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

Gardening Tips: No Need for Seed

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  As it is written:

“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. – 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (NIV)

Unlike those who depend on the harvest for their livelihood, we get to give ours away.  We don’t depend on storehouses where moth and rust destroy, but the storehouses of heaven.  But it is too easy in our self-centered society, to keep things for ourselves.  There has recently been much discontent among some in the United States about the inequity wealth.  They feel that somehow they have been cheated or robbed, but at the core, they believe they should have what someone else has; they are greedy.  They fall in the same trespass they judge others for and are oblivious to the irony.

This world would be a better place if we spent less time getting for ourselves and more time giving of ourselves.  Our neighborhoods and families would be all the more blessed for our willingness to give to the needs of others.  But the keys are laid out clearly in the passage above: it is a personal choice, done with confidence and without outside coercion.  Giving should be a reaction to God’s goodness to us and our giving will increase with our understanding of His goodness.

Giving, generosity, charity – they are certainly attributes of the followers of Christ, but it isn’t just what we do, but why we do it and how we do it.  We need to be motivated by the right reasons to do the righteous things.  There needs to be purpose and will behind our giving; first God’s and then ours coming in line to partner in generosity to those in need.  Too much is given to fulfill a sense of duty.  Too much is done to meet perceived obligations.  Too much is dedicated to avoiding guilt trips from those in authority.  As followers of Christ we are beholden to no one but God for what we give, but that is a far more demanding position to be in.

So if we put our giving in the hands of God, where does our confidence lie?  It lies in the promise that His storehouses never run out; that He will always provide all we need to do all He wants for everyone He loves.  The real truth is that the seeds were never ours to keep.  When we become selfish with the blessings God provides, we are thieves and robbers, stealing the blessings from others.  Let us give because we have nothing to lose.  Let us do for others because everything has already been accomplished for us through Christ.  Let us be used by God to disperse His blessings.

Lord, help me to live a generous life in light of Your gracious blessings.  May I be used by You to bless others.  Give me eyes to see where it is You would have me give and keep me rooted in Your will.  Amen.


Gardening Tips: It’s About the Harvest

They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish. – Psalms 107:37-38 (NIV)

Sowing seeds is always about the harvest.  There is no purpose to seeding the ploughed ground if we do not expect or work toward a harvest.  The sunflower we planted quite a few months ago has bloomed and begun to wilt.  This is actually a good thing.  The seeds of the sunflower, the part we eat, will not be ready until the flower has died and dried.  That one seed planted in the ground, watered, fertilized and tended will yield a harvest of hundreds, each seed capable of being planted in the ground to begin the process again.

This is the beauty and math of spiritual growth.  As we grow, as the seeds of truth take root and grow in the soil of our hearts, we have seeds to plant ourselves in the lives of others.  But the seeds must be watered, fertilized and tended.  The life of Christ in us is not primarily about taking in truth anymore than gardening is about planting seeds.  The life of Christ is about the harvest of those truths, the fruit of a disciplined life caring for and tending those truths in our hearts and minds.

So how is the garden of your soul?  Are you just taking in seed after seed thinking that every new and profound idea or thought in itself will fix your life?  Are you consciously pursuing the harvest of what has been poured into your life through the work of the Holy Spirit?  Is your life helping others experience a harvest in their hearts and minds?  Are you taking the seeds of your harvest and sharing them with those around you?  This is the beauty and math of spiritual growth.

Lord, help me to be a tender and sower of seeds.  Help me to be disciplined about the truths you plant in my life so that they may bring a harvest that glorifies You.  May my life in You produce seeds for other’s hearts and promote the kingdom of God.  Amen.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Restore My Soul

Wild Garlic in Bloom

My family and I will be at Family Camp this weekend, so I am reposting for this week.  Next week, I will be posting  something I wrote for 9/11 last year.  Please have a safe and sober Labor Day weekend.

Oh Lord you call my name

Like a shepherd in a field.

You use your rod and staff

When my spirit needs to yield

But my ears are deaf with busy noise

And your prodding is ignored

So I wander far from your sweet voice

And my soul is not restored.

Give me ears to hear

Give me eyes to see

I want to be obedient

But I am struck with fear.

I need courage to walk,

I need patience to stay

Restore my soul with living streams

Oh God please draw me near.

Restore my soul,

Restore my soul,

Good shepherd come and lead me home

Restore my soul

Gardening Tips: In Increasing Measure

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 (NIV)

Our sunflower finally bloomed this last week and it was well-worth the wait.  It reached a bit over 9 feet tall and the bloom is about the size of a dinner plate.  I am hoping to get a good amount of seed from the flower head and will be saving some to plant next year.  We had other plants that did not fare as well.  They stopped growing and produced little or no harvest.  To be fair to the plants, it may have been human error that caused their downfall, but they gone nonetheless with nothing left behind.

We do not have the same excuse as the plants.  Just a few verses before the passage above, Peter is clear that God “has given us everything we need.”  If we don’t grow, we have to look at ourselves.  If we don’t keep moving forward, we will move backward.  If we don’t yet have in ourselves all that is Christ, we still have room to grow.  We need everything Christ has for us.

Our sunflower apparently got everything it needed, or at least most everything.  It is strong, healthy and it is bearing fruit.  When we allow ourselves to be “gardened” by God, we will get everything we need; we will be strong, healthy and fruitful.

Lord, help me to be deeply rooted in who You are and what You desire.  May my life bear much fruit as You pour everything I need to be Your servant.  Let me have a life that reflects Your character “in increasing measure.” Amen.

Gardening Tips: Tilling The Soil

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. – Matthew 13:5-6

There is not much that I have eaten in this world the matches a tomato fresh from the vine.  Rich, sweet and tangy, tomatoes have a unique and satisfying flavor.  They are a reward for the hard work.  Growing tomatoes has a different flavor – tough, sour and dirty.  One of the difficulties we have faced growing tomatoes in our neck of the woods is the heat.  This has been a mild summer for us with only a few days reaching over 100 degrees, but it is normal for us to go a week or two of triple digits.  This is not good on tomatoes.

In the parable, the seeds are on rocky soil, but the real issue is that they can’t sink their roots deep enough to get to the water.  There are a lot of variations that can put a tomato plant at risk, but one of the most important is the moisture level in the soil.  No moisture = scorched and shriveled plants.  I wonder if the parable of the seeds is about the importance of discipleship.  I know that raising tomatoes takes a lot of intentional, purposeful and consistent work.  You can’t just drop some seeds on the ground and check in a few weeks later.

Evangelism is a beginning, but is certainly not the end.  In growing tomatoes, as much work goes into preparing the soil as tending the plant once it has sprouted.  The soil has to be the right mix, with nutrients, density and absorbency all coming into play.  If you aren’t going to prep the soil, you can’t expect the right results.  Maybe we need to spend more time preparing the soil than just scattering seed.  Maybe we need to invest intentionally, purposefully and consistently in the lives of those around us who need the Word of God.  Maybe love and grace will change their hearts from jagged rocks to fertile ground.

Lord, help me to be a tiller of soil in the hearts of those you bring my way.  Give me the words to
speak into their lives that will prepare their hearts for Your Word.  May I have a passion for evangelism and a will toward discipleship.  Amen.

Gardening Tips: Follow the Sun

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. – Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

We have attempted a garden this year with some success; zucchinis, tomatoes, butternut squash and others. Each plant has an unique and incredible differences.  One of our biggest and most anticipated is a giant sunflower.  It has reached about 8 feet in height and a single flower is beginning to emerge.  In watching this flower develop, one characteristic stood out; it follows the sun.

This is actually a common trait among many plants, but the sunflower has the amazing ability to reset for the next day.  Once the sun has set, the sunflower turns back to the east to wait for the sun to rise. It isn’t just drawn to the light, but has an expectation of the light returning.

This is a good patern for us to follow as people of God.  We need to keep our eyes on Jesus, but sometimes we lose sight of Him.  The darkness of this world, our situation or even our bad choices block our view of Him.  In those times we need to reset our perception to look with anticipation for His light to shine on us again.  We need to position ourselves to receive His
light and love.  So follow the Son and live in such a way that even when He seems out of sight, you are still living like
He is coming back.  If a sunflower can do it….

The Shepherd and the Sheep: David’s Reality Check

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  – 2 Samuel 12:1-7a (NIV)

David was a shepherd at heart and it was the pasture that prepared him for the tasks God set before him later in life.  He learned to be brave as a shepherd protecting the flock from lions and thieves.  He learned to be watchful to spot strays and the aforementioned predators.  It is likely that the Psalmist developed his gift with song before an audience of sheep.  All of this did not stop David from behaving like the lion and the thief.

David had forgotten too much about caring for the flock and had become what he hated most.  Nathan’s story cut David to the heart quickly and effectively, taking him back to those long days and nights of vigilance and care for the sheep of his father.  I wonder if David thought back on his time guarding those simple animals with bitter tears and regret.  It was undoubtedly one of his lowest moments, but altogether necessary.

We all need a Nathan in our lives who can remind us who we are supposed to be when we are being something else.  God has called us to be sheep and shepherds – to be both led and followed.  David became so defined by his status and position that he forgot who he belonged to and followed his own passions.  He also forgot that he was a shepherd and should have been looking out for Bathsheba and Uriah.  We need to keep both roles in perspective as we move forward in life.

The Good Shepherd leads us with perfect love, so if we follow Him we will always be where He wants us to be and where we need to be.  If our eyes are on the needs of those God has put in our care to shepherd, we will be less defined by the things of this world and more defined by the things of God.  When we are fully trusting in the Good Shepherd to meet all of our needs, we can be used by Him to meet the needs of others.  This is the beauty and power of the flock.  It is the intersection of “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24) and “Take care of my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

Reality is not what we know; it is what we are discovering in our journey with God.  Every now and then we need a reality check like David.  We need to be reminded in a clear and honest way that we are forgetting our place as His sheep.  I pray that I will listen when the shepherd calls.  I pray that I will not begrudge the prods and pulls from His rod and staff.  I pray that I will be a better sheep and in doing so, become a better shepherd.  But thank God for His grace when I don’t.

The Good Shepherd: Tending a Blemished Flock

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NIV)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

Not too long ago, I came home from work to an unhappy wife and a very quiet older daughter.  Missing was the younger daughter, who had locked herself in the bathroom.  I was asked to step in and see if I could extricate the youngling and began working on the lock, little whimpers punctuating my fiddling and tinkering.  The extrication became a little more involved once the door was open.

Big trouble for a little girl.

It was evident that my beautiful little girl had ventured into the world of cosmetology and home décor.  Unfortunately she had done both with the same medium – my wife’s lipstick.  While I could appreciate the artistic flair evident in the strokes of red on the wall, door and daughter, I was pretty sure my wife would not be a fan of the arts that day.  The room and child needed to come out of this experience unblemished.

My little girl didn’t need to be told that what she had done was wrong.  Her tearful demeanor and cowering in the corner were clear indicators that she was afraid of punishment.  We will never know if she was not able to unlock the door, or was too afraid to face mommy and daddy and so refused to unlock the door.  She needed to know that we still loved her, that we were okay.

It is very easy for us to lock ourselves away from God and fear what He will think of us if we open up the door.  Our sin or disobedience can seem so great that we would rather try to hide it away and hope that He will ignore us.  But God is a seeker…He is a good shepherd who finds His sheep wherever they may try to lose themselves.  He is the healer and redeemer, cleansing us of our blemishes so we can stand before Him unashamed.  All it took to clean up that lipstick was soap, time and effort.  For our sin it took the perfect Son of God, coming in the fullness of time and taking our place on the cross of shame and punishment.

I cannot think of anything my daughter could do that would cause me to stop loving her or trying to provide all she needs for this life and the life to come.  In a far better way, God loves us and will not relent in calling us to safe pastures.  He will call us out from behind our locked doors.  He binds up our injuries, self-inflicted or otherwise, and He watches over us with compassion and grace.

The evidence of the lipstick incident is gone.  There are no red stains left behind on door, wall or daughter.  They are unblemished in that regard, but sadly my daughter can still get herself into trouble.  She stops listening to those who would guide her in good directions, and finds herself in trouble again.  It is a beautiful thing to see a lost lamb returned to safe pastures; it is tragic to see that lamb lose her way again and head into harm’s way, but that is the life of parenthood.

Our heavenly Father is no less longsuffering than the best of us.  He watches us as we wander our own way, putting our souls in harm’s way.  Patiently He waits for us to unlock our doors that we try to hide behind.  Gently His voice keeps calling to me with the promise of forgiveness and restoration.  With strength beyond anything we can imagine or understand, He carries us from the “the valley of the shadow of death” to lush pastures and quiet waters.

Do you have any locked doors?  Are there any blemishes on your soul that no one else knows about?  Do you worry about the stains of your past being too deep for the Shepherd to cleanse?  I pray that the love of God, the Good Shepherd, would overcome our fears; that we would heed his voice and enter His rest. I pray that we would learn the beauty and power of being His sheep.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Introduction

A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3

The scriptures are occupied by numerous shepherds.  From Abel, the favored son of Adam, to Abraham wandering from Ur; from Jacob earning the right to marry to Moses learning the right way to lead God’s people, shepherding has been an underlying theme in God’s history with His people.  Why does God hearken to the relationship between shepherd and sheep so often?  Why does He use such ignoble beasts to represent His children?  What does it mean to be people of His pasture?

David wrote psalm after psalm with pastoral themes.  Isaiah’s prophetic writings are strewn with this same imagery.  Ezekiel commits a complete chapter to shepherds and sheep and what God intends for both.  Finally, Jesus reveals Himself as the Good Shepherd to His disciples.  It is obvious that God wants us to get this relationship settled in our minds and hearts.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the more famous scriptures in the world.  It is the lyrical picture of our heavenly shepherd guiding us through life, the terrain of this world, and a reminder of all that the shepherd provides.  David makes the case that the life of the sheep is dependent on the shepherd for sustenance, protection and contentment.

For the next few weeks, we will look at some of these writings on shepherds and sheep and search out ways to be content, secure and fulfilled in the pasture of God’s love, grace and mercy.  We are people in need of a shepherd and the Good Shepherd does not rest in calling his wandering sheep back to the comfort of His care.