Lenten reflection on a life verse

For Sunday, February 21, 2016
2nd Sunday in Lent

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah 6:8

This is my life verse.  On my tombstone may it read, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”  As we’re on this Lenten journey I decided to reflect further on what’s really here.  I’m in both the Hebrew and Greek 10 minutes a day clubs on alternating weeks.  (To join, just commit to spending 10 minutes a day in the given language).  I have a calendar entry on the top of each Monday to remind myself.  During my recent Hebrew weeks I’ve been exploring Micah 6:1-8 in depth.  There is so much here.  For today I’ll confine myself to the three key terms in verse 8: justice, kindness, and walking humbly.

The Hebrew word translated “justice” is ‘mishpat‘.  I like to remember key Hebrew words because when I run across them multiple times they become friends with a depth and range of meaning that can’t be conveyed directly from one language to the next.  ‘Mishpat‘ carries with it the idea of true religion manifesting itself in social concern (Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC)).  As Christians we need to be known what we’re for more than what we’re against.  One of the things we’re for is justice.  This means a culture in which every person is valued for the image of God in them and in which every person is encouraged to thrive.  I recently visited a Milwaukee ministry called “Word of Hope“.  Pastor Cliff said, “Our job is to take away every excuse a person has to fail.  If they need a job, we’ll help them find one.  If they don’t have a ride to get there, we’ll arrange one.  If they have some underlying issues that prevent them from keeping that job, we’ll work through that with them.”  This is the justice of the gospel in action.  “Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their misfortune and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

The Hebrew word translated “kindness” is ‘hesed‘.  I first became friends with this word in seminary when studying the book of Ruth with Dennis Magary.   If you ever have a chance to study with Dennis take it!  The kindness that Ruth extended to Naomi, that Boaz extended to Ruth (and vice versa), and that God extends to us through Ruth’s grandson King David and then on through Jesus is this very word ‘hesed.  It’s God’s unfailing love.  God is saying, “I’ve got your back.”  It’s my Russian missionary colleagues putting $200 in our bag to enable my wife Heather and me to purchase a snowsuit for my son Karcher that we otherwise couldn’t afford while in Siberia.  ‘Hesed’ can cause tears of gratitude to well up in your eyes.  ‘Hesed’ is also reciprocal.  When you’ve experienced it you can’t help but extend it to others because every time you do you experience it again.  To fail to show ‘hesed’ was to break the covenant and to break the covenant was to reveal that you were never part of it in the first place (EBC notes).

The phrase “to walk humbly” is based on two Hebrew words.  The first, ‘tzana’, means “to be humbled” as an extension of acting in a cautious manner (Kohlenberger / Mounce).  A derivative appears in Proverbs 11:2:  “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (EBC).  So many of us live in pride: so few of us live with wisdom.  Humility is the difference.  The second Hebrew word used here meaning “to walk” is ‘halak’.  God wants us to ‘halak’ with him because he is already and always ‘halak’ing’ with us.  It is as Eph. 5:15 says: “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, because the days are evil.” So putting it all together, “to walk humbly” is to live intentionally in view of God’s glory and presence in our lives.

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.  This is a high calling both glorious and fulfilling.  Where is the path on which we will flourish?  Right here.

Your turn

  • Do you have a favorite or life verse and what brought you to it?
  • What would you like written on your tombstone?
  • How can Lent helping you reconnect with your own life verse and calling?

Finding freedom in grace

Van Gogh, "Harvest in Provence", 1888, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Van Gogh, “Harvest in Provence”, 1888, Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Romans 10:8b-13
For Sunday, February 14, 2016
First Sunday in Lent

We all know intellectually that we’re saved by grace through faith.  So why then do we  so often get verklempt in our attempts to perform for God?  The internal tape says, “I have to go to church.  I have to go to Bible study.  I have to serve.  I have to pray.  I have to, I have to, I have to …”  Actually, we don’t!

The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Rom. 10:8).  Israel made the mistake of trying to earn salvation through performance.  Paul says earlier in this chapter, “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge…  Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (vv. 2, 4).

Have you believed?  Have you confessed Christ as Lord.  Then you have God’s righteousness.  There is no DO in the gospel, only DONE.  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (v. 13).

Stop performing in a vain attempt to earn God’s approval.  Embrace the freedom we have to be God’s people given the righteousness we have by faith.  We live in a world starving for grace and grace needs to come alive first within ourselves.  Only then can we extend it to others.

Your Turn
Where is the grace of God leading you this week to experience freedom?
(For me it was calling Birch Creek Music Camp to offer my services as a jazz drummer for this summer’s camp in Door County, WI).

A great resource for Lent
My good friend Jim Van Eerden has put together a fantastic multimedia lectionary called The Pilgrim Year.   The section on Lent could be a great resource for helping you to embrace the freedom of God’s grace leading up to Easter.  I highly recommend it!
(Disclaimer: this paragraph is sponsored content.  For a 5% discount use budget code PASSPORT).

Preparing for a Lenten Adventure

Lent starts next week with Ash Wednesday.  Of course it doesn’t appear on my computer calendar.  How is it that as a nation we’ve come to the point where Earth Day is on the calendar but Lent is not?  At least Easter is still on there.

I’m 51 now, old enough to know that without a vibrant relationship with the Lord life so quickly crumbles into the formless sand of vacuity.  So I want this Lenten season to be one that grounds me and forms me more firmly in my Father’s grace and peace.

I went back to see what I had written previously on Lent and found this post entitled “The Rhythm of Epiphany to Lent”.  I actually liked it.  That’s rare for me as a reader of my own writing.  It needed some editing (of course!) but may it encourage you as it did me this morning.  I actually wrote it way back in 2010.

Hope-fueled boldness

Giovanni_Bellini_016-large

Giovanni Bellini, “Transfiguration of Christ”, Naples, Italy, 1480 – 1485.

2 Cor. 3:12-4:2
For Sunday, February 7, 2016
Transfiguration Sunday

We ought to be exceedingly bold in living out the gospel.  This is the only conclusion we can reach once fueled by the power of this passage.

To understand what the Apostle Paul is saying here we need to start back at v. 7.  Paul is contrasting the ministry of the old covenant with the ministry of the new.  If the ministry of the old covenant, which brought condemnation, set Moses’ face aglow, how much more should the ministry of the new covenant, the gospel, set our faces aglow?  “Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (v. 12).

Secular culture tells us that we are free to worship in any way we like, privately.  But there’s the rub.  As Chuck Colson, one of my mentors (and he can be yours too) liked to say our faith is to be personal but not private.  One of Chuck’s favorite quotes was from Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper: “There’s not a single square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Jesus Christ who is Lord of all does not cry out, ‘Mine!’ “.

So what would a boldness reboot look like?  “Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart.  Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God.  On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (ch. 4:1,2).

Father, may the Apostle Paul’s excitement and passion for the hope and freedom he found in you be so utterly contagious for us that we can’t stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.  Let us be the church in the world.  Amen.

Your turn

  • Where do you most struggle to be bold with your faith?
  • What encouragement do you find in this passage to be bolder?
  • If you succeeded what would it look like?

How bold should we be?

The Apostle Paul’s answer In 2 Cor. 3:7, ff. is very bold.  Paul notes that Moses’ face was radiant after meeting with God (Exodus 34).  Paul then asks, “If Moses face was radiant in carrying the message of condemnation, how much more radiant are our faces in carrying a message of freedom?”  So how bold should we be at work, at school and with friends?

Paul lays it out for us.  “Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness …  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 3:12, 4:2).

But I’m afraid,” we say.  Wouldn’t it though be refreshing to go all in with the same love and passion for God that Paul had?  To put it bluntly, our fear is misplaced.  “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience” (2 Cor. 5:11).

All in is the very best place to be.  Paul knew it and we know it.  Let’s go.

Authentic leadership manifests in humility

The great passage of Scripture that forms my life verse, Micah 6:8, reads, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”  The grammar and syntax of the Hebrew original suggest that amongst these three key ideas, the greatest emphasis is on the last, “to walk humbly”.  Within this last phrase, the greatest emphasis is on being humble (Hebrew Hiphil).

God himself modeled humility for us by sacrificing his one and only Son so that we could be restored to relationship with him.

Want to be an authentic leader?  Then model humility as God did for us.

Reclaiming the Joy of the Lord

Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran (Muzeʼon Yiśraʼel (Jerusalem))

Nehemiah 8:1-10
For Sunday, January 24, 2016
Third Sunday After the Ephiphany

This passage is wholly appropriate for the season of Epiphany because an epiphany is precisely what is taking place here.  When a culture hears truth it knows it and will weep with mourning for how far it has strayed.  At the same time such truth is life-giving and the joy of the Lord speaking it will become the peoples’ strength.

It had been a long 70 years in Babylon, Long enough to forget what it meant to have God in the center of the culture.  Yet now, by providence through the Persian conquest of Babylon, Israel found herself home again in Jerusalem, standing before her temple, at the start of the civil year.  This was a State of the Union moment.  Ezra the scribe (a precursor to Charles Krauthammer on Fox News?) brings out the Book of the Law of Moses.

Ezra read from the book with interpretation so that the people could understand the meaning (v. 8).  This is the essence of good preaching.  I once heard Stuart Briscoe, Pastor Emeritus of Elmbrook Church, and one of the most gifted expository preachers in the country, say to a mutual acquaintance, “All I’ve done is found a good book and shared what I’ve read there with all who would listen.”  Transformational preaching is no more or less than this.  Expository preaching will always be relevant because it is the conveyance of transforming truth.

So convicted were the people of how far they had allowed their country to stray that they wept.  Oh that Christians around the world would take ownership for the state of our Unions.  People and nations will thrive when the truth of the gospel is heard and lived by even a remnant.

At the end of the reading, Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the scribe (journalist), and the Levites (priests or pastors) said with one voice, “Go, and celebrate, and share your blessing with those who lack, and do not be grieved, because the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).

This passage is a call for us as individuals to recommit ourselves to the daily reading of Scripture.  It’s a call as well to preach the Scriptures exposition ally in our churches.  Finally, it’s a call to reclaim the joy of the Lord that our countries and cultures would thrive.  May we neither wander nor falter nor fail to respond to so high a calling.