A heart for justice is not enough

He has shown you, O mortal, 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 have a heart for justice. I do not like to see anyone treated unfairly. I hate it when people get away with doing something wrong. I despise racism and bigotry. I confess that I don’t know what I can do about it. In a recent sermon about Moses, my pastor said that Moses had a heart for justice but it was not enough.

I really never thought about what it was like for Moses as a Hebrew boy growing up in an Egyptian household. He would have realized that he was different from his adoptive family. As a child he likely witnessed the oppression and mistreatment of his people by the people of Egypt. When he saw injustice as an adult, he took justice in his own hands.

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”

Exodus 2:11-14

Moses was obviously angry when he saw one of his own people being abused by an Egyptian. When you have a heart for justice, injustice makes you angry. You want to retaliate. You want revenge. You may get so fired up, that you act impetuously, like Moses did, and do something you will regret later. When Moses took justice into his own hands, there were consequences. Another Hebrew witnessed him killing the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses.

Years before God spoke to him from the burning bush, Moses had a heart for justice but it wasn’t enough. He needed to be shaped into the kind of person that God can use for His redeeming work. Moses fled to Midian and spent the next forty years living the humble life of a shepherd.

Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; then he spent forty years on the backside of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he spent the last forty years of his life leaning what God can do with a nobody!

Dwight L. Moody

As my pastor said, a heart for justice combined with humility before God prepares us to take part in God’s redeeming plan. When we are humbled, we realize we don’t have all the answers. When we humble ourselves before God, we are open to his guidance and direction.

If we want to be effective advocates for justice, we must listen to others and not just to the people who echo our own thoughts. We must exercise self-control and wait to respond so we can prayerfully choose the best course of action. We should ask God to reveal the action that we should take.

My pastor cautioned those of us who have a heart of humility to not get too comfortable and to not confuse comfort with humility. We should not stay silent. We must be willing to get out of our comfort zone.

Speaking out is a challenge for me. As an introvert, I am often too timid. I wait to find just the right words. I think too much before I speak and often talk myself out of saying anything because I worry about how it will be received or if I will even be heard above the louder voices.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

In this slow-speaking way of mine, I can relate to Moses. Moses said to God, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

I am encouraged that God used an imperfect person like Moses to be an instrument of His justice. A heart for justice plus a heart humbled before God prepares even me to take part in God’s perfect, redeeming plan.

Lord, Your power is made perfect in my weakness. Thank you for giving me a heart for justice. Thank you for showing me what is good and revealing what you require of me. Thank you for giving me a voice and help me to use it for Your redeeming work. Amen.

Meekness and Rest

In one of his most profound statements in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Even then, this was an astonishing statement. The world sees meekness as weakness. According to Vocabulary.com: “The adjective meek describes a person who is willing to go along with whatever other people want to do, like a meek classmate who won’t speak up, even when he or she is treated unfairly.” Why then did Jesus suggest that meekness is a strength?

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer pointed out that the world turns every virtue of The Beatitudes wrong side out. Instead of displaying poverty of spirit, mankind displays the worst forms of pride. Instead of mourning sin and suffering, man indulges himself with every kind of pleasure. Instead of walking humbly and meekly before God, man struts around inflated with pride and self-importance. Instead of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, man chases money and things. Instead of striving to be pure in heart, man delights in sin and corruption. Instead of making peace, man quarrels and sows discord. Instead of accepting mistreatment at the hands of others, man fights back with every weapon at hand.

Unlike most people, Jesus was meek and humble. Although he did not fight back when he was treated unfairly, no one would ever claim that Jesus was a pushover who did whatever other people wanted to do.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Mathew 11:28-30 (Modern English Version)

Tozer made an interesting connection between the meekness of Jesus and his promise to give rest to those who are heavily burdened. Was Jesus speaking about physical labor? What is this heavy burden borne by mankind?

Pride is a terrible burden. Look at how hard we work to build the self up and to defend the self from insult, slights and criticism. It is hard and tiring labor to constantly fight to protect and defend our wounded pride.

The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

We don’t have to bear this burden. Jesus calls us to him for rest. Being meek like Jesus is the way we find rest from the heavy burden of pride.

A meek man sees himself honestly, both the good and the bad. He knows that the world will never see him as God sees him. He know that he doesn’t have to be perfect to be beloved by God!

Pretense is also a heavy burden. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be what you’re not. It takes tremendous effort to always put your best foot forward, to always make a good impression, to craft the perfect social media image. It is indeed a heavy burden to hide the pain, the failures, the awkwardness, the self-doubt, and imperfection.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr also addressed the issue of pretense but he referred to it as your shadow self.

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will have to do.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

Rohr wrote, “your self-image is not worth protecting, promoting or denying.” But letting go of this desire to protect the self is not easy. Today, I found myself automatically wanting to defend myself from criticism that wounded my pride. I had to tell myself, let it go. It’s not worth it.

When we learn to die to the self, we are free from the bondage of pride.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me just as I am, flawed and imperfect. Help me to think of myself less. Help me to be meek and lowly in heart. Free me from the heavy burdens of pride and pretense.

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Photo by GUNJAN BHATTACHARJEE on Unsplash

Restoring the Right Relationship Between Creature and Creator

Unless I use the expression, “creature of habit,” I don’t refer to myself as a creature but as one created by God. My choice of words symbolizes the human habit of elevating ourselves above animals and lower life forms. It isn’t wrong to do so. After all, God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” But humans also tend to elevate ourselves above the Creator and to deny that we are lowly creatures of the Most High God.

In the eighth chapter of The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote about the importance of restoring the proper relationship between ourselves as creatures and God as our Creator. God created all things. We all belong to God. We exist because of Him and for Him. The right relationship to God is to be in submission to Him and to see yourself as a lower being.

Salvation restores the right relationship between man and his Creator. But even those who are saved try to make God in our own image. We take the parts of God we like (e.g. love and mercy), toss out the parts we don’t like (e.g. anger and punishment), and sculpt an image of God that serves our desires.

As Tozer said, if we want to be in right relationship with God, we must choose to exalt Him above all else. We must accept God as He is and adjust ourselves to conform to His likeness. As God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” We must surrender our whole being in true worship of Him. We must love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer pointed out something that anyone who genuinely honors God above all else knows all too well. The world does not honor God. Millions of people pay some measure of respect to God. They worship Him on Easter and Christmas Day. They insist that God be exalted on US currency with the words “in God we trust.”

Many people give lip service to honoring God but their lives say otherwise. If you look at what people do, if you look at what people choose, you’ll see that they don’t honor God much. If asked to choose, people choose money over God, they choose success over God, they choose human relationships over God, they choose self over God. The proof is in the choices we make.

Choosing to exalt God changes your viewpoint. God is the center. God gives you your moral bearings. God becomes your pilot. Exalting God is the key that unlocks the door to grace. You see how much you fall short of the glory of God. You see yourself and your relationship to others more clearly. It humbles you. It renews your mind. It simplifies your life.

People don’t want to be humbled. I have often thought that pride is the reason many people do not believe in God. It is in our sinful nature to put the self at the center. Tozer quoted a question posed by Jesus that suggests that the root of unbelief is the desire to be honored by other people. People care more about receiving glory from other people than about seeking the glory that comes from God. Truly, the desire to be held in high esteem by other people gets in the way of glorifying and honoring God.

How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 5:44 (Modern English Version)

Tozer closed every chapter of The Pursuit of God with a prayer. I’ve paraphrased his prayer without the “thous.”

Lord, be exalted over my comforts

Lord, be exalted over my possessions

Lord, be exalted over my friendships

Lord, be exalted over my family

Lord, be exalted over my ambitions

Lord, be exalted over my reputation

Lord, be exalted over all

Lord, rise into your proper place of honor in my life, above my friends and family, above my likes and dislikes, above my ambitions, above my health, above life itself.

Receptive to God’s presence

Wherever we are, God is here. No point is nearer to God than any other point. No one is in mere distance any farther from or any nearer to God than any other person is. A.W. Tozer wrote these truths about the omnipresence of God in the fifth chapter of The Pursuit of God, The Universal Presence. He then asked the question, if God is everywhere, then why doesn’t mankind celebrate that fact? The answer is simple: men do not know that God is here.

In previous chapters, Tozer wrote about the manifest presence of God. The presence of God and the manifest presence of God are not the same thing. God is manifest when we are aware of his presence but God is always here whether His presence is clear to us or not.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

Why does God manifest His presence to some people and not to others? Does God love them more? Or does the answer lie with us?

Tozer pointed out that if you think about any of the great saints whose lives and stories are well-known (not just people from the Bible), you will see that they were all unique individuals. Moses was not like Isaiah. John was not like Paul. C.S. Lewis was not like St. Francis. God did not choose to reveal Himself to these men because there was something really special about them.

What quality do all of these people have in common? Tozer concluded that it was spiritual receptivity – being open to God and being responsive to that inward longing that so many of us feel. Spiritual receptivity is not just one thing; it is “a blending of several elements within the soul.” Spiritual receptivity is not a constant quality; people possess it to varying degrees. We must actively cultivate these “elements within the soul” if we want to be open to God’s manifest presence.

God is here but man does not always know it.

During this Lenten season, my church is reading Scot McKnight’s 40 Days: Living the Jesus Creed. In the reading for day nine, McKnight wrote about a God who is “on call.” When Scot was a teenager, he foolishly drove an old car 100 mph on a two-lane highway. The road crested slightly and the car was slightly airborne. Then the road curved and Scot realized he couldn’t make the curve at such a high speed. Through the mercy of the God who is always on call, Scot was able to slow down enough to navigate the curve.

We are made aware of God’s presence through personal experience. Like Scot McKnight, I have had a couple of near-misses on the highway when I was very aware of and thankful for God’s protective presence! I have felt God’s comforting presence in moments of grief and emotional turmoil. I am aware of God’s guiding presence as I navigate the difficult spiritual tests of this life.

Tozer did not attempt to identify any of the elements of spiritual receptivity. From my own experience, I’ve listed a few elements of the soul that open me up to God’s manifest presence.

Devotion

The greatest commandment (part of what McKnight calls The Jesus Creed) is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Simply said, it is to love God with everything you’ve got! It is having a personal relationship with God and making God the most important part of your life.

Many religious people treat God as just an icon or a set of beliefs. Loving God is more than loving the idea of God. As Jason Gray sings, this is more like falling in love than religion. I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes. It’s gotta be more like falling in love than something to believe in. More like losing my heart than giving my allegiance. Jesus made God real to me and swept me off my feet!

Humility

I just read a non-religious article about the power of intellectual humility. The author wrote that humble people are more open to learning from others because personal growth is their goal, not social status. Likewise, spiritual humility is the key to spiritual growth.

I think of humility in two ways. One, I am the small ‘c’ created being and God is the the big ‘C’ Creator. He is omniscient. There is so much I do not know about countless topics, even in comparison to other mortals. I can’t see the future; God already knows it. He is powerful; I am weak. Two, God is holy. He is the source of all that is good and moral. I am confronted daily with my sinfulness and inability to ever be pure in my thoughts and deeds.

Humility makes us receptive to God because we have to first acknowledge our fallibility and weakness to seek God’s help. Humble people are open to learning from Him. Humble people get their courage and strength from God.

Honesty and Openness

I believe that God reveals himself to those who are honest with themselves and with Him. We can’t hide our thoughts and feelings from God. Before an all-knowing God, it’s pointless to pretend to be something we are not. Before an all-seeing God, it’s pointless to cover up our thoughts and feelings. God is not fooled or impressed with our pretenses.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

In the psalms, I find the kind of honesty and openness that characterizes a person who is receptive to God’s presence and to the transforming power of the Spirit. David was honest with God about his fears. At times, David felt ignored and rejected by God. He was honest about his frustrations with injustice. In Psalm 10, David asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” He then went on to complain at length about the actions of the wicked before acknowledging that God sees the troubles of the afflicted. God hears the cries of the afflicted. God is not indifferent to our suffering. God defends the oppressed. God is here.

Hunger

I eat several times a day. It’s hard for me to ignore hunger and the allure of my favorite foods. I am fortunate that I never have to be hungry for long because food is almost always readily available.

To be receptive to the presence of God, we have to long for God just as much as we long for our favorite snacks. God is readily available. We must long to fill that gnawing spiritual emptiness that exists when we are not fed by God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

Lord, you are here. You are always near, even when it feels like you are far off. You are always on call. I am always in your hands. Thank you for loving me and protecting me from harm. I pray that you will cultivate the elements of my soul that make me receptive to your presence. Search me and show me the errors of my ways. Fill me with your goodness! Give me eyes that see and ears that hear your truth. Amen.

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Photo by Kyle Johnson on Unsplash

A kingdom of mercy

I am convinced that the hope of the world is found in a kingdom that is not of this world – the kingdom of heaven. I’ve been studying the kingdom parables because I believe that God’s kingdom is the perfect antidote to the troubles that plague this world. Of all the kingdom parables, I think the easiest parable to understand is also the most difficult to put into practice.

Jesus told the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant after Peter asked him, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then told a parable that compared sins to debts.

In the parable, a servant who was deeply in debt to the king begged the king for patience in settling his accounts. The king was more than patient; he took pity on the servant and canceled his debt in full. The servant then went out and demanded payment from a fellow servant who owed him far less than he owed the king. The servant’s debtor also begged for patience but the servant refused. Instead of being merciful, he had the man thrown into prison. When the king heard that his servant had not shown the same mercy that had been shown to him, he was angry and handed him over to the jailers.

Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

I say this parable is easy because the message is clear. We are all so deeply indebted to God that we could never repay him. And yet, because he is merciful, he cancels our debts in full. We are to forgive others just as our Father forgives us. We are to be merciful just as our Father is merciful.

He has shown you, O mortal, 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 (NIV)

I struggle sometimes to forgive others as I have been forgiven. The Lord’s prayer presupposes that we have forgiven our debtors. “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” How can we pray this prayer if we have not forgiven those who trespass against us?

This parable is hard because many of us do not forgive easily. We hold grudges. We keep score. We are so full of pride that we take the slightest offense as a personal affront. We don’t use the same standard when judging others as we do when judging ourselves. Instead of being honest about our own transgressions, we minimize them and make excuses.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 7:1-2

How easily we forget how much we have been forgiven! God sees us at our worst and he still loves us. He sees the darkness in our hearts and still forgives us.

As I was contemplating how difficult it can be to forgive, I read a few stories of forgiveness (and unforgiveness) in The Washington Post. As the author notes, sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over again because the wounds are so deep. And some people cannot bring themselves to forgive at all.

Forgiveness may feel unfair. It may feel like you are letting someone get away without paying the right price. But unforgiveness is an awfully heavy burden to carry. As Joyce Meyer points out, unforgiveness is a poison that hurts the person who chooses not to forgive. Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

To all those who struggle to forgive deep hurts, I pray for healing. I pray for an obedient and humble heart. And I thank the Lord for his never ending mercy and forgiveness.