Trials and Joy

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

James 1:2

the-countLike most kids who grew up in the 1970’s, I watched a lot of Sesame Street. One of my favorite characters on that classic children’s television show was Count von Count. The Count loved counting things. Wikipedia says, “The Count loves counting so much that he will count anything and everything, regardless of size, amount, or how much annoyance he is causing the other characters. In Season 6, for instance, he once prevented Ernie from answering a telephone because he wanted to continue counting the number of times the telephone rang. Another time, while serving as an elevator operator, he refused to let Kermit the Frog get out at his selected floor so he could count every floor in the building.”

When I say that I watched a lot of Sesame Street, I’m talking an insane amount. I know . . . it’s a problem. I don’t remember Count von Count ever counting trials.

Can you picture it?

“One trial (My child just told me they hate me) . . . Two Trials (My work-life is falling apart) . . . Three trials (I have more bills than money at the end of the month) . . . Four trials (My parents are ill) . . . Five Trials (My car just broke down) . . . ah ah ah 5 wonderful trials!”

No, Count von Count never counted trials.

When James told his readers to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” he wasn’t using the word that we think of as mathematical counting. Many Bible translations use the words, “Consider it joy,” at the beginning of the verse.

Do you consider your trials to be a joy?

I know that “joy” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I have a trial.

But, when I see God work through my trials for His glory and my growth, I can truly be joyful – even in the midst of the struggle.

So many of the trials in my life have been the exact things that I needed in my life to become the man that God has made me today. James talked about the trials that God brings into our lives as “various trials.”

Can you relate?

Many are the types of trials that each one of us will face in life.

He also uses the tender term, “my brothers.” Aren’t you glad that we don’t have to go through trials alone? James could count his trials as joy, in part, because they helped him grow closer to God and others. When you live in community with other people, trials can truly be a blessing.

A 108 Day Journey Through The Book of James

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

James 1:1

Several years ago, I felt like the Lord was telling me to SLOW DOWN. Everything about my life was fast. I was a husband, a father to four incredibly active and sweet kids, a  youth pastor at a mega-church, a conference speaker, an author – and truth be told I felt out of balance – busy beyond belief. I had come to the point in my life where it was difficult for me to carve out the time that I needed to spend with God. While on a family vacation, I felt like I literally heard the voice of God tell me to take the next 176 days to meditate on a verse a day from the Bible’s longest chapter, Psalm 119.

So, I did. I meditated on just one verse a day. And, at the end of the 176 days, my life was radically changed. I left the church that I served for seven years. I left behind most of the speaking gigs and writing opportunities. I purposely devoted myself in new ways to Jesus and his church. That journey took place almost nine years ago.

familyRecently, I have felt like Jesus is calling me to do a similar thing. My wife and I are in a new season of life. Our oldest two kids are now married. We are thrilled with the wonderful people that God brought into their lives — a new son and daughter for us! We only have two kids left at home. One will graduate this year and go off to college, most likely many states away. That will leave us with one precious child left at home, and that is only for 2 1/2 more years. I am amazed when I look back and see how quickly life can change.

Earlier today, I read through James 1 with my wife. The book of James has been called the Proverbs of the New Testament. It is full of practical wisdom for living as a follower of Jesus. I love this book. Today, I felt like God was calling me to take another journey. This one will be for 108 days. There are 108 verses in the five chapters that make up the book of James. I’m not sensing that God is telling me to only read one verse a day, but I am sensing that I should meditate on one verse a day. So, for the next 108 days, I plan to meditate on a verse a day through the book of James and see what God does.

Truth be told, I’m a little bit afraid to do this. So much in my life changed the last time that I did this. But, I am also excited. For years, I updated my blog several times a week (sometimes several times a day). In recent years I have found myself too busy, too tired, and too distracted to write. Maybe, I need to slow down again. The last time that I did this, God changed me. Several people joined me on the journey by reading along with my blog. It may be that I am the only one who will read these words. That’s okay. I feel compelled to write what God is saying to me, and perhaps he will use these words to encourage you too.

Today’s verse is James 1:1.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

Greetings.

Such a simple and yet profound statement!

James was the little half-brother of Jesus.Think about that for a second! Jesus was his big brother! How would you like to be compared to Jesus? I can hear it now. “James, why can’t you be more like your big brother, Jesus?”

I’m not sure why, but James didn’t follow Jesus at first. Maybe he was skeptical that Jesus was the Messiah. John 7:5 says, “5 For not even his brothers believed in him.”

In Mark 3:21, Jesus’ family was convinced the Lord was off of His rocker! “21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.'”

Something changed in James.

He was now the leader of the church at Jerusalem, and I love the title that this First Century preacher half-brother of Jesus gave to himself,  “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s what I want to be known as. In a world that values titles, I want my title to be servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a husband, I want Cyndi to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a dad, I want my kids to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a son, I want my parents to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a friend and neighbor, a co-worker and colleague, I want my people to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a pastor, I want my congregation to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As a citizen of a very divided nation, where politics are dividing friends and family, I want my country to know me as a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What would the world look like if we all lived like James?

What would our lives look like if we truly were cognizant of the fact that Christians are called to die to self and live as servants? Like Jesus, our lives are meant to be given away.

James wrote to the twelve tribes in the Dispersion. He was, after all, a pastor to Jews, in the capital city. He was the pastor of the Jerusalem church, where Judaism reigned supreme, shepherding a flock who believed that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. James wanted all of Israel, all of the Jewish people, dispersed throughout the world, to know that Jesus was Lord. He was writing to share with the Jewish people what it meant to live as a follower of the Messiah. Jesus changes everything. He always has. Jesus had changed His little half-brother’s life. And, his little half-brother wanted everyone to know how Jesus could change them too!

Who would you write to, if God inspired you to write a letter about Him? Maybe there is someone that you need to write to. Maybe you need to encourage a brother or sister in Christ. Maybe you need to share your faith story. Maybe you need to write a thank you letter to God for all that He has blessed you with.

James ends verse one with the simple word, “Greetings.”

I love receiving greetings from people I have missed seeing. I bet the people who read James’ letter appreciated his letter too.

I don’t know if anyone is going to read the posts that I write over the next 108 days, but for those willing to take the journey with me, “Greetings . . .”

I can’t wait to see what God is going to do.