Category: The Poor and Needy


Understanding Our Trials

James 1:2-18 (part 2)

Introduction

I noted in the last sermon that this letter is addressed to Jewish believers who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire and who were, in some cases, facing severe trials. James is writing to Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah. It appears that these people were formerly associated with the Church in Jerusalem but were forced to flee when persecution broke out following the death of Stephen.

REVIEW

The first section of this epistle has to do with gaining a Biblical perspective on our trials. We covered only the first point made by James, which is concerned with gaining a proper (or Biblical) understanding of our trials. I want to take a couple of minutes to review his teaching, which is found in vv. 2-4:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Most of us understand from experience that trials interrupt the normal routine of life and can shatter our confidence and disturb our comfort. Trials cause anxiety, sleeplessness, distraction, and even prevent us from being productive. Knowing, as we do, how trials can affect us, we wondered how James could say what he does in v. 2. How could he expect these believers to maintain a joyful countenance when they were being persecuted and when they were seeing friends and loved ones abused, and when they knew that returning home was an impossibility?

The answer comes in the next verse: “knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” (v. 3) It is knowledge or understanding of the nature of trials that permits the believer to face them and remain joyful. Perspective is the key, as it is in so many areas of our Christian experience. James tells his readers to be joyful and he tells them how they can be joyful: “know that your trial—the testing of your faith—has a design and the design is your endurance or perseverance in the faith.”

Knowing that trials actually purify faith, James adds: “Let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (v. 4) Trials come to us periodically to advance our maturity with the goal of a whole and fully developed faith at some point in the future. Trials, therefore, are beneficial. As God’s people, we should interpret our hardships as grounded in His love and purposes for us.

END OF REVIEW

  1. The Purpose of Our Trials (vv. 5-11)

5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

This second point is taught in vv. 5-8 with an illustration following in vv. 9-11. The key to understanding these verses is remembering the context. James is talking about trials and is addressing Christians presently facing displacement and persecution. Following this passage, the same general topic continues as he explains the difference between trials and temptations.

Verses 5-11, therefore, must be interpreted as having to do with this prevailing theme. When James writes “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God…,” he still is thinking in reference to the trials being experienced by these believers. Most interpret vv. 5 ff. apart from the context. But, if taken in context, the “wisdom” promised must have something to do with the trials we endure. It seems clear, then, that v. 5 is written as instruction regarding the particular trials that believers experience.

This passage, nevertheless, has frequently been wrongly interpreted and applied. We have to discern how these verses fit into the overall context of the topic of trials, which is being explained by James. He is saying that if you do not understand why a trial has come upon you, you should pray and ask God for the wisdom to respond honorably and perhaps even discern the purpose. God will give wisdom to the believer who is being tested so that he might better understand particular trials and, therefore, benefit from them more quickly and endure them more gladly.

I look at v. 5 as a marvelous promise from God. James instructs his readers to pray to God and ask for understanding of their trials so that they will be able to see the goal that is being accomplished by their suffering. And this exhortation is accompanied by the promise: “let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

God does not desire to hide from you His purpose in testing you. The purpose of a trial, remember, is the refinement of your faith. How can you be strengthened and caused to grow if you don’t even understand what God is doing or why He is doing it, at least in a general fashion?

Having discernment regarding our trials is a tremendously comforting gift from God. Having discernment helps us fight against despair and it helps us maintain hope since we know God is working in us and there will be an end to the hardship. When we can see the end for which a trial has come, when we can understand what it is about our faith that needs refinement, then we can be thankful for trials, as James taught in the previous section.

Nevertheless, as I said before, I’m convinced that very few Christians avail themselves of this promise in God’s Word. We pray, but we pray incompletely; we pray for God to sustain us, which is proper, of course, but we sometimes don’t go beyond that and seek understanding. We tell ourselves that we must accept whatever comes and in this way, which is certainly true, but we have given a promise and should not hesitate to take advantage of God’s willingness to grant us insight.

We must remember, especially during our trials, that God is a Being with purposes. And He has revealed Himself to be a God of compassion and a God whose nature makes it impossible for Him to treat us in an unrighteous manner. We must keep in mind these facts about God’s nature when we are confronted by trials that He has appointed for us. We should readily seek to understand why He has appointed our times of testing.

Notice the important qualifier added by James: “But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (v. 6) It does you no good, in other words, to ask God for wisdom regarding your trials if you don’t really believe He will give you that wisdom.

James says that you must ask “in faith,” that is, in the belief that God will do what is promised in v. 5. If you do not ask “in faith,” James warns, you are going to be tossed about like the surf of the sea. He means that you will be unsettled by your circumstances far more than is necessary. You will experience about and that will increase your anxiety and all of this is traceable to a lack of wisdom regarding how God leads us as His children.

James describes such a man. He should expect nothing from the Lord because he is “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (vv. 7, 8) The word translated “double-minded” means just that—“having two minds.” And the term rendered “unstable” means “restless” or “fickle.” Without faith in God’s willingness to give wisdom, as James describes in v. 5, the man who is passing through a trial is going to be most uneasy. His double-mindedness only ends up adding to the severity of his trial, which only makes matters worse for him and those around him.

Now I must pause for a moment and admit that I do not believe nor expect you to believe that our testings in this life are always easy and that all we have to do is praying everything will be just fine. And as I speak about how to respond to the trials that God ordains for us, I do not mean to discount the harsh aspects of what we must face. And this is not what James is teaching.

He is teaching that there is a measure of discernment that God can provide for His people when they suffer. He is not teaching that there’s a formula for you to implement that will illuminate all of the unpleasant elements of the severe trial to which I referred previously. What James promises is that there is spiritual strength and insight provided by God who ordained the trial. This does not mean that our trials will be free of anxiety and it does not mean that we will simply “breeze through” any situation we happen to face in this life.

It does mean that God is able and willing to shepherd you through whatever it is He has determined is for your good and His glory so that, during those dark times, we may know for certain that God is with us and that He is working out His perfect will for us and that He has not and will not abandon us, but will bring glory to Himself through our misery. And that is knowledge that can cause us to have a measure of peace in our hearts that would otherwise not be possible without this promise from God and His willingness to keep His word.

I am sure you will remember something that the apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians as his letter was coming to a close. They, too, had experienced a measure of testing as they embraced the gospel and began to organize themselves and, in particular, provide ongoing support for Paul. As a matter of fact, Paul wrote these words while imprisoned for his labors on behalf of Christ and the gospel.

While he is in the middle of a severe trial himself, the apostle urges the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord always, which is an admonition that carries much significance since it was written by this servant during one of his extended trials. After encouraging joy at all times, Paul adds:

4:6 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Is this statement really different from what James writes? What is Paul’s counsel when it comes to being able to rejoice in all things? His counsel is prayer, his counsel is to seek God’s help and reveal your heart to Him. And then there is that wonderful promise, which is so similar to what James says: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

If God supplies that which “surpasses all comprehension,” that means that we cannot attain it without His help. We cannot rejoice in the Lord always unless we are seeking God’s grace to persevere. We cannot count it all joy, regardless of what we face in life, as James exhorts, unless we turn to God and, again, seek his grace so that we had a measure of understanding. And that understanding, that discernment, as Paul declares and as James promises, keeps us grounded and hopeful.

As I stated, what follows in vv. 9-11 is an illustration of what James has just written.

9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

James picks two extremes in the social order to illustrate the manner in which trials should be viewed and the positive results that trials accomplish. First, James speaks of “the brother of humble circumstances.” (v. 9) The word used to describe this first subject (tapeinos) literally means “not rising far above the ground.” Used figuratively, it refers to a lowly condition, a position of humility or, in some cases, a circumstance involving intense grief. Obviously, James has in mind a believer who is not wealthy, a man who, in fact, lacks most of the comforts of life. He is not necessarily destitute, but he is not far from that state.

How does that brother respond to the trials of life? How does he react to the fact that God has ordained such trying circumstances? Remembering James’ earlier command, “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” we have to conclude that James expects a man in such needy circumstances to react in the same manner as any other believer. Here, James says that this man is to “glory in his high position.” Note that language: he is to glory in his high position. How can this be?

The word “glory” here means “to boast” or “to rejoice.” How can the poor brother “boast” in his poverty? How can the poor man “rejoice” in his low estate? How can he give thanks, which is implied by the words of James, for such a life when he is tested daily by his situation? And how can such a circumstance be called a “high position,” indicating that it is a place or condition of honor? The answer is found in the previous section. He is to rejoice and find cause for giving thanks, not in spite of his suffering, but because of his suffering.

This brother knows that his testing is designed by God for his good; he knows that his trials are going to produce in him a complete faith, one that cannot be shaken by adversity. This is a great advantage to the brother of humble circumstances. He is daily being taught that having or not having is not the primary concern that should occupy his thoughts; he is daily reminded that what matters is knowing God and serving Him with all of his heart and strength. The brother of humble circumstances truly is blessed because his life is a continuing testimony to the sufficiency of God, to the willingness of God to supply his needs, and to the fact that God takes care of His own.

Being needy is a blessing, James teaches, a blessing, not a curse. It is a place of honor because the needy man must learn to rely upon his heavenly Father. The needy man cannot rely on his riches, for he has none; the needy man cannot be led away from devotion to God because he is so dependent upon God.

Notice what James says, by way of contrast, concerning the rich man. If the poor brother is to boast in his high position, then the rich man is to “glory” in his humiliation. (v. 10) Here, James offers a perspective on the trials that the rich man encounters. The rich man needs to learn the lessons that the poor man knows because trials are his life. The rich man faces all the temptations that the poor man does not face. The rich man may very well come to count on his possessions or on his ability to provide abundantly for himself. Therefore, his trials are designed to humble him, while the needy man’s trials are designed to exalt him.

The rich man must remember, James writes, that “like flowering grass he will pass away.” The grass that is one day beautiful to behold, is the next destroyed by the hot sun and scorching wind. The rich man must keep in mind that his many things will not endure any longer than he endures in this life—“so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.” Therefore, the rich man’s boast or source of glory must be in something other than his wealth. James says he should boast in the humility that he learns from being tried by the Lord. The rich man who encounters trials has much to lose, while the poor man has nothing to lose.

By citing these two examples, James illustrates how wisdom is to be found in the midst of trials. The brother of humble circumstances prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being exalted by his trials. The brother of considerable means prays and discerns that he is, in fact, being humbled by his trials. In both cases, what is caused by the trials is exactly what each man would need. The poor brother needs to be lifted up so that he does not despair; the rich brother needs to be abased so that he is not overcome by pride and a sense of self-sufficiency.

James shows how trials come to all and are needed by all. It is not just the poor man who needs to learn to trust God more and it is not just the rich man who needs to learn to trust himself less. All Christians need to learn the lessons that trials teach and James shows how there is wisdom in every trial when he cites these two extreme cases. His message is that no matter who you are, your faith needs refinement and no matter what your lot in life, you need to endure testing. No one is an exception because trials refine the heart of man before God.

We have this marvelous promise from God. He tells us to “ask in faith” for wisdom when we are undergoing a trial; He promises to give us wisdom and discernment so that we might develop at least a measure of discernment regarding our trials. We need to understand that this brings great stability to our lives.

A number of years ago, I was in the middle of some trying situation. I don’t even remember exactly what the issue was, but I do remember that I was totally absorbed in it and the trial was causing me a great amount of anguish. It was at that time that I came upon this passage in James and read it in a manner that I had never done before. I saw v. 5 and for the first time in my life, the verse made sense in context. Therefore, I did exactly what James advises and I began to pray for discernment. I asked God to give me an understanding regarding my situation. I wanted to know what outcome was intended by my trial.

One night, while I was sleeping, I woke up suddenly with a clear illustration of my trial in my head. At that very moment—and, as I recall, it was in the middle of the night—the purpose of my present trial became crystal clear. I remember thinking, “Now I understand exactly what is going on and why.” What happened was not a direct revelation of any kind, it was only God answering my prayer and allowing my mind to discern His purposes and the knowledge happened to come to my consciousness at that particular moment—no doubt because, even while I slept, my soul was greatly troubled.

I can tell you that I was so relieved, not because the trial was over, but because I understood why it was happening and I understood what was being accomplished by it. That was a definite turning point in my understanding of how to react to trials. I now pray not just for the grace to endure, but for an understanding or discernment of why the Lord has ordained the circumstance.

Matters do not always become as clear as they did in my quick illustration, but I have found that God does provide comfort, guidance, and, as it pleases Him, some discernment regarding what is transpiring. And this helps me keep in mind that what has come upon me has been appointed by God; and then all of the wonderful things that I know about God’s nature and His magnificent benevolence toward us comes into play.

When you are tested, when your faith is being refined, pray and ask God for wisdom so that you might understand what is being accomplished and pray for the grace to endure. Imagine how much better that is than sitting around wondering and fretting, which only adds to your anxiety.

Trials come to all of God’s people from God. In the illustration which James uses in vv. 9-11, we learn that trials are the great “leveler” of all men. No one escapes trials because no believer is beyond the need of refinement. When you are enduring a trial, you want to ask “Why me?” or “Why now?” Instead, James teaches that we should “consider it all joy” because our trial is for our benefit and we are not alone. Trials convince us of God’s love and His good intentions for us. Trials train us to depend on Him, regardless of our position in life.

Let’s pray.

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In Scripture, the work of redemption is described in various ways. The primary theme associated with the ministry of Christ, however, is peace. The fall of man disrupted the peace of the Garden and immediately set the human race on a course of conflict—conflict with God, of course, but also conflict with one another.

This latter issue is described by God when He confronts our first parents and the serpent. The LORD says that two lines will come forth from the woman—the line of the Deliverer and the line of the serpent. They will engage in continuing battle until the serpent’s head is crushed by the One who will be sent into the world from heaven.

From that point forward, the lack of peace is the dominant concept when man’s nature and relationship with God is discussed. Fallen man has no peace with God; fallen man has no peace with himself. The coming of the Savior, therefore, is frequently described as the arrival of peace, the cessation of conflicts, and the end of hostility throughout God’s creation. The Lord’s appearance is seen as a restoration of that harmony that once characterized God’s creation. In the Savior, fallen man is reconciled to God and enjoys peace once more.

At this time of year, we are commemorating the coming of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, Advent is a time for reflection upon the state of the world prior to the arrival of the Savior. This reflection is for the purpose of emphasizing the wonderful gift God supplied to us when He sent His Son to redeem us by giving Himself for us.

Please read Isaiah 11:1-10.

The Character of the One to Come

The prophet paints an incredible picture of a future time when One will appear who will have nothing less than a cosmic impact on creation. All aspects of creation are going to be influenced by His coming. Whenever this event occurs, given Isaiah’s description, things will never be the same in this world.

Isaiah speaks about the character of One to come. In the previous chapter, the prophet described this Figure with several titles. Already, therefore, we know this Deliverer will be unlike any other before Him. Isaiah, for example, refers to Him as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These designations alone fill the mind with amazement and incredible curiosity. No one has ever walked the earth to whom these titles could be attributed. Now, in our present passage, the prophet adds even more.

A King is coming, one of the house of David—a rightful Ruler who will reign in perfection. If the source of much of the world’s turmoil is injustice and the mistreatment of one against another, then this prediction would be encouraging news, to be sure. Isaiah promises that One will arrive who will reign without fault.

God’s Spirit, he adds, will be upon this Individual. He will excel in wisdom and understanding—because He will have the wisdom of God! He also will be equipped with power and all knowledge; He will fear the LORD, meaning that He will relate to God in a proper manner.

Everything said about this Figure is encouraging and adds to the joy associated with this prediction. Regardless of how bleak things looked in Isaiah’s day, and the situation was most distressing for anyone who truly loved the LORD, this prophecy would revive the hope that righteousness would one day cover the earth, just as Isaiah declared at the beginning of this book.

The Distinctiveness of His Ministry

Note also that Isaiah speaks of the distinctiveness of the Savior’s ministry. Stating again that previous idea, the prophet says the delight of this coming Servant, that is, the thing that will bring Him the most encouragement, is “the fear of the LORD.” He will live to please God and God’s pleasure will be His greatest satisfaction. His work on this earth, therefore, will be marked first and foremost by concern for the will of God. His chief aim will be the accomplishment of God’s desire.

This dedication to the will of God means, of course, that the labor of this Servant will conform to God’s nature and God’s laws. Therefore, Isaiah declares that He will “not judge by what He sees, or decide disputes by what His ears hear.” (v. 3) Here is one of the fundamental issues in the human experience—justice. We are involved with some aspect of justice frequently. We may be the target of a wrongful act or we may be accused of a wrongful act. We may witness evil carried out against the innocent or we may be aware of a scheme to defraud.

Whatever the case, we desire justice—not the kind perverted by our fallen natures, but true justice, the kind that faithfully reflects the character of God. This Deliverer will be distinguished by His dedication to true justice. He will not be influenced by anything other than the pure Word of God. He will not be swayed by what He sees or hears. Instead, as the prophet says, “righteousness” will be the standard of His reign.

This Servant will apply the standard of God and only that standard in His ministry. As a King, indicated as this passage begins, He will instruct and decide and correct according to that which corresponds to the nature of God. It is this standard by which He will judge the poor (cf. v. 4). In true fairness, He will oversee the meek of the earth, Isaiah adds. What more can a poor man with no influence and no means to protect himself from injustice desire other than an impartial judge? What more can he hope for than a judge who is dedicated to truth and who cannot be swayed by bribes or lies or promises of reward?

This Servant of God will be the perfect Ruler! He will dispense justice that is untainted, justice that is pure. For that reason, the poor need have no fear of oppression in His day. All the meek of the earth will have in this Deliverer a source of defense; His reign will be so different from that to which they are accustomed. Now, justice is perverted and bought and manipulated. But the day is coming when these things will no longer be possible.

How will this coming King enforce His will? Will He come with a superior army? Will He subdue through sheer brute force? The prophet explains in a simple fashion how this coming One will assure true justice in His realm: “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked.” (v. 4) With His words this King will establish His rule; with His words He will judge the people; with His words He will ensure that the poor and meek are treated fairly.

By God’s holy standard, the poor will be protected and justice will be guaranteed. For this reason, the wicked should fear, as I noted. In the day of this King, bribery and intimidation will be of no use whatsoever. One will sit in judgment who cannot be influenced except by God’s perfect law. That is the dread of all evil men. If they face an immovable standard of truth and justice, they are doomed.

The Legacy of the Servant

Naturally, such a King is going to create a legacy. He will affect the domain over which He presides. Isaiah gives us some insight regarding what will happen to the world when this Servant comes. He describes a fundamental change in the nature of what we know as those who are born here, live here, and die here. The influence of this Champion of Righteousness will not be limited to talk, but will bear fruit in the lives of those who follow Him; this, in turn, will affect the surroundings where those who follow Him dwell.

The prophet uses some striking images in his description: “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together . . .” (v. 6) In this sin-corrupted world, wolves eat lambs, leopards eat goats, and lions feast on fattened calves. These descriptions, therefore, are meant to indicate a change at the most fundamental level.

These phrases speak of the removal of hostility between God’s creatures. A reversal of the nature of this world will be affected by the coming of the Savior. This is a typical way in which the Bible instructs us concerning the coming of Christ. His presence marks the end of sin’s reign over God’s creation and the beginning of the reestablishment of harmony.

Moreover, Isaiah says that “a little child shall lead them.” Again, I think he is referring to a fundamental change so that innocence prevails while evil subsides. Isaiah adds additional descriptions in vv. 7 and 8 that are in line with this picture of peace on the earth and the turning back of the aggression that came as a result of the fall of man.

This portion of the prophecy concludes with a wonderful, all-encompassing declaration regarding the result of the Savior’s coming. In v. 9, after another statement describing the harmony that will be realized in that day, the text states that “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Here you get the impression of a world-wide phenomenon. We saw before that the “weapon” this coming Savior will use is the Word of God. Now we are told that this Word will eventually cover the earth.

Isaiah’s prophecy is being fulfilled as the gospel is preached and God calls His people from every time and every land. Jesus Christ, as Isaiah adds in v. 10, stands now as a signal to the nations. And as the resurrected Jesus taught His disciples in the Great Commission, He is gradually covering the earth with that glorious gospel.

NOTE: All Saints Parish Church is sending a Missions Team to the Colville Reservation next week. This team has traveled to the Reservation annually for many years. This team has shown the mercy of Christ in various ways. All that they do expresses aspects of the gospel. Our new congregation is glad to keep this tradition alive.

Charge to the Colville Mission Team

July 15, 2012

Almost exactly one year ago today, I was in the pulpit for the first time in four weeks having just returned from vacation. As it turned out, that was my last Sunday at Westminster Presbyterian Church; it was not, I’m very happy to say, the last time I would deliver a charge to our faithful Colville Missions Team.

Here we are, 12 months later, and we have a team prepared to return to a ministry that has a history of faithfulness and hard work. In my opinion, this ministry has endured a critical test of character and commitment. In His wisdom, God often ordains such experiences for those ministries that are destined to endure and produce fruit. The Colville project falls into this category.

I want to commend the members of this year’s team for your willingness to return to this labor of love and mercy. I also want to commend this congregation for your steadfast support of this ministry. Many things have vied for our attention this past year, but we have remained committed to an effort that means a lot to people most of us will never meet. Things that might appear almost inconsequential to some, things like a wood shed or a painted house, are of tremendous value to those who receive the attention of our Missions Team.

And I believe this pleases God. It pleases God to see His people go forth to a challenging circumstance that will require a lot of hard work, but offer nothing in terms of tangible reward. This is Christ-like behavior. This is Christian love.

This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote: “Love endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:7) As a team, you will face challenges during your time on the reservation, but you will endure. You may have uncomfortable moments due to the events of this past year, but you will endure. You will be tired and your body may ache, but you will endure. You will endure because you are serving in the name of Christ and you are serving for His glory and to bring His compassion to the people of the reservation.

It’s an interesting truth that we find extra strength, increased vitality, and an enhanced ability to carry on when we are in the act of being Christ to some in need. Selfless labor invigorates us and we find that we can go further and do more than we ever thought.

My charge to this team is simple: Go forth in the love of God and do what you have done so many times before. Take Christ to Colville and exhibit Him to the people as you build and paint and cleanup. And trust Him to bring fruit from your humble efforts according to what pleases Him. Let’s pray.

Authorities in South Korea recently seized a huge load of drug capsules that were being transported into the country. The capsules were filled with the powdered flesh of dead babies—the powdered flesh of dead babies. Some people say that the powdered flesh of dead babies can cure disease; therefore, they take these capsules like any other medication.

As you should be able to guess, this “medicine” is manufactured in China, a nation that murders an estimated 13 million babies every year. In the past, most abortions were the result of the government’s one child per couple restriction. It has become evident, however, that during the last few years, single young women, especially those who are students, have become a target of abortion providers. For example, the Beijing Modern Women’s Hospital offers a complete, government-subsidized, abortion “discount package.” It costs a mere $130.

Having a child out of wedlock in this society is considered a much greater dishonor than having an abortion. Along with this cultural attitude, the genocidal policies of the government, and the increasing erosion of fundamental morality have made abortion the preferred method of birth control in China. By the way, in China abortions are known as “artificial miscarriages.”

Until now, I haven’t explained how the flesh of dead babies is turned into powder. In order to make powdered flesh from dead babies, an aborted child is cut into small pieces which are then dried with high heat. After this process, the flesh is ground into powder, packaged, and shipped off.

Are you disgusted beyond words by this horror? You should be, and, morally speaking, you should realize that our country is headed in the same direction.

As a pastor, I have seen many acts of kindness in the ministry. Often the person who is receiving the attention is embarrassed and some even decline offers of help because it is so difficult for them to be on the receiving end, so to speak. This is a problem caused by pride, although we don’t usually think of our reluctance to receive help in this way. Declining the assistance of those in the Body of Christ because we are embarrassed is a foolish response; moreover, this kind of behavior leaves the need untouched. Consequently, the only thing accomplished is the preservation of a façade.

Of much greater significance, however, is the fact that resisting the help of our brothers and sisters interferes with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the giver. The kindness and generosity of believers is one of the primary ways in which God cares for us. When the Holy Spirit creates in us a sense of compassion, we become the means of God’s ministry to one another.

During the past eight months, our family has depended on the kindness of other believers for the essentials of life. It is true that receiving so much from so many has been tremendously humbling, but we have not been embarrassed at all. If we had let pride guide us, we would have declined help even though it was desperately needed. But by receiving the gifts of God’s people graciously, we have been part of God’s design to bless those who have helped even as He provided for us. We have had a ministry of receiving.

There is no shame in having to depend upon the gifts of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is, as I just noted, a humbling position, but our difficult circumstances have created opportunities for God to bless the many who have responded in kindness. The time will come, Lord willing, when we will again be able to provide assistance to others, but for now, it is our place to honor the ministry of receiving that God has given to us at this point in our lives.

At the beginning [of the Sermon on the Mount] stand the Beatitudes, engraven in golden script upon its portal, reminding us that we are not received by Jesus into a school of ethics but into a kingdom of redemption. It is blessedness that is promised here, and the word does not so much signify a state of mind, as that great realm of consummation and satisfaction, which renders man’s existence, once he has entered into it, serene and secure for evermore. And again, foremost among the the Beatitudes stand those that emphasize the emptiness, the absolute dependence of man upon divine grace. At the dawn of the gospel Mary sang: “He has put down princes from their thrones, and has exalted them of low degree; the hungry He has filled with good things and the rich He has sent away,” so here those pronounced blessed are the poor in spirit, mourners, the meek, and they that hunger and thirst after righteousness. It is in no wise to the self-satisfied mind that the Lord addresses Himself; His call is not a call to exertion, not even to exertion in holiness; it were too little to say that it is an invitation to receive; it goes farther than that; it amounts to the declaration that the consciousness of having nothing, absolutely nothing, is the certain pledge of untold enrichment. So much is salvation a matter of giving on God’s part that its best subjects are those in whom His grace of giving can have its perfect work. The poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek and the hungry, these are made to pass before our eyes as so many typical forms of its embodiment. And because this is so, they are here also introduced as having the promise of the infinite. To be a child of God and a disciple of Jesus means to hold in one’s hand the treasures of eternity.

Due to the death of dictator Kim Jong-il, we have had a rare glimpse into the culture of North Korea. The degree to which this man was able to shield his people from the world is astonishing. Reports indicate that the people are almost completely unaware of major events, technological developments, and geopolitical situations. And even though this leader had a history of abuse, while he himself lived in opulence, the reaction of the people when he died would lead us to believe that Kim Jong-il was one of the most beloved heads of state in all of history.

Images of citizens morning the passing of Kim Jong-il are informative. There has been much weeping, wailing, and emotional excess in response to the death of the great leader Comrade, as he was known. In September, however, more than 40 human rights groups launched a campaign calling for a United Nations inquiry into the “crimes against humanity” perpetrated by Kim Jong-il. To the detriment of his people, he continued the policy established by his father of putting the military first when it came to the nation’s resources regardless of the humanitarian consequences. The people of North Korea live in chronic poverty. Detractors are imprisoned in camps where they must exist in the most miserable circumstances. Those who have managed to escape tell stories of deliberate starvation and torture.

The situation in North Korea illustrates how effectively an entire nation can be manipulated to revere and even worship someone distinguished by wickedness and disregard for life. During the approximately 40 years that this man ruled the country, he was able to convince the people that he was a god and that they lived in an earthly paradise. The people have been trained to view the rest of the world as opportunistic enemies.

Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il, will replace his father. As it turns out, apparently you can fool all of the people all of the time.

Sooner or later, every Christian is going to understand the heart of David when he asked this question. In Psa. 10, he records his frustration with the seeming prosperity and success of the wicked who were “hotly pursuing the afflicted” even while they declared “there is no God” and delighted in their conviction that they would never be moved or face adversity. Naturally, a Godly man like king David found this situation intolerable and it caused him no small amount of grief.

David’s description in this Psalm is chilling. The wicked laugh in the face of God, they have no fear of Him, and don’t worry about ever being called to give an account of themselves. They succeed in whatever they do no matter what harsh methods they employ. They think nothing of killing the innocent and delight in the cleverness of their schemes.

Where is God, David laments. Why is He hiding Himself? David struggled with the notion that such people could prosper while God is enthroned. In desperation, David cries out: “Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted.” Knowing that God is just and kind and merciful, David could not accept the continuing prosperity of the wicked who opposed all that is righteous and good. He had only one option, however. He could not stop the mouth of the wicked from boasting; he could not prevent them from trampling the poor and defenseless under foot. But David could call upon God Himself to come and judge the evil doers. And that is what he does.

Obviously, David had lived for some time in the context described in this Psalm. He saw the innocent persecuted; he saw justice perverted. David witnessed first-hand the cruelty of men who found satisfaction in heaping misery upon others. He experienced the pain of being threatened and maligned; David knew what it was like to have an enemy “pile on,” as we say. David also knew something else; he knew the character of God and the consideration of that knowledge results in the restoration of his confidence and hope.

“You have seen it, for You have beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Your hand. The unfortunate commits himself to You; You have been the helper of the orphan.” (v. 14) It is God’s nature to be just and merciful; it is His nature to protect the helpless. This truth was David’s solace during this terribly difficult period in his life. David’s cry of despair becomes a shout of confident praise as he reminds himself of the amazing power and deeds of God.

As I noted in the beginning, every believer will eventually find himself in a situation where it seems that God’s attention has been turned away. It will appear that the plans of the wicked are unfolding without hindrance. It will feel as if an enemy is free to launch attack after attack and to make unopposed accusations of the most disturbing kind. That is when a Christian might wonder: “O LORD, why do You stand afar off?” Such thoughts are known to God, of course. It is how we react to them and to our situation that matters most.

The right course of action is to follow David’s example and remind ourselves of God’s character during those times when it seems as if God is not near us. We may never fully understand all that God is doing when He causes us to pass through the kind of heart-breaking circumstance I’ve described; at such times, we must cling to what we do know for sure, which is the holy character of God. As we dwell on what we do know to be true about God, those elements that are, at least for the moment, beyond our comprehension will cause us far less stress and anxiety. We know that God is good. We know that God orchestrates all things for His glory and our good. This includes whatever we encounter in this life, be it blessings that leave us astonished or trials that leave us in tears.

I once attended a meeting in which several characteristics could be observed. There was impatience, anger, deception, and unfriendliness. There were clearly two sides represented with one displaying undeniable contempt for the other. Not so long ago, most of those present would have shared at least cordial relationships. On this day, however, the climate was decidedly different.

This was not a meeting of stockholders and executives. It was not a meeting between protesters and police. This was a congregational meeting in a local church. One speaker after another came to the microphone to express opinions that seemed unnecessarily hostile, as if they were trying to preempt an attack from the other side, which never materialized. The one characteristic that was desperately needed, but cannot be included in the list I just provided, was charity.

The concept of charity is closely related to that of forgiveness. When I forgive someone for an offense, I am giving them something they did not necessarily deserve. Charity occurs when someone in need receives help for which they cannot pay or which they have not earned. Charity is an act of selfless kindness for the sake of being kind. It is not motivated by merit or the expectation of return.

Both forgiveness and charity have their origin in the nature of God who delivers us from the consequences of our sin even though we have done nothing (and could do nothing) to warrant such a response from Him. Likewise, charity is exhibited by God throughout our lives. He provides for us when we are in need; He has pity on us even when, due to our own actions, we find ourselves in a desperate situation. Charity, forgiveness, kindness, compassion—all of these attributes are grounded in the nature of God and they all represent God’s amazing grace toward sinners who are guilty.

Jesus sums up all of these qualities when He says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Show love as you have been shown love. Extend forgiveness as it has been extended to you. Be kind to one another as God has been kind to you. Abound in compassion as God’s compassion has abounded to you. The idea is not complicated. We are to mimic God’s treatment of us in our treatment of one another. If we are unwilling to live this way, we are saying that we are of greater importance than God (cf. the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matt. 18).

It’s a shameful display when believers exhibit bitterness, jealousy, and self-interest in their encounters with one another. There is no excuse for it. This is the kind of behavior seen in the world every day. We are called to do better by remembering what we have received.

In His revelation to us, God has emphasized certain aspects of His character. One of those aspects is God’s compassion. Often, in times of distress and danger, a writer will call upon God’s compassion in hope of deliverance (cf. Psalm 25:6; 40:11; etc.). This is because God has, as just noted, revealed Himself to be full of compassion. This attribute is seen when God prevents us from facing the harsh consequences of some circumstances–sometimes of our own making and sometimes due to the behavior of others. God also demonstrates compassion when He forgives our sins, which is the most significant of examples, as David teaches in Psalm 51: “According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (v. 1)

God’s compassion is, by its nature, readily applied in situations where there is need and the need is such that there appears to be no remedy. Consider, for example, David’s words as he tells us about the ministry of the coming King: “For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Psalm 72:12, 13) In Christ, the Son of God, the world has encountered the compassion of God personified. As David describes the impact of Christ’s arrival, he stresses the fact that those in need, those with no helper, and the poor will find in Him a particular responsiveness.

From the example of our Savior, His people learn how compassion operates—it operates when we show genuine, life-changing concern for those in need (cf. James 2:15, 16). As the elect of God, the Savior’s compassion led to our redemption. We are subsequently charged to imitate Him in this world as God gives opportunity. And the opportunities are abundant.

Jesus said: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mathew 7:12). If you had no place to sleep tonight, what would you want someone to do for you? If you hadn’t eaten in several days, what would you want someone to do for you? If you were suddenly facing some illness or some other dramatic and frightening change in your life, what would you want someone to do for you? If you have offended someone, what would you want that person to do for you?

Understanding the Savior’s admonition is not difficult. It’s the practical side, the act of doing, that challenges us. This is because mere words come almost without effort, but providing shelter or food or comfort with our presence  or extending forgiveness requires that we part with some of what we have—our money, our time, our pride. Of all the things we can do as believers, relieving the burden of someone in need is one of the most Christ-like steps we can take. When we provide shelter, when we provide food, when we sit with someone who is grieving, or when we forgive, we are honoring the Savior in a way that directly reflects His compassion for us.

The contemporary Church needs more, much more, of this kind of commitment. As I contemplate my future, having just ended a lengthy period of service as a pastor, my most sincere hope is that I will be able to unite with Christians who count ministry to the needy as one of their primary goals and who will labor so that their church is distinguished as a source of compassion.