IMG_3845 (1)You know raising kids has been quite an educational process for me.  As a father there are somethings that just matter to me more than others and who my kids are is a really big deal to me.  The amazing thing about my children is that even though they all share Mashawn and I’s DNA…they are all so different.  They have different personalities and they all challenge me in different ways.  Some of them think a little more like me than others.  But I could tell you of a lot of different moments where they send me looking for the parenting manual!  It’s amazing how much I learn as I parent!  It’s kind of funny, when I look back over my life I can think of different things that I said I would do as a parent…you know, BEFORE I had kids.  I had it all figured out!  Now I just kind of laugh at myself because I had great ideas on what I would do as a dad, before I experienced life as a dad!  You know I would say that even after Monica and Jaden were born, I assumed I was doing things really well in the parenting department.  I could take them anywhere and do anything and we had a blast.  They didn’t give me any trouble at all…so I could go to the park, or the store, and do anything I wanted with them.  It was a blast.  I felt like I hero.  It was fun and easy, we would go to sporting events, or wherever…and they just weren’t hard to deal with at all.  I would have people say things like your children are so well behaved!  And I just kind of assumed that I had the parenting thing nailed!  I would see a kid pitching a fit in a store, you have seen it too, where the little one is just making a fool out of his father or you see a parent dragging the screaming child through the aisle and think, what is wrong with those people!  As Monica, Jaden and I would just calmly walk by.  Yep, I would think to myself Mashawn and I have this parenting thing down…we couldn’t wait for more children to come!  I just figured I was a better parent that you!  And then Trey came into my world.  Trey is an amazing young man.  He has fire.  He has passion.  He has a huge heart, and if you know Trey at all, how he feels on the inside is what you see on the outside.  There isn’t a whole lot of guessing with Trey.  If he is having a bad day you will know it.  Early on it seemed to me as this amazing father of the first two that one of Trey’s primary goals as a little boy was to educate me on the art of parenting in every way.  He was the opposite of the first two.  All of a sudden I went from parent of the year to being the dad with the screaming child laying in the aisle at Giant.  I was the guy saying we can’t go do the things we used to do because everywhere we went he seemed to do his best to make my life as hard as possible!  It’s amazing, before Trey was born and before I experienced parenting a child with his emotions and personality I could assume some stuff about me as a dad.  I could assume that as I watched you threaten bodily harm on your child in the store as I walked calmly by you with my two kids that I was just simply a better parent.  Maybe I should write books…or just come to your house, and give you some lessons and why would I think that way?  Because I was young and dumb.  I hadn’t experienced a challenging child yet.  It is amazing how as we walk through life, we grow as people.  We mature through life experiences.  And as we walk through different life stages, challenges, wins, and losses we learn, and hopefully live differently from those moments.  I said so many things prior to being a parent about how good a parent I was going to be, that I just kind of laugh now because those statements were made prior to any growth in that area of my life!

You know just like I grow and mature as a person, that same growth and maturity is something that I really want for my four children.  It really is one of the biggest focal points for me as a father.  That my children are maturing and growing and learning and gaining the life skills necessary to live a good life.  If Trey now 9 years old was still pitching fits in the store and laying on the floor in Giant screaming his head off like he did at 2 years old, I would need to really look in the mirror.  It is funny to look back on where the kids were, to where they are today, but let’s face it if they were still acting like toddlers as they move into their teenage years as parents we would be crushed.  I think as a dad this is one of my biggest desires for my children, to see that they become mature, healthy, and as close to stable you can be and still be related to me!  As parents we want to see all of our children grow up well.

Well this is exactly how God feels about all of us.  We are his children and God has this same desire for each and every one of us, that we would grow up spiritually.  That we would become mature and complete and not lacking anything.  God’s desire is that we continue to grow up in Him!  Which leads to a pretty important question.  How do we do that?  What does it even look like to grow up spiritually?  Well that is where we turn to our Bibles and find an amazing gift in the letter James wrote to the congregations in his care way back in the day.  The book of James is very challenging but if we read it, and really see it for what it is, this book of the Bible really becomes our manual for Spiritual Growth.  James is an incredible book, written by a man that was known for the hours he spent in prayer.  He was actually nicknamed “Old Camel Knees” because of the thick calluses he built up from all the years he spent on his knees in prayer…which is kind of gross, and led him to create knee pads still worn in volleyball games today…ok, I made up the knee pad part…but you get the point.  This was a man of prayer, a man full of wisdom…the type of wisdom that can only be found in prayer.  The book of James is a gift to us, and it really guides us towards spiritual maturity, which is such a big deal!

James actually shows us different signs of spiritual maturity.  When we wonder if there is growth in our lives or not, we can look at these things and we can see if we are maturing in our Faith.  Here are the six signs of spiritual maturity that we will be studying this summer as we dive into the book of James.

The 6 Signs of Spiritual Growth:

  1. Sign 1 is seen in how we handle adversity and tough times.  We will be looking at this one today!
  2. Sign 2 is seen in how we treat others.  Can we see the needs of others?  Do they matter at all?  Or is it all about me.
  3. Sign 3 is seen in how we speak…what comes out of your mouth matters more than you may realize!
  4. Sign 4 is seen in how we get along with others.  Are we a peacemaker or a troublemaker?
  5. Sign 5 is in our ability to be patient.  This is a tough one in a culture of immediate gratification but learning patience takes waiting which shows real maturity.
  6. Sign 6 is found in your prayer life.  As we grow spiritually we begin to understand the power of God, and we learn where we take our problems and where we go for strength.

It’s just like as a father I look at my son Trey and want to see things in his life that tell me he is growing up, and by his actions I can see growth or not.  There are different things I look for and see in his life, like how he handles losing a lacrosse game, or how he treats his mother or his siblings and peers, or how his teachers and coaches tell me he is doing when I’m not around.  I want him to grow.  Well, it’s the same thing in our spiritual journey.  Just as a father wants to see his children grow and mature…it’s the same with God.  He wants this too and James gives us so much help in this area!  We can use these 6 signs to see if we are growing up spiritually…or not!  So while many people think James is a little harsh, or challenging I don’t see it that way at all.  I see this book as a gift, guiding us towards growth.  It is exciting because our Heavenly Father wants us maturing, and growing up in Him.

Ephesians 4:15 God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love — like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. 16 He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.  (MSG)

So today we are kicking off our study of the book of James looking at the first sign of spiritual growth in our lives.  We are going to look at how we respond to the tough times in life…because there will be tough times.  I think we have made that abundantly clear to you here at MRC.  We love you too much not to tell you that life is hard, and tough times do come.  So that is reality, and because that is reality how we respond in those moments is a really big deal!  It’s in the most challenging moments of life that we can see so much about who we are as people!  It’s amazing what happens when life squeezes in on us, and it makes me think a lot about something Solomon wrote in Proverbs…

Proverbs 24:10 If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn’t much to you in the first place. MSG

We don’t want to hear it, but we sure do learn a lot about who we are in the difficult moments of life.  And it doesn’t take James long to go right after this difficult subject.  He literally starts his letter with a greeting and not even a long or drawn out one!  It’s literally one verse, and then it’s right into what I see as one of the biggest challenges in our scriptures…

James 1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. NIV

So he is like, “Hi, I’m James, let’s just go for it!”  Then he heads right into what I would consider one of the most challenging scriptures in all of the Bible because people always bring this scripture up at the worst possible moments of our lives.  I mean when I’m in the middle of a tough moment in my life the last thing I want to hear is James 1:2-4 but it is so huge for us as we grow towards Spiritual Maturity…so let’s take a look at this chunk of scripture…

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

I think in our more peaceful moments when we have time to think, and life is kind of just rolling along we all know this verse is speaking the truth but do you really want to hear this text when you are in the middle of the brutal moments of your life?  I can tell you I do not.  I can go back to my childhood where one of my closest friends died in a car accident when I was 12 years old.  I didn’t know how to process it, I had no depth for it…I was angry.  I was hurt for their family.  I couldn’t make sense of it at all.  It left me devastated and a lot of good Christian people would say wonderful things like, “Hey, everything happens for a reason!”  I would look at the family mourning and think really?  This happens for a reason?  I think those words angered me, more than even losing my friend.  You know when you are in those dark moments of life this isn’t what you want to hear is it?  I know I certainly didn’t need someone far from the situation walk up and tell me with a chipper tone that God will spin all of it for good.  Tell that to the family who lost their son right?  Don’t tell me that as I sit here hurting so badly on the inside.  It just seems so easy for someone else to say right?

It’s amazing how in our darkest moments, in the storms of our lives, it is so hard to see a way out and it is so easy to question what is happening and why things happen in life.  It’s because that moment has your focus and your attention and it’s hard to think of or see anything else which we will get into in a bit!  But what James says is so true, we learn so much through adversity, and I would really like to take some time today and really dive deeper into this scripture, because as tough as it can be to hear in the difficult moments, it is just that important!  If you think about it, it was important enough that James starts this monumental letter with making sure we see this point, right off the bat!  So let’s look at this a little closer…

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds

You know we just came out of a Holy Spirit series where we heard the term joy a lot and here we see James bringing it up again.  We are to find pure joy in our trials because we know that it’s through these difficult moments that we become mature and complete, not lacking anything.  Well that sounds pretty awesome!  But I want you to see something about this kind of pure joy that James talks about it.  It comes from the Holy Spirit living inside us because we would have joy even in difficult circumstances!  Do you see that?  A person who finds pure joy in the difficult moments is someone who is walking in the Holy Spirit because their circumstances have no baring over their joy!  This is such a big deal!  Now, remember joy is different than happy and sad.  You will feel emotions and that is ok.  You will have happy emotions.  You will be angry, and sad at times but in all of it we have joy…which is one of the parts of the Fruit of the Spirit we have been talking about so much lately!  Pure joy only comes from our relationship with God.  As we walk with the Spirit, we find joy in our relationship with Him and we begin to walk in a different type of confidence regardless of the situation.  Here in Paul’s second letter to the church of Corinth he is saying that even though the first letter put a lot of weight on them and caused some issues…it led to heart change which is awesome!  Paul is helping us see that we can stay confident in what God is up to regardless of the situation!

2 Corinthians 7:4 I have, in fact, the greatest confidence in you. If only you knew how proud I am of you! I am overwhelmed with joy despite all our troubles. MSG

Such a cool concept.  We can walk in joy and confidence regardless of what is going on around us!  How awesome is that!?!?  So just one sentence into this letter, James this wise man of prayer just goes after it saying we should consider it pure joy to walk through difficult times!  Wow!  Let’s face it, that isn’t easy to do…I told you last week that most of the times when I struggle with who God is and what He is up to, it’s in these difficult moments!  When things aren’t going my way!  James is warning us all to stay the course in these difficult moments because of what it produces in our lives.

James 1:3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

So now we are getting into it, James says that these challenging moments test our faith, and help us develop perseverance.  Perseverance is your ability to keep moving forward regardless of what is thrown at you.  Why would that quality be so important?  Because again life will not be easy!  In so many ways we don’t like talking about this in our culture today.  We try to find the easiest path to success, but the dirty little secret is that you will have to push through things to be successful in life.  Many people look at someone who has become successful at their trade and think, boy it must be nice to be them!  They say that like their success just dropped out of the sky and fell into that person’s lap…and it simply doesn’t work that way!  I often say it this way, when you see that guy holding the Super Bowl Trophy over his head with the confetti falling all around him, we all want to be that guy there holding the trophy…but not everyone is willing to put in the work to get there.  They aren’t willing to discipline themselves, and put in the hours needed to be that guy!  These are the types of life lessons I desperately want my children to learn and understand.  Perseverance is a really important thing to have.  And just as I want this for my children, is as much as James is helping us see how needed this quality is as we grow up in our faith but let’s face it, this is a challenging thing to do.  Perseverance means we are pushing through tough times…well how in the world do we do that?  How do we stay the course as we walk through the challenges of life?  Well the Bible actually answers that question for us too!  We study how Jesus lived and focus on what he focused on (and it wasn’t the trial he was in!)

Hebrews 12:2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! 4 In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through — all that bloodshed! 5 So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?  MSG

This is it, tough times are, well they are tough…so we need to some help to stay the course.  Here we see how to do it.  We are to focus on Jesus.  We are to look how he handled all that he had to handle.  He was able to put up with so much more than you and I!  He went to the cross, dealt with so much pain and humiliation and what got him through it?  He wasn’t focused on the trial, he was focused on the outcome!  He found joy in the midst of all His suffering because he knew where he was going!  This is what James is trying to show us here!  That on the other side of the trial, what we receive is far greater than anything we walked through in the middle of the trial!  This is where we find the motivation to stay the course!  It’s by focusing on the end result rather than the circumstance we are momentarily in!

Parents think about how often you are trying to help your children see what will come of everything they do.  It’s such a challenge to get them to focus on their school work because they can’t see how it effects their future but you do!  It’s why you want your children to practice and train and work hard because you see what is coming down the road.  You know that all that work when no one is watching is going to help them have a lot more fun in their future…but it’s so hard for them to see isn’t it?  Just as we try to do this with our children, God is trying to do that with us too.  When we are in the middle of a trial it is so hard to stay the course, and it’s typically because our focus is on the agony we are in, not what will come of it.  Isn’t this our challenge as God’s children to get our eyes off of today and onto all of eternity to come?  A couple of weeks ago Ken said something that I think was so challenging to so many of us, and I want to go back to it for a moment.  He said that God allows you to walk through hard times because he wants us to grow up.  Man that is so hard to hear but just like as parents we can’t give our children everything they want, God can’t either.  If God gave us all we wanted, we would be selfish, lazy people.  We would never see a need to change or grow and please hear me on this.  God wants you to grow.  Let’s finish up that chunk of Hebrews real quick…

Hebrews 12:7 God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, 8 the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? 9 We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? 10 While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. 11 At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God. MSG

Tough times will hit, and we often find ourselves wondering why they happen and trying to make sense of them which may never happen, especially when our focus is on the circumstance and not eternity.  Scripture says whether you want to hear it or not the challenges we face in life are training.  And, according to scripture, looking back, we will be better because of those things.   Listen I know that this is a challenging subject…and so many people seem to look at James and think that he was harsh.  Because let’s face it, we don’t like to hear that we need to grow up.  But when I read the book of James I see it completely differently.  This is a man of God, who through hours, and days, and weeks and years of prayer has a better view of eternal things than you and I do and he knows that one of the most challenging things we deal with is trials and tribulations of our lives.  It’s just that he sees better than we do.  It’s just like us as parents, we love our children and want to see them grow into mature young adults and we see life better because we have walked through life longer than they have.  We are trying to help them see the bigger picture in life.  James does the same thing for us!  He is guiding us towards Spiritual maturity.  It is so easy when tough times hit to lose sight of the bigger picture.  We focus on the now, and lose sight of all of eternity to come!  I know for me with my own children this is the challenge, helping them see that there is something bigger going on.  Yes it seems painful now to walk through, but in the end it is producing something enormous in our lives.  Our text for the day ends with this…

James 1:4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

This is what it’s all about, growing in our relationship with God.  God wants you to grow up, and James shows us the signs of spiritual growth in our lives.  When we can walk through the difficult moments of our lives and respond differently, it’s a sure sign that we are growing up spiritually.  James hits the ground running in his letter and just jumps into a very difficult subject right away, why would he do that?  Is it to appear edgy or controversial?  NO, it’s actually loving.  He is trying to guide us as we grow up in God…just like we do as parents with our children.  We try to show them the bigger picture so that they grow and our Heavenly Father is doing the same thing and whether we want to hear it while we are in the middle of our own mess or not, we know in our hearts that this challenging statement is so true.

James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. NIV

 Mature and complete and not lacking anything…wouldn’t that be awesome?