The Right Thing

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.

Rest of the Story

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.

Entitled

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)

There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.

Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.

It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you  God for not giving me what I deserve!

Having to Choose

14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

Joshua 24:14-18 (NIV)

Our lives are filled with choices for us to make. Some of these choices are fairly mundane such as what clothes to wear each day, what we are going to eat for breakfast, or what movie we are going to see at the theater. Other choices can have a significant and lasting impact upon our lives like what we are going to do after high school, who we are going to marry, or what job opportunity we are going to accept. Millions of choices are presented to us each day. Which option we choose can alter our experiences, our perspectives, and/or very lives.

Throughout the Bible we encounter stories of people having to make choices. The story today involves the Israelites and Joshua. Joshua is talking with the Israelites about the covenant which they have with God. He recalls for them how the Lord has brought them to where they are now. He recounts God’s saving actions and the leaders God has sent to them. Then Joshua tells them that they have a choice to make as they live in the new land which the Lord has provided. The people must choose if they care going to serve God or some form of another god. The people commit to serving God.

In truth, Joshua’s question is placed before us each and every day. When we start our day, and potentially many times throughout the day, we are called upon to choose who we are going to serve. This fundamental decision will impact each choice we make after it. If we choose to serve the Lord, the one who loves and redeems us by grace, then our words, actions, and interactions with others will come out of an attitude of love and grace. When this is not our guiding force, we know that we have chosen to serve another.

Hear again Joshua’s words: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” How do you respond?

Life and Death

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

Romans 6:1-10 (NIV)

Almost thirty years ago, Disney released an animated movie entitled The Lion King. A major theme of this movie revolved around the concept of the circle of life. Mufasa, the Lion King at the time, is speaking to his son and future king, Simba. Mufasa tells Simba, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.” There is even a major song in the movie by the name Circle of Life. Nature has a way of taking death and using it to bring forth life, from death comes life.

The passage for today takes life and death in a different direction. We are told first that we are to no longer sin because we are now dead to sin through the power of Christ. Sin has brought death into the would but Christ overcame death and sin from his death on the cross. In baptism we are joined to Christ so we share in his triumphant death and resurrected life. Sin cannot have power over us anymore.

The challenge placed before us is how to refrain from sinning and live as ones who are dead to sin. There is no magic formula or a guidebook to give us steps to achieve this. Working toward this goal requires continuous effort on a daily basis. Failure will be a part of this journey. Grace as given by the Lord will allow us to move through our failure. No matter how we do, the continued effort will allow us to improve. God’s love will never abandon us in our successes and failures.

Victory

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57 (NIV)

Competition is a part of everyone’s life. There are all forms of athletic competitions. Beauty pageants and performance competitions are held all over the world. Spelling bees, academic decathlons and game shows test skills and knowledge. With the rise of reality television shows, a whole new form of competition has entered our society. Then there is the fact of competition in our everyday lives. Competition exists in the work environment as employees vie for positions, promotions, and raises. Businesses compete against one another for the consumer’s money. The list of life’s different competitive situations can appear to be endless. Competition is not an exclusively human dynamic either. Throughout creation competition exists for food, water, mates and shelter.

The passage which we read today from Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth speaks of a competition. This competition is between life and death. It is a competition not just for the physical nature of humanity as much as it is for the spiritual aspect of humanity. Yes, Scripture tells us that at the point of resurrection, the physical body will be raised and reunited with the spirit just as with Christ but a person’s spirit is even more important to God. The competition was ended by Christ as he defeated death by his destruction of sin and his resurrection. Christ claimed the victory.

For you and me, being given a victory which we have done nothing to earn is amazing. Paul tells the Corinthians and us that God has given us the victory over death through Jesus Christ. We obtain this victory because death is due to sin. Since Jesus wiped away our sin through the cross, there is no need for death anymore. The victory is ours in a competition we could never win. Jesus is the only way we have victory.

Light and Darkness

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:5-10 (NIV)

Catching a sunrise can be a beautiful experience. As the darkness of the night gives way to the light of the day, there are types of colors and hues. Clouds which are on the eastern horizon can add to the color and the dazzling of the light. It is a fact that darkness and light cannot co-exist. The imagery of darkness and light have represented unrelenting opposition in our world. This is often referred to as black and white; black representing darkness and white representing light. You may have heard sayings such as, “They are as different as black and white.” or “They oppose each other like day and night.” Old Western movies would put the bad guys in black or dark clothing while the good guys would be dressed in white or light outfits. All of this exemplifies our view that light and darkness cannot dwell together.

At the beginning of the letter we know as I John, a discussion in regard to light and darkness occurs. The author states that God is light and no darkness can abide with the light. The dynamic of light representing holiness and righteousness while darkness represents sin and unrighteousness is put forth. We are told that if we come into the light, Jesus’s blood will purify us from our sin (darkness). This is important because we cannot be in fellowship with God if we have sin. The writer also tells us that if we claim to be in the light and without sin, or have no need of Jesus’s purifying blood, then we deceive ourselves and there is no truth in us or our claims. The hope is found in the reality that if we confess our sin, acknowledging our need to be purified, then God promises to forgive them and cleanse us of them.

Walking in darkness can lead to a host of problems. Darkness does not allow us to see the dangers and pitfalls which are in our path. We can easily stumble, fall and even do serious damage to ourselves or others. Walking in sin does not allow us to experience the fullness of our Lord. We can cause fatal damage to our spirit. By entering the light of God’s fellowship by confessing our sins, we take our first step into the light of God which is filled with forgiveness, grace and love. This first step is like when the first rays of sunlight break into night’s darkness before the first sighting of the full sun occurs. Before one knows it, the light completely dispels the darkness and the sun radiates light from above the horizon. Come into the light and leave the darkness behind you.

Reconciliation

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. 

Colossians 1:19-23a (NIV)

Reconciliation is defined as “the restoration of friendly relations.” After the Civil War in the United States, the northern and southern states had to reconcile. Friendly relations were required if the nation was going to heal and move forward as a productive country on the world’s stage. Reconciliation can also be necessary among family members. When individuals become estranged from one another, there is a need to reconcile with one another for the family to become whole once again. Unreconciled relationships create a gap among people. It is as if there is a hole in the spirit of the person who has not been reconciled.

In his comments to the Colossian believers, Paul speaks of reconciliation with God. The reason for the need to reconcile is because our thoughts and behaviors stand often in opposition to the love of God. God is love so anything which cannot abide within that love is unable to exist in God’s realm. God chose to create a way for us to be reconciled with God. Jesus Christ is the means for reconciliation to occur. God decided to fully live among humanity in Jesus. At the right time Jesus became the reconciler by physically dying on the cross. He stood in for us, bearing our sinful thoughts and behaviors on his body. By doing this, he made us holy, free and innocent in the sight of God. Our thoughts and behaviors are now compatible with the pure love of God.

Now having been made compatible with God and fully reconciled in relationship, Paul says we are to continue in believing Jesus has made this so. He tells us to be unmoved from the hope found in this good news. Where we once were alienated from God, we now live in full relationship. This is the truth of the gospel and this truth gives us hope.

Making Requests

Show me your ways, Lord,
    teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
    for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
    and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
    for you, Lord, are good.

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
    toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
11 For the sake of your name, Lord,
    forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 25:4-11

We make requests of people all the time. As parents, we ask our children to put away their toys, clean their room, hang up their coats, take the dogs out, and the list goes on ad nauseam. In the work environment there are requests going both ways between employer and employee; i.e., employers request tasks to be completed, employees request time off. Everyday life is filled with examples of requests being made and being fulfilled or granted.

In the midst of Psalm 25, we see a series of requests being made. First is a request for the Lord to show us the Lord’s way. A request is then made for the Lord to teach the Lord’s truth. The requests continue with a desire for grace and mercy to be shown instead of our rebellious behaviors. The Lord is acknowledged for the way in which the Lord instructs sinners and guides the humble. Requests, confession and praise fill these verses.

These verses serve as a guide in regard to how we need to humble ourselves and seek the Lord. Each of us are aware of the times we rebel against the Lord. Those times when we choose to exert our independence so we can go the direction which we think is best in our lives. Often we discover that such rebellion leads to problematic results. This is when we must humble ourselves and make the above requests of the Lord. The first request should be for mercy, forgiveness and grace. Then a request to be taught, or retaught, about the Lord’s ways, paths and truth. Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we can be assured that these requests will be granted.

Make your requests of the Lord. Then humbly learn and strive to rebel no more.

Our Advocate

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16 (NIV)

If you have ever been required to go into court for some reason, you know the importance of having a strong advocate to present your case. Having an attorney who understands your side of the legal matter can make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your court case. A lawyer who can present the facts of your case in a competent and well-supported manner is good. If that same lawyer can explain the background and demonstrate empathy in the situation, a favorable result is even more likely.

In the writing to the Hebrews, we are reminded that each of us has an advocate which understands and empathizes with our circumstances. First we receive the counsel that nothing is hidden from God. The word of God is alive and active; cutting through any of the smoke screens we may attempt to use in order to hide our sinful thoughts and actions. Next, we receive the reminder that Jesus, who has lived and struggled as we do daily, is the one who stands before God to state our case. Knowledge of this reality allows us to stand before God in confidence since Jesus has assured our reception of mercy and grace.

There is not one of us who when God’s light of inquiry shines on us can stand guiltless. If our actions appear innocent, our thoughts and attitudes betray us. We have sufficient reason to fear justified punishment. However, our fear no longer has merit because of Jesus. Jesus stands before God on our behalf. He acknowledges our weakness in battling temptations, unhealthy thoughts, and the desires to engage in hurtful actions. He demonstrates understanding before the Father. Then he reminds God that he battled the same but overcame not just for his sake but for the sake of all humanity. Instead of punishment we receive forgiveness and mercy due to the grace of our Lord.