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An Attitude to Embrace, Part 1

From the series The ART of Survival

Real concerns about our nation and the economy, safety, and much more, are on the table. Sometimes the literal question comes down to: How will I survive?! No matter how much we know about history, and no matter how much we try to predict the future, the only day we can actually LIVE, is today - but today holds a lot of unknowns. Which is why the insights from the book of James, Chapter 1, are so important, as Chip begins this series. They reveal the hope God wants us to hang onto, in the midst of our trials and fear.

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Message Transcript

You know, we are living in very historic times right now. I mean, it’s historic in that we have a pandemic that is global. And pandemics bring very difficult things into the lives of people all across the world.

For some right now, this is a very difficult time. But they see a way through. For others, it’s a desperate time. How will we get through this? And it’s more than just the disease, as radical and difficult as that has been. It has created emotional, relational, economic issues. Churches are closed, businesses are closed. I have been in contact in recent days with people in Egypt and the Middle East, issues in Lebanon. We have talked very directly with what is going on in China as they are dealing with the pandemic.

People in India, Pakistan, we have been having talks with them about what is going on in that country and how do we make it through this? In Latin America, another team of pastors and leaders have talked to us about: It is really, really difficult.

The question isn’t sometimes: how do we thrive? Sometimes the question is: how do we survive? I mean, people don’t have food, people don’t have money, their connection, the church, the love, the encouragement of what people need to make it through times – pastors and leaders are asking: “Why, Lord?”

As I talked to one leader recently, he said, “Our teams all throughout the Middle East are coming to me and they are very young leaders.” “I am serving God; I am risking my life for the gospel. And in the midst of this, why is all this happening?”

Well, I want to tell you that there is an art to survival. Science sometimes is very clear, there’s a formula, right? Two plus two equals four. Here’s the law of physics. But art means that there is an answer, there’s a way but it looks different for different people in different situations.

And you may not know it, but the early Church was birthed at a time much like our own. It wasn’t just difficult, it was desperate. And God gave them the very first words from the half-brother of Jesus.

His name is James and it’s found in the book of James. The book was written about A.D. 46 or 49. So, the Church is only thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old from the death and resurrection of Jesus. And what we find is there’s a great persecution that occurred. We learn about it in Acts chapter 8.

And now, people are struggling. They have left homes. They are scattered abroad. There are economic issues. They have been disinherited. They have been cut off from family. There’s persecution by the Roman government. And they are wondering, What do we do? We have believed in this Jesus who died and rose from the dead. We have eternal life. But how do we survive this difficulty? And what is very interesting and so encouraging is we are going to get the answers.

I called it The “ART” of Survival for those who speak English, there’s a little acronym, because I think there’s an A: attitude that you must have. R: there’s a resource, the most important resource to get through all of this. And the T is for a theology or a way of thinking that will give you perspective in the midst of the most difficult times in all the world.

Before we begin, let’s get a little worldview perspective and say, “What does the Bible say about a fallen world?” Right? It’s a very difficult, fallen world. Some of us are surprised and struggling and wondering why.

Listen carefully to Peter. Peter said, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial that you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you,” 1 Peter chapter 4, verse 12.

Jesus said the very last night on earth, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world.”

Or the apostle Paul would write in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in union with Christ Jesus will be persecuted. And evil persons and imposters will keep on going from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.”

So what I want you to know is some observations before we jump into the text and learn the actual art of survival. Number one, trials are inevitable. Difficulty in a fallen world is absolutely promised.

The second observation is trials either make us or break us. It’s interesting, the word for tragedy and opportunity is put together and that word for tragedy and opportunity that’s put together in Chinese is the word crisis.

When you’re in a crisis, whether it’s personal, whether it’s a community, whether it’s a church, whether it’s a nation, or whether it’s global, what emerges out of this is great, great possibility for tragedy but also great opportunity.

If you look at the lives of great Bible characters, of great people in history, you’ll find that when pressure and difficulty and opposition and persecution, for some people, they cave in. It destroys their life. And for others, something happens. It makes them.

There’s something that happens in their character, in their faith, in their trust. The greatest stories we have in human history – Christian or not – are people that come through the fire and are purified. And that’s what God wants for us.

The third observation is that victims fail to move beyond asking “why” and remain stuck in their pain. You see, the opposite of a survivor is a victim. And we need to be very careful. One, we don’t want to diminish how difficult this is. But you’re only a victim if you choose to be a victim. Victims begin to ask “why”. “Why me, Lord?” “Why now?” “Why this?”

And hear me – I understand. There are such pains some of you are going through. It’s okay to begin with a “why” question. “Why me, Lord?” I have been through cancer with my wife in an earlier season. “Lord, why did this happen? She loves God.” By God’s grace, we made it through that.

I have been through seasons where I have been betrayed by Christian leaders that I couldn’t believe would do something to me. I have had health issues. I have had challenges with my children. I have been I places in the world where I didn’t think I was going to live.

So, I think it’s okay to pause and say, “Lord, why is this happening?” But you can’t stay there. But victims do. They get stuck in their pain. “Why this? Why that?” Here’s the thing, it never works. Pragmatically, people who never stop asking “why” are stuck in their pain and they become victims and they get bitter and they get resentful or they give up.

What I would suggest to you is that God has clear instruction in James chapter 1, verses 1 through 12. And we are going to look at the first section of it. Follow along as I read.

“James, a bondservant of God of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” So, he’s saying to them: they are running for their life, they are going all throughout the Roman Empire, and he is writing to them and he says, “Greetings.” Christianity is primarily Jewish, right? I mean, there was the Day of Pentecost and some different things have happened different places. But overall, this first ten, fifteen years, these Jewish Christians, their identity is still as their Messiah Jesus has come, they are following Him, and their world has fallen apart.

I mean, they aren’t in a difficult situation. They are in a desperate situation. And so, you might want to ask: what would God say to them? I mean, if Jesus walked in the room where you are right now and you could look Him in the eye in His resurrection body and you could say, “Jesus, what do I do? What do I do with this situation with my family? What do I do with this ministry? What do I do with this health issue? What do I do; I haven’t been able to work? What do I do; I lost my business? What do I do, Lord? I don’t see my way in the future.”

Here’s what He would say. He said there’s an attitude that you must begin with. Verse 2, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

I want you to notice first there is a command. It says, “Consider it all joy.” We’ll look at that more carefully. But it’s a command; it’s not an option. Second, there’s a reminder. It says “knowing”. And this word for knowing we will learn is knowing by experience. Knowing by how God works in our lives, that faith will produce an endurance that will do something.

And then after that, he gives a second command. It says, “And then, endure.” Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t become a victim. You are more than a conqueror in Christ, but it starts with this kind of attitude.

And now what he’s going to say is, “Don’t ask ‘why?’ Ask ‘what?’” Here’s what I can tell you, whether it’s in a cancer ward, whether it’s when a friend of mine’s house burned down, whether it’s when I was in Indonesia, I mean, literally less than a week after the tsunami and I saw things devastated like never before.

There are people who are survivors and there are people who are victims. Victims almost always keep asking, “Why me? Why now? Why, why, why?” And they get crushed. Survivors ask, “what” questions. They ask three very important “what” questions. And the answer to those “what” questions are in this text.

And here’s what I want you to know: God can and will give you the power to be a survivor, to conquer, to overcome whatever you’re facing as you begin to obey this passage by the power of the Holy Spirit, sourced in the Word of God, and in the context of fellow brothers and sisters that we are going to go through this together.

The first “what” question you need to ask in your world right now is this: What can I control when my world falls apart?

What can you control? I can’t control the pandemic. I can’t control the economy of your country or my country. I can’t control what certain leaders, decisions they make, or what they don’t make.

Here’s what you can control: Your attitude. Notice he says, “consider”. The word means evaluate, calculate, choose. Choose to consider your current difficult situation as pure, literally the word is “unmixed”, joy. And you say to yourself, Well, how do I do that? How in the world could I do that? He says, “Knowing that you’re surrounded by trials.”

In fact, this word is only used one other time in the New Testament. He is saying, “I want you to consider, to choose an attitude of pure joy about these external trials.” The other place it is used is when, if you remember the story of the Good Samaritan, it says he got surrounded, literally, by robbers.

God is saying through Jesus’ half-brother James, by the power of the Holy Spirit, that there are times in life where external circumstances come around our life and they threaten to crush and destroy us. And he says, in the midst of that, because you are connected to the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God, because His Spirit lives inside of you and because you can know for sure He is going to work this for your good and bring good out of the worst in a fallen world, choose to consider it all joy, knowing something – that the testing of your faith is going to produce something.

So, the first question you need to ask and answer is: Where is my attitude?
And, by the way, don’t confuse attitude with feelings. In difficult situations, I don’t feel like counting it joy. This is not an emotion, this is a choice. I’m going to choose to look into the face of this difficulty and I’m going to choose to count it all joy as I’m surrounded by overwhelming, devastating trials knowing that this is a test that God wants to take me through. And He’s going to do something in my life and as He does something in my life, He’ll do something through my life. But I can’t have a pity party at a time like this. I need to fight the good fight. “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.” God has not given you or me a spirit of fear, right? But of power and love and self-discipline.

This is where we put on the full armor of God. This is where we fight. This is where we grab hold of the anchor of hope and we say, “I will not give up; I will not give in. I am going to choose, moment by moment, my attitude.”

I remember reading a quote by one of the survivors of the concentration camps. He later became a world-renowned psychologist – Viktor Frankl. And he wrote this after enduring the concentration camps of which most people died. He said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of all human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So, here’s what I want to say to you: don’t ask “why”, ask “what”. First, “what” question: what can I control?

Second “what” question is: what must I do to make it through today? Okay? Not tomorrow, not: what will happen next month? Not: what about my business? Not: what about the church? Not: what about even our country? Not: what will happen in the next two years or five years or ten years?

The moment your mind goes out that far and you have no idea what is going to happen and you can’t control it, it will keep sending you downward. The question I need to ask, you need to ask: what can I do to make it through today?

And the answer is one word and I don’t like it and you don’t like it, but it’s: endure. It’s: persevere. In other words, it is a choice to say, “I won’t give in. I won’t give up. I won’t become a victim. There is no short-term fix.”

I remember reading the story of a prisoner of war. And he was nine years in a prison camp of war. And he had a number of his colleagues were with him. And they asked him, because he made it through after nine years. And the great majority of them didn’t. They died, they gave in, they struggled. They either died or were tortured and in the torture they gave up information and then they were killed.

And they asked him, “How did you make it? Who made it and who didn’t?” He said, “I can tell you very quickly. Those that were optimists died. They didn’t make it.” They thought, Well, by Christmas, I’ll get out. Or, By Easter, I’m going to get out. Or, Maybe in nine months or it can only last a year. And they kept creating false expectations. And then every time their expectations failed, you could see them sink deeper and deeper and deeper in despair. The only thing you can do and the only thing I can do is endure today.

What do I do to make it through today? You know what I do? I hang tough, I don’t give up, I don’t give in. And here’s the reason: knowing by way of experience that tests produce endurance. That what God is going to do, this word is He does something inside of you. The word, Greek word is hupomeno. It’s to hupo – to be under, meno – pressure or stress.

And for some of you right now, you’re under incredible stress, emotional stress, family stress, financial stress, ministry stress, the stress of uncertainty. There are people looking to you. Some of you have friends and family members with the disease. Others of you have seen people that you love and they have died.

And I know what I’m saying is challenging and difficult. But you have the Spirit of the living God who, as you choose to count it real joy, He will give you just what you need, not for tomorrow, but for today. His grace is sufficient for you, power is perfected in weakness.

And so, the one thing you can do to make it through today is choose: I will endure.