Tag Archives: Righteousness

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.

wayfarer chapter index banner

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 (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.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 10

Fruit Platter
(Photo credit: Kenski1970)

I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Hosea 10:12a (NLT)

What am I planting? What am I harvesting?

Those questions rang in my heart this morning as I read the chapter.

First, I asked it of myself. Jesus said, “You can tell a tree by its fruit.” What is the fruit that my life is bearing? What does that say about the seeds I’m planting with time, energy and resources?

Next, I asked that of my local church. Are we planting righteousness or programming? Are we bearing the fruit of love, or are we more concerned about the fruit of giving, relevance, attendance, and popularity?

Simple questions, but I’m coming up with pretty hard answers.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 8

PRP (Performance Review Plan)
(Photo credit: http://www.DanielLeePhotography.co.uk)

Even though I gave them all my laws,
    they act as if those laws don’t apply to them.
Hosea 8:12 (NLT)

In my daily vocation, I spend a lot of time helping companies monitor and assess the quality of service delivered in phone calls between their employees and customers (e.g. “Your call may be monitored for training purposes.”). The never ending effort in Quality Assessment (QA) is to to objectively measure the service level in a given call or set of calls.

One of the threats to objective measurement is how you handle the applicability of certain behavioral elements in a given quality scale. If you have 20 elements in your scale and 10 of them were “not applicable” to a given phone call, then those 10 should not be factored into your results. By crediting someone for things that did not apply you introduce “noise” into the resulting data and the corresponding results are skewed. Likewise, if you choose to say that a number of behaviors are not applicable when they really are, you will  once again end up with an inaccurate result.

In Hosea’s day, the people of Israel were doing something similar with God’s laws. They shrugged off God’s quality criteria as “not applicable,” ran their own personal assessment, and came up with a false positive. It’s easy to do the same thing today. We want to be judged on a sliding scale or on the curve (i.e. “Well I’m not as bad as THAT guy!”) instead of being honest about what God considers truly applicable.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 20

via Flickr and modashell

“Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am God, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the God who makes you holy.” Leviticus 20:7-8 (MSG)

When I was a child, the rules of the house were strict and the punishment for infraction were (at least to my child’s mind) severe. Childhood was when the folks “laid down the law” and taught life lessons in black and white terms. As I grew into an adult, I watched the authoritarian parental regime wane. I was given free rein to live on my own, make my own choices, and learn from the consequences of my own foolishness.

As a parent, I gained an even greater perspective. Parenting is about preparing children for life. It starts with helping them understand basic black and white rules for their safety and propriety. It progresses to teaching them principles for successful living and eventually becomes an advisory role as you assist them in grappling with the mysteries of this life journey as they walk it for themselves.

I find it helpful to view the authoritarian rules of Leviticus and their stiff penalties in view of the big picture. It’s easy to get mired in the minutiae and lose sight of the whole. On the surface, the purpose of the law was to protect the people by keeping them spiritually, morally and physically safe and healthy. But on a larger scale, in the linear life cycle of God’s relationship with humanity on Earth, the long list of black and white rules would teach us it is impossible to attain holiness and spiritual wholeness by simply keeping the rules. Keeping the rules cannot, and will never, address the fundamental issue of our sinful condition. It is not the symptomatic behaviors that are the problem, but the underlying sinful nature of our hearts. Like the common cold, you can treat the symptoms and dry up a runny nose, but the virus remains inside affecting the whole body. To address the root problem will require healing that can’t be found within ourselves.

Enhanced by Zemanta