Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Loving Ourselves Into God's Presence

God has told you, O human, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: God wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.  --Micah 6:8 (NET)

This is probably one of the best known verses in the Bible, aside from the Charlie Brown gang's Christmas pageant quotes.  This verse is an answer to a question asked in verse 6 -- "With what should we enter God's presence?  With what should I bow before the sovereign God?"  The question is on the minds of the people because they're in the religious context and habit of needing purification with sacrificial offerings prior to God entertaining their prayers.  Micah, being the prophet he is, totally reframes the requirement.  In essence, it goes from offering things to offering oneself.  Three ways of offering ourselves to God are lifted up.

Promote Justice:  How do we promote justice?  First off, we have to know right from wrong and be able to recognize when justice isn't happening.  There are many benefits and positive attributes about American culture.  Unfortunately, many times all the benefits cloud our ability to see all the injustice going on around us.  The justice we seek is not limited to the very thin slice of the pie dealing with crime.  It extends much more widely to embrace how fairly the various systems and institutions in society treat people.  Is the economic system, the educational system, the medical system, the religious system, the environmental system, the agricultural system, the court system.... treating people equally, fairly, and justly?  Nobody can kid themselves!  None of these human institutions are.  What we bring before God is our labors to promote change that balances the playing fields in all of life's arenas.  And, even if you are one of the least in society and enduring injustice yourself, there is an offering to God you can be making.

Be Faithful:  In 1352 Julian of Norwich said this: "It really honors God more, and gives more joy, if we ask God to answer our prayers through God's goodness and cling to that by grace, true understanding, and loving steadfastness than if we approach God through multiple intermediaries and our own need."  Being faithful to God means fully embracing and completely assuming God's goodness is present in total abundance -- even when we can't see it or feel it!  To approach God and to be in God's presence we must come before God with the radical all-encompassing belief that God's goodness precedes us.  It must be the absolute most basic tenet we carry.

Live Obediently: Obedience is not subscribing to or keeping a laundry list of "thou shalts" or "thou shalt nots."  Obedience is not following a moral code of some humanly prescribed form.  The ultimate form of living obediently is how consistently and intensely you can love.  Jesus spoke of the greatest commandments.  "Love the Lord your God...and your neighbor as yourself."  If you are loving God and all people, regardless of your problem(s) with them, all the laws and morals in creation are covered.  The issue of obedience creeps into life because we don't want to love obediently.  We want exceptions and excuses to hate, those who do us wrong.  We want a list of all the ways people should treat us.  That's legalism, and it is a far cry from obedience to love.    

To summarize it all, what God wants from us is to be loved back, wholly and completely, to love everything God loves, and to work for love's sake in everything we do.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Watching Evil Melt Away.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.  -- Colossians 3:12-13 (NET)
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "You have heard it said,'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you do not resist an evil person."  We all have a serious problem with evil.  Most often we might think of it only in terms of others' actions, rather than our own!  When we discuss evil, we usually conceive of ourselves as the ones in the white hats while tremendous atrocities spring to mind - invariably Adolph Hitler is among them.  Those who mock this "impractical" Savior's words: "Do not resist an evil person" will say, "That's EXACTLY what Neville Chamberlain did and look at the World War it caused!"  Forget Hitler for a moment, we are a society chock full of millions of people who all see supposed affronts to their rights as "evil," and they strike back at it.  Some people will contemplate murder, some will actually commit it.  So much for not resisting!  Race to it then.  Take up your arms and exercise your own brand of justice against all evil doers.  Now, is the world a better place because of your actions?  It might be better for you.  Is it better for those who see and adopt your model of living?  M. Ghandi said something like, "An eye for an eye only leaves the world blind."

The unhealthy emotional condition of society, the spiritual malaise of the masses is perhaps related to the generalized rude, impolite, unkind, rough way we bump, jostle, and smack down everyone else in order to get our way.  When I read Paul's words to the Colossians printed above, the first encouraging thing that grabs my attention is the "elect of God, holy and dearly loved." Yes, I consider myself Christian..."holy and dearly loved" feels like a notch higher.  If I don't feel that, I sure would like to!!  To feel it perhaps we have to dress like it then?  Smiling in spite of how we are feeling will improve our mood.  Dressing better raises our self-image.  Clothing ourselves in "mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness patience and bearing with one another and forgiving" should then result in us feeling that way and therein more holy and loved.

So what about the evil people?  First, they just might not be evil but carrying a boatload of misery and heartache from many years of being kicked around.  Second, if they were met with encouragement and all those attributes in the Colossian's list - mercy and such - by EVERYONE, how long could "evil" stand?  I would contend that Hitler succeeded because the "good Christian" people around him bought his gospel of fear and blaming and just with a knee-jerk reaction followed his lead.  Where would Hitler's support have come from if all Germans were living out the reality of "holy and dearly loved?"  Where would there have been room for a Hitler if the world had treated the German people following World War I with more humility and gentleness?  Holy and beloved people don't need to blame.  We don't need to be fearful.  We don't need to fight for our way.  We only need to rejoice in the right.  We follow a risen Savior who is real and who has our common good solidly in hand.  Hold up that word and principle for your neighbor, your friend, your family.  Watch evil melt away.