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The Fight of Comparison in the Trial

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working through this passage in James talking about trials. We’ve discussed two lens with which we are to view trials as a Christian. The first was that trials are a pathway to maturity. Trials are God’s way of shaping us and molding us more and more into the image of His Son. Trails are often times God’s tool for growing us in our faith. The second lens was that trials make us consciously aware of our need for God. When trials are present, we are forced to look outside ourselves for help. We are forced to look to God and to trust Him more than we ever had before. 

Also, while we’re in our trials, there are these two fights that we have to know are coming. The first one, which we looked at last week, is a fight with doubt. When trials comes, when our world is turned upside-down, we are oftentimes left searching and asking why. Nothing seems to make sense, so we begin to doubt God. And in these times of doubt we need to fight and cling to the truth of the gospel with all that we have. Stand firm. Look to the cross of Christ. Remember God honors the fight because Jesus has paid it all.

That brings us to the next fight that shows up during our trials: the fight of comparison. Read V9-11. In these verses, we have God showing us the lowly person and the rich person. We see the lowly person, who is poor in material things but rich in Christ, being exalted. But we see the rich person, who has all the material things but no Christ, being humiliated and losing everything. In these two verses, God shows us just how temporary the rich person’s “things” are.

As social has grown over the last decade or so, there have been numerous studies completed to better understand the effects these things are having on us. You know what these studies unanimously seem to always claim every time? Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and etc., lead to depression. And when you think about it, this totally makes sense.

You’re sad or depressed at home during your trial. You’re sitting in your sweats binging through another entire season of something on Netflix. You’re polishing off a gallon of Blue Bell Two-Step ice cream. Then you open up your phone and begin to scroll through Instagram. You know what you see? Everyone in the world is doing great! So and so just got asked to homecoming by having her name written in the clouds. So and so just celebrated their two week dating anniversary with a trip to the moon. So and so just got their license and their parents got them a brand new car. Everyone is posting these absolutely perfect selfies and receiving all the praise in world.

Everyone is just counting money, and they don’t struggle. There’s no pain, and there’s no sorrow. Yet, here you are in your trial. You ate a whole gallon of ice cream watching a series on Netflix. You start to resent them. You start to grow in anger against them. In our trials, our wicked heart will be exposed and comparison is how it plays itself out. When we’re enduring trials, we become hyper aware of the prettiness of other people’s lives, and we begin to resent them.

That’s why we have verse 9-11. James here via the power of the Holy Spirit is going, “No, no, no, no. It’s all level in the end. Don’t believe the Instagram hype.” You may not see it, but everyone endures trials. Everyone struggles. We all have seasons in which the sky is clear, and we all have seasons in which it’s cloudy. Be careful not to compare your reality with someone else’s highlight reel. God is leading us into maturity. He is showing us that what we really need is him.

In the middle of this fight, we’re going to need some encouragement. The Holy Spirit knows we’re going to need this so we get verses 12-18. Read V12-18.

Here is the argument. We need to see our trials as paths to maturity, and we need to understand that trials make us consciously aware that we need God. They make us aware of the only thing we actually really need. Then on top of that, be careful because you’re going to have to duke it out with doubt. It’s going to be a fight. If you’re not careful, comparison will tag team and jump in there. If you’re not careful, you’re going to be tempted and drawn by your own flesh to betray God’s invitation to maturity and reject what you actually need. That will lead to death.

Then did you notice what James starts to do in verse 16? This is where the encouragement comes in. He turns our eyes back to the person and the character of God. You’re in the midst of a trial? Don’t be deceived. Don’t be fooled. Your flesh is going to tempt you. You’re going to want to believe that God isn’t good. You’re going to wrestle with comparison and doubt. Don’t be deceived. Don’t be tricked. Then he moves on with this beautiful reminder. “Everything good and perfect has come down from the Father of lights.”

Regardless of the intensity of those trials that come into your life, one of the greatest anchors for your soul in those trials is that the greater your knowledge of the goodness and grace of God in your life, the more likely you are to praise him in the storm. Have you ever had the flu or been injured? Getting up and moving around and having energy is a gift from God. Those are a good thing. That means it has come down from the Father of lights. Physical strength. That is a gift from the Lord. When you think about it for 3 seconds, seeing God’s grace in your life is so easy to do because there’s so much of it. Tasting, seeing, feeling, hearing. All gifts of grace from the Father of Lights. Friends, family, the church, this youth group. All gifts from the Father of Lights.

Another thing we see in what we just read in verse 17 is there’s no variation, no change in Him. God never changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. How comforting is that to know that we don’t serve a fickle God? Regardless of where you are in life, God and His infinite love that He has for you is never-changing. 

Lastly, we read perhaps the most encouraging this so far in verse 18. “Of His own will he brought us forth.” This is where things get staggering. If you’re like, “Oh, I probably disgust him. I fall short. I can’t believe I wrestle with doubt,” here’s how James ends this whole idea of the day of trial. In our fight with doubt, in our fight with comparison, James wants to remind us of this: God chose you.

This whole thing was God’s idea! It was of his own will that he called you to himself. God looking out on the horizon of human history said, “I’m going to make that one a part of my family. I’m going to call him my own. I’m going to bring her into my own family, and I’m going to bestow upon them all the riches of my glory.” He chose you. He loves you.

That has been the main thrust of all we’ve been trying to say the last few weeks. Trials will come. Consider it all joy. God is good. He is for you. I’m not saying your trial is not awful. But you haven’t been betrayed. God loves you so much that he laid His life down for you. He wants what is best for you. These trials are God removing something that might hurt you for the gift of something that will bring nothing but ever-increasing joy — a relationship with Him. That’s not a bad trade. It might be a painful one but not a bad one.

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Doubting in the Trials

Last week, we talked about facing trials. We worked through James 1:2-5 and discussed two lens with which we are to view trials as a Christian. The first was that trials are a pathway to maturity. Trials are God’s way of shaping us and molding us more and more into the image of His Son. Trails are often times God’s tool for growing us in our faith. The second lens was that trials make us consciously aware of our need for God. When trials are present, we are forced to look outside ourselves for help. We are forced to look to God and to trust Him more than we ever had before. 

And now, as we’re looking our trials with these lens, we also see two pretty common fights that start to appear. Whenever we’re in our trials, there are two fights that we have to know that we are getting into. We’re only going to look at the first one tonight because I wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to thoroughly work through these two fights. The first is a fight with doubt.

Read V5-8. Here’s what just happened. You’re in this trial, whatever it may be, and God says, “You’re confused? Ask me, but don’t doubt. Because if you doubt, you shouldn’t expect anything from me. You’re a double-minded man.” But, you just told me if I was doubting to ask. How could you now say if I’m doubting, don’t ask? What are we supposed to do with that? Like did anyone hear that and just go, “Dang, man, that’s rough.”

There is this tension being shown here with faith and doubt. Whenever I think about this type of tension, I like to go to this scene in Mark 9 where this man brings his demon possessed son to be healed by Jesus. Turn there with me and follow along starting in verse 20. Read V20-22.

“And they brought the boy to [Jesus]. And when the spirit [the demon] saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And [the father] said, ‘From childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’”

Look at Jesus’ response. And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.’” Verse 24: “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief!’” He’s saying, “I believe, but help my unbelief! I believe you’re good. I believe you’re God. I believe you have this, but help me because part of me doesn’t.” Is there anyone in this room who can identify with this? Yes!

Now the question we should have reading this text is: Is that enough faith for the mercy and grace of God to work on our behalf? Let’s find out. Verses 25-26 say, “And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.”

Side note: notice how the spirits never argue with Jesus? There’s not like this great struggle where the demons and evil spirits are actually hurting or limiting Jesus. He has absolute authority and on his command they leave the boy forever. 

Here’s the good news. The good news is in that place where we’re fighting with doubt, and we’re going, “I believe, but I’m struggling to hang on to that belief.” God steps into that space, and that mustard seed of faith puts the Lord to work in our lives.

Like we said last week, we live in a fallen world and trials will come. Life has a way of beating us up from time to time. And in those moments, you will probably wrestle with doubt and shame. But we do not need to feel guilty about this. Obviously, to doubt everything all the time and to never wrestle with truth is bad. But there is a good kind of wrestling with doubt that leads to deeper intimacy with Jesus.

Remember, Jesus healed this man’s son! He cast out the demon. This guy was like, “If you can…” Then Jesus was like, “If I can? I can do anything for someone who believes.” Then, he heals his son. Let that encourage you. 

Back in James1:8, we read about the double-minded man is the man. This man is someone who is like, “I’m not going to worry. He is not going to help me.” He’s the one who’s not even crying out to God for help because he believes he won’t or can’t help. The double-minded man is all talk pretending to be all put together when he’s not. Stop with the fake nonsense. We have to quit pretending. How do you expect to win the fight with doubt when you can’t even admit that you’re in one?

Let this truth encourage you: God honors the fight. Oftentimes when we doubt, we like to mope around and drag our head. We get so shocked and sad that we’re struggling. Who told you that you wouldn’t struggle!? Of course you’re going to struggle. You’re a human being. Of course you struggle, but be encouraged because God honors the fight.

You are not going to be perfect and you don’t have to be perfect. Yes, we strive to be holy and to live our lives for God. Living our lives for Christ is both a way we love the people around us and bring glory to God. We want to be totally faithful in every area of life. But that won't always be the case, and God knows that. God knew what he was buying on the cross. He knew what he was getting with us! He is not changing his mind. He is not watching you and me screw up now and asking for the return policy.

He knew all of our failings, all of our shortcomings, and He covered them with His own blood. If you are wrestling with doubt, if you think you disgust God, remember the gospel. All the disgust God has for you was poured out in the brutal death of Jesus Christ on that cross. It was disgusting, all right. Look to the cross. It’s grimy and bloody. It’s full of agony and sorrow and loss. But all of his disgust towards you, Christian, is gone.

You’re wrestling with doubt? You feel like you’re constantly tossed about? Remember the gospel. Look to the cross. He absorbed it all. The reason Paul can so clearly say in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is the debt has been paid in full. Jesus paid it all. It’s not your works that give you a right standing with God. It’s Jesus’s work for you! You just need faith. Trials will come. And with those trials, doubt may come as well. Fight it. Fight it and know that God honors the fight because Jesus has paid it all.

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Lenses to View Trials

As we said last week, this fall we’re working through the book of James. James was written by the half-brother of Jesus. Kind of get your mind around that. He is the half-brother of Jesus. Like we said last week, we have evidence in Mark 3 that James, while Jesus was doing his earthly ministry, thought Jesus was crazy. He showed up with other family members and tried to grab him, because that’s what you do when your brother starts saying he is God. You come, and you grab him. You take him and have him locked up because he thinks he is God in the flesh. You’re like, “Man, I grew up with you in Egypt, bro. These magic tricks, they don’t fool me. Listen. I’m not buying it!”

However, right after the death of Jesus Christ, something happens where now all of a sudden James is convinced his half-brother is God in the flesh. Jesus was brutally, horrifically, and most importantly publicly crucified in front of thousands of people. Then, Jesus stayed dead for three days, rose from the grave, shows back up, and eats some fish with everyone. Consequently, James worships Jesus as Lord and Savior. James is one of the key leaders in the establishment of the first Christian church in Jerusalem and ultimately is martyred. He was commanded to recant his claim that his brother is God in the flesh, he refuses, and he has his skull bashed in.

That’s who wrote this book. He wrote it to Christians who were marginalized and pushed, pursued, and persecuted to the edges of the first-century world. Let’s jump right into this text starting in verse 2. Read V2-5.

When” - When you start talking about trials and struggles and difficulties, here’s what I love about the Bible: I love the griminess of the Bible. It’s not “pretty”. He doesn’t say, “If you experience trials or if you happen to be this small portion of people who are going to go through trials and struggles…” That’s not what he does, because that’s not the reality we live in. It’s not if. It is when. Every person is either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to go in to a trial. 

Various” - I love that James left us no wiggle room with this word. It literally means multi-faceted; all kinds. You might ask, “Do you mean being sick?” Well, that would fit under the category of various. “What about my friends rejecting me?” That is various. It all fits in right here. If you’re enduring a trial, it’s included.

Count it all joy” - This is the command we get right here. In other words, choose to have joy in every single trial. Joy is not the same thing as happiness. James is not saying, be happy. Happiness is a fleeting feeling based on circumstances. Joy is much deeper. Joy is an attitude of gratefulness. Therefore, the opposite of joy would not be sadness, but bitterness. Joy is not blind to the heartache or the trial. Rather it just chooses to see something of greater value beyond what’s right in front of them. It chooses to see that God is still good even when life is not.

So, not only are we going to endure trials, but the command of God is that we have joy in them! Right? How is that even possible? In any fight, it is good to know as much as possible about what is coming. Usually, the better you can see what’s coming, the better you know how to respond. Same thing here. It’s good we know trials are coming, but without the proper lenses to view the trials, we will miss the purpose and be destroyed. Outlined in the next few verses are two ways that we, believers in Christ, need to view trials. Worth noting, these are radically different views from the rest of the world.

First, trials are a pathway to maturity. Read V3-4. In every area of our life, we grow the most when we fail. We grow the most when we’ve been through something. We all know this is true, yet in our spiritual life, we want this instantaneous pixie-dust to automatically make us stop struggling with life. We want to believe that we can mature by not going through trials, but that’s just not true.

If you’re in the middle of the trial, maybe you’ve forgotten this. But those of us who have been through those dark nights of the soul and come out on the other side, we see how it’s shaped us. We see how we interact with our friends, how we walk alongside our family members, the patience we’re able to extend, the way we’re able to see what is important and what’s not important. The trial is a pathway to maturity. But that’s not the only lens we need to wear. Look at verse 5.

The first view is me on the path being matured by God and the second view is that trials help me be consciously aware of my need for God.

I’m willing to bet that when everything is going well, you feel very little if any sense or urgency to be near God. In fact, when things are going well, our hearts are so messed up that we’ll break our arms patting ourselves on our backs because we want to take credit for the good. Then, when something goes wrong, it is God who did it and it is all God’s fault. If everything is going great, “I don’t need God. I have this thing. I’m nailing it!” If everything goes bad, “I can’t believe this, God. This is unfair!” Those are our dark hearts. That’s how we operate.

In the days where trials are present, when we’re trying to walk and consider all things joy, let us become aware of our need for God and ask for wisdom. Let us say things like, “Help me understand this. I don’t get this, God.” Ask for wisdom in faith, and the Lord will respond. There is no sweeter place to be than in a position of absolute, complete, admitted dependance upon the God.

So, we have our new lenses on. Believers in Christ, here we are enduring a trial. Only now, we can say things like this, “Okay, I don’t quite fully understand it, but here’s the deal. I know God is maturing me. He is shaping me. He is forming me more and more and more into the image of the Son. I know I’m praying more. I’m clinging to him more. I’m getting what I really need. Not really what I want but what I need.” What a beautiful place to be. See, if we get Christ and lose everything else, we have everything. If we get everything else and don’t have Christ, we’ve lost everything. Trials in exchange for a deeper relationship with Jesus. This is not a bad trade.

Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” The nearness of God is our good. And the trials we endure in this fallen world, perhaps more than most other things, awaken us to this truth. In our trials we remember Jesus, who is called Immanuel (“God with us”), and the cross he bore for our sake. Can the waves of our trials drown us if we have a Substitute who endured the greatest trial in our place? Never!

Viewing trials through these two lenses, we can “learn to kiss the wave”. Christ is near to us and supreme over all things. And when there’s nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can separate us from Christ’s love, waves of trials can only throw us onto the Rock of Ages. And resting on that Rock is where I pray we stay.

Trials will come but count them as joy because God is good. Let me close with one of the sweetest promises in all of Scripture God makes to his children. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Thank you Lord.

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Also, this Sunday night, we'll be starting up our study on the Life of Joseph.

  • Who: High school and college aged students
  • What: This study will walk us through the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. 
  • When: 6:30pm - 7:45pm
  • Where: Price Ferrell's House (704 Haworth Ln in Gunter). Food and drinks will be provided.
  • Why: The goals of this study are to help us grow in our knowledge and love of God, to help us grow in our personal relationship with Him, and to help us grow in our relationships with one another.