Scripture: James 1:17-27
This may sound strange, but my hope is that many of you here will respond to today’s message with, “Yeah, ok; but tell me something I didn’t already know!” I’m not trying to break new ground this morning. Rather, I want to highlight an important truth that’s good to be reminded about from time to time.
Let me begin by asking for your help. I’d like you to name thirteen blessings, benefits, pieces of good fortune, good things, what you want to call it. Take a moment to identify thirteen blessings or gifts—and I’ll name the first three on account them being ‘low hanging fruit’ that we can all agree are blessings or gifts to us: family and friends, good health, and the beauty of God’s creation.
Also, you don’t have to go for the obvious. For example, I consider Bluetooth headphones to be a real blessing because they get rid of the wire between the device and the headphone. They’re absolutely ingenious! Or how about paved roads? The shade of a tree on a hot day? The ability to explore space? So, give me 10 more…
The truth is, we could go on and on doing this. The small, seemingly insignificant, gifts alone would be more than we could identify. For example, four weeks ago my lawn yard looked terrible! A lot of the grass had dried up and turned brown from the drought. But look how green it’s become since then. And I didn’t have to do anything to it. Even though it looked dead to the eye, it wasn’t; and it came back all on its own, without my help or intervention.
Now, some of you may say, “Well, that’s just the way nature works when it rains.” To which I say, “Yes it is! – and what a precious gift it is to us that that’s how nature works.”
My point is, for those willing and able to look and see, it’s raining blessings and gifts all around us. Even in most challenging of situations we can find a blessing—if we’re willing and able to look for it.
Funerals and memorial services are not what I would call fun. I don’t think anyone here looks forward to attending them. But that doesn’t keep us from experiencing blessing during them. For example, those of us who were able to be present for Ted Anderson’s service this past Thursday were absolutely blessed when Ted’s 6 year-old granddaughter, Savanah, got up in front of the congregation and prayed. Out loud. Extemporaneously, off the top of her head. It was as if none of us were here, and it was just she and God. She talked with him for about 2 minutes from the bottom of her heart. For me, it was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I’ve had in a long time. And it took place as part of an official ceremony of mourning.
Even in the most challenging of situations we can be blessed. A gift is there to be found. And most of the time it’s simply a matter of opening our hearts to see them.
Today’s reading came from a letter written by James, one of Jesus’ brothers. The very first thing he says—his opening statement—reveals the situation in which his original audience found themselves. Here’s how he begins his letter: “My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy” (James 1:2). Here are some other ways this statement has been translated.
- Consider it nothing but joy whenever you fall into various trials (Amplified Bible).
- Be glad even if you have a lot of trouble (Contemporary English Version).
- Consider yourselves fortunate when all kinds of trials come your way (Good News Bible).
- When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends (Phillips New Testament).
- Consider it a sheer gift when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.
From this opening statement we can deduce that James was writing to a people who were experiencing life’s greatest challenges. The days during which James wrote were marked by persecution, injustice, oppression, poverty, violence, and corruption. (Does this sound familiar? Not much has changed, has it?)
And James’ advice to them…and to us? Consider it all a kind of gift! Why? Because, as he goes on to explain, it ultimately serves to strengthen both our faith and our ability to endure hardship—our backbone. The challenges of life, even the most difficult, serve to make us stronger and, if you can believe it, more trusting of God. More appreciative. And James is willing to call these trials a “gift,” even though most of us would be hard-pressed to do so.
Every blessing we experience, every gift we receive, every good fortune that comes our way, every positive encounter, every tragedy-turned-blessing—all of it—comes from God.
Again, my point is that even in the most challenging of situations we can find a blessing, a gift.
Today’s reading picks up in v. 17, where James writes, “Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights” (1:17).
Based on this verse alone, let me state the obvious: every blessing we experience, every gift we receive, every good fortune that comes our way, every positive encounter, every tragedy-turned-blessing—all of it—comes from God.
And even when they don’t come directly from God, they come on account of what God has done and makes possible. God did not reach down and construct the Mackinac Bridge, but all the engineering knowledge and understanding that made its construction possible came from God. All mathematical truths that guide the most sophisticated sciences are from God. The ability to conceive an idea, even the most preposterous of ideas—like flying—come from God. The workings of nature are ultimately the workings of God. That our earth spins on its axis at a particular speed, encircling the sun at a particular speed, all happening together in a way that allows for life to go on, is God’s doing.
Language is certainly a gift. Language is what allows us to think, and reason, and invent; to understand and know. Without language, there’s nothing to do but exist on the same level as a rock. Even insects of a kind of language with which they communicate. Ethnologue, widely considered to be the most extensive catalog of the languages of the world, says that as of this year there are 7,099 known languages currently being spoken. That’s a lot! But it doesn’t take into account the number of languages that have died out since the creation of the world. Where did all these languages, including those long gone, come from? God.
But not just any god. James is very specific. When he says they “come from above,” you and I hear that with our 21st century, Christianized ears. When we hear “from above,” we automatically interpret that as a reference to the God of our Bible, the Creator of all that is. But the common world view in the first century Roman Empire was a lot different than today. They (with the exception of Jews and Christians) believed in many gods.
Two Greek gods in particular were Apollo and Astraeus. Apollo was the god of sun and light. Astraeus was the god of stars and planets. (Astraeus is where we get our English words, “astronomy” and “astrology”). First century people probably heard James referencing these gods when he said that all good gifts are “from above.”
And so he clarifies himself: “They come down from the Father, the CREATOR of the heavenly lights.” In one fell swoop, he overturns the popular worldview of his day and speaks truth into a falsehood. There’s only one God, and he created the sun and stars. This God, James tells us, is the author of all good gifts and blessings. Open the eyes of your heart and look around. Can you see that it’s raining blessings and gifts?
All that blesses us in one way or another in this life emanates from the mind and heart of God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Of course, the most precious gift he’s given is his Son, Jesus. He’s the best gift of all. More than anything or anyone else, Jesus has transformed our world. The creation of the world was the first and original blessing. He looked at it and called it good.
And then he blessed humanity with the ability to know and love him personally. The ability to love God can only be so if we also have the ability to turn away from God; without that choice, then it’s not genuine. And so he blessed us with free will. And in our free will, we turned away from our loving heavenly Father, ushering in sin, which resulted in death and decay. God’s good creation was marred by human sin. Our relationship with our Creator was broken.
So, out of his love for us, despite what we’d done, he made a way for us to be made right with him once again. And that way was by sending his perfect Son into our broken world. He lived the sinless life we can’t, and died the death we brought upon ourselves. His resurrection was God’s final act of making things right. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus did what we could never do: he reconciled us to our Creator. He restored and made whole what was broken and missing.
And now, anyone who’s willing to appropriate his life into their own is automatically made right with God. We call that salvation. We call it that because it’s the gift that moves us from a state of being separated from God—death in its truest sense—to the state of being eternally alive. Is there a gift greater than that? The answer is, no.
It’s a truth worthy of remembering . . . .
- a Scottish hillside of Heather
- the cliffs of Dover
- the ability to safely land on the moon
- looking up into the sky just in time to see a shooting star
- marking the date of a baby’s first smile
- roasting marsh mellows over a campfire
- saying good-bye to a loved one at their passing
- getting the correct answer on a final exam
- passing your state boards
- discovering a cure for a deadly disease
- having a butterfly actually land on your outstretched hand
- composing a piece of music
- finding out your car repair bill is a lot less than you thought it would be
- starting your first job…and retiring from your last job
- being baptized and witnessing the baptism of another
- helping someone come to faith in Christ
These and countless other gifts and blessings are showered down upon us every single day by a God who loves us, and wants his very best for us, and gives us his very best. So go ahead and with joy receive it all – receive if from the Giver of all good and perfect gifts.