My dear friends in Christ,
Where do we go from here? People ask that question when they face big changes in their lives—changes like “graduation.” Look at the first two verses from James 1 again: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:2–3 NIV84). Think about the two individuals in our other lessons. Do you think they knew where to go from here? Do you think that they considered their situations and were filled with pure joy?
Joshua could have asked, “Lord, where do we go from here?” Joshua had to follow Israel’s greatest leader—Moses. When Moses died, the Bible says, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deuteronomy 34:10,12 NIV84). How could Joshua ever be that kind of leader? Now he’s supposed to lead Israel into battle and drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, starting with the heavily fortified city of Jericho. Oh, the Lord gave him a plan and Joshua followed it to the letter, but who would believe that the way to breach the walls of Jericho was to march around them each day; on the seventh day take the city with just a shout and the sound of trumpets—no war machines or siege works needed? Where’s the joy when the plan seems impossible and everyone’s willing to tell you it can’t happen, or even make fun of your foolishness?
How about the centurion? He wasn’t part of Israel. He had done all kinds of wonderful things in Capernaum, even building a synagogue out of love for his adopted faith. His servant, a man he valued highly, was sick and about to die. Where is the joy when someone close to you is dying and you can’t do a thing about it? Lord, where do we go from here?
Today is a big day for many of our members here at Salem. We have 13 8th graders who are graduating. Four of our Salem members are also graduating from St. Croix Lutheran High School today. In another week, several of our Salem members will graduate from Stillwater High School and St. Croix Prep. Graduation is a special day. It’s a day to mark their accomplishments in school. It’s a time to thank God for the blessings he has showered on them—the gifts of knowledge, friendship, activities, and especially, the gift of faith that God strengthened day after day. Today you all take a big step forward into the unknown. Where do you go from here? Maybe that sounds like a foolish question. You know where you’re going to school next year. You probably already have friends at the school you’ll attend. You’ve visited the classrooms already. You have an idea of what to expect.
Where do you go from here? Are you ready for the trials that you’ll face? Do you have the wisdom you need? I remember feeling pretty wise when I left grade school and headed off to high school. I had really good grades and had done well on my entrance tests. High school was going to be a piece of cake. Then came Ancient History, Algebra, and even the Old Testament class. I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. Funny, the same thing happened when I went to college. I thought I knew a lot until I got into German, and Western Civilizations, and advanced Math. Throw into the mix making new friends, having to make choices about what I did and how I would act. I found out pretty quickly how much wisdom I lacked! I also learned that I lacked wisdom when I got married, when I stood in front of a classroom as a teacher for the first time, and when I sat in my desk with a sign on the door that said, “Pastor Jonathan Brohn.”
Where do we go from here when we face trials and lack wisdom? James’ answer is simple: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5 NIV84). Just ask God! So we pray. We say, “Lord, if you have time, if you really care, if you're not too busy, if you remember who I am, could I maybe have...I'm not sure I really need it...Maybe I shouldn't even be asking!” Can you hear the doubt and disbelief? We sound like the person James went on to describe: “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (James 1:6–8 NIV84).
Where do we go from here? James warns us what happens to the person who is rich in things and in this life. “But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower” (James 1:10 NIV84). If we get a good education and job, make lots of money and find success, we may think we don’t have to ask God for anything. We’ll take care of ourselves. James continued, “For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business” (James 1:11 NIV84).
Where do we go from here? James said, “Think about every joy, my brothers, whenever you encounter various trials” (James 1:2). Neither Joshua nor the centurion complained about their trials. They didn’t worry how things were going to turn out. They found joy in the things God had done for them in the past.
Joshua looked back at the things God had done through Moses. He rejoiced that he had been Moses’ right hand man. He could celebrate the miracle that God had already done, stopping the flow of the Jordan River so the Israelites could cross on dry land. He could find joy in the meeting he had with the Commander of the army of the Lord. He had seen his Savior—the one who would knock down the walls of Jericho, the one who would open wide the gates of heaven!
The centurion could think about the joy he had experienced. He loved the Jewish nation because he had come to know and believe in the Lord. He had built a synagogue in Capernaum to honor him. He was a man with authority, also a gift from the Lord, and he had soldiers under his command who would follow his orders.
Where could they go from there? They went from joy to perseverance. James wrote, “The testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:3–4 NIV84). Literally, James said, “let perseverance have its full effect.” Persevere—hang in there no matter what, even when it’s painful. We need to persevere because every trial we face helps us grow stronger. I wonder how many taunts Joshua endured from the people of Jericho as he marched quietly around the city. I wonder how many of the Israelites questioned his sanity. I wonder how many of the centurion’s friends told him his hope in Jesus was worthless, that he should let his servant die quietly.
They were tested. They persevered. At the end of our text, James wrote, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial” (James 1:12 NIV84). It can also be translated, “Happy.” Joshua could be happy. His perseverance ended in a great victory—the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The centurion could be happy too. Without meeting the centurion or seeing his servant, Jesus healed the man with just a word.
So, where do we go from here? It will take a lot of perseverance and a lot of trust, a lot of prayer and a lot of faith to make it from today through whatever the future holds. Don’t forget to “consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds.” It might be tough to find joy in what’s happening at that moment, so think back to everything the Lord has done for you. Remember what he did when you were baptized. He marked you as his own dear child. He washed away all of your sins. He connected you to another joy-filled moment in your life—the moment when Jesus loved you enough to die for you. Remember the blessings of the Christian education that you’ve received, hearing about Jesus every day. Remember your confirmation day and the joy in your heart as you heard once again how the Lord promises to be with you throughout your lives. Remember all of the joy the Lord has showered on you. He provides the drive and strength to persevere through any and every trial!
Don’t forget to ask for his wisdom along the way. When you’re struggling with new classes, new teachers, and new homework, “ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given” (James 1:5 NIV84). Where will you go from here? What’s your goal in life? What do you want to be when you graduate from high school or college? Do you want to be a doctor or a lawyer? Are you thinking about being a teacher, or maybe even a pastor? Do you like to work with your hands—maybe on car engines, or construction work, or plumbing? Does technology fascinate you? Do you enjoy serving people? No matter what you decide to do, ask God for the wisdom to get there. Study hard. Work faithfully at your job every day as if you were working for the Lord. Respect your boss and your fellow employees. Pray that the Lord will help you make good choices. Listen to his Word.
Most importantly, don’t forget that you already have the answer to the question: “Where will you go from here?” The Lord has a gift waiting for you at the end of this life. You can be happy as you persevere “because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV84). The crown of life—that’s what our time on earth is all about! It’s not about getting a good job, making lots of money, and having all of the stuff that we want. If God blesses us with those things while we’re here on earth, we thank him. We really need faith—faith that perseveres, faith that prays, faith that boasts in the things God has done for us. When we reach the end of our lives, faith also provides us with the perfect reward—the crown of life.
Where do we go from here? Into the future, wherever the Lord guides us. Where do we go from here? One day the Lord will lead us straight into our heavenly home. Where do we go from here? Wherever our Lord leads us! Amen.
To God alone the glory! Pastor Jon Brohn