The identifiable mark of God

A fingerprint provides evidence that a person was at the scene.  Moreover, a fingerprint is the identifiable mark of a person; it identifies who the person is.

In Jesus, God came into our world not merely as a spirit, but as God-in-human-flesh who would leave fingerprints on all he touched.  Over and over again, Jesus’ fingerprints left evidence that God was not merely hovering for a while above our earth, but that God was actually on the scene at particular places at particular times with specific people, and his fingerprints consistently left behind the identifiable marks of God.

The second time we have a report of Jesus touching something or someone in the Gospel of Mark, the recipient of his touch is highly unexpected!  

Mark begins the story by telling us that a man with leprosy knelt before Jesus and said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

A leper at that time was an unwelcome person, banished by law from society, and not permitted to live in or to roam the streets of any walled city.  A person with leprosy was a feared individual.  A leper was required to stay at least six feet away from uninfected people.  If he came too close, people could throw rocks at him to drive him away.  A leper was considered to be untouchable.  Indeed, anyone who touched a leper would be classified as unclean for seven days and must abide by all the restrictions that applied to a leper. 

As he knelt before Jesus, this leper’s words to Jesus expressed his confidence that Jesus could heal him of leprosy if Jesus would choose to do so.  That is a significant expression of faith in Jesus’ power, for the rabbis taught that it would be as unlikely for a person to die and come alive again as it would be for a person to be cured of leprosy.  But this man had more faith than the rabbis.  He believed Jesus could do it.  His only uncertainty was whether the one who was able to heal him would want to heal him. 

Mark records Jesus’ reply: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose.  Be made clean.”

The Greek word used here for “moved with pity is splagchnistheis, which comes from the Greek word for one’s entrails.  It has to do with feeling something in our very gut.  It tells us that Jesus felt this man’s agony deep in his own gut.  Jesus ached inside with this man.  He felt for the rejection, animosity and loneliness this man was living with.  He knew the man had probably not been touched by another human being in many years. 

For this reason, Jesus did not heal this man from six feet away, but stepped forward, reached out his hand, and touched the man—even though that touch meant that Jesus would be classified as “unclean” for seven days.

When Jesus touched that man, his touch left the fingerprint of God, the identifiable mark of God. 

The band Casting Crowns sings a song that asks, “Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt?”  But the identifiable mark that this fingerprint left upon a man who had been considered “untouchable” is that God’s compassion is so intimate that Christ feels our agony and so deep that Christ acts for our best interest despite the unpleasant consequences to himself (whether that means bearing the classification of unclean for a week or dying on a cross for us). 

God Is Able

Death is that unpleasant subject that many people dread discussing and most of us dread facing.  Woody Allen quipped, “I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  But no matter how much we despise the subject, death will come our way.  Benjamin Franklin summarized it well: “In this world nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.”

When death comes, it breaks the hearts of those who are left behind.  

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome experienced such heartbreak.  For three years they had followed Jesus around and devoted their time, their resources, and their lives to him.  He became the center of their lives, and they loved him dearly.

Then they saw him arrested.  They saw him beaten mercilessly.  They saw him mocked and condemned and marched through the streets of Jerusalem to the “Hill of the Skull,” where he was nailed to a cross naked.  They watched him breathe his last breath and die.  They cringed as a spear was thrust into his heart to confirm his death.  Then they watched as his corpse was laid in a tomb, with a massive boulder rolled across the entry.

The next day, the women huddled together, not knowing what else to do.  Their minds were in a fog.  They could make no sense of what had happened.  How could God have allowed people to have done such things to Jesus?  After this, the future seemed empty, worthless and terrifying.  If such things could be done to one as loving and good as Jesus, what good could the future hold for them?

Early the next morning, while it was still dark, they got some spices to anoint his body, feeling desperate to express their love by anointing his remains.

But suddenly it dawned upon them that they would not be able to do what they longed to do.  They would not be able to anoint the body of Jesus because a large gravestone blocked the entrance to the tomb. 

That horrid stone seemed to represent all of their despair.  It was too big for them.  Three of them together would not be able to move it.

That horrid stone was evidence of the finality of Jesus’ death.  It gave testimony to the fact that Jesus was gone from them forever.  In stark fashion, it represented their distance from him.  It reminded them of their aloneness.

That horrid stone reminded them of the hopelessness of their future and the coldness of their lives without him.

But when they looked up, Mark 16:4 tells us, “They saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.”

The gravestone, which had seemed to them to be an unconquerable obstacle was gone!  And death, which seemed to be even more unconquerable, was overcome! 

An angel announced to the women, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 

These women were the first witnesses to the greatest breakthrough in human history: the conquering of death!

This was completely unexpected and shocking to them.  Mark records their reaction: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

As shocking as it was to the women, the empty tomb was and is evidence that nothing in our lives is too much for God. 

Someone expressed it this way:  “Write it over all your difficulties; pen it over all your disappointments; inscribe it on all your fears, post it over all your troubles: GOD IS ABLE!” 

This is the great good news of the resurrection: God is able!  The One who raised Jesus from the grave will care for us in all things with his unconquerable love.

We Need Each Other

God formed us in such a way that we need one another.  We are not self-contained and self-sufficient independent beings.  By God’s purposeful design, we are not complete without one another.

Pearl Buck has observed, “The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being.  His heart withers if it does not answer another heart.  His mind shrinks if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.”  

Rachel Held Evans adds, “I’m not exactly sure how all this works, but I think, ultimately, it means I can’t be a Christian on my own.  Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.  We might not always do it within the walls of church or even in an organized religion, but if we are to go about making disciples, confessing our sins, breaking bread, paying attention, and preaching the Word, we’re going to need one another.  We’re going to need each other’s help.” (Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, p. 255)

James points our attention to this reality in the closing verses of his letter. 

In verses 13 & 14 he asks, “Are any among you suffering?…. Are any among you sick?”  “Among you” is a phrase that has to do with community.  It’s a phrase that has to do with being connected to each other.  It calls us to pay attention to the hurts and needs of each other.  It calls us to look out for one another.

In verse 16, James becomes more specific.  He commands, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another….”  Do I struggle with certain temptations?  I should not make things worse by keeping my struggle secret.  I am called to confess my struggle to a trustworthy Christian friend or leader.  Have I fallen or failed?  Does guilt hammer away at me?  Rather than suffering alone in shame, I am told to confess my guilt to a trustworthy Christian friend or leader. 

Verse 16 also instructs, “And pray for one another….” We are called to stand with one another, supporting and encouraging each as we pray for one another.

In verses 19-20 we are encouraged to reach out to any who fall away, with the goal of restoring them to fellowship. 

We need each other, and we are to live out the Christian life in meaningful connection with each other. 

The late columnist Mike Royko shared a story that was told to him by Slats Grobnik who sold Christmas trees: “Slats remembered one couple on the hunt for a Christmas tree.  The guy was skinny with a big Adam’s apple and small chin, and she was kind of pretty.  But both wore clothes from the bottom of the bin at the Salvation Army store. 

“After finding only trees that were too expensive, they found a Scotch pine that was okay on one side, but pretty bare on the other.  Then they picked up another tree that was not much better—full on one side, scraggly on the other.  She whispered something, and he asked if $3 would be okay.  Slats figured both trees would not be sold, so he agreed.

“A few days later Slats was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the couple’s apartment.  It was thick and well rounded.  He knocked on their door and they told him how they worked the two trees close together where the branches were thin.  Then they tied the trunks together.  The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t see the wire.  Slats described it as ‘a tiny forest of its own.’

“‘So that’s the secret,’ Slats asserts.  ‘You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws, that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want.  If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.’”

That is the essence of the church.  God takes imperfect people and puts us together.  Together we are fuller and more beautiful than we could ever be on our own.

A Call to Patience

Christ is intent on growing his character in us, establishing his likeness in us.  But I notice a significant difference between Christ and me in the area of patience.  Christ was never in a hurry.  I, on the other hand, often struggle with what has been described as “hurry sickness” or “time urgency.” 

According to an article in healthline.com, “Hurry sickness can show up as a driving need to make the most of every second…. Signs might include:

  • Speeding, both in your car and through conversations, the grocery store, or meals
  • Rushing through work tasks and household chores, to the point where you sometimes make mistakes and have to do them again
  • Frequently performing time calculations in your head to see whether you can fit in another task
  • Feeling irritable when you face delays
  • Constantly trying to find ways to save time
  • Endlessly running through your to-do list in your head to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything

“Hurry sickness frequently involves an undercurrent of anxiety.  Perhaps stress and worry creep up when you think of everything you have to do…. Living with anxiety always simmering on the back burner generally doesn’t feel very pleasant.  This anxiety presses you to keep moving, to keep doing, to attach more urgency to your to-do list than it requires.” 

No wonder James 5 puts such emphasis on God’s call to us to be patient.  In verses 7, we are commanded, “Be patient.”  Then we are reminded of how important it is for a farmer to be patient while waiting for his “precious crop.”  In verse 8, we are commanded again, “You also must be patient.”  In verses 10-11 we are instructed to look at the model of endurance set by the prophets and by Job. 

James wants us to know that growing in the likeness of Christ will always involve growing in patience.  Mark Buchanan puts it succinctly, “Waiting is one of God’s primary means for becoming like Jesus.”

Why does God want us to grow in the virtue of patience?  Leonardo da Vinci shares one important reason why: “Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold.  For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you.  So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”

Perspective on our Time & our Resources

Every day God gives to each one of us two wonderful gifts that we are free to spend any way we choose. 

1: Each day God gives to us the gift of 86,400 seconds.  We cannot save them.  We cannot transfer them into some other account.  All we can do is waste them or spend them. 

James 4:14 warns us that we are “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” 

We know that we have 86,400 seconds each day, but none of us knows how many days we will have, so each day is to be lived wisely.  Each day should be respected as a precious gift from God. 

What should we do with the 86,400 seconds that we are gifted each day?

One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of business students.  He pulled out a one gallon, wide-mouth Mason jar and set it on a table in front of him.  Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.  When the jar was filled to the top with the rocks, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

The students answered, “Yes.”

But the teacher reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel.  He dumped some gravel in and shook the jar, then poured some more in.  After several such fillings, he asked the class whether the jar was full now. 

Cautious after their previous mistake, the students were unsure how to answer.  They watched for the teacher’s next move.  He took a pitcher and poured water in until the jar was filled to the brim.  Then he turned to the students and explained, “This illustration points us to the truth that if we start with the “big rocks” in life, all the lesser matters can be fit in around them.”  Then he told them, “The “big rocks” in your life are such things as time with your loved ones, your faith, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching or mentoring others.  Remember to put these “big rocks” in first or you’ll never get them in at all.”

2: Each day God gives to us resources (possessions and money) to use.  None of us is guaranteed a set amount of time on earth, and none of us is guaranteed a set amount of resources at our disposal each day.  But each of us is accountable for what we do with each day’s resources. 

Followers of Christ need to keep in mind that our time and our resources are gifts to us from God and are to be put to use in ways that bring honor to God. 

James 5:4-6 warns us, “Listen!  The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.”  We will be accountable to God for how we use the resources he has entrusted to us. 

 John Wesley cautions, “But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.  What way then can we take that our money may not sink us to the nethermost hell?  There is one way, and there is no other under heaven.  If those who ‘gain all they can,’ and ‘save all they can,’ will likewise ‘give all they can,’ then the more they gain, the more they will grow in grace, and the more treasure they will lay up in heaven.”

Each day, God gives us gifts of time and resources.  May we use “our” time and “our” resources in ways that honor God and in ways that bring love and good into the world he cares for.

Lament and mourn and weep

Many people turn to the Bible when they are feeling discouraged or lonely, looking for verses that will inspire them or comfort them, hoping to find pearls from God that will chase their blues away and restore a smile to their face.

But sometimes, while looking for verses of comfort and inspiration, we stumble upon a verse like James 4:9: “Lament and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection.”

Why would God allow such a verse, lacking any comfort or encouragement for our souls, to have slipped into the pages of Scripture?  Why doesn’t it read, “Rejoice, laugh and sing; change your mourning to laughter and your gloom to joy”?

Either this verse is a mistake, failing to share with us the joyful good news of the gospel or this verse shares with us the truth we need to hear, that there is a treasure in the midst of lamenting, mourning and weeping that we need to pay attention to. 

In his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson notes,  “People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel like they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet.  Such dissatisfaction with the world-as-it-is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship.  The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.

“A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.  As long as we think that the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquility, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” (p. 22)

If we search in the Bible only for verses that comfort and encourage us, we may never become sufficiently fed up with the ways of the world or the sins within our souls.

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) recognizes the power for good in lamenting, mourning and weeping over the brokenness of our lives.  Steps 5, 6 and 7 of the 12 Step program particularly address this.  Steps 5-7 state, “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.  We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”  When we lament and mourn and weep over what is broken in us, we are on the path toward healing.

The Franciscans offer a prayer that invites us to lament and mourn and weep:

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”

God calls us to lament and mourn and weep not because God wants us to be miserable but because honestly facing our brokenness leads to deeper freedom and serenity.  That’s why James 4:10 goes on to assure us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” 

A Reverse-Thread kind of Life

Haddon Robinson once shared, “A while ago I was trying to fix our garage door.  I came to that one screw I had to get loose, and the more I worked to loosen that screw, the tighter it seemed to get.  A neighbor came over and saw my plight.  He looked for a moment or two and said, ‘Oh, this has a left-handed thread.  It’s a reverse screw.  You have to tighten or loosen it going in the opposite direction.’  It took me fifty years to find out how screws work, and now they change the rules!”

Then he commented, “There’s a sense in which all of the Bible is kind of a reverse screw.  Everything in the culture that seems right, in the Bible comes out wrong.  The way up is the way down.” 

Provers 14:12 and 16:25 warn us, “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death.”

One of the ways that seems right to many people is the pursuit of happiness by pushing our way ahead of other people.  In 1973, Robert J. Ringer published the best-selling book Winning Through Intimidation.  Shortly after that, Bob Greene wrote an editorial for the Chicago Sun Times.  In it Greene stated, “Briefly, the theory of ‘Winning Through Intimidation’ is this: Life in America—in the business community specifically, but in all other facets of the society—is a brutal jungle that can be mastered only by learning to intimidate others, to bully them, to bluff and push manipulate them and shove them around to your own advantage.  Only if you learn how to do these things can you be happy and prosperous….

“Among the tips he gives in ‘Winning Through Intimidation’:

–Life is a poker game, and every person you meet is trying to steal your chips.

–‘Honesty’ is a meaningless term, because ‘a person can only be “honest” or “dishonest” relative to the facts of a given situation.’

–The manner in which you conduct your dealings in life doesn’t matter, because ‘years from now it won’t make any difference anyway.  In 50 billion years there won’t be any sun at all.  The earth will be nothing but a frozen ice ball…. I could not imagine how anything I was presently involved in could possibly matter 50 billion years from now.’”

Robert Ringer portrayed his approach as “winning through intimidation.”  James 3:14 portrays it as “bitter envy and selfish ambition.”  James 3:16 stresses that where such envy and selfish ambition live “there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”   

“Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way of death.” 

James 3:13 sets before us a reverse screw that calls us to turn our expectations around: “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”  James 3:17-18 adds, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

 James counsels us that deep and lasting contentment is found not in a life of bitter envy and selfish ambition but in the midst of that which is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.” 

Henry Drummond observes, “You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”

Pope Francis adds, “[Mercy] is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.  A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

Beware the Devil’s Chariot

James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue.  His brother, Jesus, had been condemned to death by angry words and false witnesses, and by an enflamed mob that shouted, “Crucify him; crucify him.”  On the cross his brother had been mocked and ridiculed.  Following the death of Jesus, James had seen inflammatory words from opponents of the faith result in the martyrdom of close friends, and he had seem inflammatory words between believers result in divided fellowships.  James knew well the destructive capacity of the human tongue, so, when he wrote to the early church, he was clear and explicit in his warnings.  He tells us that “the tongue is a fire…it…sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  He describes the tongue as “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” 

Simon Kistemaker summarizes James’ warning: “The tongue, then, is identified with—and in a sense is the vehicle of—a complete world of evil that resides among the members of man’s body.  It tells lies, slanders someone’s name, kindles hate, creates discord, incites lust, and, in brief, gives rise to numerous sins.”

Edward Reyner cautions, “An unbridled tongue is the chariot of the devil, wherein he rides in triumph…. The course of an unruly tongue is to proceed from evil to worse, to begin with foolishness, and go on with bitterness, and to end in mischief and madness.”

Curtis Vaughan says about the tongue, “It can sway people to violence, or it can move them to the noblest actions.  It can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing, and soothe the dying.  Or it can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate, and bring nations to the brink of war.” 

What are we to do with a tool that is capable to bringing so much destruction? 

First, we must learn when to keep our mouth shut.  I have read that the cranes in the Taurus Mountains of southern Turkey tend to cackle a lot—especially while flying.  Their loud cackling draws the attention of eagles who swoop down and seize them for a meal.  Experienced cranes have learned to avoid this threat by picking up stones large enough to fill their mouths.  This prevents them from cackling—and from becoming the lunch of an eagle.  When our careless “cackling” might result in injury to ourselves or someone else, we must learn to keep our mouth shut.

Second, we must learn when and how to speak up with a word fitly spoken.  Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend point out, “While some criticism can be judgmental, direct loving criticism is a necessary part of spiritual growth.  In fact, where there is no confrontation, growth is seriously hampered.”  There are times when we must speak up and face conflict

There are also times when we need to speak up and bring encouragement.  In The Whisper Test, Mary Ann Bird writes, “I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it.  I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech. When schoolmates asked, ‘What happened to your lip?’ I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass.  Somehow it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different.  I was convinced that no one outside my family could love me.

“There was, however, a teacher in the second grade whom we all adored—Mrs. Leonard by name.  She was short, round, happy—a sparkling lady.  Annually we had a hearing test…. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn.  I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered one ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something, and we would have to repeat it back—things like ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Do you have new shoes?’  I waited there for those seven words that changed my life.  Mrs.  Leonard said, in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’”  Words fitly spoken can bring healing to a soul. 

The Need for a Living Faith

When I was in college, I drove an old 1953 Chevy Bel Air.  The car had a lot of miles on it, and a good amount of wear and tear.  One night, I had to drive from U.C. Berkeley to a meeting in downtown Oakland.  The interior lights did not work, so I lit a match to check the gas gage.  It registered full, so I started on my way.  As I was zipping along the freeway, the car began to stutter, then the engine died.  I was able to coast the car off a freeway exit, through a stop sign, into a service station.  The attendant checked the car for me, looking for the cause of trouble, then he announced, “You’re out of gas.”  The gage read “Full,” but the tank was actually empty.

That reminds me of some “believers” I have known over the years.  They brag about how full of faith they are, but when I look for evidence of Christ’s compassion or integrity in them, they seem to be running on empty.  They seem to be full of talk, with little evidence of genuine Christ-likeness. 

Susanna Wesley once stated, “There are two things to do about the gospel–believe it and behave it.”  The Christian faith is not just a call to us to believe in Jesus; it is a call to us to believe in Jesus and to behave in ways that are in keeping with being a follower of Jesus. 

Mark Labberton remarks, “Jesus’ does not say, ‘Believe me,’ but rather, ‘Follow me.’  If we are going to pursue God’s call, it’s an act of trusting and following—of behaving and living in ways that reflect our life and purposes.  We aren’t saved by our actions, but we are saved for our actions to become those that make God’s life in Jesus Christ visible.” (Called, p. 71)

James 2:18 stresses, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I, by my works, will show you my faith.”  In verse 26 James adds, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”

God does not want his children to be spiritually dead.  He wants us to be alive.  It is in the living out of our faith that we truly come alive!

Many years ago, on the old television show “The Merv Griffin Show,” Merv’s guest was a body builder.  Gary Gulbranson shares what happened: “During the interview, Merv asked, ‘Why do you develop those particular muscles?’  The body builder simply stepped forward and flexed a series of well-defined muscles from chest to calf.  The audience applauded.  ‘What do you use all those muscles for?’ Merv asked.  Again, the muscular specimen flexed, and biceps and triceps sprouted to impressive proportions.  ‘But what do you use those muscles for?’ Merv persisted.  The body builder was bewildered.  He didn’t have an answer other than to display his well-developed frame.” 

Some “Christians” seem to be a lot like that body builder.  They have worked hard to build spiritual muscles of Bible knowledge and Scripture memorization and church attendance and knowing the words of all the hymns, but if asked what they use those muscles for, they have no answer but to quote another verse or recite a hymn.  What this world needs is not people who can show off their religiosity but people who will live out the compassion and integrity of Jesus.

As Susanna Wesley put it, “There are two things to do about the gospel–believe it and behave it.”

Follow God’s Rules in God’s House

When I was in London (many years ago), I went past Buckingham Palace.  When I was in Edinburgh, Scotland, I walked past the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh.  At neither home did I open a door and walk in.  Why?  Because I had no invitation from the Queen to enter her home.

Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse are royal residences.  It is up to the Queen to decide who comes into her home and who does not.

Have you ever paused to consider the truth that a church is also a royal residence? 

A church is, by its very nature, a house of God, or the Lord’s house.  Properly understood, no one has a right to come through the doors of a church except by invitation of the King of all kings.

Fortunately for me and for you, we have been invited by God to come into his home.  But there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind.

When we come into the Lord’s house, we come in not as peers of God but as subjects of the King.  No matter how high and lofty one may be according to society’s standards, in the house of God each of us is but a subject of the King.  It doesn’t matter whether one is a billionaire or homeless, the president of a company or the cleaning lady, when we enter the doors of a church we, are all at equal standing as subjects of the King.  Who but the King alone has the authority to dictate who else may come in or who must stay out, or where another is to sit in the house of God, or what another is permitted to do.  There is no room for favoritism in the Lord’s house because in his house everyone is equalized as a fellow subject of the King.

Also, we come into the Lord’s house as adopted children of our heavenly Father.  It doesn’t matter what color we are or what our nationality or language is.  It doesn’t matter whether we live with a disability.  It doesn’t matter what animosities once divided us.  It doesn’t matter what mistakes we made in the past.  What matters now is only that the heavenly Father has chosen to adopt us as his own beloved children.  There is no place for favoritism in a home in which the Father deeply loves each of his children.

In the house of God, all of life is to be guided by the “Royal Law,” the Law of the King.  James 2:8 clarifies that the royal law is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  In verse 9, James adds, “But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

In the house of God, it is God’s rules that apply, and God’s rules are that we care for each other as we would take care of our own needs, and that we show no partiality that would favor one person over another.  Church is to be a place where all of God’s subjects obey his rules of love and impartiality, and where all persons are welcomed equally as God’s beloved children.

In his book Building People through a Caring Sharing Fellowship, Donald Bubna shares, “When new members join our church, I like to say: ‘Our fellowship will never be the same now that you are with us.  You will flavor it.  You will never be the same—for better or for worse—we will flavor you.’ 

“One who flavors our fellowship in a special way is an old man who has been known as something of an oddity in our community for years.  Old Tom is in his eighties.  He lives alone and likes to stand up whenever we have a time for sharing in the church.  He is not always able to keep his thoughts straight, and sometimes rambles on at length.  One of our members brought the problem before the executive committee, asking that one of the elders talk to Tom to quiet him down.  Brad Coleman, a young attorney on the committee, objected.  ‘If our church doesn’t have room for the old Toms, we’re in the wrong kind of church!’

“…When we held a special service for a young woman who left our congregation to be a missionary, old Tom stood up to say, ‘That young lady will make a good missionary; she always talks to me.’  I thought his comment said a great deal about what it means for a lonely old man to belong to the family of God.” (p. 32) 

As James 2:8 states, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”