What Is Required

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

I love this passage - it is so simple yet so hard to walk out.
I believe the essence of this verse sums up the 10 commandments and, what Jesus called, the great commandments ... to love God and to love each other. This verse adds some clarity to loving ... says a little bit about what love looks like.

To act justly. The dictionary defines justice as "The upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law." God is a deeply concerned with how we treat each other. When we love each other we are also deeply concerned that others are treated fairly. Jesus said to do unto others as you would have them do unto you ... this is the heart of acting justly.

To love mercy - oh how the standards in God's kingdom are high. Jesus confronted the leaders of His day by telling them to discover what it means when God says He desires mercy and not sacrifice. We, like the leaders of Christ's day, often can't see the proverbial forest of mercy for the legalistic trees of our traditions. How we often judge each other when it is on God's heart to show mercy. Isn't it interesting how it says to love mercy ... could it be that we show our love when we are merciful?

To walk humbly. I have often said that humility for a believer is not optional ... you humble yourself or God humbles you ... and we all know that the former is much better than the latter ... He lifts us up when we initiate humility. I think that it is only when we walk in humility that we can truly act justly and love mercy ... humility at it's core is just and merciful.

What is good. Justice, Mercy and Humility ... they are good ... they are required ... they are not optional. Jesus personified each for us ... the most just ... the most merciful ... and the humblest man that ever lived. May our lives reflect Him in justice, in mercy and in humility.

Eternity and the Heart

Ever think about the future? Ever wonder about the afterlife? King Solomon when he was old thought about such things when he wrote Ecclesiastes. He wrote:
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV)
Interesting that, in context of eternity, Solomon says that He has made everything beautiful. That is good news because life before death is often not too pretty, much less beautiful.It is interesting that we all seem to be born with this concept of eternity but really cannot understand it, even at a superficial level, with our heads. I guess that is because we cannot grasp timelessness.

I know that I cannot imagine a place where there are no seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks or years. What I find interesting about this idea of eternity is that it is a concept of the heart not the head. It is a concept that confronts us at a heart level. It causes us to wonder at a gut level. Sad that many take eternity, try to discern it with their heads, and arrive at some strange places. Maybe this sort of cogitation is a way to handle an unanswerable question with a non-answer?

Guess I'm just rambling now so I'll wrap up another brief post with a question. What does it mean to you to have eternity in your heart?

The Sermon on the Heart

A few years ago I had an opportunity to preach at one of our local jails. I shared a synopsis of the Sermon on the Mount (from chapters 5, 6 & 7 of Matthew's gospel) and it's relationship to the heart / innermost being. Here are a few of the highlights:

Matthew 5:3-16: The Virtues of the Heart

Jesus starts His message with the beatitudes - what a life lived from the heart looks like. In this section he talks about heart issues like mourning, mercy, gentleness, passion, justice, purity and peace (to name a few). He also talks about persecution - something that often results when we live an integrated heart life. He ends this section using the metaphors of salt and life. I believe that this is Jesus charge to live from our heart and not be afraid to let people know who we really are.
Matthew 5:17-48: The Heart of the Law
Jesus states that He is the fulfillment of the Law. This is another way of saying that He is the giver of the new heart. This new heart enables us to live the law from our hearts and not our heads. He goes on to address the inner issues of the law. He says that the external is motivated by the internal – murder, adultery, revenge, and enemies are all manifestations of inner heart issues.
Matthew 6:1-7:6: Invisible Heart Living
Moving from the negative aspects of transgression Jesus now addresses our heart motives with respect to giving, fasting and praying. Here he hits religious people where they live. He instructs us to lead invisible lives. He indicates that disciplines are truly spiritual when they are done in secret. He tells us to seek the invisible and God will take care of the visible. Lastly He blasts those who judge others - only God knows the heart.
Matthew 7:7-28: The Heart of Faith
Jesus talks about praying persistently and not giving up when we pray. He talks about people who seem to be spiritual on the outside but are not spiritual at a heart level. He ends his discourse reminding us that heart faith obeys - standing on the scripture not hiding behind it.
Here is the reaction from the crowd when He is finished:
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)
I echo this sentiment. I am in awe of Jesus - I understand the crowd's amazement when I read "you have heard" ... "but I say to you". Jesus' heart message is an encouragement to all people wanting to be inwardly spiritual but not outwardly religious.

Step Into Your Pain

Been thinking about these verses lately:
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. "He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26)

In his "Notes on the Bible", Albert Barnes gives us a historical perspective on the phrase "take up his cross":
'When persons were condemned to be crucified, a part of the sentence was that they should carry the cross on which they were to die to the place of execution. Thus, Christ carried his, until he fainted from fatigue and exhaustion.'

'To carry it was burdensome, was disgraceful, was trying to the feelings, was an addition to the punishment. So “to carry the cross” is a figurative expression, denoting that we must endure whatever is burdensome, or is trying, or is considered disgraceful, in following Christ."

Can you relate to the idea of losing your life? It is a somewhat alien idea for most of us who grew up in the me generation. Jesus speaks to us and says that we cannot live unless we die. He emphasizes the point by speaking of gaining the world and losing your soul - pretty sobering stuff. For me this idea of losing my life got practical when I was confronted by the loss of my first wife Ellen - enduring and experiencing loss of any kind engages us in the grieving process. When I think of grief I always think about my grief recovery group and about it's leader Chaplain Mike who told us that grieving is a proactive process - no one grieves passively. I vividly remember Mike's challenge to "step into your pain". So often we spend so much energy walking around our pain instead of walking through it. This is particularly true of emotional pain.

I think that when Jesus says "take up his cross" He is speaking about stepping into painful areas of our lives. He is talking about believing in the midst of difficult circumstances - trusting and remaining in Him when everything in you is screaming run. Pain won't let you stay who you are - it will change you ... it will make you bitter or better. Here is Jesus' three step approach to losing your life:
  1. Deny Yourself: Thayer's Greek Dictionary defines the word translated 'deny' like this: "to lose sight of one’s self and one’s own interests". This is the heart of the sacrificial life. No one ever sacrificed for another and held on to their own interests. This is our call - to lead lives of sacrifice for Jesus and for each other.
  2. Take Up Your Cross: Embracing hardship, difficulty and pain is often where the sacrificial life gets real. It can be said that sacrifice is not sacrifice unless it hurts. These are the times that try us and sift us. Jesus says of these things: "Pick them up and embrace them"!
  3. Follow Jesus: The path of our cross was modeled by our Lord in a profound way when He picked up His cross for us. When we follow Him we follow this path. When He picked up His cross He stepped into pain ... physical pain ... emotional pain ... spiritual pain. It was intentional. His pain bought our redemption and provided for our reconciliation.

Being an active believer is often not an easy road because it is the path of sacrifice ... it is the way of the cross ... it steps into pain. Next time you are tempted to take an easy route just follow Jesus' 3 steps instead. You will be better for it.

We Get Up

I love the message in this song that my blogging friend Kelli introduced me to. It rings so true. It is not that we do not fall.. in a sense falling is sometimes a consequence of walking in faith.. stepping out into new territory can be risky. It speaks to this from Proverbs 24:16..
though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again
Perseverance is the heart of faith. Obstacles confront us.. trials besiege us.. we occasionally fall.. sometimes fall hard.. even so.. we get up.. we press on following Jesus.

Worry, the Brain and the Heart

My blogging friend Gregg, at Gospel Driven Disciples, recently posted about worry and the bible. Here are my thoughts about worry that I posted in the comments:
Generally I found that I did not worry that much in my early life.. I was pretty resilient and even when my wife went blind when I was 22 I do not remember worrying that much.. I do remember crying though.

As life goes on though we do see a lot of bad stuff happening.. bad stuff happens to us.. my wife died when she was 43.. other bad stuff followed.. my kids acted out as they grieved her loss with all sorts of bad behaviors.. I was diagnosed with a rare blood disease that caused disability in my joints.. my second wife got real sick and is now in a wheelchair.

So when I think about the future I sometimes wonder what God will allow to afflict me.. not sure that it is worry.. but I do ponder the future.. always a problem when our brains are engaged. But when I engage my innermost being I find that I have hope.. not that bad stuff will not happen to me.. but that God will be with me if it does. And IMO that makes all of the difference.

Jesus said that we would have trials.. He also promised to be there when we do.. a message from His heart to ours.. now if I could just disengage my brain :)
I think that worry is a natural response from our brain because, generally speaking, we worry about the things that we have no control over. We worry about our future, our health and our kids.. and the futility of worry becomes so evident over time.. yet we continue to do it instead of engaging our innermost being. Some lessons are so hard to learn