Sunday, July 14, 2013

Proverbs 21:21 Chasing after righteousness! Part 3

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness

    will find life, righteousness, and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

I’ve been stalling on this final look at Proverbs 21:21, because the whole idea of acts of righteousness gets us into the faith vs. works mind set that I want to avoid. As we’ve already established, our righteousness is not our own. There is nothing we can DO to be made righteous, it’s a gift we receive. However, God tells us to “pursue righteousness,” so how do we practically do that?

God already knows which sheep are His - so He is already seeing us as righteous. But, how is righteousness in us made evident to others? What do we need to DO before men to give honor and glory to God? Indeed, Jesus told us we are to do this:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

What we do - anything we do or say - is for the purpose of bringing glory to God, not to ourselves.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col 3:23-24)

Whether it’s as a mommy to toddlers, as a grandmother, as a friend and neighbor, as a coworker, as a Sunday School teacher, as a window washer - whatever the job is or whatever task we’re given - we need to remember that our primary purpose is to glorify God. So I’m going to put my heart into doing it the best way possible, with integrity, because it is a response of gratitude to God for what He has done for me. My motivation should be love for God, not personal gain or glory.

So it’s NOT faith VS. works. Works are the consequence of salvation not the condition for it. It’s faith demonstrated by works. When Abraham was commended in the “roll call of faith” (Hebrews, chapter 11) it was because he demonstrated his faith by his actions. His actions did not save Abraham - God had already chosen him and had made the covenant with Abraham hundreds of years before the law was given to Moses. But his actions showed the world (including us) that he had faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10)

Active faith requires steps of faith. Making choices all along in our walk with God to BELIEVE Him - that He is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do. Our faith is in Him and our righteousness is His, so we know we’re secure. When we choose to believe Him, and act accordingly, the world will see His righteousness.

Today in church I had a real “Aha!” moment. Our pastor has just started a series on faith, and he reminded us that our faith is fact-based. The object of our faith is the Creator of the universe. So when we are taking steps of faith, whether in the midst of major decisions or trials, or in minor things, we can be confident because our faith is NOT in ourselves, but God!

Now, even though I know that, I have been wavering in a big decision, because I have been lacking confidence in my own abilities. It struck me like lightning today that I DON’T have the abilities - GOD does! Therefore, I can boldly step where I think He’s leading me, because HE is the one who will do it! My righteousness is not my own and neither are my abilities! I am feeling the blessing of the 23rd Psalm:

He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (Psalm 23:3) Thank you, LORD!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Proverbs 21:21 Chasing after righteousness! Part 2

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness
   will find life, righteousness, and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

It is God who wants us to seek righteousness, and this verse is a promise that we will find it. But just what is righteousness? Is it about me doing good works, doing all the right things, and saying all the right words, keeping all the right rituals, going to church faithfully, worshipping in the correct way, tithing the right amount?

No. Righteousness does not come by keeping the law. If we could become right with God by keeping a set of laws, then Christ would not have needed to come save us from sin - we could have saved ourselves! In the book of Galatians, Paul deals with this topic at length (thinking we might study this book next), but he says this fact succinctly:

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:21)

So, it’s not MY righteousness that Proverbs is talking about - it’s God’s righteousness! In his letter to the Romans, Paul affirms the pitiful state of all men before God:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
      no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.  
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

    no one does good,

    not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

And Paul was just reiterating what Isaiah wrote:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6 KJV)

The word for “filthy rags” Isaiah used here was the same as menstrual cloths! Unclean, indeed! No, I cannot depend on my righteousness, for there is none! The only righteousness I have is that which Jesus has imputed to me (which is the big theology word that means He has credited me with HIS righteousness). Jesus has covered my pitiful rags with His beautiful robe of righteousness!

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;

    my soul shall exult in my God,

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;

    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,

    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

The righteousness we seek is not our own, but God’s.

When we receive the gift of salvation from Jesus, when we believe He is the Son of God and God the Son, who died for us, then we receive His righteousness as well. This concept goes all the way back to Abraham, when he first received the promise from God about his offspring:

And he [Abraham] believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Gen 15:6)

Abraham will be our model when we go into how to practically “pursue righteousness” next time.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Proverbs 21:21 Chasing after righteousness

The book of Proverbs is filled with contrasts, comparing the foolish to the wise, the lazy to the industrious, the wealthy to the poor, the proud to the humble, and the wicked to the righteous. Last time we looked at what Proverbs had to say about the wicked. So, naturally, today we turn to what Proverbs has to say about righteousness:

Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness

    will find life, righteousness, and honor. (Proverbs 21:21)

Here is a great promise! I love that it tells us to “pursue righteousness and kindness.” When we pursue something, it speaks of diligence. We aren’t just casually looking for something, but we are actively, with purpose and expectation searching for it. There is a sense of urgency. It’s not like looking in the pantry to see if there are any cookies left, but more like searching the entire house to find a missing wedding ring. We must find it! And the reward for diligently seeking righteousness: life - eternal, abundant life!

This verse from Proverbs reminds me of two other great promises, one from the Old Testament and one from the New:

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, declares the Lord. . . (Jeremiah 29:12-14a)

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

God promises that our pursuit will be rewarded. He desires that we come after His righteousness. In fact, Jesus made it a priority:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? . . .But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:25,33)

God’s righteousness is not found apart from finding Him. So if we are seeking righteousness, we are also seeking God Himself. I was thinking about this just this morning. How God wants us to seek Him! He wants us to have a relationship with Him.

This week my younger daughter, Emmy, and her family have been on vacation in North Carolina. And all the while they have been gone, I have been anxious every day for a text, a call, or a posting on Instagram with photos of Beau and Penelope! And it occurred to me that as excited as I have been to hear from them, how amazing that God also longs to hear from me! He delights in us even more than we delight in our families! If we are pursuing righteousness, we are pursuing Him - and that leads to life!  No wonder He wants us to be diligent!

Next time we will look at just what is meant by “righteousness” and then we’ll look at how we practically “pursue” it. We will be bouncing around both the Old and New Testaments to get a better picture.    

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Proverbs 21:4,7,10,12,27 The wicked among us!

I’m reading a classic this summer: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (just a little light summer reading, right???). It really is quite shocking to read how Hitler came to power. One of the glaring realities was that everyone in positions of power (whether political, financial, or military) was watching out for himself and very ready to make unbelievable moral compromises to maintain power. No doubt in my mind that there was a lot of demonic activity and inspiration in those days. No other way to explain the extent of the evil.

In her study of the book of Esther, Beth Moore talks abut how Satan has had to have antichrists ready in every age of history, because, just like the rest of us, he does not know the hour of Jesus’ coming. And throughout history, Satan has had his men ready to wipe out the Jews (just like Haman in the book of Esther). There is no way to explain that intense antisemitism except that it is Satan-inspired! He’s doing everything he can to try to thwart the plans of God!

There are people who deny that there is any such thing as evil or sin. A dear young friend once told me that she thought everyone would be in Heaven. Really? You’d expect to find Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and Charles Manson (to just mention a very few) in Heaven???? How would that be Heaven??? The Bible makes it very clear that sin and evil are real. And this 21st chapter of Proverbs has much to say about the wicked:

Haughty eyes and a proud heart,

    the lamp of the wicked, are sin. (v.4)

The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,

    because they refuse to do what is just. (v.7)

The soul of the wicked desires evil;

    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. (v.10)

The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin. (v.12)

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination;

    how much more when he brings it with evil intent. (v.27)

It is clear that the wicked are driven by pride, they are violent, unmerciful, and filled with evil desires and evil intentions. Anything they do is designed to further their own agenda with no thought of the consequences to anyone else. Do we see that kind of evil in our day? Of course we do! That is no surprise, because evil has been prevalent since the Fall. The first murder was committed by Cain, and it’s been downhill from there!

After The Great War (now known as WWI), people could not believe that there would be another world war - and yet, within less than 20 years, Hitler had risen to power and was rolling through Europe with virtually no resistance!

How can anyone say there is no such thing as evil? It cries out for the justice of God! And the good news? It’s coming! When the LORD returns He will come to mete out justice, and we will all be praising His name and saying, “Amen!”

You will be glad to know that the next book I pick up this summer will be a 5th grade novel! :) The next topic from Proverbs? Righteousness!