Tag Archives: Righteousness

Overturning the Scales on the Spiritual Economy

There is, however, some good in you.
2 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)

In the past few months my past has resurfaced. It happens once in a while. My many failures are a matter of public record. I have spoken openly about them. For certain individuals my record makes me questionable, and every so often the questions come around again.

I find spiritual economics to be a fascinating thing; The way in which we determine, quantify, and respond to the “good” and “bad” (or “righteousness” and “sin”) within ourselves and others. The way we use key indicators within our spiritual economy to determine our view of everyone and everything around us.

The Chronicler and his ancient world had a very ordered system. He dictates for us whether Kings were winners and losers in the spiritual economy. The good and bad are spelled out in black and white terms. In the previous chapter Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, so in today’s chapter the Seer Jehu calls him out for his “bad,” but then declares “There is, however, some good in you.” The rest of the chapter goes on to describe Jehoshaphat’s exemplary efforts to promote and improve domestic justice in his kingdom. We the readers feel the scales on the spiritual economy tipping back and forth.

It’s no wonder that to this day we perpetuate variations on this system of weighing and judging people on our personal, spiritual economic scales. It’s a very human thing to do. Yet, one of the radical things that Jesus brought to the table was a radically new spiritual economy. He turned the system upside down. In Jesus’ spiritual economy there was no one who measured up on their own. No personal righteousness was enough to tip the scales to the “good.” Every person was in need of grace and mercy. As James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” So the “righteous” religious people who were “good” in the standard spiritual economic system incurred Jesus’ wrath, while He made a habit of hanging out and showing kindness, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy to the “bad,” the sinful, the marginal, and the questionable.

This morning I’m once again looking back across my journey. I don’t think I would have fared particularly well in the Chronicler’s spiritual economic scale. I don’t fare particularly well in the spiritual economic scales of some of my fellow believers.

Two things come to mind as I mull these things over in my heart.

One is a passage I memorized long ago. I like how The Message puts it:

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

The other is these lyrics from Bob Dylan:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there.
Other times it’s only me.
I’m hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow fallen.
Like every grain of sand.

Spiritual Bankruptcy

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (MSG)

It is possible to be religious, but not loving.
It is possible to be righteous, but not loving.
It is possible to be generous, but not loving.
It is possible to be doctrinally sound, but not loving.
It is possible to be right, but not loving.
It is possible to be politically correct, but not loving.
It is possible to be a defender of truth, but not love your enemy.
It is possible to know all scripture, but not love those who mock you.
It is possible to have spotless church attendance, but not love.
It is possible to have spiritual discipline, but not love.
It is possible to have success, but not love.
It is possible to have a million followers, but not love.
It is possible to have good intentions, but not love.

Jesus said there were two basic laws:
1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

When pressed to define who He meant by “neighbor,” Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the person who had love was a foreigner and an immigrant. The person who had love carried scars from being the victim of racial prejudice, injustice and systemic social, political, and economic ostracization. The person who had love held heretical doctrinal beliefs. The person who had love stood condemned by the prevailing  institutional religion of which Jesus was a part. But, the hated, heretical, outcast foreigner had love, and Jesus’ story made clear that love was the one thing that mattered to God.

On this life journey I’ve taken a good  hard look at myself, and the prevailing institutional religion of which I am a part.

We still haven’t learned the simple and most basic lesson Jesus ever taught. All of my spirituality, righteousness, and religion is bankrupt without love.

Lord, help me love.

featured image is a detail from the St. John’s Bible

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

…seek righteousness, seek humility;
Zephaniah 2:3b

I have been making my plodding, repetitive trek through God’s Message for 35 years. One of the fascinating things I’ve experienced is the way in which it always seems to meet me right where I am on life’s road. The Message doesn’t change, but I change and my waypoint in the journey changes each time I return to a book, chapter, or verse. I get something new out of it each time.

Like most Americans, I’m finding myself caught off guard by our current political landscape. I’ve never experienced anything like it in and find myself daily scratching my head at the headlines and Presidential polls. A trash-talking, ego-driven reality t.v. celebrity who says things that would get any middle schooler running for Student Council expelled is one of our leading candidates. Amazing.

Perhaps that is why Zephaniah’s admonishment leapt off the page at me this morning. I acutely feel a desire to find more individuals on every gradient of the political spectrum who honestly and sincerely are seeking to do the right thing while at the same time seeking humility in their quest. It’s easy to find arrogance. It’s easy to find insults hurled at others. It’s easy to find trash talking and people screaming at each other (at the same time) from opposite sides of the issues. We have these things in abundance.

Today, what I seek are individuals willing to have respectful dialogue, willing to humbly listen to other opinions, willing to agree to disagree, and willing to hammer out compromises. Of course, I cannot control Presidential candidates or news channels or others. I can only control my own thoughts, words, actions and relationships. So I will continue to seek to do the right thing, and persevere in choosing humility.

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Featured image: gageskidmore via Flickr

Shift Focus

Shift FocusDo not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.
Because I have sinned against him,
    I will bear the Lord’s wrath,
until he pleads my case
    and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
    I will see his righteousness.
Micah 7:8-9 (NIV)

As a person in leadership, I am aware that I often stand in a public spotlight. As a person who doesn’t exactly hide my faith, I am equally aware that people are going to weigh my words and watch my actions. I long ago gave up trying to be the person I suspected everyone else wanted me to be. I am quite sure that I have given plenty of evidence for any who wishes to accuse me of hypocrisy. I am painfully aware of my mistakes and shortcomings.

My heart resonated with Micah’s verse this morning:

I have sinned…I will bear the Lord’s wrath.”

Guilty as charged. Perfect? By no means. Hypocrite? By all means; More often than I’d care to admit.

But then, Micah shifts focus:

until he pleads my case
    and upholds my cause.
He will bring me out into the light;
    I will see his righteousness.

Salvation is not in Micah being a better person. He doesn’t write: “until I attain moral perfection,” “until I become righteous,” or “until I become a better person.” Salvation is not in what I do, but what God does for me in spite of my flaws and my failures. Salvation in the Light of God’s righteousness. Jesus never said, “seek righteousness,” He said, “Seek HIS Kingdom and HIS righteousness.”

Today, I’m reminded that My hope is not in my human struggle for elusive moral perfection, but in having God step up be my Advocate despite my glaring imperfections.

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A Good Person is not a Perfect Person

source: bjornstar via Flickr
source: bjornstar via Flickr

“If I have walked with falsehood
    or my foot has hurried after deceit—
let God weigh me in honest scales
    and he will know that I am blameless—”
Job 31:5-6 (NIV)

Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.

So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:

  • I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman 
  • I haven’t walked with falsehood
  • I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
  • I haven’t been unjust to my servants
  • I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
  • I haven’t been greedy
  • I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
  • I have no hidden sins

I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of  ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.

The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”

And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.

Job, Jah Malla, and Utter Depravity

How then can a mortal be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
Job 25:4 (NIV)

The debate between Job and his three companions takes an interesting twist this morning in a succinct statement by Bildad. If I can paraphrase the debate thus far it would be:

  • Job: “God’s done me wrong, dude. I don’t deserve this.”
  • Three Amigos: “Come on, man. You must to have done something wrong. You’re being punished.”
  • Job: “I can’t be. I’m an alright guy. There are no skeletons in the closet.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yes there are and you know it. ‘Fess up. God blesses the good and punishes the bad. You’re life has fallen apart, ergo you are being punished, ergo you did something to piss God off.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t (And, stop using Latin. It’s pretentious and annoying). If it’s true that I did something to deserve this, then God needs to tell me what it is and He’s being silent. That’s just another layer of injustice in this whole thing.”
  • Three Amigos: “You did something wrong, man. Just admit it and watch your suffering turn to blessing.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t. Let God come down here and tell me Himself. But, He’s nowhere to be found.”
  • Three Amigos: “You did something, dude.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yes, you did.”
  • Job: “No.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yep. Pretty sure.”
  • Job: “No. Shut up.”
  • Three Amigos: [nodding their heads at Job]

Bildad now points the debate in a theological direction. Job’s insists that he’s lived a righteous life and hasn’t done anything to deserve the train wreck of tragedy he’s experienced. Bil responds to this reasoning by pointing out the foundational theological concept of utter depravity. The idea is that ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, humanity has this tragic flaw generally known as “sin.” We all choose to do things we know we shouldn’t. We all choose not to do things we know we should. Bob Dylan put it to music and sang: Ain’t no man righteous, no not one [YouTube of Jah Malla covering the song above, in a distinctly righteous reggae beat].

In other words, Bil has gotten frustrated with Job’s insistence that’s he’s done nothing to deserve his suffering and counters with universal truth: “Look, man, we’re ALL sinners.”

I haven’t peeked ahead to the next chapter(s), but I don’t think it takes a master logician to anticipate Job’s response: “Dude, if we’re ALL sinners, then why aren’t we ALL suffering? I don’t see YOUR pasty white butt covered with festering boils!”

And, this really leads back to the crux of what I’m hearing in this very long (and sometimes repetitive…and, occasionally, a bit boring) debate between Job and his so-call friends. Job’s question isn’t just “Why,” but “Why ME?” And, that’s a question that I imagine we’ve all asked ourselves in times and circumstances relatively less dire than Job’s.

A Very Different Economy

paycheck
paycheck (Photo credit: owaief89)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 15

And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:6 (NLT)

We live in a world where credit is earned. We work. We put in our time. We show up. We do the job. We are then credited for what we’ve earned. There is usually a direct line connecting our effort to our paycheck. If we do this job we earn this much money. Most of us are even given credit to receive an advance of money we haven’t earned if we want to purchase something for which we don’t have the money right now. If we handle that advance correctly, we earn a higher credit score and the ability to borrow even more money. It is a simple concept. You work to earn an income. You are merited for what you do.

No wonder it is so hard for us to grasp the very different economic system of God’s Kingdom. The verse above is one of the cornerstones of Kingdom Economics. Righteousness in God’s economy is not earned by what we do, but credited for our faith and trust in the Provider [read the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans for more explanation]. It’s called grace. It is being given favor that is unearned or unmerited in any way. Our lives and good works are not to be motivated in an effort to earn God’s favor. In Kingdom Economics, our motivation to do good things is out of a sense of gratitude for God’s favor which we have already received and didn’t do anything to earn.

Today, I’m thinking about my life. I don’t want to just understand the concept of grace, but embrace it and live it out in my daily thoughts, words, and actions.