Saturday, February 21, 2015

Righteousness defined

Righteousness is one of those words that immediately sounds "churchy". It is assumed that if you're talking about being righteous then you must be the religious and judgmental sort. Immediately those who are concerned with being politically correct make a face akin to eating a Sour Patch Kid.
The word righteousness assumes that there is only one right way of doing things. If there is only one right way then it follows that all other ways are wrong. Well, lots of people are following those wrong ways and don't want to be told they are wrong. They want moral equivalency where everyone can do and think as they please. Righteousness is a slap in the face to that way of living.
A by-the-book definition of righteousness says that it is, "behavior that is morally justifiable or right." That is a broad definition of a word that, at its root, was never intended to be that far reaching. The Greek root was much more precise: what is deemed right by God. Righteousness is not a matter of opinion or personal preference. God has established what is right. He alone is the author of righteousness.
So it would be natural to ask the question, so how does God define righteousness? Whether or not it is a popular concept, righteousness is not a human creation. It is God ordained and God designed. to understand God's meaning and intent for righteousness we must look to His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ.
Beginning in the very first book of the Bible God begins explaining and showing what true righteousness is all about. He showed us through Joseph and Moses. Although they weren't perfect, far from it, they sought God's guidance and His forgiveness when they acted disobediently. Daniel was a picture of that same hunger and thirst for more of God, the creator and author of righteousness.
But all of these men fell short. They were imperfect pictures of living a Godly life. It is only Jesus Christ who could show us true righteousness and provide a way for us to live in His footsteps.
Many religions look at Jesus as a nice example, a friendly, kind, upright man who is to be admired. But the Bible makes it clear that He is infinitely more than a good example. Jesus is our salvation, our only redemption from unrighteousness, our only path way to justification. Jesus not only shows us how to live but He makes it possible for us to live according to the righteousness as it is defined by God. Through His sacrifice as the perfect Son of God He made our justification possible. It is only a perfect lamb that could save such a fallen, unrighteousness, sinful people. And that lamb is Jesus.
Only Jesus is perfect in righteousness. To be found righteous in the eyes of God we must be one with Jesus. We must die to self and be hidden in Christ to be hidden in His righteousness and His justice. Trying to do the right thing and live "morally" isn't enough. We will always fall short and we will never reach perfection. Our hope is found in the saving grace of Jesus who is perfect, spotless, blameless and always righteous. When we come to know the salvation of Jesus Christ then our eyes are opened to the wickedness of our hearts and the depravity of our morality. Compared to Jesus we are terrible, wretched and sinful. We need to be cleansed by His redeeming blood so that we can be showered in His righteousness and true morality.
As the song goes, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly trust in Jesus name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."
Our hope, our morality and our righteousness is not found in our own goodness or our own human striving. It is found in Christ alone where true righteousness has been bought with the blood of our perfect Savior.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fear versus faith

"Lord if it's you...tell me to come to you on the water." (Matthew 14:28)
Those were the words of Peter spoken to Jesus. This exchange occurred while Peter was in a boat with his fellow disciples. They looked out on the water and saw a man approaching by foot, walking atop of the water. Suffice it to say this cowardly group of men were scared silly. They thought they were looking at a ghost. Jesus quickly put their fears to rest with the reassurance, "It is I."
Still apparently Peter was slightly skeptical. He told Jesus that he would come out on the water only if it was really Jesus. Well of course it was Jesus and of course He bid Peter to walk out onto the water.
Peter stepped out of the boat. He got that first part right. He took the first, critical step of faith but then he felt the wind and saw the waves and he was gripped by fear. As one version of this Biblical account states, "his courage caught in his throat." And we know what happened next. He started to sink. In that moment of terror Peter called out to God, "Master, save me!" Peter was all in for a walk on the water while he was in the boat but once he stepped out and felt the ocean's waves and fierce winds he panicked. Although Jesus was right there in front of him, Peter let the his mind's worries and concerns get the best of him.
Jesus reached out a hand and saved Peter. But he had a word for him too, "Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt and dance back and force between following Me and heeding fear?"
Peter doesn't seem to respond. Maybe that is because he was rendered speechless in humiliation and shame. Jesus was right there in front of him, standing effortlessly on top of the water while the winds whipped around yet He was not sinking. The Lord who Peter had watched heal the sick, drive out demons and feed thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish, was right there, visible and telling Peter to come out of the boat and onto the water. Peter had every reason to trust that Jesus could keep him from sinking. Jesus had already proven that He was capable and willing to perform miracles. Keeping Peter afloat was not a challenge for Jesus. Yet when a gust of wind came Peter's faith was blown away.
When I read about Peter's lack of faith on the water I want to yell out, "Peter, stop flailing around! Get a grip! Jesus is right there, what do you have to worry about?" 
And then I pause and realize how hypocritical it is of me to point a finger at Peter while I have succumbed to the same fear and sunk into an ocean of my own worries and concerns more times than I can count. A little fear, even just a momentary concern, soon becomes an overpowering wave, submerging me in a pool of doubt.
Peter was confident in Jesus until he was confronted with challenges. Then his faith faltered. He could have looked to Jesus and ignored the waves and wind. He could have said to the buffeting forces of nature, "You are no match for the Lord!" But he didn't say any of those things. He started to panic, started to flail and thrash about and before he knew it, he began to sink.
It is so easy to see the error in Peter's ways. He should have remained faithful and trusted that the Lord who called him out of the boat would keep him safe and above the waters. But Peter didn't trust and didn't keep the faith. Peter flailed.
Waves are going to buffet the believer. Anyone who steps out of the boat to follow Jesus is going to come under the siege of wind, rushing waters and foreboding clouds .  But if Jesus has called you,  He will sustain you. The Lord who healed with a touch of His hand, rose from the dead and is coming back again has the power to sustain you and me through the roughest storms of our lives if only we will keep the faith. God will keep us afloat. He will protect us from the winds and the waves. We never need to ask God if He will save us, He has already assured us He can and He will. The question is, will we put our faith in Him and be saved?
Winds will come and waves will hit us, yet with an abiding faith in Jesus Christ we need not fear that we will sink into the abyss. By the power of His mighty hand and everlasting mercy He will keep us afloat if we will keep our trust in Him alone.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tangles, snarls and scissors

My three oldest nieces have long, full, curly heads of hair. Their curls range from curly Q's to soft waves but all are thick and full of volume. And often times, full of tangles. Those crazy snarls are the plight of the curly haired. Just like a rose has thorns, bouncy curls have tangles.
It used to be that my precious nieces turned into temper-tantrum throwing beasts when it came time to comb their hair. Just the sight of the plastic hair tool sent them running in the opposite direction, in search of the closest room with a lock. The daily ritual of combing out the huge snarls became so tedious that at some point their Mom threw in the towel altogether and let them live with a bed of tangles under the top layer of combed beauty.
But someday, all tangles must dealt with - be it in the hair on our heads or the webs we weave in our lives, tangles can't go on forever. The longer we ignore them the more severe the process of removal.
Just recently one of my nieces faced this stark reality when a tangle in her hair went without being untangled for so long that the only recourse was removal by scissors. A trip to the hair salon later and her snarls were only a memory, replaced with a shorter, smoother new style.
As with hair's tangles, life's tangles are best addressed early, before they grow out of control and need to be removed by force - or large scissors. Tangles never go away on their own. Time without detangled only creates more a knotted, matted mess.
The same is true with the tangles and knots of sin. Sin left unreported and unresolved leads to a life  full of tangles and unruly knots. The removal process will only grow more taxing, tedious and painful with time. The bigger the knot, the longer we let that sin grow unchecked, the bigger of an ordeal it will be to remove it.
The only way to resolve the snarled mess of sin is to seek Christ, the "hairdresser of the soul and master of the scissors." He can break the chains of entanglements and restore spirits to a condition better than ever before. God might have to snip and clip to remove sin and waywardness but the results will always be the perfect cut.
From now on when I get a tangle I'm letting God take care of it with a comb before He has to go in with the scissors. I want to wear the style of forgiveness, renewal and redemption, not sin, rebellion and shame. With God as my stylist I need never live with the snarls of sin.