As of this month, we’ve been at First Covenant for 15 years! That may not seem like a long time in geological terms, but I’ve been serving here for a longer stretch than any other pastor in the church’s 136-year history.
We were very honored when Church Chair Randy Laninga and Youth Director Sara Diemer took a few moments during the beginning of the service to share some kind words, some enjoyable memories, and some sweet cards from our church family members with us. The Elders prayed over our whole family (so luckily, Megan had come home for the weekend!), and we were all very touched. So thank you to everyone who’s ever been a part of the church family here at First Covenant. We really are a family here--a community of brothers and sisters who love one another deeply and consistently, and all of that built on loving the Lord deeply and consistently. As I mentioned in the service, I’ve never been part of a body of believers that more consciously nails itself to the world of God while it simultaneously warmly welcomes every single variation of sheep coming through its doors. You are all such a blessing to us.
We also started a new series this week on the Book of James. Poor James sometimes gets overshadowed by guys like Peter and Paul in our thinking, but he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ, he was the first head of the church, and he was the earthly authority that both Peter and Paul acknowledged and deferred to. Besides, he wrote a powerful little letter.
Interestingly, the Book of James is one of the most “in your face” books of the Bible, and yet, in its five short chapters, James refers to his audience as “brothers” 15 times. So it’s crucial to remember that though the content may be repeatedly challenging, the heart is consistently loving.
The first chapter is full of all sorts of incredible things, but all under one big, overarching theme: discipline. And yes, I recognize that most people nowadays really don’t like the idea of discipline because they think of it as punishment--but at its core, discipline is simply choosing what you need over what you’d naturally want, and though that may seem to be less pleasant in the short run, it’s invariably healthier in the long run.
So James calls us to discipline ourselves to perceive things more the way that God perceives them. Trials and hardship don’t have to be things that destroy you--in fact, God wants to use them to build you up. And humbling circumstances don’t have to be humiliating--in fact, even they afford God the opportunity to build you up when your pride often complicates the process. So don’t think that God is the source of your problems (to be honest, that’s more likely to be you)--rather, remember that God is the source of the solutions to your problems. When you think about it, trusting in God isn’t a matter of optimistic hope, but rather just living by faith--and one working definition of faith is simply “being realistic about God.”
So let’s live out what we believe by disciplining ourselves to try to live the lives that God’s designed us to live...