Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

James 1:12

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."

If it really is true that the fear of the Lord really is the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Prov. 1:7, Prov. 9:10), then it is also the beginning of character. The blessing, it seems to me, comes to the person who has already remained steadfast under trial. It isn't good enough to be willing to if the trial ever comes along.

Think of Abraham when God told him to sacrifice his only son Isaac. The request went totally against everything Abraham knew about God. The request went against Abraham's desires for his own life and certainly against what he wanted for Isaac's life. It was neither comfortable nor fun and it meant the loss of the most important relationship in Abraham's life, probably even more important to Abraham than his relationship with his own wife Sarah. Not to spout conventional interpretation here, but it really IS true that it wasn't enough for Abraham to be willing to go up the mountain, not enough for him to be willing to build the altar and set the wood, not enough even for him to tie his own son with cords. Abraham had to suffer the assumption of loss; had to literally offer his son on the altar before God would provide the ram. It was not until he owned the trial that Abraham could own the blessing.

I think most of us also miss what the "payoff" is for this obedience. Was Abraham's blessing that he got his son back? Or was it that he lived to know that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand on the seashore? No. The blessing is always just this: the presence of God. What did he get for his obedience? The voice that came with the ram in the thicket. We MAY experience the presence of God in some way if we are disobedient. But the only way we will surely experience it is when we decide that we are going to endure the trial, walk through the fire, wait for the Lord.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

James 1:11

"For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits."

I think there's a common mistake made in the church. We are so often hard on those who possess wealth. Or maybe the language is the problem? We don't know a word in english for someone who has money but refuses to possess it. Those are the saints who give liberally, who "scatter abroad", who lay their piece of land or their gold or their business at the Apostles' feet. They're not possessing anything. They are, in fact, possessed by Christ.

"And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." (Acts 2:44-45)

"When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
Matthew 19:22

But we are not only possessors, we are also pursuers. We spend our lives in hot pursuit of people, career, love, meaning. And all the "stuff" we accumulate? It stays here when we finally go. All that I have and all that I "own" will ultimately be lost. Relationships are funny things in that regard. The more I seek to "own" someone, the more lost to me they will ultimately be. The greek word for this is "eros" -- a love that seeks to possess to the point that it causes injury to lover and beloved -- the ultimate avarice. It is not enough that I hold her. I must HAVE her, body, mind, soul if I can. I want to be adored at a level that is destructive in the end. And so, in the end it isn't love that I feel. It is competition. In such a relationship it isn't love that we poor humans feel. It is that thing which competes for our attention with God. How pitiable then when the flower fades and the pedals fall off the rose and we return to God because, as C.S. Lewis has said, "there is 'nothing better' now to be had."

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.


Monday, January 28, 2008

James 1:10

"and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away."

Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth Thou hast for me
place in my hand the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free:
Silently now I wait for Thee ready my God thy will to see
Open my eyes, illumine me Spirit Divine.

I know the hymn text above by Clara Scott (1898) seems unrelated to James 1:10, but I've been feeling lately the weight of prayerlessness. I don't know about you, but I think my chief sin is probably running "movies" in my head that have to do with the people I love rather than placing them and what concerns me about them before the Throne of Grace. It is the mark of a horribly undisciplined mind, and it leads to nothing but difficulty in relationships, suspicion, and doubt. That is why I was drawn to Open My Eyes this morning.

James is being really quite playful with his readers in the couplet of verses 9 and 10. The "lowly" brother may be one who is humble in more ways than loss of income, and the "rich" may be wealthy in many more ways than how much gold he's got. I'm thinking here about a common error those of us in discipleship ministry often make. At least I know I've made this mistake more than once. We look at someone who is popular and who has an interesting personality -- in fact we look at someone who has good looks -- and we think "here's the person I should pursue!" Why? Because we think they'll embrace Jesus because they embrace, or at least show interest in, US. The fact is they're just good natured people and that's what makes them popular. They are RICH in all the things that get them noticed. Meanwhile there's the person who doesn't have all that. They aren't socially connected. They have an awkwardness or shyness to them. They get overlooked a lot. They may not be particularly good looking or attract a crowd. So their humiliation is simply that they didn't get blessed with star quality. They're poor that way.

My wife and I were watching TV the other night and there was a veritable parade of face cream ads on this particular show. You know who the most beautiful woman in the world is to me? A 48 year old woman who is being honestly who and what she is. Just so with Jesus. He didn't have star quality. He probably wasn't even all that good looking. He was what the politicians called Grover Cleveland: "ugly honest". The flower of youth, the trappings of power, the popularity of the good looking and well connected? All of them will fade in short order like flowers in a vase. All that really lasts is the honest thing that Jesus wants to do in each person he calls. And it really doesn't matter how they look or who they know. That's why the rich can boast in their humiliation: Jesus is making them the same offer he makes the poor.


Friday, January 25, 2008

James 1:9

"Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,"

Sometimes I like to play around with word order, since the way Greek is constructed is very different from English. The word order in the original is "Boast the brother (the depressed one) in the raising of himeself." Of course, we wouldn't say it that way. But as a preacher, if I were looking to exhort a group of humiliated and/or dejected people with this thought I'd begin my sentence with "Boast!", just like Jesus does in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount when he says "Blessed! are you..." The first word becomes a little sfortzando -- a musical term for a sudden and surprisingly loud moment. And surely the greek of this word "boast" is even more so: "Kawchomai!" Just say it out loud -- the hard "k" is amazing when preached. If there's any sense in which James means to use the word that way, it is not lost on me.

2007 was a very hard year for me personally. For the first time in my adult life I found myself unsure about what I was supposed to be doing for work. And since a man's self-esteem is very tied to his job, I would have to say a "slide" had been going on for about three years as I saw the natural end of my work with teens on a state-wide basis and yet still couldn't see the next step. In December of 2006 I injured my back and was told I'd be facing surgery soon enough. For three months in the late winter about all I could do was sit in a chair in my den and focus on my unemployment, the loss of my ministry, the loss of connection to friends, the loss of vitality, youth, mobility. And the word "mortality" began to be very present to me. Like most men of my age I suffered in silence. Was I being chastened? Had I sinned in some way and now God was punishing me? On top of everything, my children both moved to Boston in 2007. What was happening to me?

This all betrays a serious theological and personal error. We all (especially pastors) are trained to think that when things are tough for us we're supposed to keep it to ourselves. After all, people WILL talk. Some would undoubtedly judge me for being in this situation. And no matter what anyone says, misery most decidedly does not love company. What I really needed was someone to come along side of me, put their arm around MY shoulder for once and just be with me. Not many did... but then I didn't let too many people really see how depressed I was, how really down I was. The word to describe where I was at is what James uses here when he says "lowly".

If we can take it as axiomatic that the gospel always works backward from how we expect, boasting in my abjection certainly sounds like that kind of advice. Yay. I'm in God's waiting room! Hoorah! God put me on hold and the muzak is all depressing easy listening stuff from the 70s, and I've been waiting here a stinkin' long time. But the abjected brother is to boast in his abjection when he realizes that no matter how bad "this" is, God is with him. And therein has been my boast. If I have "blown it" in anything it is that I have not testified to the wonderous grace of Him who caused my humiliation and who has seen me through it all. And what was it for? What was the purpose of this long lowering? At least in part I can say it has given me an intense desire to "be there" for pastors and ministry workers who find themselves alone and hurting and isolated even in the midst of what others look at as successful ministries.

Maybe Ray Stedman's story that I think I've shared before is a good cap to this discussion. It is called "Don't take me to the hospital, please!"

"This scene didn't make sense, There he lay in the street, bleeding -- the hit-and-run driver gone. He needed medical help immediately! Yet he kept pleading, "Don't take me to the hospital, please!" Surprised, everyone asked why. Pleadingly, he answered, "Because I'm on the staff at the hospital. It would be embarrassing for them to see me like this. They've never seen me bleeding and dirty. They always see me clean and healthy; now I'm a mess."

"But the hospital is for people like you! Can't we call an ambulance?" "No, please don't. I took a Pedestrian Safety Course, and the instructor would criticize me for getting hit."

"But who cares what the instructor thinks? You need attention." "But there are other reasons, too. The Admissions Clerk would be upset." "Well, why?" "Because she always gets upset if anyone for admittance doesn't have all the details she needs to fill out her records. I didn't see who hit me, and I don't even know the make of the car or the license number. She wouldn't understand. She's a real stickler for records. Worse than that, I haven't got my Blue Cross Card."

"What real difference would that make?" "Well, if they didn't recognize me in this mess, they wouldn't let me in. They won't admit anyone in my shape without a Blue Cross card. They must be sure it isn't going to cost the institution. They protect the institution. Just pull me over to the curb. I'll make it some way. It's my fault that I got hit."

With this, he tried to crawl to the gutter while everyone left, leaving him alone. Maybe he made it, maybe he didn't. Maybe he's still trying to stop his own bleeding.

Does that strike you as a strange, ridiculous story? It could happen any Sunday in a typical church membership. I know it could happen, because last night I asked some active Christians what they would do if on Saturday night they got hit and run over by some unacceptable sin. Without exception they said, "I sure wouldn't want to go to church the next morning, where everybody would see me."

Now, be honest -- would you? Or would you reason, "The members would ostracize me. They would look at me like I was strange, and didn't belong there any more. Some of the self-righteous would accuse me of being a hypocrite. The Sunday school teacher would be mad at me for not learning what had been taught. Those sitting next to me would be embarrassed, not knowing how to react because they didn't know how everybody else felt. They really wouldn't know how to react to a known dirty saint."

In the good-natured spirit of the conversation we decided, if caught -- hit and run over -- by some unacceptable sin, we would be better off to go to the pool hall instead of to the church. At the pool hall we would find sympathy, real understanding. Immediately, someone would say, "This isn't the end of the world. It happened to me, and I lived through it." Another would say, 'I see you slipped and got caught. Well, don't let it get you down. I know a good lawyer who will help you." Another would add, "You really seem more like one of us than you did before. Now we know you're just like us."

Now, the question that bothered us is: Where should real love and understanding live -- in the pool hall or in the church of Jesus Christ, who died for sinners? Is the church really going to be the church until every Christian, hit and run over by some sin, starts pleading, "Take me to the church. My brothers and sisters are there. They care for me. I can get well there. I'm a weak member of the Body, but when I hurt, the strong members favor me. And I don't need a paid-up Blue Cross card. And I know they won't talk about me when it's over." Yet, to the last single person at the party, there was not one who said he would feel welcome in his church if the night before he had been caught in some sin which had become known."

And I'd just add that if this is how we treat known or discovered sin, how much more reluctant are we to share when we are baffled by humblings beyond our knowing and which seem to us unconnected to any behavior on our part? If this is the response of the average staff member in a large church, how much more isolated is the senior pastor or the solo pastor of a small church?

BOAST in your humiliation! As my choral teacher once told the OSU Concert Choir, "Make LOUD mistakes, please. It is the only way I can help you."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

James 1:8

"he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

There is a whole book called In Two Minds. Whenever I read this verse it makes me think of that book, which is an early one by Oz Guinness. It uses James 1:8 as a jumping off point for a discussion of faith and doubt. But as I've already said, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Un-faith is. One kind of doubt is a natural part of the life of faith. It is, in fact what keeps us strong as believers. If I never wondered to myself if God really is who he says he is; if I never pondered if Jesus really is Lord I would never dig deeper to discover that these things really are so. The life with God is a life of ups and downs. It is a life where we have moments of great assurance and moments of deep doubt.

What, then, is James talking about here if not the basic question of whether we believe or not? I think the give-away is in verse 5 where he uses wisdom as the example. You see, it isn't only wisdom one can "get" from God. Rather, James is using the pursuit of wisdom as a template for our developing any of the godly attributes. And I think James uses wisdom here very craftily. It is a term that had an unambiguous meaning both to Jews and to Gentiles. It was not considered either spiritual or earthly in and of itself and it wasn't prone to shades of meaning like some of the other virtues are. It was also, to the greek mind, among the highest of the virtues.

But no matter how unambiguous the term, if I am asking for one thing out of one side of my face and another out of the other side of my face, I am still two-faced. If I say to God, "Make me godly," and then go about intentionally living an ungodly life should I expect God will honor my request? Not likely. It is like my "desiring" to be a great musician (which I did once), but being unwilling to do the work to make it happen. As I said in 1:5, it is really a matter of the will.

For James then, the use of "doubt" is more wanting this and wanting that... dallying here and there and giving mere lip-service to God when we say we want godliness. It is not merely a life of ups and downs in our faith. It is a mark of a wholly unexamined and unstable faith.

One caution: I am not the judge of whether another person is stable in his or her faith. James is addressing each of us personally for our own examination. He never once tells us to examine another believer as to his or her stability. In fact, as Jesus admonished Peter not to turn around and look at John as they walked the beach (John 21), so the stable life of faith, the single-minded life, is a matter of you and me keeping our eyes "fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

James 1:7

"For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;"

I've been doing The Morning Watch on-and-off now for about five years. In all that time I've never disciplined myself to do one verse and one verse only per day as a way of working through a book. Working this way is kind of like how Israel received the manna in the wilderness. There was today's supply... only today's supply and nothing more. They didn't get to choose what they would eat, and there was the same amount every day.

It took Israel only a little while before they started to complain about this arrangement. Personally, I don't know what their beef was. Maybe "beef" isn't a good word to use here. Anyway, manna sounds like it tasted good. Kind of like fried dough with honey. I could eat that every day. Couldn't you? But complain they did. AND God supplied. According to the Exodus account God gave them quail in the evening and manna in the morning. Not a bad gig if you can get it. In every point of what God told Israel to do some of the people took matters into their own hands. Not everyone tried to hoard some until tomorrow. Not all of them gathered more than they needed. A few of them tried to gather on the Sabbath. And what became of the jar of the stuff God told Moses and Aaron to keep throughout their generations?

The life of faith has always been a quirky, fluid thing. Now I'm not trying to justify sin. I'm merely saying that if God was all about making a covenant based on a legal agreement between him and his people, he chose the wrong clan to do it with. These people complained and groused (heh... grousing about quail) and moaned about manna. And yet, in the end they ate the manna in the wilderness for 40 years. There's a profound message in there for you and me. In the life of faith we often get it wrong. Bold people of faith get it wrong far more often because they're not "being careful", not staying in dry-dock to use the metaphor from yesterday. And sometimes we have to wake up one morning and say to God "I blew it." And that has to be o.k. It is like that tee shirt I wish I had that says, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

The real lesson from Israel in the wilderness is that they did live in faith toward God. And sometimes they got it very very wrong as they learned what it means to be dependent on the God who is there (note: golden calf). But they came to EXPECT the manna in the morning as surely as I expect one more verse of James tomorrow and the next day and the next. I trust in God's supply. In THIS I am not a double-minded man.

For a greater definition of the man "in-two-minds" we should also look at the witness of Ahab in Isaiah 7. God told him he could ask ANY sign at all and God would do it. But Ahab said, "I will not put the Lord to the test." (translated: I don't believe God is really there) The man who is really in two minds is the one who doesn't know for sure that God is really there or that he will supply or that he has a plan or has our best in mind. How CAN that person ask in faith?


Monday, January 14, 2008

James 1:6

"But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind."

Nearly every message I've heard on James 1:6 goes wrong for me when they begin to say, "the opposite of faith is doubt". That would be fine if it was what James was saying. But the phrase here is "faith untinged by doubt" Doubt here becomes the infection that can ultimately overthrow the soundness of the body. In fact, the greek word used here carries with it the idea of "wavering".

Think of a calm sea. Nothing to fear there. But every boater knows that they'd better head for land as those waves start kicking up! Put a motor on the boat and you can withstand greater waves. But the metaphor James uses isn't even of us as boaters on a sea that is kicking up. Here James tells us we are WAVES OURSELVES. No question of a rudder, a sail, a motor, or anything.

Have you ever tried to capture a wave? It is impossible. The only think that defines a wave at all from the other waves is all the other waves around it pushing and piling. It has no will, no plans, no direction, no definition: it just "is" in some vague way until one day it comes crashing in a heap along with all the other waves upon some island beach.

Here in James 1:6 doubt isn't the absence of belief. Doubt here is the absence of WILL. As long as I don't know where I'm going or what my plans are there is no place that is safe for me. There is no mission to go on. There is no other person I can be in real relationship with. There is nothing but the sea and all the other waves doing just as I am. In John 15:5 Jesus says, "apart from me you can do nothing." And he's right, isn't he? Someone who knows where he is going and what his plans are has great freedom. He becomes suddenly different from the waves. He becomes a boat with a rudder. He becomes one CHOOSING which way he will go. And yet strangely, he is still among the waves. Take the boat out of the water and it goes nowhere. It must continue to interact with the waves... even with a stormy sea... to get where the Tillerman wants the boat to go.

We in our churches are in dry-dock, all in secure little sheds for the stormy season, if we are not out in the world and among the waves. Only then will we ever know the security of The Hand upon the tiller. Only then will we know the thrill of waves crashing upon us as The Master guides us through. The Shore is a long way off. We must not think about that now. For now faith is enough. The Hand is on the tiller. We are a boat guided well through the danger as we cut through the waves.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

James 1:5

"If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

I'm about to conjecture something about James that never occurred to me before. If I am correct about this it would clear up a lot of the problems the text of James presents us with. Here it is: could it be that James isn't writing a letter at all but rather that he has collected a group of "sayings" from Jesus and the early church fathers that he felt were valuable for the believer? The major problem this would solve with the text is the way James seems to jump from point to point with no particular regard for order.

Here, verse 5 seems pretty disconnected to what came before, excepting the reference to "lacking". Likewise, if verses 5-8 are supposed to make a unified statement the idea that we won't receive any wisdom from God if we doubt in the slightest seems far-fetched at best. But if we treat James' writing here as we would the Proverbs, then the statement can stand on its own.

Now the generalized statement is this: if I lack wisdom I should do as Solomon did and ask for it. God is generous and will give that to me without slapping me around for not having had it in the first place. This is different from the "point" of verse 4 which had to do with the filling or completing of the whole person in body, mind and spirit through the discipline of steadfastness. Verse 4 is about you simply standing and waiting for God to do something in you (ala Ephesians 6). Verse 5, by contrast, has to do with you acting in order to gain a result. Verse 4 is about the sovereignty of God interacting with our will to simply "be there". Verse 5 is about you happily pestering God to give you what he gave Solomon. They stand in complete contrast. Verse 4 is passive (in terms of what we need to do) or at least passive-agressive! Verse 5 is active. Etc, etc, etc.

Another case can be made for these sayings not being a letter in the strictest sense of the word. I think it is more than coincidental that here, just after the briefest of introductions, James begins his content with a discussion of wisdom. Is it a nod in Solomon's direction? Is he saying, "here, look at the sayings that follow and treat them like you do the Proverbs?"


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

James 1:4

"And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

When I started out as a Christian in my 20th year I remember going to a conference in Atlantic City. This is before they put casinos there. I remember sitting in a ballroom at the Howard Johnson's Hotel. Funny the details you'll remember after 30+ years. The sponsoring group must have gotten a "deal" on the conference because there were about 2000 of us shoehorned into a room designed for far less. I don't remember even what the speaker was talking about, but I remember he told us to look to our left and to our right. Unless we were sitting on an aisle, how many of us were adjacent to each other? Three. Just three. He said that statistically speaking within five years two of the three of us would not be living for Christ. That has bothered me from that day until this. I think of it nearly every day. I told the Lord that day back in 1974 that I was going to be the guy that stuck with it. I was going to be the steadfast one.

But what does that mean? I've always shuddered to read the next words because they sound so like I need to "tow the line" and "do the right thing". After all, there must be a set of rules somewhere I can follow in order to become "perfect". So let's look at those two words for a second:

The greek word "teleios" is translated here perfect and means "complete" in areas of labor, growth, moral and mental character. The root word is "telos", which means the end of something or the completeness of something. A teleology is the study of evidences of design in nature (ie: finding an holistic system that explains the design of the universe -- a completion). The second word, "holokleros" means being complete in body as over against being complete in spirit or mind. So my understanding is that it took these twin terms put together to give the 1st century mind an understanding that we are describing the complete person here.

But is that really something that can be arrived at by making a list of dos and don'ts? What if making me complete and lacking in nothing means a journey of pain and wrestling with God? Surely that's what happened in the patriarch Jacob's life. What if some of the standard admonishments of Scripture, while very much an expression of the character of God and his desire for his followers, are things that I will need to come to terms with through painful experience rather than simple obedience (ala the prodigal son)? That is the "full effect" of steadfastness. I will make mistakes. I will intentionally, willfully sin. And yet Christ is with me (Immanuel) and God is working his will in me (Philippians 2:13), and I can always look back and say, "God brought me through that."

I am, in the end, what the Bible calls a "broken cistern". And there are areas where water keeps being poured in and it just won't HOLD. There are empty places in me only the Holy Spirit in the timing of his good pleasure can fill because the bottom of them is a sieve and there is no natural way I will ever repair it.

So I keep looking back at that day in 1974 and I sigh. And I sit here leaking a little less every day for the love of Him.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

James 1:3

"for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

You all know the illustration that comes from the Reformed tradition and kind of explains the outline of the Reformed Faith? It uses the acronym T.U.L.I.P. Quickly, the letters stand for:

Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

Of all the doctrines mentioned, the one I've always had the most difficult time working with is the last. Maybe I try to carry the idea of perseverance too far. I don't know about you, but I want people to come to Christ and really stick with him for the duration. And yet I look around and I see people who have faith and then wobble a lot. I've seen some people come to Christ and then completely drop the faith for 10 years! How is THAT perseverence?

What James says here makes sense. I can't account for false starts, and I don't have a clue what the parable of the 4 soils is about, but I know this: someone who is a genuine believer will grow when their faith is tested through trial. One of the marks of a shallow or empty faith is that at the first sign of trouble the believer runs the other way.

I want you to know that during times of testing I have yelled at God, told him I was "done" with him, taken baseball bats to trees, escaped into sleep or a good bottle of wine. This is what a trial will do to you. This is human. But I always wake up eventually to the reality of Christ in me and see how he has been at work and is causing me to grow. And so the next time I maybe don't take out the bat. Maybe the next time I don't yell so much. I am, after all, a cracked pot. God is lovingly working on me and one day will perfect me. Perseverance doesn't mean perfection. It merely means I don't give up.

Courage, someone said, does not always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow".


Friday, January 4, 2008

James 1:2

Wow, that took a long time between posts. But it tells me exactly when it was I began to think about my new ministry. Since late November I've been totally absorbed in discussing, researching and preparing to launch Take a looks when you're done reading, and if you know someone who is the pastor of a church or a missionary or full-time minister of any kind, let them know about us! Okay, end of shameless plug.

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,"

The Germans have a word for a particular kind of longing. They call it "sehnsucht". It is also often translated as "hunger". C.S. Lewis says this about sehnsucht in his book Surpised by Joy. "In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else... it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction."

Lewis worked with the idea of sehnsucht for a long time and finally concluded that when, for instance, James says "count it all joy" he is really speaking of longing or hunger -- of sehnsucht. The reason I say this is that it would be absurd and perhaps a bit masochistic for us to consider a trial as joy. "Wow, I'm really getting a lot of joy out of the loss of my job." See? But if real joy is seen as distinct from the happiness of the moment; if it is rather the longing for what is promised and not what is already our posession, then it begins to make sense.

We are incapable of sustaining joy over something we already have in our hand. The lover begins quickly to lose the flush of excitement over the beloved once they have consummated the marriage and are living together. Our culture has created a wide range of pleasure enhancers to make the next experience approximate joy. We need an ever greater dose of our drug to reach the same height we did yesterday and the day before.

James' "joy" then is not IN the trial. He is clear about this. The joy comes WHEN we meet trial. The joy is in the promise of the character of God developed in us. As I look at him... the more I look at him... the more I meditate on his beauty and character, the more I long to be like him. And when trials come and drive me closer to him and strip away the few futile props I was using to make me happy, joy comes over me: a longing for what WILL be, not a happiness in what is.