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.

Carrying a Burden

Read Psalm 32:1-5

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.

A Time

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

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?

– How do you choose which time to act upon?

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.

Dashed Misperceptions

Read Matthew 10:34-42

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.

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?

A Legacy

Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8

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?

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.

Gift Discernment

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

When a teenager is in high school, often they will experience taking some form of an aptitude test at least once. The purpose behind such a test is to assist the teenager in identifying what type of employment may best suit their personality, skills, and interests. With this information, the student can be guided in what subjects they should take while in high school. This also provides an opportunity for looking toward the future in regard to what post-secondary education or training would be helpful for the student to move toward them toward employment goals. The generally accepted view is that after identifying the personality, skills and interests, preparing for a future where these are easily applied is the best route. What this approach fails to take into account is the changes which can, and do, occur in those three areas as a person matures. Also, the changes in employment types and opportunities as society advances does not factor into this approach. However, a short-term plan can be established for the time being as long as taking other aptitude tests occurs frequently throughout the person’s life.

Paul speaks about a person’s aptitude in his letter to the Corinthians. He uses the words “spiritual gifts” instead of aptitude. Paul tells the people that everyone receives personalities, skills, and interests from the Spirit. These are intended to be used by the individual to serve others. Each person’s gifts are different from another but are expected to work in harmony with others to achieve the benefit of everyone.

You have been given your own unique personality, set of skills, and interests by the Spirit. Identifying those unique aspects is important so that you are able to exercise them for the good of all. This identification usually requires the assistance of others which is one of the purposes of active engagement in the fellowship of the Church. It is also very important to remember that discerning these items is not a one-time event but should be done frequently since changes occur. Each time after discernment, identifying how to apply these gifts for the good of others is the next step.

When did you last take inventory of what you received from the Spirit? Is it time to repeat this discernment? How are you using your gifts?

Not Alone

Read Psalm 36:5-9

Everyone of us have days when troubles seem to abound and solutions appear unattainable. Dreams and hopes can be shattered without any warning. Expectations may go unfulfilled. These are the difficult times in life. No one is exempt from these occurrences, even though others may not perceive them.

It is during these times that it is important to remember how vast God’s love is for each of us. We benefit by recalling the promises of companionship, support and guidance that the Lord has made to us. We are not alone in these times. God’s faithfulness endures forever for each person. Our cries for help are heard by our Lord and we are led by the hand through the darkness. We lay out our hurts, our grief, our hopelessness before the Lord and we are understood. When we  are weary, we receive support. When we are lost, we are led.

The psalmist reminds us of this. The song, Precious Lord, Take My Hand, also speaks to us when these times come into our lives.