Actor Matthew McConaughey spoke from the podium of the White House press briefing room this week, encouraging lawmakers to take action on gun violence and citing stories of the young victims of the mass shooting in his hometown of Uvalde, Texas.
In his speech, he told the story of ten-year-old Ellie Garcia, who had been attending a Baptist church with her uncle. According to McConaughey, Ellie had been preparing to read a Bible verse in the next Wednesday night service: “The verse was from Deuteronomy 6:5. ‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’ That’s who Ellie was becoming. But she never got to read it.”
I invite you to read that verse for Ellie today, slowly.
Now let’s see why it is so vital to the future of our broken culture.
An “age appropriate” drag queen show for children?
From the firebombing of a pro-life pregnancy center, to a man who told police he wanted to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, to divorce celebration parties, to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s so-called “age appropriate” drag queen show for children age three and up, today’s news reinforces the fact that we desperately need God to “heal our land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
We have been discussing this week the path to such healing: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (my emphases).
If we do what God calls us to do, he will do what he promises to do.
We have focused on the humility that admits we need what only God can do and the prayer that intercedes continually for our nation. Now let’s turn to God’s third imperative: “seek my face.” Seek means to “search diligently.” God’s face is his personal presence.
Thus, to experience his healing for our lives and our land, we must do what Ellie Garcia was doing: we must devote ourselves personally and passionately to seeking intimacy with the Almighty.
Returning from the Holy Land with a heavy heart
I returned yesterday from leading my latest study tour of Israel. Every time I travel in the Holy Land I seem to fall more deeply in love with the Jewish people. Their courage as they live surrounded by enemies who want to destroy them is coupled with a passion for life that is truly inspiring.
However, as I returned home, my heart was heavy for the Jewish people as well. Paul’s testimony is mine: “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
I saw scores of ultra-orthodox Jews gather at the Western Wall in their black and white clothing, long beards, and prayer shawls, their phylacteries on their foreheads and hands, rocking back and forth as they prayed. I watched a bar mitzvah as a young man was introduced formally into the Jewish faith. I was impressed again by the way the nation observes the Shabbat (the Sabbath)—everything closes from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
And yet, what Paul said of his Jewish people is still true today: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (v. 2). Knowledge could be translated “full understanding.” Here is what the apostle meant: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (v. 3). They were trying to “establish” (“put into place”) “their own” righteousness rather than submitting to “God’s righteousness.”
What they needed to do is what everyone needs to do: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (v. 4).
“This is not your own doing”
All religions, Judaism included, are the human attempt to worship and serve whatever the religion considers to be ultimate reality. Muslims adhere to the “five pillars”; Buddhists try to follow the “four noble truths” and walk the “noble eightfold path”; Hindus commit themselves to ascetic rituals and disciplines.
Christianity is different: our faith offers not a religion but a personal relationship with God. It recognizes that sinful humans cannot in our own efforts “establish” our own “righteousness” with a holy God. Because we could not climb up to him, he climbed down to us in Christ. As a result, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Does this mean God expects no response on our part? To the contrary: “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (v. 10). We pray, read our holy Scriptures, give, and serve as do the Jews and adherents of other religions—not so we can find God, but because he has found us. Not so he will accept us, but because he has accepted us. Not so he will love us, but because he already loves us.
John Calvin was right: works do not save, but the saved do work.
Do you have all of God you want?
God promises his people, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Are you seeking the “face” of God today through his word, worship, and service? Are you loving him with all your heart, soul, and might? Are you responding to the gift of his Son with the gift of your life in gratitude for such grace?
Or are you settling for less than personal intimacy with the Almighty? Have you made your relationship with God into a religion about him? Have you segmented your life into “religion” and the “real world” and consigned God to your religious activities?
Asked differently: Do you have all of God you want, or all of God you need?
NOTE: For more, please see my latest blog where I reflect on a new insight from my latest trip to the Holy Land.