Sharing the love of Jesus with one another & the world

Author: Jim Clayton (Page 1 of 3)

Despised and Rejected

I suspect there are very few of you reading Jim Class this month who haven’t seen the movie, “Home Alone.” If you haven’t, and you were here, I would tell you as I used to tell my friend Jason, “We’re getting it!” And off to Blockbuster we would go.

Just in case (spoiler alert), it is the story of a young boy who gets left home by mistake while his family leaves for Europe over the Christmas Holiday. A couple of bad guys torment him, but he gets the better of them in the end.

The part of the story that relates to my topic this month is Kevin’s (the boy in the story) next door neighbor “Old Man” Marley. Urban legend held that Marley was a brutal serial killer known as, “The South Bend Shovel Slayer.” He killed his victims with a snow shovel and put them in garbage cans full of salt.

He was, because of the rumors, deemed to be unapproachable, and scary. These rumors coupled with his family estrangement and hermitic lifestyle made Marley seem more ominous than he really was. Ultimately, because of lies and rumors (which are usually synonymous) he was despised by his neighbors.

This rings true in other works of fiction as well: Dennis the Menace’s neighbor, Mr. Wilson. The old man played by Ed Asner (to whom my friend Jason can also relate) in “Up,” and the curmudgeonly Ben Weaver who was the owner of Weaver’s five and dime in Mayberry.  

There were urban legends such as these in my childhood, “The Lost Forest” being the most memorable for me. “The Lost Forest” was a patch of woods behind the house at the end of the cul de sac where I lived in Avon, Indiana, from kindergarten to 2nd grade.

This was actually the same house I mentioned in an earlier blog where we would do power-slides on our stingray bikes into the driveway (or soft grass next to the driveway in my case).

Back to the woods. As we got deeper into these woods, there was a tall, skinny, scraggly, gray tree with hardly any branches or leaves on it, that was shaped like the letter “L”. So, because we were so far away from home (probably a hundred yards at least) we deemed this section of the woods, “The Lost Forest,” (L is for Lost).

The incident I recall most vividly was the day we actually came to the end of “The Lost Forest.” We came to an old wire fence that was bent and rusted, which marked the border of a field that was a pasture to a herd of cattle. We approached the fence, as closely as a bunch of suburbanites in tennis shoes dared, when it happened! A bull began charging (more like loping toward) the fence, and we ran. We ran as fast as we could, screaming cliché’s like, “Run for your life!” and “Stampede!

My brother lost one of his tennis shoes and I, the brave older brother, stopped to retrieve it so that he wouldn’t get in trouble.

We were convinced the bull would knock that chintzy fence down, lower its head, and gouge each of us with its razor sharp horn – just like the bull in the Bugs Bunny episode where Bugs became a matador.

And, from that day forward we were convinced that the farmer who owned that cattle hated kids and that bull was his child-hunting pet trained to ram small boys with its horns. This was a farmer we never met, never saw, and knew nothing about!

Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from him; he was despised, and we did not esteem him. (NKJV)

I realize that I took a rather circuitous route to get to that verse, but I wanted to get you all thinking about people in your lives whom you have misjudged. Not to create guilt or condemnation, but empathy and understanding – empathy and understanding for what Jesus went through. The one person who we can clearly say never intentionally harmed one single person and was accused of the most heinous of crimes – He was truly despised.  

The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon defines despised this way, “to trample with feet.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible says, “to despise or regard with contempt.”

Think about those definitions. This is how Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was thought of by not only the political leaders of His day, but also the religious leaders, whom we have commonly heard referred to as The Pharisees.

But that is the crux of the story of the Bible. Salvation. Man being reunited with God through the one perfect sacrifice. The Lamb of God. The Savior of the World. The one who was, who is, and who is to come – Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

In the Book of John alone there are multiple references to the Pharisees seeking to kill Jesus. From John chapter five to John chapter seven, three chapters, killing Jesus is mentioned six times. Six times! And He had only just begun His earthly ministry.

There are also references to Jesus changing His travel habits (John 4:1, 7:9, 11:54), references to threats to stone Him (John 8:59), and the sending out of a group of soldiers to arrest Him (John 7:45, 10:39). He was also accused of being demon possessed (John 7:20, 8:45, 10:20).

The part that often gets overlooked is this. On several of those occasions Jesus said, or it was referenced, that His time had not yet come (John 2:4, 7:6, 7:30). The reference in John 2 happened at the Wedding in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine, but the idea being conveyed is the same – He would decide His own fate.

These are just references from the Book of John. There are others, but I think I have made my point. There are a couple of telltale statements made by Jesus that support the idea that He went to the cross willingly: John 12:23But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. (NKJV)

Following this statement in John, we see the last supper, the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and eventual resurrection of Jesus. But during His prayer in the Garden, He makes another reference to His own willingness to go to the cross: Matthew 26:39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (NKJV)

The next thing Jesus did was subject Himself to possibly the most horrible treatment any human has ever endured. There are publications by medical professionals that describe the horrific physical torture Jesus went through. There are diagrams and details that I don’t wish to belabor here.

But those wounds He suffered, the whip marks, the piercing with a crown of thorns, the nails driven into His hands and feet, were for you! Whether you believe it or not, He did so. He could rescue you and have a personal relationship with you. He was despised and rejected for you.

If you have longed for a relationship with Jesus and been hesitant, if you had at one point followed Him but have drifted away, hat promise He made on the cross still holds true.

Pray this simple prayer, “Father, please forgive me. I am sorry. I believe that Jesus did these things for me. I want to have a new life as a Christian. I accept Jesus as my Lord and savior and want to live for Him. In Jesus Name, Amen.”

That’s what Easter is all about. New Life. If you prayed that prayer, let me know. Send me a personal message on Facebook or let me know in the comments.

Jesus was despised and died for the very people who despised Him.

Hence the reason for my mention of “Home Alone” at the opening of Jim Class. Keven McCallister felt as though he had received salvation at the end of “Home Alone” when Mr. Marley – the one the community rejected – rescued him from the wet bandits with the very snow shovel he was purported to have murdered people with!

Unity or Boldness?

I know it’s been a few weeks since I have written, but I am going to shift to a less frequent publishing regimen. I will continue with at least one blog a month, and possibly two – but no more.

My schedule has picked up as we have entered the next phase of step-down in our state. That means I can do limited one-on-one meetings at some facilities (hospitals, nursing homes, long term care). The requirements are very stringent, but I will do what it takes to get back in touch with people.

But that leaves less time for crafting blogs – (at least that’s what I call it).

To the point – I was struggling with what to write in this period of Jim Class. I kept waffling between Unity and Boldness and finally realized – “I can do both!” Hence, my title!

As a general rule I have rarely been accused of being shy or reserved – or even quiet, for that matter. As I began to put some thoughts down on paper and look into the concepts of unity and boldness, I realized that the two may be intrinsically linked.

Concepts of unity abound. There’s the idea of loyalty to a person, a team, or a cause that comes up when unity is mentioned. Also, the opposite side of unity – “If you don’t agree with me, you’re not my friend!”

Under those guidelines we are faced with the possibility of having to choose between a strongly held belief or moral code and our best friend – the one I became blood brothers with – down by the creek – using a dull, Boy Scout pocketknife.

Reminiscing about those loyalties I had with friends in my childhood – swinging on a rope across the raging river (really a trickling creek that was barely ankle deep), or riding my Schwinn Gold Crate at break-neck speed (hesitantly, while applying a bit of pressure on the brakes) and doing a power slide into the driveway (really, it was a slow lay-down in the soft grass next to the driveway) at the end of the cul-de-sac – brought me to a bit of a revelation.

Unity may not always reside with those to whom you are loyal!

That’s when I realized – if I want to keep my friends and my core beliefs – I have to be bold. My concept of loyalty typically falls to a person (although I am loyal to Extra-Crunchy Jif peanut butter and Red Wing work boots). Unity, in my estimation, is with an idea, a code, or, more specifically, a moralistic choice based on a large overarching doctrine – like religion, education, or politics.

I am not bold enough to cover all three of those topics in one blog, but I will cover one – religion – more specifically, Christianity.

Hebrews 4: 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (NKJV)

I have heard many wise and seasoned ministers say, “If the Bible says “therefore” you better stop and see what it’s ‘there for!’”

The implication with this verse is that the conditions set forth for Christians to “come boldly to the throne of grace,” are stipulated in the previous verses of Hebrews chapter four. So, let’s take a look at this verse in context.

Hebrews 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (NKJV)

The idea that unity and boldness are “intrinsically linked” can be shown to be true with a closer look at a statement made in verse 14, “Let us hold fast our confession.”

There are two critical elements that can be lifted from this portion of the verse. First the phrase “Let us” implies that the author (many believe it to be the Apostle Paul) is addressing a group of people in which he is included, and that group of people should “hold fast” their “confession.”

Who is the target audience of this letter we call “Hebrews?”

There is much debate over, not only who wrote the letter of Hebrews, but also over who the intended audience was. Some say it was written to the Christians in Jerusalem and others say to the Christians in Rome.

There is also a group that believes the letter was written to be read across a wide swath of Christianity like other of Paul’s writings along with John’s first epistle and the Book of James.

Dr. Christopher R. Smith, pastor, theologian, and biblical scholar, addressed the authorship of Hebrews in his blog, “Good Question, Reflections on Questions About the Bible,” where he stated, “All of the biblical documents arise out of real-life experiences of communities of believers.”

Debate and discussion over these topics can be intriguing and even invigorating, but for the purposes of Jim Class let’s rest on the idea that, regardless of the author’s intentions, the Book of Hebrews holds many valuable insights for all Christians. Hence, it’s entrance into the Holy Canon of Scripture!

That being said, it is clear to me that all Christians can benefit from a better understanding of “holding fast our confession,” and learning to “come boldly to the throne of grace.”

Now that we have that cleared up, my point is that this group of people (Christians – en masse) need to unify on something – and that something can be found in whatever this “confession” is. That is where I want to go.

The word confession, (translated “profession” in other translations) as used in Hebrews 4:14, is the Greek word, homologeo (ha-ma-LA-gay-o). It is a compound word made up of the words, homo and logos. According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (entry G3670) homo means, “the same” and logos means “words or speech.”  

A basic translation of “let us hold fast to our confession” is, “let us hold tightly to the things that we are saying, that are the same.” The Good News Translation of the Bible puts it this way, “Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

These things that we are saying are heard by our “High Priest,” Jesus. The author goes on to mention the things that tend to be hindrances to the target audience – Christians. Specifically, verse 15 identifies temptations, weaknesses, and sin as issues that must be addressed before we come boldly to the throne of grace.

My understanding of mentioning these things is that Jesus knows there are things in our lives that we aren’t proud of or things that can cause us to feel condemned or embarrassed to even approach Him.

But if we look to Romans chapter 8, we can see that Christians – endeavoring to serve God faithfully to the best of their abilities – need not suffer from condemnation.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (NKJV)

This idea can easily be seen to go hand in hand with Hebrews 4:15, which is a list of things that could easily create some level of condemnation. And, as a result make a person less than confident to approach our savior. So, in order to reinforce the idea that we are not condemned, we need to be bold with what we bring to Him.

Finally, what do we need to be bold with? What we say. That begs the question, “What, specifically, to we need to be saying?”

Simply – God’s Word. We need to put Him in remembrance of what He promised. Not because He forgot, but as a demonstration of our faith and He told us to – to show that we believe what He said.

Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins. 26 Put Me in remembrance; Let us contend together; State your case, that you may be acquitted. (NKJV)

We may not all like Extra Crunchy Jif or Red Wing shoes (why, I don’t know), but as Christians we must agree on the Word of God and walk in the truths laid out there for us.

When we become unified in what we say – based on God’s Word, we will see a boldness like we never have and need desperately. So, take this as your bold confession.

“I am the head and not the tail, I am above and not beneath (Deuteronomy 28:13). I can come confidently to the Throne of Grace and declare God’s Word (Hebrews 4:16) He will hear me, and He will answer me (Jeremiah 33:3) and show me His loving kindness (Ephesians 2:7) all the days of my life.”

“What Did You Just Say?”

I have heard the phrase “What did you just say?” used in several different contexts.

My first recollection is of an authority figure (trust me, there were many who used this tactic with me) in my life calling me to task for having used inappropriate language, or after I called someone a name. It was meant to be a reprimand and was often a standalone form of discipline that brought me to my senses and made me realize that I had not been paying attention to who might be listening.

Other times I’ve heard someone ask “What did you just say?” because they wanted clarification on a statement, or they were in a noisy room and didn’t fully understand what was said.  

Finally, I have heard it in the context in which I am going to use it in Jim Class this week. When someone who is believed to be in a certain position, or is supposed to believe a certain way, makes a comment that is so counter to what he would be expected to say, every head in the room turns, every mouth stands agape, and all eyes as are wide open because they are so astonished.

“Did he really just say that?”

“I never thought I would hear those words come out of her mouth!”

There are statements that have caused me to turn my head over the years. And, dependent on which phase of life I was in, my response would vary.

Before I was a Christian, before my spirit was renewed to God, I would hear a radical statement or profanity in a context that it had not been used in before, and I would cheer and jump on the rebellion bus with that brave soul taking a stand for freedom.

When I was a child the word “pregnant” couldn’t be said on television. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would review and “censor” every script to make sure it was suitable to be heard by all audiences.

Instead of being pregnant with “Little” Ricky, Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) was “expecting” or “with child.”

Rob and Laura Petrie had to sleep in separate beds (so did Lucy and Ricky) because impressionable children were watching – and television was not the grand arbiter of all things. There was still a sense that children should learn at home, from their parents. They (whoever they were) were right!

I remember when I began noticing a shift in the attitude toward, not what was decent and right, but toward – “I don’t want to do it that way!”“I want to do it my way, so by golly, I’m going to!”

In the early 1970s I started hearing cuss words on TV. It began “small” but grew into more and more words being allowed and people were shocked. My “Lawrence Welk Watching” Grandmother (who, by the way, prayed me into the Kingdom) would turn off the television if she heard so much as a “darn.”

I, on the other hand, would turn the TV up and begin watching the show that was responsible – “religiously.”

There were many households across America that I am sure could have been heard shouting a thunderous cacophony of, “What did you just say?” Unfortunately, this chorus of displeasure fell on deaf ears – actually – no ears, as technology had not – and still hasn’t (as far as we know) – reached that level of interaction.

There were two venues that highly influenced me – comedy record albums and Saturday Night Live (SNL). I memorized George Carlin (who was the first guest host on SNL) and Cheech and Chong albums. I could literally quote them verbatim.

One time my friends and I decided we would record ourselves doing a Cheech and Chong routine (“Ashley Roachclip”). He was a pot smoking ad man who got more and more stoned as his commercial, which advertised a particular type of marijuana, went on. He also got forgetful and frustrated which led to anger and profanity (the worst words you can think of).

We had it down. The voices, the accents, the ability to sound stoned (don’t ask how I knew that one). And, to make matters worse, we recorded ourselves. We put on the headphones and mimicked what we heard into a table-top cassette recorder in my friend’s bedroom.

He came and stayed all-night at my house that night because there was family visiting who needed his room. The next day when we went back to his house and much to our surprise, when we walked into the back door (typical entry point in those days) – his entire family – mom, dad, aunts, uncles, cousins, and dogs were all sitting around the kitchen table laughing uproariously.

We look at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and proceeded to his room. As we were leaving the kitchen, we realized that they were listening to us! His aunt and uncle has slept in his room and evidently found, and listened to, our performance. And felt the need to share it with the rest of the family, f-bombs, and all!

When we realized what they were listening to, we expected to hear, “What did you just say?”  But the fact that they found it funny and complimented us on how creative we were (they didn’t know we were just copying Mr. Marin and Mr. Chong) only reinforced the idea that that type of language was okay.

During that era, 1972-1975, suggestive (and not so suggestive) language began migrating its way onto the television sets of America. SNL was where I heard it and began to emulate it even more. It was primarily the antics and language of Dan Ackroyd that influenced me – from the refrigerator repairman exposing himself to the Weekend Update anchor calling Jane Curtain a name I had never heard uttered on television before, and it’s now commonplace.

Mark 11:22 So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. 23 For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. (NKJV)

I believe there is a correlation here to the words we use. There is a word in this passage that I want to focus on. Whatever. The word whatever is a “conditional particle” in the Greek language. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, G1437.)

It is conditional based on something that is yet to happen, and indefinite based on the idea that what influences the outcome has not yet occurred. In Mark 11:24 the condition is something spoken, “you will have whatever you say.”  The saying, or speaking has not yet happened; therefore the outcome hasn’t happened yet.

I have preached on the subject of controlling what we say, or watching our mouths, many times over the years. But this one word, “whatever” often gets overlooked. If you recall the decade of the 1980s you will recall that the word “whatever” became possibly the most overused word of that era.

The implication with the word “whatever” (which may be coming the most overused word in this blog) implies something can go in multiple directions. If you say something good, there is a possibility of swaying the outcome the same way, and if you say something bad, the reverse is true.

Hypochondria (Illness Anxiety Disorder/Somatic System Disorder) is a good example of having what one says. People with these conditions present and have no symptoms at all, but over time continue to insist that something is wrong.

Over this same period of time, because of the stress and anxiety that develops around the perceived symptoms, victims of these disorders actually do begin exhibiting some of the original signs. (1998-2020 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER))

If we look at the verses from Mark 11, we see that someone with the symptoms of Illness Anxiety Disorder “says” something, “believes” something, and eventually develops something (whatever they say and believe).

I believe the church – the Christian Church Universal – has developed a problem which borders on Illness Anxiety Disorder. I believe we need to be hearing the phrase – “What did you just say?”  – a lot more in Christian circles.

The idea that we can “have what we say,” is very obvious among Christians and this should not be so! We have to reign in our tongues and get them to align with what the Word of God says, not what the world, or mainstream media, or “Hollywood” want us to say, or what they say our “rights” are – but what God wants us to tell the world. The message of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Thanksgiving and Christmas

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

This is how Charles Dickens opens his classic piece, “A Tale of Two Cities.” Although he published it 161 years ago (1859) in England, it rings true for the time we are currently living in. And, not just in England, but all over the world. I, however, will focus on The United States of America.

Parents all over this great land have used some form of the phrase, “If you don’t straighten up, there will be no Christmas this year!” or “Santa doesn’t visit naughty boys and girls!” And I assure you, I have heard both on several occasions (even as early as July).

It seems that 2020 has become “the age of foolishness” when we need it to be “the epoch of belief.”

There are actually media personalities and politicians across the country calling for the “cancelation” of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Ah, “the age of foolishness” has finally been realized.

I, for one, am glad they are saying these things. Not because I believe either Thanksgiving or Christmas should (or can) be canceled, but because I hope that the lunacy of these statements will open the eyes of the people and make them realize where they are putting their hope.

Thanksgiving is not just a holiday full of gluttony and football. It is a time of the year where we remember what we have to be thankful for, regardless of the hard times or difficulties we are facing.

James 1:2 My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. (TPT)

I chose to use The Passion Translation because of the phrase, “it stirs up power within you to endure all things.” Other translations refer to the testing of our faith producing stamina or endurance. Those statements are true, but I am convinced that we can’t persevere to the point of producing stamina without some form of power.

I also find it interesting that those who are calling for the cancelation of these holidays are actually using the term Thanksgiving and Christmas when those of their ilk are the primary advocates of the elimination of those terms.

Why are they saying we should cancel, “The Happy Holidays?”

Because it is attack on what is Christian. There are many in the media and politics that are not just non-Christian, they are anti-Christian! So, any opportunity to turn the masses against something they are against, they will use. See the hypocrisy?

Jesus warned us that trouble would come in John 13:8. He spoke of persecution as well.

John 16:29 Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. (NKJV)

But instead of recognizing that our Savior warned us these times would come, we tend to buy into the news of trouble as if it takes precedent over what scripture says, and it absolutely does not!

Thanksgiving and Christmas are not the holidays that big money retail establishments have made them out to be. They are also not what we supposed them to be based on the commercialization that has developed in the wake of this retail push.  

Christmas is the time that we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. If you don’t celebrate that birth, if you don’t believe that birth took place, or if you believe that Jesus was just a good man like all other good men, why do you celebrate Christmas at all?

The word Christmas itself tells us what it is really all about, Christ – a reference to Jesus, and mas – a reference to mass or a service. What we should be doing is celebrating Jesus birth at church. That is what Christmas is all about.

The gift giving began with the wise men bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus when he was likely two years old. It wasn’t even at His birth. Therefore, the gift giving aspect of Christmas is off by a couple of years. They were celebrating the fact that the Messiah had been born, but the gifts went to Jesus not everybody who happened to be breathing.

Over the years I have attempted several times to make Christmas more reverential, more Christian oriented. So, I purchased gifts with Christian meanings. Books, Bibles, tapes/CD’s, or other Christian related items.

I made all my purchases at Christian bookstores and was really pleased that I made that choice (I’m still pleased). But the recipients of the gifts were not as pleased. No one said anything derogatory, or refused to accept the presents, but there were obvious looks of disappointment when they were opened.

Friends and family, for the most part, were slump shouldered and crestfallen when they saw what I got them. I did this as early as 1985. That is a clear sign that the meaning of Christmas has been lost for some time.

I also remember many Christmases as a child where I got big gifts, and plenty of toys and was thrilled. But at the same time if I got socks, or underwear, or soap-on-a-rope, I was as disappointed as the recipients of my Christian related gifts.

That means for at least 60 years (yes, that’s my age) Christmas has not had the meaning or impact is should or could be having. As I sit and ponder how some mortals think they have the power to cancel Thanksgiving or Christmas, I am reminded of another literary giant – Theodore Geisel (it may be a clue if I told you his middle name was Seuss).

He put it pretty well when he addressed the subject of the commercialization of Christmas and those (one in particular) who didn’t want it to happen. Through all his wrangling and manipulation, the Grinch (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1957) stood on a mountain and saw an amazing sight.

“Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, was singing! Without any presents at all! He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

Use that as a reminder that these holidays cannot be stopped. There is too much behind their meanings (especially Christmas) to stop them. And remember, the original meanings are steeped in things that happened hundreds and even thousands of years ago. Or, we could observe, as the Grinch did,

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

“Which Came First?”

I have a proverbial, “which came first” scenario to consider this week in Jim Class. But it has nothing to do with fowl or ova. We will make a connection with our own psyche – our mind – our will. And our emotions will be put to the test as we ponder, “Which Came first?”

From the time I was a small boy my favorite cookies have been peanut butter and chocolate no-bakes. You know – the ones that mom made in a big steel pot on the stove-top – and then spooned out the chocolatey concoction onto waxed paper -which had been spread neatly over the countertop or table (hopefully both).

If I were lucky, I got to lick the spoon and clean out the pan. Better yet, you got a spoonful of the delicious gooiness as she was sliding them off the spoon, with her ungloved finger, onto the waiting parchment.

I recall a couple of incidents where I only got to lick the spoon and mom gave me strict instructions, “Don’t eat any of these until they set up!” Meaning I wouldn’t get one while it was hot and gooey. Needless to say, I had an incident or two where I didn’t wait!

One time I snuck in and took a couple from the waxed paper – in spite of my mother’s warning. It wasn’t long before I heard my full and proper name echoing from the kitchen, followed by, “You get in here right now!

As nonchalantly as a nine-year-old could pull off, I entered the kitchen and put on my best fake innocent-look. You know the one, eyes wide opened while feigning a look of confusion – arms outstretched, palms upward – while uttering a feeble, “What mom?” Trying to pull off the, “Why in the world would you interrupt the ever important Cowboy Bob cartoon program?” defense.

In all her motherly perceptiveness, she didn’t buy it. She simply stood – pointing at the two brown spots on her waxed paper – the evidence I had left. I was busted!

The next time (yes there was a next time) I tore off the wax paper where the brown spots were. My ploy failed just as miserably. From the, “James Mitchell Clayton the second” to the unconvincing act of innocence. This time it was followed by a comparison on how the blade on the waxed paper box makes a nice, neat tear and I did not.

The point is – before I heard my name being called – before I was called on the carpet (or linoleum in this case) – I knew I had done something wrong. I was feeling pangs of guilt and remorse before I heard my name. Hearing my name simply drove home the idea, “I was a bad boy!” I also knew consequences were coming (in this instance I got none of this batch).  I want to zero in on those guilt pangs this week. Which came first – the sin or the guilt?

Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (NKJV)

This is one of the verses I have read and quote often. I go to Romans 8 in an effort to reassure myself (an often overlooked benefit of time in the Bible) that the condemnation I sometimes grapple with has been taken care of by the blood of Jesus. I need convincing from time-to-time. Why do I feel this sense of guilt and remorse when I sin?

I don’t want to give you the impression that I am a rampant sinner, but there are things that I do that I know I shouldn’t from time to time (See Jim Class Period – 6). If we read further into Romans 8 we begin to get a picture of why we are conditioned to guilt as a default mode.

Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (NKJV)

We, as humans, are prone to a sense of law and order. There are rules to follow. When we follow the rules there are rewards – pay raises – good grades – pats on the back. When we don’t follow them there are consequences – detention – loss of privileges – physical harm – guilt.  

We are inundated with this concept from an early age. They are inherent in nearly every aspect of “civilized” society. From the first time we hear, “NO-NO!” as infants, to not getting a snack in daycare for being restless during nap-time.

From childhood to our teen years – from early adulthood to old age – there are systems in place that convey the message – “Don’t mess up!” Depending on our age and the severity of the “mess up,” the penalty can go from a spanking to a grounding, or from a traffic ticket to jail time. All of these punishments can, and usually do, come with a free side-order of condemnation.

The answer to my question – which came first – the sin or the guilt, is the sin. Without sin there would be no guilt. We see this played out perfectly in The Book of Beginnings.

Genesis 3:8 “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (NKJV)

We don’t see Adam or Eve hiding from God prior to this. The only logical explanation is that there was no sin before this. Every translation I saw says they “hid.” 

When we know we are facing punishment, we do all we can to avoid it. Guilt causes our avoidant behavior. Guilt we would not experience had we not done something we shouldn’t have.

Romans 8:2 “For the “law” of the Spirit of life flowing through the anointing of Jesus has liberated us from the “law” of sin and death.” (TPT)

I like the way Romans 8:2 reads in The Passion Translation. There are two things that come from knowing Jesus – The Spirit and the anointing – which is the application of The Spirit.

Anointing means to, “rub or smear on,” like lotion (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, H4886). The implication in the New Testament is that, as Christians, the anointing is a feature of the New Birth.

“Therein lies the rub!” (To deliberately cash in on the pun.) What is keeping us from accessing this anointing – the use of the Holy Spirit – the intimacy that is implied?

The barrier most Christians face lies in the second half of Romans 8:2. “The law of sin and death.” Once sin entered the picture, mankind began seeking ways to escape it. Some of these means were provided by God, but not necessarily used in the manner in which He prescribed.

All it takes is two words to demonstrate the problem. The Law. We are conditioned to “The Law.” But the law we are conditioned to is, “The Law of Sin and Death.” The law that carries guilt and shame doles out condemnation and fear “like Carter does liver pills.”

We are preprogrammed to respond to sin through condemnation. It is our default mode. It has been ingrained in every society known to man, and it has been manipulated by tyrants since The Fall.

There is a new law. an alternate law. “The law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.” And, as we see in Romans 8, it sets us free from the other law.

Why are we not accessing it the way we should?

Why are we still resorting to self-loathing and misery when we don’t have to?

Paul answers both of those questions a few chapters later.

Romans 12:2 “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (NKJV)

Christians are not renewing their minds with the Word of God as they should. They are not reading their Bibles as they should. Don’t let this bring more guilt – let it be freeing. Use it as a realization that there is something you can do. Go to the source – God’s Word. The answers are there – like a hot gooey cookie sitting on wax paper. It’s yours for the taking – with no guilt and no condemnation.

“What Grace is Not!”

Acts 14:1 When Paul and Barnabas arrived at Iconium, the same thing happened there. They went, as they always did, to the synagogue and preached to the people with such power that a large crowd of both Jews and non-Jews believed. Some of the Jews refused to believe, and they began to poison the minds of the non-Jews to discredit the believers. Yet Paul and Barnabas stayed there for a long time, preaching boldly and fearlessly about the Lord. Many trusted in the Lord, for he backed up his message of grace with miracles, signs, and wonders performed by the apostles. (The Passion Translation)

I’m sure some of you have a memory of things prior to August 6, 1945. I’m not going to crack a bunch of “old” jokes – I am going to set the stage for Jim Class this week.

August 6th was the day the first atomic bomb exploded on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, also in Japan. This essentially ended World War II, but at what cost?

It was Japan that attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941(“a day that will live in infamy.”) which ultimately resulted in the entrance of the USA into WWII. But were the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the only way to end things? (A thought for us all to contemplate.)

I want you to think about something that isn’t usually brought up in discussions about WWII. Think about the meaning and understanding of the word explosion and bomb. Think about how the meaning of those words changed on August 6, 1945. There was a complete shift in the meaning of the word explosion, and how people viewed “bombing.”

Foreign policy completely changed in the world once that type of devastation was witnessed. Many say the cold war began in earnest when people realized the level of destruction mankind had potentially reached. The most powerful countries in the world, from that day forward, became the ones with nuclear capabilities.

The point I want to make is that when the Jewish people heard the word grace applied in the way that Paul used it toward God, it was like a bomb going off.

They had never had a personal relationship with God, and they didn’t understand Him to be approachable. Everything changedwith Jesus.

They no longer had to go through the rabbi or the priest or any other clergy to have contact with God – clergy still played a vital role in the life of a Christian, but God’s people could go directly to Him on their own.

The people of Paul’s day were amazed that God was approachable, that He wanted to have contact with His people, and that there was access to Him. Following the Day of Pentecost and the missional movement of God’s people in the first century church, the word grace began to take on a new meaning.

Have you ever done something that you knew you shouldn’t have done? And worst of all, your mom knew, and you knew the next time you saw her you were going to get it!

So, you avoided her as long as you possibly could. You stayed after school longer than you needed, you took the long way home, and you stopped along the way – throwing rocks and kicking cans – just to avoid the inevitable confrontation that you knew was coming.

You went in the backdoor and snuck into your bedroom, put on your headphones, and cranked some Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, or Black Sabbath – Oh, wait, that’s what I did. (I’m sure those of you reading Jim Class this week went straight to God and asked forgiveness and then went and confessed everything to your parents.)

But that moment came when you couldn’t put it off any longer and you had to meet her face to face – all you had done by avoiding her was increase your anxiety level, which made it all the harder to approach her. But when you finally got up the nerve to even be in the same room, all she did was give you a big hug and tell you she loved you and not to do it again.

It was like a “grace” bomb went off. All the anxiety and stress simply melted away in the loving arms of your mother. And the echo of her loving words, “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” warmed you and help to steel your resolve.

That is exactly what God does when we confess our sins (the woman caught in adultery, John 8:1-11). This woman thought that she was going to die. She knew the law, whether she was Jewish or not, she knew the penalty for what she was doing. But Jesus said, I love you, don’t let it happen again.

John 8:11 And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go [k]and sin no more.” (NKJV)

That is grace experienced. That is God giving us a big hug, and telling us he loves us and not to do it again!

Grace is not a license to sin!

Too many times we take the, “Oh, there’s grace for that – I can do whatever I want as long as I’m a Christian” attitude.   

I know God is a forgiving God and that he sent Jesus to die in my place, so my sins don’t ruin me. But there is that little matter of repentance (turn around, make a change). He told the woman caught in adultery, go and sin no more.

Using God’s grace as a license to sin can be very revealing. I can show how, at times,  Christians may not know who God really is (depending on the situation, we all face this from time to time) and, as a result, don’t fully understand what He has done for them.

If you are a Christian and you don’t know God very well, you need to take the time to get to know Him, through His Word and time spent in prayer and meditation, and in fellowship with other Christians.  Then you can get a better understanding of what He has truly done for you, and what grace truly is.

Grace is not a license to sin; it is freedom from sin!

Acts 14: 1 The same thing happened in Iconium. Paul and Barnabas went to the Jewish synagogue and preached with such power that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. Some of the Jews, however, spurned God’s message and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas. But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord. And the Lord proved their message was true by giving them power to do miraculous signs and wonders. (The New Living Translation)

Arriving at an understanding of what God’s grace is doesn’t happen overnight.

But the apostles stayed there a long time, preaching boldly about the grace of the Lord.” (Acts 14:3, NLT)

Verse three of Acts 14 tells us that the apostles stayed and preached this message for a while. That they were bold in their words concerning the grace of God.

This is likely because of the newness of what they were hearing. I believe that when the message of grace – “God’s unmerited favor” – began to spread it was truly like an explosion.

That explosion, carried by word of mouth and through the scriptures, not the splitting of the atom or the manipulation of hydrogen, brings life and hope in a way that could have only been accomplished through the cross of Jesus Christ!  

Marriage and the Bathroom

Surely, Jim Class isn’t going to contain bathroom humor this week?

He wouldn’t resort to that would he?

The answers to both of those questions are yes. But to clarify the last one, it isn’t really a last resort or some desperate attempt to gain readership or grow the church. It just works with the topic.

I don’t think I could even begin to put a number on the hours of pre-marital counseling I have conducted. I have officiated close to a hundred weddings. I usually have couples attend four to six sessions of about an hour each (there are exceptions and difficulties that have lessened those numbers, but rarely).

On top of that, I worked as an associate pastor at one church where I did all of the premarital counseling for the entire staff, whether I actually conducted the wedding or not (due to the fact that I have a number of years working in the mental health field).  

That means that throughout my 22 years of ministry and through my time working as a liaison for the court system at a marriage and family therapy clinic, I have read many books, attended countless seminars, was enrolled in several  classes, and received a number of certifications in the area of marriage and family counseling.

When I read the Bible or other Christian publications with a message that relates to this area, my ears perk up. I’m always looking for new ideas, good object lessons, and unique ways to incorporate Biblical principles in an attempt to enhance my counseling sessions.  

I have recently sent my curriculum off to a publisher for review, but I am still looking for new ideas, and recently I found one. It was in daily devotional series that I use called, “Sparkling Gems from the Greek” by Rick Renner.

I have read many of Brother Renner’s books, articles, and watched or listened to a countless number of his sermons. From my perspective, he has one of the best grasps of the Greek language, particularly as it pertains to the New Testament, of any modern Greek scholar.

On the 13th of October Renner referred to the following verse:

I Peter 3:8 Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: (NKJV)

As he expounded on this verse, he revealed some very eye-opening and insightful tidbits concerning the word compassion. Which led me to the inspiration for today’s Jim Class.

As I work with couples on planning a marriage (the wedding is a very small part of the marriage), I broach the subject of differences and difficulties they might encounter early on in their married life. And the bathroom does come up.

I talk about courtesy in the little things, like rolling the toothpaste up from the end as opposed to squeezing it in the middle, or putting the toilet seat down, and the maybe most dubious faux pas of all, deciding with way the toilet paper should come off the roll – over or under?

All of these bathroom disagreements have led to tension in marriages. Hopefully they have been overcome, but they can still create unwanted moments if they aren’t anticipated and effectively dealt with.

As you have likely deduced, these are not the subjects that inspired me this week as it is obvious that I have dealt with them many times in the past, long before I read the Sparkling Gem from the 13th.

The word that I am inspired by this week is pitiful. This is a word that we have all used from time to time, usually in the context of having sympathy or empathy for a given person or group of people. And, that is an accurate use of the word, particularly in the Greek rather than the English etymology. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, eusplagchnos, G2155)

The word pitiful is a compound word in the Greek and Renner pulled out a much “deeper” meaning than I had ever heard before. The first word is “eu” and means well or good or pleased about something. The second part of the word is “splagchnos,” and is the part of the word I want to discuss with you this week. (Sparkling Gems from the Greek, Rick Renner, October 13th entry.)

The word “splagchnos” is the word for “intestines” (Renner and Strong’s). Renner expounded on the word more than Strong. He said that is used to describe deeply felt affections.

This is the same word that Paul uses to describe his feeling for Onesimus in Philemon 1:12 and that is used in reference to Jesus when he felt “compassion” in Matthew 14”14, 15:32, and Mark 1:41and other places in the Bible. These references translate the word as pitiful and as compassion, but it is the same Greek word, “eusplagchnos,” (Renner).

Here comes the bathroom reference. These feelings of compassion referenced using this word “eusplagchnos” are so strong within a person toward another, that it can be said to resemble an urgent bowel movement (Renner).

The takeaway is this, that the desire to help in a given situation is so strong that a person would have to try very hard to ignore this intense, inward desire.

I don’t mean to be gross or irreverent, but we all know what would happen if we began ignoring what our physical bodies are telling us when it is time to “hit the head,” or “powder one’s nose,” or even, “use the restroom,’ – there could very well be dire consequences.

Let’s stop here and reflect. In this section of scripture, Peter is talking to husbands and wives. The focus of his use of the word “eusplagchnos” is directed at married couples. Meaning we should be having this strong, deep felt desire to do good toward the one we are married to, and not leave it undone.

The ramifications of ignoring spiritual urgings could also be dire (especially in a marriage relationship). Someone may miss the opportunity to hear the life changing message of Jesus Christ. Another might not get the counsel they need in a difficult circumstance, or may not hear a sermon they needed because we decided not to offer them a ride to church.

These urgings are as immediately noticeable physically, but could very well be just as costly, or more so, spiritually. How many times have we ignored the small prompts we get to help or say something nice? These urgings might be hindering us from developing our spiritual sensitivity to the point that we don’t even hear or sense those urgings.

But how much more fulfilling could our Christian experience begin to be if we train ourselves to follow that leading to help someone load their groceries, or buy someone’s lunch, or tell someone about our experience with Jesus.

We are made in the image of God and that means spiritually and physically. We are to train ourselves in His ways from an early age. That tells me that like training for a sport, or a specific type of work we could become more and more proficient at any endeavor with practice.

I am a strong believer that those practices could be spiritual as well. Simply by listening to that still small voice inside of us is a form of training or practice. And each time we give in to the “urge” to do what God is telling us, the more likely we will be to, not only get more urgings but possibly receive more impactful ones and be led to do more for Him than we ever thought possible.

In other words, spend more time doing spiritual toilet training!  

What We Focus On, Gets Bigger

This session of Jim Class was inspired by the audio daily devotional I do for our church. I send a phone message through our church calling app every Monday through Friday. I try to follow a theme, and this past week’s theme was “Come, Magnify the Lord With Me.”

The premise is that we have the ability to magnify (make bigger) everything in our lives. Whether it’s a problem with our kids, a sickness or injury, or a financial strain, it seems we have mastered the art of letting people know when there’s trouble.

When I worked for a counseling agency, over 20 years ago, I attended a seminar on communication. The speaker had everyone in the room cover their watches with their hands.

Then he asked us to picture some fine details about our watches. He asked what color they were, what color was the face, were the numbers Arabic or Roman, was there a second hand, was there a day and date feature, and many other things about our watches.

Then he told us to look at them briefly and cover them up again. He asked us if we were correct in our descriptions. Several of us (yes, myself included) were obviously very proud of our powers of observation. This pride was evidenced by those who were sitting up straighter, with lungs expanded and smug looks on their faces.

He then asked us, “What time is it?” The proud group became crestfallen and red-faced as we obviously hadn’t looked at that detail. He then stated his theme for the session, “What You Focus on, is what You See.”

That is going to be the focus of Jim Class this week, but with a twist; “What You Focus on, Gets Bigger.”

Psalm 34:1 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. (NKJV)

The Bible uses the word magnify in reference to making things bigger. But the question I have is, “Does it literally make things bigger, or do they just appear to be bigger?” When we look at things under a magnifying glass, the object we are observing doesn’t grow. It only appears bigger under the glass.

Wonderopolis.com describes the effect this way, “A magnifying glass is actually the simplest form of a basic microscope. It consists of a single convex lens that magnifies an object when the glass is held up to it. … When they pass through a magnifying glass, the convex lens bends the parallel rays so that they converge and create a virtual image on your eyes’ retinas.”

The word that stands out to me in this definition is virtual. Virtual implies not real. Something virtual is not actually present. The ant that is under the magnifying glass is not really three inches long. It just appears to be.

We hear talk of virtual reality coming from the computer industry. The programs and games have been developed to improve the aesthetics of the online experience, but those things are not real.

I have seen videos of people using virtual reality goggles or headsets, and they trip and fall, walk into walls or people, jump up and down, yell and gasp, and even are brought to tears by what they are viewing in the virtual world. But it isn’t real!

Before I get too far off into the weeds, let me bring this idea into a logical flow. We can magnify things with our imagination, our words, and our actions. Typically, what we magnify is something that isn’t real, or if it is real, isn’t really as big as we have made it out to be.

“This headache is killing me!”

“Those apples were as big as my head!”

“That fish was THIS long.”

These are all examples of what we would call exaggerations – very similar to magnifying. If we look back at Psalm 34 and the word magnify, I believe we can create some perspective on what we are being instructed to do by King David.

The actual word magnify is used 19 times in the KJV of the Bible. The Hebrew/Greek words translated magnify are used 119 times, but it isn’t always translated magnify. It is used as magnify, magnified, make great, grew, become great, grown, exceeded, and many derivations of each of those words (Biblegateway.com). But, in context, they are all referencing something that got bigger. But when I did my initial study of the word, I only looked up magnify, as it is spelled and used in the KJV.

There are an endless number of things in our lives that could be magnified to the point that they seem insurmountable, that they become a major obstacle – even to the point that other aspects of life get ignored.

Financial trouble can be debilitating – work stress can create a difficult environment at home – unexpected sicknesses can create problems in both of the previously mentioned areas. But when trouble comes – what do we dwell on?

Psalm 34: Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. (NKJV)

This verse is the focus of Jim Class – but what comes before?

Psalm 34:1 Psalm 34:1 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. (NKJV)

The first verse of Psalm 34 says, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” This is a concept that is commonly met with trepidation by many who read or hear it – “AT ALL TIMES.”

Phrases that imply constant attention to a given act are usually met with the question, “How can I do anything, all the time?” The simple answer is, “We are always doing something, and that’s all the time.” It sounds trite, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

A better answer is, “We need to train ourselves to be conscious of God all the time.” That way, when the difficult things arise, we are more likely to have a Godly response. Especially if that training involves, “Renewing our minds,” as we’re instructed in Romans 12:2.

We then need to take a closer look at what comes after our call to “magnify the Lord” in Psalm 34.

Psalm 34: I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears. (NKJV)

Does this really say that “the Lord…delivered me from all my fears?” Yes, but only following the instruction to magnify and seek Him.

It comes down to a very simple concept. We can build things up that actually have a beginning and end and cause them to be such an obstacle that we are hindered, or we can build something up – God – who doesn’t have a beginning or and end, and can’t be bigger than He really is – particularly as big as He could/should be to us.

It could be better stated – what we focus on gets bigger!

The Tree is the Heart

What we say has a much bigger impact on us than we realize. I’m also pretty sure that I am a part of the last generation that had the concept of “watching your mouth” drilled into our psyches by our parents and grandparents, to the level which we did.

When I was eleven years-old, we lived in Petersburg, Virginia. My step-dad was stationed at Fort Lee, and our house was very close to the base. I was in the Fall semester of my 6th grade year at A.P. Hill Elementary School.

There were many things that took place during our time in Virginia that have historical ramifications. Forced bussing, traveling to Washington D.C. and Colonial Williamsburg all had a lasting impact on my future outlook.

But those aren’t the things I am going to discuss this week in Jim Class.

In previous blogs I have mentioned that I am the oldest sibling of three. I have a younger brother and sister. During our time in Virginia, my brother and I were evidently exhibiting behaviors (especially how we talked to each other and maybe hygienically) that my mom thought needed to be reined in. So, she gave us each a copy of a book called, “Stand Up, Shake Hands, and Say, “How Do You Do”: What Every Boy Needs to Know about Today’s Manners” by Marjabelle Young Stewart and Anne Buchwald.   

If you couldn’t tell from the title, it is (yes, it’s still in publication and I have a current copy) a book on manners. It was chocked full of good advice – don’t spit on the locker room floor (which I had never done until I read this book), don’t flip each other with towels (a skill I became expert at), and stand up when a lady enters the room (I tried this once and was ridiculed mercilessly by my friends).

As I look back on what was in that book, a large portion had to do with how we should speak. Say “Please and thank you,” address your elders as Mr. and Mrs. or ma’am and sir, ask to be excused from the table, but only after cleaning your plate, are all addressed in “Stand Up” (the title is too long to keep re-typing). There was a chapter on not back-talking or using sarcasm (I’m not sure I’ve learned that one fully).

Throughout the book there are references, in nearly every chapter, that have something to do with what you say. How to talk to teachers, how to conduct yourself at a job interview, how to address the clerks in a retail establishment are all covered.

Now I’m a pastor. I spend a lot of time reading the Bible and searching out the meanings of specific words, verses, or sections of scripture. The connection to “Stand Up” is that the Bible also has a lot to say about what we say!

Luke 6: 43 “You’ll never find choice fruit hanging on a bad, unhealthy tree. And rotten fruit doesn’t hang on a good, healthy tree. 44 Every tree will be revealed by the quality of fruit that it produces. Figs or grapes will never be picked off thorn trees. 45 People are known in this same way. Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit. But out of the evil hidden in their hearts, evil ones will produce what is evil. For the overflow of what has been stored in your heart will be seen by your fruit and will be heard in your words. (NIV)

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible put verse 43 this way, “If he (the one doing the speaking) cannot reform ill manners, he will not corrupt good manners,” – if one is not willing to change bad manners within themselves, there will be no good manners to corrupt.

Henry also noted that, “the tree is the heart.”

Maybe my mom, in her infinite wisdom, had some concept of this, at least in regard to my brother and me. We both wondered why my sister didn’t get a book. There was a girl’s version. My suspicion is, to paraphrase Tommy Smothers (this reference might be lost on those under 50), “She was always mom’s favorite.”

As I recall my younger days, it seems the thing that got me in the most trouble was my mouth. The inspiration for the title of my blog came from a time when I popped off to my gym teacher. I forgot my gym clothes one day (I didn’t do that often; Phys. Ed. was my favorite class).

The teacher asked my where my gym clothes were, and I responded by saying, “All my clothes are “Jim” clothes, coach!” The only good that came from my comment was that it inspired me to call my blog “Jim Class.” The running of laps and doing push-ups that followed (yes, in my “Jim” clothes) made me seem a lot less clever.

I have taught a countless number of sermons that either focused on what we say, or had an element that dealt with controlling our tongues. It seems, based on the comments I received following those messages, I’m not the only one who struggles in this area.

It is also clear that God Himself inspired many of those who wrote passages, eventually included in the canon of scripture, to instruct the people to control what comes out of their mouths – and beyond that, how to fill up on the things that should be proceeding from our mouths.

Psalm 103:1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (NKJV)

Part of the instruction in this Psalm is not to forget all of God’s benefits. I’m not trying to forget any of His benefits, but I can only focus on one or two at a time. So, let’s look at least one benefit mentioned in verse five.

Psalm 103:Who satisfies your mouth with good things, (NKJV)

According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the word satisfy, or satisfies, means, “to be fulfilled or enriched.”

This tells us that God has provided something good for us to say. If we compare and contrast this with our earlier passage from Luke “from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” there could be a connection to what God satisfies us with and what fills our hearts to abundance.

The Bible is touted as being the, “best-selling and least read” book ever printed. These claims are often made by those who supply a pulpit for a living. In light of recent ministerial shake-ups, scandals, and those breaking with their faith, some of them could have used more time in, “The Book,” themselves (myself included).

Christians typically have a “go to” verse, or a “banner scripture” they have written down, memorized, and refer to often. I am no different. Mine comes from the Book of Joshua,

Joshua 1:This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (NKJV)

This verse helps tie these other scriptural references together.

I have come up with a catchy phrase that I have been meditating on, “What we meditate, ruminate, matriculate, and eventually regurgitate with be evidence of those things that we are full of.”

The word, “meditate,” in Joshua 1:8 means, “to mutter or to say.” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, H1897)

I heard a preacher long ago say, “We are to meditate on God’s Word like a cow chews on its cud.” According to merriam-webster.com, that is a definition of ruminating.

I see meditate and ruminate as synonymous. It seems that to ruminate is a deeper form of meditation, and, consequently, matriculate goes even further.

Also, according to merriam-webster.com, matriculate, in definition number four, means, “to draw within a figure so as to touch in as many places as possible.” It is typically used in reference to enrolling in university, but my thoughts were more in line with the definition quoted.

If a thought touches as many places as possible during our reflections, it seems that thought will stay with us longer and eventually fill our minds and souls to the point we regurgitate it in the form of words that have matriculated into our belief system.

“Regurgitate – to become thrown or poured back – to memorize facts to be regurgitated on a test.” (merriam-webster.com)

What we meditate is largely in our minds. When we meditate long enough, or ruminate, on God’s Word, we begin to see how it could impact us over a longer period of time and how one particular Word from God has the ability to impact us in multiple areas of our lives.

At that point we begin to matriculate that idea over a broader spectrum of our lives. We look at our family, our work, our school (and many other things) in light of a given scripture.

When we see that God’s plan, His Word, has a place everywhere, and we become convinced of a given idea, we won’t be able to stop ourselves from regurgitating (I must have retained something from that book of manners – I didn’t say puke or vomit) what we have learned.

In short, our tree has become full of good fruit to share with others.

Don’t Take the Bait!

Jim Class – Period 11

Don’t Take the Bait

Luke 17:1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! (NKJV)

One of the biggest problems in the church today is offense. People get offended over big things and little. The Bible has a lot to say on this subject, and I am barely going to scratch the surface of that material.

I have heard other pastors tell horrific stories of congregation members leaving their churches because of the color of the carpet or the fact that they allowed someone to play a guitar in church, and even more ridiculous things that those two.

It’s time for the church to get a hold of this dilemma and see (and preach) what the Bible has to say about the subject.

I am beginning Jim Class this week with a Bible verse. Be prepared – I am going to refer to this verse in several translations. I chose this translation first because the word “offense” is used.

We have all been offended by something. My grandpa always said, “Never discuss religion or politics in a crowd.” I have heard many variations on that saying over the years.

The reason behind avoiding these topics is a two-edged sword. In one respect you don’t want to say something that is offensive to someone that might start a heated argument or even a fist fight.

The other edge is the possibility that things will never get discussed, and go on and on in a given situation (work, family, and friendships) and possibly come up at the wrong time and create an even bigger problem than it would have had it been brought up in a more controlled and civil environment.

Hard topics are going to raise people’s dander regardless of the circumstances under which they come up. The issue, from my perspective, isn’t the topic as much as it is an offense resulting from the subject being discussed.

Luke 17:1 One day Jesus taught his disciples this: “Betrayals are inevitable, but great devastation will come to the one guilty of betraying others. (TPT)

The word offense, as it’s used in the Biblical (New Testament) context, is the Greek word, “skandalon – the movable stick or trigger of a trap, a trap stick, a. trap, snare,” (The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon).

I have heard the “moveable stick or trigger of a trap,” referred to as a “bait-stick.”

I have seen this mechanism in use from the time I was seven-years-old, which was when I first saw Foghorn Leghorn use a large bone as a bait- stick to lure George P. Dog, a.k.a. Barnyard Dawg, (warnerbros.fandom.com), into a trap so Foghorn could continue his rivalrous feud with Henery Hawk, the infamous chicken hawk of Looney Tunes lore (ibid).

Luke 17:1 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! (NLT)

If you look closely at the Greek word, skandalon it is very easy to see that our English word, scandal, has its origins there (Merriam-Webster.com). Webster listed another definition for skandalon as “stumbling block.”

There has always been one aspect of this verse in Luke 17 that has stood out to me, “but woe to him through whom they do come!” (NKJV)”

The message Jesus seems to be conveying is that the person who delivers the offense, or the offensive act is going to carry the brunt of the blame for what happens.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance defines the words “him through whom,” in this passage as, “A primary preposition denoting the channel of an act.

A channel is a path through which something is carried, usually in reference to a creek or a canal of some type which has a flow of water. In this scenario the liquid is the offense flowing from one person to another.

Even though this is clearly what Jesus was talking about, for an offense to be truly damaging it has not only to be delivered – it has to be taken.

The trap has to be set and triggered to be fully effective (if we want to use that word).

Luke 17:1 He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! (MSG)

I am familiar with a story that helps illustrate the damage offense can bring. It centers around a primitive tribe of people in the heart of Africa.

This particular group depended upon a certain type of monkey for meat. The specific breed escapes me, but it seems as though it was small, fast-moving, and very agile – like a spider or a rhesus monkey.

Whatever the breed, these primates were very difficult to catch, shoot with a bow, or hit with a spear. The hunters in the tribe would stay gone for days and weeks because if they were to come home empty handed it would be a sign of failure to the whole community and they would be outcasts.

While out on a hunting excursion, one hunter was struck with a genius idea. He cut a hole in a coconut, hollowed it out, buried it in the ground up to the hole, and placed a banana inside the empty husk.

This wise hunter discovered when the monkeys found the coconut they would reach in and grab the banana and try to pull it out. But couldn’t because the hole had been cut so small as to barely allow the monkey’s hand to fit inside.

The monkeys would become frantic and jump up and down, screech, and throw fits when they realized they could not get their hands out while holding the banana (I’ve seen humans go into similar fits).

The monkeys would not let go – regardless of the cost!

That allowed the hunter to walk right up to the trap and clobber the animal in the head with a stick and kill it. This act help give him the reputation as a great hunter and he received high accolades upon returning to the village.

The banana in this story is the offense. So many times a person will become offended by a slight or a difference (and possibly even a slight difference) to the point that they refuse to let go. The resulting ramifications can range for momentary discomfort to a lifetime of inner turmoil.  

Offense can stew and fester and reach a crescendo that won’t allow the offended party to have even a moment’s peace. It isn’t uncommon in these situations for the person with whom they are offended to be completely oblivious to the difficulties it has caused.

The Old Testament has something to say about offense as well.

Proverbs 25:19 Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble
[is] like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint. (NKJV)
The phrase “an unfaithful man” in this passage is translated “offended” as in, “an offended man.” Strong’s. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle.” (NKJV)

The Hebrew definition of the word for offense means, “to rush upon.” (Strong’s)

The idea of rushing upon someone brought back memories of my time working in juvenile correctional facilities. The kids had a term for attacking someone on the street (a term commonly used in reference to their home neighborhood) or a gang fight.

When someone was attacked unexpectedly, they called it, “bum rushing.” For example, “When I entered the rival gang’s territory, several of the opposing gang members “bum rushed” me and beat me down.”

In my estimation this sums up the meaning of offense in the Hebrew. When someone is overcome by an offense, whether intentional or not, it can feel like an unexpected attack.

The idea that we are left with is this – don’t deliberately try to offend someone – regardless of how much you were wronged, or how right you feel you are, it will not be well with you until you make it right. Jesus told us as much in the next few verses of Luke 17.

Luke 17:1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sin against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. (NKJV)

And, if you are on the receiving end of an offense and you’re being bum rushed, don’t allow it, or, in other words, “Don’t take the bait!”

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