A reality of life is that at some point, actually at many points, a person is going to wrong another person. This can happen unintentionally or may occur on purpose. After having done something which has wronged another, the question which shows remorse is how might the situation be corrected and/or made right? What is required to compensate for the wrong which has been committed? If it is a legal case, a judge or a jury may make this decision. More often than not, the situation is not a violation of the law so then it falls upon the parties involved to determine how to resolve the matter.
As we look at the passage from Micah, the question above is being asked in regard to a matter between God and the Israelites. God has brought a case against the people because they have continued to be unfaithful toward the Lord. They have worshipped false gods and failed to follow God’s teachings. In spite of all of God’s redeeming acts and daily provisions, the people refuse to listen and follow. Once called out for this wrong, the question of how to respond is posed. Should the people offer sacrifices to regain God’s favor? The response given is that the people have already been told and it has nothing to do with ritual sacrifices. It has to do with how they live their lives. The way to show faithfulness to the Lord is to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is the way to rectify the wrong and return to faithfulness.
Not only do we regularly wrong other people, we consistently wrong the Lord. These words from the prophet encapsulate all the teachings from Moses and all the prophets. Our failure to do these three things is what is defined as sin. These life behaviors will keep us from wronging other people and wronging God.
Acting justly is demonstrated by looking out for the welfare of one another. By ensuring each other’s needs, physically, emotionally and spiritually, are met then we fulfill this requirement. Loving mercy is evident in our lives when we are quick to forgive instead of seek revenge. When we accept an individual’s failures as much as their successes, we are showing the compassion which mercy entails. Walking humbly with our God means recognizing the greatness of the Lord. Realizing the power of God is demonstrated in the love and grace of God is truly a humbling experience. Acknowledging we are not God and so we keep our attitudes and attempts to control in check is necessary to walk humbly. The walk is daily and without end which requires time and commitment.
During my childhood I would hear in the morning a commentator on a radio show which my mother had on in our kitchen. The commentator would always end his show with the line, “And now you know… the rest of the story.” You may recognize this line as spoken by Paul Harvey. I would listen to the show every school day morning as I ate my breakfast. Paul Harvey would share the background of some story which was about a famous event or person. There was something captivating about his voice. As he told the story in a shrouded manner, you tried to guess about what or who he was speaking. He saved the reveal until the very end. I frequently would be shocked, or at least amazed, when he did the reveal. Knowing “the rest of the story” enriched my understanding. Often I would have a new perspective.
In the passage from Romans, there is an important “rest of the story” component. This passage speaks of the righteousness of God in regard to the Law. Prior to Jesus, righteousness was acquired by fulfilling the Law. Anyone who broke the Law was considered unrighteous. A new understanding is introduced which indicates that now, righteousness is obtained through faith in Jesus Christ. God has utilized the shedding of Christ’s blood as the method of answering for the unpunished sins committed.
The portion of this passage which is “the rest of the story” begins at verse 23, “… for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If we were to stop with verse 23, then humanity remains in a helpless and hopeless state. But we are not left with the truth of verse 23. The story continues in verse 24 and our status is completely reversed, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Chiust Jesus.” For each of us, this is the rest of the story. God gave to us the full righteousness of God in Christ. We are redeemed and sin is forgiven.
Many of us carry burdens unnecessarily. There are times we are not even aware that we have accepted a burden; other times we willingly take it up. When these burdens are pointed out to us, we may even choose to continue carrying them instead of laying them down. There can be a strange comfort in holding on to our burden because it is familiar.
In the portion of today’s psalm, a burden is mentioned. This burden, familiar to all of us, is sin. The psalm begins by admitting what a blessing it is to be forgiven. The psalmist continues by saying that while carrying the burden, instead of confessing it, there were negative results which caused torment and weariness. The change took place when the sin was acknowledged out loud and no longer hidden. Forgiveness was given and the burden was removed.
Each of us have reasons why we choose to continuously carry our sin. Fear may drive us, the fear that the sin is unforgivable. We may decide that we deserve to have to carry this load. Our thought could be that if we keep the sin hidden, we can maintain the proper public image. All of these reasons are just excuses which prevent us from experiencing a full life. Carrying the burden of sin destroys our life from the inside out. Our health, self-image, spirit, and mental wellness are negatively impacted by the carrying of our sin.
Confession of our sin to the Lord, and when necessary to others, allows this burden to be laid down. Jesus reminds us endlessly that in him all sin can be forgiven. By laying this burden at the foot of the cross we can experience the fullness of life. We will see improvements in health, spirit and our minds.
Lay down your burden and receive the blessing of forgiveness.
Growing up, my father would take me fishing occasionally. I was never much of a fisherman because I did not like to put the worm on the hook, nor did I want to take the fish off the hook when I was fortunate enough to catch one. Where we would go fishing, the most frequently caught type of fish was a bullhead. Bullheads have whisker-like appendages that could “sting” you if you touched them. Due to this, I either wore gloves or made my dad take the fish off the hook. He would get tired of taking the fish off the hook so we would go home. As an adult, I can count the number of times I have gone fishing on one hand. While I enjoy the calming effect of being near the water, fishing is not how I want to spend the time by the water.
In the passage from Mark, we see and hear about fishing. We witness Jesus “fishing” for disciples and then we hear from Jesus that his disciples will be fishing for people. The four disciples mentioned here, who later would be part of the inner circle and became apostles, were fishermen by trade. Fishing was one of the prominent sources of income and sustenance for many in the area. Net fishing was the way in which these four men practiced their trade. They were very aware of the best techniques to yield the highest number of fish in their nets. Jesus will teach them new techniques to bring people into the fellowship.
As disciples today, we are to also bring others into the fellowship. This is not to be done through manipulative or deceptive methods. Instead, it is to be done by following Jesus’s example. Jesus taught Simon, Andrew, James, John and the others by modeling for them the correct methods. Jesus began with love. First, and foremost, Jesus loved the ones he would invite. Then Jesus sought to understand the most pressing need(s) of the person. Jesus’s next step was doing all things possible to meet the need(s). Through this method, Jesus communicated that the person was valued and this was what led people to accept the invitation. Jesus did not force, attempt to coerce, or talk anyone into being a part of the fellowship. Instead, Jesus loved the person and demonstrated that through actions of compassion.
Let us “fish” for people using the techniques Jesus has taught. Even if we do not witness someone become a part of the fellowship, we will have extended the love of the Lord to one of God’s children. Cast the net wide because all are welcome.
Time is an interesting aspect of life. How we measure time, use time, and experience time has occupied the minds of humanity. Many of us when we were younger had a parent, or other adult figure in our lives, tell us that as a person ages, time seems to speed up. While all of us know this is not possible because humans experience time in rigidly defined increments, the feeling that these increments move faster is real to us. We know that every living aspect of creation has determined periods when aspects of life occur. How we live, our activities, the way our bodies respond, and so on changes. Some things become possible and appropriate while others become impossible and inappropriate.
The writer of Ecclesiastes states that there is a defined and appropriate time for everything. This passage goes through a series of contrasts in an attempt to support the central thought that a time exists for all things in creation. What is implied here but not specifically stated is the importance of understanding what season or period of time one is in as a way to choose appropriate actions. Also implied is realizing when an action or direction is not the right one at a specific time.
The rock band, The Byrds, appropriated these verses in a song entitled Turn, Turn, Turn. Listen to this song while you consider the following:
– What time are you currently in at this point in your life?
– Are you making decisions or setting direction according to what is right at this time?
As some people become older, they can begin to have stability issues. Others have medical issues which impair their ability to walk or stand without some form of assistance. A variety of mobility aids have been developed and improved overtime. Canes, walkers, braces and other medical devices have provided individuals something to lean on and receive support as their own stability has been diminished. Due to these forms of assistance, people have maintained some level of independence and safety.
Among the wisdom sayings attributed to King Solomon, we hear advice on seeking aid in our lives. This wisdom should be applied every day.
Trust in the Lord — As we go through life we are given opportunities to make decisions about where we place our trust. Politicians, religious leaders, companies, financial institutions, all call upon us to trust them. Many times we experience a breaking of that trust. We may come to the conclusion that we can only trust ourselves. But here we are told to trust in the Lord. The Lord’s track record is very strong. No one has ever experienced broken promises or unreliability where the Lord is concerned.
Do not rely on your own insight — Another translation of this portion of the verse is, “do not lean on your own understanding.” (ESV) The imagery in the second translation seems to be stronger. Whichever translation is used, the idea of not going on one’s own is communicated. Trusting our own perceptions and interpretations independent of others, especially the Lord is discouraged. Seeking the assistance of God brings stability and wisdom into our lives.
In all your ways acknowledge him — The Lord should be a part of every aspect and decision of one’s life. Finding the hand of God daily active in one’s life provides assurance and direction. The guidance of the Lord causes one to stumble less and provides stronger possibilities of avoiding pitfalls.
He will make straight your paths — The Lord can clarify the way to go through life. Instead of wandering aimlessly as one goes from one decision to another, the path can be direct and with less hazards. Seeking the Lord’s guidance in making decisions will provide a clarity in purpose and vision.
May the wisdom of Solomon take root in each of our lives.
Our lives are filled with a lot of comforts and conveniences. Since the arrival of the industrial age, these comforts and conveniences have been on an exponential increase. With the coming of the technological age, the pace and impact of inventions have increased even more dramatically. Yet, we are always seeking more comfort and convenience. Our patience has lessened and our expectations have increased dramatically. Simply put, we want our lives to be easy. We desire the demands of life to decrease. We want it all without having to do much to obtain it. Our perception may be considered to be misaligned.
Jesus had to deal with misperceptions and expectations. His words in this passage may be a bitter pill for us to swallow just as they were for his disciples. The perception was that the Messiah would arrive and the people’s lives would be easier. The Messiah was to bring peace for the Jewish people. Their burden would be reduced. Jesus dashes those concepts in these words. He indicates that there will be conflict because people would argue and fight about Jesus and his teaching. People will fight over who Jesus is and what the Messiah is about. He goes on to say that he must become number one in the life of his followers, the most important relationship. Jesus states that his followers will suffer and sacrifice as they follow him. The burdens will increase. Those who welcome and provide for him and his followers will find they have received a reward. The reward will not be temporary but eternal. Jesus’s words were difficult to hear and even rejected by many.
We are not different from those first century believers. The misperception that following Jesus will make life easier still exists. The concept that all conflict and effort will disappear at the acceptance of the Lord is still taught. Jesus flatly says this is not true. The opposite is more likely. While this is not what we comfort-seekers desire to hear, this is necessary so we can move forward from this reality check. If we are to follow Jesus, we must place this understanding at the lead of our lives. We must be willing to speak the truth even when it may bring division. We must take on the burdens of following Jesus’s teachings and examples even if it causes us suffering and discomfort. Our sacrificing of an “easy” life is necessary to attain a meaningful life. In following and serving, we will discover a permanent reward instead of earth’s temporary reward of comfort and ease.
Various cultures have different understandings of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Everything from how a person enters a home to what foods are acceptable to eat. Government diplomats actually have training in regard to customs and behaviors prior to being stationed in foreign posts. This training is important so that the diplomat does not inadvertently offend citizens and government officials where they are sent. The rules and customs of a group of people have deep roots. Some of these are linked to history, some to religion and some due to practical reasons.
Peter was a rule abiding Jew. He prided himself on being faithful to the laws and customs of his Hebrew heritage. The Jews had strong dietary laws. Today we would view these laws as practical based upon what we now know in regards to food safety. In Peter’s time, the laws were linked to his faith since they were recorded in the laws which Moses handed down. When Peter had a vision in which he was instructed to eat foods forbidden by the Law, he naturally declined. The purpose of the vision was to communicate to Peter that rules and understandings can change as God reveals new information to us. This was an important message because soon Peter would be called upon to act in a manner considered wrong by Jewish standards. Peter would be asked to go to the home of an officer in the army which occupied Israel. If the vision had not opened Peter’s eyes to God working outside the rules and customs, he likely would not have gone and the good news would not have been shared.
The lesson for Peter is important in our lives as well. We easily become accustomed to our customs, habits and understandings. Our faith can be attached to what we have been taught when we were younger. What we must always keep in mind is that we believe in a living God. Our God is always at work in the lives of people. Our God is constantly revealing new understandings to us as we are better equipped to receive them. As we grow in our knowledge of the world, God gives us new insights. None of us follow all the dietary laws of Peter’s time because we have refrigeration and better ways to store and prepare food. Why would our other understandings of God, faith and the world around us also not change?
When a person dies, one of the tasks which family members must complete is writing an obituary for the person. Occasionally, individuals will write their own obituaries prior to their death but it often falls upon the family to complete this. The writing of the obituary may actually require two to be written; one to be published in newspapers and one to be included in the service since newspapers are charging so much that a shorter version makes it more practical. The goal of the obituary is to highlight important facts about the individual’s life, encapsulating their legacy. If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say?
The writer of today’s passage is giving a brief obituary. The person acknowledges an impending death. Verse seven is the legacy that is being left behind, a life hallmarked by completing what was being asked in the context of faith. The writer then concluded that due to this legacy there is a reward awaiting which will be supplied by the Lord. In addition, the author states that this reward is available not only to the one speaking but to all who do the same in faith.
The passage causes many questions to surface for anyone who hears or reads it. Ask yourself these:
– What fight are you called to fight by your faith?
– How would you describe your race?
– In what ways are you keeping the faith? Where are you struggling to do this?
– What do you hope to have included in your legacy?
Our world is filled with words. Every year the editors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary choose what words are added to the dictionary. The basis of making such a decision is the frequency of its usage by a lot of people. Words are understood by the context in which they are used. They are interpreted by what the hearer/reader brings to them. The strength of the word is found in how it lives out in real life situations. Words have a great value in communicating an idea or concept or understanding. However, experience says that actions have a much stronger impact on people than words.
Paul is communicating a very important understanding of a frequently used word in his day and in our own. The passage from his letter to the people of Corinth is well known by believers and non-believers alike due to its frequent reading at weddings. This usage of the passage is not wrong but tends to leave the impression that Paul is writing about romantic love or solely a relationship between spouses. This impression could not be any farther from the purpose Paul intended. Paul is writing to a church with strong divisions and frequent conflicts. This passage lifts up to them a central understanding of what it means to be believers in Christ.
Paul knows that love is the core of who God is and how God is revealed in Jesus. This love is not romantic in nature nor is it an emotion. The love which Paul writes about is a way of living. In order to understand love, Paul is indicating that it must be witnessed in the actions and attitudes of life. Jesus expressed love not in words but in how he lived, responded to people, and viewed the world around him. This is exactly what Paul is expressing to the people of Corinth. Knowledge, spiritual gifts and insights are nice but if they lack the living out of love in life, they lose their value. Paul tells the people that the greatest of the only three items which have sustaining value, faith, hope and love, is love. This love is experienced and known through the actions and attitudes displayed in human relationships.
Each of us needs to hear Paul’s teaching here frequently. We need to realize that as wonderful as words are in communicating, the communication through actions and attitudes is all which has lasting value. If we are going to be faithful in following the Lord and demonstrating who God is, we need to live in a manner where love is witnessed, love as defined here.