Do Right, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly

I was reminded this morning of Micah 6:8 by a verse image that JoAnn Reid created on the Bible app:

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/mic.6.8.NLT

Let’s dissect a bit this morning:

  • The Lord has told you what is good
  • This is what He requires of you
  • Do what is right
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God

And we can break down the five bullet points into two sections.

A pre-amble about the Lord:

  • The Lord has told you what is good
  • This is what He requires of you

What the Lord requires:

  • Do what is right
  • Love mercy
  • Walk humbly with your God

The Lord has told you what is good

Like a good parent at home or a good leader in the workplace, the Lord sets clear expectations up front. In contrast to fallible mankind (who may have hidden agendas, and who may say one thing and do another), God tells us clearly what is good. It doesn’t change with the culture and times. It doesn’t sway to whatever wickedness we can justify in our own minds as being “well intended”. He has spoken. It is written. Roman’s chapter 1 is a good study on how God has “told everyone” what is good:

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Romans 1:18‭-‬20 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/rom.1.18-20.NLT

So we should see that this Old Testament prophetic statement from Micah’s message to Israel is consistent with the New Testament gospel from Paul’s letter to the Romans.

“This is what He requires of you”

There are requirements. While in great contrast, the Satanic mantra and the way of the fallen world system is “Do as thou wilt” — having people justify in their own minds their selfish, unjust, illegal, unloving actions with little consideration of God’s will or fear of His judgement. Christ did not go to the cross to free us to sin more. He did not live a sinless life and offer us grace so that sin might abound even more in our lives and in the world around us. He did not provide us with the gift of the Holy Spirit living within us so that He could be present in the midst of our sinful endeavors.

He has provided escape and victory. He has broken chains, opened prison doors, and made a way where there was no way. He has called us out of the darkness and into the light. And we are given a choice. John chapter 3 lays it out like this:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.
John 3:16‭-‬21 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/jhn.3.16-21.NLT

We see that there is both an invitation by God, and an answer by each person.

“Do what is right”

We see that God requires that we do what is just and right.

For someone who knows that they do not always do what is just and right, this may seem like a high bar to set, maybe even an impossible goal to reach. This is not so much because the bar is set unjustly or unfairly high — doing right to others and being just towards others would sound like a very reasonable thing if we were all loving, selfless, just and fair people. Imagine a world where people were not wicked, prideful, selfish — where they did not demand their own way, did not wrong each other, did not place unreasonable expectations upon each other. That sounds like a beautiful place to live and be a part of. If that sounds like your home, your workplace, your neighborhood, your country — you would be blessed indeed.

But my guess is that you can see that your own life, and those around you, are tainted in some way that falls short of that perfect ideal. This should give any reasonable man pause to consider why it is so. It caused the apostle Paul to contemplate such things:

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
Romans 7:14‭-‬25 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/rom.7.14-25.NLT

Do you ever wonder why in the world you would do, say or think such a thing?

Do you ever recognize that they’re is this war going on where you are tempted to do things that you know aren’t right or good or healthy — yet you do them anyways?

Please understand that neither Paul nor I are excusing wrongdoing by pointing out how sin works within us. Paul isn’t saying, “Don’t worry about your continued sinning because it isn’t you doing it, it is something else doing it, and you can’t help it.” No! Paul is saying, “Look, can’t you see how it is a sickness that leads to destruction and death, and how it contrasts with what you know is healthy, right, and good for you and for others.” He’s showing that this infection, this infiltration of sin is something we can recognize, quantify, measure in our lives as “real”.

The Bible teaches us that sin infiltrated in the fall of mankind, and it is sin that separates us from a holy God. God’s requirement is repeated multiple times, “Be holy as I am holy”. God’s is repeated over and over, consistently throughout both Old and New Testsment:

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy.
Leviticus 20:7‭-‬8 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/lev.20.7-8.NLT

So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:14‭-‬16 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/1pe.1.14-16.NLT

If the apostle Paul acknowledges this “war within himself” as we mentioned above, and we recognize and agree that we can see how “sin” is in us and works against our best interests, and we see that God calls us to be “holy” — how do we escape a trap that seems hell bent on our destruction?

If we were dealing with a religion that gives you a law to obey, some self-help steps to guide you, a checklist of dos and don’ts, even good reasoning behind why you “should” do X versus doing Y — you might say, “This stuff is worthless. It is just going to cause self loathing towards self or religious zealots will use it to oppress groups who are different than themselves. ” This is because we know that at times, we have known the right thing to do, and we have still chosen poorly and done the wrong thing. With a dead religion of only laws, advice and reasoning– we have seen how it fails because people are NOT holy — people are not just — people are not fair. They may seem so in a single isolated incident, but they are not consistently. And even when they appear so, many times there is a selfish agenda or reason behind it, like a sneaky thumb on the scales of justice that goes unnoticed — instead of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

So how do we “Do right”?

How do we “be holy”?

This is where I tell you that “The Way” is a bit different than what you might have in your mind about “Christianity” as a religion. Knowing, loving, and walking in “The Way” is a narrow path that leads to life — while being a great religious scholar in the “Christian religion” can be comfortably practiced while moving along the broad way that leads to destruction.

If you feel confused at this point, stick with me. This meal takes some chewing. Just like we had to differentiate sin and how it has tainted what could be a perfect life, culture and community if it wasn’t present — I want you to see how “The Way” has been tainted in a way that has people misunderstanding a restored relationship with God as being “a religion”.

“Love mercy”

What is mercy?

The Hebrew word (חֶסֶד – checed – H2617) used here points to:

  • Loving-kindness of men towards each other
  • The reverence or genuine piety of men towards God
  • The grace, favour, and undeserved mercy of God towards men

Mercy is the “right relationship” in each of these cases. Mercy is a right relationship between men, and mercy is a right relationship between God and man.

To “love mercy” is to love being loving and kind towards others. To “love mercy” is to love being reverent and in awe of and grateful towards God. To “love mercy” is to love and appreciate God’s unmerited grace, mercy, and favour that He demonstrates towards us.

So it isn’t “being begrudgingly kind” towards others because we know we are “supposed to”. That would be religious, that would be hypocrisy — that would be the tainted and false substitute and would not be “The Way”. It is about loving that relationships with others are being restored to the “right relationships”.

And it isn’t going through the motions of religious traditions, ceremonies, or practices because we’re “supposed to” or because “that’s what we’ve been taught to do”. That would be religious, that would be hypocrisy — that would be the tainted and false substitute and would not be “The Way”. It is about loving our restored relationship with God to where “genuine worship” and time spent “with the Lord” is ongoing, abiding, and consistent.

And it isn’t about using a concept of grace as a “get out of hell free card” to justify our loving our sin and continuing in it like those we read about in Romans chapter 1. That would be religious, that would be hypocrisy — that would be the tainted ands false substitute and would not be “The Way”. It is about our believing what Christ has done for us through His life, death, and resurrection and loving His mercy, loving “The Way”, loving this new abundant life with Him and living that we are turning away from the “old man” and turning to God.

“Walk humbly with your God”

Clearly, we have been building up to this point. And hopefully it is abundantly clear with this particular statement of “walk humbly with your God” that it is not just saying “be humble and follow the rules”.

Hopefully, at this point, we can agree on the focus of “religion vs relationship”.

It might seem fearful to a man who is clearly wrapped up in sin, who doesn’t love others, and who doesn’t love God to “meet His maker” at the end of His life to “find out whether hell or heaven is his future”. That seems to be the painting that “religion” paints to convince a man that he better — sign up for church membership — get sprinkled, poured, or dunked in the water — and start handing out tickets to God. But it shouldn’t be odd or surprising to discover that Jesus says in such cases, “depart from me” and “I never knew you”.

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Matthew 7:21‭-‬23 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/mat.7.21-23.NLT

We are called to walk humbly with Him now. And we are told that when we walk with Him, that the world will hate us like they hated Him. We are told that the enemy will try to work through others to harm us and to tear down our “right relationship” and compromise our testimony. We are told that we will share in His sufferings.

We aren’t given a prosperity religion checklist that says, “Do this good thing for God in order to manipulate Him into having to bless you.” No, that too would be religious, would be hypocrisy — and is not “The Way”. Because our eyes are not set on the treasures of this world that don’t compare to the things of heaven — nor fgo they compare to seeking first the Kingdom of God and walking humbly with the Lord now, today, even at this very moment.

A “religious man” who does not walk humbly with the Lord might pray fervently to be delivered from the fiery trials because he doesn’t know or trust that God is actually there with him ands has a purpose in mind:

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? And also, “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?” So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
1 Peter 4:12‭-‬19 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/1pe.4.12-19.NLT

Did you catch the phrase “If the righteous are barely saved, what will happen to godless sinners?”

I encourage each of us to consider that statement — especially any man that considers himself religious or righteous.

Let’s choose to walk humbly with the Lord, friends. Amen.

Mixed Motives

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
Matthew 6:3 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.6.3.ESV

Both the “religious” man and the “godly” man can see that there is good benefit in giving to the needy — the religious man from a self-serving nature to be praised by men or to increase in vain-glory — and the “godly” from an inward principle that wells up allowing neither complacency or ostentation in the face of need.

The religious man will find that he cannot use fear of vain-glory as the valid excuse for complacency in his ignoring the needs of others, nor can he choose to receive his reward now and expect his work to not be burned up in the discerning fires.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
1 Corinthians 3:10‭-‬15 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/1co.3.10-15.ESV

This can be a challenging subject for a religious man to consider, since he cannot trust his own heart in such matters. The heart is deceitful and will fight like a special forces team inserted in the dark of night to defend ego when it sits upon the throne of prideful men’s hearts. And it would rather the man abandon consideration of helping his needy brother than insure that God alone receives any and all glory.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.
Jeremiah 17:9‭-‬10 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/jer.17.9-10.ESV

And while this should be a comfort to the man who is fully trusting in the Lord to establish his steps — it should be a horribly fearful warning to the m as n who counts on the evidence of his good works and reputation to account for anything in the Kingdom of God. Psalm 139 reminds us that He is acquainted with all of our ways, our innermost “why” behind both our action and our inaction:

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Psalm 139:3 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/psa.139.3.ESV

So we are warned that any “mixed motives” are not mixed at all — that we cannot serve two masters. This is the very definition of the “religious” man, because he seeks the appearance of serving God like the “godly” man, but he is not actually surrendered and serving God — He still loves himself too much to die to self.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.
Matthew 6:24a ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.6.24.ESV

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord , choose this day whom you will serve… But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord .”
Joshua 24:15 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/jos.24.15.ESV

“Christian”, whether we be a “religious” man or a “godly” man, we must examine ourselves and inquire with God for the truth about who it is who lives in this vessel:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Galatians 2:20‭-‬21 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/gal.2.20-21.ESV

If we find evidence of mixed motives, do not fear. We need only confess our sin, turn back to God in repentance, believe in Him and not ourselves for our salvation, and seek His glory and not our own in our sanctification.

We must not ignore such a call for surrender when we find that ego has even a foothold left upon the territory of our hearts. We must shine the light of God’s grace and mercy on that territory and see the enemy flee. Any counterfeit kings, idols, gods trying to lay claim to territory in our hearts must die — even ego/self — to make way for the only King that will truly love us and not harm us — King Jesus.

And when He is truly King, we will not fail to give to the needy, because it is in His character and nature and He is living in us and through us. We will not seek honor from men or bathe ourselves in vain-glory because it isn’t something we are doing ourselves that is spectacular or to be put on display, but it is what He is doing through us. It is then that He can fulfill the following scripture through us:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14‭-‬16 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.5.14-16.ESV

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 6:1 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.6.1.ESV

Such things aren’t possible for even a very “religious” man. A man with “mixed motives”, with a checklist of “what I can do” and another list of “what I can’t do” will never reconcile Matthew 5:14 and Matthew 6:1, because he has made it about himself. This is explained explicitly when Jesus speaks about riches (the other extreme from need):

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:23‭-‬26 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.19.23-26.ESV

And even when Peter, like a very “religious” man says:

Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?
Matthew 19:27 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.19.27.ESV

Peter in that moment reveals his left hand. “Look what I’ve done! What do I get?” Vain-glory on display right there in front of God. Isn’t that how we can be at times, even in our prayers? Even in our “ministry”? Even in our “good works”? But Jesus doesn’t smite him. He doesn’t disqualify him. In language we might better understand today, “Jesus doesn’t have Peter box up his belongings, accept a severance package, thank him for his time and send him packing because he just doesn’t get it. Nor does he give him a checklist of do’s and don’ts. He points to the answer that is beyond self, He points to something beyond this fallen world, He points to an upside down Kingdom where God accomplishes what man cannot — through selfless, sacrificial love.”

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Matthew 19:28‭-‬30 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.19.28-30.ESV

Lord, rather than just scrambling for what rough edges we might need knocked off, polished up, and put on display for others to see as the image of who we are — put your light on display through us so that men might be in awe of your glory, your grace, your mercy, your love, and your holiness. Come do in us the amazing things for others for your glory that we would either not do, or would do for our own glory. Take your rightful place upon the throne of our hearts and lives, and lead us by your Holy Spirit to see all the counterfeit idols cast out of the territory of our heart, mind, speech and actions for your sovereign reign. Establish our footsteps in The Way, and lead us. Amen.

He Makes Me

I’ve seen this particular verse more times than I can count, but after taking our Pomeranian, PomPom, outside this morning for her morning walk — I saw this in a special light:

“He makes me” and “He leads me” jumped out of this as if they were highlighted like I’ve highlighted them above.

And I thought of PomPom, who occasionally wants to go her own way or get herself into trouble when we take her outside to go potty or go for walks. My wife and daughter take her out on a leash to go outside, so they can make her behave and keep her out of trouble. I take her out and correct her by my voice and my presence alone. I pondered how this parallels the Lord’s guidance and what this verse is talking about.

I’m also reminded of a recent C. S. Lewis quote that came up in a group on Facebook dedicated to the author’s works, where the contemplative discussion was on God’s will versus our own will:

“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it” jumps out to me in this quote, and I contemplate the distractions that our dog, PomPom, encounters wore regularly that would not bring her joy. Examples are:

  • She smells something especially stinky that she wants to roll in — but which would result in us having to wash her (for both health and cleanliness reasons since she is an indoor dog) that she does not enjoy having to endure, and each bath dries out her skin ands makes her itch more than usual.
  • She gets curious and wants to wander too far away — which could leave her exposed to the predatory hawks we have in the area who are not afraid to pluck a chicken, rabbit, or small dog even while people are nearby, or to the coyotes, or to traffic on the road — all of which would not be an enjoyable experience for her or for us.
  • She finds something that is not food that she wants to try eating — most of which is not healthy for her, will make her sick, and will have her wretching and puking later — which is not enjoyable to her, but is even less enjoyable if we must take her to the vet.

So when we see her being tempted, we make her do something different than her senses and feelings in the moment are screaming at her to do. Our heavenly Father seems to “make us” and “lead us” in similar ways beyond mere conscience or memory of previous consequences that could be dismissed as “self”. Wouldn’t it be foolish (and dangerous) for PomPom to think to herself if she saw an open door, “Cool, I go out there all the time and never face dangers. I don’t need them with me! I’m headed on an adventure! I can do all the things they never let me do!”

But can we admit to ourselves that this is sometimes how we treat God in His “making us” and “leading us”?

Isn’t this exactly what happened in the garden?

Isn’t this exactly what happened the last time that we decided to go at it “on our own” and leave God behind?

Sadly, this verse highlighted recently by Brian Morin speaks to the alternative to God’s leading:

So many men will follow their sensuality to “their condemnation from long ago” to “their destruction” rather than be led by God. What a sad thought for those who refuse to repent and believe that God’s way truly is best and that everything else is danger, hurt, sickness, and death. What a sad thought for those who oppose God’s will because of senses and feelings, but have no understanding that God does such things from a place of love, grace and mercy extended to us.

I’m reminded of this recent verse image created by JoAnn Reid:

And you may wonder, “What does love have to do with obedience?”

Everything!

A religious man who doesn’t know the Lord and doesn’t love the Lord or love others can look at precepts in the Bible and try to live by them — like a checklist to keep his life from running off the rails — and he can build a reputation as a wise man. But He might live his life under the burdensome and stressful strain of trying to live up to the whitewashed “brand” he is trying to sell to the world around him — advertising his good deeds, even while knowing that he is empty and dead on the inside. This is NOT The Way, this is NOT what Psalm 23 is talking about. This is NOT why I share from the Bible. Don’t settle for rolling in the stench of religion when you can be led by the Lord.

When you see what He has done for you on the cross, when you see that He is a good Father leading you because He loves you, when you see that remaining close with Him as much as possible — you will rest at his feet, you will be filled with joy every time that He “enters the room”, you will love the healthy food and treats He provides you. I look at how Pompom clings to me, and this is what we want with the Lord, this is what is best. This is what stirs up love to the point that a leash of law is no longer necessary, and that we live in love and trust.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:23‭-‬29 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/gal.3.23-29.ESV

What is better for PomPom than knowing how to look out for hawks and coyotes, and knowing how to avoid things that are bad for her on her own? Walking with her daddy, having me there with her to lead her — even in those times she might be tempted to head off into danger so that she can hear the correction and choose to listen, and learn that the voice is trustworthy.

Lord, make us and lead us as you will. We trust that you know best. Forgive us for those times when we haven’t trusted and have resisted your will and your correction. We trust that it is not to harm us, but is for our good — even when we might not understand in the moment. May your pure love for us be so contagious from our time with you that it changes us from being led away by our senses, feelings and desires — to long for more of your love and to show that love in everything we are and everything we do. Lord, only by you will we “get it right”. Help us. Amen.

Hurt Dog or Trusted Companion

I was inspired today by 3 friends who were talking about “tearing down” versus “building up” in their own unique ways today — and about how others tearing down themselves and us can present a profound opportunity in how we respond:

And I found this video:

I’m reminded of how a hurt or abused dog might lash out and bite others — even people who are trying to help them.

We never know what hurt or abuse someone else is dealing with — so many times when we get hurt by others, we either think “What did I do?” or “Why are they so hurtful towards me?” And it might not even be about what is between the two of us, but it can be left over from something else.

So if we get hurt, and fall into offense instead of forgiving them (regardless of whether we believe they deserve our forgiveness, but solely because they need our forgiveness and love in order to heal) — if we withhold that forgiveness and love, we are left with them remaining bitter and with bitterness growing in our own hearts as well.

It can be hard to forgive when we are wronged and they don’t deserve our forgiveness — and that is why Christ demonstrated this to us on the cross — extending His forgiveness and mercy to us, undeserved. And taking hold of that grace frees us to forgive, to pay it forward because we could never do enough to pay Him back.

I’m sorry that you got hurt. I’m sorry that whoever hurt you was a broken, hurting person not abiding in the Spirit of God and loving you. I hope that you don’t see me responding as anything but a virtual hug of love, of forgiveness, of remembrance of what Christ did for us and calls us to do in return.

I’ve been dealing with something myself recently where it was hard to understand why, hard to not just see evil men standing against me, hard to forgive — and it was hard for me because I had forgotten how much I had been forgiven, I had let my heart grow cold and hard in certain areas instead of letting Christ reign supreme in every area of my life. I’ve confessed this, repented, and I’m surrendering whole new areas of my life to see Christ mend and heal and strengthen me with peace I didn’t have before. And I’m confident that when you are ready and ask Him, that He will move those same mountains for you.

And what is amazing, is that we can be transformed from a hurt dog that hurts others — to a trustworthy companion when joy, forgiveness, and love is restored. Going through challenge together — working through differences — restoring what was once broken — proves through the fire a trust that has been tested and proven.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12‭-‬17 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/col.3.12-17.ESV

True Worship

I saw this morning that Matt Padula (a worship leader at The Well church in Landrum, SC) had just finished a 5 day study plan called “True Worship” on the Bible app, and it caught my eye and called to me this morning.

And the devotional content hit home quickly for me during this season, as we have been dealing with first the financial impact on my wife’s business and income as a gig worker — and then the additional challenges of my losing my job more recently:

I wonder how often my prayers, my thoughts, and my worship has been focused on MY need instead of HIS sufficiency, on MY burdens instead of HIS strength and faithfulness.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/mat.11.29.ESV

I wonder how often I have not entered into the rest of knowing that God’s plan and purpose is not for harm but for good when I face storms, mountains, or fiery trials — because my focus has been on ME and not on CHRIST?

We encounter a wonderful opportunity for surrender during challenging seasons. And new territories of our lives, of our character, of our habits — can be handed over to Christ to be infiltrated by the Kingdom of God ruling freely in our hearts and lives.

I had written all of the above and realized that I needed to hurry to get to 4 Points Church in Greer, SC this morning to get all of the technology ready for the kid check in, giving kiosks, 4Kids rooms, etc. that I’ve been helping Josh Scott with these past few Sundays.

The shock of hopping into a cold shower, seeing a low tire on my vehicle, finding the gas gauge on empty, thoughts of financial challenges, thoughts of upcoming job interviews this week — any of these could have been a burden or offense that would have gotten in the way of my worship on the way to church. And as each one of them tried to distract me from my worship — I listened to “Here” by Kari Jobe until I could sing it to Him and not drift off into distraction of listening to anything else. I knew that I needed tho renew my mind so that my eyes were on Christ, not on my circumstances.

And after helping get things ready at the church, I hurried to enjoy breakfast with my family and our newly found friends at the Waffle House on Hwy 101 in Greer, SC. And there was a spirit of joy, of community, of love in that Waffle House. A family was sitting there with twin 2 year olds with Waffle House crowns on their heads in such joy, that we all remarked that it could have been a TV commercial. We shared together some of our challenges from the week, and God received glory from multiple people for getting us through yet another week again faithfully. And the BMW fire department pulled up in the big red truck and even took the toddlers and their parents on a tour of the bright truck that catches the eyes and imagination of kids of all ages and sizes. The Norman Rockwell morning we were all having together was in extreme contrast to what politics and media outlets seem to be trying to convince us to otherwise.

And we arrived at church to a packed house, where extra chairs were having to be brought in for all the people looking to lift high the name of Jesus. And there was such diversity in the people there — no family looked “all the same” — but every individual reflected the image of God and was there lifting up the name of Jesus and worshipping freely. And at the end of service, as person after person — even whole households came up — to be baptized, and as children ands loved ones crept up as close as they could to the tank where this miraculous demonstration took place of begging lowered into the water and raised back up — there was great rejoicing, and love, and celebration, and community amongst diverse people who are family and friends in Christ.

I guarantee that every person there came in with something that could have been burdensome, offensive, or shameful if they had decided to carry it that way. It could have trapped them and torn them apart like the caught mice Mark Pangel described in his sermon. But Jesus…

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=304059347536238&id=298471230178311

Somehow all of this — from the waitress who had been done wrong by a mechanic the week before, to every challenge mentioned today — God weaved it all into a day of “True Worship”. And I saw people encouraged, touched, moved, and impacted for the glory of God — and I was one of them.

Because we saw people releasing their burdens instead of clinging to them. This isn’t the work of mere humans just choosing not to be disrespectful jerks to one another. This is the power of the Holy Spirit of God who lives in and through His children. There is a mighty move of God happening — and the fertile ground of challenge in this time is fostering both rapid growth ands rapid decay. Where sowing to the spirit is taking place, great territories in people’s hearts and lives and in those around them is bearing an amazing harvest. And where love is not abounding, bitterness, hatred, division, and all kind of wickedness is being revealed so clearly and distinctly in the light as being “of another kind”.

Do you see Christ at work mightily in this time?

Or have you been distracted by the noise?

Let’s reach that place of True Worship, and long to only leave that place, that mindset, that rest to acknowledge the glorious work set before us — amazing opportunities that to our eyes might seem clothed as trials, challenges, even suffering — but that our Spirit, confirmed by the Holy Spirit, knows are amazing testimonies, amazing worship, amazing opportunities for God to be glorified. Amen.

Good and Faithful Servant

The president of my graduating class at Dorman, Reid Bowyer, passed yesterday. He had been fighting brain cancer. And even though he passed at the age of 46, he left such a legacy of glorifying God with his life and demonstrating the gospel clearly in his live for others. What a perfect verse this seemed when I opened the Bible app ands it was sitting there waiting for me:

Those who are [spiritually] wise will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead many to righteousness, [will shine] like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3 AMP
https://bible.com/bible/1588/dan.12.3.AMP

Reid just “got it” and was wise in spiritual things and was a Fisher of men, even in school. He never seemed to veer off course,  but was a lighthouse to many. He was popular because he was a natural leader who was just, honest, fair and humble. He clearly loved the Lord and loved people. I look at Reid’s life example, and I can’t help but see Christ woven into all of it.

And even though I know that I should compare myself to Christ and be humbled, rather than compare myself to a man of flesh and blood which might cause envy, shame, pride or many other bad things — in this time, I honor Reid by recognizing how his life fits today’s verse, and how he has served as a mentor, as a lighthouse for many to see and to avoid crashing our lives upon the rocks. And I find confidence and assurance almost hearing in my mind’s eye “Well done, Reid, my good and faithful servant.”

What an amazing testimony to God that He can use someone like Reid in a life long influence, similar to a Samuel who was dedicated to living and serving the Lord from birth. And how amazing that God could use someone like me, more like the demoniac who couldn’t be bound or the woman caught in adultery as well to tell all what Jesus has done for them after their deliverance.

And it is right that people like Reid with life long walks of serving the Lord and leading others to Him should shine brightly in the heavens and be rewarded greatly — even while there are also so many who “just barely make it through the gate by the skin of their teeth”. The greatest treasure seems getting to be at Jesus’s feet like Mary and the children and so many who clamored just to get close to Him. If His radiance wears off on us for being in His presence and we shine, I have to admit that my longing for Him is the cause of any brightness.

I think that Reid would have told you that He just wanted to be with Jesus, and that in loving and serving others — he was serving His Lord and Savior each time. Because those people bear the image of the Lord. I think that Reid would have hoped and prayed for a steady and consistent Christian life more like Samuel, but would have been aware of his similarities to the demoniac and adulteress in some areas of his life as well. But it doesn’t matter what I think, or what I say — it matters what the Lord did in the life of Reid, and through him in the lives of so many.

Thank you, Lord, for using your servant Reid Bowyer so clearly and greatly in a way that any distractions of self and weaknesses and ego disappeared in the brightness of him glowing from being in your presence. Help us to enter into that same place with you daily, not so that we can look at ourselves shining brightly, but so that we can set our eyes on you and that your light (not our own) can be the beacon drawing others to safety in the storm. We know that our days are numbered, Lord, and as much as Reid longed to remain here for his family and for the gospel to go forth through him, I’m sure he also longed for that day where he could be fully in your presence and away from the sin, sickness, suffering and pain on this side of glory. Help us to be balanced and mindful of both the purpose and urgency of the now, and the promise and hope of the future. And thank you for previous vessels like Reid where you have let us see your image so clearly throughout our lives, leading us home. Amen.

Thirsty?

There was a really TV show commercial that came on last night while our family was watching Big Brother together. The Big Brother show gives us opportunities to pause the show and talk together about how people act towards each other,  try to manipulate each other,  etc. We focus on teaching the principal “wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove” to prepare our daughter and ourselves for what this world might throw at us. This particular commercial was about “thirsty people” being put together on a reality show (not my words of judgement — the actual premise of the show Too Hot to Handle), and the three of us all had a gut reaction of “ugg, that looks horrible” — 0 stars, I do NOT recommend.

I mention this, because a friend Ashley Pridgeon Palmer highlighted verses in the Bible app that really caught my attention this morning:

On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)
John 7:37‭-‬39 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/jhn.7.37-39.NLT

“Thirsty” is a trendy buzzword for people who are excessively seeking attention for themselves:

For example, if I were sharing things on this website to get attention, compliments, respect, and honor from others, that would make me thirsty for validation from others. Or if I’m overflowing with awe and wonder at what God is revealing and teaching me through His Word, that would be the opposite of thirsty. The difference is because my worth and value is founded in Christ (not in how others see me) and I share out of gratitude and amazement (not in trying to ingratiate myself to others).

Jesus was speaking figuratively (much like the TV commercial was when they were talking about “thirsty” people), and we see this definition for Strong’s G1372 “dipsao” (which is the word used in this verse) in the earliest manuscripts recording the book of John for us:

Thirsting is like itching — it is “painfully feeling want”. And when people thirst (in the common sense of the word), it is a body’s physical response to the need for pure, clean water to insure the continued healthy operation of the body. The body’s need is for the perfect and pure water, because that is what will be used inside the body for nourishment. But an out of control thirst — like in the example of people stranded at sea with no immediate access to fresh water — can lead people to drink unhealthy things in an attempt to satisfy the thirst, ignoring the actual need.

Figuratively speaking, everyone has a thirst for a restored relationship with God. But many only know they are thirsty “for more”, they do not really know what they need. So they find all kinds of other ways to try and cure the thirst — money,  success, attention, reputation, sex, physical fitness, education, good works, etc. But these types of things only dull the thirst temporarily, and do not eliminate or cure the thirst.

And when the thirst presses us towards these things in excess, they no longer help us but hurt us. And the trick isn’t to get really good at balancing all of the spinning plates — in fact, there is no trick at all. We simply need the pure, perfect cure on the inside. This is what Jesus is talking about.

And He doesn’t just say that you can come and drink and that it will cure your own thirst — but that rivers of life giving water will flow from your heart. This life giving water isn’t just for you, but it is for others as well.

And it isn’t so that we can talk about it and gather followers and attention for ourselves (because God gets all the glory). And it isn’t so that we can profit from it for ourselves (because we aren’t meant to be like the money changers in the temple).

It is so that we can be made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it is for the glory of God.

Lord, you are the pure and perfect and holy that we crave, we need, we hunger and thirst for. Help us to not settle for any substitute for You. Forgive us for the many times that we have foolishly accepted substitutes. Forgive us for the many times we have sought to glorify ourselves instead of you. Help us to produce untainted, healthy water from you that is a blessing to those thirsty for a taste of your goodness. You protect us and strengthen us in our every time of need, so help us to trust in your purpose and plan. You are faithful and trustworthy. May all the world see that you are worthy of all praise and honor and glory. May your children hear the call to come and drink, and to overflow with your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bothered & Worried or Blessed & Trusting

This morning, I noticed this verse in the Bible app that Brittany Malone had highlighted, and it is so perfect for a season of challenge:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7‭-‬8 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/jer.17.7-8.NLT

It would seem a harsh command to tell people in the midst of heat and drought — that you must appear happy, healthy and positive outwardly “I need you to keep up appearances that all is well” — and that you must still meet all expectations,  “I need you to do more with less”. And that is NOT what this is saying.

This isn’t about faking it until you make it. Because if we have no confidence, and we are already bothered and worried, how much worse does it make it to have to “put on a happy face” or “ignore it”?

And it is easy for us to have learned through interaction with people that they are not trustworthy and to notice the signs of problems that do not instill hope, confidence, or trust. The old “wise as a serpent, harmless as a dove” verse comes to mind as wonderful advice when traveling through this world and interacting with people. But this verse isn’t a “How-To” about dealing with people. It isn’t even a “How-To” about dealing with situations and circumstances.

This is about a trusting relationship with God. And there is no question that He is trustworthy and faithful — that is the very foundation of faith. If we do not believe that He is trustworthy and faithful, we might grumble and complain even when things are easy and comfortable and wilt when things get difficult. But if we trust Him, then we can have peace even when our eyes can’t see a way out of our circumstances. And that peace is what will be the source of our not being bothered or worried.

I wrote the above early morning before church, but didn’t finish my post because I needed to head out to help at church. And just a few hours later, Mark Pangel’s sermon at 4 Points Church today hit on this same topic, so I counted it as confirmation that this is something that I need to be especially mindful of right now. Sgain, not so that I can just “try to do better”, but so that I can evaluate myself to be sure that I’m still trusting in the Lord:

And in case one confirmation wasn’t enough for my hard head, I get out of church to a private message from Ken Mayfield from The Light FM:

Now, please realize that I’m not name dropping with Brittany, Mark or Ken. Because they are just the messengers — sparking inspiration from that fire of the Holy Spirit that burns in them. I’m pointing them out because God is at work in His church, and not just on TV, and not just on the radio, and not just on the internet, and not just in the building on Sunday mornings. This isn’t about me, or about them individually. This isn’t even about honoring them — which is good and we should strive to outdo one another in honoring each other. It is truly about sho much more than that.

Recently, I have found myself out of work unexpectedly, and we have been dealing with multiple family members who are sick, a death in the family, and considering what needs to be done to meet our obligations and to maintain stability during these challenging times. I’ve recently seen my “value” within my organization and my career field go from being a highly sought after and respected leader — to feeling like a “persona non grata”.

It is a very humbling experience for someone who has always strived to work hard, to over-achieve, to embody the core values of my organization, to advocate on behalf of customers, and to coach and support my teammates. But all of those things are about my reputation as an IT professional, and that isn’t the greatest value that I have to bring to my community. No amount of my own talent, skill or experience measures up to Christ who dwells in me. And this experience is reminding me of that.

I’m not going to grumble about how things did or didn’t go. I’m not going to be bothered or worried or vengeful — regardless of whether I was treated justly or wrongly — I am going to love, and offer help and encouragement and an outstretched hand. I’m not going to burn bridges or abandon relationships — I’m going to offer reconciliation, and I’m going to reassure folks that I still am here for them even if I’m no longer a part of the organization with them anymore. I’m not hoping to undermine anyone — I’m going to encourage people to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt, to genuinely listen for the “why” and not just react to the “what”, and to be “wise as a serpent, yet harmless as a dove”. Not because I want to somehow to show or prove that I’m the better man — but because even though that devil on my shoulder has whispered thoughts and ways I know that I could get vengeance and “not get caught”, Jesus owns me, He is my Lord, and I walk to the beat of His drum now. He truly is greater, and I’m trusting that His plan is better.

I know that there are things that I’ve done and justified in my mind as being “me being right” or being “the right thing” that I could argue and justify all day long as to their reasonableness — providing evidence to support “my position”. But what good does that even do? If two people disagree, the facts don’t matter nearly as much as which person speaking the listener trusts and believes — the lies folks swallow so easily from their own political side these days should be plenty evidence of that fact. So “being justified in our own minds” is quite useless. So if I’m willing to not really care “who was right” or “who was wrong” (making it about me or them) but just seek how God could get the glory in this situation — I can see how that faith brings a peace and a willingness to offer love and peace and reconciliation instead of fear, worry, or bitterness.

I don’t know what you are going through — but I know that it is easy to pick up a sword and cut off someone’s ear if you feel justified in doing so — but Jesus taught another way.

I say, “As for me and my house, we are going to trust the Lord.”

And I’ll say that time and time again, even knowing that I don’t “get it right” many times — especially when I feel like I could successfully “argue why I’m right”. We have to get past “I’m right and you’re wrong” to trusting the Lord, whether we have been treated fairly or unfairly. If we are facing a challenge, do we not trust that the Lord disciplines the ones that He loves? Do we not trust that we can walk upon the waters? Do we not trust that He protects and strengthens us?

Lord, forgive us for our foolish ignorance and pride and for making things about “us” and “them” rather than about you. Help us, Lord, to be filled with you, with the peace that bears the fruit of your Holy Spirit. This is the blessing we long for, for ourselves, and for your beloved children. Amen.

Behave as if the Lord is Faithful – Because He is

But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one. 2 Thessalonians 3:3 NLT https://bible.com/verse-of-the-day/2th.3.3/17248

I immediately noticed that there are 3 persons mentioned in today’s verse: the Lord, you, and the evil one

And depending on where our focus is will greatly sway our attitude and perspective.

If our focus is on the Lord’s faithfulness and that He will strengthen us and guard us — we can have peace.

However, if our focus is on ourselves — paying attention to or often strength and security, we can fall into things like worry & shame — or pride & envy.

And if our focus is on the evil one, our mindset may be one of fear and judgement — paying more attention to “what is wrong with the world” and “what is wrong with others” than we trust that God has a plan and a purpose and that it is He who is ultimately in control.

In this verse, those first five writers are all important “But the Lord is faithful”.

Do we believe that?

Do we know that to be true?

Our words might answer quickly, “Yes”. But it is easy to lie in our words.

And our hearts may even cry out, “Yes”. But even our hearts can be deceiving.

What does our behavior say?

What do we do when the waves and winds of the storm come? What do we do when the furnace fires are burning hot and we are about to be tossed in?

There is nothing like chaos around us to reveal to us where our focus truly lies, and whether we trust the Lord, whether our trust is in our own abilities, or whether we believe that the enemy is winning. And nothing reveals the truth of that matter more than behavior.

We cannot proudly post a list of core values and advertise them when it is easy and convenient to espouse them — or shout into the social media world about our faith and values — and immediately draw up divorce papers the second it actually requires behaving in a way that lines up with those values. Not if we actually trust the Lord, and not if we actually want to be anything more than an untrustworthy hypocrite.

Could we look like a fool for behaving like we trust the Lord? I’m reminded of:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16‭-‬18 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/dan.3.16-18.NLT

Could we look like fools? Could we end up martyrs?

God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
Matthew 5:10‭-‬12 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/mat.5.10-12.NLT

The question is:

Who do we trust and who do we fear?

Trust God and fear God.

Do not trust our strengths and abilities, and not not fear our failures and shortcomings.

Do not trust that the way of the evil one is better just because it seems easier to compromise one’s values, take the easy way out, lie, deceive, oppress others, etc. in order to get ahead in the short term. And do not fear that those willing to participate in such evil things will harm you or destroy you.

Our words and grand explanations rarely swing wide the gates of heavenly revelation as clearly and undeniably as our behavior — and the same is true about swinging them closed.

And nothing reveals our true core values to which we are bound than an opportunity to live them out — to demonstrate their value. How valuable is the Lord to us today?

A video from my friend Steven Boyd really encouraged me on this topic recently: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10157412386680980&id=693180979&d=null&vh=i

Lord, you are holy and your name is above all names. Help us with such deep things of the heart. Align our values and our person to be your bride, the body of Christ bringing your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Abide is us so that your will is done in and through us. You will provide for us, strengthen us, and protect us like you have promised, and we’r praise you for your faithfulness. Forgive us for when we haven’t trusted and obeyed, and help us to forgive and live free indeed — breaking any chains of unforgiveness, bitterness, envy, strife or division. You are sovereign, you are mighty, you are glorious, and you will be worshipped forever and ever. Amen.

Boxed In, or Being Transported to New Heights

There is something that comes to mind about being boxed in, surrounded on every side, not knowing what lies ahead…

Imagine how that eagle may have felt when closed up, in a deep darkness inside that box. He may have been tempted to be bitter, angry, scared, etc while inside that box.

But the box was transporting him to a new place, even better than where he had been tended to in a confining cage before. That box was his “darkness right before the dawn”. Those people didn’t put him in that box to kill and bury him — it was the only way to transport him safely to his destination.

But when life closes us up in a box, do we assume the worst or hope for the best?

When things get tough, do we assume it will destroy us, or can we hold out hope that we might soar to new heights?

If you feel like things are out of your control, if you feel trapped by today’s circumstances, if you feel surrounded with no where to turn — think of this eagle.

Remember that his freedom, his victory, his soaring high once again was only an open door away.

Dont hurt yourself flailing around because the door hasn’t opened yet. Be prepared, be ready, and get ready to soar!

Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:28‭-‬31 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/isa.40.28-31.NLT