Who’s Your Authority?

Heard a great sermon today on the principle of authority and respect. Pastor mentioned three sources of authority we can choose.

  • Our own authority. We can say “No one is going to tell me what to do. I am going to do what I want. I have my rights”
  • Other’s authority. We can decide to do what everyone else is doing, what is popular, what our crowd believes.
  • God’s authority. We can choose to follow the teachings of Jesus.

Hmm. You mean things like “pray for those who persecute you” or how about “But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice against him shall be guilty before the court; and whoever speaks [contemptuously and insultingly] to his brother, ‘Raca (You empty-headed idiot)!’ shall be guilty before the supreme court (Sanhedrin); and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fiery hell.”

Or, how about A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples as they had their last meal together just before He went to the cross. He said it was a new commandment. Yet He had told them before that they should love others. He had said that all the Law and the Prophets could be summed up in two commandments: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.

What was new about this commandment?

It appears to me that Jesus was giving us a standard by which we could judge how we love our neighbor. It was more than just how we love our self. It was as He has loved us.

As we listen to the social and political world right now, we see little of love and kindness. But what disturbs me is that many of our evangelical Christian leaders are as guilty as non-believers in this battle of words.

Following the authority of Jesus is not easy. I am afraid I have failed a lot on that one. My prayer today is that God will help me put a watch on my tongue.

And I pray that those who claim to speak for the church will also return to following Jesus rather than following the example of the rest of society.

Overheard in an Orchard

As I sit in my easy chair and watch the birds in my back yard – robins, cardinals, flinches, blue jays and doves, this poem comes to my mind.

Said the Robin to the Sparrow;
"I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush about and worry so?"

Said the Sparrow to the Robin;
"Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me."

Elizabeth Cheney

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29–31 — New Living Translation (NLT)

Do You Take Your Shoes Off – or Pluck Blackberries?

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Where is Your Bible?

In our devotions today my husband and I read about a king in Judah who began his reign following two very corrupt kings who had set up idols to pagan gods in the Temple and one had even sacrificed his son to Baal.

This godly king, Josiah, began his reign by ordering the priests and Levites to remove all the pagan idols from the Temple and began cleaning up the clutter that was there and to restore proper worship.

As the workers cleaned up the Temple they discovered a scroll. Looking at the scroll they realized it was the Book of the Law that Moses had given to the Israelites when they were set free from bondage in Egypt and given the land of Canaan for their inheritance.

The priest brought the book to the attention of the king and his court secretary read it to him. As he heard the Law of Moses apparently for the first time, he tore his clothes in despair. He realized how far from this book the nation had gone.

He immediately called for the nation’s leaders to come to Jerusalem and hear the Law and made plans to celebrate the Passover which they had not done in generations.

As I thought about this discovery, I wondered how long had the Book of the Law been missing. Had no one realized it was gone? Had no one searched for it? Did this generation even know such a book existed? Did anyone care?

Fast forward to today.

I have to wonder: How long has the Word of God been neglected in our homes, our churches, our families? Our children know the super heroes – Batman, Super Woman – do they know the heroes of the Bible – Joseph, Daniel, Stephen?

Many Christians today say we have made an idol out of the Bible. That it is Jesus we need to be concerned about, not the Bible.

But I have to ask: How would I know about Jesus if not for the Bible? Without John 3:16 I would never have known that God sent His son for me. Without the Sermon on the Mount, I would never know what being a part of God’s kingdom really looks like. Without Matthew 28 I would never know that Jesus commanded us to share the good news with the entire world.

Depending on what study you look at you will find that kids today spend 3 to 5 hours watching TV or on the internet. I realize that varies from home to home and many parents do limit their children’s screen time. Still, I wonder if in our Christian homes our children spend even one hour a week in God’s Word.

Do we really know what we believe and why we believe it? Do our children know?

  • The Psalmist said, “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
  • Apostle Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
  • The followers of Jesus in Berea were commended because “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
  • The writer of Hebrews tells us that “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
  • When Jesus was tempted by Satan he answered each temptation by quoting Scripture. In one instance he said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Today we have many that claim to be speaking for God. To know whether or not what they say is true, we have to go back to the Word of God. That is our guide.

Do you know where your Bible is?

Quote from Charles Spurgeon

Benjamin Franklin Could Not – Can You?

Most Americans know all about Benjamin Franklin. His many inventions – the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals as well as organizing the postal system are all well known. Perhaps less well known was his desire to reach moral perfection.

At the age of 20 he decided he would strive to become a perfect moral man.

“It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”

To achieve that faultlessness, he made a list of thirteen virtues which he thought, if perfected, would make him a perfect man. That list was:

After completing his list, he drew up a chart where he could keep track of his progress each day.

Realizing how hard achieving perfection would be, he chose to tackle only one virtue at a time. He would evaluate his conduct at the end of each day and give himself a black mark for every time he did not succeed at the virtues on his list. After a week he checked his progress. If he had few black marks for the virtue he was working on he would move on to the next. If, however, he had a lot of black marks he would keep working on that virtue. He would continue this until he had completed all 13 virtues – and then start all over again.

It was not long before Franklin realized achieving perfection was not possible. The Apostle Paul years before Franklin had also understood that perfection on our own was not possible.

I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway….I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 

This inability to be the good we want to be is a common part of our nature it seems. So what do we do?

Paul had the answer.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. 

It is only when we realize we cannot be good enough on our own and turn to Jesus Christ for help in our struggles that we find the strength we need to be what we desire to be. Perfection is not something we will achieve in this life, but when we stop trying on our own and look to Jesus for help, we can begin the growing process of becoming all that God intended for us to be.

The Morning After

This beautiful painting is by my husband Paul W Lane

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)

Sorry We Didn’t Recognize You Jesus

Today the church remembers the death of Jesus on the cross. As we read the story we often denigrate the Roman soldiers, the Jewish religious leaders, Pilate and even the followers of Jesus.

How could they not know that this was the Son of God we ask? How could they mock Him as He hung on the cross and died?

I recently read an article by Steve Cordle in his book A Jesus-Shaped Life which I would like to share here.

A forty-year-old white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap found a spot next to a garbage can near the entrance of the Washington metro station. He pulled a violin from a small case and placed the open case at his feet. As most huskers do, he threw in a few dollars as seed money and began to play.

He spent the next forty-three minutes playing immortal classics by Mozart and Schubert as a parade of people streamed by. This violinist was no ordinary street musician, however, and he didn’t need the money. His name is Joshua Bell, and he is one of the finest concert violinists in the world. The violin he was playing was a Stradivarius made in 1713 and worth over $3.5 million.

The Washington Post newspaper had arranged for him to play at the metro as an experiment in whether people would recognize greatness and beauty in unlikely places. That day, 1097 people passed by Bells concert. Seven people stopped to listen to him play. Only one person recognized him.

That same week, Bell played to capacity concert hall crowds paying at least $100 per ticket. At the subway Bell collected a total of about $32 from the twenty-seven people who stopped long enough to donate.

It is understandable that most people did not recognize Bell. Even if they were classical music buffs, no one expects to come upon a world-renowned virtuoso playing in the subway.

No one expected that God would appear on earth in the form of a servant either.

But are we any different today? How often do we go about our busy lives – doing our own thing – and take little or no time to communicate with Jesus? How often do we make decisions without even bothering to seek His direction? How often do we fail to see His mercy, His love and His grace all about us? How much of our time is devoted to our own pursuits with little time left over for Him?

As we reflect on His death so long ago, help us to not be guilty of giving Him a few moments this weekend and then go back to our own routines with little or no acknowledgment of Him.

Are We True Servants?

Today in many churches there will be a service called Tenebrae. This is a Latin word meaning “darkness.” These services share the story of the suffering and death of Jesus from the Gospel of John. The lights in the church are dimmed and candles are lit at the front. As each portion of scripture is read, a candle is extinguished. The final story of the burial is read in near darkness. As the service concludes everyone is encouraged to leave in silence and to spend time thinking of the death of Jesus – and of the celebration waiting on Sunday.

As we ponder this day we remember that it was on Thursday that Jesus washed the disciples feet. He did this to emphasis His purpose in coming to earth – and also to set an example to us of what true Christianity was all about – being a servant.

In Mark’s Gospel we are told:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

When His disciples were arguing about who would be first in God’s kingdom Jesus told them that His kingdom would be different than any kingdom.

You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 

“Be a servant.” “Be a slave.” That hardly fits with our culture today. We are encouraged to “get ahead”, “be successful”, “rise to the top.”

Many times before we commit to something we want to know “what’s in it for me?”

Jesus has called His followers to be different.

In Philippians we are told:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

As we reflect and celebrate what this weekend means to Christians, let us renew our commitment to be “like Jesus” and be a servant.

What does a servant look like:

  • They do not seek the limelight
  • They often work behind the scene
  • They do not expect a payback
  • They put the needs of others before their own

I think perhaps the best statement of a servant was by Rick Warren who said:

The real test of whether we are a servant is how we act when we are treated like one.

Want to Be Wise?

James 3:13-18 – (The Message) – Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

  • For those who do not care about true wisdom but only want the status of being thought wise, the question is a challenge; James’s answer will expose them for what they are.
  • For those who honestly aspire to being wise, the question is an invitation; James’s answer will divulge the way to attain their aspirations.

James is saying, “I am about to tell you the nature of true wisdom; treasure this.” Let all readers, then, first examine their own hearts before reading beyond the question posed in 3:13. Do you really want to be wise?

Literally James says, “Let him show by good behavior his deeds in the humility of wisdom.” Wisdom, then, is not something I will merely possess in my head; if I am wise at all, it is something I will demonstrate in my conduct. 

Two kinds of wisdom:

  • earthly, unspiritual, demonic – comes from jealousy and selfish ambition
  • pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

What causes fights/quarrels?

The conclusion for us is that our fights reveal a wrong relationship with God which is manifest in our prayer lives. Either we do not pray, because we do not trust in God’s grace, or we pray with wrong motives, because we do not follow God’s purity.

James 4:4-6 – You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.”

These are difficult verses to understand.

Exodus 20:5 – You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.

Proverbs 3:34 – He mocks proud mockers  but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.

The reference in 4:6 is more specific and definite, quoting Proverbs 3:34 about God’s personal stance in regard to the choice before us. He is neither passive nor indifferent but quite active in opposing the proud and giving grace to the humble.

James 4:7-12 – So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him make himself scarce. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet. Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk. You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it. God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?

  • Submit to God – resist the devil
  • God will come near – devil will flee
  • What do you think of his telling us to mourn?  How would that go over in today’s church?

3 relationships:

  • First mentioned is the relationship with each other. Our bonds with others in God’s family are violated when we receive mercy from God but do not share it with others.  When we judge others we are showing contempt for God’s mercy to us.
  •  Second is the relationship with the law. James insists that we are to be doers under the law, which is contradicted when we try to be judges over the law.  When we accept God’s mercy through Jesus Christ, we place ourselves under the teachings of Jesus which commands we show mercy.  When we judge others rather than show mercy, we are rejecting Christ’s teachings.
  • The third relationship is with God.  In judging people, what we really want is to take God’s place. Our sins of judging are attempts to set ourselves not only over the law but over the Lawgiver as well.

That’s Not Fair!!!

James 2:1-7 – My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

We all desire fairness.

So does God.  Through Moses he charged the people of Israel to believe and to remember his divine purity on this issue:

Deuteronomy 10:17 – For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.

It follows immediately that he “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:18).

The persistent, inescapable principle of being related to God as his people is that his character and ways are binding upon us as well. We are to be holy as he is holy.   Partiality is an issue for James because God’s righteousness is the issue for James. God does not show partiality; therefore we must not show partiality.

1 Peter 1:17 – Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

Acts 10:34-35 – Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

Ephesians 6:9 – And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Romans 2:11 – For God does not show favoritism.

James was called “the Just” because it is clear he followed a very familiar line of Old Testament thought about justice. Again, our chapters division can cause us to not see that this is one unit of thought.  Let’s go back and look at chapter 1. James says Don’t show favoritism because that would be an instance of “being polluted by the world.”

James 2:8-13 – If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Christ would free us from the sin of materialism, so that we can be freed from economic favoritism. He would free us from the sin of racism, so that we can be freed from ethnic favoritism. The royal law of loving one’s neighbor as oneself brings freedom to forgive the neighbor’s wrongs, freedom to ask forgiveness for our own wrongs, freedom to accept differences among us and freedom to open ourselves to others. It is freedom from the selfishness that is at the heart of favoritism

Matthew 7:1-2 – Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

James is not suggesting we just practice treating everyone the same as if righteousness consists of just giving everyone identical treatment.  Rather he is speaking mercy. 

Matthew 6:14-15 – For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 18:21-35 – Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”