Justice, Mercy, or Both?

Look around. Listen to the politicians. Read the headlines. Talk to your neighbors and coworkers. It won’t take long before two themes emerge.

Justice and mercy. But rarely do these two words occur in the same sentence, or even in the same conversation.

There’s a lot of talk about justice. Criminal justice. Social justice. We have a keenly developed sense of what we think is right and wrong. We demand justice for ourselves and for those who need us to stand up for them.

Problem is, we can’t seem to agree on what justice looks like in every situation. What does justice look like for illegal immigrants? Or for babies developing in the womb?

It all depends on our worldview and the values we espouse. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that even if we hold a biblical worldview, we fall short in executing righteous judgment. Because there’s only one righteous Judge.

Then there’s the subject of mercy. I was challenged this week from the Beatitudes to consider what it means to be merciful. “Blessed are the merciful…”

Mercy.

I love the sound of this word when it applies to me. Who doesn’t want to receive mercy? On the other hand, not many of us want to extend mercy.

Most people, myself included, prefer to hand out judgment. You’ve wronged me? I want you to receive the consequences of your actions. My natural inclination is not toward mercy…unless I am the recipient.

Still, there’s at least one Bible verse that includes both concepts, justice and mercy, in the same sentence.

Micah 6:8 (NIV) tells us:

“What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

We’re to act justly. Not demand judgment, but act with justice. Consider the other person’s circumstances and respond with justice, despite our own opinions or preferences.

We’re to love mercy. Interesting, it doesn’t say extend mercy. It says we’re to love it. Some translations use the word kindness instead of mercy. Because mercy is meaningless if it isn’t demonstrated in a tangible way.

But there’s a third part: “Walk humbly with your God.” In many ways, this is the most important phrase in the verse—the phrase that ties it all together. If we have a right view of ourselves in relation to the God we belong to, then justice and mercy will flow out of our relationship in Christ, prompted by the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Will we be perfect in our execution? Not even close. But we’ll be moving in the right direction.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Still, there’s a hitch. The verse begins by saying this is God’s requirement for us. And the fact that it’s a requirement tells us it doesn’t come naturally. For if acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God flowed naturally, we wouldn’t have to be commanded to do it.

They’re not natural. They are intentional choices.

And perhaps, before we take on the problems of the world, we need to start closer to home. With our spouses and children. Our family and friends. The people we work with Monday through Friday and the people we worship with on Sundays.

What would life look like if we really did—intentionally—act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God?

Let’s find out!


 
Faith and Consistency

Do you believe in gravity? Do you believe in electricity?

Of course you do. So do I. And we prove our belief every time we take a step or turn on a light.

But when it comes to biblical truth and spiritual matters, our beliefs don’t always translate into actions. And I confess to being as guilty of this as anyone else.

The reality is that I often fail to live in accordance with what I claim to believe.

  • I claim I trust God as my heavenly Father…then I worry.
  • I say God is worthy of sacrificial service…then I pick and choose the most convenient way to serve Him.
  • Or I declare my gratitude for forgiveness found in Jesus Christ…then I withhold forgiveness from those who have offended me.

Funny thing is, many who claim to not believe in God sometimes live as if they do!

  • They ask for prayer when tragedy strikes, even though they claim to not believe.
  • They express gratitude for the good things in life, but refuse to thank the Giver.
  • Or they hold to a moral code of right and wrong (e.g. stealing and lying are both wrong), while denying the Source of that moral code.

Many Christians often surrender to fear that keeps us from living what we claim to believe. For example, we say we trust God, but we’re afraid when He works in our life for our good, the “good” will be like medicine: helpful, but it tastes terrible.

We worry God’s definition of good differs from ours. We define “good” as pleasant, comfortable, and convenient. But God defines good as that which accomplishes His purposes for us. And His purposes are usually related to stretching us out of our comfort zone and growing us beyond our convenience.

We say we want an eternal focus, but we’re consumed with making this temporary life as comfortable as possible.

So what’s the key to consistent living?

1. Start with prayer:

  • Sometimes we want to change, but need the Holy Spirit’s help to do it. Other times we need the Holy Spirit’s help to give us even the desire to change! Ask the Lord to give you the desire and the ability to live consistent with what you claim to believe.

2. Maintain an eternal focus:

  • Our broken world aches from the consequences of sin. And just as creation groans under the burden of sin (Romans 8:22), we also groan. But I wonder if part of our groaning is because our focus causes us to behave as if this world is all there is.
  • There’s a better world coming. Our best life is not now. Our best life is yet to come. This world is nothing more than a glorified bus station…and we’re all in transit.

3. Take a step of faith:

  • Just as we manifest faith when we flip a light switch, we manifest our faith in God by placing our full confidence in Him and His promises. I can claim a chair will hold me, but never actually sit in it. Or I can place my full weight in the chair as a demonstration of faith in what I claimed.
  • What “chair” is waiting for you to demonstrate your faith? Is it the chair of trust? Sacrificial giving? Service? In what area do you need to step out in faith, knowing God has already proven Himself trustworthy?

4. Do it again:

  • Don’t stop with one step. Take another. And another. Studies confirm it takes more than two months to form a new habit. It could take even longer, depending on the old habit you’re trying to replace (Philippians 4:9).

The key is not doing it in our own strength. This is not about trying harder, working smarter, and doing better. This is about depending on the Holy Spirit for the power to say no—or yes—as the situation requires. And to do it day by day, hour by hour, and sometimes even minute by minute.

Do you desire to live consistent with the faith you claim to have? It’s rarely convenient. But you’ll find yourself on a faith journey that will exceed your greatest expectations.


 
Do You Have a Fat Heart?

Fat. A word that causes more grief than the three letters deserve.

For most of us, gaining weight is much easier than losing it.

Those five pounds I lost from September to November? Yup, they reappeared in the three weeks leading up to Christmas. And it took until now to lose them again.

We’ve all heard how excess fat can create health problems, including high cholesterol levels and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

But did you know spiritual fat can create spiritual heart disease?

In Acts 28:27, the apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament book of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:10) when he wrote:

“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them” (ESV).

Dull hearts. Other translations use words such as calloused, hardened, and insensitive. But the meaning of the original Hebrew word in Isaiah includes reference to being greasy, gross, and fat. That’s why the King James translation translates Isaiah 6:10 as “Make the heart of this people fat…” and Acts 28:27 as “For the heart of this people is waxed gross.”

Yes, our spiritual hearts can become gross and covered in fat.

It happens when we no longer mourn over our sin…both individually and as a nation.

When we refuse God’s solution to our problems, and seek our own futile answers.

And it can even happen when we become so numb to a world where wrong is right and right is wrong that we give up being salt and light.

Is this how you feel?

Discouraged at the state of our world?

Wondering how we could have gotten to the point where laws permit a baby to be born and then allowed to die without medical care?

Dejected at how intelligent people are convinced gender is something we can choose and change based on feeling instead of physical reality?

Please don’t let your heart grow dull. Calloused. Fat.

Don’t give up hungering and thirsting for truth…the truth of God’s Word and the Person who is Truth: Jesus Christ.

And please don’t throw up your hands in surrender at the hopelessness of it all.

Be salt and light. Don’t be fat.


 
My Favorite Bible Verse…or Not
trust the light to our path

The world around us is becoming increasingly challenging.

  • Challenging to live out our Christian faith in a morally relativistic culture.
  • Challenging to share the joy of our faith in a world that is not only uninterested, but hostile to a biblical world view.
  • And challenging as we face the uncertainty of a future that seems perilously out of control.

What do you do when you feel challenged?

Where do you go for answers?

How do you decide on the right course of action?

If I’m being smart, I go to the Bible for direction and answers. Sometimes I like what I read. Other times I’m stretched by what I read, knowing the answer does not line up with my natural inclinations.

For example, one of my favorite—and least favorite—verses is the same verse.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105 ESV).

This one verse answers several questions, including the source for answers and the kind of help God provides for guidance.

At face value, this verse sounds like everything we would want, including light and leading. Of course, I’m grateful for the direction this verse promises God’s children.

But (true confession) there’s one particular thing I don’t like about this verse. If I’m being honest, I don’t want a lamp to my feet. A lamp only lights the way a few feet in front of me. It lights the path step by step.

I don’t want a lamp for the next few steps. I want a floodlight that lights the way for a mile down the road. I don’t want direction just for today. I want to know what the next year (or two or three) holds.

But God gives me what I need, not necessarily what I want.

What I need is to learn dependence on God. Sadly, it’s easier for me to trust Him for my eternal salvation in Christ—my eternal destiny—than it is to trust Him in the physical trials of life.

According to Psalm 119:105, God gives just enough direction to move forward with dependence on Him. And coincidentally, that’s what prompts trust, which just happens to be my “one word” for the year.

Conversations with friends have shown me I’m not alone in wanting to know what lies around the bend next month…next year…next decade. And actually, isn’t that the reason people flock to fortune tellers, read horoscopes, and visit palm readers?

We’re under the illusion that if we know what’s coming, somehow we can control it. As if a certain level of control will solve all our problems. But the biggest problem is that control is, itself, an illusion. We can’t control the weather, the culture, or how other people respond to us.

And to make matters worse, most of us aren’t even successful controlling ourselves!

Ever lost your temper? Said something you wish you could take back? Or maybe not said something you wish you had?

Control may be what we want, but dependence is what we need. Dependence on the One who created us and sustains us if we run to Him. Trusting that if God has given us all we need in Christ for our eternal relationship to be restored, surely He can be trusted for the here and now.

The Father has restored us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, and the Son has left us His Spirit, equipping us to grow in our intimacy with Him and to live a life pleasing to Him.

In short, He has already given us everything we need. So why does that not seem to be enough?

Perhaps it’s because, deep down, we’re afraid to trust. Afraid God doesn’t define good the way we do. Let’s face it, we define good as what we want: people and possessions. But God defines good as the people and processes He uses to make us more like Him.

Part of that process is cultivating trust. And trust is cultivated with just enough light for one step at a time.

Like I said…my favorite—and least favorite—verse!

What is your favorite or least favorite Bible verse? Why?


 
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