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Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’

the tenWhat is your take-away in the negotiation between Abraham and the 3 “angels” about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Abraham: Please don’t be angry, Lord, at my boldness. Let me ask this just once more: suppose only ten [righteous people] are found?
Eternal One: For the sake of only ten [righteous people], I still will not destroy it [the city]. [Genesis 18:32, The Voice]

And there it is, the ultimate question and answer, “Will God sweet away the righteous with the wicked?” Those who study the end times have all kinds of scenarios about the final destruction, the great apocalypse. But in the end, don’t we really wonder, would God cast all away in one full sweep? Abraham wondered the same thing.

The answer was that God would save the city for the sake of the ten . . . but ten could not be found.

Ten could not be found.

How many are enough to save the Earth? or our nation? or continent? Will God stay the hand of destruction for the sake of the beloved? Am I one? Am I enough to make a difference in my world’s fate?

followershipToday, at our church’s “Code Red Revival,” the last of our guest speakers [Daniel McNaughton, from his book, Learning to Follow Jesus] laid out a clear context in which any believer must be operating in the world:

  • Learn to be with Jesus (like any mentor and mentee relationship, you must hang out together).
  • Learn to listen (it takes practice to hear God and there are many places where that can happen: in a large group like a church setting; in a small group like a bible study or micro-church; in a one-on-one relationship with another person; or simply alone with God).
  • Learn to heal (for this is modeled by the Christ and healing is promised, whether physical-mental-relational).
  • Learn to influence (being the salt of the earth or light in a dark place).
  • Learn to love (for God is love and until we step toward people in love, even those we “hate,” nothing changes).
  • Learn to pray (it is a dialogue built on respect and trust in which we can intersect with the divine).
  • Learn to manage God’s resources (work with the gifts we are given, now and along the way).

This is how we can  be one of the ten or twenty or 10,000. Thanks be to God.

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We are living within patterns and cycles. Nature teaches about the seasons; each year the same and yet each year different, affected by a combination of forces, some human-made, some divine.

harvestLove and faithfulness meet together;
    righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
    and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
    and our land will yield its harvest. [Psalm 85:10-12, NIV]

Here’s how I imagine this verse playing out: love and faithfulness are the human response. Out of the meeting of love (unconditional love, that is), faithfulness springs forth. What is faithfulness but trust and dependability and truth. Love is the ground from which these are born. Righteousness is the yardstick that emanates from God. It is only in God that righteousness and peace can dwell and prosper together. But here is the promise in this verse: as our love and faithfulness grow here in this three-dimensional world, God sees and we are blessed.

But what then is the harvest that God is blessing? I remember an old friend was adamant that a believer “bearing fruit” meant bringing more and more people to the Christ. I always felt like he was notching his spiritual guns. But today, I find myself leaning to a different understanding.

The harvest is the result of seeds planted, tended, and reproducing themselves. Wheat makes more wheat. Apple seeds make more apples. I am not a single seed but many. All humans are a composite. We see some of our reproduction capabilities in our families. If we are bitter, we bear more bitterness. If we are selfish, we teach the same (most often by example). But, if I love, then love is born in others. If I am faithful, a synergy is created like an unstoppable wave. Love and faithfulness are the strongest and most powerful forces and yet, the least appreciated. Instead, we have cheapened love to mean sex and heaped faithfulness with a list of exit clauses and “what ifs.”

These are the ones to practice and nurture: love and faithfulness and then righteousness and peace will pour down like rain.

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integrityEveryone around me appears so sure that the Bible is a clear exposition of right and wrong, but I say it is also full “gray areas.” Tamar, betrayed by her husband’s father and brothers, tricks the father into sleeping with her. She conceives a child by him and when she is found out is called a harlot until Judah fesses up to the deed. Then she is proclaimed righteous.

Genesis 38:25-26a
As she was being brought out [to be burned to death], she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.” Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I . . .

I understand the concept since the law of that era proclaimed that the brothers should sleep with the widow to procure children in the dead brother’s name and provide a future for the widow. Without sons to protect her, she would be cast out into the street. She would be homeless unless her own family would take her in. It was a complex solution to a societal problem — widows.

Tamar did not have many–or perhaps I should say ANY–resources to repair the damage done by Judah’s offspring. Those brothers intentionally withheld from her what she needed: the seed to create a man-child who would care for her in her old age. They, by not participating honestly in the practice, condemned her. For this, they were undoubtedly killed. They were violating basic human rights, and worse, female rights, of which there were few.

Judah withheld the third and youngest son for fear he would be killed, since he didn’t really know why, only that relations with Tamar brought death. Oh, he promised her the boy when he came of age, but it never happened.

So, Tamar pretends to be a temple prostitute.

In today’s world, this is just another soap opera or bodice ripper romance. This is the clever woman making the man own up to his responsibilities. All true. But in her world? She was taking a huge risk. All that Judah had to do, in the moment of reveal, was deny the “pledge” he gave her belonged to him. This was the same Judah, remember, who just participated in the sale of his brother Joseph.

Judah did the right thing, despite himself.

And this is the message for me then. I can always choose rightly today, even if I chose poorly yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. I can do a reversal. I can do the right thing.

In that act of bravery, God can show up. God can make the switch. God is in the now.

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The Enliven Project (on sexual violence)

The Enliven Project (on sexual violence)

There’s a part of me that appreciates the anger and determination to make things right after the rape of Dinah. In today’s news, there was a report on the percentage of rapes reported out of a 1000 (5-25%), prosecuted (9 – not percent, but a number), and of the 9, only 5 become felony convictions. (See Enliven Project) And yet. . .

Genesis 34: 13a, 15, 25

Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully . . . We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. . . .  Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male.

And this is always the challenge when confronting our personal sense of betrayal with God’s. It’s not that God cannot work decisively in the face of evil (note Sodom and Gomorrah), but the point here is that God prefers having the vindication God’s way.

“But, but, but” I say, “Your way is so slow. I want to see the revenge. I want to feel it. I want to bathe in it. It’s my right. Isn’t it? Isn’t it? Is it?”

When humans take on the role of avenger, we tend to overdo it. After 9/11, we raped a country in the name of weapons of mass destruction. And in the end, more were lost, including our own. Evil is portrayed throughout history and every push back takes us one more step closer to annihilation. Soon, I’m sure, the next payback will be nuclear. And what then?

Whether it’s on a world scale or a personal exoneration, we will not handle it well. Even our court system has gotten all muddled up and in the name of fairness, the guilty go free because one lawyer was craftier than the other.

We are all still living Romeo and Juliet or the Hatfields and McCoys.

Yesterday, my pastor at Restore Church, talked about people being the “Sin Police.” We judge and demand, we compare and we condemn. All in the name of righteousness. It’s not a good plan.

Will God avenge the good? Is God sovereign? Can God operate even in this mucked up generation? I believe. But I have to make room for the ways of God.

“There is a way that seems right to a man [human], but in the end it leads to death.” [Proverbs 14:12]

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Any change, any redirection, any assessment of the present requires a stop. Plain and simple.

Isaiah 1:16b-17
. . . stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

When our high energy Boston Terrier, Rocky, is over the top and we are trying to settle him down, it has to be cold turkey. We have to stop throwing the toy or stop engaging him in any way. That little dog is addicted to the high of chase and retrieve. He is not able to stop himself. He would probably keel over in exhaustion before he would stop if we didn’t make him stop.

There are stories in the human world that are not that different. They call it intervention.

So, based on this scripture, here’s the way it might work:

  1. Stop doing what you’re doing.
  2. Learn a better way.
  3. Seek justice.

It makes sense really because the process of learning a different way or better way to act, behave, operate in our world will reveal the injustices that proliferate in our society. The better way is littered with the shredded souls who tried and failed, who went back to the old way, who could not master themselves or the demands of change.

Everyone needs help after the stop. Just the learning alone is treacherous.

My daughter is an ESOL (English as a Second Language) learner. Even after 5 1/2 years in this country, she struggles with the nuance of the language and the vocabulary that is unique to a variety of subjects. But, she is determined all the same. She stopped the downhill pull in high school and decided she would attend community college. But the challenges did not stop. And as she plugs along, she has experienced unfair treatment and mockery by students and teachers alike. We are working together to remedy this, but it’s a slog.

In the bigger picture, Isaiah writes, once the path toward justice is found, then we are strengthened and we can take what we have learned about stopping, learning and seeking justice to reach out to others, those others oppressed by the powerful, the disengaged, the blind proud.

Orphans are at particular risk. Without love, how do they survive? What choices will they make to get what they can get, to show the world, to play the odds.

Jesus said the poor will always be with us [Matthew 26:11], but must the orphans be relegated to this statement as well?

If every family of moderate means or every single adult would adopt just one orphan, what would happen? Start there. We are without excuse in this country. Even if we don’t have the courage or interest in the orphans of the world, shouldn’t we, at the least, adopt our own?

In Old Testament times, the poor of the poor were the widows. So much depended on the willingness of families and children to care for them, but often, they could not. There was no legal provision for them. And although most widows fair much better in our society financially (unless there was nothing to begin with), they are still in need of emotional support. I know I have stumbled here as well, intending to reach out, but getting too caught up in my own world.

Isn’t that the way of it? My own world, my little sphere, my own boundaries.

Isn’t it time to just stop and take a breath, to look around myself, to assess the way, to learn something new?

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I am not very good at waiting for the fruit of anything. I am a product of my culture and generation. I want it now. But faith in the good ending of a situation is the cornerstone of hope and takes time.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

It takes practice to believe in the good end despite the circumstances. It also takes experience. The more personal examples I have of God’s reliability, the easier it is to trust God the next time.

And, apparently, each instance of my faith and hope in God, lays a path for others to follow. That is a by-product of my journey, my willingness to hold my hand to the plow.

I live in northern Maryland near the Pennsylvania line and a few times a year, we take a trip up into the Lancaster area where many Amish communities have evolved. I really enjoy watching the spring planting season as the men work the ground with teams of horses or mules and plows. It’s clearly hard work but it is also a kind of dance. Like any farmer, these men are trusting that their labor will bear a plentiful harvest. Outside forces can impact their efforts, but they still carry on, believing that all will be well.

A God follower is similar to these farmers, willing to cultivate the land of human, believing the ground can be tamed, seeds can grow and new life can flourish.

But, like the farmer, this process is long and painstaking. I cannot rush through it. Just as plants grow on their own timetable, so do souls.

In the Amplified translation of this verse, righteousness is expanded to mean “conformity to God’s will in purpose, thought, and action, resulting in right living and right standing with God.” This is true human and this is the harvest we are intended to pursue here on Earth. And with this relationship comes peace within.

This is the promise, the ultimate fruit of discipline.

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It’s the verbs and they all say the same thing: persist, persevere, adhere, apply oneself, carry on, conduct, continue, cultivate, engage in, hold to, keep on, maintain, perform, ply, practice, proceed, prosecute, see through, tackle, work at . . . This is Christ-based engagement.

II Timothy 2:22b
. . . pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Righteousness, faith, love and peace are the foundations of our faith walk (and if we were honest about it, these are roots to most faiths in the matter of behaviors). They are essential to “human.” If I could live out righteousness (and I love how the Amplified defines this: “all that is virtuous and good, right living, conformity to the will of God in thought, word, and deed”), build my faith (and trust) in a truly sovereign God, love others as the sacred souls they are, and promote peace in my circle of influence, my world would be different. I would be a change agent and like a pebble thrown into a pond, the circle would expand.

Influence comes out of authentic living in the Christ.

But all of this kind of talk is so general, it’s a concept, it’s knowledge, but what will it look like today? When I enter the “prayer of examen” (as Richard Foster writes in his book, Prayer), will I recognize the words and actions of any of these four pillars? Can I be more mindful today that I was yesterday or the day before? Can I be conscious in my choices?

Each day, I spend time in confession, asking God to forgive me my missteps, my harsh words, my judgmental thoughts. But, can I as well, give thanks for those other times, those times I actually connected with the Holy Spirit in a viable and observable way? That would be a good thing.

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