It’s not about religion.

“People must have righteous principals in the first, and then they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.” – Martin Luther

What do you think of when you hear the word righteous? Positive or negative? We cringe when we think of those who wear their “righteousness” like a badge of honor. Wanting to make sure we all know how good they are. They’re not usually fun to be around. And, yet, we know we’re supposed to be “righteous”.

According to the Bible, true righteousness is living ethically and morally, but , , ,

. . . does not call attention to itself

. . . is not about keeping a list of rules

. . . is not competitive

. . . is humble

. . . is attractive to others

. . . serves

. . . shows compassion

. . . points to attention to God

Jesus used the Pharisees of his day as bad examples of right living. They kept a lot of rules – 613 commands, in fact, and they tried to make sure everyone else kept them, too. They prayed long prayers for show. They made sure everyone knew when they were fasting. They gave to the poor only when they knew others were watching. That’s hypocrisy – not righteousness.

That’s why Jesus told his followers, who admired the Pharisees’ religious fervor, that their righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of these leaders. The disciples realized Jesus’ demand was an impossible goal until they began to understand that the righteousness Jesus talked about couldn’t be earned. It would be a gift – from him.

True righteousness never seems so. If we’re humble, righteousness fits like a beautiful garment and attracts people to us. We don’t show off our goodness, instead, we show them Jesus, the only source of true righteousness.


He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8

Sing me a song.

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.” Martin Luther

Does your church sing praise songs? Probably. Hymns? Those, too, I imagine. I have some favorites such as “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” and “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” I would think that, by now, you’re thinking of your favorites, too.

But, there are times when I am going through my day and I just want to sing a song to Jesus. Sometimes I choose the standard fare from church, but there are other times when only a good old-fashioned love song will do. Here’s one I’m singing to him lately:

“This is where I want to be, here with you so close to me –
until the final flicker of life’s ember.”
*

It says so much: I like having him close. I want to stay in that space where I can sense his presence until the day I die.

Then there I times that I imagine he sings to me, too – maybe something like this one:

“Call me, don’t be afraid you can call me. Maybe it’s late, but just call me.
Call me and I’ll be around.
“**

A friend confided recently, “Sometimes I sing him songs – and not always the ones I Iearn in church.” I found out there was someone who showed love to Jesus in the same way I do. How about you? He might like to hear a love song from you right now!

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.”
– Psalm 13:5-6

*From “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars,” written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Gene Lees

**From “Call Me,” written by Aretha Franklin

Getting to Know Him

“There is no peace like the peace of those whose minds are possessed with full assurance that they have known God, and God has known them, and that this relationship guarantees God’s favor to them in life, through death and on for ever.” – J. I. Packer

What does God feel when he looks at you? Approval? Frustration? Does thinking about that help you grow spiritually? Probably not. I propose that our personal and spiritual growth is not so much about what God sees when he looks at us as it is about what we see when we look at him.

If we focus on earning God’s approval, we try self-improvement schemes: looking good, behaving well, getting over bad habits, and trying to love everyone! That’s a lot of work and we’ll never be better people just by trying harder.

The first step, of course, is accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow him. After that, it’s about learning to know God – as he reveals himself in the Bible, in times of prayer, and through wise and mature Christian teachers and writers. When we see his heart, we realize he’s pleased with us already. He knows we will fail and, when we turn to him, he forgives every time. And when he does, he begins to change us. It’s his work, not ours.

So instead of anxiously trying to earn God’s approval, let’s just get to know him. Most of us have some incorrect perceptions of him that need to be fixed. So let’s put our energy into learning who he is and responding to his heart. When we know him, we will love him, and our efforts to please him will be out of love, not fear.

 “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness . . .” – Exodus 34:4

He kept walking.

“When Jesus set his face to walk the Calvary road, he was not merely taking our place; he was setting our pattern.” – John Piper

Jesus knew what was coming. He told his disciples he was going to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, tried, and crucified. After three days he would rise from the dead. Jesus knew what had to take place if he was going to be the Savior of the world. So, “. . . he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The walk from Capernaum was nearly 80 miles long. Lots of time to think about what was about to happen. But he didn’t waver. He pointed himself toward Jerusalem and kept walking. He stopped to heal people along the way – then kept walking. He stopped to eat and sleep, and then kept walking. Resolute. Pointing toward his own death. Never turning back.

What was he thinking about? We get a clue from this passage: “. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1b-2).

He kept walking because, at the other end of agony, there would be joy. Joy at doing the Father’s will. Joy in bringing salvation to the people of the earth. He did it for joy.

Are you facing health issues? Family problems? Emotional trauma? Financial setbacks? Work stress? Do what Jesus did. Keep walking, knowing he has a plan for you, knowing the end result is in his hands, resting in his promises of presence, power, and joy. Don’t give up. Keep walking. That’s what Jesus did!

” . . . for the joy that was set before him. . .” – from Hebrews 12:2

NOTE: Original walking concept from Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders

Come closer.

“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is he himself we have.” – D. L. Moody

When God wanted to give Moses the law, he told him to climb a mountain, maybe so he could separate himself from the activity around him and get as close to God as possible while still having his feet planted on earth (Exodus 19:20). On that mountain, he learned God’s ways, received his commandments, and saw his glory.

When Jesus saw a woman who was bent over because of an evil spirit’s influence for eighteen years, he called her to come over to him. He could have healed her from a distance. He could have gone to her himself. But, he stopped walking and invited her to come closer. She did, and she was healed (Luke 13:10-13).

When Jesus went throughout Galilee in his early ministry, he invited people to come to him so they could have rest for their souls (Matthew 11:28).

We see the pattern, don’t we? God does not want to be distant from us. He sent Jesus to bridge that gap and now both the Father and the Son say, in essence, “Come closer. Don’t hide from me. Don’t stand at a distance and call out to me. Just come. Sit at my feet. Listen to my voice. Tell me what you need. Let me love you. I’m waiting for you to move from your place of stress and anxiety and get close enough to me to know me, to trust me, and to receive peace and joy from my hand.”

What are we waiting for?

 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8a

New

“The people of God are not merely to mark time, waiting for God to step in and set right all that is wrong. Rather, they are to model the new heaven and new earth, and by so doing awaken longings for what God will someday bring to pass.” ~ Philip Yancey

It’s a new year. We have celebrated its coming and have lived a few of its days. How’s it going so far? For me, it feels an awful lot like the old year!

God’s idea of new is different from ours. Read Revelation 21 and you’ll see what I mean. He says, “Behold I am am making all things new.” Not just a new page on the calendar. All things new. And the chapter tells us what he means: a new heaven, a new earth, an entirely new way of living. Amazing, right?

As wonderful as that will be, we don’t have to wait until the end of time to experience God’s idea of new. Those who choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to forgiveness of sins and relationship with him experience a newness that begins right then. Immediate goodbye to the frustration of trying to handle everything alone – including not only life’s challenges but also our guilt, regrets, and fears. Instead we greet a new life where we are guided, accepted, forgiven, and secure forever.

Once we begin to follow Jesus, we live a new and renewed life every day – one filled with anticipation, adventure, God’s presence, and, sometimes, his surprises.

Let’s not settle for a new year when we can have a new life!

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” – Romans 6:4

Countercultural

“Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.”– Philip Yancey

During this Advent season, we think about Jesus coming to this earth to walk among humans in a world that was unsettled at best. What do we learn by observing his sojourn on our planet?

In a world whose leaders were angry at him for doing good, he was angry at sin.

In a world filled with selfishness, he served with kindness.

In a world of competing voices, he spoke confidently and quietly – often to just a few.

In a world of bullies, he was gentle.

In a world of crowds and chaos, he invited his disciples to come away with him to rest.

In a world that demanded retribution, he was forgiving.

In a world that valued silver and gold, he took pleasure in the sparrows.

In a world of hurry, noise, and threats, he said not to be anxious about anything.

In a world of disparity, he advised a man to sell his possessions and give to the poor.

In a world of homes and families, he had no place to lay his head.

Jesus came to show us how to live in an upside-down world. A world that doesn’t know him or his ways. In a world of despair and depression, he challenges us to live with expectancy and hope and, by doing so, our countercultural lives will point others to him. What better time to do that than when we celebrate his birth?

We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14b

What do you admire?

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.” – 1 Peter 3:15a

Recently the devotional I’m reading asked me to think about what I admired most about Jesus. I had never thought of that before, but it didn’t take me long to have an answer to that question.

We could admire Jesus for a lot of things, couldn’t we?

For his compassion toward people of all walks in life.

For his miracles that restored sight, strength, health, and even life.

For his teaching that amazed even the most educated among his listeners.

For his willingness to leave behind everything comfortable and perfect in heaven to come to a dusty, dirty earth to rescue us from sin.

But what I admire most is his relationship to his Father in heaven. He prayed a lot, talking to the other members of the trinitarian God. He listened for God’s direction. He went to his Father when he was tired, or lonely, or unsure of what to do next. He seemed to gain strength and clarity from that relationship and, above all else, he wanted to please the Father, to do his will – no matter what it cost him.

This kind of exercise is not about getting the “right” answer, but it simply challenges us to think about Jesus – to meditate on who he is, what he did, what he taught, and the spiritual life he offers to all mankind. So, if you want to try it, enjoy the journey. We’re always blessed when we’re thinking about Jesus.

Our Father in heaven, reveal who you are. Set the world right. Do what’s best – as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the devil. You’re in charge! – Eugene Peterson

Need help?

 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. . . For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:12a and 13b

Author Dane Ortland describes a hypothetical scenario whereby a doctor moves to an area of the world among impoverished villages. He sets up a medical clinic, inviting people to come. Do you know what pleases him most? When sick people show up! Especially the very ill, desperate for his care. If only the healthy came to visit, his efforts would be wasted. He’s doing what he came to do only when the sick come.

Ortland goes on to compare this to Jesus’ ministry. He didn’t come for those who felt spiritually healthy. He came for those who were spiritually sick and knew it. He was accused of hanging out with sinners. Of course that’s what he did! They were why he came. Sometimes he didn’t wait for them to come to him. He went out to find them.

Jesus is back in heaven, but his purpose remains: To seek out those of us who know we’re sinful and to welcome us with open arms. When we come, he cleans us up, sets us on our feet, and loves us into the kingdom of God.

We’ve got it wrong if we think we have to get our act together to be able to approach Jesus. Or if we think what we have done is so bad he could never forgive us. He came for people like us – people who know how much they need a new life, a spiritual bath. Only real sinners can experience his real forgiveness.

. . . for the penitent, his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.” – Dane Ortland

The book cited is Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortland

Jesus: Who is he?

But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” – Matthew 16:15a

What would you think if some some simple person with no social standing, home, or education, stood in front of a crowd and said, “I am the light of the world?” That was Jesus in first-century Jerusalem. Who did he think he was? Light of the world? Really?

To Nicodemus he said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me,” and to his disciples, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Why would anyone make these claims?

He said them because he believed he was God incarnate and that his statements were true. If he was not God, then he must have been a delusional narcissist.

There was no narcissism his behavior, though. He interacted with the religious elite and with the lowest sinners. He chose hard-working fishermen and social outcasts to be his closest friends. He healed, he gave his time lovingly even when he was tired. He was patient with his disciples when they didn’t understand or, worse yet, failed him. And he boldly confronted those who abused others.

“Above all, he was unselfish. Nothing is more striking than this. Although believing himself to be divine, . . . he was never pompous. There was no touch of self-importance about Jesus. He was humble.”*

Who do you say he is? An outrageous egotist or God himself? He can’t be both. Your answer to that question matters more than you know.

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.” – C. S. Lewis

*Stott, John R. W. Basic Christianity, pp. 43-44