Hi this is pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…First Steps

At the very least, I have paid close attention to well over a dozen people’s first steps. As a father and a grandfather, I have watched and celebrated many first steps. When I think of the term first steps, several things come to my mind. There are the first steps I just mentioned. We might call those a child’s very first steps. They could be described as the tenuous actions of a toddler who has a desire to move from one place to another in a more efficient manner than can be managed on hands and knees. They begin taking steps while maintaining balance holding onto firm objects with their hands. I remember when my son took the first of those steps “cruising” along the front of the couch or making laps around the coffee table or ottoman. Eventually he let go of the security of his props, extended his little foot out and away from safety, and headed toward whatever had caught his attention. First one foot, then the other and he tottered in his chosen direction one step…a first step…and then found himself sitting on the floor. Had he reached his destination upright? Not at all. Was it a success worth joyous celebration?  Absolutely!

Those weren’t his only first steps, and they wouldn’t be the last ones that presented him with challenges. There would be his first steps into a preschool, a kindergarten class, middle school, high school and then college. There would be others as well. Steps into his first job, as well as subsequent new ones. First steps as a husband, first steps as a father where he has had opportunity to watch his own children take their first steps. None of us run out of opportunities to take first steps, and no first steps come without challenges.

Didn’t I recognize when my children or grandchildren took those first steps that they were difficult? Did I not realize that it would be easier for them if I would simply pick them up and take the steps for them as I have done so many times before? If carrying them had been successful to that point, why not just continue? Certainly it isn’t because I don’t enjoy carrying a child…I absolutely love doing that. Some of my fondest memories as a dad and a papa are of carrying my children and grandchildren. In fact, I do recognize their difficulty in taking their own steps. They know it’s hard too, and sometimes have sat down and cried out in frustration when it wasn’t all working out according to their plans. I deny my desire to hold them, and I let them take their own steps, in spite of the challenges that loom because I know those very trials will strengthen them and allow them to move freely. Carrying them might be satisfying for me, but seeing them go through life with underdeveloped muscles and the disabilities that would surely follow, would break my heart.

The book of James opens up talking about the challenges we face. When a child begins taking first steps there are trials and it is easy for the child to look at them as negative experiences. However, that outlook may not be accurate, and I think that is what James wanted to share with us. James 1:2-4 say this; My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing. (NKJV) I also like the way my friend Dr. Timothy Jennings writes it in his paraphrase The Remedy. There, those verses read as follows. My brothers and sisters in God’s family, I want you to rejoice and keep a positive attitude whenever you face troubles of various kinds, because every trial exercises your trust in God–which overcomes fear and selfishness–and builds a confident, steadfast application of the Remedy. And this steadfast engagement in God’s treatment must be completed so that you may be fully healed, mature, and like Christ in character–not lacking anything.

This scripture has caused challenges of its own for more than one Christ follower. The idea of “Counting it all joy when we fall into various trials” is a difficult idea to embrace. It almost seem to be non-sensical. It is not. I believe James is in fact trying to tell us that we need to keep a positive attitude about what we perceive to be negative experiences. Why? Because every experience we consider negative, is not necessarily so. We often deem an experience to be negative if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted it to, or if the result of it are emotions we don’t enjoy. My son did not enjoy it when he lost his balance and fell to the floor while trying to navigate his way toward his favorite toys. At times, he fell against other objects, sometimes hard objects, that left him temporarily sore and uncomfortable. He never liked those experiences, and yet, as a result of the frustrations, bumps and bruises, he now walks freely and uses that skill daily to accomplish almost everything of value that he does. They were not negative experiences…only unenjoyable ones. If he would have had the foresight, he could have taken joy in those trials knowing they would produce an amazing and useful skill! James is trying to help us understand what we may not in the moment…these experiences are all meant to be good for us!

As Christ followers we not only need to know how to walk, we need to be able to trust the one who leads and guides us on the journey. Dr Jennings says it this way.  I want you to rejoice and keep a positive attitude whenever you face troubles of various kinds, because every trial exercises your trust in God. As those who follow Christ, hopefully we have already come to the conclusion that God is good. Not sometimes…not once-in-a-while…He is always good. Therefore, He is always being good to you and to me. If that is so, and it is…then anything He allows into our lives He has a perfect plan to use for our good. Romans 8:28-29 declares that to be true. I think that sometimes we want to look at all of the negative experiences we have and claim they are the work of the devil. Undoubtedly, some of them are, but let’s not give Satan total credit for all of the experiences we want to call negative. Certainly, God will never cause evil to take place, His word is clear, He never tempts us or anyone else to do evil…It would go against his very nature to do so, and as a holy God full of integrity that would be impossible for Him to do. But, consider that some of our so-called negative experience may be intended by God to allow us to grow and become strengthened. The fact of the matter is that in either case, His word promises that He will use all of our experiences, the good, the bad…and the ugly to make us more like Christ if we will trust Him to do so. Every trial exercises our trust in God.

As our trust in God or faith as the New King James Version puts it is tested and developed it produces patience, or in the words of Dr. Jennings, “overcomes fear and selfishness–and builds a confident, steadfast application of [Christ’s] Remedy” [in our lives]. When we take the position of total faith in God, we can rest in the fact that His goodness to us won’t allow for any experience to result in our destruction. In fact, we can trust that if we accept His desired work in our lives, every experience will be utilized to increase us. We no longer need to try to maneuver situations to work out to our benefit; we can trust Him to do that. We no longer have to live in fear that our experiences will tear us down…He desires to use them to build us up. Trust Him, that in whatever you may be facing today…He is being very, very good to you.

Finally, James instructs to let patience have its work. Let it do what it is designed to do. Let your trust in God perfect you. When will you know that perfecting is well under way? When you can have a difficult experience, even an excruciatingly painful one, and still know that God is going to use it to develop your faith muscles and strengthen you…and you will stand and step forward lacking nothing.

The perfecting process is an interesting one indeed. It does not mean that the outcome of our circumstances are going to look perfect…It means God will utilize our circumstances to make us look more and more like Him every day. First steps come with challenges. Those very challenges are awesome tools for perfecting us as Christ followers.

So now, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience…let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing …and go be awesome!