X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
August 12, 2001
A couple of months ago, I took my three youngest children to the X-Trials, extreme games that are a kind of preliminary to the X-Games. It was a real experience seeing these extreme athletes, the best inline skaters, skateboarders, bikers, you could ever see anywhere. Word had it that the Michael Jordan of extreme athletes was going to be at this festival, this event. I am talking about Tony Hawk. When my three children knew that Tony Hawk was going to be there, they asked me, “Dad, can we take our brand new skateboard, because we want Tony Hawk and maybe another celebrity to autograph it.” I said, “Yes, but you have to carry the skateboard. I am not going to lug the skateboard around.”
Before the trip, they even tweaked my wardrobe. They told me how to dress for these events, baggy kind of long shorts, shoes, of course, shirt, these sunglasses that were blue with a visor. And they said, “Dad, you look the part. You look cool.” I said, “Thanks.” I think EJ gave me a necklace to wear, so I said, “Okay, we are ready to go.”
So we jumped in the car and cruised over, and this festival was wild. All the sponsors had these booths everywhere. There was music going on. We were walking through one of the booths and this girl who worked at the X-Trials—she was probably about 19 or 20—walked up to me and said, “Excuse me, aren’t you one of the skateboarders for the X-Trials?” I started laughing and said, “Excuse me?” She goes, “You are one of the pro-skaters, aren’t you?” I said, “No, I am 40 years old, these are my children, and the last time I got on a skateboard, I about broke my wrist in half. No, I am not.”
What was going on there? I’ll tell you what was going on. She thought I looked the part, which I sort of did, but she made a mistake. Just because I looked a certain way didn’t mean I could actually do all the events. At the end of the session, I was carrying around the skateboard in this Africa hot weather. We never saw Tony Hawk or any of the other celebrities, but we did have a good time at the X-Trials.
It’s a great principle, isn’t it? A lot of people look the part and everything is A-okay on the exterior, but on the interior, the way they live their life, it doesn’t really jive. Do you know what I am saying? The same is true spiritually. A lot of people walk by and we say, “Wow, that is an extreme Christian. I mean, they have got it together.” We think they are an extreme Christian with an extreme faith because they look the part. But in reality, they don’t live it. They look it, but they don’t live it. It doesn’t change their lifestyle.
Usually during the summer, people read a bunch of different books. Whenever someone recommends a book, or whenever someone tells you about a book that is a great book, what do we normally say? We say, “Who wrote this great book and what is the book about?” For the next 10 to 12 weeks, we are going to be studying the book of James, one of the most practical, I would say the most practical, book in the entire New Testament. When we study this book, we have to ask ourselves a couple of questions. Number one: who wrote it? James. Number two: what’s it about? Who was this guy called James? We better know the author before we get into the study.
James was the half-brother of Jesus. Amazingly, James didn’t buy into Jesus being the Savior of the world during his earthly ministry. The Bible tells us, though, that Jesus appeared to James after his resurrection and then he was on the team. James became such a leader in the Jerusalem Church that he was the point person.
The apostle Paul in Galations 2:9 calls James a pillar of the church. A lot of people have nicknames these days. Nicknames are popular. James had one, camel’s knees. Is that hilarious? I would love to see the guy’s knees. He prayed so much, tradition tells us, that he had calluses on his knees. He passed away in A.D. 62. Tradition also tells us that he was tossed from the top of the temple by a bunch of religious leaders because they so hated his strong testimony for Christ. When he hit the ground, they clubbed him to death. The story goes that James actually prayed for his murderers like his half-brother, Jesus, did. That’s James, a guy who lived up close and personal with Jesus.
What is the book about? James is basically about development. It’s about God taking us higher. It is hard hitting and in your face. This book will get into your kitchen. I’ll talk to you about getting in your kitchen later. It talks about things like saying one thing and doing another, about being a hypocrite. It talks about people getting sideways over financial matters. It talks about stuff I’m sure no one here can relate to. I think we all can. James is not a complex book. Every single person will understand every single verse here. It’s easy to grasp. It’s not a book like Revelations or Daniel. But this book is so convicting that I am sure after the third or fourth week, you will say, “Boy, I wish I didn’t understand it!” Do you know what I am saying? It’s that convicting.
The big idea is spiritual maturity in the book of James, how to grow up in the faith. We live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, the belt buckle of the Bible belt. We have all these churches here, televangelists are from here, seminaries are here, Bible colleges are here. Here is what I believe about Dallas/Ft. Worth after living here for about 11 years. First, most people who think they are spiritually mature, in reality are immature. Conversely, a lot of people who think they are immature are much more mature than they think. This is going to be a great study. X-Trials—having an extreme faith, living an extreme life.
Now when I use the word “extreme,” I am not talking about weird or wacky or bouncing off the wall. I am talking about someone who has got it together. Think about those men and women competing in the X-Trials. You talk about people who have been through the wringer. They have got bumps, bruises, and scrapes. They have been through many different contests and they have all that stuff under their belt. Because they do, they are some of the greatest skaters and bikers around. In the Christian life, we have got to go through some stuff. We have got to develop, mature, so we can become an extreme person with extreme faith during extreme days.
Like Eric talked about in that song by Creed, how does God take us higher? What is the process involved? Today we are looking at 12 verses in the first chapter of James. How do we develop? We develop by using and putting into practice a formula of faith. Having said all that, let’s go ahead and dive in because I don’t know about you but I am ready to rumble! Let’s do it.
James 1:1, “James, a servant of God.” This is a good way to start, isn’t it? James. I am the man; I am writing it. “Of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” This word “scattered” in the original language is an agricultural term meaning “seed.” God strategically scattered and dispersed all of the Christians throughout the Mediterranean world so they would be a light to a darkened world, so the other people in the world would know about Christ. James says that, he highlights that, and he says that is a good thing.
Now look at Verse 2. Here is the first part of the faith formula. James says something that is weird, very radical. He says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Now that is unique. Consider it pure joy when you face trials? James is saying that we shouldn’t look at trials in our lives like intruders messing up our comfortable lifestyle.
Let me stop for a second. I hope you found a scripture sheet in your worship guide. If you have it, all the verses are right there for you. Just take notes as I am talking. I will be teaching from the New International Version of the Bible over the next 12 weeks. If you don’t have a Bible, go to the bookstore and buy one. Not now. Don’t get up now. I’m talking about later.
When you face trials, do you face them with joy, which is kind of odd? Or do you go, “Oh, no, this is the worst. What a terrible time.” How do you face trials? James used the word “joy.” He didn’t say happy. Remember, happiness and joy are different concepts. Happiness comes from the Latin word “hap” which means chance. Happiness is based on happenings. If you’re happening or it’s happening, you are happy. That’s shallow. James talks about the deep-water stuff. He is going down with the phantoms of faith here. He is talking about joy. Joy means tranquility of the soul. It’s knowing God is working even through your trials.
James also says trials of many kinds. You might be asking what kinds of trials he is talking about. Trials of many kinds. To explain this, I want to invite you over to my house, into my kitchen.
My wife and I tie-dyed all the shirts that the singers are wearing tonight and also this shirt too. We face trials the Bible says, of what? Many kinds. My shirt that I tie-dyed is different from Rob’s shirt. Rob’s shirt is a little bit different than Eric’s shirt and so on. God is tie-dying through trials. Tie-dying is a tough process because you have to take the garment, twist it, put rubber bands on it, put it in boiling water with dye, take it out, cool it off, carefully take scissors and cut the rubber bands, and then you take the shirt and say, “Wow, this looks cool. It’s one of a kind. It’s a tie-dyed shirt.”
What kind of trial are you facing? What’s God doing in the tie-dye department in your life? What trial has come down the pike for you—a financial setback, a problem in your family or your marriage, a death in the family? We are not promised that we will live a trial-free life. James says, “whenever.” They are inevitable. They are going to happen. How do we face them? It’s centered on that first word, “consider.” The word “consider” in Verse 2 is a word that means “evaluation.” It’s an accounting term. As we see trials through the eyes of faith, we can credit our spiritual portfolio. Conversely, if we don’t see the trials through the eyes of faith, we can do the debit thing in our faith portfolio. So what is your choice, what is my choice, either a credit or a debit? Evaluation. That is the first part of this formula here, “e” stands for evaluation.
There’s another part, “i.” I’ll tell you what that stands for in a second. Look at Verse 3, “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Perseverance or endurance, the testing. So testing is a good thing. Remember this. God tests us to make us strong. Satan tempts us to make us do wrong. God can never tempt you or tempt me. We will talk about that next weekend.
I should thank God, though, for the test. “Because you know,” the Bible says. That’s the 411, isn’t it? That’s the information, the second part of the formula. So I have got the “e” going on, the evaluation, and now I’ve got the information. I know. What do I know? The testing of my faith, all these trials, will work together and build real character in my life. It would be great if we could get this character stuff and this spiritual maturity just by ordering it off the internet or just by reading a little self-help book in Barnes & Noble.
Physically speaking, we mature naturally. It just happens, we start maturing. Spiritually, though, it doesn’t happen that way. It’s an intentional thing. We have got to do some things in order to grow and one of the things we have to do is we have to understand the role of trials.
We have got to also understand that trials are not always good. Sometimes they are bad. Sometimes they stink. Sometimes they are ugly. But you have got to remember something. Every trial you ever face has to come through God. He allows them. Why? For maturity and growth. “You know,” the Bible says, “that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” The goal is maturity. The X factor is that we don’t know what kind of trial it is going to be. But we do know that God is tie-dying to bring good things out of the trials.
I think the whole enchilada about this information piece is summarized in Romans 8:28. It says, “And we know,” there’s the word “know” again, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Look at that verse right quick. “We know that in all things.” It doesn’t say all things are good does it? Some things, as I said, stink; some are ugly. The rubber bands are coming around our neck, we are getting twisted, the fabric of our lives is being pulled apart and we are saying, “God, what is the deal?” We are thrown into the hot water. He is controlling the temperature.
One day, though, if we stay with it, what is going to happen? We are going to emerge, maybe in this life or maybe even in the next life, we will emerge and say, “Look at the color. Look at the uniqueness. Look at how beautiful it is.” That’s a good thing. That’s a maturing thing.
The next letter in this formula is “c.” Let’s talk about the “c” principle. Go to Verse 4, James, Chapter 1, “Perseverance must finish its work.” God is not satisfied with a little spiritual toddler walking around for the rest of our lives. God is not satisfied with that. He is happy that we are born again and that we are babes in Christ. But he wants us to grow and to develop.
“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Not lacking. God is going to work you and me out. He wants to grow us up in the faith. Part of maturity is risk. Part of maturity is being exposed to some danger. Parents, as your children grow and get older and older, you give them more and more decision-making rope. With that decision making rope, comes risk. We all know that.
I grew up around a family named the Blackstones. They were a nice family, but a little bit different. They had three boys, three Blackstone boys—Rip, Fred, and Lawton. Don’t you love those names? We walked down the street and played football with them. Now, with the Blackstones you always had to play touch football, which is fine with me. The Blackstone boys were almost teenagers and their mom watched every move they made. She was in the kitchen window watching us play football. One day, Rip went out for a pass and Fred, his brother, kind of elbowed him a little bit. Rip hit the turf and kind of whimpered a little bit. All he had to do was whimper for a second, and the front door flung open with Mrs. Blackstone in its wake, “That’s all for the day. It’s over. Boys, come in. You mean neighborhood kids, you go home.”
I was thinking, “Wow, talk about overprotective.” She was treating these teenagers like toddlers. I wonder how the Blackstone boys are doing today. I don’t know. But I wonder.
God does not treat us like that. He is not the overly-protective parent. He is going to expose us to the elements. Why? So we can grow. That’s a good thing, a wonderful thing, a Biblical thing, a spiritual thing. Those skaters, to become great skaters, as I talked about, they have got to go through some cuts, bruises, and bumps and falls, and lose some contests, get some experience under their belt, and then they are awesome. The same is true in our life of faith.
“Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” What am I driving at here? I will tell you what James is going after, cooperation. We have got to cooperate with God’s maturing process. We have got to cooperate with the trials. “God, I am not God. You are. I trust you, God. I don’t understand it. I cannot explain it. I trust you.”
The cool thing about the Bible is that so many people just blew this in so many different situations and circumstances. We can see the strengths and weaknesses of biblical characters, their good days and their bad days. I don’t know about you, but I can identify with that. If they were all perfect, I couldn’t identify. But I can identify with people who have blown it, can’t you? I hope you are saying, “Yes.”
I’ll tell you a perfect example of someone who had a problem with cooperation: Jonah, the running man. God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, this ungodly city, and he would give him the power and the octane to do it. He told him to preach his message and the whole city would change. You know what Jonah said? “No, it’s too tough. That long walk through the desert, I am not going to do it.” So, he just took a Mediterranean cruise. He got into some problems, didn’t he? He became a human fishing lure.
After that, he changed his ways, when the fish coughed him back up on the beach. We think our boy, Jonah, has finally figured it out. We think he is really cooperating now and saying, “God, I am going to do it your way.” He goes to Nineveh, speaks, the whole city changes, and you would think after this event, Jonah would be outside giving his assistants high fives. You know what he was doing? The Bible says Jonah, after this great spiritual high point, was sitting beneath a tree (the prophet in pampers) whining and complaining. On the outside, he was saying, “Okay, God, I am going to follow you.” But on the inside, he wasn’t really following God. He had a problem with cooperation.
I want to kick myself as I look back in the rearview mirror of my life because of so many opportunities that I have had during trials to submit my life to cooperate with God. But I said, “No, God, I’m not going to do that. I’m going to do it my way.” I think you can too.
That’s why to the secular mind this is nonsense. Secular people are going, “Wait a minute, you welcome trials? You say, ‘Okay, here’s another trial. I know God’s going to use it.’ You mean you can make sense out of your trials?” That’s why so many people who don’t know Christ are so freaked out and messed up. There is no sense to the nonsense in their view. Yet, for the Christian, we should welcome them and say, “I don’t understand it. This is tough. This is hard. But God is going to use it. He is tie-dying me, and I am going to be someone who is beautiful.”
James goes on and talks about some financial issues. He talks about some reactions that people have to trials without money and with money. “The brother in humble circumstances,” Verse 9, “ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises in scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.”
He was simply saying that when the poor man faces a trial, the poor man, if he is doing the right thing, welcomes the trial and he knows it is building his spiritual portfolio. He knows he doesn’t have anything financially in the world, but he says, “My riches are in Christ Jesus.” That is a good thing.
James also says when the rich man handles a trial correctly, he says, “I welcome you trial. I know I have a lot of stuff, toys, and trinkets on this earth, but that is nothing compared to my spiritual riches in my spiritual account with you. I am ready for the trial because I know what matters.” That is the way we should handle this stuff.
Evaluation, information, cooperation. There is another “c” word. Let’s go to James 1:5. This is a very powerful statement right here, “If any of you lacks wisdom….” In other words, if we are facing these trials and we say, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” he should do what? What’s the word? Ask. Say it with me, “…he should ask God.” That is the linchpin of the whole deal. He should ask God, or in other words, engage God in conversation. That is the second “C.”
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea,”—have you ever been offshore before?—“blown and tossed by the wind.” Faith says go, doubt says no. Faith says row, doubt says heave ho. A lot of us are seasick. We are doubting so much. Faith, yes. Doubt, no. Doubt, no. Faith, yes.
We are double minded, Verse 7 says. “That man should not think he will receive anything”—the one doubting—“from the Lord; he is a double minded man, unstable in all he does.”
I am a why person. I love to ask questions. “Why, God? Why this? Why that?” It’s good to ask questions. If you have questions to ask, the Bible is ready to answer your questions. There are many great books written about it, skeptics asking questions. This book has been picked apart for thousands of years and it is still the number one best seller.
I like what Os Guinness says about those why questions, because the Bible says we will never know the answer to some of the why questions until we get to the other side. Here is what Guinness writes in his book, “God in the Dark.” I quote, “As believers, we cannot always know why, but we can always know why we trust the God who knows why. And that makes all the difference.” It really does.
So when I have this evaluation, information, the cooperation, and the conversation, then I am going to be spiritually mature. I think about how often in my life I have wasted opportunity after opportunity to grow because I have whined and groaned and complained without engaging God in conversation. God wants us to seize these trials. He wants us to say that this is a chance for me to grow. Don’t waste the moment. Don’t miss it. That’s the way you mature. That’s the way you develop. That’s the way you go on with God.
The reward is found in Verse 12, “Blessed is the man.” Is that good? The favor of God will be on our life. “Blessed is the man (or woman) who perseveres under trial, because when they have stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” This is tough stuff. This is a very tall order. But as I said, spiritual maturity is not formed in some vacuum. It’s not something we can order off the internet. We can’t read it in some self-help book from Barnes & Noble. It’s learned many times through the trials of life. What kind of trial are you going through right now? What? Right now, you know, your mind is locking on the trials.
Let me tell you another great thing about a trial. When we go through trials and we handle them with this formula, it will afford us the opportunity to help others through similar trials.
About four to six years ago, I had someone very close to me really mess me around. It hurt me deeply. I cannot describe to you what it did. I think I handled that situation with this formula. I think I handled it by the grace of God in the right way. But I still think I have some scars in my life after going through that experience. I oftentimes wonder, “God, why in the world are you taking me through this tie-dying process with this person. God, the rubber bands, the twisting, the fabric, the dye, I didn’t really like it. But, okay, God, I am doing this faith formula thing. I am with you.”
Let me tell you how great God is. As this has occurred in my life, as I have gone through this fiery trial, it’s given me the chance to identify with others going through the same thing in the same situation that I went through years ago. I have been able to help them. But not like some voice saying, “Yeah, this is what you do and this is how you feel.” I am not giving people that hogwash, I have been there. I feel their pain. That is the great thing about trials. I know grandparents in this church who have lost grandchildren and are ministering to other parents and grandparents who have lost children. I know cancer victims ministering to other cancer victims. I know people who have gone through the devastation of divorce who are helping others in that process. That is the body of Christ. That’s using trials in a great way.
What’s the problem in outer space? The problem in outer space is weightlessness. You are just floating. There is something good about the pressure of gravity. Likewise, there is something good about the pressure of trials. It keeps us tethered to God, not just floating here, there, and yonder.
I don’t want you to miss the faith formula. Watch it again. Evaluation—if I am considering it a true deposit in my account, as I see it through the eyes of faith, that’s a good thing. If I multiply that with information, if I am knowing God is working and tie-dying for something beautiful, it’s a wonderful thing. On top of that, if you factor in cooperation and conversation, then what? I am going to be spiritually mature.
So when people check you out, what do they see? Do they see somebody with baggy shorts, blue sunglasses, and a visor on who kind of looks the part of an extreme, athletic Christian? But in reality, maybe you are like me, a 40-year-old who cannot even skate? Do they see that, or do they say, “There goes someone whose look and lifestyle match. There goes someone who is applying the formula of faith.”