I was the youngest of two boys. My brother out ranked me by 3 and a half years. That meant he talked first, walked first, played outside first, rode a bike, got a car, and went to college first.
I lived in his shadow for a while. He got better grades than I did, went on way more dates than me (even dated a girl I liked), and spent a lot of time figuring out ways to get me out of his room.
I was just starting high school when he was graduating, so I spent my sophomore year as "Joe's little brother" or "Little Joe."
Eventually, I made a name for myself, and realized that I wasn't my brother, and could never be my brother. That freed me to become an individual.
My brother and I are very different, and a little the same.
You know who I wouldn't want to grow up with as my brother?
Jesus, who probably didn't boast about it, but knew that he was the savior the Jews had been waiting for. He was the guy who was going to give his life to pay for our sins. He was the guy that was going to defeat death to fix the relationship with God that we broke.
Imagine if he was the kid sleeping on the bed next to you every night.
Could you ever win an argument? Could you ever get out of your brother's shadow? Think there was any question as to who the favorite was in the house?
These are the thoughts and questions one might enter the Book of James with.
James certainly didn't have an easy life, and just because he was the brother of Jesus, didn't mean he got a free pass. He was human, the son of Mary and Joseph, born into a world of sin. He had to navigate that world, and make choices just like the rest of us. He no doubt struggled with his faith and questioned the validity of his brother's claims, even though he couldn't deny that there was something different about the guy he called brother.
Like many of us, though, the path James chose led him straight to his brother. He accepted the gift of salvation Jesus offers all of us. And, in so doing, James became a man of strong, unshakeable faith.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
I wonder if James learned this the easy way or the hard way. Maybe being Jesus' brother allowed him to overlook the pressures of the world and instead, constantly found things to be grateful for, and in that found that his life was perfect, and he needed nothing.
Or maybe, when he was a kid, he accidentally hit his thumb with a hammer (which is likely considering the family profession) and let out some expletives. Then his brother turned to him and was like, "Chill out Jimmy, it's all good."
James might have responded with something like, "Shut up Jesus. And, stop calling me Jimmy!" Then Jesus would laugh and go back to studying scrolls.
Who knows? I like to think James learned the hard way because that's how I tend to learn life lessons. Plus, later in life, James would think back on that incident and be like, "What was I thinking?!?"
Regardless of how James' faith was shaped, his words are true.
It's true, we are going to face troubles in this world. They are unavoidable. It's true, we choose how we respond to those troubles. We can pretend the universe revolves around us and blame everyone else for our problems, or we can take ownership and find the lesson to be learned.
It's true, when we overcome an obstacle, temptation, or attack with our faith, we become stronger. We learn to put more trust in God. We find more comfort in his arms, and are more likely to listen to him when the next trial comes around.
And then there's that last little bit of the verse,
...for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
Maybe I'm closer to the start line than I am to the finish line when it comes to my faith, but this boggles my mind. Can I even begin to imagine being perfect and complete? Is there any possible way that there will be a day when I need nothing.
But here's the thing, James hasn't let me down. Everything else he's said is true. I may have learned it the hard way, but I learned it. So, I have to believe that James isn't just trying to write words that sound good. James lived this stuff. He was out there, fighting the battle every day. He's not the kind of guy that would say something just to win some new followers.
Let your imagination wonder with me. Let's choose to believe he's right. Let's choose to believe that we can be perfect and complete, needing nothing. What would that look like for our lives? What would it look like for this city if we lived our lives in joy? What would it look like if we made every day a day to develop our endurance?
I don't know about you, but imagining that now fills me with hope. I'm filled with hope for my life, the lives of my friends and family, my Radius family, and for St. Petersburg.
It's like when I see billboards for the Florida Lotto on the side of the road. I start thinking about what I would do with $120 Million. It would be life changing.
When we invited Jesus into our hearts, and chose to pursue a relationship with God, our faith account was filled to the max, and we can make withdrawals whenever we want. We just have to go to the source and ask.