True Source

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

James 1:13-18 (NIV)

Growing up there was a comedy show on television which brought laughter into our home. It was on the air in the early 1970s and starred comedian Flip Wilson, so was called “The Flip Wilson Show.” The show was a full hour in length and consisted of a series of short skits. Popular actors, comedians, musicians and public features would be a part of each week’s show. Many phrases were made popular within American society after they were said on this show, often by headline comedian Flip Wilson himself. One such catchphrase was, “The devil made me do it.”

Today’s passage from the letter of James places before us the question, “What is the source of temptation and sin?” Here we are told that the source is definitely not God. God cannot be tempted and God does not tempt. Instead, the source is our own evil desire. This desire leads to sin and the full outcome of sin is death. The writer then tells us that God is the source of good gifts for us. One of the greatest of these gifts is making us the first fruits of creation. God is the source of good and perfect gifts, not temptation and sin.

We are a people who want to blame someone or something else for our bad behavior and choices. Flip Wilson taught us to blame the devil. The contemporaries of James blamed God. The truth is that we, ourselves, are the source of evil desires which lead to sin. Only the love and goodness of God’s grace can overcome those desires and defeat sin and death. Instead of blaming God for the temptations, we should be thanking God for defeating the effect of those temptations.

Making Choices

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:13-23 (NIV)

There are decisions in life which can be difficult to make. The choices which are before us may need to be weighed by the impact upon others. On the surface we may determine that one option carries no negative influence for us personally but as we examine the choice deeper, we see there will be a negative impact on others. If we move forward with the choice, we will personally experience no consequences yet this may result in consequences for someone else. The decision creates a dilemma for us.

Paul writes about such a situation. He presents the scenario involving food. He indicates that he does not view any food as unclean. Having this opinion means that he can eat anything he chooses without having it negatively impact him. However, if someone who has an opposite view witnesses him eating perceived unclean food items and it causes the person spiritual distress then he should abstain from eating the food. Paul tells us that we are to always make choices that will be mutually edifying for ourselves and others. These choices should never cause someone else to stumble in their spiritual journey even if the choice is alright for us personally.

The best example of how this might apply to our lives has to do with alcohol. Many of us can consume an alcoholic beverage without a negative consequence. We are able to drink in moderation and responsibly. We do not drink amounts of alcohol which will impair our judgment or cause us to become ill. After consuming alcohol we do not drive until we can do so safely. There is nothing which should prevent us from choosing to drink alcohol. However, a person who has a disease and is unable to control how much alcohol is consumed, an alcoholic, cannot drink even a little. Drinking in front of such a person can lead to the alcoholic assuming it is alright for them to follow your example. The responsible person will have a conversation in advance to confirm if the alcoholic would be placed in a compromising position if you drink. A lot of this has to do with where the person is on the addiction journey. Each person is different. Just because you can, does not mean you should. 

We have been given many freedoms. God has made all things possible for us. Our responsibility is to make sure in the exercise of our freedoms and God’s gifts, we do not cause anyone to stumble. If choosing to refrain from something will help build another individual up, we should choose to refrain.

Together and Prayer

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:13-20 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how much more effective a group is in solving a problem than one individual is alone? Bringing a variety of perspectives together often results in a solution which one perspective alone could not have achieved. In addition, having many hands and heads working together increases the rate of outcome and lessens the burden of the individual. This view has led to sayings such as, “two heads are better than one,” or “many hands make light work.”

In the letter of James we hear a discussion of community and prayer. The writer impresses upon the receivers the importance of turning to one another when they are experiencing troubles. There is an understanding that when someone turns to others, the response will be to join with the troubled one and use the power of prayer. The letter clearly emphasizes how powerful prayer can be to bring about healing and restoration. A reader gets the sense that believers in Christ are to care for the needs of one another.

As we read this passage written a few thousand years ago, we see reflections of the role the church is to play in people’s lives. The church is to pray for those who are troubled, sick, or fighting sin. These prayers are called intercessory which occur corporately as part of worship services and individually through prayer chains or during home visits. The church is to also be engaged in bringing those who have wandered from the truth back into the fold. This is the role of reaching out, hearing confessions and providing assurances of forgiveness.

An important reality which we all must remember is that while this happens on a corporate level, usually in the midst of a worship service, each of us have a responsibility to make sure these things occur as part of our daily life. We are supposed to reach out to other believers when we are dealing with challenges in our lives. We are to be available to one another when there is a need. The power of prayer is to always be utilized as a tool of response. We are the church, individually and together.

Seeking Answers

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

Humans, by nature, have always been curious. We look at something and are filled with all kinds of questions. Where did this come from, what is its source? How was this created? Who or what sustains this? How does it operate? Will it last long? Can it be taken apart, and if so, can it be put back together? Questions seem to be endless when we encounter objects. This curiosity has led humanity to discover all types of beneficial components and processes throughout life. These discoveries have opened many adventures and opportunities to us. This inquisitive search has even extended to explore non-physical parts of life such as spirituality, thought processes, and philosophies. We tend to ask why someone thinks, behaves or responds as they do in a variety of situations.

Today in the passage which we have read, we see a few answers to some existential questions. The first question answered is “Who is the Son of Man?” The answer is he is the image of an invisible God. The whole definition of the incarnation is put there in a very simple sentence. Jesus is the physical embodiment of God, the first creature. The second question which is answered is “How was any and everything I see, hear or experience created?” The answer is through the Son of Man, or God. Another short answer to a profound question. The third question could be “How does everything fit together and kept in motion?” This question’s answer is that the Son of Man is responsible. 

If we are looking for the answer to the overarching question of how has this come to be, here we have a concise answer. All things, either physical and non-physical, came to be through God. If we wish to know who this God is that creates and sustains all things, then we have the Son of Man, Jesus, to give us an all-encompassing image. This places all things, all thoughts, all aspects of life in the realm of God who we fully know in Jesus Christ.

All Are Needed

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)

One of the great joys of childhood was the fun which was had with a Lego set. Adults have a mixed view of Legos. Some adults still love constructing with a set of Legos. All adult parents hate when they locate one or a few Legos on the floor with their feet, especially at night. Anyone who has enjoyed Legos knows how the various sizes and colors of Lego pieces allow one to create some amazing structures. All the pieces are important if you are going to create a recognizable structure, character, or scene. Few things can be more irritating than when one or two pieces go missing.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul speaks about the importance of each person. First he points out that one person is not more important than another. God has given each person gifts that are important to the one body to which we all belong. Every member has something to contribute which is unique and benefits the whole body. He then encourages each person to use their different gifts in ways which provide the greatest benefit to the body.

These days we tend to think more individualistic than communal unless we are in a time of crisis. This type of thinking seeks benefits for self rather than for others. Arrogance can easily be a characteristic of an individualistic thinker. This passage calls us to have an opposite perspective. We are to realize that while we each have unique gifts, God gives those to us so combined the whole body benefits. Like our Lego creation, each person is needed to create the body which God has planned. We are to bring our gifts together as a community. When we do, the result will be more amazing than anything Legos can build.

Owing Much

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50 (NIV)

The New York Federal Reserve’s Center for Microeconomic Data reported that at the end of the fourth quarter in 2020 household debt rose to $14.56 trillion. The United States National Debt is currently over $128 trillion. We have become a people who live on credit and accumulate debt easily. Most of our debt is due to mortgages, car loans, medical expenses, student loans and credit cards.  There is not one of us who would refuse any debt relief given to us. If a creditor were to fully forgive our debt, our gratitude would be overwhelming.

In today’s passage, Jesus speaks of debt relief. A woman who had lived a sinful life comes to Jesus while he is at the home of a Pharisee. Without words, she stood behind him and cried. Then she used those tears to wet his feet. Taking her hair she dried them. Finally, she took a jar of expensive perfume and anointed them. The guests in attendance were critical of Jesus for allowing her actions. Jesus replied to them by asking Simon a question regarding debt relief. The point of his interaction with Simon was to show that one whose larger debt is forgiven will show more gratitude than the one with the smaller debt. The woman with more sin than the pious guests believed Jesus could forgive her sins. She showed greater gratitude than the ones who felt they had less sin and who did not believe Jesus could forgive even those.

This story causes us to pause. Do you identify with the woman or with the other guests? What do you do to express gratitude to the Lord for being forgiven? Do you believe the Lord can forgive sins or do you hold on to them? Here we are taught that the greater we understand our sin and the need for forgiveness, the more we are willing to offer in response to the sin being forgiven.

Hallelujah

On this fifth Sunday of Easter, a gentle song of gratitude seemed appropriate. Sisters, Cassandra and Callahan Star, released a version of the contemporary song Hallelujah which they entitled An Easter Hallelujah. The original version was made popular by Leonard Cohen in 2014. The Star’s version recalls the events of Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection. The word hallelujah is a translation of the Hebrew word for expressing gratitude and adoration. Consider your own sense of gratitude and adoration as you watch this video.

Songs From the Sky

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6 (NIV)

Humanity has been impressed and awed by the magnificence of the sky since recorded time. The mysteries of the sun, the stars, the planets, and the weather associated with the sky have drawn humans to speculate and search for answers. Even prior to the launching of the scientific age, individuals had tried to explain what they observed in the sky. With the advent of science, the explanations have shifted from mythical and spiritual explanations to physical and temporal explanations. The awe and wonder still remains though. Our hunger to explore and go farther in our celestial understandings remain strong as evidenced by the increased interest in Mars and talks of returned trips to the moon.

In the psalm from today, we hear the psalmist claim the great wonder of the firmaments. These words link the awe of the sky to our understanding of God. When the psalmist gazes on the massiveness of the sky, there seems to be a voice which is singing the praises of God. The sun communicates the warmth which God provides to all of creation.

The imagery found in this psalm speaks to us about the greatness of God. Amazed at the vastness of the sky, we are led to contemplate the vastness of our God. As large as the galaxy and universe may be, God is larger. From the sun we receive warmth, necessary nutrients which create and sustain life, and light to direct all creation through the activities of a day. As we stand amazed at the wonders of the stars, planets and sky, we are prompted to be amazed by the One who created them all. So we join our voices with the creation’s celestial voices as we sing of the glory of God.

Authority

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke 7:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how some individuals seem to exude authority whenever you encounter them? The person seems to command a room from the moment of entering the room. Everyone in the room senses this authority even if they have no idea who the person is or what title the individual may carry. There are others who only have authority over people because of their titles. In some of the latter cases, the title does not fit the personality and the authority is not natural. True authority respects authority and earns the respect of others.

Jesus is one who exudes natural authority. This can plainly be seen from today’s passage. Jesus had just finished teaching on a hillside and was entering his home base of Capernaum. His reputation precedes him so when a centurion heard of Jesus’s return to the city, he sought help for a beloved servant. The Roman centurion respected and believed in Jesus’s authority. Understanding the dynamics of going through proper channels, the centurion went to the city’s Jewish leadership to request Jesus’s healing powers. When it appears that Jesus may come to his house, the Roman leader acknowledges Jesus’s authority and healing power. In this recognition of his power, Jesus is impressed because this is a recognition that most Jews had not even given him.

This passage begs the question of us, “Do we acknowledge Jesus’s authority and power?” Maybe we are like the people of Israel who admit Jesus is a unique servant of God but with limitations, and certainly not the Messiah or Savior. By acknowledging the authority of Jesus in our lives, we can unlock the power of the Lord to make a difference in our lives. Scripture tells us that the Father has given all authority in heaven and the earth to Jesus. All we must do is to believe and respect that authority.

Anchored Foundation

46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)

In our community there seems to be an endless amount of homes being built. We live in a metropolitan community which continues to see a tremendous amount of population growth. Some of this new home construction has been very close to where we live. On my morning walks I have walked by many of these new homes and seen them at different points of the building process. The process is very similar in each build. Everything begins with a leveling of the ground, then a staking out of the perimeter of the home, followed by a more precise leveling within that perimeter. The ground is allowed to sit for a week or more so that it can settle before one final leveling. The next step in the process involves laying of pipes and other aspects of underground utilities. Once all of this is completed and a wood framework of the house isin place, a concrete slab is poured which will serve as the foundation and provide allow for the anchoring of the walls. Then the framing of the house can begin once the concrete has cured.

Jesus speaks of the importance of a foundation as part of  his teaching in today’s passage from Luke. He uses this imagery to emphasize putting his words into practice. The foolishness of people who hear what Jesus teaches but does not use these teachings as the basis for their lives is like a person who builds a house on the ground without a foundation Jesus says. When the storms come, the house is destroyed because it has no anchor. The opposite is true of the person whose life foundation is the words Jesus has shared.

We have been freely given the words of Jesus as presented in the gospels and applied by Paul and the apostles. What to do with these teachings is dependent upon us. If they serve as a foundation for our lives, we then have an anchor which will help us to navigate through and withstand the turbulent times in our lives. If we vaguely recall, or not recall at all, the teachings, they will have little value to us. The storms will come, they always do, and we will be battered and tossed around until our lives collapse into splinters and rubble. 

Reading the gospels and the epistles begins the building of our foundation. Listening to others as they interpret and teach these words strengthens our foundation. Interacting with the Lord through times of prayer and silence, cures our foundation. Be a wise builder by building your life upon the words of the Lord.