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.

Lean On

Read Proverbs 3:5-6

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.

A New Understanding

Read Acts 10:9-23a

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?

The Word Love

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.

In Service

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.

Attaching the Name

Read John 14:12-14

In the mid-19th century, comprehensive trademark laws began to emerge internationally. The concept behind trademarks laws is to protect names, labels and icons from being used by multiple people, organizations or companies. The originator of a label, name or icon desires to protect the trademark  from misuse and misrepresentation. The trademarks are intended for individuals to easily associate the person to the company, organization, product or service in their mind when it is seen. Understandably, if the trademark is used by someone else, confusion may occur at the very least or harm of the entity’s image may be the greatest damage. Attaching one’s trademark to something communicates ownership or, at a minimum, endorsement.

The passage from John’s gospel account speaks of attaching Jesus’s name to a prayer or request. Jesus is in a conversation with the twelve about his leaving but returning later to take them with him. Thomas is confused about knowing where Jesus is going so they can follow. Then when Jesus states  he is the way, the truth and the life, along with providing access to the Father, Philip asks to see the Father. Jesus tells them if they have seen him, they have seen the Father. This leads to the three verses we have just read.

Often these statements, and similar ones, by Jesus have caused people to conclude that anything we ask will occur if we attach the phrase, “in Jesus’s name.” When young children are taught to pray, they are taught to end each prayer with “in Jesus’s name. Amen.” This practice is directly related to conversations as we find in this John passage. Unfortunately, the perception that this is some magic incantation to make all desires come true exists in many minds. Cynics point out how often this does not work. Believers can become disillusioned when it appears to fail.

There are many reasons why a prayer request appears to go unfulfilled. The issue may be that God knows the request will not benefit the petitioner in the long run. Maybe the requestcould bring a negative impact on the well-being of another. Or the problem with the fulfillment could be the motivation behind the request.  The timing of the request may not be right and it may be fulfilled later or throughout a period of time. Truly, only God understands why some requests are not granted immediately after they are made.

A valuable measuring stick in regard to requests a person might make of the Lord is to ask what it means to attach Jesus’s name to the request. Is what I am asking for in alignment with how Jesus lived his life? Does this request fit in the teachings Jesus shared? Are my intentions behind the request in agreement with the love and service heart Jesus demonstrated? Would Jesus be proud to have his name connected to this request? These questions will help a person determine if the request should be made. The answers may also provide some insight into why some requests are not fulfilled.

Humble Beginnings

Read Exodus 2:1-10

The birth of a newborn is an absolutely amazing experience. The lives of the parents change dramatically. In many situations the birth signals a new beginning with an endless amount of possibilities. One, or both, of the parents may wonder what is in store for this new life. Maybe this child will become President of the United States or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Perhaps this new one will be the scientist who discovers a cure for cancer or the physician who perfects a spinal cord regeneration surgery. This baby might become the person who writes the box office success which remains on Broadway for fifty years or the painter who created a masterpiece that hangs in the Louvre one day. The possibilities are endless no matter the circumstances of the beginnings.

Our passage for today comes from Exodus and tells the story of a child’s beginnings. The Israelites were living in Egypt after having fled famine in their native land. The opportunity came from the unfortunate selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers. (But that is another story to tell.) Over time the leadership of Egypt changed and the Israelites became servants and workers for the Egyptians. They were considered by the Egyptians to be second class. Social rules were established to keep a separation between the two groups of people. Into this, a baby boy is born. His Hebrew mother saw a bleak future for him so she arranged a plan to have Pharaoh’s daughter find him. The plan worked brilliantly and Pharaoh’s daughter adopted the boy. She gives him the name Moses.

From one of the humblest beginnings, a powerful servant leader of God’s people emerges. Moses’s story is truly amazing as he rises and falls in stature, only to rise again. The story of Moses’s start serves as a reminder to us that no matter the circumstance of our birth or the events of our lives, we are capable of having a meaningful impact on the lives of others. We may not become the leader of a nation which we deliver out of captivity but we still can be a part of changing the direction of someone’s life. We may be the one who inspires someone else to alter the course of a nation. The possibilities are endless and timeless.

No matter how your life began or what events have shaped you, remember what you do today can be the most world  altering act for others. In God, there is always greatness in each one of us. Today may be the day in which you change history. Seek what the Lord has planned for you today whether you feel worthy or not.  Moses’s mother did.

Cry For Help

Read Psalm 143

Life is not always easy. There are periods when everything seems to be going smoothly; work, relationships, health, finances, and leisure time seem to be in sync and have positive outlooks. Then there are events which impact one or more of these and life can seem topsy turvy. All of us experience some level of this during the pandemic. During these times of challenge it may appear that we are all alone, having to face whatever situation on our own. We may even feel God has abandoned us. Hope may be fading for us.

This description of a life situation is exactly how the author of Psalm 143 is feeling. In a period of desperation and fading hope the author writes this song to be sung to the Lord. It is a plea, a prayer. The request is simple. The song calls on the Lord for hope. A desire to be led out of the current, difficult times is placed before God. There is urgency in the plea. The individual acknowledges the loss of hope and the crushing of the spirit. Yet, clearly there still exists confidence in the Lord.

This psalm is one which each of us could probably sing at different points in our lives. We may experience times of desperation. Our view may be that we are facing challenges alone. While we still believe in God, God can seem to be so distant from us. Hope can be fading in our lives. The weight of our situation is overwhelming and brings us to the point where our spirit feels crushed under it. However, we are not alone. The Spirit of the Lord is always present with us. Our prayers and cries for help are heard. We are being led to something better even though we are unable to see it at the present time. Our confidence does not rest in us but in the hope from our Lord.

What Is Important

Read 1 John 2:15-17

There are some who make the statement that we live in a “throw away” world. The meaning of this statement is that as consumers, we purchase items not expecting them to last very long but instead expecting to replace the item in a few short years. Companies promote this idea by advertising new models and always making changes which make previous models obsolete. A prime example of this is the cellular phone which has a new model debuting at least annually. This is a significant change over the last fifty years. Prior to the 1980s, and especially for a generation who had lived through the Great Depression, a person took care of their possessions and tried to make everything last as long as possible. Yet even before this shift, the reality was (and is) nothing lasts forever.

The writer of our letter today makes a differentiation between the things of this world and the things of the Father. In these words we are told to not focus upon and cherish the aspects of earthly lives because these items do not last. Our time and energy should be directed towards living as God presents to us. The God-focused aspects of life are eternal. All which derives from a temporal focus has a limited existence.

The writer is not intending to dissuade us from living productive and useful lives in our earthly state. God’s intention is for us to live a full life, enjoying the fruits of our labor and the blessings which we are given along the way. 

The writer is intending to tell us that perspective and priorities are important.The eternal aspects of life such as love, compassion, belonging, mercy and grace, must always rank higher in importance than those aspects which will eventually be gone.

We live in a “throw away” world. What we know and experience from these earthly moments have a shelf life. The eternal aspects from God should not be thrown away but instead be the most important parts of our lives.