agree with me that my experience was, indeed the worst thing that ever happened to anyone on God’s green earth! But someone (source long since forgotten) once made a statement that, for me, has proven to be true: “You cannot pray your way out of depression.” The more I told God how bad my situation was, the more I came to conclude that it was even worse than I had thought previously. It was a spiral that kept digging deaper into despair.

When I read the Bible, I found myself highlighting the verses that seemed to say, “woe is me.” Then I read a verse telling me that I should consider it “pure joy” when I face a lot of different kinds of troubles. (James 1:2) It conflicted with everything that I was holding on to. I certainly was not feeling any joy! I had read this verse before and I probably had related it to the verse in Nehemiah (8:10) that says “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” But now, with my pain (and self-pity) running so deep, it was more difficult to accept that it related to me.

The conflict that arose from reading that verse led me to a deeper study of what James had to say about severe trials. I could not find an appropriate explanation for that verse or some for some other verses in the Book of James – especially in light of some of  the things taught by the popular TV teachers. I spent a lot of time in study, researching, praying & meditating.  (I continue to do so since I do not claim to have any “absolute” answers.) But when I felt that I had found an answer to one problematic verse, it only confused my understanding of others.

In light of these things, I have come to the conclusion that, although – on its face – the four pages of the Book of James seems to be simple enough, the Book is actually one of the most misunderstood books in the Bible. So I have determined to continue my quest for truth. And, as I develop a greater understanding of what God has to say in the Book of James, I will record those findings in this present work. I hope you will find it helpful as you “face many kinds of trials”- as well as when you find yourself on the mountaintop.

Ray