What Do You Require?

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No, O People, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6.8, NLT)

Reading through scripture can be a challenge, especially when your reading plan is a listing of passages that are defined for you as opposed to ones that you can pick and choose. We often would like to stick to the passages that say things like: “God loves you,” or “Praise God for his blessings.”

Read enough of the positive, uplifting passages, and just about the time we realize that perhaps we can blend our lives with God’s call on us in such a way that we change, but not too much, he throws out a passage like the one above:

Do what is right.

Show people mercy.

Be humble.

But that’s not all. This week’s readings also reveal this:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5.3-12)

The problem with passages like these is not determining the proper interpretation. The problem is we KNOW the interpretation, we just cannot seem to live like the text calls us to live.

I remember late night talk show host Jay Leno talking about “The Bible Code,” where someone claimed that if you lined up the Hebrew scriptures in the right order, you would find a secret code that could be read vertically through the text. Leno joked: “I can’t even do the things I know I am supposed to do when I read it normally, now you tell me there is a whole additional set of secret things to do?”

Actually, Leno’s comments were too true to be funny. One does not have to dig deep in news reports or social media postings to realize a basic sense of love, mercy, justice, and humility has escaped us. Those who are poor, who mourn, or are meek? They seem to not even be a blip on our radar screen. One might claim that has been the case forever, and one might have a point, but when it is those you most expect to follow the instruction of scripture and they do not, it is discouraging.

This week, as you read through the listed texts, spend some extra time just going back over them again and again. Then ask yourself the following questions:

Questions:

•Am I living the way God is calling me to live?

•How can I do a better job of doing that?

 

Week of Jan 29 – Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of January 29 are as follows:

Psalm 37:1-18
Micah 6:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Matthew 5:1-12

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Jan. 30 – Psalm 56, 57, 58; Isaiah 51:17-23; Galatians 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37
Jan. 31 – Psalm 61, 62; Isaiah 52:1-12; Galatians 4:12-20; Mark 8:1-10
Feb. 1 – Psalm 72; Isaiah 54:1-17; Galatians 4:21-31; Mark 8:11-26
Feb. 2 – Psalm 42, 43; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Galatians 5:1-15; John 8.31-36
Feb. 3 – Psalm 69:1-36; Isaiah 56:1-8; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13
Feb. 4 – Psalm 75, 76; Isaiah 57:3-13; Galatians 5:25-6:10; Mark 9:14-29

Lord, You Know Me

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You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
(Psalm 139.1)

Have you ever wondered what God’s Privacy Statement looks like?

We live in a day and age where we have grown accustomed to fighting for our right to privacy. While many of us use Facebook daily (hourly?), we have also wrestled with trying to balance the benefit of sharing our lives with “friends” (both online and “In Real Life” friends) versus the dangers and forfeiture of people knowing too much about us.

Don’t believe it is an issue? Go to Google or Amazon.com and search a product—just for fun, let’s say lawn sprinklers—and then count how long it takes for those products to appear in the sidebar of your Facebook page or some other web site you frequent.

There are some anecdotes floating around the Internet about individuals being targeted with custom ads (think: coupons for diapers for someone who is pregnant) based solely on their buying habits, not the customer revealing to the store their pregnancy and fathers (think: pregnant daughters) getting angry only to later discover the actual truth.

[Want to know more? The most commonly cited of these stories and the methods stores (in this case, Target) use purchase history can be found in an article from Forbes here and  the NY Times Magazine here.]

When discussing this strategy, an analyst for Target was quoted as saying (in the Forbes article cited above): “If we send someone a catalog and say, ‘Congratulations on your first child!’ and they’ve never told us they’re pregnant, that’s going to make some people uncomfortable,” Pole told me. “We are very conservative about compliance with all privacy laws. But even if you’re following the law, you can do things where people get queasy.

Um, yeah, they would. We are pretty cautious about people knowing too much about us. Even if things are above board and a company is simply trying to gain our business, we do get a little “queasy” about anyone knowing too much about us.

We don’t want people to know when we sit or when we rise up. We do not want people to perceive our thoughts, from near or far. We don’t want people to know what we are going to say before we say it.

Those words sound familiar? If not, perhaps you need to read through Psalm 139 again. They are words penned by the psalmist that cause us to receive comfort. If it had been a supermarket that said those things, back to queasy feelings, no? So what’s the difference?

We need to keep two things in mind here. First, when God says he knows everything about us, he should: he was the one who created us. Before we were ever born, God knew us and in fact, “knit us” together in our mother’s womb, the psalmist writes. Sovereignty has privileges and knowing us inside and out is one of them.

The second thing is even more important. When a store uses information about us to encourage us to purchase an item, however legal and innocuous that information may be used, the ultimate benefactor of the information is … the store. When God knows information about you that no one else knows, his “use” of that information is in your best interest.

Why does God know you and search your thoughts? So that he can remove those things that keep you from knowing and following him better. God’s desire is for us to love him more and he wants nothing more than to be able to remove those things that stand between him and us.

You may justifiably want your privacy, but trust me, God’s not one you want to try to hide from. Him knowing you is best for you.

Questions:

•If God did a complete searching of your heart, what would he find? What would he want to remove? What is preventing you from letting that happen now?

•We do not like to think about the punishment that comes upon God’s people (or us), yet his prophets often foretold of just that. Why does Amos describe punishment coming on God’s people Israel? Was this punishment unjustified? Why or why not? What do you think Israel could have done to prevent this?

•Why are divisions amongst God’s people such a barrier to faithful living?

•What do you think Peter and Andrew were thinking they were getting into when Jesus called them to “fish for people?” What other analogies could be used to describe the process of bringing people to Jesus?

•How would you describe Jesus’ activities as he went around preaching, “the kingdom of heaven came near?” How does his activities compare to the things we do today as his church? What do we need to change to better match what he did?

Week of Jan 22 – Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of January 22 are as follows:

Psalm 139:1-17
Amos 3:1-8
1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Matthew 4:12-23

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Jan. 23 – Psalm 41, 52; Isaiah 48:1-11; Galatians 1:1-17; Mark 5:21-43
Jan. 24 – Psalm 45; Isaiah 48:12-21; Galatians 1:18-2:10; Mark 6:1-13
Jan. 25 – Psalm 119:49-72; Isaiah 49:1-12; Galatians 2:11-21; Mark 6:13-29
Jan. 26 – Psalm 50; Isaiah 49:13-23; Galatians 3:1-14; Mark 6:30-46
Jan. 27 – Psalm 40, 54; Isaiah 50:1-11; Galatians 3:15-22; Mark 6:47-56
Jan. 28 – Psalm 55; Isaiah 51.1-18; Galatians 3:23-29; Mark 7:1-23

Where are you staying?

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I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.
(John 1.34)

Where are you staying?

Ask yourself: If Jesus had just been pointed out to you in a crowd or perhaps at a busy market, how would you begin a conversation with him? What would you say when you first walked up to him? Even if you did not fully understand or even believe his power, his reputation alone might cause you some hesitation as you approached him.

For many of us, the moment we find ourselves in front of someone famous or someone with a lot of power, we find ourselves dumbstruck. All the great things we were going to say fly out the window. We stutter and stammer, barely able to communicate anything. We finally blurt out some word of praise or awe, but even that comes across strange.

Perhaps the awkwardness of the moment impacts our ability to think clearly. We don’t know what to say exactly, so we compensate by saying something … anything. Like walking into a hospital room and asking a patient who is in critical condition or perhaps near death: How’s it going? (Well, not so good, but thanks for asking!)

These two disciples of John find themselves in a similar situation. They are with their teacher, when Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” passes by. This would not have been the first time these men heard of Jesus, for John spent his life pointing out the coming of the Messiah to those who would listen. And John was obviously successful at what he came to do because these two start to follow Jesus. This was the plan all along: “He must be greater; I must become less.” (Jn. 3.30) To John’s disciples, there must have been a sense of awe in finally coming face-to-face with this man. At this point, following him seemed like the only logical choice.

When Jesus realizes they are following him, he asks: “What do you want?”

“Where are you staying?” they reply.

Most of us (scholars included) want to know: did these two know what they were asking or was this just another bumbled introduction?

On the one hand, we might expect a question like: “Can we follow you?” or “Will you teach us?” Perhaps they might want to know the most important command of the law or secrets to a faithful life. As men of faith (remember, they were disciples of John), we certainly expect some sense of recognition of the greatness of Jesus, God’s Son.

Yet on the other hand, their question may get at the heart of what it means to truly follow Jesus. First, learning from Jesus is a life-long process. It involves day-in and day-out examples of what it means to live under the Lordship of him. Hearing the good news of Jesus’ salvation may only take a moment, but the implications of fully realizing how salvation affects our actions takes a long time. So it would make sense that John’s disciples wanted more than just a “quick word” with Jesus.

The other thing that I imagine is going on is that when you are introduced to the “Lamb of God,” the savior of the world, you want to spend extended time with him. A conversation with someone like Jesus takes more than a moment or two. You cannot simply visit over dinner and call it good. Days and months and years must pass to really get to know him and every moment you have with him adds to the joy of knowing him. Like that young couple in love, when you hang up at night, you count the seconds until you can visit again. If this is true, then asking where are you staying makes complete sense.

What about you? When you meet Jesus, what is your question? A stumbling, awkward attempt to praise the Son of God or a request to spend time—extended time—with God?

Where are you staying?

 

Questions:

•How does knowing the ways God has rescued you—lifted you from the pit, the psalmist says—give you a new song of praise to God? In what ways do people see and fear God because of your praise? How can you do a better job of praising him so that others know him?

•In several places in scripture we are told God knew us, by name, before we were even born. How does this knowledge help you better understand the power of God and his love for you?

•What ways do you struggle with your faith, thinking that you are not good enough to live a Godly life? How does Paul’s admonition that you “do not lack any spiritual gift” help you recognizes the abilities God has given you to live for Him?

•What was the first thing you did when you learned about Jesus? How does your reaction compare to the actions of Andrew? How can our knowledge of Jesus propel us to share that with those closest to us?

•What practices can we engage in to help ourselves know God better? Once we know him better, how can we be sure to share him more with others?

Week of Jan 15 – Text List

The 1 Home Bible Study texts for the week of January 15 are as follows:

Psalm 40:1-10
Isaiah 49:1-7
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-41

Daily Bible Reading Texts are:

Jan. 16 – Psalm 25; Isaiah 44:6-23; Ephesians 4:1-16; Mark 3:7-19
Jan. 17 – Psalm 26, 28; Isaiah 44:9-20; Ephesians 4:17-32; Mark 3:19-35
Jan. 18 – Psalm 38; Isaiah 44:24-45:7; Ephesians 5:1-14: Mark 4:1-20
Jan. 19 – Psalm 37; Isaiah 45:5-17; Ephesians 5:15-33; Mark 4:21-34
Jan. 20 – Psalm 31; Isaiah 45:18-25; Ephesians 6:1-9; Mark 4:35-41
Jan. 21 – Psalm 30, 32; Isaiah 46:1-13; Ephesians 6:10-24; Mark 5:1-20

I Have Called You

20170108-1hbsI, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.

I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles.
(Isaiah 42.6)

God wants us to be his people. It is a message that goes all the way back to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After they sin, it would have been easy for God to kick them out of the garden and have nothing else to do with them. (Let’s be honest, that’s how we treat most people who let us down.) That wasn’t God’s plan, however. He clothes them and even though there were repercussions for their sin, they were still his people.

We see it again in the story of Abraham in Genesis 12 and following. God wants this man to be the start of a great nation; a nation that God would call his own. We see it in the lives of God’s kings; we hear it in the voices of his prophets.

It is the same story told by Peter, who in the midst of a religious climate that refused to associate with Gentiles (non-Jews, or in our day we might think of them as people without faith and opposed to God), discovered that God shows no favoritism. While many people would assume that you MUST exclude people unlike you, Peter is directed by God to accept and bring people completely opposite of him into the church.

Finally, we feel the full impact of God’s desire when his son is crucified on the cross. God wants us to be his people.

Too often, we miss that our responsibility is not just to be his people. We forget that we are to help others be his people, too. All the way back in the book of Isaiah, we are told we are to be God’s covenant people, which meant we would be not only in covenant with him, but also a light to the Gentiles.

There’s more, we would:

  • Open eyes that are blind
  • Free captives from prison
  • Release from the dungeon those in darkness

Being God’s people means more than just a single focus on God and us. It also means looking to those seeking him, or those who perhaps do not yet even know he is the one they seek.

It is what his servant and son Jesus did. How well do you seek out others to be his?

 

Questions:

•In what ways have you sung the praises of God’s great love and made his faithfulness known to others? What specific things would you include in your song? Make a list and share it with someone also reading these passages.

•How does knowing God seeks you out, he WANTS you to be his, affect your devotion to God? How does it make it easier for you to want to follow him?

•How do you think you would have reacted to Peter’s acceptance of a Gentile? In what ways might we exclude people from faith today? How can we overcome the tendency to be exclusionary or to play favorites? What is something you can do today to do so?

•In what ways have you felt the affirmation of God on you? How has it affected your spiritual walk?

•Do something today that reminds you that God really, really does love you, and also helps you remember to share his love with others.