September 2, 2018 TESTING PRODUCES PERSERVERENCE

September 2, 2018

James 1:2-4

TESTING PRODUCES PERSERVERENCE

Good morning, “you servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is how James begins his book to us this morning. You see he wants us to know two things. First, he is a servant of God, of Jesus, and second, he wants us to know who he is addressing this letter to… to those Christians, those servants of Jesus Christ scattered around the world, which includes us this morning. His subject this morning…testing and trials.

As we know testing is something that is done so that whatever item we might be working with works the way it is supposed to before it goes on the market. Or even a good recipe gets tested by offering it to friends. The other day on TV the hosts were sampling simple snack recipes sent in from the audience. One of them was a ham and strawberry jelly sandwich. When one of the hosts tried it, she took one bite, turned her back to the audience, spit it into her napkin and made some weird, ‘this is not for me’ expression. 

In sports new players called up to the big leagues are put into difficult spots testing to see what they can do under pressure. Kids in school are tested to see what they have learned, things that will often shape their lives. People in the service, or police or firemen and others, are tested to see how they will act under certain pressures.  They often must go through grueling things to make sure when a situation happens, they can make the right decisions. 

I don’t think the disciples liked testing. However, Jesus put them through many tests and trials. Bad storms at sea is one. Trying to feed thousands with just a few loaves of bread and maybe two fish. Following him when he said he was headed for the cross. Testing is tough. James writes to us these encouraging works for when we go through those times of testing that God lays before us. He days, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God’s words of faith for his children this morning who face trials and tribulations.

In other words, testing helps us to weather the storms, to keep on keeping on, walking, as King David would say, ‘walking through the valley and fearing no evil.’

I’m not sure how many Christians consider it joy when going through some testing. Testing comes in all phases, at all times, to all people, religious or secular. We might just look at it differently. We think of testing as something sometimes to be feared. If it is a medical test sometimes we’re afraid of what they will find. But on the other hand, when they find nothing, well, there is joy. It happens in many ways in our lives. Spiritually we are tested all the time. The disciples went through many tests those three years they followed Jesus. And it didn’t stop there. I bet they were tested all the way to the end of their lives. We just hear about a few of them that stand out, like Peter denying Jesus 3 times, is one of them. He failed. Judas betraying Jesus, that’s another, and he failed. I think about three guys who were tested for their faith. One was Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into slavery, locked in a prison accused of a crime he did not commit not knowing if he would ever see the light of day. But one day Pharaoh had a dream no one could interpret and a butler, who spent time in prison with Joseph, remembered how he could interpret dreams. This led to his release and Joseph becoming second in command in order to save Egypt and his own people. 

Another was Abraham. He had the difficult test for God told him he wanted him to offer his only son as an offering to him. When Abraham had him on the altar and ready to bring down the knife to end the life of his promised son, a voice stopped him, and God provided a ram for Abraham passed the test that God was first in his life.

The other was Job. He is a good example for us all. Satan had been prowling around the world, his band of outcasts going here and there watching God’s people and putting many different temptations in their paths. One man stood out to Satan and his cohorts. It was this man from the land of Uz whose name was Job. It is recorded, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” That’s a pretty good description of a follower of God one would think.  This was just the kind of person Satan was looking for. So, one day as he was going back and forth over his earthly dominion, Satan stops in to visit with God. They sit having coffee and God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s answer to this is that God had put a hedge of protection around him so that nothing could harm him. Satan then asks, “Let me put him to the test and let’s see what happens then.” So, God gives Satan permission to do anything he wants, except he can’t lay a finger on Job.

Satan smiles, leaves the presence of God and heads for a meeting with his fellow fallen angels. They have a council to decide what they might be able to do to get an unsuspecting Job to turn against God. “How about sending some troops to raid and kill all his servants and take his animals.” Another pops up and says, “I got an idea, why not cause a wildfire to start so that it burns the prairie grass and the sheep that are crazing there.” Another fallen angel pops up to say, “Hey, what if we raid his camel farm taking all the camels and kill his servants.” Another says, “I got an idea. What if we create a great big storm with lighting, high winds, lots of rain and hail and send it to where his kids are having a party, and it destroys their homes and take their lives.” 

Satan liked the plan the more he heard about it. Wealth being taken. Crops and animals destroyed. Servants either killed or taken into captivity. Family heritage gone. Rich man becoming poor.  Satan went over his checklist and said, “Yup! all these should get Job to curse God.” So, the plan was set in place.

And when we read about it in the Scriptures, responds with these words: “At this Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell on the ground in worship and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

How could he do that? What was he made of? In the course of a few hours Satan came with all his weapons and like a machine gun he sprayed it over poor Job. He was not able to recover from one disaster until another happened, and the final one which took his family took a toll on him, yet, my friends we learn that like a tree that roots go deep into the ground and are so strong that when a storm comes that tree might bend, loose some limbs, but when the storms end, that tree still stands to the sky a little damaged, but holding strong, raising its branches to heaven..

That was Job. For you see, much to the disgust of Satan when all that happened, in the end, Job fell on his knees thanking God for his blessings, not hating him for what had happened, but blessing him for the blessings that he had given him throughout his years. The end of his prayer were these words that caused Satan to become angry. In all this, Job was able to say, “May the name of the Lord be praised.’ 

James says “consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way.” I like that one phrase of this translation… ‘You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.’ 

That angry trickster headed back to have a conference with God. When God asked how Job faired, why that wacky Devil said, “You must have put a great wall around him because he still wouldn’t curse you. Let me have another crack at him and I bet he will snap.” “Okay,” God said. “I’ll allow that. You can do what you want with Job, but you can’t kill him.” So, Satan took leave of God’s kingdom and headed straight to Job’s place with his new bag of tricks. First, he gave him boils so bad that they covered his body and made his life miserable. Second, his wife saw him, and she even gave up on him and said, “Job, just curse God and die.” But he just hung in there. Third, four of Job’s friends came to be with him. Each one in time began to blame Job for his situation. Each said Job must have done something terribly wrong  for God to punish him this much. They told him to fess up and maybe, yes maybe God would forgive him. That was not helpful, for Job knew he did nothing to deserve this. Job stayed true to his faith. 

Job persevered until the end. He hung in there. He stayed the course. He took the blows. He even humbly stood before God. When it was all said and done, God blessed Job with more family and more wealth than what he had in the beginning, all because he passed the test of faith that God allowed in his life. He preserved right to the end. 

If we are honest we wish we had the patience of Job, the perseverance of Job, the faith of Job. We know many of the Scriptures that tell us to stay strong in the Lord. We know the stories that tell us about others who have weathered the storms. But sometimes we say that others don’t know what we are going through, but does that matter? God knows. And as Paul has told us, God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, for he always leaves a window open for us to escape the tricks of the trickster.

You see, it’s easy to praise the Lord when all is going well in our lives. It’s a much more difficult thing to do when things in our lives begin to pile up. Paul reminds us that when all this stuff that Satan pulls in our lives, that he puts as an obstacle to our spiritual journey, don’t give in and toss your faith away. Remain firm. Hold on to your faith. Be strong and trust in our God.  

One last comment. Proverbs 3:12 has words of encouragement for those times when we are tested and tried. May they be etched in our minds and hearts. They go like this: “My child, do not despise the Lord’s disciplines and do not resent his rebuke.  Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

So, this morning as you receive the cup and the bread of communion, receive more strength and courage to help you persevere in your times of trials and testing. When you leave this altar of rejuvenation, may you go forth with the joy of the Lord knowing that through every step of your journey, no matter what testing or trial you may embrace, you don’t do it alone. You do it with Jesus. You do it with God. You do it with the Holy Spirit You never walk alone! So, may it always be! 

Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor
About Rev. Dick Piscatelli, Pastor

Reverend Richard Piscatelli, (Pastor Dick) has been serving this church since 2006 and has begun his 13th year at Williamsville. Dick is a graduate of Asbury College, 1980, now Asbury University, and Asbury Theological Seminary, 1983, in Wilmore, Kentucky. Originally from Watertown, Massachusetts, he and his wife, Carole, have enjoyed living in the Midwest and have made many friends here. Dick’s first appointment was to Buffalo/Dawson UMCs, a two-point charge, which he served for almost 8 years when he was appointed to Paris Trinity UMC. He served at Paris for 6 years and was then appointed to First UMC at St. Elmo in southern Illinois. Dick’s final full-time appointment was to Roanoke/Secor UMCs, a two-point charge. These churches brought much satisfaction and lasting relationships in each. Williamsville UMC has been a joy to serve as he actually began his first church in “retirement,” and is very much involved in all areas of ministry, as the Lord leads. Pastor Dick has a special gift for doing Celebrations of Life and comforting the family. He prepares uplifting, inspiring sermons in a more casual and relaxed style, using humor when appropriate, yet ever-mindful of the importance of bringing the Gospel message for the salvation that Jesus Christ offers to all.