2.25.2014

Weekly Devotional: Act Justly

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
-Micah 6:8

The prophet Micah has just boiled down the entire Law of Moses into three goals. The whole Law, everything God requires of his people, is summed up in these three requirements: 1) act justly, 2) love mercy, and 3) walk humbly with God.

Now, this is actually a paradox for me. As I said last week, the more rules, regulations, and requirements there are, the better I can look by comparison. There's a bigger safety net should I stumble in a few areas. So in a way, having rules upon rules upon rules is easier, safer, more comfortable.

When it's boiled down to three simple areas, there may be momentary relief from the weight of the Law, but then reality hits you. Justice, mercy, love, humility, and faithfulness are too big to ever perfect. There will never come a time when you can look at these three requirements and say, "I have arrived."

To understand this reality, it might help to view each of these three a little more in depth.

What does it mean to "act justly?"

I'm on Facebook quite a bit. I have a lot of friends who regularly share posts and articles dealing with injustice, human rights, world poverty, etc. The AIDS crisis in Africa; the inequality among social classes in India; the rampant gender-selective abortions taking place in China; sex-trafficking; forced child-labor; malnutrition; disease; unsafe drinking water; global warming. These are all fantastic causes for us to back and to which we should, as a human race, give our support and attention.

But what are we actually doing about it?

Today more than ever we can pull together with other men and women across the globe to make an impact on people thousands of miles away. We can cross oceans with the click of a button. We can spread awareness about major social issues by simply clicking "Like" or "Share."

But God wants us to do more than that. He doesn't want us to "Like" justice. He doesn't tell us to sit around and pontificate about our desire to end world hunger. He doesn't want our concern, our bleeding hearts, or even our money. He wants action. The key is to ACT justly (NIV), or to DO justice (ESV).

Check out this frightening verse in 1 John 3:
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
You want to make this world a more just place? Start with those right around you. Put your love into action in your neighborhood, at your workplace, at school, or maybe even perhaps at...church.

What would happen if everyone in your church took seriously the call to act justly?

What if next time you meet with your church, instead of asking "How are you?" you asked "How can I serve you? What do you need help with? How can I help? What can I do?"

Maybe it would begin to look something like this:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:32-34)
Lord, 
May we, Your people, act justly from day to day. May our eyes be opened to see the extreme needs of those all around us. May we seek your peace, may we show your love, and may we bring about justice when and where we can. Let us not be content to simply talk about justice or "love with words and speech," but let us live out our love so fully that there truly will be no needy persons in our church.
Amen

2.17.2014

Weekly Devotional: What Does God Want?

What's God's will for my life?

People ask that question all the time. I've asked it. You've asked it. It's as common of a question as they get. And it seems that for every person who asks that question, there is another person trying to answer that question for others.

Even when you read Scripture, the answers to the question, "What does God want?" vary from person to person.

Ecclesiastes says this: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind" (12:13).

Fear God. Keep his commandments. Done.

But...which commandments? There are, according to most counts, 613 commandments from God found in the Law of Moses. Just fear God and keep his checklist of requirements. You'll be fine!

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But 613 is a little steep. So let's boil it down to 10. Keep the Ten Commandments and you'll do well. In fact, Jesus tells a guy that if he just keep these commandments he'll be alright. The only thing he would lack would be to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him.

That seems a little extreme. How about narrowing it down a little more. What is the single greatest command? If we had to boil it all down to one thing, what is this life all about? Jesus answers that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with your entire being. And he throws a bonus command in with it - love your neighbor as yourself.

What an Epic HerosuperHere's the paradox. The more commands we are given, the easier it is for us to do. We can feel really good about ourselves if we follow 586 out of 613 commands. Even 9 out of 10 commands isn't all that bad. But what if we fail at obeying ONE command? What if we have ONE job and we screw it up?

I would rather take a test with 200 multiple choice and/or true and false questions than a 2 question essay test. I could miss 60 questions on the first test and still walk away with a passing grade. But if I mess up on even one of the two questions, I have failed.

That's why Paul can say in Romans 5, "But where sin increased, grace increased all the more." The stakes are higher now than they were under the old law. A few sacrifices a year could atone for breaking a few of the 613 commands. But what sacrifice can take care of breaking the one command that really matters? There is more on the line. The failure is more obvious, more blatant. We have less of a safety net when everything hinges on one or two commands - love God and love your neighbor. But as the stakes get higher, the grace becomes that much more powerful.

I think that's behind the heart of what was written by the prophet Micah so many centuries ago:
With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? (6:6-7)
What kind of sacrifice can cover such catastrophic failure? We're at a loss of what to do. There are not enough bonus points available to even bump us up to a passing grade.

God simply says, I'll take care of it. Here's all I want you to do.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Jesus, the savior of the world, the Son of the living God, takes your test, rips it up, and says, "Follow me." God will give us Jesus' test score. We simply need to become like Jesus in the process.

What is God's will for your life? What does He want from you?

Love God and walk humbly with Him.
Love your neighbor as yourself by acting justly and showing mercy.

That's it.

Or as Agustine of Hippo put it, "Love God and then do as you will."

More on this next week.

2.11.2014

Weekly Devotional: What's Love Got To Do With It?

This Friday is Valentine's Day. Little is known about Saint Valentine, but there is evidence that he was died in northern Rome on February 14. One thing led to another and now we commemorate his life by buying expensive chocolates and cut flowers.

Valentine's Day is a day to celebrate love - specifically romantic love. I'm sure there will be countless proposals in fancy restaurants across the globe, and many more children who are able to do the math backwards 9 months from their birth date.

To the world, romantic love is about as good as it gets. Hollywood makes billions by capitalizing on our felt need for love, affection, and romance. Nicholas Sparks and Danielle Steel know exactly the kind of thing their audience longs for. Songs are written in the name of love. Masterpieces are painted and sculpted for love's sake. Romantic love has inspired plays and poetry, wars and suicide. To the world it would seem that the pursuit of romantic love is the highest calling one can hope to achieve. Once you've "put a ring on it," you have arrived.

But Christians know something the world does not know. Romantic love is but a shadow of true, unconditional love. The Greeks had a word for this kind of love. English does not. In Greek the highest form of love is called agape.

Agape is the love by which God's very nature is defined. "God is love," says 1 John 4. In Jesus' farewell speech before his crucifixion, he gave them one last command, "Agapate (imperative for "love") one another as I have egapesa (loved) you" (John 15:12). In fact, Jesus makes his expectations crystal clear. The world is supposed to know who Jesus' disciples are, not by their clothes or their doctrine or their political agenda or their bumper stickers, but by their agape love.

So what does this kind of love look like? Paul helps fill in the blanks a bit in 1 Corinthians 13, AKA "The Love Chapter."
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
That's a look at agape love. It seems very different from the "love stories" produced by Hollywood or shown on prime time TV. We live in a world governed by romantic love. The Greeks also had a word for that, eros. It's where we get the word "erotic." But think about this, romantic, eros love as we see it in the world is pretty much the opposite of unconditional, agape love.
Romantic love is impatient, romantic love is unkind. It envies, it boasts, it is proud. It dishonors others, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, it keeps record of wrongs. Romantic love delights in evil but does not rejoices with the truth. It rarely protects, rarely trusts, rarely hopes, rarely perseveres.
Romantic love often fails.
And we wonder why the divorce rate is so high.

I want you to read through this passage two more times and think how the world would be different if the following were true:
Christians are patient, Christians are kind. They do not envy, they do not boast, they are not proud. They do not dishonor others, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Christians do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. They always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
Christian love never fails.
Wouldn't this be a wonderful world to live in if the above paragraph were true? Unfortunately, the church is made up of imperfect people, and imperfect people love imperfectly. So it might be a bit much to wish for all Christians everywhere to love to this extent.

But what about you. You can't change what others do. You can't force anyone else to love. But you can make the change for yourself. You can insert your name into that paragraph and make it your own. So try this with me. Maybe even read it out loud. Copy and paste this paragraph and print it out. Stick it where you will see it on a daily basis.

Learn how to love.
I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I do not dishonor others, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
My love never fails.
Love is the most powerful tool Jesus left for his disciples. Let's become master lovers. Let's be recognized by nothing other than our love.