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Walking the Walk - “When Things Are Hard”
Intro banter…We are going to start today a look at the book of James.
And if you haven’t read James before, now is a great time to remedy that!
This is a short book, but it is packed with some of the best practical theology in all of scripture.
Now this letter is best described as a “diatribe.”
That means about what you think it means, for those of you who have heard that word before.
Basically, a diatribe was a style of writing, or rhetoric that had a point to make.
It wasn’t talking around something, it was directly addressing some situation, and usually forcefully arguing against it.
As you read this letter you can see those same tendencies.
I think it best, though, to describe James as a sort of wisdom literature for the New Testament.
It is sort of like proverbs, or Ecclesiastes.
It isn’t as choppy in style, but it serves a similar purpose.
It makes you see how you should change your life by showing the better way.
Like an old relative telling you about how things were when they were young or how things are supposed to be.
It was likely written, by the way, by the half brother of Christ, who died by stoning around 62 AD.
So it had to be written before that point.
Some scholars put it around 40-45, and others in the mid 50’s.
Either way you go, this is one of the earliest writings in the entire New Testament.
And not only is it one of the earliest, but it was written by a man who spent far more than 3 years with Jesus!
Think about it, James, likely the eldest of Jesus’ younger half brothers, spent perhaps 30 years with Jesus!
He saw Christ grow and had countless conversations with Him!
That is what makes this book so important church.
Outside of the Gospels, there is likely no other book written that gives us a better insight into the thoughts of Jesus than this little letter.
So if we are going to be all in with Christ, we need to start right here.
Listen, whether you know that you belong to Christ or think you might belong to Christ - if we are going to claim the mantle of Christians, and talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.
And that starts today with the opening of this letter.
intro - set up series.
Walk the Walk Rick Flair stuff?? used it before…make the intro challenging a little though.
“If we are going to talk big, if we think or even know that God is working within us, if we are going to claim the mantle of Christians, and talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.”
Read Message: Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.
You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.
So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.
Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.
pic here - diaspora?
One of the first things we have to mention when we are looking at this intro is those to whom this letter is addressed.
As I said in the opening, this is a circular letter…[explain a little].
That said, when James writes to the 12 tribes in the Dispersion, our ears should perk up.
One of the first things we have to mention when we are looking at this intro is those to whom this letter is addressed.
As I said in the opening, this is a circular letter…[explain a little].
That said, when James writes to the 12 tribes in the Dispersion, our ears should perk up.
They should perk up, because the Dispersion, or the Diaspora that most scholars look at for the Jewish people happened 600 years prior to this text.
And the next Dispersion that could even be considered happens probably 20 years after this is written.
So if it isn’t a major historical event, what is the intent of this language?
Well I think that James is using the imagery of the Diaspora to speak more broadly about the state of our souls.
You see, the Jewish people, while in the Diaspora, felt this distance from God.
Now this wasn’t a little distance, this distance was unlike anything we can really imagine.
This was a distance that had no possible bridge to cross it.
This was a distance created by sin, for which there was no solution yet!
There was no Messiah who had overcome the grave!
There was only silence.
That is what James is trying to hearken to here.
You see, our souls, when found without Christ, are scattered and far removed from God’s presence.
And that, church, is all of us at some point!
So when James addresses this letter, he is sure to make sure we all know that it is written to us!
We are all a part of those in the Dispersion.
A scattered church - people of faith who without Christ endure separation from God.
So this letter isn’t just written for some Jewish believers, or the people at that time.
This letter is for all of us.
James level’s the playing field here in the opening so that we might all hear the message God has for us.
After leveling that playing field, James wastes no time here getting us all on the same page as to what we should be shooting for in our faith.
It reminds me of all the best teachers or coaches I have ever had in my life.
You know those people.
The ones who didn’t beat around the bush and soft pedal your situation or performance.
The ones who identified your weakness right away and then immediately started you on the path to building you up to what you really needed to be.
Looking back, I can see so many of those figures in my own life.
Men and women who saw the very best in me, while at the same time, seeing my greatest weaknesses and strengthening them through our moments together.
I am sure that we all have figures like that in our lives.
People whose advice we lean on when things get hard.
And listen, that is just what James is pointing out to us!
This opening text reminds us that life won’t always be sunshine and roses!
Sometimes we feel separated from God, scattered and dispersed!
Not knowing what to do, or even how to move forward, and when we feel that way, church, what does James tell us to do?
Be joyful!
Count it all joy!
The implication is that there is a bigger picture, a greater purpose, right?
But that isn’t always easy to see when things get hard.
Let me tell you, that is just as hard as it seems.
This past week, while reading and preparing for this very sermon, Kate and I went out on a date.
We had a much needed and planned date night.
Well on the way out to restaurant we are having a great conversation when all of a sudden my truck starts making noises and we get broken down on the side of the road.
And as I sat there, angry over the loss of our date night, irate over what it will cost to fix it, I lost the chance to make the best of it, to be joyful that I had some quiet moments with my wife, and that I had great friends to help out.
I completely missed it, because I didn’t count that trial as joy, but as a burden.
I think we are all like that.
We all can’t always see the good in the difficult, or the beautiful in the ugly moments of life.
But that is just what James is driving at here.
When things happen to you, bad things, hard things, ugly things - things you never dreamed and never wanted to happen - don’t get angry, don’t get caught up in negative emotions; count it as joy!
Find the good whenever you can, even the difficult moments of life.
But especially, church, when the trial is a trial of faith.
pic here (faith?)
Our faith probably gets tried more than any other facet of our lives.
Anyone here, or anywhere, who has ever tried to get to know God knows that.
Even the most faithful among us will have doubts, and difficulties, moments when their faith is stretched and their thoughts and feelings questioned.
Now it doesn’t always happen right away.
Like all things in life, when we take up faith, or a new task, or hobby, our strengths come to the forefront for a bit.
We ride those things we are good at, or that come naturally for a bit, so there is no real burden when we are challenged or when little trials come, because quite frankly, we don’t know any better.
But eventually we do know better.
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