Tag Archives: Righteous

The Simple, Complex Mystery

The Simple, Complex Mystery (CaD Ps 37) Wayfarer

Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.

Psalm 37:27 (NIV)

A while back I found myself in a conversation with a friend who is a very strong Enneagram Type One. Ones have a very strong moral center with an instinctive “gut” for sensing right-and-wrong, black-and-white, and this influences their own lives. It also influences how they perceive and approach the rest of the world. I, however, am an Enneagram Type Four and Fours tend to see the world in the broad spectrum of gradients between black and white. We Fours live well in the gray, which gives us tremendous empathy for others wherever they find themselves on that spectrum.

The conversation with my friend basically boiled down to our contrasting temperaments. My friends saw the issue we were discussing in very simple, black-and-white terms which made things very simple for him. I saw the issue in all the subtle complexities that it presented for people in everyday realities. It was a spirited conversation that ended up with us agreeing on the essential issue but having to agree to disagree on what to do about the issue.

Along my life journey, I have struggled with simplistic contrasts. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are full of them. As children, we’re taught that Santa will find you “naughty” or “nice” which will be the determining factor in your Christmas haul. When we grow up there are all sorts of other binary ways we continue to approach life. In fact, we’re having major social upheaval in our world because of all sorts of issues that we and the media have reduced to simple binary, black-and-white issues. I’m “mask” or “no masks.” I’m “racist” or “BLM.” I’m “conservative” or “progressive.” I’m “Democrat” or “Republican.” And, we’re making choices about how we perceive and treat others based on how their binary choices line up against ours. It breaks my heart.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 37, I am confronted with the reality that even the Great Story often reduces life and matters of Spirit into simple, binary, black-and-white terms. The entire song is dedicated to contrasting the “righteous” and the “wicked” and bringing it down to almost Santa-like “naughty-or-nice” terms.

Simple contrasting metaphors are a foundational spiritual building block throughout the Great Story. In the days of Moses, God places before the Hebrew people “Life” or “Death” and asks them to choose. Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, go his way. If Baal (an ancient deity in Mesopotamian cultures) is God, go his way.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus spoke of Judgement Day in terms of separating humanity into “sheep” (good) and the “goats” (bad).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the conversation with my Type One friend. In my spiritual journey, I learned that following Jesus begins with very simple “yes” or “no.” Here is another simple, contrasting metaphor Jesus used:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

My journey with Jesus began on a cold February night when, to the lyrics of modern psalm proclaiming “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I made that simple decision. I don’t know how to describe the way my life changed that night. There were all sorts of simple binary choices I then began to make about my life, words, relationship, and behavior based on that foundational yes-or-no decision.

At the same time, the further I traveled down life’s road I found that the journey of being a Jesus follower has been a never-ending, daily experiment in figuring out what it means to continue walking that “narrow road.” Sometimes I find things coming down to a very simple black-and-white choice. More often, I find a gradient of complexity in things. So, seeing the world in simple binary terms isn’t such a simple binary issue. I’m sure my Type One friends find it much easier than I do, but that only feeds my point. There are nine Enneagram Types and we’re not all Ones.

In the quiet this morning I find myself back at the mystery of things being “yes, and.” This journey of following Jesus is both simple and infinitely complex. Lest my Type Four heart get lost in the infinite mystery of living in gray, I always have Psalm 37 to pull me back and remind me that sometimes life does simply come back to a black-or-white choice to do either the thing I know is right or the thing I know is wrong, recognizing that there are natural consequences of life and Spirit that will follow the choice I make.

Another day of choices in a very complex world lies before me. Pray I simply make good ones.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faith-full Father Abraham

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Romans 4:3 (NIV)

There is no one in history quite like Abraham. He was a wayfarer and a nomad as he followed God’s call to follow toward unknown places. As an ancient man with an ancient wife beyond childbearing years, Abraham was promised that he would be the father of many nations.  He believed. He became the father of the Israelites and the Ishmaelites, both the Jews and the Arabs. The scriptures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims all journey back to the same forefather: Abraham.

And what did Abraham do that was so great?

He believed God at His word.
His faith motivated him to live according to what he believed.
God credited Abraham with righteousness.

In today’s chapter, Paul is making a religious legal argument against those who believe that our good works earn us a place in heaven. Exhibit A was father Abraham. Righteousness, Paul argued, was not rendered by God as payment for Abraham’s good deeds. It was credited (unearned) because of Abraham’s simple faith, his believing God.

In a world in which I must earn my way in almost every respect, it is easy to slip into the religious world view of heaven being earned like a divine 401K plan, just like everything else in this life: “A buck to charity here, refuse to give in to temptation there, and a good deed or two and the Big Boss in the sky puts a credit or two in the Pearly Gates Retirement Plan for me. I just hope I have enough in the account for retirement.”

But God says, “my ways aren’t your ways” and God’s Message is clear. Grace and favor is not about what I have done or not done. It’s simply about me believing what God has done and promised through Jesus. Then my faith will motivate me to live according to what I believe. John makes the link clear in his biography of Jesus when he writes that those who receive Jesus, who believe Jesus, they are credited the right to be children of God.

Just like faith-full father Abraham.

 

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Needed: A Good Samaritan in a Hell-Fire and Brimstone World

An illustration of the Parable of the Good Sam...
An illustration of the Parable of the Good Samaritan from the Rossano Gospels, believed to be the oldest surviving illustrated New Testament. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Such is the fate God allots the wicked,
the heritage appointed for them by God.”
Job 20:29 (NIV)

Zophar now responds to job, and there is a subtle yet major twist to the rhetoric. Up to this point, the three amigos have been making the case that, in this life, the righteous are blessed and the wicked suffer. Job continues to argue that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities he is suffering.

Zophar now expands the rhetoric and introduces the theme of death into the mix:

Though the pride of the godless person reaches to the heavens
    and his head touches the clouds,
he will perish forever, like his own dung;
    those who have seen him will say, ‘Where is he?’
Like a dream he flies away, no more to be found,
    banished like a vision of the night.
The eye that saw him will not see him again;
    his place will look on him no more.
His children must make amends to the poor;
    his own hands must give back his wealth.
The youthful vigor that fills his bones
    will lie with him in the dust.

Their appeals are clearly not working, and the self-righteous trio are hell-bent on satiating their judgmental blood-lust. Zophar decides on escalate things to another level. It’s time to pull out the big guns. He brings out a little hell-fire and brimstone from the rhetorical arsenal to convince Job to repent before he dies and returns to the dust and remembered no more.

http://www.cbsnews.com/common/video/cbsnews_video.swf

I remember seeing a story on CBS Sunday Morning several weeks ago (the show is part of the Sunday morning ritual for Wendy and me) exploring our concepts of heaven and hell. They interviewed an old hellfire and brimstone preacher and included a clip of his fear inducing rants from the pulpit. It seems to me he must be a spiritual descendant of Zophar. I sometimes have a hard time reconciling the appeal to fear with the example of Jesus who said He didn’t come to condemn, but to save. At the same time, even Jesus was known to utter a stern warning now and then, and I have come to realize along the journey that God uses all sorts of messengers and messages to reach the ears of His lost children.

Today, I am thinking about Zophar and his friends, who seem more concerned with proving themselves right than about loving, comforting, and easing Job’s pain. It’s as if their spiritual world view carries more importance than a simple act of kindness. They seem like the good religious folks who passed by the mugging victim in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It wasn’t the righteous, religious folks who acted in accordance with the heart of God, but the unrighteous, on-his-way-to-hell-in-a-handbasket bloke from the other side of the tracks in Samaria who simply acted with compassion and kindness.

Job needs a Samaritan. So do a lot of other hurting people. That’s who I want to be.

Rain or Shine, It’s How We Respond

English: Rainbow near Hay Head Wood Nature Res...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who sow with tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
Psalm 126:5 (NIV)

I am reminded this morning that Jesus said the sun shines on both the good and evil, and that rain falls on both the righteous and unrighteous. No matter what path we take or where we find ourselves in our life journey upon this earth, there will be good times and there will be bad times for every one of us. I have learned along the way that the real question is not what happens to us, for we all will have our personal share of both pleasures and pain. The real question is how we respond and what we choose to do with both our blessings and our tragedies.

I want the innumerable blessings that shine on my life to create in me a trinity of tangible responses:

  • Gratitude: I wasn’t entitled to the blessing, I need to be thankful.
  • Grace: I have been shown favor I don’t deserve, I need to show favor to others.
  • Generosity: I have been given much, I need to give much away.

I want the tragedies that I experience, both great and small, to cause me to respond with:

  • Patience: Even Noah discovered that rain eventually gives way to sunshine, but I need to let patience grow in me during rainy days.
  • Perseverance: When I doggedly press on through the storm, I find maturity, wisdom, and character developing in me.
  • Purpose: It may be cliché, but dark clouds do have silver linings. I need to seek God’s purpose for me in the pain.

I have observed along the journey that when I respond appropriately to the circumstances I find myself in, laughter gives way to deeper understanding, and tears give way to joy.

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