Life’s Key

Someone asked me recently a good question: How is a person’s righteous life is portrayed and or protected with the Word of God?” 

For me, there are two cap-stone statements in the Word of God that encapsulate what God sets as the standard of righteousness. Psalm 1 and Mark 12: 29-32 seems to be two of most concise statements in the Bible for understanding for what God sees as being righteous. What men make up as being righteous is just that … what men make up. It has no bearing on the real eternal standard that can only be set by our Creator. Jesus said at one point in His ministry to some religious leaders “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” [Mark 7:8] How much time we spend reading and studying the Bible, how much we volunteer in the church, whether we lead a home group or not, how much we pray or how much we give; these are all gauges set by people to judge other people and make ourselves feel better or more important or more righteous.

To me the question is never “how much” religious works am I doing but rather “how engaged” am I with Jesus. Is my focus on the expectations of Jesus or religious people?

According to Psalm 1 there are only two ways of living: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. God makes it clear throughout the Scriptures that it is the distinctness of God’s Word is to bring to life in the believer righteous as God expects. Two great principles are revealed: (1) the importance and absolute focus on the Scripture, and (2) the necessity for our character to be changed, our stability to be founded on God’s Word; it is all about who makes the Scriptures the core of our lives.

Our lives reflect either negatively or positively how we respond to God, our spouses, our children, our co-workers and our neighbors. Check out the use of stark contrasts. The writer of this Psalm emphasizes by contrast, what we ought not to be doing to what the godly [righteous] do. There are only two ways of living. We can live stable lives and bless others or we can live unstably and face judgment for our choice. The choices we make each and every day reflect either negatively or positively our character and destiny.

There is lots of wisdom to be gained in listening to what God tells us. Psalm 1 declares in just a few words some of the most basic but profound truths about the standard of righteous as set by God. How do you measure up?

Shake off your religion

When you think of the church, have you ever ask yourself this question: “Are you in relationship with a person or with an organization?” As with any relationship, there is always the opportunity for misunderstanding, hurt, neglect and abuse. Sometimes it is intentional and sometime not. The thing that pushes people away from God is not isolated to just one thing. It is like trying to pull apart a hairball. [Thanks Jason for that illustration!] The problem with religion is that it was a good thing that went wrong a long time ago. It comes down to four basic issues.

With religion there is the issue of “us and them” or whether one is “in or out.” Jesus encountered this when the religious leaders of his day asked “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders?” In other words, how come you and your group do not do things as we do them. We are right and you are wrong. You are out while we are on the inside.

Religion can also create the problem of power. Power equals control and is too easily turned into manipulation. How often have you heard a TV evangelist tell their audience that they just send in money they will be blessed by God. I heard one man tell his audience that they would just send in handkerchief to him he would blessed it and return it to the sender; and God in turn would bless them in answer prayer all for a small donation.

The problem of righteousness scale is a problem of trying to keep certain commandment to please either a group of people or to please God. It becomes a thing of judgment if you fail to keep those certain requirements. Who is keeping track of the ‘righteous scale.’ Is it a church group? Jesus made a startling statement when he said to the religious leaders “Truly I say to you that tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.” In Jesus day, tax collectors were the scum of the earth. They were Jewish people who worked for the enemy, the Roman oppressors. They were hated and seen by their own people as traitors of the worst sort. But here’s the point of what Jesus was saying. Tax collectors and prostitutes were generally not proud of their professions. They knew they were not living a life that would be pleasing to God. And when Jesus confronted them they were humble. The people that were not humble or those that thought they were living a righteous life. They were proud of their ability to keep the law and were not of the worse sort, tax collectors and prostitutes. And because of that pride their heart was closed to God when Jesus appeared on the scene. You might want to read the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. It will give you insight into the difference between prideful righteousness and humility that God seeks.

And then there’s the problem of just simply missing the point. When we’re missing the point we are spending more time obeying and loving what men have set up as the right thing to do rather than loving God and our neighbors. Being legal is more important than loving others. And interestingly enough the world is not becoming less religious but more religious. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day they were setting aside the guidelines of God to follow the guidelines of men. They were setting aside what God wanted in order to keep their traditions.

One reason people adopt following a religion and not a relationship with Jesus has to do with humility. Following a religion and being part of ‘in crowd’ can give us a false sense of security, all in the name of worshipping God. Jesus said “whoever exalts himself will eventually be humble; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” So if you turned your back on religion for whatever reason, that’s a good thing. Now start afresh and go seek out Jesus. Abandon fear, fighting, control, wall building and just simply trust Jesus. He is far superior to religion.

Too Long?

Did you know that Psalm 119 has 10 synonyms for the word of God? Having lived three score and 10+ years I can honestly say that the Bible is God’s medicine chest for me. It contains every medicine I will ever need to cure any spiritual disease I might have. Check out these synonyms:

Way: a particular course or direction set for us to follow.

Law: a rule of conduct or procedure to govern me along the right way.

Testimonies: evidence from real people in real situations telling me how to live in story form.

Precepts: a principle that takes precedent over cultural norms of society that helped mold me.

Commands: directions given with irreversible authority directly telling me how to live.

Statutes: guidance from the collection of rules established by God’s authority.

Judgments: a testing my faith to strengthen it.

Word: speaking to my heart by the Holy Spirit comfort and contentment.

Righteousness: setting a standard for me, that if I apply, will set me living without guilt or sin.

Truth: the supreme reality; the ultimate meaning and value of existence.

There are 162 verses in Psalms 119 and many have said that is just way too long. Robert D. Foster tells this story about Psalm 119:

“The Bishop of Edinburgh, unwilling to yield to the king of England, found himself on the hangman’s scaffold availing himself to the custom of the times, he was permitted the choice of a song to be sung before his death. He selected Psalm 119. Before two-thirds of the song had been sung, a pardon arrived and his life was spared.” [The Challenge, January 1, 2007] Sometimes longer is life-saving!

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” (2 Timothy 3:14-17 MSG)

Summary Statement

How do we develop a right state of mind in balancing life. How do we balance our heart between earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus tells us clearly that we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  [Matthew 6:33 NIV]

The kingdom of God” is the focus of Jesus’ when He gave the Sermon on the Mount. Now He is summarizing all that He has talked about and illustrated to those who would listen. God is erecting in this fallen world His kingdom. And “His righteousness” is the goal He wants to establish in us. It is a choice that we will make whether we will direct our lives in pursuit of our lives or His life in us.  If we are seeking of God’s kingdom and His righteousness “first” then everything becomes subordinate to what God is doing. We will be seeking His will and His holiness before and above all else.

Christ followers are on a different path than those outside of the Kingdom of God. Jesus introduced this revolutionary thought with this fact as a reference point: “For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you.” [Mat 6:32]A good illustration of this spiritual principle can be seen in the conversation between God and King Solomon. Let’s listen in. Solomon requested, “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people.” Then he asked, “Who is able to govern this great people of yours?” God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king,  therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” [2CH 1:10-12]

He has control over all things, and He can give you what you need. He will give you what he deems best for you. Here are some questions that will help assess just where the balance is in our life.

1. What comes First in allocating my time.

2. What is First in getting my attention.

3. What is First in my desires?

4. Where is the major portion of my energies spent?

This is an age-old problem. Here are what some others have said about the balance in their lives.

You were made for God; to love him, to serve him, to praise him, to live in fellowship with him, to do and to bear his holy will. [Adaption of Westminster Confession]

“Seek that, to which other things are necessarily connected.” [Old Jewish saying]

“Do not be anxious about the supply of your needs, whether of body, mind, or heart. God knows what you need. If He has given life, will He not maintain it? Does He not care for the birds and flowers? Did He not give His Son, and will He withhold any good? Trust Him and be at peace.” [F.B. Meyer]

“Happy are those who take the Lord for their God, and make full proof of it by trusting themselves wholly to his wise disposal.” [Matthew Henry]

“Christ tells us that there is a true order of human endeavor, and that when that order is followed all the lesser concerns of human life find sufficient and unfailing guarantee.” [Great Texts of the Bible]

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” [Apostle Paul, Romans 14:17 -18 NIV]

May we have the same mind-set of seeking wisdom and knowledge as did Solomon and follow the prescription that Jesus gave us. It is our choice. It is always our choice.

Whom am I kidding?

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:20 ESV]

Until we allow God to talk to us and reveal our true selves, we tend to think that we have got it right. We want to believe that we are going to be in a better place when we die. A religious leader said this week something to the effect that it does not matter if you are a Christian as long as you do the right thing dictated by your conscious.

Here is what my conscious told me before I encountered Jesus. My righteousness consisted in outward ceremonial observances of Christmas and Easter. They offered sacrifices, fasted often. I prayed, was baptized, and gave tithes, and copied the ceremonies of others who I thought were religious. But I neglected justice in my judgment of others, I told the truth as it suited me for the circumstance, held purity toward church people but lust in the heart, and there was no room for holiness of heart as God intended.

To say that my righteousness was very defective would be an understatement. I was concerned with an external observance of religion. In no way did my faith arise from a purified heart. My life knew nothing of the principles of grace. I attended church to either impress some girl, obey a parent or to look for new friends. There was no sincerity with a view to the glory of God. When I helped in leadership of a youth group, it was for my own applause. I thought that I was doing the right things … I was following my conscience in order to obtain eternal life. But I was wrong.

My conscious minded only the outside things. God showed me that I must make my conscience aware of inside godliness. I aimed at the praise and applause of men, but Jesus showed me that I must aim at acceptance with God and that was something that only He could provide me through death on the Cross. I was proud of what I did religiously, and trusted that it would be sufficient as righteousness with God. God explains to us that when we have done all that our conscious tells us, that is not enough. We must deny our conscious, and humbly trust only to the righteousness of Christ. That is how we may go beyond the scribes and Pharisees.



Things are not what they seem … Part Four

“Seek first … His righteousness …” [Matthew 6:33 ESV]

You noticed yesterday that I used the phrase “invade my purity.” If I am to be effective in God’s kingdom, I need to grasp His divine provision in striving for purity. Jesus specifically calls us to seek out ‘His righteousness’ and not our own. We are not to try and seek personal righteousness. God has no interest in our cleaning ourselves up before seeking Himself. Jesus makes it clear that God is the only One who is righteous. It is He who is not only powerful but also sets the standard for qualities of purity, holiness and righteousness. We are to seek God’s righteousness as a discipline.

My oldest son Tim and I went on a 5-day road trip from Alaska to Tennessee. While traveling we made numerous stops for gas and potty breaks. There was always the temptation to raid the chips and candy aisles during the stop. But chips and candy only temporally satisfy. To find nutritional meals, we had to seek another place that offers something other than Snickers, Skittles, and Sour Worms. You could say that God’s provision is not found at convenience stores offering items for temporary pleasure.

 Dr. Steve Andrews wrote this: “The Bible says in James 4:3, “You ask and don’t receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure.” This world has a lot to offer, but it does not provide what we need. Matthew 6:33 is not a “name it and claim it” promise for God to give you anything you desire. … God promises to meet legitimate needs of those who seek Him and His righteousness. Through seeking the face of the One who is “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we experience the generosity of His mighty hand to meet needs that reflect God’s righteousness.”

I often wonder at my failure in the heat of the moment to understand and apply the promises of my heavenly Father. God made an incredible promise to care for us with greater concern than the flowers and the birds. He also instructed us on where and how to find His provision. “But, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be provided for you.”