“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
I was reminded of a funny experience I had years ago on a golf course in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I was a beginner golfer. In the classic art of college instruction, we had worked on drills all semester but had never actually played a golf course. The final in the class was to go shoot 9 holes. I went with three other gals who also had never been on a golf course. As we approached the first tee we couldn’t remember what the different colors in the tee box meant: was red the closest to the hole or was it for expert golfers? We decided (incorrectly) it was for experts and thus our gaze followed it to white then gold and out into the horizon. We couldn’t see the green or the pin to which we were shooting. I shrugged, saying, I’m sure it’s out there and teed up my ball, ready to fire off my first shot at a real golf course. I checked my grip, made sure my clubhead was square to the ball, and went through the mental checklist of knees bent, chin down, head still. Just as I was bringing my club back, a man’s voice boomed from the clubhouse speaker: Ladies, you are facing the wrong way! Turning and looking the opposite direction, sure enough there was the green with a flag waving on it. All four of us fell to the ground rolling in laughter.
Have you ever been so caught up in getting the details right that you didn’t even notice you were facing the wrong direction? I bring it up now because we are headed into the holiday season and it’s kind of easy to make this mistake. Well, maybe you aren’t teed up to fire a ball off into the hinterland but there are plenty of other missteps out there. We can care more about showing the picture-perfect holiday experience than actually connecting with people and loving them well. We can overspend, overeat, overdecorate and never consider the poor. We can celebrate the birth of baby Jesus without celebrating His actual rebirth of our hearts.
In Matthew 23 we do not meet “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” but rather, kick-ass Jesus setting us straight. (And who doesn’t need some correction now and then?) “Woe to you, religious leaders, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matthew 23:23) This sounds like posturing and virtue signaling of the first century type. But I wonder if we have fulfilled all kinds of religious or social protocols and yet been unjust jerks to our coworkers and neighbors or completely lacking in mercy and goodness toward strangers. Jesus sums it up: “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” We don’t want to be overfocused on minutia while completely missing the hurt of a generation over justice, mercy, and faith. We need a serious faith-one that is genuine, thoughtful, and honoring to God and people.
Jesus continues with another blistering indictment: “Woe to you religious hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28) Have we ever done all the right things religiously yet felt dead inside? Are we the same person when no one is looking? Let’s ask God to show us where we are full of hypocrisy or disobedience to what we know to be true. Rather than going to such lengths to look good, we could work on just being good.
In a season when our mental checklist can be spinning with superficial details about recipes, decorations, time off, flights, hotels, our waistline, insta posts and so on, isn’t it a time to seek God’s guidance on facing the right direction? We need His voice on the loudspeaker when we are heading off-course, whether it’s in our parenting, work, a relationship, health, spending, or whatever. Don’t just shrug and say well I’m sure what I’m doing will hit something out there and fire away. Now is the time to seek His face. Ask, are we living with a tender heart toward God and people? Do we like who we have become? And most importantly, how can we walk in a manner worthy of Jesus, the Son of God? This passage ends with a heart-filled lament: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37) Jesus has always been willing to connect; honestly, we often are not.
Friends, I know my tone is a bit heavier than normal and I’ve been reflecting quite a bit with God this week. I’ve felt more sober minded but also more deeply in love, in awe, with Him. I don’t want to miss what Jesus is saying in these days. Can you imagine if we ignored the booming voice over the loudspeaker that day? What does that guy know? And who is he to tell us what to do?! It would not have gone well. Blessings to you as we journey and listen together. Get my book, Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassionanywhere books are sold. Remember to sign up to receive this blog in your email- simply scroll to the end of Mondays with Margaret.