I spent the first two of my summers in high school working at a Christian camp in South Jersey as a counselor. It was a great experience in many ways, as I recall leading 10 children to Christ that first summer. Yet a part of me now looks back with amazement that this camp allowed a 15-year-old to be a counselor for seven new 10-year-old kids in a cabin each week. I think they were desperate … actually, yes, they WERE desperate! There literally was nobody else.
As camp staff, we would have to also attend the adult Bible conference part of the camp on the weekends, and I distinctly remember one particular speaker named Charlie Tremendous Jones. Yep, you read that correctly. I was wondering if maybe my memory was playing a trick on me, so I google-searched it and sure enough found a page about him that said …
People called Charlie “Tremendous” because he called everyone else tremendous. If asked how he got the moniker, he’d blame it on a limited vocabulary: When someone told him they were having a child, he’d say “Tremendous!”… When someone got a promotion, “Tremendous!”… When someone got married, succeeded at something, met a great mentor… all “Tremendous”. And pretty soon, everyone realized Charlie was “Tremendous.”
The guy wrote a book that sold over two million copies, a book that has never gone out of print. He was high energy for sure. My memory of his was that he was an old man, though I see from his bio that he was in his early 40s at that time.
But here is what I most remember about his sermon: He kept repeating, “I hope you have a lot of problems is life … Oh, I pray that God gives you tons of problems and difficulties.”
That’s not very nice, is it? That’s not … ah … what’s the word?… not very TREMENDOUS!
Or is it good theology? Let me ask you: As you look back on your life, when is it that you grew the most in trust and dependence upon God? Was it when everything was going swimmingly well in your experience, or was it in the wake of trials and crises that God brought you through? You know it is always the latter!
As James opens his letter to the scattered Jewish Christians who were facing great difficulties wherever they lived, he sounds a lot like “Tremendous” Jones …
James 1:2 – Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Most of us find joy in escaping trials rather than in facing them. But we should always distinguish between joy and happiness. Joy is an attitude, whereas happiness is an emotion. We can be joyful about trials and the benefits they will bring, yet additionally happy when those benefits come and the trial passes.
It is like preparing for something very difficult. One of my boys is going to participate in the upcoming JFK 50-miler. He is putting his body through physical trials – like a 100-mile bike race, and running on all sorts of terrain and in every weather condition, good or bad. But these trials will give him the perseverance and preparation he needs to finish the ultra-marathon and gain the satisfaction and happiness that follows.
This is not to say that trials are easy to overcome. Indeed, they can be complicated and gravely difficult, but the believer has a resource …
James 1:5 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Seeking wisdom from the Lord shouldn’t be like calling the service center number to deal with a computer problem. There, you find yourself talking with someone offshore who is difficult to understand, and all of the advice does nothing to fix your problem. It does reinforce your skepticism however. Asking God for wisdom is nothing like that. He wants you to ask and believe that you will get the answer.
James 1:9 – Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 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 will fade away even while they go about their business.
The trials of life tend to even the ground between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” The believer with little in terms of material assets is blessed to have the need for total dependence upon God. And when the wealthy believer is humiliated through trials, he is blessed to have to depend now upon God rather than upon earthly assets that fade like a plant in the heat of the sun. The trials prove to be beneficial for each one as each might choose to trust in God …
1:12 – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
There is great reward for perseverance in trials, both in this life and surely for eternity. And nothing can beat this gift of God’s promise. So … I hope you have lots of trials and problems! It is the best thing that can happen to you. Consider it total joy! Just call me Randy Tremendous Buchman next time we meet!