Text: James 1:2-4
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
August 30, 2015
Have you seen the bumper sticker that says: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade? It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact it is biblical! The Bible is filled with people who have turned defeat into victory and trials into triumphs. Instead of being victims, they became victors! What could have been stumbling blocks became stepping stones.
Starting today and for the next several Sundays, the New Testament reading will be taken from the Epistle of James. James, the brother of our Lord offers a key which unlocks our understanding into the nature of successful Christian living. Let me read to you again what he has written:
“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Therefore let perseverance finish its work that you may be made mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”
In these three short verses James provides us with four dimensions of the life we can have as a Christian. These dimensions include: 1) our Assumptions; 2) our Aspiration; 3) our Assurance and 4) our Attitude.
Let us look at each of these in turn. Frist let’s look at the Assumptions that are necessary for us to hold if we expect to be successful as a Christian.
Assumption number 1. “Trials are inevitable.” In James’ understanding, these are outward circumstances that come our way. Things over which we have no control and cannot avoid. In his words these may come as an “angel of light” to tempt or entice us, or they may come as a “roaring lion” to overwhelm us and lead us to despair. Although these are natural occurrences, James believes that our enemy uses them for his purposes, seeking to leave us powerless, or worse yet to turn us to anger so that we lash out against others.
We see these activities at work in the life of our Lord, at his birth when Herod sought to take his life, again when he was tempted in the wilderness before he began his ministry. We see it again when he was in the garden the night he was arrested. He prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Such trials are inevitable. They come to all of us. Often they come upon us out of the blue when we least expect it.
Assumption # 2: “Head knowledge can never replace Experience.” Don’t get me wrong. I respect the value of a good formal education. I have been a student most of my life. The knowledge and insight we gain through such a process is immense. Indeed all of civilization is passed on and developed through such a process. But such knowledge must be experienced, applied, incarnated in our lives if it truly is to be a lesson learned. For example, I thought I knew all there was to know about marriage. Then I married Bonnie!
It is not surprising that James uses the same word that is used for human sexuality in the Old Testament. “And Adam knew his wife Eve and she conceived and bore a son. In our New Testament reading today, James writes, “For you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Folks, James is not talking here about knowledge you gain in the classroom!
Assumption # 3: “Acquiring such knowledge is usually painful.” Whether it is a momentous event like the unexpected loss of a loved one, a tragic accident or a deadly disease or the more common everyday occurrence like a quarrel with a spouse, experiencing such knowledge that brings new insight does not come without pain. Our reaction often is to withdraw and thereby become enslaved to the event. On other occasions we lash out and thereby extending the pain to others.
Assumption # 4: “Christ has conquered the demonic. It need not have power over our lives!” This is the good news which stands at the heart of the Gospel. If we do not understand this we will never comprehend what James is saying to us. Rather, we will try to overcome the power of sin through our own self-effort. We will be doomed to failure and end in utter despair.
No! In the midst of such a trial we must remember, “I can’t but God has!” He will transform that which would be a stumbling block into a stepping stone of faith. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers after they had sold him into slavery: “you meant it for evil, but God has used it for good!”
What is true for an individual is also true for a community of faith. We have become all too aware of the potential destructive power and painful consequence such knowledge can have. I am here to assure you this morning that if we collectively offer our pain to God and not try to “fix” the situation, we will experience His transforming power.
These assumptions lead to the second point James makes. As Christians we have a goal, we are headed somewhere. Certainly, heaven is our ultimate destiny. But that is not what James has in mind. Here on earth, God’s call to us is to steadfastness, stability, maturity. As James puts it later in his letter, we are not to be sent for a loop by every wind and wave or every fiery dart sent our way. Rather those very things, these trials, become the agents of transformation in the hands of our Lord. He will use them to accomplish His purpose in our lives. His argument goes like this. “Since trials are inevitable, and since they are designed to bring about your maturity through the transforming power of God, then, let this process have its full effect. Don’t fight it, embrace it!”
It is at this point in the process that we get nervous. “Fr. Bill,” I can almost hear some of you thinking, “this sounds fine in theory, but if you really knew my situation, you would know it couldn’t possibly apply. What possible good can come out of the situation I’m facing?” How well I understand. I have said the same thing to God countless times in my life. The longer I live, the more convinced I become that none of us left to our own resources can bring ourselves to fully place our trust in God. It is only as we encounter such circumstances in our life which brings us to the end of our tether that in an act of desperation we make the leap of faith. When that happens, we discover to our surprise that indeed, in our weakness, God is our strength!
The Bible records such experiences of those who have gone before us. Those testimonies begin to make sense as we discover those “fiery darts” which are intended to destroy us only serve to strengthen our faith and accomplish God’s purpose in our lives. As we put God’s word to the test He comes through for us. When faced with the next situation it builds confidence that he will come through for us again.
The assurance that comes through such experience leads James to write about our attitude. Has anyone ever said to you: “You have got an attitude?” What did they mean? James says the attitude that should characterize the Christian is “Joy.” “Count it all Joy my brothers and sisters when you encounters various trials.”
Such an emotion does not deny that we encounter these rugged places in our journey. Rather we learn through these experiences that our outward circumstances need not adversely affect an inward sense of well-being. Rather our internal compass becomes increasingly governed by the conviction that what we are presently experiencing will ultimately transform our lives for the better. It stems from the realization that our Heavenly Father is in ultimate control. He does not will our hurt. It is the demonic who seeks to destroy. Christ has defeated Satan. Our Father in heaven is able to take all that Satan can throw at us and transform it for God’s glory and our ultimate good.
If we act on the principle that James has set forth, I guarantee that when we look back on the lemon we have been handed we will be a better church, not a bitter one. Then we can drink a toast. Its contents will be lemonade.