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One Lawgiver and Judge – Lesson 9

gavel-300x204I thought that I would focus this week on the “not judging” part of the One Lawgiver and Judge lesson. After all, the phrase “judge not” is probably one of the most oft quoted and misquoted Bible verses of our generation. It sometimes serves as our “get out of jail free” card.

The discerning of right and wrong, good and evil has been blurred by the misapplication of the phrase “judge not.” The Bible is full of examples of those who called out sin. Remember the work of John the Baptist? Even James, who chides the church for judging, did not shy away from calling wrong what it was – wrong. Listen to the following:

“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:8

From James’s own words it’s clear that not judging others is not to be interpreted as an excuse to take a pass on the discerning and stating of what is right or wrong. And just as importantly, it cannot be used as a shield to protect ourselves from being held accountable for our own actions and conduct.

Quite the contrary. Wearing the badge of Christ opens us up to inspection by others. Listen to Paul as he gives instruction to the church.

“Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” Titus 2:6-8

You might be asking now, just what is meant by “not judging.” After all, it was Jesus Himself who said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.”

James gives the clearest clues to what the problem is. He starts his short focus on judging by describing clearly what the error is.

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren.” James 4:11 NKJV

“Don’t bad-mouth each other, friend.” James 4:11 Message

“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another.” James 4:11 NIV

It’s clear that to criticize others is out of harmony with the conduct of saints, particularly criticism towards each other. To do so would be to signal that you have a standard that you feel others are not reaching. That type of arrogance is the fruit of someone who lacks the humility James addresses in the preceding verse.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” James 4:10

What James appears to be getting at is that understanding who we are (and who we are not) should regulate our attitudes towards others. If my life is submitted to God and God is in control of my life (and I really believe that) I will find no desire to impose my faulty standard of conduct on others. It is only by the grace of God – no goodness of our own, that we are even here.

“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” James 4:14

Without a proper appreciation of the goodness of God towards us, our arrogance will rule the day. Being critical of others, even those clearly in the wrong, will be our natural tendency. Without the humility birthed through a realization of the enormity of our own sins, we will find ourselves void of pity and compassion to those who are in the bondage of sin.

This truth Jesus clarified over and over again. Along with the piercing words of Matthew 7:1-5 (Judge not, mote in the eye versus beam, etc.) Jesus also brought the truth home with an insightful story recorded in Mathew 18:23-35.

It’s the familiar story of the man who owed a king more than he could pay. He asked the king for patience and instead the king gave him mercy. As the former debtor was walking in his freedom he encountered someone who too had an obligation. Just like him, this debtor asked for patience, not absolution. But instead of displaying some of the mercy he had received, the forgiven servant exhibits the very attitude from which he himself was spared.

“Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ Matthew 18:32-33

While we usually use this story to illustrate how we should deal with those who have wronged us, I find it equally informative regarding the proper attitude we should have towards those we consider as not meeting their obligation(s) in life.

There are monumental issues facing our societies. Cultural, racial and social unrest simmers beneath the busy currents of life. Myriad injustices that plague all nations cannot be ignored. By the gift of speech, we all must answer if we contribute to the problem or to the solution. For what is in the heart will be spoken by the mouth.

Especially in this our internet age, where criticism of others rules the day, James asks us the question of the moment. “Who are you to judge another?” James 4:12

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

What does the word judging mean to you?
What, if anything, is the difference between judging and criticizing?
What, if anything, is the difference between the judging James describes and discernment?
What, if anything, should be the difference between a Christian’s commentary on social issues versus a non-Christian?
How can one tell if they are being critical or showing discernment?
Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The closer my relationship with Christ becomes, the less I will criticize others. Explain your answer.

We close this week with words from the beginning of James. He pulls no punches here.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26 NIV

Until next week, let’s all continue to Hit the Mark in Sabbath School!

Taming the Tongue – Lesson 7

Taming the TongueToday, as I write this week’s thoughts on Taming the Tongue, an assorted group of scientist have successfully landed a spacecraft on a comet. This historic achievement that cost well over 1 billion dollars is part of an ongoing attempt to discover the origins of life. Some hope that contained within the elements gathered by this machine, will be clues to man’s origin. It has to be more than God speaking.

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm. Psalm 33:8-9

To those that believe, the words of Jesus are more than just vibrations of air that produce sound. His words contain unborrowed life and limitless power.

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Hebrews 11:3

Love and the Law – Lesson 5

Finding interesting thingsIt is called Bigfoot – a huge ape-like creature that some believe inhabits forests in North America. For many years there have been supposed sightings. People claim to have personally seen this mysterious creature and found evidence, such as large unusual footprints. Even though most of the supposed sightings and gathered evidence have been proven to be hoaxes, people still believe. As you read this, someone is likely hunting for Bigfoot.

I thought about the search for Bigfoot when I read this familiar line from this week’s Sabbath school lesson on Love and the Law“we are to love even those we don’t like.” I’ve heard this expression many times over the years but like the search for Bigfoot, I’ve yet to find the biblical evidence of that position.

Enduring Temptation – Lesson 3

squirrel (300x249)For the last two weeks I have been engaged in a war of wills with a family of squirrels. Those cute little creatures always scampering about my yard had now become my opponents. Unbeknownst to me these creatures had taken up residence in my house.

My wife had suggested some time ago that there could be critters in the attic. I assured her that was not the case as I could see no evidence of that. But over time I too became convinced that something was scratching in the walls of our house.

I engaged a wildlife trapping company who came out for a week in an attempt to capture and relocate these uninvited guests.  That endeavor failed and I was back where I started – squirrels in my house.

The Perfecting of Our Faith – Lesson 2

pvtv_logoNow Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing. Therefore Sarah laughed within herself. Genesis 18:11-12

Sarah had just overheard Abraham being told again that his wife would bear him a son. It was humanly impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Although firm believers in God, this promise was more than they could take in.

Their reaction to the promise of God was quite similar to ours when we hear the word “perfection.” Our disbelief in the idea that man, even through divine power, can live a life above sin, being spiritually mature and totally submitted to God, makes us laugh within.

But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 1 Peter 1:15-16

James, the Lord’s Brother – Lesson 1

pvtv_logoI have thought a lot about James over the last week. The discussions about his identity have been interesting. The evidence seems to support the view that James was actually a brother of Jesus, although no one can say with 100% certainty that he was.

As a leader of the early church, James distinguished himself as a man of wisdom. There’s ample proof that he was highly thought of.

Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” Acts 12:16-17

What I find most interesting about James is how he described himself. He makes no mention of his bloodline, if he indeed was a half-sibling of Christ.

Nor did James describe himself by any accomplishments made in life. No mention does he make of his education or his business acumen. No mention is made of positions of importance that he may have held previous to the writing of his letter. He presents no human credentials to give authority and legitimacy to his words. James identifies himself as simply a slave.

That’s When

Dying Thief

Death and Resurrection – Lesson 12

TombThen said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. John 11:14

Lazarus’s sisters were crushed. The brother who they loved so much had been taken away from them by the cruel enemy called Death. They had sent word to Jesus that He was sick, knowing that if Jesus could get to Lazarus quickly, he would not die. But hours turned into days and Lazarus died.

Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. John 11:5

After Jesus finally arrived back to Judaea, Martha poured out her heart to Him. Her confidence in His power was unshaken but in her grief she could not grasp the deep purposes of God.

The Sabbath – Lesson 11

SunsetAnd He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

We need the Sabbath. I am not primarily talking about a period of down time from our busy lives, although the Sabbath affords that. Our need of the Sabbath is deeper than mere rest. We need the Sabbath for our salvation.

The Sabbath reminds us that there is a God who created all things. Those sacred hours provide the time to turn our attention to His mighty creation. Our world, though marred by sin, still serves as a lesson book about the God we serve.

We see the beauty of His creation from the lowly flower full of intricate details to the lofty mountains that tower to the heavens. In each we see the hand of God. We read in nature’s pages the care and concern He has for us and we find assurance and contentment as we reaffirm each week who it is that controls our lives.

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:28-30

The Law of God – Lesson 10

pvtv_logoIf ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15

God, in sending His Son, demonstrated His love for man. This demonstration of love is designed to pierce the hard-heartedness of man and open up his heart to reciprocate that love. Without love as a motivating factor, the keeping of the law, weighed in the scales of eternity, is just sounding brass and tinkling symbols. Our greatest need is to know and understand that love that was revealed through Jesus the Christ.

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. John 17:3

As He walked this earth as a man we find that Jesus never used force or coercion for the building up of the kingdom of God. The invitation was to whosoever would and there were many who responded to that call of love.