How to please the Lord 101: Love God, love people. There is nothing complicated about what God wants his children to do. He says it over and over in every book of the Bible. Jesus himself summed up the commandments in two sentences: Love the Lord your God will your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
What does it look like to love the Lord with everything you have? It looks like loving others. It looks like true judgments, showing kindness, and offering mercy. Zechariah says it in chapter 7, verse 9. Micah says it in chapter 6 verse 8. Paul wrote in Romans 12 that believers should outdo one another in showing honor, and how else do we do that but by true judgement, kindness, and mercy?
The author of Hebrews and Peter and John all emphasized the importance of loving one another the same way that the Father loves us.
James wrote that faith without works is dead. It might be equally said that loving God without loving others is הֶבֶל (hebel), a vapor, nonsense, or foolishness, what King Solomon called “Vanity of vanities.” Love for God isn’t real unless it is demonstrated by loving one another through justice, kindness, mercy, and humility.
Love isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either. We are human. We have annoying habits. We have strongly held differences of opinion. We interpret Scripture differently. Our experiences vary, our cultures conflict, and our expectations of how things should be often sit in opposition. In the US, the differences between us have been amplified in 2020 and 2021 by a pandemic (and how people should respond to it), racial strife (and how government should mitigate it), and disasters, both nature and human-caused. Human nature lashes out and social media makes it convenient to insist on being right instead of being unified. We must carefully consider not only what we say, but how we say it. Love is quick to listen. Love pursues goodness and truth. Love judges the self truly so that each one might be humble. In humility we act out our love for God by showing kindness and mercy to our brothers and sisters, just as the Lord commanded.
If God demonstrated His love for us by sending His only Son to be the atoning sacrificefor our sins, how much more ought we demonstrate our love for God by loving one another in right judgements, showing mercy, and being kind?
As promised: This world is not my home by various artists in a multitude of styles. The origin of the lyrics is muddy, with at least three people given attribution as author.
This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue; The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Chorus: O Lord, you know I have no friend like you, If heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do? The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
They’re all expecting me, and that’s one thing I know, My Savior pardoned me and now I onward go; I know He’ll take me thro’ tho’ I am weak and poor, And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]
I have a loving Savior up in glory-land, I don’t expect to stop until I with Him stand, He’s waiting now for me in heaven’s open door, And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]
Just up in glory-land we’ll live eternally, The saints on every hand are shouting victory, Their songs of sweetest praise drift back from heaven’s shore, And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore. [Chorus]
This World Is Not My Home
This world is not my home I’m just-a-passing through My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Oh Lord you know I have no friend like you If heaven’s not my home oh Lord what will I do Angels beckon me to heaven’s open door And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
They’re all expecting me that’s one thing I know I fixed it up with Jesus a long time ago He will take me through though I am weak and poor And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
Over in glory land there’ll be no dying there The saints all shouting victory and singing everywhere I hear the voice of them that’s gone on before And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
[This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin thru]
Composer or Arranger:
Albert E. Brumley October 29, 1905, near Spiro, Oklahoma. Died: November 15, 1977, Springfield, Missouri. Buried: Fox Cemetery, Powell, Missouri. Brumley attended the Hartford Musical Institute in Hartford, Arkansas, and sang with the Hartford Quartet. He went on to teach at singing schools in the Ozarks, and lived most of his life in Powell, Missouri. He worked for 34 years a staff writer for the Hartford and Stamps/Baxter publishing companies, then founded the Albert E. Brumley & Sons Music Company and Country Gentlemen Music, and bought the Hartford Music Company. He wrote over 800 Gospel and other songs during his life; the Country Song Writers Hall of Fame inducted him in 1970.
Jessie May Hill I can’t find biographical information, but she seems to have been in great demand as a singer and pianist in the late 1920s.
This hymn, written by Elvina M. Hall in 1865 kept repeating in my mind as I read Matthew 12 and Leviticus 22 this morning. Leviticus is the book of Law, the law that, if followed perfectly, will restore our broken relationship with the Father. What the Law really does is demonstrate how utterly impossible it is to keep. Even keeping the Law is not enough; it is God who sanctifies us. YHWH Mekkodishkem (M’Kaddesh), the LORD who sanctifies is the only path to holiness, or being set apart for a purpose.
When Jesus confronted the Pharisees about their letter-of-the-Law mentality in Matthew 12, He showed them that God put the Law in place to direct His people to Himself. It’s so much easier to play the comparison game of “your sin is worse than my sin” than it is to recognize our own guilt before God and repent of it, falling on His mercy in Jesus.
The Law was also expensive to keep. Only the best animals were worthy of sacrifice. Only the first of the harvest could be offered. But humanity’s best is insufficient. Our redemption cost Jesus ALL. He stepped out of glory. He lived as one of us (fully fulfilling the Law). Yet He had to die on our behalf in order to complete the transaction of our salvation, and He returned to life to begin our sanctification. We do not save ourselves; we cannot. Restored relationship with God is a gift, not a work of the Law. It cost Jesus everything and is free to those who reach toward Him who sanctifies us.
There’s an old song that keeps playing in my head today. The words I recall are these:
This world is not my home; I'm just a-passin' through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven's open door. And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.
The events of the last several weeks that culminated in the events of January 6, 2021 just confirm to me that I don’t belong to this world. I knew there would be a time when many people calling themselves “Christians” would turn away from the gospel of Jesus and the love of God; evidently that time is now. I am horrified by the events at the US Capitol on Wednesday. Ironically, Wednesday was also Epiphany, a day set aside by liturgical traditions to remember the Magi and to ponder the baptism of Jesus by John. It was at the baptism that John introduced Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:19-34). Epiphany, a sudden illumination of something. Epiphany, the recognition of Jesus as fully God and fully man. The wonder of the Incarnation, now a man beginning his public ministry. How far the Church has fallen from the wonder of God’s mercy and grace for us. How devastating is that fall!
The Church in the US and much of the West is broken. It has been broken by teachers and pastors who sought recognition and fame. It has been broken by church attendees who stay for the music, but leave as soon as the teaching gets serious. Cultural Christianity (churchianity) focuses on blessings instead of trials and boasting instead of truth. The Church in the US, for the most part, has moved away from worshipping the righteous and holy God who created all things and holds all things together, replacing the Father with a national identity and the human leaders they elect.
Whether or not people believe that the 2016 or 2020 elections resulted in fraudulent officials is irrelevant. The kind of violence exhibited on January 6 was illegal, seditious, and wrong on every level. Those who hung up the name of Jesus in the process defiled his holy name. Amos wrote that God’s people must seek good, and not evil, especially when they live in a country that thrives on the titillation of wickedness. “Hate evil and love good,” he wrote. “Establish justice in the gate.” Amos goes on to describe how the Lord looks upon self-indulgent and proud people who claim they have “rights” because of their affiliation with God. The Lord abhors that pride. Amos spoke for the Lord saying, “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen.” Displays of nationalism and religiosity do not honor the Lord. He is not the God of the United States of America. He is the Lord of ALL creation. To honor the Lord means His followers pursue justice rolling down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness. The actions of people on January 6 revealed the utter wickedness that dwells within all people. They pursued a path that would vindicate their self-righteousness and the false gospel of nationalism. They put a political figure in the place of the Lord.
Nations rise and nations fall. Institutions are built up and torn down. There will come a day when the US will fall, just as every empire has fallen. But the people of God are not to be part of that destruction. We are to seek peace. We are to pray for the welfare of where we live (Jeremiah 29:4-14), not listening to those who seek to deceive. God is abundantly clear about what is good: doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with the Lord. None of the humility, kindness, nor justice were on display by the people who called themselves Christians while they broke into the Capitol, wreaking havoc in their violence. Make no mistake, these people were not acting in the will of God and God was not glorified. In fact, Malachi wrote that people like those who use the name of Jesus and the idea of Christian the way they did on January 6 weary the Lord with their words. They say that doing evil is doing good and that God is too slow in enacting justice. These claims illustrate just how self-serving these people are. They worship a nation, a Constitution, and institution, not the Living Lord.
The Lord will refine His Church. The pandemic has revealed those who used church as a social gathering place by closing the physical doors. The ugliness of the campaigns of 2020 revealed just how deep the corruption of ethical behavior has become. The riots of summer 2020 demonstrated the inadequacy of church teaching, especially with the notion of the prosperity gospel or the social gospel that infiltrated many churches. The refining has begun. The heat has been turned up, and unless there is general repentance and lamentation of the Church’s failure to teach the Word to the people, things will continue to get more difficult. All the dross must be burned away in order for those of us who seek Jesus first to fully reflect Him in all that we do and say.
In the end, however, this world, this country, this national institution is just a place of passing as we journey to our eternal home. For those who fear the Lord, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing. We will look to the Lord, waiting for the God of our salvation. He hears us. He is our light. His love is steadfast.
And that song? It has an interesting story that I’ll share another day. For now, enjoy one of the first recordings of it by the composer, Jessie May Hill:
Philippians 3: 17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
From a time of thanksgiving to the wonder of the Incarnation, this time of year is set apart from the rest. It is an opportunity for introspection and reflection. What are the most important things?
If 2020 hasn’t done anything else for our benefit, it has given each of us ample time to sort through our hearts and minds along with our closets. We have had time to sort through the clutter of whatever it is that robs us of joy and peace. We might have learned how important and powerful community is. We had a chance to disentangle from commitments that filled our days but did not satisfy our spirits.
All the clearing out and cleaning up made space to deeply consider the mystery of our Creator. We can fully meditate on the universes He created and be humbled by His provision of a planet that perfectly meets our needs. That meditation should renew in us an attitude of stewardship so that our descendants can enjoy the vast beauty of our earthly home.
More significantly, we have a cleared out space in our heads and hearts to wonder in awe of God’s great love. His is a love that not only provides for our physical needs, but also for the needs of our eternal souls. The Incarnation: the Creator laying aside his divine power for a time, limiting Himself to the human form, with all its sorrows, sicknesses, and isolations. Why would the God who made us choose this path of humiliation? It is a good question to consider as Advent approaches.
I am calling this the Psalm of “no matter what.” As I read it this morning, all I could think was that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). In this psalm, David lists all the ways God is with us no matter what.
Verses 2-3 No matter what, God knows exactly what is happening to and around us. V.4 No matter what, we have access to the temple of God. V.5 No matter what, God will protect us. V.6 No matter what, we can choose joy. Vv. 7-10 No matter what, God will not abandon us. V 11. No matter what, He will teach us V. 12 No matter what, God is GOOD. V. 13 No matter what, we can be strong in the waiting.
Wow! Of whom shall we we afraid indeed? (Psalm 27:1; Romans 8:31)
We have peace with God because Jesus is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9.) What does this mean? It means we have ACCESS to grace and JOY in hope no matter what our circumstances may be.
We stand on a foundation of salvation because Jesus did the work on our behalf (Titus 3:5.) Our faith means we have unfettered access to the very throne of the Creator in both good times and hard times (Hebrews 4:16.)
We are justified, not by what we do, but by faith in the grace of God (Romans 3:28; Ephesians 2:8-9.) Hard times happen to everyone. Sometimes, like with a pandemic or natural disasters, the hard times are shared by communities. Other times, the struggle is an individual one where suffering seems magnified because the world keeps moving forward. Isolation increases suffering.
In faith, however, we have hope because we can be assured that God is with us. That hope gives us the freedom to rejoice, even in the worst of times. Grace to faith to hope to joy: this is the progression of the believers’ mindset in all times. In good times and hard times, God is with us.
We are justified by faith; Jesus did the work. What a beautiful reminder that we can rest in knowing our salvation is already worked out for us. In this ever changing world we can have peace with God, not by our own doing, but because Jesus did.
Today is Labor Day. It is a good day to remember Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”(ESV). The Voice paraphrase says, ” Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.” The Passion translation interprets the Hebrew as, ” Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop striving and you will see that I am God.” The Message hits the point home, ” Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.”
We all need the reminder that it is by grace we are saved and by faith we are justified. We don’t have to earn our way into God’s love; He loved us first.
Life is from the Lord. I wrote that in bright pink in my journal. Nothing I do or think or say gives me life. No matter what the circumstances may be, my life is secure in Him. There will be difficulties, challenges, and sorrow upon sorrow during my sojourn on earth, but I know my Redeemer lives, and in Him, I have life (Job 19:25).
This section of Psalm 119 also clearly connects deliverance to obedience: give me my life (because the Lord gives life) according to Your promise, Your rules, and Your precepts. Over and over, life is entwined with God’s character. It is His mercy and His steadfast love that binds us to a living and vibrant relationship with our Creator.
We must never believe that we have the power to save ourselves. Humans prove over and over that anything good in us is easily spoiled by a little bit of power. You don’t have to look farther than the daily news for evidence of people’s inhumanity to one another. The only deliverance available from the human realm is to exchange one marginalized group for another. There is no egalitarian utopia possible if human beings are involved.
God’s salvation is according to His mercy. God’s redemption is according to His promise. Our acquiescence to His word and His righteousness through Jesus is our hope for life.
God’s commands, precepts, and rules are grounded in His mercy, truth, and steadfast love forever. We can abide in Him, knowing that our lives are hidden in His grace.