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May 7, 2023

Just Take the Next Step: Week 8

One of the things that we have sort of found, as humans, as we've just sort of looked at stuff that people that have gone through — trauma, or people who have gone through all kinds of trials and difficulty, or maybe someone who's been given a terminal reading from the doctor, or someone who was caught in an avalanche, or even people who were interviewed that had endured through the Holocaust — one of the things that people have found, psychologists have found, and doctors have found — and there are a number of other things that are a part of the ingredients here, but one of the things that everybody comes back to is that people who go through difficulty and come out on the other side, those who have had a terminal illness given to them and, somehow, they overcame it and got better, or maybe someone who lost their limbs and was able to run again, at some point, with the help of modern science — what we know for a fact is those people, when they're talked to, when they're asked about it, there's one particular thing that they all have in common. They all had some sort of hope.

That hope was maybe that they were going to see a lost loved one, or maybe that they were going to see their wife again, husband, or children, or maybe that they could run again. Whatever it may be. Maybe they could see themselves healthy again. But there was some sort of hope, and that attitude of hope, that attitude of positivity, got them through the difficulties of life. You and I know that. We know that when we don't have hope, life is pretty miserable. We know when we do have hope, life takes on a different structure. No matter what's going on, when we have hope in something in the future, or something, it changes the way we embrace difficulty.

Of course, people who write stories, playwrights, movie scores, poetry, or whatever else — songs or whatever else — they know something. They know that when they tap in lyrically, with words, into something that taps into our hearts and gives us some sort of hope, those things speak to us. We talk about literary works, poetry, books, or whatever else — the great works of art. Oftentimes, we refer to that sense of hope, that sense that something is going to be better out there in the future, as the comedic imagination. For most of us, when we think of comedy, we think of something where we laugh. That's just sort of what we think about. Comedy, in the ancient world, in the theater, was a trajectory. When you go to the movie theater, you see the two masks. You see the one that's smiling and the one that's frowning, and that encapsulates all of life because it's comedy and tragedy. Comedy is a direction, literarily. It moves from low to high. Tragedy moves from high to low. Although the great comedies of the ancient world would have some funny things in them, it was more about someone who couldn't do something, couldn't get somewhere, couldn't win, and by the end, they did. In those ancient comedies that we have, most of them end in a wedding with the promise of life and everything great. Oftentimes, when we think of literature, when we think of movies, and when we think of stuff, we don't even know how to classify because, like Tolkien, who did the Lord of the Rings, that is comedy. There’s no way the people from the Shire could do what they did, and they did. And how does it end? They're all getting married. He knew his literary genre.

That comedic imagination really leads to something inside of us; these three words that we love to hear: Happily ever after. There's something about a happily ever after that puts a smile on our face, as if, “Is it possible that there could really be a happily ever after? Is it possible that there really could be something on the other side of whatever the trials and difficulties of this life are? Is there a way in which there really could be a happily ever after?”

Well, in Scripture — and theologians have seen this, biblical scholars have seen it. They call it something different than the comedic imagination because they realize that the Scripture is full of tragedy and comedy. The great fall of Adam and Eve is tragic, but the great reversal, the great comedic turn, is the resurrection of Jesus. The bad news of man's sin is given a comedic imagination because of the good news of what Jesus has done. It gives us this vision of a heavenly city that we're moving towards. But the biblical writers, in seeing all of that, see that there's a mindset that we should have as believers, and the mindset is that the things in this world, oftentimes, that we look for, long for, seek after, and give all of our time and effort, those things aren't always the things that are important in eternity. And things that are important in eternity, oftentimes, are not valued in the world today.

Theologians and biblical scholars have referred to this sort of biblical mindset and understanding as what we would call the “great reversal.” To put it in a sort of visual, it’s that in Scripture, the lowly are exalted, and the exalted are brought low. Which is counterintuitive to the way we think of things because we think of people with power, wealth, position, and whatever they may have as the ones who have achieved. You've probably seen, at some point — if you’ve lived in Lakewood Ranch, you've seen it, at some point. Somebody’s got the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

That is a mindset, in a certain way, but that's the mindset of the exalted that will be brought low. And we see this sort of thinking all through Scripture, but just to give you an idea, just to get your mind thinking a little bit, Mary, in Luke 1, has what we call the Magnificat. I'm just going to read a couple of verses, Luke 1:48, and Luke 1:52-53. I want you to hear what she says.

She says, “…for he has looked on the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

It's the great reversal, that the humble servant would actually be the one that is blessed.

She goes on to say, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.”

That's the great reversal. It's the great reversal. That's the mindset of all the early Christians, that this world is not all that there is, and the things of this world are not as important as the things in eternity. And we’re to be laying up treasures in heaven, not necessarily treasures here.

She goes on to say, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

This whole idea is that there's a great reversal, that one day things are going to be different than what we see here. In fact, Peter, who writes to a congregation that's going through suffering, this is what he says to them. It’s one of the great excerpts of Scripture.

He says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.”

How can he say such a thing? Because he has the mindset that there's something else. He has the comedic imagination. He has the understanding of the happily ever after. He understands the great reversal.

He says, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,”

How could you say such a thing, Peter? How could you say such a thing to people that could do harm to you or to others?

“Have no fear of them, [don’t even] be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you…” — listen — “…for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

That Christians should be people of hope because we have the imagination that sees the happily ever after, that sees the heavenly city, that sees the great reversal.

He says, “Yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Why did I say all of this? I said all of this because we're in a series called “Just Take the Next Step.” In this series, I've been talking about areas in our Christian life that we need to take the next step. Several weeks back, I started talking about taking the next step in Christian maturity, and what that would look like. I thought that, in one sermon, I'd be able to work through James 1 and get it done. Then I told you, “Well, I'm probably not going to get it done. I'm going to go into a second week.”

I told you that was the case, and then I told you we were going to do it again this week, the third week, which is what we're doing. Then we're going to do it again next week, as well, because I’m not getting done as fast as I want to get done. The reason I say all of this is because James — and if you've been here, you'll probably remember this. If you haven't, you can go back and watch the messages. They're online, they're on the mobile app, and we have all kinds of ways to get these messages. But James has basically said, “Hey, I'm writing to a bunch of Christians — primarily Jewish Christians, but Gentiles included — and I want you to know that when you face trials, count it joy.”

And we’re like, “Whoa. How do you count that joy?”

Because, normally, we don't want to have to go through anything that discomforts us. And he tells us why. He says, “Because going through those difficulties creates a sort of steadfastness in you, the ability to hold up so that we can be mature Christians and live a life that people see a difference in you and I. And if, for whatever reason, in the middle of all those difficulties we're wondering how we should live this out, and what the path of God is, we can ask for wisdom and God will give it to us. So, he's laid all this out. He's laid out, “Hey, I know you're going through difficulty, I know you're going through pain,” because what's going on in James' world that he's writing to is that Christians have been scattered out amongst the empire, and the landowners, who are wealthy, are exploiting them. They're not giving them their wages. You can read this in James 5. We’re not going to get there in this series, but you can go home and read it. He says, “Weep and howl, you rich.”

These people are non-believers who are exploiting the people of God. He says, “You’ve held back wages. In fact, you've killed some of them.”

In James 2, he says that they're putting them in prison. If they say something backwards, they throw them in prison. This is an ugly situation that James' people are in, so he's saying, “Hey, listen. When you're going through difficulty, understand that God is sovereign, and that He’s working in you things that you probably can't see. If you don't know how to live this thing out, or if you don't know the path that God would have you to walk, ask Him because He’ll give it to you.”

But then James realizes that the thing that gets people through difficulty is the imagination, to understand that this world is not all that there is, to understand that there is a happily ever after, at some point. Whether it happens in this life or the life to come, for every believer there is going to be a day when we step into eternity, and we realize that all of the difficulties of this life were not even worth comparing to how wonderful it's going to be when we meet our Savior. So, what James does is he takes the great reversal, he takes the mindset, and he writes these next couple of verses. Oftentimes, people who are reading James go, “What’s he saying here? This doesn't seem like it fits anything,” until we get to the verse where we realize everything has still been in context. But what he's doing is he's helping them see something beyond them. He's helping them have hope. Here’s what he says.

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation,”

“Let the lowly brother…” — what’s the lowly brother? Well, in this book, in his time, it would be those that are economically poor who are Christians. James is not saying that if you're economically poor that makes you any closer to God. He's not saying that if you're rich it makes you any further away from God. There are complications with everything. But what he is saying is that he's writing to Christians who happen to have been exploited by the rich landowners. He says to them, “Count of joy. God's going to bring steadfastness. You can ask for wisdom but let me give you the secret.”

Like Paul talks about in Philippians 4. He says, “I've abounded, I've been abased, I've been naked, I've been clothed, I've been well fed, I've gone hungry. What I've learned is a secret. I've learned to put some hope in something out there.”

That’s faith. Faith says, “I believe that there is another day coming.”

He says, “Let the lowly brother boast.”

We're not told to boast, as Christians. He’s not talking about some arrogant pride, but he's saying, “Take some boast here in the fact that you are going to be lifted up because those who are God’s are going to be taken care of. Whether it happens here or into eternity, there really is a happily ever after for those who follow Jesus.”

Then he contrasts them with another group.

He says, “…and the rich in his humiliation,”

Now, I always try to be fair. I always try to teach Scripture fairly. There are some good scholars that believe that the rich, here, are Christian people, and they have their reasons for that. I'm not persuaded because, in James 2, the rich are not believers. And in James 5, the rich are not believers. So, I don't think it has anything to do with Christian believers who are rich. I think it's just rich people who are not believers. He’s trying to give the people he's writing to the mindset of the great reversal, that what’s important here, and what's going on here, really pales in significance to what's coming.

He says, “…and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.”

Flowers can look pretty, they can look beautiful, but they're gone. If you've ever gone home and given your wife flowers, you know it's not long before they don't look as good as they did when you brought them home. Before long, the money that you spent is in the garbage can. Do you know what I'm talking about? You've seen that, right? Flowers don't last forever. Then he goes on a little speech, here, to just get them to understand what is important in life.

He says, “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.”

He says, “Hey, I want you to see out here,” and then he ties it all together. Why can we count it joy when we fall into trials? Because God is creating in us the ability to hold up. And if we lack wisdom, we can ask of God, and we can have the mindset that this world is not all that there is. Then he sort of sums up this whole trial thing.

He said, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,”

Let God work. It may not be fun, it may not be enjoyable in this moment, but let Him work. He's working in you something greater than you could ever imagine. If I can get you to have the imagination, James would say, of what's coming, you'll be able to handle anything that comes your way. You can even be like the great martyrs of the Christian faith who, when they were put into the arena, ran towards the lions. In fact, Polycarp said, “Hey, don't hold me back. Don’t keep me from the lions. Let me get there because the quicker I get there, the quicker I'm going to meet the One who died for me.”

Here's the crazy thing: Those Christians who had that hope, who had that mentality, who believed that there was something else out there, do you know what would happen in the arenas? Everybody would go, “This isn't normal. There's something different about this.”

Did you know what they would do? People in the arena would turn, get on their knees, and repent because of what they saw in the Christians who were able to understand that this world is not all that there is. There is something more. There is another world. There is a heavenly city. There is a happily ever after for those who love the Lord and have been called according to His purpose.

He says, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,”

James is going, “Let me give you the greatest vision I can give you. Let me give you the imagination that you need to have to bear up underneath whatever comes your way.

He says, “…which God has promised to those who…”

Do it morally right? To those who perform good? To those who get it all? No, no.

“…to those who love him.”

So, let's take a moment here, sort of back up, and think about this because we've got some more to go next weekend. But my heart, if you could understand me, and understand what my passion and my drive is, at this point in my life, it’s one thing. It’s that I just want to build a depth of people. I especially want to build it in, obviously, the older generations here, but I really want to see it built deeply into these young people who are here because I don't know what the world's going to be like when they get older. I don't know what it's going to look like. It might be a lot more hostile than the world that you and I have enjoyed, and I want them to be able to be the ones who are so deep and rich in their faith that everybody in Sarasota wants to know what those people have, and it gives them the ability to say, “Let me tell you about my Jesus.”

So, let's do a couple of takeaways here. First of all, taking the next step in Christian maturity includes asking life's tough questions through the truth of the great reversal. Now, when you become a Christian, when you're brand new, you’re not thinking anything about this. All the people getting baptized tonight are probably not really thinking about this. They’re singing about Jesus, what He’s done, and this is great. We rejoice in that. But, at some point, when you take a step further and say, “I want to get a little bit closer in my relationship with Jesus,” you're going to have to, and I’m going to have to, start asking some tough questions through the lens of the great reversal. Am I seeking things in this world that have no value in eternity or have I decided that I'm putting my eggs into eternity, and I'm not as concerned about the things of this world?

Questions like, “What are we investing in?”

It's a great question. What is our time and effort going into? What are we investing in? I'm not here to say that you can't have fun or any of that stuff. I believe all that. I have no problem with Christians doing fun stuff, but those things — this is the way I say it. I don't think that God is so concerned that we have things, but what I will tell you is that the more things we have, the more of a chance that the things can have us. Do you follow what I'm saying? That's not me trying to give anybody a hard time or any of that. I'm just trying to put it into perspective. What matters? I don't know about you, but I've never — I mean, I've done a lot of funerals, and I've never seen a U-Haul behind a hearse. Some of y'all, probably, just despite me, will say, “Oh, in my will, I want to make sure that when Bennett does my…”

Whatever. But what are we investing in? What drives us? What gets you up in the morning? Is it because you, so passionately, want to see people come to know Jesus and settle eternity once and for all? Is that a drive? Or to pour into the next generation, to build people who are mature, or to help Parachurch? What is it?

When I was reading through this — I’ve been thinking of it because you have to think about these things. I mean, we live in America. Most of us are way better off than most people in the world. In fact, we're rich compared to most people in the world. I know this is a question I wrote down, and I was like, “This is a tough question.”

I mean, I was asking myself this question, but I was like, “This is going to be a tough question.”

People will go, “Ooo.”

This is a tough question. How about this one? When we see how we steward what we've been given, we must ask, “Am I a blooming flower about to get scorched?”

The gifts, the talents, the treasures that God has given, we’re not owners but we're stewards. Are we stewarding in a way that the flower's going to get scorched when the sun comes out or are we building something for eternity? The real thing, here, that James is doing is he's really making people think about what's important. Is it getting possessions? Is it getting things or whatever? William Varner, in his commentary on James, says this. I think this is really appropriate.

He says, “James doesn't teach that a person can't be both rich and Christian, but he does suggest here that one's attitude to possessions proves crucial. Unless we recognize the other transience of this life, and the potential suddenness of its end, and unless we live each moment for Christ, with a sense of urgency about redeeming the time, we risk tacitly worshiping the world.”

That’s something that we have to think about. I'm giving you a lot to think about this week. Right? Everybody's like, “We just want our preacher to preach truth.”

Buddy, I'm laying it out here, right here. This is the “go home and have to question about where God fits in your life.” Do you know what I mean? I'm trying to do it as nice as I can, and I'm trying to do it as kind as I can, but I'm trying to say, “Hey, do you know what? Come on. We’ve got a world that needs to know Jesus, and we don't need to be sleeping and slumbering, as the body of Christ. We need to be suited up, ready to go, the Gospel on our tongue, and the sword of the Spirit in our hand so that we can go out and do the things that God has called us to do. And I want to inspire you to go, “Do you know what? I'm going to take another step closer to God because that's the right thing to do.”

And it is. In fact, this is what I would say: We should be esteeming godly character that can remain steadfast through trials more than richness, position, and power. That's where we should be. Second thing. I didn't get a whole lot of amens on that first point. I knew I wouldn't. I knew that was a tough one. My email address is Chris.Absher@ — no, but my thing is I want you to think about it. That's all I can ask you, as your pastor, is to think about the things of God.

Second thing. This is the last one. Taking the next step in Christian maturity means that we adopt the mindset — if you're going to take that next step, if we're really going to be mature, then we have to get the mindset, we have to get the attitude, of what we know the great reversal is, that the things in this world are not as important as the things in eternity. We’ve got to get that mindset. I've preached this so many times, over and over again. You've heard it over and over again. I'm going to continue to say it because I want to build deep. Here's the thing. Suffering ultimately gives way to glory. If I can get Christians to understand this, no matter what comes your way, you can say, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

You can sing in the jail cell, like Paul and Silas, after you've been beaten because you've got a hope that is far greater than anything this world could ever give you and I. And I want to just show you something. I'll go through a couple of verses here. It's not me. Like, you say, “Man, Chip, suffering and glory? You're just making this stuff up. We knew you were from Kentucky. So, I mean, we don't know.”

You just be the judge here. I’ll read a couple of Scriptures to you.

Jesus says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

“…and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I considered that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

The mindset is that no matter what happens in this lifetime, it's not eternity is what I'm playing for. The heavenly city is where my eggs are in the basket. We share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, that through Christ we may share abundantly in comfort.

Two: “…inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”

“But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed…”

See, this mindset, this Christian understanding that there's something else, that this world is not all that there is, that there is a heaven, there is an eternity, and there is a heavenly city, that's the importance. That’s how Paul can write this to the church at Corinth. Here's what he says to the church at Corinth. He says, “We don't lose heart. We don’t lose heart. Yeah, I've been thrown in prison. Yeah, I've been beaten. Yeah, I've been stoned.”

If you're from Colorado, that’s a completely different meaning than — we’ll talk about that later. Anyways, he goes, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction…”

Like, “Seriously, Paul? That is not light and momentary.”

It’s light to him. It’s like, “You don't understand, man. I'm playing for the end game.”

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

That's the mindset. If that is the mindset that we can have, as Christians, it changes everything. It changes everything. It changes the way you view life. It changes the way you have hope. I was thinking, “How do I end this?”

I knew we were going to sing a song about Jesus being our hope, but I was like, “How do I just end this thing?”

As I was trying to think about how to end the message, I was reminded that back when I was 17-18, I was Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. I was in a small ensemble in my youth group. It was a small choir. We had won our state, we were at nationals, and we sang two songs. One song, every choir had to sing, and then you had a second song that you could pick. Ours was Acapella. These words have never left me. They’ve never gone away. I'm so glad that I sang and memorized that song. I just want to read you these lyrics, and we'll pray.

“I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold. I'd rather be His than have riches untold. I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land. I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hands than to be a king of a vast domain and be held in sins’ dread sway. I'd rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”


“I'd rather have Jesus than worldly applause. I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause. I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame. Yes, I'd rather be true to His holy name.”

James is calling to his people to have a mindset, that is beyond the present circumstances, that lifts them into a comedic imagination, an imagination that there really is a happily ever after. What it does is it creates hope. And when we have hope, we can endure anything.

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