Monday, December 30, 2013

Perseverance

I did it!!!

I finished reading through the Bible in a year!

Actually I finished it a couple of weeks ago.  Then I got sick.  Now I am finally ALL BETTER! 

FINALLY!

And I couldn't wait to get back into the Word.  So a couple of days ago I opened up my Bible... and just stared at.  

I wasn't sure where I was supposed to turn.  What should I read? Do I start over?  Do I try the flip and point method?  What am I supposed to read next?  Well for whatever reason I settled on James.  My youngest child is named James (although we call him JT) and it seemed like as good a place as any to start.  

Instead of reading the 5-7 chapters a day I had been reading I wanted to just focus on a few verses at a time so I read chapter 1:1-4.  That's it.  And I have been thinking of those 4 verses ever since.  

Scholars estimate the book of James was written around AD 50 for the purpose of  encouraging Jewish Christians in their faith.  Many Christians during this time were being persecuted and as a result fled Jerusalem, scattering throughout the surrounding lands.  

James attempts to encourage these Christians by telling them to "consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials."  These trials will help develop perseverance (one of my least favorite words).  This perseverance will help you become mature and complete in your faith.  Ugh, perseverance, the mere mention of the word causes me to shutter.  The thing about perseverance is you KNOW it's going to be hard.  Nothing that is easy has ever required perseverance.  By it's very definition to "persevere" means to be steadfast despite difficulty.  There is no doubt about it, perseverance is tough!  James isn't the only who uses that exact word to encourage Christians.  Paul uses it often too (Romans 5:3-4, 2 Cor. 12:12, 2 Thess 1:4).  So I am left wondering, why?  Why is perseverance so important and what does James know about it?

To begin with, I am guessing James know quite a bit about trials and perseverance   Scholars believe that this James is not Jesus disciple named James, rather, THIS James was Jesus 1/2 brother.  The oldest son of Mary and Joseph.  This James grew up with Jesus, he knew him his whole life.  

Perhaps it is because of the Christmas season, but I have found myself wondering this week what that would have been like for James, to grow up with Jesus.  Of course Mary and Joseph knew from conception how very very special Jesus was, but do you think they told their other children?  Or did they simply raise Jesus just like they did their other kids, with the same chores and responsibilities?  Did they tell the other kids about his birth?  How it came about and  who all was there?  Mary pondered these things in her heart, yes, but did she ever share the story with her other children?  Did they ever tell the other kids who Jesus REAL father was?  We know Jesus had several other brothers and sisters (Matthew 13:55), and we know that initially in his ministry his brothers did not believe in him, they didn't understand who he was or what he was doing (John 7:2-5).  So my guess is Mary and Joseph never told them.  I don't know definitively, it's just my guess.  But I think all James saw, initially, was his big brother.  Not God himself.

And I imagine that it made it really, really difficult... trying even... when Jesus first began his ministry.  I imagine that James, even more than the disciples, faced ridicule and persecution.  Let's admit it, we have all had times when our family has embarrassed us.  But claiming to be God's son?  That has to take the cake!  The people from Jesus home town were not accepting of him, we know this from Matthew 13 and Luke 4.  Jesus was able to shake off the ridicule, he WAS the Son of God and he knew it!  He KNEW he would be rejected and it never bothered him, but how do you think it was for his family?  For his brothers?  For James, the younger brother who looked up to him, who wanted to be just like his older brother?  Don't you think it took some perseverance to get through those time?  

I have never been truly persecuted for my faith.  I have never been in any danger or had my life threatened.  But I have been left out.  I have been teased.  I know people who have judged me as less because I put God before the rest of the world.  I have been embarrassed of and by my faith before, especially in my younger days.  And it has taken perseverance (I still REALLY don't like that word) to get where I am today.  To be mature and confident in my faith.  To know the people who judge me as less are wrong, and to love them anyway. 

Do I like the idea of perseverance?  No, not at all.  But I think both James and Paul were right.  Growth is hard.  Maturity is difficult.  And they both require perseverance.