Overheard in an Orchard

As I sit in my easy chair and watch the birds in my back yard – robins, cardinals, flinches, blue jays and doves, this poem comes to my mind.

Said the Robin to the Sparrow;
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so?"

Said the Sparrow to the Robin;
"Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me."

Elizabeth Cheney

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29–31 — New Living Translation (NLT)

When Difficult Times Come

Looking through my files on lessons I taught when I was in full time ministry, I found these notes on the book of James. I thought I would share them in hopes of encouragement as we have been facing difficult times the past two years. Hope they challenge/encourage you.

The Book of James is a very Jewish book.  It is believed to be the earliest letter of the New Testament, written about AD 45.  Often called the Proverbs of the New Testament – it is practical living for the child of God.

James and Paul seem to contradict each other as Paul says we are saved by grace and James says it is by works that a man is justified. 

  • Paul – We are justified by faith
  • James – We are justified for works
  • Paul – the root of justification is grace
  • James – the fruit of justification is works

Who was James?

  1.  He was the half-brother of Jesus  – Mark 6:3
  2. He was an unbeliever until after the resurrection of Jesus – John 7:3-10
  3. Jesus appeared to him in His glorified body – 1 Corinthians 15:7
  4. He was among the 120 in the Upper Room – Acts 1:14
  5. He appears to be a leader in the early church – Galatians 1:17-21; Acts 12:17
  6. He presided over the first Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 and declared the results of that conference (verses 13-18)

James 1:1

“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to the twelve tribes – Jewish believers scattered abroad.  Greetings!”

James presents himself as a servant or slave.  At the very start of this letter, James is identifying himself as one who is self-consciously accepting this way of life for himself. His purpose in this letter does not require that he assert his apostleship (as Paul and Peter do in their letters) or his eldership (as John does in his letters). James’s identity is already known to the church at large. It is only his servant hood to the Lord Jesus Christ that matters to him here, for this is the theme of his letter:

How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?

He wrote his letter to the Jewish believers scattered abroad.  We know in that time many Jews lived throughout the ancient world, but in addition to those already living abroad, no doubt many included those who fled Jerusalem after the persecution broke out that we read about in Acts 8.

Acts 7:54-8:4 – NOTE:  It was NOT the 12 apostles that spread the gospel – it was the lay people. 

Greetings – The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”  “Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.  On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

James 1:2-4

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

  • What do you consider trials?
  • What is your response to difficulties?

Romans 5:3-5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Matthew 5:11-12

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

trials –  difficulties  

testings – This term in adjective form means “genuine” or “without alloy”; so the noun refers to a “test to prove genuine.”  Not like our school tests designed primarily to reveal what the students already know.  The biblical concept of a testing, as James uses it here, is one that reveals the genuineness of the person’s faith; but James says the test is also designed to develop something that is not yet present in full measure in the person.

mature character – complete in all its parts – going through the necessary stages to reach the end goal.  

trials/testings  — perseverance/endurance  — mature character

  • Do we thank God for the trials?  What do we rejoice in?  What about a trial brings us joy?
  • Resisting that piece of pie – not a source of joy    BUT  losing that extra 10 pounds – great source of joy.
  • Walking on the treadmill an extra 10 minutes – not always a source of joy   BUT gaining strength – great source of joy.
  • Student giving up their favorite TV show to study – not a source of joy  BUT getting an “A” – great source of joy

James was writing to fellow Jews who were facing difficult times.  He is encouraging them to let these times help them grow in the Lord and not be an interruption in their relationship as a servant to the Lord.

  1. Is any trial a reason not to be joyful (1:2)?
  2. Are the differences in poverty and wealth to cause favoritism (2:1-13)?
  3. Even in trials, shall we be cursing other people (3:9)
  4. or grumbling against each other (5:9)?
  5. Is loss of anything a reason to fight with each other (4:1-2)?
  6. Is sickness or other trouble a cause to cease praying or trusting in God (5:13-14)?

James says “Don’t let difficult times stop you from obeying and following the Lord.  In the middle of trials, that is the time to put into practice what you say you believe. 

James 1:5-8

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

How do we gain strength and wisdom in times of difficulties?  How do we maintain the right attitude and find a solution to the problems we face?

Proverbs 2:3-6

Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Matthew 7:7

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Do you ever doubt?  Is that wrong?  Will God answer our prayers if we doubt?

Mark 9:23-24

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Acts 17:11

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”

It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is.

God is not intimidated by questions.

I’m Rich – How About You?

These thoughts are not my own – I am sharing the message my pastor gave us this week.

She told us that if we make $37,000 a year we are in the ranks of the rich when compared to the rest of the world’s population.

Then she listed the “rich” people problems we face all the time. Things that we complain about – and do not really stop to think how many in the rest of the world would be grateful for those problems.

  • Our cell phone service is bad.
  • Our air line flight has been delayed.
  • Amazon is out of the size we needed.
  • Amazon promised shipment in three days and we now have to wait a week.
  • We have to get new tires for our car.
  • Our laptop stopped working and we have to buy a new one.
  • The lines at McDonald’s are too long.

And we could go on and go about the “problems” we complain about every day without realizing these are “rich” people problems.

We take so much for granted in the USA.

Yet, at the same time we know there are many in our country who are struggling financially right now.

According to Feeding America, 1 in 9 Americans struggled with hunger. In 2019, 35,207,000 people were food insecure.  Food insecurity exists in every county in America.  Millions of people are still struggling to get by because of underemployment, stagnant wages and the rising cost of living.  To these Americans, food has become an unaffordable luxury. 

In 2019 more than 5.3 million children live in households struggling with hunger.  Approximately 25% of children in households at risk of hunger may be forced to rely exclusively on hunger relief organizations to make ends meet.

According to the USDA, in 2020, 35.3 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security. Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for single-parent households, and for Black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in both large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.

As I look at these statistics I realize how blessed I am. My husband and I have a freezer full of food and a pantry with shelves fully stocked. Yet, my studies have shown me that many elderly have to decide between buying food or purchasing needed medicine.

So what do I do? Just feel bad and move on with my life? Or, try to help in some way.

If you fall in that category of having plenty of food, I challenge you to reach out and help

  • Find a food pantry in your area and contribute food and/or money. Money is probably better than food because most food pantries can purchase food in bulk at much cheaper prices than an individual can. If you give food, think dried and canned goods. And please, check for expiration dates and do not give something you would not eat.
  • Many schools have food programs – check with your local school.
  • Do a volunteer food drive.
  • Volunteer with your local food pantry or with the Meals on Wheels program.

I am grateful that my church works with Compassion in Action, a local group that helps with school children who are food insecure, and with a local food bank to distribute food to those in need every month.

My pastor shared the story of the farmer in the Bible who had a huge harvest. His response to that was to build more barns and then sit and enjoy his success. While Jesus was clearly not condemning being successful or even rich (many of godly men in the Bible were wealthy) or being a good steward of what you have, He clearly tells us we are not to trust in our own riches. Our trust is to be in God.

Also, we are not to grasp on tightly to what we have, but be willing to let go and share with others.

Finally, when we talk about riches we usually think of money or possessions. But I am rich in so many other important ways – ways that money cannot buy. Family, health, peace with God.

I think of a song my mother used to sing when I was a child.

If you are one of those who are food insecure, do not be afraid to ask for help. Check with your local church, your local school. There is help out there – and you should not feel bad about receiving.

If you are one who is truly “rich,” be grateful but also reach out and share with others.

As my husband often said when he preached about giving generously to others, “I never saw an U-Haul truck following a funeral car to the grave.”

In the words of Jesus:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”