Acting Out Our Faith: Lead With Forgiveness


While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. – Acts 7:59-60 (NIV)

I don’t know about you, but forgiveness is not always the first thing on my mind when someone is hurting me. There are a number of other reactions I can think of and none of them are what you would call “saintly.”  Anger, indignation, revenge – they all come rising to the surface in a moment of confrontation.  So what would I do if my neighbors were trying to kill me for telling them the truth?  How would I react to hatred and violence from those I was trying to help?

Stephen leads with forgiveness.  He doesn’t have time to process and work toward forgiveness – his life is ebbing away with each painful throw.  He could have lashed out in anger or prayed to God to smite down his enemies, but he chose love, grace and mercy.  At some point Stephen made the choice that if Christ could forgive, so should he.  He had probably heard the story of Christ’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” and took them to heart.

Too often I have to find forgiveness when I have been wronged, but Stephen, following in the footsteps of Christ, doesn’t need to find it.  Stephen is forgiving.  It comes forth from him like cool water from a fresh spring.  That is acting out your faith.

Lord, help me to be forgiving.  Teach me how to lead with forgiveness.  Fill my heart with love, grace and mercy so that they overflow to others.  Amen.

Good Friday Poem – Hammer and Nail


Hammer and Nail

 

Muscled hands, calloused and rough,

Work with care and a gentle touch.

Tree to timber with saw and stone;

Through patient skill a form has grown.

A stable manger of humble scale,

Put together by hammer and nail.

 

A babe is born inBethlehem;

A wooden manger a bed for him.

Babe becomes child, child becomes man;

The Carpenter’s skill flows through His hands.

Left His home on a long, hard trail.

Earning His keep by hammer and nail.

 

Love has led Him to a lonely hill;

The Cross His burden for doing God’s will.

The mockers taunt, the angry yell,

Those sinners He would save from hell.

A slaughtered Lamb to rend the veil.

Hung on the Cross by hammer and nail.

 

I strike a blow each time I fail;

Hand and foot, hammer and nail.

Cure


Your Word is the medicine for my malady
It is the cure for the pestilence of my past.
Your truth lights the darkness of my heart
Filling me with a love that will last.

 

You are the cure
The healer of my soul
You make me pure
Refined like gold
Remove my impurity
Restore my infirmity
Redeem my destiny
Make me pure

 

Your Will is the motive for my mission
It is the way to vanquish all that’s vain.
Your strength heals the weakness of my heart
Filling me with courage once again

 

You are the cure
The healer of my heart
You make me pure
A brand new start
Reclaim my affection
Sustain my direction
Reframe my attention
Make me pure

 

Your Way is the method to my movement
It is the path to holiness and heaven
Your Son walks with us lest we stray
And gives us something to believe in

 

You are the cure
The healer of our souls
You make us pure
Refined like gold
Remove our impurities
Restore our infirmities
Redeem our destinies
Make us pure 

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Conclusion


But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

Righteousness is an amazing thing; we all need, none of us have it and there is only one place to get it.  Talk about evening the playing field.  Righteousness requires us all to become spiritual paupers. This makes Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 come into clearer focus.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) and, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

There is no difference between me or the murderer in jail, until either of us admit our spiritual poverty and hunger for something better than all other things.  God has made His righteousness known and available, but we can get too involved in concocting our own righteousness instead.  We can look at the murderer and say, “At least I am not a murderer” all the while hating the murderer in our heart.  This isn’t righteousness, it is spiritual hypocrisy rooted in arrogance.

Righteousness asks us all to start at the same place, to count everything we have done on our own as rubbish.  We empty our pockets, we deny our credentials, we surrender our pedigree and we come before God naked and poor.  We need Him to clothe us.  We need Him to bless us with the riches of His kingdom.  We need His righteousness.

This life is too short to spend time trying to be right; too precious to spend our talents and treasures just to prove someone else wrong.  Make your argument with your life.  Hunger and thirst for righteousness and you will make the best argument possible; that God’s righteousness is better than man’s.  I certainly don’t say this from a place of success.  Every day is a struggle to seek God’s righteousness instead of creating my own, but I believe I am closer than I was last week, last month, last year.  I still hunger.  I still thirst.

Righteousness is an amazing thing, but it is not impossible.  My hope is rooted in the victories in my own life and the cloud of witnesses who testify to this truth.  The righteousness of God is our inheritance, but we must let go of the petty riches we cling to in this world.  We have to let go of our reputations, our degrees, our experiences and grab a hold of the hem of His garment.  Lord, let us hunger and thirst for You more every day.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Unrighteous Anger


My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. – James 1:19-20 (NIV)

There is a lot of anger being thrown around today.  We see it on our TV screens, we hear it on our radios, we read it in magazines and papers and it seeps into our hearts and minds.  In Christian circles we have made excuses that our anger is “righteous,” but it is just that; an excuse.  Anger makes us feel powerful; it makes us feel like we are in the right.  When we look at the world and others through the lens of wrath, we see too much of what proves our point and are blind to most everything else.

Righteousness is rooted in not getting angry.  While James may not have had this in mind, it is clear that the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are remedies to the angry heart and mind.  If we are day by day allowing the Spirit to do His work in our lives, the fruit will be righteous.  James tells us three things that helps put us in the Spirit’s hands: listen, be quiet and get a longer fuse.  Good advice, but hard to follow in our angry world.

If we want to avoid the anger James is warning us about, we need a quiet place, a quiet heart & mind and a humble attitude.  Our days are full of noise and busyness, which can shorten our fuse.  If we can find that quiet place, even if it is a closet in our room, it can provide the opportunity to listen for God’s voice.  However, the quiet place has to be matched with a quiet heart and mind.  It does no good if we spend all of our time in a quiet place making noise about our life and our wants.  There is a real need of being still before God.  Each day we need to let the quietness of that place sink into our hearts and minds to drive out the angry noise of the world.  But that is still just a beginning.

Anger is too easily motivated by pride.  To be slow to anger is to be humble.  When we consider the needs of others, the hurts and pains that may be at the center of their life, we will have a different attitude toward them.  Instead of anger, we may find compassion, love, mercy and grace.  Humility is the last place that anger tries to find a home.  Humility is the open door for the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.

Where is your quiet place?  When was the last time you felt silence and calm in your heart and mind?  How long have you held anger toward someone who may need your love and kindness?  Let’s work together to come against the anger of our world with the fruit of the Spirit and the humility of Christ.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: A Gracious Memory Leads to a Better Future


At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. – Titus 3:3-7 (NIV)

I have done and said things in my life that I am not proud of; at all.  These acts are proof of my unrighteousness, but they no longer define me.  The love of Christ has changed me from sinner to saint, from lost to found, from blind to seeing.  The lost blind sinner rears his ugly inclinations from time to time, but his power wanes as the found seeing saint gains strength and wisdom.  This is the path of righteousness.

My problem lies in perspective and memory.  Instead of being informed by my past through the eyes of grace, I allow it to rule the way I view myself and others. Grace redeems even the errant movements of my past and leads me toward righteousness.  When I begin to let my past sins peck away at that grace, my faith flounders and guilt sets in.  The righteousness from God overcomes our past and paints our future with hope and promise.

Righteousness does not come from us, but through us from God.  A daily understanding of this reality helps keep us humble and dependent before God.  This is a good place to be.

Lord, help me to look at my life through the eyes of grace.  May a right perspective of my life in You, lead me further into righteousness.  Let Your righteousness rule my heart, mind and eyes. Amen.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Faith in the Good News


I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Romans 1:16-17 (NIV)

Our culture has slowly moved toward a scientific approach to solve most of our problems.  If you can’t observe it, measure it and repeat it then it must not be true.  Faith for this culture is more seeing first and then believing, which really isn’t faith at all.  On the other hand, there are many sciences that are based in postulations and theories without any observable evidence, and yet unquestioned belief is the accepted norm.  Sounds like faith to me.

The Good News is evidence of what we have not seen.  I have never seen God face to face.  I have never seen the glory of heaven with my naked eyes.  I have never watched the forces of good wage war against evil in the spiritual realms like Elisha and his servant.  But I believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ crucified and risen to life.  I believe this because I have seen and heard the truth in so many ways, they cannot be recounted here.  I believe because of the witness that speaks to my heart in ways that science never will.  A voice that overcomes my fears, my weaknesses and my doubts to keep me rooted in the truth of God’s will and word.

It is easy to get mixed up about this.  We can try to apply science to the Bible or our understanding of the Bible.  We can seek more help from psychology than the Wonderful Counselor.  We can get fixated on having a system of do’s and don’ts that we can control and twist, creating a customized religion that makes us right all the time.  But righteousness comes to us through faith.  It is not something we can control or cajole.  It is given to us as we give ourselves to Him.  Religion is a burden while faith allows us to cast our burdens down and trust God with them.

I used to be concerned about making a “scientific” argument for the validity of scripture.  I will leave that to the theologians and experts.  I am more concerned with my life being evidence of God’s existence than having arguments about the age of the earth.  If that is your calling, pursue it passionately and with integrity, but for me it is a distraction.  I want to live a life that reflects the truth I believe.  I want the Good News of the Gospel to transform my unrighteousness into righteousness.  Every day.

Lord, help me to be faithful.  May Your truth define me and transform me.  Let Your righteousness rule my heart and mind and be evidence to the world around me that You are God.  Amen

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Overcoming Poverty


The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. – Proverbs 29:7 (NIV)

Poverty is certainly a growing issue of debate and concern today.  Unemployment rates, foreclosure listings and protests have been media regulars for the last few years.  A sour economy has soured our attitude toward the rich, but the real question is how has it changed our attitude toward the poor?

More and more, the burden of the poor seems to be pushed onto the government, but it is clear in the passage that this is the responsibility of the righteous.  Unfortunately, we have grown used to the system taking care of those in need.  We assume that there is a program or benefit available to fix people’s problems, but systems have no compassion or hope or healing.  Systems are not driven by love or fueled by faith.  Systems don’t save people, they just solve problems.  Righteousness can do better.

It is the righteous who want to provide more than gold or silver can buy.  As much as the poor may need financial help, they need love, compassion and encouragement in equal or greater measure.  In fact, poverty is less a battle over finances and more over the attitude and inclination of the heart.  This is true for both the experience of poverty and the perception of the poor.  When define ourselves or others by what we lack, it can lead to all sorts of injustice.  To truly see justice for the poor we need to preach the truth and live the truth.

Paul had learned the secret of contentment regardless of his circumstances.  This is the most just way to approach poverty and wealth.  When we learn how to be content, we are released to be gracious and giving to others and not be concerned for ourselves.  This is how we can act justly.  This is how we can overcome the spirit of poverty in ourselves and others.  This is how we can continue to minister to the needs of others even if we are not what others would call wealthy.

Lord, help us to care for the needs of others and give with a generous spirit.  May we overcome poverty in our hearts and minds so that it does not define us or the world around us.  Help us to live justly with our finances. Amen.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Teachable


Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. – Proverbs 9:9 (NIV)

I like being right.  There is a sense of satisfaction in having the right answer, the right solution or the right insight.  It is a good feeling, but it can also pave the way to a warped view of righteousness.  Once we get the taste of being right, there can be a hunger for more.  While it might seem logical that wanting to be right would lead to a desire to learn, sadly we humans are not very logical.  More often than not, the hunger to be right is satisfied easier by deciding that what we believe or think is right and bending everything else to fit. Been there, done that and made a fool of myself in the process.

God has a better way.  Righteousness is concerned in being right with God, not our idea of what being right with God looks like.  Righteousness hungers to know God and His will without any concern for what that may cost us.  Righteousness comes to those who are teachable and humble.  We have to question our ideas, perceptions and motivations in light of this.  Do we think what we think, see what we see and do what we do because we have decided that is the “right” way, or because God is defining those things in us through His righteousness?

We, however, are creatures of habit.  We don’t take the things we say, see or do into question on a day to day basis.  They happen without much thought and therefore without any chance for instruction.  God has innumerable opportunities to instruct us and we walk by them because we have already decided we are right.  Walking in righteousness gives us an attitude of teachability (I am pretty sure that is a made up word).  Walking in righteousness opens our eyes to see and our minds to comprehend those things that may conflict with our preconceived notions of God, the world and ourselves.

I still struggle with the whole “liking to be right” thing.  It is a flaw in my character, but thank God that He has pointed it out.  In the pursuit of righteousness I am sure it will not be the only flaw that will come to light, but I would rather be right before God than right about anything else.  Lord, help us pursue righteousness with a teachable spirit and leave being right to You.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Blessed by God


But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. – Psalms 5:11-12 (NIV)

It is clear that the righteous are righteous because of who they put their trust in – who they worship.  Our righteousness will never get us where we need to be in this life or the life to come.  As God’s children through the blood of Christ, we have a righteousness not our own, but there is a difference between having it and walking in it.  The passage above is referring to those who are walking in righteousness and some of the results.

This is not the only passage that describes the righteous as blessed or favored.  It is a theme in the Psalms and prophetic writings.  God blesses His righteous ones.  I don’t believe that God is waiting for us to be righteous in order to bless us, but that He has made it so that walking in His righteousness leads us to His blessings.  I believe that walking in His righteousness puts us in the safe place of His favor.

Imagine you are in a desert and someone brings you a glass of water.  It tastes amazing, but the person says that if you want to have as much water as you need, you have to walk across the desert and over the mountains.  You could just stay in the desert and ask the messenger to keep bringing the little doses of water, or you could go to the place where the water is plentiful.  God sends His blessings into our desert with an invitation to place of plenty, but we have to walk there.

Let me be clear that I don’t equate blessing with money or things.  For some, money or objects would become a stumbling block.  It is not getting what we want when we want it because we deserve it.  God’s blessing is us having exactly what we need when we need it with the full knowledge that we do not deserve it.  This is the place that walking in righteousness will lead us.