Thursday, May 17, 2018

Not Void, but Accomplished!

Read Isaiah 55

Israel received some of its most encouraging prophecies while it was at its worst as far as worshiping the Lord goes.  Yes, there were plenty of warnings delivered to God’s Chosen People, but there were also words of eternal assurance.

While God stood back and let the world have its way with his own chosen people for a time; he concurrently and continually is proclaiming their restoration.  Judah was taken into exile for decades; yet God knew he would deliver them from Babylon even as he had delivered them from Egypt.

God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts. His thinking and his operation is so far above our comprehension that it often does not make sense to us.  We say, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” and it seems to carry us through most of our week. 

Sometimes, it seems that there is not much distance between trusting God and our own understanding.  Then something hits us.  We lose a job.  We lose a loved one.  Bills are piling up. The kids won’t listen.  The car won’t start.  The car somehow drives too fast and there is a $300 ticket or two that were not in the budget.

The family vacation was a bust and nobody is rested or renewed.  We’re in a tornado watch again.  No, wait, it’s a warning, again.  Now it’s a watch.  I made it to work and discovered that my shoes don’t match.  The ice cream truck is getting close and I don’t have any money to give the kids.

If you try to keep up with everything in this world—you are like a jugular trying to keep too many balls in the air—then you will feel like you have been ripped to shreds.   If you try to solve every problem that comes your way, you will be exhausted every day and wonder if you accomplished anything.
The logistics of life love to leave you lifeless.  Yes, you may check the alliteration block for today’s message.

Sometimes it seems that nothing that you do produces any tangible results.  We are on a treadmill.  We are the hamster on a wheel.  We are jogging in quicksand.  We just need to know that our efforts are for something.

If my metaphor mania had not gone far enough already, we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Have you ever seen it rain—I thought I might have to show a video to remind you what rain was but we had a couple reminders this past week.  Have you ever seen it rain for 10 minutes and then the rain goes right back up in the heavens?  Rain comes down.  Rain goes back up.

Of course not.  Well, unless you live in Florida.  The rain comes down, stops, and then starts rising as steam a couple minutes later.  Rain comes down and soaks into the earth, runs off into gullies, ponds, and rivers. 

It brings life to the earth.  What was brown turns green.  What seemed lifeless now blooms with life and beauty.  Rain accomplishes its purpose.  Eventually, it makes its way back to the atmosphere.

This is how the prophet Isaiah explains God’s word.  God’s word does not go out and return void.  God’s word accomplishes its purpose.  Because of God’s word, the insanity will turn to peace for us.  The insanity is still out there  You may have rest in the midst of turmoil.

Sometimes, we can’t see the forest for the trees.  We get so fixed on what we are doing and what we are accomplishing and what we have left undone, we forget that God is at work in our lives.  We overlook that God’s word is effective.  We forget to trust God and we lean on our own understanding.

God’s word promises us life, abundant life, eternal life, peace, hope, rest, and a future—a prosperous future.  We are charged to keep God’s word fixed in our hearts and minds.  Yes, we will have trouble in the world, but we are to take courage because Christ told us that he has overcome the world.

We must trust that God’s word is always at work, even when we can’t see it.  Perhaps, especially when we can’t see it.

We are to trust in the Lord with all of our heart.  To do that, when trusting God and our own understanding are miles apart, we must first trust that God’s word never returns void.  It always accomplishes its purpose.

Even if the bills seem insurmountable; even if the kids seem uncontrollable; even if all of the beer cans in Burns Flat continue to blow into my yard; God’s word accomplishes its purpose.  The circumstances of the world do not dictate the will of God.

God’s word will accomplish what it was sent to do.  In fact, God’s word has answers that precede our questions and requests. 

Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.

Every 3 or 4 years I find I reason to tell this story.  It is very much a true story.  It comes from a missionary sent from England to Zaire many decades ago.  Her name is Dr. Helen Rosevere.  She died at the age of 91 in 2016.  I have read most of her books and can say without equivocation, that the things that she went through in God’s service would make most Marines feel like a bunch of wimps. 

One night, in Central Africa, I had worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all that we could do, she died leaving us with a tiny, premature baby and a crying, two-year-old daughter.

We would have difficulty keeping the baby alive. We had no incubator. We had no electricity to run an incubator, and no special feeding facilities. Although we lived on the equator, nights were often chilly with treacherous drafts.

A student-midwife went for the box we had for such babies and for the cotton wool that the baby would be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle. She came back shortly, in distress, to tell me that in filling the bottle, it had burst. Rubber perishes easily in tropical climates. “…and it is our last hot water bottle!” she exclaimed. As in the West, it is no good crying over spilled milk; so, in Central Africa it might be considered no good crying over a burst water bottle. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down forest pathways. All right,” I said, “Put the baby as near the fire as you safely can; sleep between the baby and the door to keep it free from drafts. Your job is to keep the baby warm.”

The following noon, as I did most days, I went to have prayers with many of the orphanage children who chose to gather with me. I gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. I explained our problem about keeping the baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle. The baby could so easily die if it got chilled. I also told them about the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother had died. During the prayer time, one ten-year-old girl, Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt consciousness of our African children. “Please, God,” she prayed, “send us a water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so, please send it this afternoon.” While I gasped inwardly at the audacity of the prayer, she added by way of corollary, ” …And while You are about it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, I was put on the spot. Could I honestly say, “Amen?” I just did not believe that God could do this. Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything: The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there? The only way God could answer this particular prayer would be by sending a parcel from the homeland. I had been in Africa for almost four years at that time, and I had never, ever received a parcel from home. Anyway, if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle? I lived on the equator!

Halfway through the afternoon, while I was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent that there was a car at my front door. By the time that I reached home, the car had gone, but there, on the veranda, was a large twenty-two pound parcel! I felt tears pricking my eyes. I could not open the parcel alone; so, I sent for the orphanage children. Together we pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. We folded the paper, taking care not to tear it unduly. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on the large cardboard box. From the top, I lifted out brightly colored, knitted jerseys. Eyes sparkled as I gave them out. Then, there were the knitted bandages for the leprosy patients, and the children began to look a little bored. Next, came a box of mixed raisins and sultanas – – that would make a nice batch of buns for the weekend. As I put my hand in again, I felt the…could it really be? I grasped it, and pulled it out. Yes, “A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” I cried. I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could. Ruth was in the front row of the children. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly, too!” Rummaging down to the bottom of the box, she pulled out the small, beautifully dressed dolly. Her eyes shone: She had never doubted! Looking up at me, she asked, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”

That parcel had been on the way for five whole months, packed up by my former Sunday School class, whose leader had heard and obeyed God’s prompting to send a hot water bottle, even to the equator. One of the girls had put in a dolly for an African child — five months earlier in answer to the believing prayer of a ten-year-old to bring it “That afternoon!” “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.” Isaiah 65:24

Sometimes we know exactly what we need.  All the time God knows exactly what we need.  It’s nice when the two coincide.  It’s a blessing and an affirmation when it all plays out before our eyes, but sometimes we can only see the trees.

All things considered, I would rather trust God that he knows what I need.  Sometimes, we get wrapped up on the little things and miss the big things.  Sometimes, as in Helen Rosevere’s testimony, the little things are the big things.

Sometimes we don’t see the forest for the trees.  We see so many individual obstacles and problems and things to be worked out before we can have peace when God has already given us peace.

Jesus, only hours before he would be apprehended and dragged from one kangaroo court to another until arriving at the cross, gave his followers these words, that we too should remember.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.  I doubt that I will ever be the Christian servant that Helen Rosevere was, and she was amazed at the faith of a young child who prayed so boldly, not for herself but for two others who had much greater need.

God’s word does not return void.  Before we call, God answers.

In 2012, my niece was beginning her final year of a 3-year assignment in Nairobi, Kenya.  Rick Ellis and I would visit her the following year after our first mission together in western Kenya.  Months before, I had put a care package together for her.  I had done this before.  I had red Twizzlers and some other items that she craved but could not get while she was there.  There was $65 worth of goodies for which I paid $165 in shipping. 

I packed the box as full as I could and there was one little spot left.  It was just the right size for a Gospel of John.  My niece already had a Bible, but I wasn’t going to leave the space empty.

It took over two months for the box to reach her.  Most of that time it set in customs.  It just sat there.

Meanwhile, my niece had been talking to a Muslim student about Jesus.  The student said that she could not bring a Bible into her house, so my niece said that the next trip home, she would pick up a Gospel of John for her.  That same day, my care package finally arrived.  On the very top was the Gospel of John that I had placed in at the last moment. 

Months later, I got to meet this young girl during my visit.  That was a treat.  We don’t always get to see what God is doing through us.  We do need to trust that Spirit of God that lives inside of us.

We need to trust that God’s word does not return void.  We need to trust in the Lord over our own understanding.

We need to trust that before we call, God has already answered.

We need to trust that God’s got this whole thing figured out and just trust him, obey him, and love him by loving others.

There is a peace that comes from trusting God in everything we do.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Fixed in our hearts and minds

I want you to make a list of reasons for missing a free throw.  Just limit it the top 5 reasons.

Now scratch out everything but the good reasons for missing a free throw.  Whatever you put on your list, now you can scratch it out.  It’s a free throw!

Nobody is guarding you.  Nobody erected a wall between you and the goal.  It’s a free throw.  The best players make 90% or more of them. 

The worst free throw shooters are the ones that you foul near the end of the game.

I have an announcement to make.  I think that I have carried a little too much weight for the past decade.  I did some research and found out that I weigh as much as I do on purpose.

No, it’s not so I don’t blow away in the Oklahoma wind.  That’s a good euphemistic attempt at an excuse, but it doesn’t work.   I discovered that everything I have eaten over the past few decades, I ate I on purpose.  Not once was I walking home when a slice of apple pie flew into my mouth and I accidentally swallowed it.  No.  Everything that I ate, I ate on purpose.

Sometimes, I have eaten things that I wished that I hadn’t.  A few years ago, Sharman had baked some Christmas cookies and left them out on the counter.  I tried one and it was terrible.  I didn’t want to say anything, but I didn’t want someone else to have to eat one, so I told her how bad they were.

She wasn’t upset.  She just said, “Thomas, those were Christmas ornaments.”

I think that I kind of knew that before she told me but after I ate the second one, but I mentioned it anyway.

But, I ate them on purpose.  Those terrible tasting cookies that weren’t really cookies didn’t just fly into my mouth while I was sleeping.

When the clear tip of the front sight post is halfway up and centered from left to right in the rear sight aperture…     I know how to hit a target.  Those words seem ancient now that there are all kinds of high-speed, low-drag optics for shooting.  Once upon a time, sight alignment and sight picture were necessary to hit the target, even with old iron sights.

I have been invited to speak to the teachers at the beginning and end of the school year on a few occasions.  I always ask the same question of the person who invites me.  What topic?  What do you want me to speak about?

I get the same answer every time.  “Oh, talk about whatever you want.”  You have to love it.  The teachers either want to be in their classrooms getting them ready for the school year or getting things wrapped up for the summer, and someone invites me to speak about anything that I want.

Here’s the thing.  I know that I will hit my target.  I don’t know if I will hit the target of those who have to sit there and listen to me, but I know that I will talk about exactly what I decided to talk about.

I know how to hit the target.

The author of Hebrews tells believers to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus—the pioneer and perfecter of their faith.  He says don’t get distracted or entangled by all the other stuff.

Paul writing to believers in Galatia, chastised them saying, “You were running a good race.  Who cut you off?”  These believers were living in the truth and then for some reason had started adding to the truth.

The proverb says to train up a child in the way he should go and later on he will not depart from it.  That doesn’t mean that along the way there won’t be distractions, pitfalls, and an occasional wrong turn.

But, what is the way he should go?

These are the laws and decrees of the Lord.  These are the directions that God gave his people for their own good.  These are the very things that parents are to talk with their children about in the morning and before they go to bed and when they are walking together.

There should be visible reminders of these things in the home, even as you would enter the home.  All of these things begin with love the Lord—he is your God—love him with everything that you are.

How do we love him?

We trust him.  We obey him.  We love him by loving others.

It’s a good list, well, if you remember it.  So we do things that help us remember.

GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER is a good message that we put on wristbands and I hope is written on our hearts. It’s a good message and it produces good results when we are focused upon it.  We even warm up for worship now by saying this.

In baseball, pitchers put all sorts of preliminary movements into their delivery motion in hopes of distracting the batter so that the fastball seems faster than it is, or the curveball is harder to detect.

The batter is only concerned about the ball, picking it up as soon as possible from its release point.  Everything else is distraction.  When the batter has eyes to see, he is gong to have a good day.

When we have eyes to see what God wants us to focus upon, we to have good days.  But staying focused means that we have God’s word, especially as it pertains to trust, obey, and love, in our hearts and minds.

It is fixed in our hearts and in our minds.

In the original promise to God’s Chosen People, if they would keep these commands and decrees in their hearts and obey them, God would drive out the pagan nations that were in the land he had promised them long ago.  He would send rain in season.

If the people remembered their journey and the mighty acts of God that brought them to this Promised Land, they would remain in awe of their mighty God.  They would obey him and love him and be blessed again and again by him.

God tells his people through Moses that they still have free will.  There is one way that is blessed by the Lord.  Everything else is a different story.

Remember my short summary of the Proverbs:  There is God’s way and there is everything else.

That everything else included wickedness, laziness, foolishness, selfishness, and anything apart from God’s way.  In Deuteronomy, we see God through Moses setting forth this simple dichotomy.

God declared that he was setting before his people a blessing and a curse.  Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry that I could not travel both, and be one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could…

Unlike Robert Frost’s poem, God has given his people two distinct courses with an obvious choice to be made if you want to be blessed.  There are two choices here.  There is a fork in the road but in the case of God’s Chosen People, God has placed a sign that says, “Go this way!”

On the other road is a sign that reads, “Trouble for sure!!!”

How many times have you heard people say, “I just need God to give me a sign?”  He has.  This way is blessed.  The other way is cursed.

So how could people take the road marked trouble?  They lost their focus.  They saw things of interest and some were enticing.  It’s not a new story.

Remember the only command that God gave to Adam—see that tree right there—the one right in the middle, well, don’t eat from it.  ‘Nuff said.

Adam obviously passed on these instructions to Eve.  And then there was this conversation with a serpent, but Eve made her own decision.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

They both knew of God’s prohibition about this one tree; yet what they knew in their minds was not fixed in their hearts.  There was dissonance between heart and mind.  Did somebody say Proverbs 3:5-6?

The commands and decrees from God, which he told his people he gave them for their own good, would keep them on the path of blessings and fullness. 

He put this dichotomy into simple terms.  This way is blessed.  That way is cursed.  How could they not choose the way that is blessed?

Sometimes they did.  Sometimes we do.  Sometimes we are distracted or lose our focus.  Sometimes it seems that we couldn’t even hit a free throw or a fast ball right down the middle of the plate.  Sometimes we lose our focus.

God told his people, fix these words of mine on your hearts and in your minds.  Heart and mind must be in agreement with God’s directions to us, directions that he gave them for their own good.

Today, we are told to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus—the author and finisher of our faith.  To do that, we must know in our hearts and minds that he is the way, the truth, and the life.

We must know that not only salvation and eternal life come through him, but life abundant in this age comes through him.

We must understand that distractions are just that—attempts to pull us off course.  We must stay the course, press on towards the goal, walk in the light, and be known as his disciples because of our love.

We are still on this course and discourse of love, and now love in action.  For us to stay the course of love in a world of so many distractions, we must have these three things fixed in our hearts and minds.

Trust God
Obey God
Love God by loving others.

Trust-Obey-Love must be fixed in our hearts and minds, for our own understanding is always competing against what God told us was for our own good.

How do we fix what we need in our hearts and minds?  There are some ways that you know.

By what we sing
By what we memorize
By what we post as reminders in our homes, and today I would add on our phones.
By the things that we talk about.

Salvation is a gift entirely from God.  Discipleship is our part and it takes effort.  Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden was light, so we might surmise that it is not extraordinary effort.  It is focused effort.

The guy or girl who make the most free throws isn’t always the strongest.  She is the most focused.  He sets his sights on the target and hits it again and again and again.  Focused effort produces the ability to stay the course without succumbing to distraction.

Following Jesus is not back-breaking work.  It is focused work.  Jesus said to take his yoke and learn from him.  When we learn from him, we write those lessons on our heart and keep them foremost in our minds.  Heart and mind are in agreement in God’s word.

James talks about our struggles and uses the term double-minded.  We can be conflicted in just our mind.  Our hearts can be uncertain.  Blessing lies in making our thoughts obedient to Christ and trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts.

Our hearts and minds must be fixed on the things of God, his ways, his decrees.  Do we not understand that he gave them for our own good?

In the course of this message, we have touched on the first two parts of the Hebrew Shema.  The Shema is a declaration or affirmation of their faith.  It has a general affinity with a confession of faith.  The first part is the affirmation.  The second part is the witness—the acceptance of what God has commanded.  The third part is the reminder.

The Lord said to Moses,  “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel.  You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.  Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the Lord your God.’”

God’s Chosen people affirmed what they believed, accepted God’s commands in their lives, and made reminders for themselves not to chase after the desires of their own hearts but to be consecrated to the Lord.

We today affirm our belief, witness to taking the yoke of Jesus, and have reminders that we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus—the author and finisher of our faith.

God’s words are on our hearts.  His will is becoming the will of our hearts.  We are becoming love as he is love.

It begins by bringing our hearts and minds into one accord with God’s word and his will.  It continues with his words becoming fixed in our hearts and minds.  It continues with us choosing the path marked blessed again and again.

The more we do things God’s way, the easier it is to trust him and obey him.  And when we trust and obey, we are so much more inclined to love.

Trust – Obey – Love.


Friday, May 4, 2018

They are for your own good!

Long ago and a few states away I was assigned as the active duty commander responsible to making sure that a reserve company of Marines was ready to mobilize, deploy, fight, and win.  Along with this assignment, I also had a recruiting mission to fill out this reserve unit. 

To do this, we did various public events.  Most of the time, my Marines took care of this.  How many 17 and 18-year-old people wanted to talk with an old man.  I was at least 30 at the time.

Occasionally, I would be there and talk with these young folks who showed a little interest.  I loved it when these kids were service shopping to see what incentives each service had.  One would say, “Well, what can the Marines offer me?”

My answer was standard, “A pack, a rifle, and a hard time.”

Another kid would ask, “How long does it take the average person to become a Marine?”

With a smile on my face, it is my pleasure to announce, “The average person will never become a Marine.”

One of these days, I will probably read online that they are adding a cry room to boot camp, and then I will totally lose it.  I will be a basket case.  That’s a DNR in my medical file for sure.  Don’t even think about resuscitating me then.  I’m out of here.

I’ll be singing the words.  “And when I get to heaven, Saint Peter I will tell.  Another Marine reporting, Sir.  I’ve served my time in hell.”

There are some things that you just have to earn.

I don’t think that I could have ever been a medical doctor.  I love education.  I love continuing education, but college, pre-medical school, medical school, specialty school, internship, residency, and I don’t where exactly one ends and one begins, but I couldn’t imagine waiting until I was pushing 30 to be ready to practice on my own.

And even when you can do it on your own, it’s still called practice—it’s a medical practice. That’s just too much.  When you finally make it, then you get to worry about malpractice. 

Had God called me to be a medical doctor, I would have been arguing with that burning bush longer than Moses.

There are some things that just seem to be too much for most people.

A long time ago, there was a commander of the Syrian Army—called Aram back then—and he had contracted leprosy.  This guy was good.  His name was Naaman and he was a good general, but this leprosy thing was a problem.  In Israel, he would have been an outcast but even in Syria, this put him at a disadvantage.

He needed help and among his captives was a girl from Israel who served Naaman’s wife.  She spoke of a prophet who was in Samaria who could cure him.

Naaman, being a very senior commander, couldn’t just waltz into Samaria without risk of starting a war or being captured.  He had to address this matter with his king, who told him to go.  He would square it with the king in Israel.  There is a whole story here about the kings, but that’s for another day.

Naaman finally gets to the prophet’s house.  He is loaded down with gold, silver, and fine clothing.  He is ready to pay for this special healing service.
Elisha the prophet sends out a messenger to tell Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River 7 times and he will be healed.

Naaman is furious.  The prophet didn’t even come out to greet him. There was no band playing.  There was no red carpet for him.  All he got was a servant with a message:  Go wash in the Jordan 7 times.

Naaman was singing country.  Did I shave my legs for this

This was not what the way this was supposed to go down.  What’s this guy telling me?  Go wash in the dirty old Jordan.  Hey, buddy—we have some clean rivers where I come from.  If that’s all there is to it, I could have stayed home.

It is good to have a servant who is a friend, for Naaman’s servant ask him, “If the prophet had asked you to do some great thing—climb a mountain, conquer a country, go without carbs for a week—would you not have done it?”

The answer was, of course, in the affirmative.  So why not do the simple thing that the prophet has told you to do?

Don’t you just hate it when you are all ticked off because things did not go the way you thought they would and then somebody just speaks the truth ever so clearly?  And the truth is not some complicated formula or process or arduous task; it is simple and straightforward.

You get all worked up because things did not play out the way you thought they should and you find out that the way the Lord had prescribed was best all along.  I’m not even going to bring up Proverbs 3:5-6.

Sometimes when we get wrapped up in our own way and our own understanding and our own expectations, we miss the simple.  We complicate the simple.  We miss what is put before us by God as the way to live.  He has shown us, told us, and in some cases demonstrated to us what to do.

There are some things that are just that simple and straightforward.

We have talked a lot about love this year.  We have come to love in action and know that’s what we are to do and to be.  We are God’s love in action.  That’s part of our identity in the Lord.

We have learned that the “how” of being God’s love in action often come down to treating others as we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes.

We know these things and yet somehow, life still seems complicated. Really, what does the Lord require of us?

Israel’s life as a newly liberated nation already seemed complicated.  When you have been enslaved for 430 years and now you are on your own as far as human government and decision-making go, things seem complicated.

So, God through Moses asks a question of himself on behalf of his own people.  He says what does the Lord ask of you?  It was a simple question to which God provided a simple answer.
He said:

·       Fear the Lord
·       Walk in his ways

So, God gives his people commands. He starts with 10 on tablets.  There will be more.  Why did God give his people commandments?  Why decree that they do certain things?

Our human nature doesn’t like the answer, but God tells us they are for our own good.  Doesn’t that just get under your skin when someone—a parent or a teacher or a coach—tells us it’s for our own good.
God said:

·       Walk in his ways

It’s for your own good!

What did the prophet Micah have to say 700 years later when the same question was posed?  What does the Lord require of you?  Having been shown what is good, you are to:

·       Love mercy
·       Walk humbly with your God

About the same time, the prophet Hosea noted that God desires mercy more than sacrifice.  Justice required atonement.  Atonement involved recurring sacrifices, burnt offerings. 

But more than the sacrifice, God desires mercy.  He wants us right with him not for the sake of justice alone but because he is love.  He is merciful love.
Having been shown what is good, you are to:

·       Seek justice
·       Love mercy
·       Walk humbly with your God

He wants us to walk humbly with him.  Here’s a little insight that today comes in a poem, a nursery rhyme if you will-- As I was going to St. Ives.  We don’t know the original author.  It came into common use in the early 18th Century England.  Most of the kids of that age likely knew the poem and the riddle therein.

As I was going to St. Ives I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits: kits, cats, sacks and wives,
How many were going to St. Ives?

Some would say 2801 or 2802 or 2803, but the answer is 1.  Only 1 was going to Saint Ives.  The first person telling of this nursery rhyme lets us know that he met these people.  Whatever direction they were going, they were not walking with him to Saint Ives.

 If we are walking with God, we are going the same direction.  In the course of our days, how many of us meet God along the way because we are going a different direction?

Humankind seems to be on an endless quest to be with God and be like God; yet God has invited us to be both.  He says, be with me.  Be still.  Know that I am God.

He says that you are brother and sister to the Son of God.  You are family.  You are made in his image and being made into the likeness of Christ Jesus.

You are being made into love.

It’s a walk, perhaps a race.  It is a journey for sure.  There is trouble and sometimes even persecution.  Some might even hate you for following Jesus.  But remember that God said he gave us these decrees, these directions for our own good.  Everything that God requires of us is for our own good.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

As we continue to seek God’s ways concerning love and love in action, we will find ourselves migrating to the topics of rest and peace.  Delineation among them may not be distinct.  Love, action, rest, and peace will overlap considerably.

There is something of a paradox in most everything that we find in our relationship with God.  For all that he requires, he returns even more.  In action, we find rest and contentment.  In doing what he calls us to do we find that we enjoy peace in the middle of action. 

What does the Lord require of us?  Is it anything that is so hard?

We find the Lord fighting our battles for us.  His grace precedes us.  His love is everlasting.  He knew us before we were born.  He established our inheritance before he laid the foundation of the earth.

He has not put us to the test by sending evil.  He does not tempt us.  There is evil in the world, but whatever trials we have, God makes sure they are tempered by what we can handle.

We have already been given victory over the grave.

The blood of Jesus has atoned for our sin.

Come to think of it, we should have to do a bunch.  The bar should be set so high that we could never reach it.  The standard to walk with God should be unobtainable; yet, Christ brought us to that place where we may walk humbly with our God.

Really, what does the Lord require of us?

·       Fear the Lord.  This is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom.
·       Walk in his ways.  He will direct our paths if we trust him.
·       Love and serve him with all your heart and soul
·       Observe the Lord’s commands and laws that he gave us not for our salvation but for our own good.
·       Seek justice, not to condemn others but that we receive the blood of Jesus and are made right with God.
·       Love mercy.  We are being made in his image.  This is an essential ingredient.
·       Walk humbly with your God.  Is this not the very thing for which he made us?

What does the Lord expect of us?  That we love him and love one another.

Life can be tough.  It’s tougher when we try to do it our way instead of the Lord’s.  It’s tougher when we try to apply our own rules and logic and process when God gave us directions that were for our own good.

Think on this for a moment.  Every good gift is from above.  It’s from God.  The gift of God’s commands and decrees and laws if you will—from having no other gods to love one another—are for our own good.

We know to love God and love one another.  We know that love fulfills the law.  We know the Golden Rule. We know so much but what does the Lord require of us?

Let’s reinforce what we know to do with Micah’s words.

Seek justice
Love mercy
Walk humbly with your God

Has the Lord asked too much of us?