Tough Love

1 Corinthians 13

The simplest truth about human relationships is that if we just loved one another a bit more, we would have fewer problems.  I know, it is a bit cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Our focus would be consistently outward.  We would be ready to listen and meet the needs of others. God has made it pretty clear that the most hardened heart can soften by showing the quality that embodies who He is, yet it is a weapon we often leave unwelded.  We often list our harshness or judgements under the guise of “tough love”, and this may or may not be true on a case-by-case basis. However, we must stick closely to the prescribed path in 1 Corinthians 13.  It actually might be simpler to love “toughly”, but if you simply write people off, or find a way to punish them, or speak your mind without backing it up with the many other qualities listed here, you are a hollow box and a lot of noise.  What’s tough love, really tough love, is to love someone who isn’t concerned in the slightest with being like God at the moment, or even ever. Love never fails. So you must love. You absolutely must.  And your love must be like God’s love.  Below I reworded one of the most famous passages of scriptures (v.4-7) that coincides with our reading and, most likely, one of the last handful of weddings you attended.  My goal isn’t to add to the list, only to reword it to give it novelty in hopes to make it challenging or convicting instead of a rehearsal of familiar words.  If it helps tune your mind to God’s love, wonderful.  If it is a confusing mess, don’t read it.  My concern is that you know loving is tough, especially those whose actions betray your love.  That shouldn’t stop you.  But THAT is tough love.  And THAT is what God shows to each one of us on the daily.

For God to come in and change the “unlovable” (mind you, this can be and has been you), you must sit and listen. Listen to their problems and hear them say what they think, even if you don’t agree. You have to include them, share with them, and treat them with dignity, even if they are not concerned in the slightest about having any.  To love, you have to let others be great and cheer them on.  Sometimes this means the spotlight will come off of you, or you are treated as less important.  If you are loving, you’re not concerned with that, because in love, others come first.  Love holds back the insults, name-calling, and doesn’t attack a person made in the image of God.  True love can be shown without expecting anything in return and can be left unreciprocated.  On rare occasions, you can have angry love.  You can be mad at someone because they are doing some serious sin damage to others or even him/herself.  But you don’t start there.  You don’t live there.  You are truthful with someone, because lying is not loving.  But you retreat quickly from the fight, and fill the space with mercy, more patience, and more kindness.  That means love is forgiveness, and not holding grudges.  We can love those who have wronged us.  We can love those who have besmirched our reputation, injured our family through carelessness, or hate us because of our beliefs. We may know their wrong to us as a historical account, but not as an emotional one, and we thank God we have an opportunity to show love to them in such a way.  In fact, loving like God means that you would actually stand-up for this person who has done you the greatest harm.  Loving someone means that you are trusting without “but.” And that can be so hard. But trusting in God first and foremost allows you to do that.  Believe in people.  Never give up on people.  Much easier said than done. It’s tough. So tough. But don’t let it stop you from trying. Your efforts are to help others see God, and they will know His love because it has been extended to and shown through you.

-Aaron Winner

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Esther 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 13

Detestable Prayers

Proverbs 28

As Marcia mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, many of us were at Midwest Family Camp last week, where the theme was “Stand Firm”.  In a nutshell, if we don’t have a relationship with the Lord, it is critical that we repent and come into a relationship with Him. If we already have a relationship with the Lord, we need to strengthen that relationship, and stand firm in the faith – no matter what.

In today’s reading in Proverbs 28, there are a few verses that jumped out at me which reinforced that message.  The first is found in Proverbs 28: 9, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.”  This proverb tells us that if we’re not doing everything to live the life God called us to live, if we’re not following his rules, then He won’t listen to our prayers.  Since many of our prayers are about asking for God’s help with various things, if we selfishly want Him to answer our prayers, then we need to obey His rules, and live for Him.  As we grow in relationship with Him, we come to long for an even deeper relationship with the Lord. Then we learn that prayer is powerful, and we don’t waste it just asking for superfluous things.

Proverbs 28:13 goes on to say, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”  This is saying if we pretend to be Christians, we won’t prosper (you can’t fool God).  But if we confess and renounce our sins, and turn completely to God, we will receive God’s mercy.  I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have His mercy than to have Him holding me back from prospering.

As we continue to read through this chapter, we get to verse 20, which says, “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”  I’ll take a detour here and comment on the health and wealth teachings we often hear from people who don’t know better.  The theory goes sort of like this… “if someone follows God, God will bless every aspect of their life.  They will be rich, healthy, and blessed.”  Many people who call themselves Christians subscribe to this false belief.  Jesus told us in John 16:33, “…In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  We have to remember this life isn’t our reward.  This life is the test to see what reward we will receive when Jesus returns.  If we are faithful to the Lord now, we will enjoy peace with God now, and eternal life when Jesus returns.  If we are just trying to get rich, we are actually worshiping money, not God — our reward is in this life, and we will forfeit eternal life.  

1 Tim 6:9-11 says, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and have pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”

Instead of trying to get rich, we need to follow the advice given in Proverbs 28:27, “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.”  Again, I think the idea is that if I’m greedy, wanting to keep all my money for myself, I’m not trying to please God, I’m just greedy for money, and God will curse me for not following Him.  But if I’m generous with the things God has given me by giving them to the poor — this mimics God’s generosity to me.  When I am imitating God, God loves that.  In fact we’re commanded in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”

So the bottom line is this.  We need to do everything we can to reconcile ourselves to God.  We need to confess and renounce our sins, obey His laws, be faithful, and be generous.  All these things are required to live in close relationship with God.  And if we live in a close relationship with God, we will have peace with God in this life, and an amazing reward in the life to come.  In Rev 21:4, we’re told, “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain…”   Rev 21:7 goes on to say, “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

How well are you imitating Dad?

Stand Firm.

–Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – 1 Chronicles 23-24 and Proverbs 28

Sin is Serious – And So is Mercy

Today’s Bible Reading – Genesis 35 & 36 and Matthew 18

I have watched just enough mobster movies to know the awful fate of those who anger the mafia boss and receive the “cement shoes” treatment. That is the vision that always comes to mind when I read of the seriousness of leading a child to sin. “And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:5,6 NASB) Jesus was giving a pretty heavy answer to the disciples who had asked who would be greatest in the kingdom. He answered that instead of trying to be great, they should focus on being childlike instead – not immature (we see enough of that), but humble, knowing that they don’t know everything and they need a Father and a Savior. And while the child is standing in their midst – Jesus commends those who welcome a child and blasts those who recklessly (or accidentally?) lead a child to sin. As a parent and a Christian this is a strong warning that I will be judged based on how I am spiritually leading and guiding God’s children. I do not know where the line will be drawn. We might be able to safely point out some cases that would definitely receive Jesus’ condemnation (those who exploit children and youth for sex trafficking, pornography, cults or gangs). But what of the parent who signs their child up for the youth sports, campouts and Sunday morning jobs knowing it will take them away from opportunities for God’s little children to grow closer to Him? I don’t know. But it seems wise to do my best to err on the side of caution. What else can I be doing to spiritually guide His children away from sin? Life is easier when you don’t feel the weight of a millstone around your neck or cement hardening in your shoes.

And, if that isn’t scary enough – Jesus broadens the picture next – to all people and sinners and the extreme measures that need to be taken to keep oneself from falling into sin. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7 NIV). And then comes the gruesome cutting off of body parts that causes you to sin. This gives a strong mental picture of doing whatever it takes to hold oneself accountable and keep oneself from sin. If your eye causes you to sin, cut it out, to save yourself from judgment and hell. This is definitely true in a metaphorical sense. We need to do all we can, even what would be considered extreme measures, to keep ourselves from sin. And, sometimes that will mean cutting off the influence some people hold over us – cutting off a friend or family member or social media/entertainment who entices us to sin. It’s a hard thing to do, just like cutting off your hand – but it could save your eternal life. And, we must watch ourselves to make sure we are not the ones enticing others to sin!

While I love the parable of the lost sheep and it hurts to skip over it…I am going to skip ahead to the next two passages in Matthew 18 which both deal with the brother who sins against you. Having just established the seriousness of sin, the consequences for those who lead others to sin and the extreme measures we are to employ to keep us from sin – it is easy to assume that the best course of action is to shun all sin and sinners. But, wait, what kind of cut off, silent, lonely, bitter world would that be? While we are all sinners – God gave us a way to be forgiven and to restore relationships. Jesus begins to explain it here.

First, if a brother sins against you – go and talk to him. Matthew 18: 15-17 goes through an important series of steps to work towards either resolution or healthy distance and cutting off -and it starts with talking to the “offender”. Too often when we feel someone has sinned against us we talk to others about it. I know I am guilty of this and need to do a better job of lovingly confronting the person I have an issue with – first. So the steps Jesus laid out are: talk privately to the person, if he doesn’t listen take 1-2 witnesses and try again, if he doesn’t listen tell the church, if he still doesn’t listen cut him off. The goal is always to win him back to ‘God’s saving side’, not to humiliate, point fingers or feel better about ourselves or peace at any cost. But, sometimes repentance doesn’t happen, and then we must be willing to cut the ties that would bring others down to sin as well.

So, let’s assume we correctly followed the steps Jesus left. Peter asked how many times he needed to forgive a brother who sinned against him. He thought 7 sounded like a lot. But Jesus said no – 77 or 70 x 7 or whatever number you want to use to remind yourself to keep forgiving – the same way you want others to forgive you. And the same way God has forgiven you. I think we can safely assume this is not the brother who was unrepentant and cast out of the church, but a brother who was repentant and seeking to live a godly life – but still tripped up – like you and me. And so Jesus lays out the powerful Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (make sure you read it again). Now the harsh words and judgment are not for the sinner who tripped up, or even the one who caused him to sin, but for the one who didn’t forgive. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” (Matthew 18:32-34).

It isn’t that sin is nothing – and easily forgiven. Sin (of all kinds) is something huge and serious and able to block us from eternal life. If we could see how much our sin hurts others, handicaps ourself and damages our relationship with God we might more readily run from it. But we don’t always, and God in His mercy still lays out a way for us to restore a relationship with Him, ultimately it would cost Him the death of His Son Jesus. To accept the forgiveness offered to you, but not extend it to others puts you again in grave danger. Sin is a big deal – and so is mercy.

-Marcia Railton

Micah 1-7

What does the Lord require of you_

Micah was a minor prophet who simply conveyed the truths of God to the people of Israel of his day and in just 7 chapters he spoke volumes! What I love most about his message was that he spoke of God’s judgement as well as God’s mercy.

His task at hand must have been very daunting to speak in a day of a divided nation (Israel and Judah) about their sins and the judgement of destruction it would bring on them. 

Chapter 1 speaks of their Idolatry and looting. (Vs. 6&7)  Chapter 2 refers to the schemes of the wicked oppressors and their evil plots and injustice to others. (1-3) Chapter 3 brings out that the leaders were corrupt and many were “paying off” false prophets to tell the people what they wanted them to hear. (Vs. 5)

Can we relate to a nation like this?

But in the midst of this we are told in chapters 4 and 5 of the Peaceful reign to come in “Latter Days”. Chapter 5:2-5 tells us of the baby to be born in Bethlehem and that this One (Jesus) will be our peace.   

How refreshing is that?

In Chapter 6 God speaks of all He has done for His people. His words apply to us today as well. He requires our faith and obedience to Him over our sacrifices. We are told that we cannot justify our own sins by living wicked and then offer burned sacrifices to obtain salvation. (Giving up your first born is mentioned.) Thank goodness Jesus is now our atonement and our way to salvation! (Vs. 6&7)

The answer to what God requires of us is found in the verse I would like to highlight today… act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Our God (Vs.6:8).  Do we show love, kindness and walk with Him?

The acknowledgement of the Prophet himself is what we find in chapter 7. He reflects on the mercies of God and how God is our Salvation and Light. He is quick to forgive, if we truly repent, and we are redeemed by His unfailing love and compassion. He will be faithful to His Remnant. 

Thank goodness Micah bravely spoke truth in such a difficult day and time. The beautiful words we have from his message, along with Isaiah, Hosea and Amos’ as well, as they stood up for the ways of God despite the downward spiral of their society still speaks to us today.

Micah leaves us with the reminder that there is a final day of judgement coming for all the earth so we must stay faithful no matter what we are facing even in our uncertain present day. That false prophecy is ringing in our ears every day and we must ingrain ourselves in the truths of God’s word and stand up to a society where many are turning away from God. Jesus is with us in the midst of this and we are to follow him and look expectantly for his return. Our God is faithful and will remember those who have remained true to Him just as He did all those before us and all to come. Most of all God expects us to ACT JUSTLY, LOVE MERCY AND WALK HUMBLY WITH HIM. May the peace of Christ be with you today.      

~ Donna L. Smith          

 

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to on Bible Gateway.

Tomorrow, we continue reading the history of Israel in 2 Chronicles 28 & 2 Kings 16-17 – as we continue the 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

 

Making a Different People: Healing and Uncleanness

Leviticus 14-15

Leviticus 14 2 NIV
Leviticus 14 and 15 have many rules about how to stay ritually clean and become clean, even after something that would make a person ritually unclean, like leprosy or bodily discharges. While this is, again, good but weird, we get the REASON for all these rules in Leviticus 15:31.  “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.”(NASB) Another paraphrase, the Easy-to-Read Version, puts it this way: “So you must warn the Israelites about being unclean. If you don’t warn the people, they might make my Holy Tent unclean. And then they would have to die!” God didn’t want disease, discharge, sickness, and other things that could be damaging to the community to come into the tabernacle or the temple, where everyone would gather. The community was being protected by God by keeping these rules. If someone ignored these rules and put the community in jeopardy, they would have to die.
But there was also MERCY in these rules. Though the leper may be called unclean, there was a process where they could be made clean again. Though these bodily discharges COULD be bad, there was a process for being made clean again. A person was not neglected by the community forever; there was always a way back in.
Today, that way back into the community of God, to become clean before him, is Jesus. And Jesus is better than the rules of the law. Here, the sickness had to end, the disease had to stop; only then could one be made clean and come before God in honor and with sacrifices. However, Jesus himself takes away the diseases, he makes us clean. This is why the story in Luke 8:42-48 is so powerful. A woman, who was ritually unclean because of her bleeding, believed Jesus could heal her. She risked everything to simply touch his coat. Every person in that crowd, and Jesus himself, became ritually unclean because of the law in this part of Leviticus. But Jesus was not concerned about his cleanness, but about the woman’s healing. Praise God that we have a healer, a priest, who can not only make us clean and allow us into the community, but can take away our diseases and give life to our bodies!
Jake Ballard
Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+14-15&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Leviticus 16-18 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

Can the Entitlement – Serve Some Mercy Instead

Free Theme – Beatitudes – Matthew 5:7

Matt 5 7 nasb

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and got to spend time with family and friends. I know in larger families it can be a real battle for food! I hope everyone got plenty turkey and their favorite side dish.

Yesterday we all celebrated what we were thankful for and it is super appropriate for today’s beatitude that we have this thankfulness in mind. It is amazing how easy it is for me to forget how good God has been to me. One day, like yesterday. I can dwell on God’s sacrifice of his son for all my sins and how he suffered through all my rebellion. He can get over all the times that I have hurt him via my sin in our relationship. He steadily pursues us and extends us grace for actions that no human being would ever forgive. He has ALWAYS taken me back when I came back from being a prodigal. He has never given up on me despite my poor character and my inabilities. He continually sees a value in me that I don’t see in myself. He has given me family, friends and relationships that I completely do not deserve. The older I get the more I see how messed up I really am just as a human being and God’s mercy behind it. The amazing thing is he still sees value in me and adopts me as his child. He still extends mercy and grace to me in spite of it all.

Sometimes I think that just saying “God is good” or worse yet using the cliché “God is good, All the time” doesn’t do any justice or come anywhere near to expressing exactly how good God is. It feels like all words and vocabulary fail to fully express all God has done. Maybe that is why all we‘re left with is “God is good”.

The crazy thing is that his mercies really are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23). Everyday I wake up and breathe; God supplies the air (Isaiah 42.5). He supplies us everything that we have. Our jobs, houses, cars, cell phone, internet, toys, entertainment, the plants, the trees, the turkey – it all belongs to him. He made it, he created it, therefore it is all his. We often forget that we are in somebody else’s house and nothing here actually belongs to us. It’s frankly embarrassing the entitlement and lack of gratefulness that I allow in my life. If there was a way to keep all this in our brains 24/7 we would be the happiest people alive. We should be the happiest people alive.

Our beatitude for today is Matthew 5.7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

I already feel like I have received the mercy that is promised here. Sometimes I am amazed at how good we have it in this life. Still I let my gratefulness get drowned out by a sense of entitlement towards God. When in reality he owes me absolutely nothing and everything that he has already given me is far more than I can repay.

Given all that I just talked about and how merciful God has been to us, I think we should extend that to others. If we live with this knowledge imprinted on our hearts it should actually be easy. There really is a redemptive quality to God’s love that allows us to forgive others. To show them grace when they absolutely don’t deserve it. We don’t have to be concerned about righteousness when we show mercy to those around us because we know that God has forgiven us for far more than anything a person could have done to us.

It’s this principle that I believe is our light to the world. We show mercy to those who don’t deserve mercy and love those who don’t love us because there is one who loves us far more. So, let’s have this attitude of gratefulness and let it overflow from our hearts to those around us. Forgiving and loving others the way that God has for us.

Daniel Wall

Mercy & Grace – OR – a Cosmic Butt-Kicking

FREE THEME WEEK – Psalms!

Psalm 69 24

This week we are looking at seven different types of psalms.  So far we’ve seen wisdom, royal and lament.  Today we are looking at, perhaps, the most difficult of all, imprecatory.  Imprecatory means, quite simply, to call down a curse upon another.

Now, this is kind of tricky for Christians.  After all, Jesus taught us that we are supposed to forgive as we want to be forgiven.  We are supposed to love our enemies, right?  So how exactly can we justify praying imprecatory psalms as Christians?

Let’s look at an example of an imprecatory Psalm 69.

Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

 

It starts out quite similar to a psalm of lament, as we discussed on Tuesday.  “Help God! Things are going badly.  I’m sinking.  Everyone is out to get me!  I’m all alone!”

He goes on to appeal to God for help.

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

Again, this has a familiar ring to it.  The gospel writers used this scripture to point to Jesus on the cross- remember when he said he was thirsty and they gave him vinegar to drink?

So far, we are still lamenting.  It’s dark, but it’s about to turn darker:

22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

 

Yikes! It just got real!  The person doesn’t just want God to save him, he wants God to crush his enemies.

“Pour out your wrath on them!”  “May they be blotted out of the book of life.”  Wow!  That’s pretty intense.

“May their place be deserted.”  Luke quoted that verse in the book of Acts when he talked about the need to replace Judas as one of the 12 Apostles.

How does this kind of call for God to damn your enemies fit within the overall message of the gospel of Jesus’ love and forgiveness?

Time and space doesn’t permit the kind of deep digging we might need to do to really get this, but I’ll take a stab at it.  When people hurt us, I mean really hurt us, our normal reaction is to want to hurt them back.  The desire to get revenge and retaliate when wronged is pretty normal, if we’re being honest.  So what do we do with that hurt, that anger, that pain?

Well, we know that some people take a gun and go shoot people at school or at work.  Some people take to social media and try to destroy another person’s life and reputation.  If you’re Carrie Underwood: “I dug my key into the side
Of his pretty little low Mercedes Benz
Carved my name into his leather seat
I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights
Slashed a hole in all 4 tires
And maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.”

Sure, who among us hasn’t wanted to do that, and worse?

But as Christians we’re supposed to love our enemies.

Paul says in Romans 12

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Yes, there’s a lot in there about how we are supposed to not pay people back, we’re supposed to love.  Sandwiched in the middle of it all is “leave room for God’s wrath.”  Yes, God is a God of tremendous love, grace, mercy and forgiveness and he offers even the worst of sinners the chance for mercy and forgiveness- but he also knows how to do wrath.  He knows how to punish the unrepentant- and the Bible makes it clear that he will do so.

I don’t know who deserves mercy and grace and who deserves a cosmic butt-kicking, and neither did the Apostle Paul, and neither do you.  So we leave it to God.  Imprecatory prayers are simply ways that we say to God,  “I’m hurting and I want to hurt back, but I’m not going to.  I’m going to trust you to deal with this person the way you choose. (but here’s my pain and rage-fueled suggestion for how I’d like you to do it)”

-Jeff Fletcher

 

Justice, Mercy and Faith

justice faith love (1)

Matthew 23

Now that Jesus has turned the tables against the Pharisees in their little word games, he turns his attention to the crowds and his disciples. He begins his final public speech and absolutely destroys the Pharisees. He rips into everything that the Pharisees do, calling them out for their pride and hypocrisy. He acknowledges that these men are the best minds when it comes to The Law; they know The Law backwards and forwards, but they are not good examples. In particular, he calls them out for neglecting the importance and weight of justice, mercy and faith. This is one distinction that sets followers of Jesus apart from followers of The Law.

Justice

Justice is the administration of law. Based on this definition, you would think that the Pharisees understood justice quite well. However, this definition has the connotation of the administration of law on the general population, not just in one’s personal life. What the pharisees got correct was righteousness in their private lives without achieving justice in their public life. Justice is law applied equally to everyone, while righteousness is law applied to yourself. The Pharisees look at themselves, see that they are following the law perfectly and commend themselves for it. The problem isn’t their piety, it’s their pride. God didn’t command them to follow the law so that they might puff themselves up and hold themselves in high regard, but rather to benefit all of society. This is justice. Righteous acts are not righteous because they benefit you alone, they are righteous because they benefit everyone around you.

Mercy

Not everyone can follow the law as closely as the Pharisees. Those men were men who dedicated themselves to the reading of scripture day in and day out. Living the law is the only thing that they know how to do. When they look on the masses and see sin: adultery (John 8:1-11), blasphemy (Mark 14:64), greed (Luke 19:7)…what they fail to see are people. People who fall short. People who don’t live the same lifestyle as the Pharisees. The Pharisees know the scriptures, but they don’t seem to remember how God showed the Israelites mercy time and time again. Instead, they turn their noses up at the sin that they see and tell themselves that they are above that. The truth is, no man is above sin except for Jesus himself. The Pharisees poured over their scriptures to make sure that they washed their hands before meals and tithe even their small incomes. They strained their water for gnats. But they swallowed a camel instead. They failed to show mercy. They failed to show people the mercy that their God showed to them.

Love

Love is at the center of Christianity. Jesus said in Matthew 22 that the two greatest commands are to love God and to love people. Apparently the Pharisees didn’t get that. They were too worried about appearing like God-loving individuals that they didn’t have the time to love God’s people. In doing so, they made all of their love for God worthless. If you only love God, you are neglecting one of the greatest commandments. It is as simple as that. Show your love for God by showing your love to His people.

-Nathaniel Johnson

What Fills YOUR Heart?

Matthew 12

matthew 12 34 b

We find in Matthew 12 that Jesus hasn’t slowed down. In fact, all the surrounding naysayers,  the Pharisees, are turning the criticism up. They were obviously feeling threatened. What I find most interesting though in these 50 verses is how familiar it all sounds. Just like then, the Pharisee in many of us now is also killing the mission and effectiveness of the church too.

 

Not uncommon in today’s age is to view a Pharisee as bad, yet the Pharisees were, to some extent, well-meaning people. They studied the law and knew it as well as anyone. Some were sincerely seeking God. After all, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both Pharisees, arranged for Jesus’ burial. They were sympathetic to Christ and, from what I can tell, ultimately ended up following him. The mission of the early church was radically advanced by a converted Pharisee – Paul. The irony is the people who declared to love God the MOST ultimately killed his offspring when he showed up to heal and teach the nation.

 

Rightfully, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their pride, lack of compassion and hypocrisy. Observe some of their exchanges in this one chapter alone and you might find it leaving a bad taste in your mouth, too. They were always trying to trip him up and I can’t recall one time where he was praised for his tireless work.  In verse 34 Jesus compares the Pharisees to a cluster of snakes and remarks “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” How all too often do I find myself under pressure or stressful situations looking to my own self-justification and self-importance, just like the Pharisees. Denying God is exactly what I do when my attitude justifies me more than reflecting the heart and love of Christ.  

 

The religious leaders of the time were obsessed by their rules and detailed interpretations of the Old Testament law but they had largely ignored the key points of it – justice, mercy and faith. Oh that we learn this lesson in our congregations today opening wide the doors to welcome in the broken, bruised and hurting. Jesus is interested with reality. It is easy to pretend that everything is okay and that we have everything together. If we want to pretend that everything is fine when it isn’t that is up to us, but we shouldn’t expect other people to live up to the standards that we are pretending to live by.

 

The gig is up for me. I won’t do it anymore. My heart is full and declaring just like Paul that “but for the grace of God go I.” (1 Corinthians 15:9) I am imperfect and Jesus is restoring me everyday. Use me, Lord, as you will to build your church.

 

-Julie Driskill

Justice vs. Mercy

Matthew 25-26

mercy vs justice

Saturday, May 6

Which is more important in God’s eyes, justice or mercy?  That might be a difficult question to answer, but let me give it a try.

First let’s talk about justice.  There are many examples of God’s justice in today’s reading.  In the parable of the ten virgins, those who were not ready for the return of Christ were told by Jesus that he did not know them.  They were receiving justice for the lives they lived.  In the parable of the talents, the man who did not use the talents that were given to him was sent to the place where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Justice was on display again.  In Matthew 25:31-46, those that did not help the needy were sentenced to eternal punishment.  Justice served.  Judas betrayed Jesus and Jesus said it would have been better for Judas if he had not been born.  That was a warning that justice was on its way.  There was no mercy shown in any of these instances, only justice.

In Matthew 26, Jesus is arrested and his death on the cross is imminent.  We know why Jesus needed to die – to pay the debt for our sins.  The wages of sin is death so we all deserve to die since we have all sinned.  But think about this for a minute.  Couldn’t there have been a different way to make it right?  Jesus even prayed that prayer three times.  He didn’t want to die and he was hoping there was a different way to handle this.  God is in charge of everything so certainly he could have come up with an alternative solution to this problem.  Maybe if we sincerely repented for our sins, God could have shown us mercy and wiped our slates clean without anyone having to die.  Or maybe if we showed Him that we loved Him he could have overlooked our sins.  There had to be a different way.  Why did someone have to die?  The reason someone had to die is because of justice.  God is such a just God that He could not ignore justice.  It is very clear to me that God believes justice must always occur.

So where does that leave mercy?  Let’s go back to the death of Jesus.  Jesus was God’s own son.  He was also without sin.  There has only been one person on this earth in the history of mankind that did not deserve death, and that was Jesus.  God watched his only son be tortured and killed on the cross for something he did not do.  I can’t even imagine how painful it would be to watch one of my children suffer and die for something they did not do.  Yet God allowed it to happen, even though He could have stepped in and rescued him at any time.  Why would He just watch and do nothing?  It was because of His immense love for each of us.  He let His own son die for our sins so that we would not have to.  I believe that is the greatest act of mercy that has ever taken place.

So the answer to justice vs. mercy is “both”.  God will make sure justice occurs 100% of the time and He is on record as committing the most merciful act in history.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit http://www.breslev.co.il/articles/breslev/rebbe_nachmans_wisdom/mercy_vs__justice.aspx?id=26842&language=english)