Tag Archives: Good Deeds

How are Those Resolutions Coming?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
Romans 7:15 (NIV)

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming? I laughed the other day when a friend on Facebook confessed that he couldn’t wait for everyone at his crowded gym to give up their resolutions and stay home.

Why is it that we struggle to do the things we want to do and the things that we know will be good for us? At the same time, we continue to do things we know are unhealthy for ourselves (and perhaps others) even though we know we should stop.

This is the crux of the rumination in today’s chapter. There are those who steadfastly believe, or act as if they believe, that God’s favor is earned by keeping the rules, being good people, and coloring inside the lines. Paul’s response is basically: “How are those New Year’s Resolutions coming?”

No matter how good we try to be, we never truly rid ourselves of the human condition. Despite our resolutions we find ourselves choosing the couch over the gym after a couple of meager attempts at self discipline. The five pounds we shed in January (of the 20 we need to lose) is back on by Valentine’s Day. And, we won’t even go there with the nasty little secret behaviors the rest of the world doesn’t see.

The message of Jesus was simply this. You can’t rid yourself of the nature of sin. That being the case, death is the penalty. Jesus did not come to give us a a bunch of Pinterest worthy sayings to motivate us toward good works. Jesus came to die the death that we deserve, so that we might have access to the Life we can never afford by our own efforts.

Today, I’m feeling grateful that my salvation is not dependent on my goodness. I think I’ll keep working on those resolutions, though. They won’t earn me a ticket to heaven, but they will certainly make my journey on this earth a little better for both me and my companions.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Big Lie

It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land
Deuteronomy 9:5 (NRSV)

Yesterday I had the privilege of delivering the morning message among weekly worship with my local group of Jesus followers. In the message I shared what I believe to be the most subtle, insidious lie that we are led to believe about God and eternity: it’s about what we do or don’t do. Nothing could be further from the truth:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10 (MSG)

Then this morning I read God sharing a similar message to the Hebrews through Moses. I hear in Moses’ message the concern that once the people took possession of the land they would “probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing.” Moses reminds them that it’s all God’s doing, not theirs.

I so easily fall into the mindset that God will accept me or reject me based on my deeds, good or bad. If I fall into sin I believe God will punish me. If things are going well I get the feeling I must be doing something right for God to be blessing me. So I do extra good things to try and counter balance the bad and earn a little extra blessing. I think in the back of my head that eternity must be based on some giant set of scales that will weigh out the good and bad in my life. If good tips the scales I’m in, if my good falls short of my bad then I’m hosed. But that’s not at all what Jesus taught and what God’s Message says. Here’ another reminder I shared yesterday:

It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God, our kind and loving Savior God, stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit. Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come—an eternity of life! You can count on this. Titus 3:3-8 (MSG)

Today, I’m grateful for all the God has done in redeeming me and thankful that it’s not up to me or my effort, my good deeds, or my ability to earn my way into God’s good graces. God’s gift has restored my relationship with Him and given me back my life.

Chapter-a-Day Esther 6

60th Primetime Emmy Awards
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So Haman came in, and the king said, “What should I do to honor a man who truly pleases me?”

Haman thought to himself, “Whom would the king wish to honor more than me?”
Esther 6:6 (NLT)

Wendy and I watched the annual Emmy awards last night on television. I chuckled to myself as I watched. There is no industry like the entertainment industry for sheer self-indulgent self-promotion. Even the host last night made fun of the fact that the Emmy awards were named after who they are really all about: M – E.

The sight of the self-congratulatory television stars came to mind this morning when I read about Haman’s blunder. The contrast between Mordecai and Haman could not be more stark. Mordecai was motivated to do what was right without expecting any reward for it. Haman did what made him look good and expected to be exalted. Haman was blind to the notion that the king would want to honor anyone more than himself.

I learned a long time ago that if you desire recognition you will surely be disappointed. Hard work, doing the right thing and the satisfaction of a job well done produce their own reward. Jesus said:

“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”

Today, I find myself prompted to do a little heart check. Are my actions and deeds motivated by desire for Hollywood like or Haman like self-promotion and recognition? Or, am I willing to do the right thing without consideration of the earthly cost or human reward?

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 8

Magnetic compass.

And I will forgive their wickedness,
and I will never again remember their sins.
Hebrews 8:12 (NLT)

When I embrace a subtle misunderstanding of a core spiritual truth, my compass moves a degree or two off True North. It may not matter as I’m standing in place or for short distances, but over life’s journey it can result in me being completely off course.

I have observed in myself and in others a subtle misunderstanding of God’s teaching on forgiveness that makes a huge difference in the course of our spiritual trajectory. Without noticing it, we reject, misunderstand and ignore God’s truth about forgiveness.

God’s Message makes it clear that Jesus died once for all in sacrificial payment for our sins. In doing so He freely offers forgiveness for our sins past, present and future. As stated in today’s chapter, God remembers our sins no more. However, rather than embrace this forgiveness which was dearly bought and freely offered, we often choose to cling to the deep feelings of shame and guilt which have woven themselves into our thoughts, words and actions. We shackle ourselves to the shame of our wrongs past and present. We live under the dark cloud it spreads over our souls.

Having quietly rejected the gift of forgiveness Jesus paid for and offers, still living under the cloud of guilt and shame,  we set about to do something about it ourselves. We do good deeds, we clean ourselves up, we do nice things for others, and we give a little money to a good cause. We even go to church. The motivation for all of these altruistic actions, however, are not gratitude at what Jesus did in forgiving us (past tense) but in the subtle hope that they might eventually earn His forgiveness (it’s therefore not what Jesus did, but we are doing that makes forgiveness possible). I’m not motivated out of gratitude of what has been done for me but by hope that what I’m doing might pay off in the end. Any actor worth his salt knows that the motivation behind the action makes all the difference in the world.

We are now quietly going about to try to be good and earn our forgiveness on a set of internal scales we’ve created for ourselves. On these scales we weigh our sins and wrong doing against all of the good things we’ve been trying to do. This, in turn, affects how we deal with forgiving others who’ve wronged us. If my sins are freely and completely forgiven by Jesus and He is not holding any of my wrongs against me, how can I in good conscience turn and refuse to forgive another person for perpetrating an injury of some kind on me? I can’t. If, however, I am daily operating under the notion that I am working hard to be good and earn God’s forgiveness then the rules for how I treat others completely change. Now I can look at the perpetrator and weigh them out on the same scale I’m using for myself. I know that I’m working hard at being good and making God happy, but the only thing I see in them is that they have done bad and injured me. The scale is clearly tipped in my favor. I’m doing good and they have done bad. My resolute anger, my seething hatred, and my deep-set grudge are all perfectly justified when weighed out on my own internal scale of justice.

I refused to embrace the truth that I am truly and completely forgiven by God, not because of what I’ve done but because of what Jesus did for me. I’ve continued to try to overcome my feelings of guilt and shame with an endless stream of good deeds in the mistaken notion that I can somehow earn some kind of spiritual Eagle Scout badge and receive the accompanying reward of forgiveness. I’ve leveraged this false spiritual economy into justifying my own anger, hatred and grudges toward others.

How quickly being a degree or two off in my understanding of forgiveness can lead me far afield from where I should be in my relationship with God, myself and others.

Today, I’m embracing God’s forgiveness and giving up my mistaken notion that it has anything to do with what I have done, am doing, or will do. I’m re-evaluating my relationships with others and choosing to give up my self-righteous internal scales of justice… and forgive.

 

Chapter-a-Day 1 Thessalonians 1

As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:3 (NLT)

This past weekend was spent in Denver with Wendy’s family. Wendy and I packed up the car for the long trek. Taylor joined us for the journey along with Madison’s boyfriend, Kevin. Madison, who is in Colorado Springs studying, hitched a ride up to Denver on Friday to meet us. It was two solid days of family, food, life, love and laughter.

I couldn’t help but think of the family gathering as I read this verse from today’s chapter. While I enjoyed much conversation during the weekend, I also enjoyed a fair amount of listening and observing:

  • I listened to Wendy’s dad talk about spearheading a Meals From the Heartland project that packaged hundreds of thousands of meals which will be sent to feed the hungry in Africa. He is planning to personally go this next year to help distribute meals in Haiti or in Africa as he plans and administrates another packaging event in their area.
  • In casual conversation Taylor shared about her and Clayton’s experiences serving the homeless in Des Moines along with their church.
  • I watched a video for Child Voice International and heard about an exciting opportunity Taylor and Clayton have to do a twelve-week internship in Uganda. They will each be able to use the passion God has given them to serve those who have been traumatized by the slave trade and terrorism. Taylor will be able to work with Art Therapy as she’s studying it at Grandview. Clayton will use his college education and passion to help with micro-financing efforts in the area.
  • I listened to Taylor talk about Uganda with Wendy’s brother, Lucas, because he’d already been there. He helped build a church in the country and this past year went to Belize. During the summer Lucas served our community working for the National Guard in the flood relief efforts along the Missouri River.
  • I heard Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, talk about her and her father’s work in Tijuana, Mexico building houses for the poor and saw pictures of their team’s efforts.
  • I listened to Madison sharing about her studies at the New Life School of Worship and her own mission this past year in Nepal.
  • I got to ask Madison’s boyfriend about the passion God’s given him for Christian music and an exciting job offer to manage a Christian concert venue in Florida when he finishes school.

The holidays are family time for most all of us, but this year I am knocked out by realization that I am blessed by family of whom I can truly think of their “faithful work, their loving deeds and the enduring hope they have because of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Chapter-a-Day Mark 10

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (M...
Image via Wikipedia

The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.

Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Mark 10:26-27 (NLT)

I believe that the most prevalent false notion I’ve witnessed thus far in my journey is that our salvation is somehow dependent on our goodness or badness.

It is a very human trait to ascribe reward to merit.  As children we are generally rewarded for doing our chores, getting good grades and keeping our noses clean. If we are bad, Santa Claus will give us a lump of coal, but if we are good he will give us a lot of presents under the tree. In extra-curricular activities we are rewarded when we work hard and display exceptional abilities. As adults we learn that if we do good work our employer will not only pay us, but might also give us a bonus. Conversely, our “bad” deeds may earn us fines and punishment.

How easy, then, to slip into the belief that the God of the Universe operates on the same human paradigm. If we are good we will go to heaven. If we are bad we will go to hell. So, we carefully consider our behavior and try to keep the “good” side of the ledger ahead of the “bad.” If we start getting a little concerned about how things will shake out, we begin to play the comparison game as if to prepare our case for admittance through the Pearly Gates. “Sure,” we say to ourselves, “I’m not perfect, but at least I didn’t kill millions of people like Hitler or swindle people out of their life savings like Bernie Madoff.”

Jesus made a few things abundantly clear in His teaching:

  1. We can’t avoid having enough check marks on the “bad” side of the ledger because our sinfulness is not a matter of our bad deeds but the condition of our hearts. Like a drop of food coloring in the cake batter, one drop of “bad” taints the entire being and renders us unacceptable to God. As Jesus put it, the person who shouts “you idiot” in anger is as guilty as the mass murderer in God’s economy.
  2. We can never be “good enough” to earn our way into heaven. No amount of good deeds can wipe away the sin that taints the very core of our being (see #1). Go ahead and try to keep a list if you want. It will never be long enough. Jesus said it himself. It is humanly impossible to enter God’s kingdom.

No lack of badness or amount of goodness can merit the entry fee to God’s kingdom. The only way to enter is by going directly to Jesus, who paid the entry fee for us when He died on the cross and took upon Himself the penalty for the “badness.” God loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever would simply believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.

And, that’s the true reason to be excited about Christmas.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 29

“Sacrifice these to God as a congregation at your set feasts: your Whole-Burnt-Offerings, Grain-Offerings, Drink-Offerings, and Peace-Offerings. These are all over and above your personal Vow-Offerings and Freewill-Offerings.” Numbers 29:39 (MSG)

It’s been interesting for me to spend specific times at the lake this summer with children of different ages. It’s amazing to see how kids act and react in the different stages of life from infant to toddler to tweens to teens. For adults and parents, each stage has its blessings and each stage has its curses. As I interacted with all the children in their various stages, I found myself trying to create teaching moments when the opportunity arose.

This past weekend we were at the lake with some great young kids who, nonetheless, found themselves bored and ended up whining about it. During one of these moments I saw a big stack of laundered towels on the floor and I picked them up, asking our bored guest if he would take them down to the towel bin and put them away. There was a point to asking my young guest to do this. In fact, there were a couple of points I was subtly trying to communicate. First, if you’re bored enough to whine about it, we can certainly find something for you to do. Second, there is plenty of work that must be done to ensure that everyone has a good time at the lake and if you can participate in the fun things you can participate in the work, too.

As I read through today’s chapter and the dizzying list of offerings and sacrifices God prescribed for feast days (which was above and beyond those already prescribed), I’m reminded that there was a point He was trying to make with us His children. The point was that no human being can possibly sacrifice enough, offer enough, or do enough to achieve the status of being good enough to be acceptable for God. The impossible system of sacrifices was a giant word picture and object lesson to teach us that we can’t possibly do enough or be perfectly obedient enough to earn our salvation.

That’s why God sent Jesus to be the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of the world. God’s Message says it is by God’s grace and unmerited favor we are saved through placing our faith in Jesus, His sacrifice and resurrection. Salvation is not something we earned ourselves by keeping a system of sacrifices or doing enough good deeds to balance out the bad. Salvation is the gift of God, not the result of our human works or any good works we might think we can boast about. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Today, I’m thankful that I’m free from having to earn God’s favor, and I’m grateful for the sacrifice God made to set me free.