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Friday, February 26, 2016

Justice is Personal

Justice is Personal

Sacrificing to idols was very popular in ancient times.  Each country or tribe had its’ own idol or idols (statues set up on hills or in glitzy temples).   Going back three or four thousand years ago, almost everyone who lived on this earth believed they should sacrifice to idols to keep their idol gods happy. These heathen gods of antiquity were often considered angry and vengeful and must be placated.  Often worshippers would cut themselves and rage and scream and cry to get the attention of their idol gods.  Religious prostitution took place and things would get wild and ugly.  

 If a family sacrificed their best cow on the golden altar to their idol god, they believed that their idol god would give them a good crop that year and at harvest time there would be plenty.  Also if the family would bring more sacrifices to their angry gods, perhaps the wives and concubines in the family would have more babies.  Everyone wanted to have as many children as possible.   

The nation of Israel was the only nation that didn’t join in the frenzied worshipping of idols.   The Jewish people believed in one God, a God of love and justice.  And their just and loving God had strictly forbidden them from having any idol gods or sacrificing to them as their heathen neighbors did. God promised the Jewish people that He alone would take care of them and give them everything they needed if they would follow Him. They would not need to dance around  statues of colorful idols to have a plentiful harvest.  Israel did bring a sin offering to God when they sinned, but this offering only pointed them to the perfect future offering for sin, the Jewish Messiah, that had been promised as Savior from sin. Gods’ people were to trust God and obey Him and live a simple life.  They were to be different from the rest of the ancient heathen world. 

 Many of the Jewish people felt left out of the popular sport of idol worshipping.  All of their neighbors were sacrificing their animals and forcing their children to walk through fire.  Dark savage things were done to impress the idols.  Blood ran and terror prevailed.  Some of their idol worshipping neighbors were rich and famous and powerful.  The Jewish people wondered if these impressive idol gods were making their rich neighbors richer and more powerful!  Would Israel be richer if they had a few idols too?  Their just God was so different from their neighbors demanding gods.  Shouldn’t their God require something more of them?  

The Jewish people asked their religious leaders and their prophets and priests what more God wanted them to do.  How were they to live their lives so that they would please God?  And God answered their question through their prophet Micah.  Here is God’s answer. “He has shown you, O mortal human, 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)   

This answer is in our Bible in the book of Micah and it is not only meant for the ancient peoples of Israel, but it is also meant for all of God’s children – for you and me.  Not just in the book of Micah but all through the Bible God calls His children again and again to act justly and fairly and to help make a world that is just and fair. To be humble and to love mercy.  And to be people that are kind and loving and good.  God is a God of justice and He calls us to follow Him and be known as trustworthy, fair and just persons.  And also merciful and loving. 

Justice is not always found only in big things or in grand gestures.  But justice can come in small things and humble acts.  Love and hospitality can be platforms for justice.  Justice can take place by welcoming the stranger.  By seeing God’s image in each person, in the least and the lost. Scripture says that we humans are created in God’s image, each and every one of us.

We may not realize how important it is to respect and affirm the people we come in contact with.  A man who spent five years in solitary confinement in prison wrote this: “I would like to explain to people how much we need human validation.  The very essence of life is human contact, and the affirmation of existence that comes with it.  Losing that contact, you lose your sense of identity.  You become nothing.”  We must never treat another person made in God’s image as if they were nothing.    

We can help break down prejudice and restore justice by seeing God’s image in each person and by affirming that persons’ dignity. Each person receives dignity from God, and we trample that dignity when we refuse to speak to a person or when we treat a person badly.  But we can bring healing and restoration by loving people through the power of the Holy Spirit.  The way we treat another person is all important.  Justice requires tangible love. 

  We can let justice roll down by welcoming the stranger.  (Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:33-34) Scripture says: “Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil: cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourself.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.”  (Romans 12:9-13) 

We can bring justice to a situation by welcoming the stranger and the enemy. Any movement toward the stranger may be an act of justice.  Something happens when we show hospitality and make space for the stranger or the enemy. We can be open to what God has for us to do. He has a part for us to play in this world. Scripture says that when we have shown hospitality to strangers sometimes we have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)   There is a spiritual world out there that is affected by what we do.

Jesus’ ministry was both healing and being present to people.  Healing can be physical or social or spiritual.  And healing takes place when we restore peace again where there was not peace before. Jesus calls us to follow Him in this ministry.  We are called to love the enemy and to pray for him/her.  Not to get back at or fight with the enemy but to trust God to deal with the problem.  We have an awesome God who promises to take care of us and to restore what has been taken from us (relationships), if not here on earth, then in heaven. If we are not able to bring justice to a situation, we can pray and stand back and trust God to bring His justice in His time.  We can know that God is by our side.  He never abandons us. 

We are God’s people and He calls us, as He called ancient Israel, to stay away from other gods  or from idols. The gods that are worshipped in our modern world may not be giant statues on high hills like in the olden days.  But we have our own modern idols just the same, the many idols that take the place of God. The idols of our modern world appear to offer hope and money, success, power, entertainment and pleasure.  We are so tempted to dance and sacrifice before them. 

And we are tempted to build up our own reputation by turning our backs on the poor and by fighting our enemies.  Build ourselves up by putting them down.  We lie and hate and sacrifice to the gods of power, sex and money just like the heathens do.  And we tell ourselves that we can get ahead and make more people like us if we do these things. 

But God comes along and reminds us that we are His people and we are to put away all of these things. Our sins have been forgiven by Christ and we belong to Him and not to ourselves. We are to follow God and He will take care of all of our needs, through Christ He will forgive all our sins and in His time He will answer all of our prayers.  All He requires of us is that we “Act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)     


Saturday, February 6, 2016

God Renews Your Youth like the Eagle's (Psalm 103)

God Renews Your Youth like the Eagle’s
Psalm 103

Psalm 103 is all about what a loving and forgiving heavenly Father we have.  And it is also about reminding us to bless and praise Him.  This Psalm begins and ends with “Bless the Lord, O my soul.”  And all throughout the Psalm, David the writer, reminds himself (his soul) to bless and praise his God.  He rehearses all of God’s blessings to encourage himself in his faith.  And we can do this too. 

Psalm 103 describe God as the One: “Who redeems your life from destruction.
Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies. 
Who satisfies your mouth with good things.
Who renews your youth like the eagle’s.”  (verse 4-5)

God redeems or saves our soul from destruction because of His great love for us.  (John 3:16)  And God places a crown on our head, a crown of His loving kindness and tender mercies!(vs 4)    In another Psalm we see this same theme: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”  (Psalm 23:6)  When we are crowned with God’s loving kindness and when His goodness and mercy are following us throughout our life, we are truly living a blessed life, wouldn’t you agree? 

Psalm 103 also tells us that God “renews our youth like the eagle’s?”  What could this passage mean?  The eagle is one of the strongest and longest lived birds on the face of the earth. Naturalists tell us that the eagle casts all her feathers or she changes them each year at molting time.  Fresh feathers replace the old ones and she renews her strength and appears young again..

 When we allow Jesus into our lives, we receive the graces and comforts of His Spirit, which renews our minds and souls from the decay of this world.  As we believers travel life’s journey the Holy Spirit teaches and leads us into all Truth which invigorates us and gives us peace and joy. And when we open our lives to Jesus, He fills us with new life and seals us with His Spirit which is the earnest or the guarantee of our eternal life. (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:14 and 2 Corinthians 1:22) With Jesus our life becomes a light and joyful journey! So it can be said that we return to the days of our youth.  (Job 33:25) Because our hope and joy and new life make us young in spirit. 

This Psalm is all about what God does for us.  And much here is written about God’s forgiveness of our sins.  He is a God who: “forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” (verse 3) A God who:” has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” (verse 10) “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him.  As far as the east is from the west.  So far has He removed our sins from us.”  (verses 11-12)   We have a heavenly Father who abundantly pardons and restores!

When it mentions God healing our diseases, what does that mean? The Old Testament promise of bodily healing was based upon the character of God (Yahweh) who is our “Healer”.  Here in Psalm 103 we have a promise of spiritual healing that also includes physical healing. This involves the idea of mending or curing.  God is not only forgiving sins but He is healing diseases.

Until we take our place in heaven we are still sinning and repenting as God is still forgiving and healing.  Only when we are in heaven will we not sin any more at all.  We will be changed!  Changed by Jesus Christ!  (Revelations 21:4,27, Revelations 22:3, 2 Corinthians 5) Also our earthly bodies are now still mortal (they are imperfect, and won’t last -are dying) as God is mending and patching them for our use in this temporary earthly life.   But when we die these mortal bodies will be transformed into glorious immortal bodies (perfect bodies that will last and never die).  “This mortal (death) body shall put on immortal (life) body.” (1 Corinthians 15:53)

 When we take our place in heaven, our immortal bodies will not need any more mending or patching because they can no longer become injured or diseased.  God will completely heal them.  Jesus spent much of his earthly ministry healing the physical diseases of the people around Him.  But these people who Jesus healed eventually died and their healings lasted only for this temporary earthly life. But these amazing healing promises in the Bible reach across the divide of death and into the eternal.  They reach from the sinful, earthly and temporary to that which lasts forever and is sinless and victorious. The promises to heal will be completely fulfilled when we reach the glory land.    

Psalm 103 also speaks of God’s mercy toward us.  We read: “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.  For He knows our frame: He remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass:  As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it and it is gone.  And its place remembers it no more.  But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting for those who fear Him.  And His righteousness to their children’s children, to such as keep His covenant and to those who remember His commandments to do them.  The Lord has established His throne in heaven.  And His kingdom rules over all.”  (Psalm 103: 13-19)
We have even more precious promises here in Psalm 103!  These promises are not for those who reject Him but for those who “fear” or respect and obey Him. And these promises to us for our children and even their children. (Verses 13-19) We have a picture here of our heavenly Father pitying and being concerned about us as we walk through our earthly journey.  He knows that we are vulnerable – that we were made from dust.  That our life can end in a moment, like a flower blown away by the wind.

 But our God and Father is on our side and He will keep His covenant to His children, to those who remember His commandments and try to do them.  Our part is to trust and obey. We are weak but He is strong.  His kingdom rules overall and His throne is established in heaven and He will keep His promises to us.  He will hold us in His hand and give us eternal life.  Sin and death have been defeated. What joy is ours!  Christians cannot be pessimists. When we have a God like this, how can we lose?