I had a wonderful time praying with the staff of Restore tonight. Restore is a restoration center that has been rescuing, healing, and serving the young victims of cyber sex trafficking in Cebu, Philippines for the past 2 years. Can I ask for prayers for them please? Things are a bit stricter there for their lock down so people can’t leave their homes. So for the time being, the Restore counseling staff can’t see the kids that they have been serving, thus adding to the already deep trauma for the children. The safehouse workers are also under increased stress with the lock down in place and the children who want to go outside. Many of the poorer families are in need of food and toiletries. Pray for God to provide a way for food and other needs to brought to them. (Churches in Cebu, can you reach out to Restore and connect with these families?) And as most companies and nonprofits are feeling the financial effects of Covid-19, (as much as you are able) please continue to give to the churches and ministries you have been supporting. And if you feel led, you can give a donation to Restore at their website. God was moving powerfully as we prayed. We also felt led to pray many prayers of repentance for our nation and for the sins of our generation. These have been things God’s been placing on my heart the past several days. Let’s continue to seek the Lord in this unique season of our lives.
Dear Church. This is Not Business As Usual. It is a Season to Repent, Fast, and Pray.
Dear Church. This is not business as usual with the exception that everything is online now. People have died by the thousands over the past few days. Tens of thousands have entered eternity in the past few weeks. Many are entering a Christ-less eternity. People are dying. Creation is groaning. The church must be praying. There has never been such a clear, in-your-face, signal of urgency from heaven like this in our lifetime before. He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
This isn’t the time to simply pray for a few seconds, watch Netflix, and wait for things to return back to normal. Being the Church in this hour isn’t about learning how to broadcast our services online. Being the Church in this hour isn’t about how to get “more views” for our church services online. Being the Church in this hour is about being the Church. Loving God and loving our neighbors. Living the gospel and declaring the gospel. Being the Church in this hour is about repenting of the sins in the Church that have become far too comfortable in our hearts for far too long. Being the Church in this hour is about repenting of the sins of our nation and of our generation. Sins of prayerlessness. Sins of spiritual apathy. Sins of adultery. Sins of abortion. Sins of racism. Sins of greed. Sins of idolatry. Sins of spiritual abuse. Sins of pride. Sins of pornography. Sins of lust. Sins of sexual abuse. Sins of narcissism. Sins of ambition. Sins of wanting to be a celebrity and worshipping celebrities instead of following Christ. Sins of selfishness. Sins of impatience. Sins of unkindness. Sins of jealousy. Sins of loving this world, more than longing for Jesus. Sins that Jesus came to die for. This is how we need to be preparing for Easter. By examining our hearts and seeing that we are still in desperate need of a Savior. Yes, our neighbors need to hear the gospel. Yes, our neighborhoods need revival. And that revival needs to begin in our own hearts first. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Our concern in this hour should be to humble ourselves before our holy God and pray to Him. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24) God is calling us to repent. To turn from sin and to trust in Him. God is shaking the world. God is shaking His Church in this hour. He is not coming to us in a whisper. He is screaming. Arise! Awake! Repent! For the Kingdom of God is near! “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) It is Spring cleaning for the family of God, therefore we must repent, fast, and pray.
More than prayer meetings, we need to see prayer movements rise up. God is calling the Church to pray. We must live in the place of prayer, and fasting must become a normal part of our discipleship. Church leaders, allow prayer and fasting to become central parts of your church’s life and culture. Lead your people into His Throne Room and call them to intercede. Call them to fast - a meal, a day, several days, and let it become a regular part of their lifestyle. John Piper calls fasting, “a hunger for God.” May our hearts be marked by that hunger.
We are in a physical and spiritual battle. Therefore we must fight on our knees for a breakthrough in this pandemic. We must fight on our knees for healing, for a vaccine, for the provision of supplies, for protection for medical professionals. We must fight on our knees for hearts to return to Christ. We rejoice in seeing so many doctors and nurses praying before, during, and after their shifts - on the rooftops, in the hallways, and in the ER. We rejoice that God is moving. We must follow His lead. We must move with His Spirit that is drawing all men and women and children to Himself. We must fight on our knees for wisdom to be released in greater measure over our leadership. We must pray for God to use President Trump and other world leaders for the good of the people and for the glory of God. We must pray against racism and for a spirit of compassion and kindness to reign in our communities. We must pray for homes to be filled with love and forgiveness, joy and laughter. We must pray for the Church to repent and pray.
God is calling His Bride to turn from sin and return to Him. For He is our hope. Jesus will heal. Jesus will restore. Jesus is coming back to make all things new. And Jesus is coming back soon. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.
There is so much pain. There is such great urgency. There is so much to pray for. There is so much at stake. And there is hope. Jesus is the hope of the world.
Brothers and sisters … let us pray to Him, trust Him, treasure Him, and point the world to Him.
The Next 2 Challenges the Church Must Prepare For in the Covid-19 Era
As the reality of this Covid-19 pandemic settles in more and more, with no clear end in sight, the stress and strains on relationships and within our own minds will likely increase. Those of us who have been asked to shelter in place will be encountering a new wave of challenges. And we as church leaders need to do our best to be ready to face these challenges and find ways to help our churches deal with them. Two challenges in particular that we need to prepare our churches for are mental health issues and marriage and family conflicts.
Mental Health Resources
The awareness of and acceptance of mental health issues within the church is finally getting some traction. Millions are affected by mental illness in the US each year. In fact, over 47.6 million American adults (19.1% of the US adult population) experienced some form of mental illness in 2018. And 7.7 million youth (16.5%) aged 6-17 experienced mental illness in the US in 2016. This is a huge issue for our generation and chances are, with all the stress and worry that comes from the Covid-19 virus spreading each day, along with the stay-at-home orders, these numbers for mental illness will only increase. We don’t want to minimize the care that they need, especially when professional intervention is needed, but as pastors, I do want to put this issue on our radar so that we can begin thinking about how we can minister to them more effectively. Chances are high that many will be experiencing degrees of mental illness in the days to come. Here's an excellent article by my colleague at Talbot, Kevin Van Lant, on What Every Pastor Needs to Know About Mental Health and the Church. We may not be experts on this issue, but as pastors, we can provide some basic steps to alleviate some of the mental strain.
Marriage and Family Conflict Resources
We are being forced to deal with issues in ourselves and our relationships that we have normally ignored or buried under our work. But as time at home increases, tensions will also increase. So we need to be ready to help our congregation deal with increased relational stress as these weeks turn into months. You can consider doing a sermon (or series) on Jesus’ model for handling conflict and sin through Matthew 18:15-19.
I was able to talk with my friend Chuck Starens recently, who is a gifted relationship coach. He and others have noted a rise in relational stress and even requests for divorce in the US and other countries that have been under lock down these past few weeks. He offers some excellent tools that can strengthen your marriage during this time instead of seeing it grow tense. Here are some great suggestions he offers:
For both of these upcoming (or current) challenges that will most certainly grow in our congregations, it’s important not to carry all these burdens alone. Like Jethro teaching Moses about the wisdom of delegation in Exodus 18, be wise enough to equip others to do the work of the ministry with you. One important and strategic piece of advice I’d offer is to partner with your small group leaders to shepherd your flock.
One More (for Later): An Increased Importance of Counseling for Ministry
Things will never be the same after this. But one thing to prepare for when we go back to our regular lives is the increased role of counseling in our ministries. The whole world is going through trauma right now. It will have great implications in the months and years to come, and it will effect people differently. Some won't feel the effects of this unique season until many weeks or even months later. So begin asking the Lord what it will look like to provide counseling and care to process the trauma for this season. Will it mean hiring a counselor on your staff? Will it mean further training for yourself, your leadership, your small group leaders in counseling or trauma care? Will it mean a closer partnership with counselors in your congregation and your community? These will be important things to think through. You and I will probably need to see a counselor too, and that'll be part of the healing process.
We are in uncharted territory and living in unprecedented times. And if you feel like you don’t know what to do, that’s totally okay. We begin by doing what we know to do - and that is to come before God humbly in prayer and before His Word. Come before God and ask for wisdom. Come before God and ask for mercy. Come before God and ask for strength. But the one thing we know to do each day … is to come before God.
Prayers We Must Be Praying Right Now
A Prayer Guide for the Church During Covid-19
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 ESV)
As this Covid-19 virus is exploding globally each day, we need to see an even more explosive growth of prayer by the Church in this hour. We do not operate out of fear or panic, but we can’t deny that we are in time of great urgency. The sense of urgency for prayer has only been growing in my heart with each passing day. Church, this is our hour to pray. As I wrote in a previous blog post, we are clearly in a new season that we must be aware of and respond to properly. God is sounding the alarm clearly and loudly for His bride to awake from her slumber.
What We Must Be Praying for in This Hour
While there are many important things we can be praying for at this time, I sense a great urgency to call the Church to be in daily prayer for these things:
Pray for an End to the Spreading of Covid-19
The numbers we are seeing each day are staggering. As of today, there are over 640,000 cases worldwide and almost 30,000 who have died. There is little sign that this is slowing down. Let us pray specifically for the end of this virus.
Pray for a Cure and Vaccine to Be Found
Pray for the pharmaceutical and research companies who are testing for possible vaccines. Pray that there will be a breakthrough soon and proper medication would be created that would provide relief for those infected.
Pray for Healing and Comfort
Pray that God would heal the hundreds of thousands who are sick and suffering because of this virus. With almost 30,000 who have died globally because of the virus, many more are mourning their loss. Pray that those who have lost loved ones would be comforted as they grieve the loss of these precious family members.
Pray for Strength and Protection for Healthcare Professionals
Not enough can be said about the heroic efforts that are being done right now for our healthcare professionals. They are literally risking their lives to provide care for the sick. The physical, emotional, mental, and relational toll that they are under is unprecedented in our lifetime. Pray for God to strengthen each one of them, as well as their family members. Pray for grace to cover over their spouses and children too.
Pray for Wisdom for Leadership
Pray that God would give divine wisdom and right counsel to our local and national governing leaders. Regardless of your political views, we are called by God to cover our leaders in prayer. (1 Timothy 2:2) We are all in uncharted territory and need to extend much grace to our leaders as they seek to make the right decisions and the tough calls.
Pray for Love and Compassion to Grow
There has been an increase of racist acts and hate crimes against Asians due to the fact that the virus started in Wuhan, China. We naturally want to blame someone for our suffering. We want to focus on our anger and frustration on someone or something. And unfortunately, Asians are being targeted. Pray that love and compassion for one another would grow as we realize we are all in this together. “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) Pray that hatred would decrease and a spirit of compassion and kindness would grow in our communities.
Pray for Patience and Joy at Home
With millions around the world staying at home, we need to pray for much peace and patience to fill our homes. Many parents are experiencing the challenges of homeschooling or online learning while appreciating teachers more and more with each passing day! Pray for eyes to see each other and this season as a gift. Pray for joy that isn’t dependent on circumstances but rises above it.
Pray for Hearts to Turn to Christ
Pray that this difficult season would be used to turn hearts to Christ. My followers of Christ look to Him each day, humbly dependent upon Him. Let us make the place of prayer our home. Let us pray for our nation and this generation to return to the Lord. Pray for those who have yet to know Christ to find the peace that only He can give. Pray for those who filled with worry, fears, and anxiety come to the Savior who alone is the hope of the world. May the peoples of all nations know Christ and sing His praises.
Therefore, Church, let us pray.
Creation is groaning. The world is grieving. The Church must be praying.
Church, let us pray.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6 ESV)
7 Things to Do in This Season of Uncertainty
A Surprising New Season
The world has changed this year in ways none of us would’ve ever anticipated. While this has surprised most of us, this hasn’t surprised God. He who knows the number of the hair on our heads, and guides the hearts of kings, also is sovereign and supreme over every cell, every virus, over every city, and over every season. There are seasons for everything the book of Ecclesiastes tells us. A time to laugh, a time to cry. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to break down and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3). We are clearly in a new season of life. Life seems so uncertain now, but what can we know for sure? And what can be certain of in our lives? What is God leading us to do in this new season? While we can never fully understand the ways of God (Isaiah 55:8-9), His Word gives us steps we can take in uncertain times. Here are some steps that are clear for us right now.
A Season to Pause
Now more than ever, our souls need to be still each day. We need to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). There is heightened stress, fear, and anxiety in our world today. While a few countries are seeing the numbers of infections decline, as I write this, most countries are seeing those numbers escalate each day. Begin crafting new habits. Begin each day by being still and surrendering your heart, your life, your family, your career before the One who reigns and rules over all things. That stillness each day is good for your mind, your body, your faith, and your leadership. It is a unique season of sabbath, where God is taking us out of our normal routines of life in order to be centered around Him again. Let a heart of surrender to His sovereignty be where you begin each day. When you wake up simply say, “God, I surrender. You are God. You reign. You are greater. You are in control. And I surrender all to You. You will be exalted in the nations. You will be exalted over all the earth. I exalt You right now.”
A Season to Pray
Closely connected to my first point of pausing is that we have a new season for praying. For many of us, we have a unique opportunity to have extended time at home and more flexibility with our time like never before. To pray always is God’s clear will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We no longer have the excuse of not having enough time to pray. Take advantage of this season to deepen your prayer life. We need this. Our soul needs this. Our family needs this from us. Our ministry needs this from us. And our Father in heaven longs to spend unhurried time with us. With the burdens and stress that come upon us each day, we need to cast all our cares, worries, and burdens to Jesus knowing that He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Could it be that God is calling His Church to intercede for our world, our nation, and our generation like never before? Could it be the need for prayers is so urgent from the heart of God, that He has allowed all of us to have extended periods of days, weeks, and even months to increase our prayers for our leaders, our neighbors, the sick, the health care professionals, the schools, and the nations? Yes, pray for your family and loved ones, but don’t stop there. As a family, pray for those who are sick and vulnerable. Pray for wisdom for our President and mayors and governors. Each time you wash your hands, pray for healing, protection, and revival. We are in a season where God is calling us to pray. Learn to make prayer your home.
A Season to Play
God is giving many of us a very unique and rare season to have extended time on our hands. And for those with children, it is a special season to pour into them. If your kids are young, don’t let the news of sickness and death dominate their days. Instead, turn the TV off and create wonderful memories for them. Play games with them. Do sports in the backyard. Make puzzles and Legos together. Put a tent in the backyard or living room and camp out with them. Paint, color, draw, make a YouTube channel together with their talents. Work on a home project together. Exercise as a family. Take advantage of this season because it will be gone one day. We may remember this as a difficult period in our lives, but they may remember it as some of the best days of their lives because it was time spent with you. Enjoy it. Enjoy them. They are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). Play with them to the glory of God.
A Season to Praise
There are many messages that will speak fear into our hearts today. But we are not a people of fear, but a people of faith. As the Israelites would put the praise leaders on the frontlines before entering battle, we too need to fix our gaze and release the praise out of our hearts and into the courts of heaven. Praise and worship are powerful. It can strengthen and encourage our hearts during this uncertain period we are in. Fill your mouth and your homes with His praises. Let everything that has breath in your homes, praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). Let your family be marked with worship instead of worry. And parents, you need to lead the way. Fight the fight of faith by fixing your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Sing of His goodness. Sing of His might. Tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord (Psalm 78:6). Let this season be remembered for the songs that were sung to the Savior of the world.
A Season to Put God’s Word in Your Heart
I want to encourage you to fill your mind with God’s Word and to meditate on it day and night (Joshua 1:8). If you’ve never done so yet, commit to memorize a book of the Bible (maybe begin with Ephesians or Philippians). You know the best way to memorize a book of the Bible? One verse at a time. And think of it as a lifelong goal to have. Do one verse a week and keep building on that. During your morning devotions, review it. Especially for those who have trouble falling asleep right away at night, use that time to go over all those verses. I’ve been going through Ephesians for the past year and I’ve allowed my time at night to be where I review those chapters before I fall asleep. (Driving is another good time to review them). We have time now to reprioritize our lives and shape our schedules so that we are shaped by His Word. Make the best use of time (Ephesians 5:16) and let this be a season of saturating your life with Scripture.
A Season to Practice Hospitality
While we practice “social distancing”, we must not let it become social isolating. Reach out to neighbors and loved ones via phone calls, texting, and video calls. Let them know that you are thinking of them and see if they have any needs. If you know of neighbors who are elderly or have physical challenges, find ways to serve them. Maybe drop off some groceries or a meal for them. If you know of health care professionals or emergency responders, offer to look after their kids or drop off some food for them. This is a special season we are in, especially for the local church to be light of Christ to our communities. With wisdom, seek ways to bless your community in practical ways. Serving the needs of others is a way of expressing the love of God into their lives (1 John 3:17). Let them see your good deeds and bring glory to the Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
A Season to Preach Christ and the Hope of the Gospel
As a pastor for the past 25 years, I can’t end without a special word of encouragement to my fellow shepherds. I will write another post specifically to pastors, but for now, I want to give you this charge: preach Christ and the hope of the gospel. Consider doing a sermon series through the book of 1 Peter, Job, Revelation, or James. In every crisis, hearts become softer to the gospel. People are fearful, stressed, and worried. Understandably so. But for those of us in Christ, we know the One who holds tomorrow in the palm of His hands. We know the One who with one word, spoke creation into existence. We know the One who lifts up His voice and the earth melts (Psalm 46:6). We know the One who can calm the storm and that can calm the child. We know the One who conquered sin and its curse on the cross. And we know the One who will return, one day soon, to make all things new. Jesus is coming to take us home. So thank God that this season is a reminder that creation is groaning for the return and redemption of Christ. Thank God that this season is a reminder that this world, in its current form, is not our home. And thank God that one day soon, the curse will forever be lifted and we will rule and reign with Christ forever. A day is coming where there will be no more sickness, viruses, or fear. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4). This is the hope your people need. This is the hope we all need. Preach Christ, the hope of the world.
Turning Trials into Treasures
Series: The Book of James - When Faith Works
One test concerning the genuineness of a diamond is for a jeweler to place it in clear water. A real diamond will sparkle with a special brilliance, while an imitation stone will have no sparkle at all. When placed side-by-side, even an untrained eye will be able to easily tell the difference between the two. And in a similar way, there is a test that makes clear the kind of strength and genuineness of faith that resides within a believer. It is a test that will show if faith is alive or dead. It is the test of suffering in our lives. This is the test that is spoken of first in the book of James. Throughout this letter of James, he will contrast the sparkle of true faith verses the signs of dead faith.
Back in 2013, I was pastoring in South Korea and was able to witness a church come alive as we lived out our faith in ways I had never seen before. It was a special season of ministry where we were able to bring change in Korea as a church. Within a few years, we were able to change 15 laws (10 concerning trafficking and 5 concerning adoption), we helped rescue and restore many survivors of sex trafficking in Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines. We were a part of a growing adoption and orphan care movement for Asia, and helped many single moms and vulnerable groups in Korea. We were becoming alive in our faith because it was no longer just an individual faith that was expressed only on the weekends. It was exciting to see a church rise up that was committed to declaring the gospel as well as demonstrating the gospel in our cities and through our lives.
This book of James was a key part of our understanding the biblical basis through which we were living out our faith. And this first in a series of studies will look at how true faith works.
The letter begins with this:
James 1:1 ESV James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
James was the brother of Jesus and a leader in the church in Jerusalem. James is writing this to the churches dispersed in the region and around the world to those going through suffering and he is seeking to connect what we believe with how we live. And speaking to the suffering today, his word is one of pastoral encouragement so we see suffering in its proper light. And when we are able to see it properly, we can also turn these trails into treasures.
So how can we turn trials into treasures? One thing we must do is ...
Trust God through every trial
James 1:2 ESV Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
He begins by saying, “Consider it all joy” or pure joy when we “meet trials of various kinds.” Sounds strange at first, doesn’t it? How in the world can we be joyful during our difficulties? Why does he say this to believers?
Because trials can deepen and develop our faith in a way that nothing else can.
The joy we have is not in the suffering but in the fruit that comes out of suffering in the end. Just as the joy of childbearing is not in the pain of labor, but in the joy of delivery and seeing the child in the very end.
Stacy was the wife of one of my youth pastor’s back in Korea and she went through over 36 hours of labor! That is a pain that no man will ever know. The joy of hearing someone go into labor is not because the mom is experiencing deep hurt, but because we know very soon, there will be great happiness at the birth of a child. So consider it a joy when you are in the pains of labor because you know that it’s just a matter of time before you will see new life.
For the believer in Christ, all pain serves a greater purpose. All pain.
How do we know this? Verse 3 says:
3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
All pain is a test of faith.
What do we believe about God?
What do we believe about God’s promises?
Will I still trust in God’s Word?
Will I still trust in God’s character and goodness?
Nothing tests our faith in God like suffering. Nothing.
Suffering reveals faith. And it refines faith. But it also stretches faith and and it strengthens faith, when we choose to trust Him. We can trust God in our suffering because God is doing something in the midst of it. God is producing something within the pain.
3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces ... steadfastness.
God is doing something in us, producing something in us, during the trial … as we trust.
If you are a child of God, then God brings pain not to punish us, but to purify us and to prune us. Therefore trust Him through every trial! In Christ, all things have a purpose. And even pain has a redemptive purpose. For God is committed to savings and to sanctifying us to be more like Christ.
Romans 8:29 ESV For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
God is not committed to your comfort but to do whatever it takes to conform you into the image of His Son. So the question in our suffering is not, “Why?” - which is often the first question we ask. It is not about asking, “Why are you doing this?” or “Why did you allow this?” That question has already been answered. God has allowed it into your life in order to somehow, someway, form Christ in you.
So instead of asking, “Why?”, the better question to ask is, “What?” “What are you trying to do in me through this situation to make me more like Christ?”
But it’s so hard to believe and see what God is trying to do, isn’t it? It’s hard to know what steps to take in the midst of our suffering. This is why we need His wisdom to guide us. So in order to see your suffering properly, and in order to respond to suffering properly, we need wisdom from God. Therefore pray for it.
So verse 5 says:
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
So pray in faith, without doubting His goodness or His character. Because the one who doubts God’s character and goodness is unstable. Why? Because there is no foundation. Thus, they will move because of the wind. But people of faith will move because of the Word. True wisdom is more than just “what to do”, it’s about knowing who to trust and who to follow.
7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
He will not receive what he asks for because his hands of faith are not held out to trust that he will receive something good from the Father’s hand. A sign of trust is seen in open hands to receive.
When my son, Enoch, was 2 years old, he would smile at everyone, but he wouldn’t go into the arms of everyone. He would only open his arms to those whom he trusted. And that’s a reflection of our hearts too. We open up our hearts and hands and arms only those that we trust. And in our storms, God is asking us to open our arms, trust Him, and enter His embrace.
9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Why does James suddenly talk about money after talking about trials and suffering? And why does he say the rich are in a lowly position while the poor are in a better position? It’s because difficulties reveal our dependance. Hard times show us what we are holding onto for strength, comfort, and hope. For those with great wealth, the temptation is to trust in bank accounts to get them through life.
How do you answer this statement: “As long as I have _______________ in the future, I’ll be okay.”
As long as I have money?
As long as I have a spouse?
Or as long as I have God, I’ll be okay.
When life gets hard, we see what we are depending on to get us through. Some people will shop, others will sleep, many will eat, and still others will drink coffee to get them through hard times. But faith-filled people will pray and trust God though every trial.
Another element of handling trials properly is when we ...
Treasure God through every trial
James 1:12 ESV Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
Blessed and happy is the one who remains steadfast in faith, trusting in God under trials, because when we have passed the tests of suffering, pain, and loss, and still trust Him, we will receive the crown of life - faith’s reward.
Look again at what the end of verse 12 says:
James 1:12 ESV Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
He doesn’t say to those who “trust Him”, it says for those who love Him! What is that test? It is a test for you to see who you love more! Do you love yourself more or God? Do you love comfort more or God? Do you love pleasure more or trust treasure in Christ? Because holding onto Christ in the midst of pain and suffering is declaring from your heart, “Jesus, I love You more.” It’s telling Jesus that we love Him more than comfort, more than our loss, and even more than our lives. That kind of heart brings great glory to Jesus and brings a crown of life on your head.
One of my favorite songs that reminds me of this kind of love is the old song from Hillsong, Jesus Lover of My Soul. The chorus goes, “I love You, I need You, though my world my fall, I’ll never let You go.”
I think that line depicts the kind of love this verse is talking about. So many times we love to declare how God’s love is unconditional love for us. No matter what happens, no matter what we do, God loves us. Without condition, He loves us! And what an amazing love that is. We celebrate and sing about His unconditional love for us. “I could sing of your love forever, and ever, and ever.” But how often do we declare and celebrate and sing about our unconditional love for Jesus? How often do we say that no matter what happens in my life, no matter what God chooses to do, no matter what He chooses to take away, my love for Him will remain. Even if I never get that job, or spouse, or child … that though my world my fall, I’ll never let You go. “No matter what, Jesus, I’m going to love You anyways.”
This is the anthem of the redeemed and regenerated heart that’s been washed by the blood of Jesus and won over by His love. So as we celebrate God’s unconditional love for us, let us in return, declare our unconditional love for Him! That is what it means to treasure God through every trial. It is saying that more than anything else, during this time of suffering, we love Him more.
I treasure and love Jesus … more …
Those who have been given the grace to truly love God will last through the trials.
But this is precisely the area that Satan attacks in us when pain comes. The enemy’s target of attack is centered around our faith and our love.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
When life is hard, we naturally want to please our flesh. So in times of hardships, many give in to temptations. We will often compromise, saying to ourselves that it’s too hard. I need this. I need to give myself this personal pleasure to make up for this time of pain. What we need to see is that every temptation is drawing us to love something more than Jesus. That is the essence of sin. Temptation is a desire to dishonor God and dethrone God from the center of our lives. We want to call our own shots, take control, and be our own god.
So in verse 13, James is reminding us that God does not tempt us. It is never God’s desire to see us fall into sin. Rather, His desire is to see us fall on our knees before the cross and surrender our sins to Him.
Every time you fall, it’s time to crawl … back to the cross and begin again.
When you discover that it’s not about our love or our goodness, but His, then you begin to see the worth of the Savior and the treasure that He is. And in so doing, you are able to treasure God through every trial.
And a third thing we learn about navigating through our times of trial is the need to ...
See the true God through every trial
James 1:16 ESV Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
James now says, “Do not be deceived!” Don’t be deceived by lies or by false images of who our God really is. God is not out to get you. God does not want you to fall or fail. If you are in Christ, God is not mad at you! He is mad about you! One of the biggest struggles during our suffering is to see God properly - not through the lens of pain but through the lens of God’s promises. But it’s always hard to see clearly when your eyes of full of tears.
So James tells us in verse 17:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
What does this teach us about God? It tells us that only good gifts come from His hand. In fact, all that is good in life come from Him. Every good gift - family, friends, food, fellowship, are all gifts from God. So James reminds us to know who our God really is:
Warren Wiersbe once said, “When God permits His children to go through the furnace, He keeps His eyes on the clock and His hand on the thermostat. His loving heart knows how much and how long.”
How you see God determine how you act around Him.
And what you do after you sin reveals who you believe our God to be.
A dear sister at our church, Buri, had just came back from a 3 month trip to the US visiting organizations and groups that are fighting human trafficking. In every major city of the US there are many South Korean women who are victims of sex trafficking. She was able to talk with these Korean women because the women wouldn’t open up and speak with the US police or aftercare workers. When the police asked the survivors how they became victims or how they ended up where they were, they would all initially lie and say they weren’t victims and that nothing was wrong with them. The police would say, “We’re here to help you and keep you safe.” But the women would not believe it.
When finally given a safe environment to speak honestly with Buri other team members from Korea, they finally opened up. They shared that, yes, they were victims of human trafficking. And yes, they were in serious need of help. When Buri asked, “Why didn’t you just tell the police this. They are here to help you!” They just could not believe it. Why? Because in Korea, they saw the corruption in the police force. They see the badge, but they also see deception, corruption and oftentimes they see someone they must service for free when they see the police.
They could not see the police in the US as people there to help them because of the harm that they experienced with the police in Korea. Their false perception kept them from getting the help and freedom they needed.
And in a similar way, many people today have a false image of God. They think that He’s out to get them. Or they think that He doesn’t really care about us. That false image (or lie!) prevents them from getting the help and the happiness that is found in Him. Instead of running to Him, we run away from Him. And that is exactly what the enemy wants us to do. And that is exactly why in every temptation, the devil casts doubt into God’s goodness towards us.
Only when we believe God to be who He says He is in the Bible, a good God and good Father, who does not change, then we can have hearts that are free to trust. Only when we believe truth, will we be set free to run into His arms with childlike confidence and faith. It is crucial to see the true God through every trial if we’re going to be able to go through that trial with faith.
Mike Leake, in his book Torn to Heal, says: “The Bible holds out a theology of suffering that has a good and sovereign God standing over every second of our pain, going through it with us, and ultimately bringing us out on the other side with more lasting joy in Himself.” That is the aim of our God.
So what will turn our trails on earth into crowns of treasures in eternity? Faith that will trust in the Suffering Servant. Faith in the One who took our suffering and sin upon Himself so that one day, suffering and sin would finally be no more … forever. That is the hope we have through every trial, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) We look to Him because He will carry us through the fiery storms and He will faithfully carry us home.
Eddie Byun is Associate Professor of Christian Ministry at Talbot School of Theology. He is the author of the award winning book Justice Awakening, Praying for Your Pastor, and Praying for Your Missionary. He is also the Executive Producer of Save My Seoul, an award winning documentary about sex trafficking in South Korea. He lives with his wife and son in Irvine, California.
In God's interesting humor and sovereignty, I've been "homeschooling" Enoch after he came home from his regular school since we moved to LA at the end of 2019. A big part of it was because I was preparing him for an eventual transition to a Classical Christian education that I've been wanting for him (You can see an earlier post where I share some key strengths of a classical education). I must admit, homeschooling is filled with its challenges as well as great rewards. But it is definitely not easy. And suddenly, with the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down most of the K-12 schools across the US, homeschooling is the new norm in America (and many other countries around the world today). I'm thankful that God was "training" me for the past few months on how to teach him all his key subjects while at home. Another positive from the past few months of research and homeschooling is the discovery of a lot of great resources that can help first time homeschool parents. I wanted to provide some great websites and resources that can help you educate your children while at home.
Books and Media
Here's a sample schedule that I go through with Enoch:
Twice a Week (Tues/Thurs)
Once a Week
I'm excited to be speaking at Azusa Pacific University next Wednesday Feb 19 for their one day conference that will focus on ending human trafficking. Please pray for God to raise up the student body to be bold with declaring and living out the gospel in this generation. I'll be speaking for their chapel at 10am and afterwards, they'll do a screening of Save My Seoul. If you're in the area, would love to have you join us. So thankful for In-n-Out and their heart for this issue. They will be sponsoring the screening and offered up free In-n-Out to the first 250 guests. Always appreciate your prayers and support. Thank you!
A recent study looking at the various types of schools and the impact they have on alumni many years later.
Please pray for me as I head to Cebu, Philippines with a church team from Venture. Last year, we started a restoration center for children who victims of cyber sex trafficking in Cebu. It's been a growing problem in Southeast Asia.
Within the past few years, 90% of victims of cyber sex trafficking were under the age of 18. A recent rescue uncovered the age ranges of survivors to be:
The majority of “customers” are from western countries. Please pray with me.
Thank you. Your prayer support is my life support.
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace."
2004-2011: Click Here