A Word in Season
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4
Okay – I know I used the same scripture last week, but I must share this tidbit from James. James’ letter was written to those in the Dispersion. The Greek word is “diaspora” and means, “scattered.” It was a colloquial term for Jews who had left their homeland because of exile or persecution. Jame’s audience, specifically, were Christians (Jews who had chosen to follow Christ) who were now living abroad. Why were they living abroad? To answer this, there are two verses from Acts to help us. First, Acts 1:8, which records the outline for the entire book of Acts, and the summary of the first chapter of Church History. Jesus is speaking to the remaining eleven disciples, just before he ascended, and he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This is the 4 stage process; 1) Holy Spirit brings power, 2) Witness in Jerusalem 3) Witness in Judea 4) Witness in Samaria 5) Witness to the ends of the earth. The first four stages went fairly rapidly, and we are still in stage 5. Now – let’s look at Acts 8:1. It says, “On that day (the day that Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was executed) a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered (diaspora) throughout Judea and Samaria.” It strikes me that James was writing this letter to the very people who were carrying out stages 3 and 4 of God’s plan. They had scattered from Jerusalem, not leaving by choice, but fleeing persecution. They ran for their lives, but they didn’t go silently. They went with the song of praise, and ready to tell their own story (or witness) as they went. Armed with personal stories of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, they went to Judea (immediate region outside of Jerusalem) and to Samaria. Next stop? The Ends of the Earth. Please note – it was trial, hardship, persecution that provided the necessary momentum to move God’s plan forward. I hope that you find comfort in the fact that God can use even the horrible stuff of life to move his plan forward. In fact, redemption is rather his specialty. As you anticipate the year that stretches out before us, dedicate it all, even the hardships, to his glory, and choose right now to trust him through it all.
Respond: Spiritual Exercise for week of January 19, 2014
Count it Pure Joy
Start with last week’s Spiritual Exercise:
Make a quick list of 3 to 5 “trials” you have experienced in the last few years. For each one, articulate a benefit, or a positive element found in them. This exercise may not work for the trials you are currently facing. Sometimes, close proximity masks the benefits. If there are past trials for which you cannot find a single redeeming feature, ask God for that insight. Once you have the list complete, thank God for those benefits. Take each one in turn and consider it a joy to have the insight only available through the trial.
Tell Your Story
Count it Pure Joy
Now…Please choose one of the trials you isolated last week, and articulate it in story form. Write it out, describing the conflict or trial, then finish the story by recounting God’s redeeming work. For example, if you were one of James’ friends, you would tell the story of Jesus, then how Stephen was stoned to death, and you were forced to flee Jerusalem. You would talk about how Jesus changed your life, and why it is worth following him even if you lose your home, and your family disowns you, and you have to move to a new city.