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Our Spiritual Roadmap

January 28, 2017

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As we began our snowshoeing trek along Mills Creek Basin a few weeks ago, I spied this Rocky Mountain Mule Deer on the other side of the creek in the brush. She was looking intently at us and at the snow that stood between her and her destination. The interesting thing is, she didn’t appear to be very concerned about the fellow with the camera. It was amazing to watch her traverse the creek and then literally dive into the snowbank as she made her way to the other side.

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One, Two, Three, Jump!

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Holy smokes that snow is deep!

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Success!

So, she finally made it across and through the snow before grazing underneath the tree just off of the trail. I stood in awe of this beautiful creature as she made her way with confidence along the trail to her destination. I kept thinking about her as we continued along our own trail through the snow.

Snowshoes made a huge difference for those of us with two legs when traversing the deep snow. It became difficult at times for us though, because some other people had been hiking without snowshoes and they sank deeply into the snow creating big holes which were hard to avoid on the trail.

I find it fascinating how some of our four-legged neighbors don’t seem to be bothered by the deeper snow. They also seem to make a way when others would see no way through the perils of winter or scavenging for food. As you might imagine, a lot can be learned if you simply stand still long enough to watch God’s wondrous creation.

Over the past week, I have been pondering the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany. Micah 6:1-8 with its emphasis on “what the Lord requires” and Matthew 5:1-12 with Jesus’ teaching found in the Beatitudes.

Micah 6:1-8 seems to be a call to action for the people of God which culminates in Micah 6:8, one of my favorite passages of Scripture and a personal touchstone. Denise and I joined the Estes Park Sunrise Rotary not too long after we moved to Estes Park. Each meeting begins the same way. After the bell rings, we pause for a moment of prayer or silent reflection (which honors the diversity of spiritual backgrounds of our membership) and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Next we recite the Rotary Four Way Test. (1) Is it the truth? (2) Is it fair to all concerned? (3) Will it build good will and better friendships? (4) Will it be beneficial to all. A similar model can be made for Micah 6:8. (1) Is what we do just for all? (2) Is what we do kind and merciful to others? (3) Does what we say and do show a humble walk with God?

How often does what I say or do or publish reflect justice? Does what I say/do/publish actually show that I care about others? Or does it reflect a selfishness and egotistical nature that is contrary to what God calls us to say and do?

In context, Micah was challenging the Temple establishment (who had lost the Temple thanks to their foolish and selfish ways). They were so concerned about the type of sacrifices required to “placate” God that they had forgotten what the original intent was. The original intent was an offering from a grateful heart for all of God’s goodness and mercy.

I can almost hear Micah saying the following while shaking his head: “Come on Dudes, you’ve missed the point! Burnt offerings of year old calves? Really? You think thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil is what God wants from you? Seriously? You’ve missed the point completely!”

Each of the offerings suggested were all about the individuals and their salvation. Sort of like a sacrificial “sinners prayer” that would make everything all right for their own individual salvation! God is a God of relationship. God wants a relationship with ALL of God’s children, not just a select few! If that were the case, Jesus’ message would have never reached beyond the Jewish community and the Gentiles would have never known the fullness of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy!

Micah then gave us the beautiful answer to their existential question from God. “What does God want you to do? It’s simple to remember. Do justice! By the way, that justice extends to ALL of God’s children, not just the select few which you have turned yourselves into. Love kindness/mercy! How do you love it? You give it! You give it to ALL God’s children in the same way that God has given it to you! Walk humbly! Come on, seriously, this isn’t all about you. It isn’t about your ego or your personal salvation. That will come, but first you need to get over yourselves and be who God wants you to be. What is that? Walk humbly with God and learn. Walk humbly with God and love. Walk humbly with God and before you know it, you are loving God and loving your neighbor!”

Micah offers to us a way of living out our faith. Does what we say/do promote God’s justice? Does what we say/do echo God’s loving-kindness and mercy?  Does what we say/do come from a place of humbly walking with God? If we do that… if we walk in a way that is less concerned about our individual salvation or selfish concerns… then we will, I believe, be the Blessing that God calls us to be to ALL of God’s children.

If we are walking humbly with God, then we will see ourselves in the description found in the Beatitudes. I want to share with you the version of the Beatitudes as found in The Message version of the Bible.

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for. You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (Matthew 5:3-12)

What Denise and I love about Eugene Peterson’s take on the Beatitudes is the celebration of a humble spirit. How are you blessed? When you bless others! When you think more of others than yourselves. Verse nine especially stands out for me: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” That is when you discover that it isn’t me and my buddy J.C. who saves my soul. That is when you discover that it is about seeing Jesus in the eyes of the neighbor… the stranger… yes, even in the eyes of your enemy!

Along those lines, I learned something towards the end of my career with the Air Force. I had been struggling mightily within myself. I had a LOT of bitterness and anger towards a senior ranking Chaplain. It was, in fact, consuming me. After I had a metaphorical bucket of cold water dumped on me, I came to a stunning realization. My anger was all about me! When I began to start praying for the man who was in some sense a spiritual enemy, my outlook slowly changed. No longer was it about me. It was instead me praying for someone who was created in the image of God. Did the transformation happen overnight? Nope. But it did gradually happen. When that sort of hatred or anger is released, love can come in. I discovered that we both had a place in God’s family… that we were brothers. I realized that God loved both of us.

Did it transform him? I don’t know. But that isn’t the issue. It transformed my heart and released anger and bitterness. When those thoughts come back into my heart as they do from time to time, I simply remember… Imago Dei…

Today there is so much hatred and fear in the world. That hatred and fear is stoked by so-called religious leaders and politicians. Gee, almost sounds like what Jesus faced in his lifetime! Did speaking out against the hatred and fear keep Jesus out of trouble? One word… Cross! When we speak out today do we get into trouble? I know that I have. It is at that point that I realize that it isn’t about me. It is about the message of God’s love, mercy, and justice which is not like the world’s message. Jesus’ words, as translated by Peterson, strike close to home and serve as a beacon of hope for me: “You can be glad when that (persecution for speaking God’s promise) happens to you — give a cheer, even! — for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” (verse 12)

Dear reader, are you willing to speak as well as live justice and mercy? Are you willing to stand in the gap on behalf of those who are truly oppressed and persecuted? Are you willing to speak for the voiceless? Will you join me in doing justice, loving kindness/mercy, and walking humbly with God?

Will you join with me in asking those three questions every day?  (1) Is what we do just for all? (2) Is what we do kind and merciful to others? (3) Does what we say and do show a humble walk with God?

2 Comments
  1. I love this post, Michael! The Beatitudes as conveyed in the Message version is stunningly fresh and contemporary; it really hits home with power and passion. And the verse from Micah is a beautifully succinct summing up of how to live the Christian life. It’s a favourite of mine as well, though quite a challenge, as are your closing questions. Yet this is how we’re supposed to serve and live—mindfully, thoughtfully, lovingly and kindly. Thank you for such rich material to ponder on today! Bless you, friend. ❤

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