Read Micah 6:6-8
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.
Read Romans 3:21-26
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.
Now you know… the rest of the story.
Read Mark 1:16-20
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.
Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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.
Read Matthew 25:34-46
In a few months we will be entering the Christmas season. The Christmas season means a return of wonderful movies and animated shows. Two of my favorite, must-see movies are A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life. In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge learns the importance of caring for others and taking care of the needs of others as one of his lessons. George Bailey discovers in It’s a Wonderful Life how much his decisions and actions have had a positive impact as he met the needs of others. Both movies provide an important message regarding how we are to demonstrate love and compassion for one another.
The reading for today comes in the midst of Jesus telling a parable about caring for others. Jesus presents a scene which can occur upon the return of the Son of Man. There is a division which happens. This division is between those who cared for others in their lives and those who chose not to reach out in compassion and love. The point made in this story is that even if we are not aware, the choices we make in regards to the needs of others have an eternal impact. Since God is love, and Jesus is the embodiment and example of this love, those who desire to follow Jesus must demonstrate this love in their lives. Jesus indicates here that failure to do so means a person cannot truly be in Christ.
The truth of Jesus’s parable was demonstrated in the Christmas movies mentioned at the start. Our choices about how we respond to the needs of others around us have impacts of which we may never be aware. These impacts change the lives of those in need but also change our very own life. The lasting nature of these choices make their importance even greater. Both Jesus and Paul tell us that only if love resides in and through us can we truly know the fullness of our God.
There are needs constantly around us. We must be open to seeing the needs of others. Then we must act on meeting those identified needs. This is not something relegated to a select few. No, this is the responsibility of each person who claims Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Read 1 John 4:16-18
Over the course of human history, there have been leaders who sought full control over the people who they were to lead. These leaders have employed a variety of tactics to establish and maintain this control. One of the methods utilized by every one of these leaders is the employment of fear. They establish techniques which will instill in the people a fear which prevents them from acting in any manner not prescribed by the leader. This fear is based on witnessing or anticipating repercussions if the leader’s desires are not met. Such repercussions may include banishment, imprisonment, torture, seizing of assets, dismemberment, loss of statics, financial ruin, or even death. The people follow the leader not out of trust but out of fear.
The writer of I John presents a leader who has an opposite approach. In the midst of a discussion which equates God with love, the writer speaks of a relationship between humans and the Divine. Because we live in love, we have no fear in our relationship. The writer points out that love and fear are incompatible. We do not have to fear anything from God. In fact, since God is love, fear is pushed out of our relationship.
There are church leaders who attempt to use fear much as the world leaders mentioned earlier. These leaders create fear as a way to control while masking it as an attempt to “save” people from God’s wrath. This originated with the Jewish leaders and has come down over centuries to the Church. Jesus spoke against this technique during his ministry. In our passage, we see the incongruity of using fear in regards to a relationship with God. Instead, the message we receive, and should pass to others, is that it is love which draws us into a relationship with God. Love is the source of all of God’s actions, teachings, and promises. Love not fear emboldens us to be in relationship with God. Our actions, teachings and promises should flow out of love.
Read Ephesians 3:14-19
When I was a young boy growing up in the church, there was a song which we often sang during Sunday School opening gatherings, “Peace Like a River.” One of the verses in the song says, “I’ve got love like an ocean.” I would sometimes ponder what that amount of love might be like. I always came to the conclusion that it was love which was boundless. Even though at that age I had never actually been to an ocean, I had seen images on television so the idea that you could not see the other side of the ocean from the beach upon which you stood gave me the boundless image. The image of wave after wave hitting the beach and rocks also created for me the endless waves of love coming upon me.
At the conclusion of the part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians which we read from today, Paul speaks about praying for them. In his prayer, Paul says that since the people are rooted and established in love, he asks that they be able to understand how wide, long, and deep Jesus’s love is for them. This love goes beyond their knowledge. He also indicates that this love is the full essence of God.
Reading what Paul tells the Ephesians brings to mind the images from my childhood Sunday School song. Taking hold of such a boundless love seems impossible. Realizing the vastness of this love brings an overwhelming sense of acceptance, security and great joy. Imaging Christ’s love lapping over one’s self over and over provides comfort and warmth. May you come to the understanding of Christ’s love for you being like an ocean!
Read Isaiah 48:17-19
As a parent, a person desires the absolute best for all her/his children. Much of the time a child lives in the home, the parent is using opportunities to teach and guide the young person. The hope is that as the child matures, the lessons taught will prepare them to make choices which will benefit them throughout their future. This does not always happen. When a child makes a choice which results in a lasting negative outcome, the parent is disappointed. This disappointment is not in the child but in the missed opportunities for a more positive outcome. No parent wishes for a child to experience negative outcomes because the love a parent feels is great.
In the reading from Isaiah, we see God as a parent to the Israelites. God has a great love for all of God’s children, greater than even a human parent. Because of this love, God desires only positive outcomes for the Israelites. God has taught and guided them in ways which can bring about positive results. Yet the Israelites have chosen to ignore the teaching and take paths different from those to which God has guided them. In making these choices, the Israelites have experienced a lot of negative outcomes. God’s disappointment in these results is evident in the words recorded here.
This trend continues throughout human history. We have received the ongoing teaching from God through Scripture, trusted Christian leaders and teachers, and from within our own families. God has utilized these individuals in our lives to guide us and give us the tools which will help us achieve positive life outcomes. But like the Israelites to whom Isaiah speaks, we have at times ignored the teachings or rejected the guidance. Making this choice leads us to not receive the full measure of positive life experience. We may have times when we do not suffer greatly from these choices but we still fall short of what could be. Other times we experience great suffering because of the choices. When this happens, God feels disappointment because of what could have been for us.
From this passage we learn to follow the teachings and guidance of God so we can fully experience the greatness God has planned for us.
Read Matthew 6:9b-13
Today we look at the last half of the final petition in the Lord’s Prayer. We saw this petition begin with a request to God for assistance in avoiding the temptation of sin. This petition ends with the phrase, “but deliver us from evil.”
This phrase is focused upon the evil in our world. Luke’s version of the prayer does not include this phrase. Both the NIV and NRSV versions of the Matthew passage end the phrase with “evil one” and not just “evil.” The Greek word which is translated here can be translated either way. Since choosing “evil” as the word is broader and more encompassing, our spoken version includes one word and not both.
The task with which we must grapple is a definition for evil. The dictionary provides this, “profound immorality and wickedness, especially when regarded as a supernatural force.” Many interpret evil as humans doing wrong toward others. Either definition leaves itself open to interpretation. The way to define evil is greatly dependent upon perspective and context. Over time, the application of the label can, and does, change in certain situations. Therefore, the best way to define evil is when there is a void of love. Whether it be action, words, behaviors, or situations, if love is not demonstrated in them then evil is an appropriate label.
This portion of Jesus’s petition is requesting that God deliver us from the environments and impact of evil; a request to be delivered from experiences which are absent of love.
Read Matthew 6:9b-13
Today’s phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which we will look at is a continuation of the petition from yesterday. In this petition, the Lord is seeking from God forgiveness for sin. We know that Jesus is not in need of forgiveness but is providing a model prayer for his disciples who do need forgiveness.
The phrase for today places a caveat on the request for forgiveness. This caveat is “as we forgive our debtors.”
Most often this is interpreted to mean that God should forgive our sin in the same manner which we forgive others. This interpretation creates a problem. The problem is that this would place God in a situation dependent upon our actions and behaviors. God is not dependent upon humans in any way and does not respond as humans respond. Evidence of this is found in places throughout Scripture. In the story of Jonah God is prepared to forgive Nineveh which angers Jonah because he wants Nineveh punished. God shows Jonah that God’s choice to forgive or not to forgive is not linked to Jonah’s choices. (Jonah 3:10-4:11) God also declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”(Isaiah 55:8) Stephen reminds us of God’s independence from human actions when he says, “However, the Most High does not live in houser made by human hands.”(Acts 7:48)
If we do not interpret this phrase to be a link between our actions and God’s actions, we must look at it differently. Jesus appears to be expressing the importance of our forgiveness of others. One possible translation of the Greek word translated here “as” is “because.” The sense maybe that Jesus is telling us our reason for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God. This interpretation is supported by other Scripture. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone, forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13) Luke’s version of this prayer also lends support. “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Luke 11:4).
In including this phrase in the prayer, Jesus calls upon us to remember that by requesting and accepting God’s forgiveness, we are to extend forgiveness to others in gratitude.