First Things First

First Things First is a series of informative and thought-provoking articles written by our regular teachers. Click the links on the sidebar to access the full articles.

I took this photo of Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine) in Berlin, 2017. The Schneebaum family was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1943. “HIER WOHNTE” means “here lived.” JG is the birth date. “ERMORDET” means “murdered.

Our February article is by Brad Mercer.

Last Wednesday, January 27, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day marked 76 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the largest concentration camp established by Nazi Germany.

Several years ago Cindy and I came face to face with a sobering reminder of Auschwitz—Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine). During our stay in Berlin we noticed small brass plates embedded in the walkways all over town. Inscribed on each one of these Stumbling Stones (also called Stumbling Blocks) is a name and date of a victim of Nazi persecution. You will notice in the photograph above that the Schneebaum family was deported to Auschwitz in 1943, where they were murdered. Initiated in 1992 by the German artist, Gunter Demnig, the Stolpersteine project’s goal is to commemorate individuals at exactly their last place of residency or work. There are currently over 13,000 Stumbling Stones in more than 280 countries.

It was also last Wednesday that I began teaching a new series on the book of Job. It somehow seemed appropriate on a day when people all over the world were once again asking the “why?” and “where?” God questions. Why does God allow suffering? Where is He when holocausts happen?

The book of Job reads like an epic poem or a multi-episode drama, and like other dramas we will miss the point if we don’t read (or watch) to the very end. Starting and stopping or dipping in and out won’t do. So if you are attending the class or watching online, hang in there! Along the way we will encounter angels, Satan, families, friends, a mystery man, otherworldly beasts, thunderstorms, whirlwinds, and most importantly, God—the real, holy, sovereign, gracious, merciful, loving God.

Until we get there, the book of James points us in the right direction. James gets to the heart of the message of Job by focusing on steadfastness and wisdom.

Steadfastness

“You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). What does steadfastness look like? James shows us in the opening sentences of his letter:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:1-4).

James is not saying, “put on a happy face” or “be happy because you are suffering.” There is a form of finger-pointing Christianity that claims something is wrong with believers who are not bubbly and enthusiastic all the time. “What’s wrong with you? Jesus loves you, you should be happy!” they chide. On the other hand, there are Christians who are not happy unless they are miserable—and making everyone else miserable. “Look! I’m miserable in Jesus. See my sacrifices for others!” they declare with their words and actions.

James shows us a better way. He exposes the myth that trials and suffering are always bad. There is such a thing as joy in the midst of trial and suffering. He is refreshingly honest: We will meet trials. These trials will test our faith. This testing produces maturity. The road to maturity goes through time-tested faith and patient endurance. Our trials humble us out of our illusions of self-creation, self-sufficiency, and self-control. C.S. Lewis reminds us that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” St. Augustine pleads with us: “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are too full—there is nowhere for Him to put it.”

Wisdom

Job and James are wisdom books. Job wrestles with wisdom throughout the book. “With God is wisdom and might” (12:13), and “Wisdom is with the aged” (12:12), but “where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding” (28:12). James reads like a New Testament Proverbs. The letter is full of wise counsel about suffering, faith, freedom, and our words and riches. Think of wisdom as down-to-earth discernment rooted in reverence.

The steadfastness, the time-tested faith and patient endurance of Job, James writes, does not come without down-to-earth discernment rooted in reverence: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

Ultimately, Job and James point to Jesus. For some, a very different kind of stumbling stone; for others, wisdom; for all, the offer of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life! In the magnificent, life-giving words of the apostle Paul:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:20-25).


Jesus Christ is “to us wisdom from God” who through His own abandonment, death, and resurrection gives the promise of salvation, hope, and comfort to every suffering soul (1 Cor. 1:30).

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.