Gifts of God

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

— John 10:22-30 NASB

Some of us want to impose our own conditions on God’s grace. Some people say it is available only to the select few, or to those who don’t sin, or to those who are baptized. We want to say that salvation belongs to some particular set of denominations and not to the others. Some people have even gone so far as to say that those who speak in tongues or faint at church, those who are “slain in the spirit”, are the only ones who are truly saved.

And I assure you, for everyone whose salvation we question, there is someone out there who questions ours as well.

I think that everyone here is walking the road to God. Some of us might be farther down the road than others. Some of us might be just getting started. And there might be some of us who are tempted to leave that road and go another way. But I think the very fact that we are in a Christian church and that we are intentionally listening to the gospel message means that we have each been called by God to be here.

In our scripture today, Jesus says that those who don’t believe are simply not the sheep of His pasture. We here the Good Shepherd’s voice, and we follow, because we recognize that voice. We are the sheep of His pasture.

How did we get here? How did we get so lucky? Most of us were raised in a church, maybe even in this church, and we’re here because we recognize the songs, the liturgy, the scripture, and the people. It’s just where we feel at home. We belong here. We didn’t earn the right to be here; it’s a gift of God. We were raised hearing that Voice of Jesus., We recognize that Voice. Others may have come to faith later in life, but something about that Voice, that message of love and forgiveness, rang true to us.

In today’s scripture, Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” I’d say we’re here because we want to follow Jesus. We know that voice. The next statement should give every one of us the confidence to face anything life throws at us. It should make us bold in our faith: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We can debate whether you can give up your salvation, but this verse tells me that no one can steal it from you. You won’t be lost by accident, an no one can take your salvation away. It’s a promise from Jesus Himself, and you can take it to the bank.

Now, consider what comes next: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all”. Do you realize that God has given us to Jesus? We’ve considered before that the ability to believe in Jesus is itself a gift of God, and that no one can just decide to believe. So God has given us that gift of faith. But in our scripture today, we learn that we are God’s gifts to Jesus. We follow Jesus because God has put us in the Good Shepherd’s pasture.

There are other places in the gospel of John where Jesus makes the same point. In John 6:37-30, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given me I lose nothingh, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

And at John 17:6-10, in what we call Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, Jesus says, “I have manifested Your name to the men [and women] You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours; and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I have been glorified in them.”

We talk a lot about the gifts of God – the gifts of tongues, of healing, of prophecy and such. But in another sense, each of you is a gift of God. God the Father has given each of us to Jesus Christ. We have been intentionally placed in Jesus’ care. I don’t look for another shepherd because I know that I was given to Jesus by God Himself. I don’t reject anyone who tries to follow Jesus Christ, because they were given to Jesus by God as well.

In the Old Testament, the original covenant, we learn that God set a nation apart for Himself, so that they could carry the message that there is but one God over all, a God who cares, and loves, and forgives. Now, God has set us apart as well, not by making us all members of one race, or one nation, but as sheep of one Shepherd, as followers of Jesus Christ.

Peter, who spent most of his life thinking his family and his country were the chosen people, said about all believers in Jesus, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”. And we know Peter was talking to Christians, and not just to Israelites, because he also said “for once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

So don’t keep looking for the gifts of God proof of salvation. If you’re looking for the gifts of God, look around you. Look in the mirror. WE are the gifts of God, and we were given to Jesus Christ, who will not let us go, and who will give us eternal life. He will raise us up on the last day.

This knowledge gives us the power to live joyously, confidently, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. We fear no one. We don’t even fear death itself. We will never perish. Hallelujah!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, receive the Good News. Amen.

A New Point of View

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

— 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

When we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, we can expect to gain a new point of view. Unfortunately, we’re still in the flesh, so sometimes we still see others “according to the flesh,” or as the world sees them. We all know what worldly things are: physical appearance, income, race, age, gender and the like. We can’t help but to see others according to the flesh; it’s our first impression of everyone. But even though we may see these physical attributes, we regard them according to the Spirit.

Jesus talked about regarding others according to the flesh. In Matthew 23, He said this about the Pharisees.

But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

— Matthew 23:5-8

He was talking about people who want to make a good physical impression. I think we all fall into that trap. I wear a nice suit, I use “Rev.” in my title, and I like to be called “Pastor.” All of that is worldly stuff, according to the flesh. But according to the Spirit, we are all equal in the eyes of God. We have one Father, even God, and we’re all brothers and sisters. We have one Rabbi, even Christ, and we’re all fellow students. We talk about pastors and laymen, members and nonmembers, insiders and outsiders, Jews and Gentiles, but we’re all sinners, saved by grace if we’re saved at all.

When God sent Samuel to find a new king for Israel, he went to the household of Jesse. So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before Him!” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)

Paul certainly saw himself according to the flesh. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul called himself a Pharisee of Pharisees, a zealous Hebrew, blameless under the law. But after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had a different point of view.

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

— Philippians 3:7-11

I think it’s safe to say that Paul had a new attitude. Before Jesus, Paul was a persecutor of Christians who thought he had a right to have people put to death. After Jesus, Paul became a servant. He was mighty proud, but Jesus knocked him off his high horse. After that, Paul became an ambassador for Christ. He used to come with soldiers and warrants; now he comes pleading and imploring. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: We implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)

We still see ourselves and each other according to the flesh, and there’s no getting past it. But how do we regard each other? In Matthew, the Pharisees said that Jesus did not regard the person of men. (Matthew 22:16) They meant that Jesus was not impressed by the long robes, broad phylacteries, big Bibles, long titles or big wallets. We know that Jesus was not against these things; he met with Nichodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and also with the Roman centurian and the Samaritan woman at the well. He ate with Pharisees and Tax Collectors alike. Jesus doesn’t judge people, good or bad, according to the flesh. Like God, Jesus sees the heart.

So how do we regard one another according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh? Jesus said that when we bless everyone, friends and enemies alike, we are like our Father in Heaven, who makes the same sun shine and rain fall on saints and sinners alike. We start by seeing others as our equals, because we have one Father, and we are all brothers and sisters; one Rabbi, and we are all fellow students.

We regard others according to the Spirit when we adjust our vision with the spiritual truths we’ve learned from Jesus. We’ve learned that God made each person intentionally, in God’s own image, and that deserves great respect. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, so we practice humility, because we’re all just beggars inviting beggars to the banquet.

We know what it means to regard others according to the flesh – judging them by age, income, race, background, gender, profession and the like. Let’s not do that. We used to regard Jesus that way, but let’s not just regard Him as a middle-aged Jew with long hair and a robe. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again to reconcile us to God, to restore our relationship as sons and daughters of the Father. I intend to redouble my efforts to regard others as exactly that, brothers and sisters, equals in the kingdom of God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I pray we may all see others from a new point of view.

The First Sign

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.” And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!”

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.

— John 2:1-11

The book of John uses seven signs to demonstrate the Deity of Jesus. The first is the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The others were the healing of the royal official’s son in Capernaum (John4:46-54), the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda (John 5:1-5), feeding the 5,000 (John 6:5-14), walking on water (John 6:16-24), healing the man blind from birth (John 9:1-7), and the raising of Lazarus (John 11:1-45). The first 11 chapters of John are sometimes referred to as the Book of Signs.

The story of changing water into wine and raising Lazarus are only in the book of John. The rest of the miracles are similar to stories in the other Gospels. But these are in the book of John for very specific reasons. Some think it’s a map of the new creation, with seven miracles in tandem with the seven days of creation.

In this first miracle, Jesus converts the water in six vessels used in ceremonial washing. The word tells us they hold 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine, and the host of the feast tells us it is better than the wine served first. The host and the guests didn’t know where the wine had come from, but the disciples and the servants knew. The implication is that Jesus did it so that His disciples would believe.

In a Christian wedding ceremony, the preacher usually mentions that Jesus’ presence at a wedding in Cana is His endorsement of marriage. I think that’s true. Later, Jesus would say that even if it’s good not to marry, living as a bachelor isn’t for everyone. Jesus not only attended this wedding, but He blessed this wedding with the wine. Wine is an ancient symbol of God’s bounty, blessing and joy, and we certainly recognize Jesus as the source of new wine. So this story shows that in Jesus, God is generous; God is not opposed to human joy and fellowship; and God is not against marriage. This is all good news for us.

Some thinkers also see this miracle as a hat tip to pagan beliefs. Bacchus was the Roman god of agriculture, fertility, and wine, a very important god to Roman pagans. By turning water into wine, Jesus proved Himself to be superior to Bacchus.

Wine certainly had a different significance in Jesus’ day. It was medicinal, ceremonial, and practical. But it would be very convenient to me if Jesus had avoided drinking wine, instead of making it and using it in religious ceremonies.

Some of you know that the church I last served had a very active recovery ministry, addressing drug and alcohol addiction. That tends to cloud my view of wine and all the references to wine in the New Testament. The Temperance Movement to outlaw alcohol started in the churches. Preaching would be easier for me if Jesus had avoided wine. And you know what that means? That means that compared to Jesus, I’m a stick in the mud. Sometimes I think I can be holier than Jesus. Sometimes I think misery, loneliness and seriousness are more holy than happiness and celebration. So maybe I have something to learn from this, the first of Jesus’ miracles in the gospel of John. Maybe we all can learn something from this.

Have you ever heard of a church or sect that practiced shunning? You know, a church where if someone falls from the faith, gets divorced, or gets in trouble, everybody avoids that person? Jesus wasn’t like that. The Jews in Jesus’ day shunned Samaritans, single women, and the lame. Jesus didn’t shun anybody. If that’s true, then how can we call it Christian to shun people? Jesus welcomed everyone from the woman at the well to the thief on the cross. That’s the example we’re called to follow. But some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Have you ever heard of churches that wouldn’t have fellowship dinners because they thought it was unholy? I don’t think Jesus would agree with that. Jesus was always sitting at the table with His disciples and tax collectors. After preaching all day, Jesus served dinner on the grounds for 5,000 people, and He didn’t check anyone’s membership card. I don’t think Jesus would call that unholy – but some people want to be holier than Jesus.

Of course you know, that doesn’t make sense. We can’t hope to be as holy as Jesus. So when it looks like Jesus is doing something we would avoid, something like healing lepers or talking theology with loose Samaritan women, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is. When we worry about Paul eating with Gentiles or disciples who eat without washing their hands or Jesus letting a strange woman wash his feet with her hair, maybe we need to rethink what holiness is.

Jesus was not about fasting and suffering and shunning people. Jesus celebrated life and fellowship. Jesus enjoyed a good feast. Jesus was generous in blessing others – and Jesus wants us to be generous, too.

Do you know that Jesus told His Disciples to be perfect? He did! But His definition of perfect I different from ours. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

It is not possible to be holier than Jesus, but we need to see what Jesus meant by holiness. Jesus wants us to be perfect, but we need to see what Jesus calls perfect. Jesus says perfect is impartial, loving and generous to others no matter what. Jesus was perfect. God was perfect. And Jesus wants us to be perfect, too. Love the unloveable, bless those who curse, and pray for those who use you. That’s the first sign that we are Christians.

Salted with Fire

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.’

Everyone will be salted with fire.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

Mark 9:38-50 NIV

At first glance, there may seem to be multiple messages here. One says whoever is not against us is for us. Another says don’t cause these little ones to stumble. A third says it’s better to enter heaven maimed than to enter hell whole. Another says salt is worthless when it loses its flavor.

But all this is part of a bigger story, and one that starts before today’s scripture. The chapter starts with Peter, James and John witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. Then, Jesus has to cast out a demon because the disciples can’t do it. They argue about who’s going to be the greatest in heaven.

Then we come to today’s passage. John says they tried to stop someone from driving out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t with them. This is the same John who had seen the transfiguration, the same John who argued about who would be the greatest, the same John who couldn’t cast out a demon without Jesus’ help. So you can imagine how he felt when someone who wasn’t even traveling with them was able to cast out a demon when he could not.

These are not story fragments; they are one continuous story. So it matters that Jesus goes immediately into the admonition not to cause one of these little ones to sin. Is this just any cause and any sin? Maybe, but it certainly includes the sin of trying to stop someone who is trying to serve God through faith in Jesus just because that person is not in our church or in lock step with our doctrine. Jesus is not the one who drives people out of our churches. What drives young people out of our churches is the internal fighting that pits one Christian against another. People are turned off to the church by how we put down other churches and other believers.

Jesus often went over-the-top to make his point. Better to lose a hand, foot or eye than to be cast into the fire. The hand is what you do; better to stop doing it. The foot is where you go; better to stop going there. The eye is what you observe; better to stop watching.

The disciples had been asking about what would their reward be for following Jesus. Here, Jesus is not talking about reward, but sacrifice. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus? How are we willing to change? Whoever does not take up his cross … those who lose their lives will save them … anyone who loves mother, father, son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me … in so many ways, Jesus tells us that our pursuit of God in Jesus Christ must be our top priority.

How are we willing to change? We should start with those things that offend these little ones. Am I willing to give up on my hard opinions, to lose the fight in order to keep the peace? Or does my pride make me insist on my doctrine no matter what it does to people? Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin would be better off with a millstone around his neck.

Jesus said everyone will be salted with fire. Is that the fire of suffering, or the fire of the Holy Spirit? Maybe it’s both. But everyone is not the same as all. It doesn’t say all of us, the church at large, will be salted with fire. It says that everyone, each person individually, will be salted. We will each be tested by God. We are so afraid to let others be wrong or to let them disagree with us. But like Jesus said, whoever is not against us is for us.

Jesus talked about salt as the gospel, that a little an season a lot of food, but it has to taste like salt. The Gospel has to act like the gospel, or it’s just so many words to fight about. A gospel that does not love is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not forgive is not the Gospel. A gospel that does not draw people to Christ, or a gospel that drives people away, is not the Gospel. Those are examples of salt that has lost its saltiness.

“Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Church, we live in hard and controversial times. There are a lot of hard opinions out there, and if we just pick sides, we’ll get thrown in with people whose opinions are a lot harder than ours. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion and don’t take a stand. But I am saying what Jesus is saying: “Be at peace with one another.” Jesus was serious when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It might look like salt, and it might feel like salt, but if it isn’t salty, then it’s good for nothing. That’s true for salt, and it’s true for religion.

All this brings to mind Romans 12:9-14:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Each one of us will be salted with fire. Each one of us will stand before the judgment seat. Sound doctrine is important only insofar as it leads us to make disciples and love one another. Anything else only looks like salt.

Everyone will be salted by fire. If that’s the fire of suffering, then remember that Jesus is saying that the question is not what reward will we get for following him, but what are we willing to sacrifice? If it’s the fire of the Holy Spirit, then who am I to judge someone else’s work if they follow Jesus and love others?

I think it’s both, the fire of suffering and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been talking about both. The disciples could not drive out the demon because, as Jesus said, “This kind comes out only by prayer and fasting.” Fasting – the sacrifice we are willing to make. Prayer – the time we spend with God. They couldn’t drive out the demon because they had not spent enough time with God; they were not committed enough to rely solely on God. Then, they tried to stop someone who had done the work and made the sacrifice.

I pray we will not be guilty of causing these little ones to sin. Let’s make sure our salt is salty, and let’s have peace among us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.



High and Lifted Up

No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:13-17

How do you get people’s attention when you want it? In a classroom, you might raise your hand and wait for the teacher to respond. In a burning building, you would scream at the top of your lungs. If you were stranded on a desert island, you might light a fire. On the battlefield, they used to blow a trumpet or raise a flag. If one signal doesn’t work, you try something else.

So how would God get our attention? You would think that God would have our attention with every breath, every sunrise. It might take the miracle of a flower or a baby. Some people need the fury of lightning or an earthquake.

Today’s scripture refers back to an Old Testament story about the children of Israel in the wilderness. They had disobeyed God the first time they reached the Jordan, so God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years till that generation died off. Moses’ brother Aaron had already died. But God was still providing manna to keep the people alive. In spite of their rebellion, God was still taking care of them. So imagine how God must have felt when the people kept complaining.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

–Numbers 21:4-8

After all God had done, the children of Israel were still complaining. That is what we mean by “tempting the LORD thy God”. This “miserable food” they talked about was the manna that God sent down every day to feed the people – and they detested it!
God could have destroyed them all then and there, but instead, he sent snakes into the camp to bite them, and many of them died. Then they saw their sin. They said to Moses, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.”

What does it take to get people’s attention? Do you have to part the Red Sea? Squeeze water out of a rock? Drop manna from the sky? Like it says in Psalm 78:32-33, “In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.”

“He ended their days in futility.” We don’t get much done without God’s help. “…and their years in terror.” Without God’s protection, the world is a scary place.

God didn’t give up on the people, but he had to get their attention. “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that the Most High was their Redeemer (Psalm 78:34-35).”

So Moses prayed to God, and God told him to make a serpent and lift it on a pole. When the people were bitten, they could look at the serpent and not die. And here’s where Jesus fits in. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

How is Jesus on the cross like Moses’ bronze serpent on the pole? What does it take to get our attention? When the children of Israel were bitten, they remembered why – because they had sinned against God. When they looked at the bronze snake, they remembered that God is merciful. Psalm 78:38 says, “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.” God got their attention, and they did not die.

What does it take to get our attention? We’re surrounded by snakes, and our sins bite us. Does that get our attention? We look at how Jesus suffered, in a manner so visible it gets our attention 2,000 years later. Does that get our attention?

Paul referred to the snake story as well. In 1 Corinthians 10:9-11, he wrote, “We should not test Christ, as some of them did – and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did – and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

What does it take to get our attention? I would love to say that this story is about the sin of grumbling and complaining. Personally, I think that internal complaining is a sickness in any organization. We forget where the manna comes from and complain because God doesn’t send us quail and T-bones every day. When we grumble, we show that we are not grateful – which means we aren’t paying attention to the blessings God pours out on us.

But there were other sins that the people of Israel committed, and God lifted his hand of protection to get their attention.

1 Corinthians 11:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so you can endure it.”

In Luke 10:19, Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.”
When you’re bitten by snakes, God lifts up the bronze serpent, to get your attention. When you’re bitten by sins and trouble, God lifts up his Son on a cross, to get your attention. When we’re tempted, God provides a way out. Jesus is that Way.

What does it take to get our attention?

When times are tough, we turn to Scripture. And even if we don’t have a Bible with us, we all remember at least one verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s in today’s scripture. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

What does it take to get our attention?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Trust in the LORD

Praise the Lord!
My soul, praise the Lord!
I will praise the Lord all my life.
I will sing praises to him as long as I live.
Don’t depend on your leaders for help.
Don’t depend on people, because they cannot save you.
People die and are buried.
Then all their plans to help are gone.
It is a great blessing for people to have the God of Jacob to help them.
They depend on the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth.
He made the sea and everything in it.
He can be trusted to do what he says.
He does what is right for those who have been hurt.
He gives food to the hungry.
The Lord frees people locked up in prison.
The Lord makes the blind see again.
The Lord helps those who are in trouble.
The Lord loves those who do right.
The Lord protects strangers in our country.
He cares for widows and orphans,
but he destroys the wicked.
The Lord will rule forever!
Zion, your God will rule forever and ever!
Praise the Lord!

— Psalm 146 (ERV)

Psalm 146 was not written this year, or two years ago, or even two hundred years ago, although it could apply to every leaders elected official in U.S. history. It was not even written 2,000 years ago, although it could apply to King Herod, Pilate or Caesar. It well describes the relationship between Moses and the Children of Israel when he failed to live up to their expectations. It talks about the king of Egypt, King David, King Cirus, and every other leader in history.

Don’t depend on your leaders for help. Don’t depend on people, because they cannot save you. People die and are buried. Then all their plans to help are gone. That describes the plight of every leader, even the most qualified, most powerful, most intelligent, most benevolent, etc. It explains why every leader has both admirers and critics. It explains why all leaders fall short of expectations.

People want a savior. The children of Israel wanted Moses to give them a safe and easy life, and when things looked bad, they were willing to go back to the brickyards in Egypt for safety.

But people die. The incidence of death in humans is 100 percent. And while they live, all humans sin, and make mistakes, and fall short of perfection. In a democracy, we choose our leaders with high expectations, then hold them responsible when they fall short of those expectations. So we start looking for the next big thing, the next leader who can get us out of this mess.

It goes for all leaders. Popes, bishops, ministers, elders, deacons – there is not one who can do all the things we want them to do. We have such high expectations, don’t we? Since I entered ministry, I have been put on a pedestal by people who think I can solve every problem.

People ask me to save marriages, solve homelessness, rescue churches and turn sinners into saints. That’s great as long as the problems are small, and when God solves the problem, sometimes the preacher gets the credit. But preachers are just people, and somewhere down the line, there will be problems too big for the preacher to solve. Somewhere down the line, most preachers retire, and all preachers die.

Here in the Word of God, from the pen of a poet, writing three thousand years ago, we are given a heads up that humans can’t save us. But that same book, that same psalm, gives us hope for the savior we need.

It is a great blessing for people to have the God of Jacob to help them.
They depend on the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth.
He made the sea and everything in it.
He can be trusted to do what he says.

How many times do we think that a problem can be solved by committees, meetings, contracts and bylaws? It helps to work together; two heads are better than one, as they say. But we should never start any project, or tackle any problem, without first going to the LORD in prayer and depending on God for guidance.

“If it is not the LORD who builds a house, the builders are wasting their time. If it is not the LORD who watches over the city, the guards are wasting their time.” That’s what Psalm 127 says.

We all know about success stories where a dynamic new preacher causes tremendous growth in a church. You might notice that it usually is a new church, and not just a new pastor. But unless the LORD builds the house, the builders are wasting their time!

If a church grows because of that one great leader, then it will also fall when that leader fails, or leaves, or dies. Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders are wasting their time!

One of the first songs of David is recorded in 2 Samuel 22. “There is no Rock except our God,” David sang. “God is my strong fortress. He clears the path I need to take. He makes my feet as steady as those of a deer. Even on steep mountains he keeps me from falling.” (2 Samuel 22:32-34)

David was a great leader as long as he relied on God, and when he stopped relying on God, things didn’t go so well. The same was true of his son Solomon, and of every king of Israel. God makes clear in the history of Israel that it is God’s influence, and not the skill of any one person, that makes the difference between success and failure.

Psalm 62:9-11 is a good summary of my point:

People cannot really help.
You cannot depend on them.
Compared to God, they are nothing –
No more than a gentle puff of air!
Don’t trust in your power to take things by force.
Don’t think you will gain anything by stealing.
And if you become wealthy, don’t put your trust in riches.
God says there is one thing you can really depend on, and I believe it:
“Strength comes from God!”

I don’t mistrust people for dishonesty. Some are dishonest, but most people try to tell the truth. I don’t mistrust people for incompetence. We are a successful society because most people are pretty good at what they do. If I mistrust people, it is because they are people. I don’t expect people to do what only God can do.

Keep It Simple

I own a lot of Bibles. I especially like the simplified versions, like the New Century Version or the New International Readers’ Version. These Bibles use short sentences and common words to make scripture easier to understand.

This is nothing new. The King James Version was a simpler version than earlier translations. Our New International Version is easier to understand than the KJV. Then there’s New King James, New American Standard, The Message, the New Living Translation and the Good News Translation. Every Bible translation was meant to be simpler and more accurate than he one before it.

No translation is perfect. If you are doing a detailed study on history, ancient languages or deep theology, the simpler versions are probably not enough. But they work for most purposes because the Gospel is, at its core, simple.

Jesus made Jewish Law simple. The Law fills four books of the Old Testament. Jesus summed it up with two verses. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,’” Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 – quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it:’ Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (from Leviticus 19:18) All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Paul made the Gospel message simple for Gentiles. “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified,” he said. (Galatians 2:15-16)

It might take a scholar to understand a complicated message, but even scholars appreciate plain English. If we take something simple and make it complicated, we are just showing off. We don’t talk and write to show off; we talk and write to share information. The best way to do that is to keep the message simple.

Churches fight over complicated details of the Bible. Like all Disciples of Christ churches, our church tries to keep the message simple. That makes it available to more people and gives us less to fight about.

Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and do you receive Him as Lord and Savior? It’s a simple question. I ask it every Sunday. Agreeing on that simple statement joins us all in one church. Accepting that statement inspires us to serve others and glorify God.

Invite your friends to church. Keep it simple. Hearts and minds aren’t changed by complicated explanations. Hearts and minds change when we accept the simple truth that God came to Earth as a human because God loves all humans. God made Jesus the Way back to the Father, not because we are good, but because God loves us. That’s why God keeps it simple.

Visible Faith

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:19-27 (NIV)

The first Protestants wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible. They believed that salvation was by the grace of God alone, and that faith was all we needed – but here’s a book that talks about works! Apparently, those Reformers finally realized that works in James are the evidence of faith, rather than a replacement for faith.

We can’t earn our way into heaven, but it does matter what we do. “You show me your faith without works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works,” James said. After all, what is faith if it doesn’t make a difference in our lives?

The Bible shows us what people are like and what God wants us to do about it. James said that if we hear the word and don’t do what it says, we’re like people who forget what we look like when we walk away from the mirror. If we lose our temper, then we forgot what we look like! We forgot that the Bible says that we are prone to anger and therefore have to practice self-control. If I hurt others with careless words – whether spoken, in an email or on Facebook – then I’ve forgotten what I look like! I’ve forgotten that words can bless or curse, and that God wants us to bless others.

It reminds me of the parable Jesus told about the servant who owed his Master a lot of money. The Master was about to throw the servant in prison and sell all of his stuff to get some of the money, but the servant begged the Master for forgiveness. The Master relented, but when that servant found someone who owed him a little money, he had his debtor thrown into prison. He forgot that he looked like a debtor, and that he should forgive like he was forgiven. Of course, the Master reminded him by throwing him into prison after all.

So what does faith look like? Faith looks like someone who has stage fright but stands up to address the crowd. Faith looks like someone who accepts another child into her home when it looks like she can’t afford one. Faith looks like someone who keeps knocking on the door, who keeps looking for a job, who won’t give up until he finds a way to support himself and his family.

Some people think that religion is impractical because it’s about that invisible world of God, the Holy Spirit, and faith. But these things are not invisible! We see God in the miracle of creation. We see the Holy Spirit in the many faithful Christians who keep reaching out to the lost and loving the unlovable. We see faith in that determination and persistence that keeps us not just setting goals, but reaching until we achieve them.

The book of James is the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step programs. To recover, the addict has to remember what he looks like when he steps away from the mirror. He has to remember that one drink is too many and a thousand are not enough. He has to remember that a Higher Power – God – can restore him to sanity. He has to take steps. We walk by faith – but we’re walking, not sitting or lying down.

So, yes, we’re saved by faith, not by works. But faith is practical! You can see it. It does things – good things. It makes a difference in our lives and in this world.

The Bible is a mirror that shows us how ugly humans can be, but also how much God loves us. In Jesus, it also shows us how God wants us to be. We won’t get there in this life, but if we walk by faith, we will get closer and closer, to the glory of God and for the benefit of all humankind. So go ahead, look in the mirror, remember who you are, and dare to be more like God wants us to be.


The Father’s Voice

Some Jews began to complain about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven.” They said, “This is Jesus. We know his father and mother. He is only Joseph’s son. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

But Jesus said, “Stop complaining to each other. The Father is the one who sent me, and he is the one who brings people to me. I will raise them up on the last day. Anyone the Father does not bring to me cannot come to me. It is written in the prophets: ‘God will teach them all.’ People listen to the Father and learn from him. They are the ones who come to me. I don’t mean that there is anyone who has seen the Father. The only one who has ever seen the Father is the one who came from God. He has seen the Father.

“I can assure you that anyone who believes has eternal life. I am the bread that gives life.”
John 6:41-48

I had a friend in grade school whose father would call him by whistle. The first whistle was my friends name: whenever he heard it, he would yell, “Sir?” The second whistle was either “Come home!” or “Just checking.” My friend knew his father’s whistle. Everybody in the neighborhood knew his father’s whistle.

That was back before cell phones and caller id. Today, we might know who’s calling by ringtone, or by caller ID. Back then, it was his father’s whistle. Sometimes people tried to trick my friend, but it never worked; he knew his father’s whistle.

They say that babies know their mother’s voices because they have heard them from inside the womb. My brother’s girlfriends used to think I was him when I answered the phone. That was a lot of fun. But his daughters never made the same mistake. They know their father’s voice.

In ancient Palestine, and even today in some places, shepherds take their sheep to public grazing lands. There might have been several shepherds and several flocks. But when it came time to take the sheep back to the sheepfold, the shepherd would call and they followed him. They knew his voice. Here’s what Jesus says at John 10:2-5:

“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will not follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

There were other ways to direct sheep. You could use sheep dogs. You could use several hired hands to surround the sheep and keep them together. But a committed shepherd, a good shepherd, spent time with the sheep. He or she learned their habits and they, in turn, learned to recognize the shepherd’s voice. They knew the shepherd’s voice meant food and safety, so they follow the shepherd’s voice.

We hear a lot about being called by God. We say that a preacher, minister or missionary is called by God. But I’m here to tell you that every one of you is called by God. God found a way to get you here; you heard the Father’s voice, and it drew you here. You might not know that’s why you are here, but it is. And now, when we consider the teachings and character of Jesus, you hear the Good Shepherd. So on one hand, you have a choice about whether you want to join the flock, go out on your own, or follow another shepherd.

You have a choice about whether to stay or go, to follow or not. But to me, that choice is about accepting a gift. God has specifically called you, by name, and God must have a purpose for that. You have a choice about whether to follow or not, but God has a choice about whom to draw near. God has chosen you.

The way I see it, God has called me, and God has placed me under the care of Jesus. I didn’t call myself, but God called me. It is not my business if someone says they don’t hear that voice or sense that call. I can’t know someone else’s heart. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?” Paul said in Romans 14:4. “To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”

And, the way I see it, God has called everyone else here. I might wish God had called someone else, or more people. I might wonder why God called this person or that person. But we are following Jesus, and we were given to Jesus by God. We aren’t following each other.

When I’m in church, I look around and I’m in awe. I know that I am in the presence of people who have been chosen and called by God to be here. I also know that there are people who were called but stayed home, people who got distracted by something else. But whatever else I might think about the people around me, I have to remember that God is in charge, and God called them here. They were drawn by the Father’s voice. No one was forced to come to church; everyone comes because God has called them.

In today’s scripture, Jesus is in essence releasing those who don’t believe, and telling them to leave the followers alone. You don’t know me because you aren’t my sheep, he says. My sheep follow because they know me. The message is for those who want to hear it, and that’s why they follow.

Psalm 95 says that the LORD is our God, and we are the flock under his care. In the New Testament, Hebrews quotes that Psalm: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Hebrews says to encourage each other as long as there is a day called “Today.” We are encouraged to soften our hearts, to be willing to grow and change under Jesus – in other words, to follow him.

If you ask me, we’re the lucky ones. We hear his voice, and we’ve responded. Some people might not hear that voice, and others might harden their hearts and ignore it. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the end. As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’”

Here’s the takeaway; this is my point. I have awesome respect for God’s call, for God’s choices, and for God’s people. They are the people here. They are all the people here.

I grew up a rebel against the church in a very religious community. My high school classmates are shocked to hear that I’m in the ministry, because for so long I hardened my heart. Some of them wonder if I was really called, and others question the wisdom of God to call someone like me.

I don’t dare question the wisdom of God. If God calls someone like me, someone like you, someone like those other folks, into the church, then God must have a plan and a purpose. I know that God doesn’t want to change just one of us; God wants to change all of us. “Today, if you hear his voice…” Do you hear his voice? Has the Father called you?

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We Have ONE Job …

The people saw that Jesus and his followers were not there now. So they got into the boats and went to Capernaum to find Jesus.

The people found Jesus on the other side of the lake. They asked him, “Teacher, when did you come here?”

He answered, “Why are you looking for me? Is it because you saw miraculous signs? The truth is, you are looking for me because you ate the bread and were satisfied. But earthly food spoils and ruins. So don’t work to get that kind of food. But work to get the food that stays good and gives you eternal life. The Son of Man will give you that food. He is the only one qualified by God the Father to give it to you.”

The people asked Jesus, “What does God want us to do?”

Jesus answered, “The work God wants you to do is this: to believe in the one he sent.”

So the people asked, “What miraculous sign will you do for us? If we can see you do a miracle, then we will believe you. What will you do? Our ancestors were given manna to eat in the desert. As the Scriptures say, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said, “I can assure you that Moses was not the one who gave your people bread from heaven. But my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

The people said, “Sir, from now on give us bread like that.”

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread that gives life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry. No one who believes in me will ever be thirsty.”

John 24-35 ERV

There’s a popular joke circulating these days where the punch line is, “You had ONE job!” There’s even a website: It shows a children’s book that says “Five bananas” – only the picture shows SIX bananas. You had one job! It shows a door that opens out of the second floor, with no stairs. You had one job! It shows a red crayon with “yellow” printed on its red wrapper. You had one job! Sometimes we mess up the simplest things.

And I know the feeling. At a Bible Study, a friend Susan asked me to pray for her husband. This was a great and fervent prayer. “Dear God, we ask your richest blessings on my friend Brad. I pray you will give Brad good fortune in his job search. I pray you will protect Brad and Susan as they go through this financial challenge. Draw them closer together, and strengthen their marriage.” It went on and on, as you might imagine. “Lord, I pray that Brad will feel your presence for all his days. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

So Susan leans into me and I think she wants to hug, but she just wants to whisper. “His name is not Brad!” she said. “His name is STEVE!” I can imagine her thinking, “You had ONE job …”

We humans are so distracted, so scatterbrained. I’ll bet some of you have your own examples of a simple mistake that had a big impact. I’ve had pound cake made with salt instead of sugar. I’ve ended my day to discover I was wearing shoes from two different pairs. At my wedding, they gave me and my groomsmen the wrong tuxes and we didn’t know it. We were an odd looking wedding party. You had ONE job …

You might say that Jesus had ONE job. His job, simply put, is to forgive our sins so we can enter the Kingdom of God through faith in him. Fortunately, Jesus did his job; if it doesn’t work, it’s our fault, and not his. “God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him would not be lost but would have eternal life.

We have a lot to do, but in a spiritual sense, we have ONE job. Our scripture today shows people who saw Jesus feed 5,000 with a few loaves and fish. They were so impressed, they tried to make him king. They did not see him walk on the water that night, but they did ask, “Teacher, when did you come here?” Jesus said they had come not because of the miracles, but because of the food. Jesus told them not to seek food for the body, but spiritual food. They wanted that spiritual food, which Jesus said only the Son of Man could give them. So they wanted to know, “What does God want us to do?” Jesus might have said, “Well, you have ONE job …”

“The work God wants you to do is this: to believe in the one he sent.”

In the original language, the people had asked about workS – plural – and Jesus told them about THE work – singular. To believe; that’s the job God wants us to do. If we can do more, that’s great, but if we don’t believe, then we might find Jesus saying, “You had ONE job …”

“What miraculous sign will you do for us?” they asked. “If we can see you do a miracle, then we will believe you.” It wasn’t enough that he fed 5,000 from one little boy’s lunch. Some of them had seen healings as well, even resurrections. And here they are asking for another sign. I guess they wanted to see the miracle up close, just to be sure that this was the Son of Man. Jesus reminded them that he had God’s seal of approval and that they shouldn’t need another sign. And when they asked, “Well, where’s the bread?” Jesus said, “God’s bread is the one who comes down from heaven. … I am the bread of life.”

A lot of people were offended because Jesus claimed to come down from heaven, when they knew full well who his parents were. It was a spiritual claim, not a physical one. Later that day, he said, “If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no real life in you.” He told them flat-out it was symbolic, spiritual, not physical, but a lot of people got offended and left that day. They were so close. They had ONE job …

Now, believing is more than saying we believe. If we believe, then we take the whole package. We believe in taking up our cross and following him. We believe in loving one another, our neighbors, and our enemies. And if we believe it, we do it. We demonstrate it by our love for others, but it all starts with believing in the ONE whom God has sent. Remember, we have ONE job …

We humans get antsy, don’t we? We look for something else to do. We want to fix each other, teach other, lead each other, maybe even judge each other – and that goes double for people outside the church. But we are never told to do that!

The book of Romans gives us a lot to work with if we want to judge other people. Paul tells us, “The righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith,” then God’s wrath is revealed against a long list of sins, and I guarantee every one of us is guilty of one or more things on the list. Then, Paul closes the list with this: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Romans 2:1)

We might think it says we can judge the sins we do not commit, but it doesn’t. It says that we can’t judge others because we are also guilty – of envy, malice, strife, gossip, boasting, or something else on the list. James said the same thing – that when we judge the law, we are not keeping the law. (James 4:11) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)

And, of course, even Jesus says, in the sermon on the mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” That is not our job. Vengence is not our job; that belongs to God: “Vengence is mine, I will repay, says the LORD.” We have one job: To believe in the one whom God has sent.

So when we testify to others, I suggest we don’t get into squabbles over the details. We’re all sinners, and as James said, whoever What must others do to be saved? They have one job … Faith in Jesus Christ leads to so many other things, and they won’t happen without faith in Jesus Christ. It looks like God has a whole host of assignments for us, but it all starts with, rests on, depends on and stems from faith. We have one job … to believe in the one whom God has sent.

It would be great to cleanse the world of all sin and unrighteousness. Unfortunately, none of us is qualified to do that. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) Only Jesus can take away our sin: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) So vengeance is God’s job, and forgiveness and purifying are Jesus’ job. What’s our job? I think we’ve covered that. We have one job: “The work God wants you to do is this: To believe in the one He has sent.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, may we do the work that God wants us to do. Amen.