Saturday, May 2, 2015

Think about this: What is Just?

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8, ESV

Of all the adjectives in this verse, this one has been the most challenging for me to think of. In this world, it is much easier to point out injustice than it is to find true justice, isn't it? There are plenty of blogs and news reports and protest demonstrations that very loudly think about the unjust things around us.

I've been thinking about it a lot recently, because my mom and I love watching the TV show, "Blue Bloods," a story about an Irish-Catholic family in New York City - the father is the police commissioner, one son is a homicide detective, another son is a police officer, and the daughter is an assistant district attorney... so they all work in their specialty to try to accomplish the same goal: justice. But it's a hard reality to pin down, and despite their best efforts, they constantly face obstacles like politics, unreliability, revenge, and the limits of the law.

We might all say that we want justice - the good rewarded, the bad punished. But when issues become personal, justice feels like a question mark that leads to no right and good answer, and we squirm under the weight of responsibility in deciding what is just. Consider the symbol we often associate with justice: an expressionless, blind-folded figure, with a sword in one hand and a pair of scales in the other. Justice is a terrifying thing... with no room for mercy, compassion, or grace.

I tried to think of examples in the Bible of God's justice... and it's difficult for me. Not that God isn't just - I absolutely know that He is - but even in reading the stories, I can't understand his justice. When I read about wars and loss and curses and captivity and pain, I'm tempted to question God's justice. But then I remember that blind-folded statue, and I remember the terrible truth of Romans 3:23 (and the whole of chapter 3, at that), and realize that if true justice was served, that sword in her hand would cut down every single one of us without hesitation or selection. We are, by nature, objects of wrath. In light of this, the Old Testament becomes a surprisingly heart-wrenching picture of the mercy of God! 

But then... where is the justice of God? Many prophets asked this question, and God told them to wait, be patient, because it will come. The scales will tip and the sword will fall. The only thing that will tip those scales in our favor is the saving blood of Jesus Christ, and the only shield that will protect us from that sword is our faith in Him. He is the defining edge of right and wrong. The story of true and ultimate justice comes in the end - Revelation 20-21 - when every evil will be destroyed and everything will be made right. 

This realization came to me the other day as I listened to the song "The Reckoning," by Andrew Peterson. As one who has been rescued and redeemed, I praise God for his mercy and patience - for holding back his righteous wrath for as long as he has... and I worship him for his power and justice, which he has promised one day to reveal in all his glory. 

Whatever is just... think about these things.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Think about this: What is Honorable?

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8, ESV

I love fairy tales - stories of princes, knights, and heroes full of chivalry and courage. From Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Prince Philip, to Curdie Peterson, Peter Pevensie, and Samwise Gamgee... These are the characters I think of when I hear the word "honorable" or "noble." They are characters I love, because of the choices they made - the measures they went to, to do the right thing for the sake of others. And when I think about them, I want to raise the standards I have for myself, to live a life that could be admired, to become the hero of a story. Maybe that is why God wants us to think about whatever is honorable...

Honor is a quality that good people strive for in their character. It sets a higher expectation for our conduct and reputation. It isn't just a good deed; it's goodness that overflows from a kind heart, a wise mind, a right attitude, and pure motives. Maybe you have a favorite fictional character whom you admire as an honorable person, or maybe there is a real historical person who you look up to in this way. I hope you can think of someone you know personally who you see as honorable. If so, you should tell them! Honor is not something that just happens to a person; it is developed over time, with lots of intentional discipline.

The real people in my life, who I consider truly noble and honorable, have patterned their lives after Jesus. He is the ultimate example of honor! I've been studying his life and ministry in the book of Luke, lately, and this concept of honor keeps coming to my mind. He set the example for us - to put others before self, to resist temptation, to speak the truth, to have compassion for the weak, to provide for the needy, to love unconditionally... Praise Jesus, the Epic Hero of our Story!

But he didn't do all of that, just so we would say, "Wow, what a noble man!" He walked out a life of honor, showed us how it was possible, and then told us to do the same: "For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you" (John 13:15). He calls us to a higher standard, to live as children of the King.

Whatever is honorable... think about these things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Think about this: What is True?

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8, ESV

One of the most important things Christians need to do is think about what is true. These are the things that do not change with time, culture, circumstances, or emotion - things that cannot be compromised or minimized. We need these things to be always fresh in our minds and written on our hearts, so we can recognize lies and deceit when they try to attack. Some verses come to my mind that remind me that truth is something we fight for and defend:

"We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ..." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

"See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

These verses both talk about captivity - either our thoughts are taken by lies, or submitted to Christ. The first result happens when we let our guard down, but the second takes great discipline. It means making Scripture the authority in our lives, and not picking and choosing the pieces that make us feel good. It means reminding ourselves daily of the attributes of God, even when we don't always see them working in the way we want them to. It means remembering who we once were in darkness, and who we are now, because of Jesus Christ. It means rehearsing the Gospel to ourselves and to each other often - it is not just for those who are lost, but it is the ongoing, life-transforming, sanctifying truth for us who have been rescued... and you will find that when you meditate on these thoughts, they turn into praise to the Lord - Hallelujah, what a Savior!
I've been thinking about how Ephesians 6 lists the articles of clothing necessary in the "armor of God," and how the "belt of truth" is part of the ensemble. Belts are not meant to be used as weapons (though they sometimes are)... their purpose is to keep us secure in our clothing. As a soldier, a belt protects the lower body, secures the armor, and holds the sheath for the sword. Likewise, we must be careful not to use truth as an offensive weapon, but as a way to protect and secure ourselves. Truth is a good thing, and through Christ it will bring life and freedom. "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31-32)

Whatever is true... think about these things.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Think about these things...

"Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." - Philippians 4:8, ESV

What are you thinking about? Yes, right here, right now. What about this morning - what were you thinking about when you woke up? What thoughts kept you awake last night? What has been dominating your thoughts and shaping your mindset over the last few days or weeks?

I realized that for the majority of the past year, my thoughts have been in a rut - going over and over details in the past that I can't change, unable to enjoy the new things God was doing around me, and hitting a wall when it comes to seeking God's will for next steps. I heard Cissie Graham Lynch speak a few weeks ago, and she was talking about things that keep us from praising God. And I realized how hard it has been for me to truly, freely praise God - I made it hard for myself, by cluttering up my mind and bogging myself down, not leaving any room or saving any energy to praise my God.

I know the Bible says to "be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God" (Romans 12:2). I want that - to be renewed and be able to discern God's will again... So I started praying that God would show me ways to transform my mind. And I've learned that that is exactly the kind of prayer God loves to answer!

A few weeks ago, I read Philippians 4:8. It's very familiar to me - I memorized it as a kid. But I've decided to try to really obey it, as a daily habit. Each day, I focus on a different adjective in this verse, and meditate on it. Sometimes I find or recall Scripture; sometimes I hear a song or a story; sometimes I have experiences or conversations with others, and sometimes God reminds me of times when he has revealed these things to me. It's kind of crazy, the effect that it's had on me - my mindset, attitude, and perspective! So I thought maybe I would do a mini-series on my blog, to share some of what I've learned so far. I hope you will be blessed and encouraged, and that this will help to renew your mind, too, and lead your heart to praise.