A New Righteousness

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Luke 2:22-40

A man took his wife and mother-in-law to Jerusalem on a trip. The mother-in-law while in Jerusalem died unexpectedly. The mortuary said to the man as he was making arrangements; We can bury her here for $150 or it will take $5,000.00 to send her back to the states. The man thought about it and said, “I will pay the $5,000 to send her back home.” The mortician said, “She must be a special mother-in-law.” The man said, “Well, I heard that a man died here and after three days came back to life and I just can’t take any chances.”

Jesus was in every way a Jew whose parents “fulfilled all righteousness” by presenting him to God at the temple in Jerusalem. While they were there in obedience to the law, Simeon and Anna were there in obedience to the Spirit. The two old people’s recognition of Jesus was the beginning of a new age, and the old order would be turned upside down.

Paul speaks of the “fullness of time” when Christ came into the world. (Galatians 4:4)An old man holds in his arms a baby, an old man who had almost given up hope for Israel. And the old man sings with joy because he has seen the salvation of his people. An old woman also sings. She had spent her days at the temple in constant prayer and fasting, signs of deep contrition and mourning. Yet at the moment she saw the newborn child, she began to praise God. How will our congregation receive this call to complete, uninhibited joy? There is something about us that is hesitant to embrace fulfillment when it is offered. There is something about us that holds back when confronted by the summons to rejoice. Is it because so often we have been disappointed in our hopes? Is it because there is something a bit humiliating in admitting that what we need is completely in the hands of God? The incarnation, at last God with us, in the flesh! We had waited, down through the dim millennia we had waited. We have prayed with the prophets, “God, come down and save us!

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. (1 Corinthians 3) God’s goal for humanity has always been righteousness. Purity of heart and rectitude of life; being and doing right. The righteousness of Christ denotes not only His absolute perfection but is taken for His perfect obedience to the law and suffering the penalty thereof in our stead. For you and me righteousness is holy and upright living, in accordance with God’s standard. The word righteousness comes from a root word that means “straightness.” Righteousness is a moral concept.

For example, Adam and Eve would have acted righteously in their relationship with God if they had obeyed Him, because His commands defined that relationship. The Ten Commandments and related laws defined Israel’s relationship with God. To obey those laws was to act righteously, because such obedience maintained the covenant relationship between God and His people.

There are four stages that God has led us through. Conscience: Adam and Eve were granted freedom with only one boundary. The sole test is obedience or disobedience. Covenant or promise. The covenant was with Abraham. Now it is not so much obedience as it is trust. Trust me and I will make you a great nation. We generally appear to go to God only when we are in trouble, only when things are not going well. When our lives are right again, we forget God. Isn’t it interesting that we seem to adore God only in our bad times, when we grieve, not in our good times when we rejoice? Law: In the Old Testament the term righteousness is used to define man’s relationship with God and with other people. In the context of relationships, righteous action is action that promotes the peace and well-being of human beings in their relationships to one another. God gave Moses the Law on the mountain. Sin is disobedience to the terms that define man’s relationship with God and with other people. Since the FALL in the Garden of Eden, man is inherently unrighteous. Man cannot be righteous in the sight of God on his own merits. Therefore, man must have God’s righteousness imputed, or transferred, to him. Grace. The cross of Jesus is a public demonstration of God’s righteousness. God accounts or transfers the righteousness of Christ to those who trust in Him. We do not become righteous because of our inherent goodness; God sees us as righteous because of our identification by faith with His Son.

He who keeps his face towards the sun shall find that the shadows fall behind him. When an observatory is about to be built, the site selected is always on same high mountain. The aim is to find a place with is a clear, unobstructed view of the heavens. Similarly, faith requires for its heavenly vision, the highlands of holiness and separation, the pure sky of a consecrated life.

John Grisham (Author) once said, I have never been tempted to resort to gratuitous sex, profanity, or violence. I couldn’t write a book that I would be embarrassed for my kids to read a few years from now. Plus, my mother would kill me.

True spirituality manifests itself in certain dominant desires. First is the desire to be holy rather than happy. A man may be considered spiritual when he wants to see the honor of God advanced through his life even if it means that he himself must suffer temporary dishonor or loss. The spiritual man wants to carry his cross. Again, a Christian is spiritual when he sees everything from God’s viewpoint. Another desire of the spiritual man is to die right rather than to live wrong. The desire to see others advance at his expense. The spiritual man habitually makes eternity-judgments instead of time-judgments.

A Happy Home

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Proverbs 17:6

A teacher asked her students on the Friday before Mother’s Day to share with the class what their mothers did for a living. The first little child got up and said that his mother was a dentist. The second little child said her mother was a stay at home mom. The third child said his mother was an exotic dancer at one of the nude bars in town. The teacher was greatly surprised and hurried the class along in sharing. Later she asked Johnny, “Are you sure your mother is an exotic dancer?” “No, I just said that because I was embarrassed by what she really does.” What does she really do? “She is an accountant for Arthur Anderson.”

Jonathan and I were having dinner one evening with the family of a lady I was dating. Her dad said to Jonathan, “I bet you got teased a lot at school by your friends about your dad being a minister?” “No, not at all. I just didn’t tell them.” Proverbs (22:6) says, Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.

I was reared in a very dysfunctional home and so by the time that I became a husband and a father, I very much wanted to offer a Christian home. What is a Christian home and how do we “train a child in the way they should go?” All of us are different and have different tastes, likes and dislikes. Let me share with you four (4) things that I have found true in my own family as I reflect back and what I find present in other successful families.

Communication is a key to a Christian family! You have to talk with the ones you love. We currently have an environment in the home where we are involved in every community activity that is possible. By the time that we have attended all the activities and transported every child, we are exhausted. Many times, parents live out their dreams in their children and exhaust each other in the process. In my family we had all our evening meals together. It was not always easy and everyone had to make sacrifices to do it. However, it was a time of catching up with each others lives. It was at that meal table that my son said, “Dad, there are some things that parents should never know about their child.” It was also at that meal table a couple of years later that I found out what was behind that statement. The meal table gave us an opportunity to talk about life. It was a support group for each family member. It was a place to talk about temptations: Social, financial and sexual. Meal time has always been a special time in the life of believers. The Disciples were always reclining at the table. Jesus fed 5,000 on a grassy shore line. And everyone knows how powerful the Last Supper was.

Share the faith story as you know it and understand it! We talked about God. At the meal table is was not uncommon to end in a theological debate, which led to a better understanding of each others faith journey. We played games like Bible Trivia. Children need to know and understand why they believe what that believe. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim 1:5) When the children were small, we would gather around us on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story. We would often read the little story of “The Other Wise Man.” I find it interesting even now how both children feel Christmas is never complete until we have read the Christmas story. People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15)

Lead your family by living the Christian example! More is learned by watching than is ever learned from being told. Somewhere our faith has to stop being just talked about and just lived. To Train a child in the way he should go, is to allow the child to see how to live life. First of all, never be fooled into thinking that you are hiding your problems from your children. The children are watching! Children learn how to be husbands and wives from us. It is only when a husband and wife pray together before God that they find the secret of true harmony in a marriage. The differences in their temperaments, ideas, and tastes enrich their home instead of endangering it. There will be no further question of one imposing his/her will on the other. They find the art of forgiveness. Family life is about forgiving. We learn mutual submission. You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (James 2:22)

Make your family a priority! Few people neglect family and home because they plan it. It is necessary to schedule family time. There are even times to schedule to be away from Church. If I am too busy for my family now, I will be too busy for them ten years from now. The motor home was a blessing in our lives. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21)

It is not always easy to rear a Christian family. There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him.

The family is the institution of God laying at the foundation of all human society. Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife'”. Parental obligations include the maintenance of children and their education in its fullest sense.

A Church Leader

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Titus 1:5-9

A henpecked husband went to a psychologist to learn to assert himself. The psychologist told him, “You do not have to accept your wife’s bullying,” he said. “You need to go home right now and let her know that you’re your own boss.” The husband was encouraged to take the doctor’s advice. He went home and slammed the door on his way in. He shook his fist in his wife’s face, and shouted, “From now on you’ll do what I say, woman! Go get my supper, then go upstairs and lay out my clothes. After I eat, I’m going out with the boys. You can stay here where you belong. By the way, do you know who is going to tie my tie for me?” “I sure do,” said his wife calmly, “the undertaker.”

A mother and her small daughter were walking past the house in Springfield, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln once lived. The lights were burning inside, making the home seem warm and inviting. They paused for a few minutes as the mother told the girl what a great President Mr. Lincoln had been and how the whole nation mourned when he died. The youngster listened with rapt attention. Then, noticing the glow coming from the windows, she said, “Look, Momma. When Mr. Lincoln went away, he left the lights on.” The influence of our lives continues even after we die. Notice what the writer of Hebrews said of Abel — “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4). What we do for the Lord can have a positive influence on succeeding generations.

There are many leaders in the life of the Church, some hold an office and some do not. Elders and Diaconate are to be servant leaders, not rulers or dictators. God doesn’t want His people to be used by petty, self-serving tyrants. Servant leaders have chosen a life of service on behalf of others.
Like the servant Christ, they sacrifice their time and energy for the good of others. I suppose that leadership at one time meant muscle but today it means getting along with people.

In early times books were scarce, and the aged of the tribes were the depositories of the traditions of bygone generations. The old leaders, moreover, had the most experience and were the heads of large families, over whom they exercised authority. Because old age was identified with matured wisdom, knowledge, and experience, and a reward for a virtuous and godly life, the aged were from time immemorial chosen to fill the official positions in the community. After the return from the Exile, the office rose into higher significance and fuller organization. With every synagogue there was connected a government of elders, varying in number according to the population attached to it. The rulers of the synagogue and the elders of the people were substantially one, and a certain number of those elders belonged to the Sanhedrin. Elders first came into prominence on the scattering abroad of the disciples and the withdrawing of the apostles from Jerusalem, following the death of Stephen.

The origin of the office of deacon is usually related to the events described in Acts 6:1-6. The young Christian church in Jerusalem was experiencing growing pains, and it had become increasingly difficult for the apostles to distribute charitable gifts to its needy members without neglecting their ministry of prayer and preaching. To meet this critical need, seven people were chosen by the congregation and presented to the apostles.

An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. To be blameless is to be redeemed, a Christian. They have to have only one spouse or less. If the individual has children, what type of life do they live? Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless-not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. To not be overbearing means not being a dictator. The leader must be in control of his/her temper. The leader must not be an alcoholic. The leader must work in a respectable trade. Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. To be hospitable is to be kind and compassionate. The leader genuinely pursues good and not evil. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. The leader must know something of scripture and his/her relationship with God.

Elisabeth Elliot’s book “The Mark Of A Man,” has a chapter entitled “A Take-charge Man Is A Servant,” where she relates a story about her late husband Addison Leitch. “When he was dean of a small college in Pennsylvania, he learned that the walls of a certain men’s dormitory were smeared with shaving cream, peanut butter, and jelly. He went over to investigate. Of course not a soul around had any idea how it could possibly have happened. In room after room he met with surprised innocence. He had several options. He could make every man in the dormitory go to work and clean it up. He could call the custodian. There was a third option. Addison went and got a bucket and a brush and set to work himself. One by one doors opened, heads popped out, word spread of what the dean of the college was doing, and soon he was not alone in the scrub job.” “The power of servanthood. It commands respect. It does not demand it.”

During the waning years of the depression in a small Southeastern Idaho community, I used to stop by Mr. Miller’s roadside stand for farm-fresh produce as the season made it available. Food and money were still extremely scarce and bartering was used, extensively. One particular day Mr. Miller was bagging some early potatoes for me. I noticed a small boy, delicate of bone and feature, ragged but clean hungrily appraising a basket of freshly picked green peas. I paid for my potatoes, but I was also drawn to the display of fresh green peas. Pondering the peas, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between Mr. Miller and the ragged boy next to me. “Hello Barry, how are you today?” “H’lo, Mr. Miller. Fine, thank ya. Jus’ admirin’ them peas … sure look good.” “They are good, Barry. How’s your Ma?” “Fine. Gittin’ stronger alla’ time.” “Good. Anything I can help you with?” “No, Sir. Jus’ admirin’ them peas.” “Would you like to take some home?” “No, Sir. Got nuthin’ to pay for ’em with.” “Well, what have you to trade me for some of those peas?” “All I got’s my prize marble here.” “Is that right? Let me see it.” “Here ’tis. She’s a dandy.” “I can see that. Hmmmm, only thing is this one is blue and I sort of go for red. Do you have a red one like this at home?” “Not ‘zackley… but, almost.” “Tell you what. Take this sack of peas home with you and next trip this way let me look at that red marble.” Mrs. Miller, who had been standing nearby, came over to help me. With a smile she said: “There are two other boys like him in our community, all three are in very poor circumstances. Jim just loves to bargain with them for peas, apples, tomatoes or whatever. When they come back with their red marbles, and they always do, he decides he doesn’t like red after all and he sends them home with a bag of produce for a green marble or an orange one perhaps,” sometime later, I learned that Mr. Miller had died. They were having his viewing and knowing my friends wanted to go, I agreed to accompany them. Upon our arrival at the mortuary, we fell into line to meet the relatives of the deceased and to offer whatever words of comfort we could. Ahead of us in line were three young men. One was in an army uniform, and the other two wore nice haircuts, dark suits and white shirts . . . very professional looking. They approached Mrs. Miller, standing–smiling and composed–by her husband’s casket. Each of the young men hugged her, kissed her on the cheek, spoke briefly with her and moved on to the casket. Each left the mortuary awkwardly, wiping his eyes. Our turn came to meet Mrs. Miller. I told her who I was and mentioned the story she had told me about the marbles. Eyes glistening she took my hand and led me to the casket. “Those three young men, that just left, were the boys I told you about. They just told me how they appreciated the things Jim ‘traded’ them. Now, at last, when Jim could not change his mind about color or size . . . they came to pay their debt.” With loving gentleness she lifted the lifeless fingers of her deceased husband. Resting underneath were three, magnificently shiny, red marbles. Moral: We will not be remembered by our words, but by our deeds.

Respecting God’s Government

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First Peter 2:13-15

During his visit to the United States the Pope met with the President of the United States. Instead of just an hour as scheduled, the meeting went on for two days. Finally, a weary President emerged to face the waiting news media.
The President was smiling and announced the summit was a resounding success. He said he and the Pope agreed on eighty percent of the matters they discussed. The President declared he was going home to the White House to be with his family. A few minutes later the Pope came out to make his statement. He looked tired, discouraged and was practically in tears. Sadly he announced his meeting with the President was a failure. Incredulous, one reporter asked, “But your Holiness, the President just announced the summit was a great success and the two of you agreed on eighty percent of the items discussed.” Exasperated, the Pope answered, “Yes, but we were talking about the Ten Commandments.”

In in Springfield, Missouri, a number of years ago, a politician was speaking to a large gathering: “So, in conclusion,” he proclaimed, “My opponent has been lying to you and stealing you blind for eight long years. Now, it’s time to give me a chance.”

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men:
…whether to the king, as the supreme authority, …or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. It just doesn’t seem possible that we hear those words coming from the Bible. We are shocked that it is Peter, loud mouthed Peter, rebellious Peter, head of the Church, Peter, who writes those words. Peter’s own words to the Sanhedrin answer this: Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. (Acts 4:19) A Christian is law-abiding, meticulous, and self-disciplined, but with limits.

The Christians in the early Church were accused by a lot of different groups of not being supportive of the government. As later historians write most of that untruth came as a result of fear from small groups that felt they would lose their power or influence to a rapidly growing group. No doubt Peter knew that the Church’s best defense was to answer with a good life.

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” (1 Sam 8:6)

It was a wonderful master plan that God had in mind for His people. They would honor the Ten Commandments and there would be no need for any other Laws. They wouldn’t have to have a government to build roads and protect the people. In a community that is giving, and gives their brothers and sisters the very best, has all of these things and more. And God would protect the innocent.

Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. (Rom 13:1)

What Paul is saying is that we honor God by being submissive to the government. However, God holds the government accountable for its actions.
In other words the government leader will be held to a higher standard then the citizen. Our Western legal tradition takes the form of a hierarchy of laws.
Local laws must defer to higher and wider laws. The highest law of all, is God’s law.

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him. (Mark 12:14)

Part of our western thought betrays us. The United States is one of the few places in the world where the Church (mostly Protestant Churches) allow the state flag to be in God’s House. The reason for that is to make a clear distinction between Church and State. Americans are the ones filled with the most pride about our separation of Church and State and yet we are the ones that blur the two more than any place else.

I was visiting an elderly gentleman one day. I asked him, “Do you love God?” “I love my country,” was his response. “But do you love God?” “I fought in the war to keep our nation free.”

Part of the difficulty with the Jewish people was that their politics and their faith were one in the same. Jesus offered deliverance from sin, they wanted political freedom. As much as we love our nation and are grateful for the advantages and privileges that we have, our love of God is to be supreme. When we allow our government and our patriotism to define our God we lose sight of who God really is. Benjamin Franklin once said, The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: “that God governs in the affairs of men.” And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?

In any legal system, it is possible to point to laws ranging from mildly unjust to callously inhuman. Such laws should produce a feeling of outrage. Such laws should be challenged and change sought. It is the Christians responsibility as part of that government to seek the change.