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.

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.

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.

Contrasts

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36 (NIV)

Contrasts can be interesting to examine. Comparison of one item to a different one can result in some enlightening findings. Remember those assignments or test questions which invited you to compare and contrast two ideas, philosophies, arguments, or physical items? The assignment or question is designed to test your observations and ability to show the knowledge which you have in regard to those things being placed before you. Contrasting items can also be helpful in making decisions.

Jesus often taught using contrasts. His teachings were to show the greatest contrast in life, the contrast between God’s way of living and the human way of living. Whether Jesus was contrasting ways to lead, to love, or to make choices, he always explained God’s way versus humanity’s way. In our passage he sits up a series of contrasts. These contracts have to do with revenge, greed, generosity and love. Jesus is presenting how humans normally respond to one another versus how God responds and desires us to respond. The teaching here is difficult since it appears to stand in opposition to what humans consider to be natural.

As children of God, we are a contrast to the human understanding of life. Love instead of revenge, punishment, and fairness is counter to what we may declare as right. We do not see the equity in what Jesus proposed here. A fear of being trampled and used by others causes us to bristle at the instructions Jesus gives. However, Jesus is telling us that by always acting and responding out of love as demonstrated by the Father, we come out on top. There is nothing easy in Jesus’s words but we are given a standard which we must work toward every day.

Hospitality

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-3 (NIV)

“The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, ” is the definition which you will find if you Google the word hospitality. There are individuals who have the gift of practicing hospitality in their lives. All of us have the capacity to extend hospitality to others but there are ones who do so with great ease and comfort. They appear to have a knack for anticipating and fulfilling the needs of anyone whom they encounter. This gift becomes even more appreciated when a person is experiencing a crisis or some difficult situation.

The Bible is full of stories and exhortations regarding hospitality. In review of these, one comes to the conclusion that God sees the exhibition of hospitality as an expression of love. The exhortation found towards the end of the letter to the Hebrews pairs hospitality with love. The visiting of prisoners and care for those suffering also are seen as expressions of love for one another. A reminder is given that when a person offers hospitality, he/she may be extending it to a messenger of God. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a story of caring for others and says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

We are told by our Lord that we are to demonstrate hospitality to others. Welcoming another into our space is the starting point of offering hospitality. Then we should be attuned to the needs of our guest, visitor or stranger. Anything which we can do to meet their needs should be done. Showing hospitality toward others can have a positive impact on another’s life of which we may never be aware. Extending hospitality is also one of the expressions of God’s love to a world where doors are slammed in people’s faces way too often. So practice hospitality whenever you are given the opportunity.

Standing Accused

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 8:2-11 (NIV)

There are rules which are necessary to ensure order and safety within a society. Where there are rules, there are usually consequences for anyone who breaks a rule or set of rules. This is the basis for a legal system which then has courts and judges who interpret the rules, determine if a rule has been broken, and if so, establish the consequences. On the surface this appears to be rather cut and dry, simple to understand and enforce. However, anyone who has experienced or observed the legal system knows there are a lot of nuances and mitigating circumstances which come into play. Additionally, interpretation and appropriate consequences can lead to quite differing opinions.

Jesus is presented with a rule and consequence situation in the passage for today. This passage is part of a section of John’s gospel which is not included in all the ancient manuscripts but the actions of Jesus here seem to fit how we witness Jesus respond elsewhere. The experts on the Mosaic law bring a woman to Jesus who they claim has committed adultery. We are not told about any evidence or details to support their accusations. Instead, we hear them ask if the prescribed consequence as decreed by Moses should be administered. Based on Jesus’s initial reaction toward them, it seems Jesus is aware of their attempt to entrap him. After continued effort is made to get Jesus to give an answer, Jesus stands and says that the one who is without sin should begin the delivering of the prescribed consequence. No one begins stoning the woman because no one can claim to be without sin. After all have left and the woman acknowledges to Jesus that she has not been stoned by anyone, Jesus, the only one without sin, shows mercy.

Humanity is eager to judge, condemn, and exact punishment upon one another. Often we act as judge, jury and executioner when in our opinion someone has broken a rule. Jesus’s actions and statements should stop us in our tracks. Jesus reminds us that before we are so quick to pass judgment and exact punishment, we should examine our own lives. One can almost hear Jesus say the words we  were told when pointing at someone else’s actions as a kid, ” Remember when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.” Like in this passage, we frequently do not even know the whole story. We may not be privy to the aspects of another’s life and circumstances. Rules are established for the good of everyone but caution should be taken as we interpret those rules, apply them to others, and punish those who we judge to have broken them. It is best if we enforce rules in our own lives first and foremost. 

Old Versus New

33 They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”

34 Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? 35 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

36 He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. 37 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. 38 No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. 39 And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”

Luke 5:33-39 (NIV)

A custom around weddings is one regarding what a bride wears on her wedding day. The saying which guides the custom is… “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, a sixpence in your shoe.” This is an Old English rhyme, which if followed, is to bring good luck to the marriage. Many of us enjoy old sayings and customs. They bring a sense of comfort to us. In fact, even the progressives among us have some level of desire to hold on to something from the past. By doing so, we are able to be a bit grounded as we experience change and newness. The issue which can arise is when we hold on so tightly to the past that we lose the possibilities of the future.

Jesus brings this issue to the forefront during one of his frequent encounters with the Pharisees. He had just called Simon, Andrew, James, John and Levi. Levi, a tax collector, holds a banquet in Jesus’s honor where many of his fellow tax collectors attend. The Pharisees take issue with Jesus and his disciples eating and drinking with tax collectors, undesirables. Jesus explains he has come for the sick, not the healthy. Then the Pharisees question why Jesus’s disciples do not fast according to the customs. Jesus again explains that while he is present there is no need to fast; after he leaves there will be plenty of time for fasting. Jesus then tells a parable about putting old wine in new wine skins and the folly of such an action. He concludes with a statement pointing out how people tend to prefer the old. Jesus is speaking about preferring old customs and attitudes which leads to being left out of the possibilities of the new which are before them.

As mentioned above, the old can bring comfort and a grounding. There are important times for such things. But caution should be taken that holding on to the old and familiar does not lead us to lose out on the opportunities of the new. Scripture tells us that the Lord is doing a new thing. We must be alert to what the Lord is doing. There are possibilities each day which the Lord creates. If we are focused solely on our previous customs and attitudes, those possibilities will pass us by and we will be left wanting. Find strength in the old to experience the new. Remember what is old was new at one time.