doing what is right or good in everyone’s eyes

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

Romans 12:17b

We live in a day and age when it’s impossible to do anything without it being politicized or criticized in one way or another. A big part of that is judgment imposed simply because of who one is either in political, religious, or other terms that don’t fit the mainstream of society. Yet we’re told to be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Bill Mounce’s translation (click link) says we’re to give careful thought to such.

The directive might be tied to what precedes it, the imperative not to repay anyone evil for evil done to us. But there’s no connective in the Greek, which we would translate “but.” So we can’t be sure. But regardless, we can see that it applies across the board, whatever we’re up against.

This seems like a tall if not impossible order. After all, just the fact that we’re from different backgrounds culturally one way or another makes it nearly certain that someone is bound to misunderstand us along the way, and take what we’re doing in a way that’s not at all intended. And there’s the reality that if we seek to witness to the truth of the gospel or for something we consider right, there will always be those who disagree or oppose us. In their eyes what we’re doing won’t be good or right at all.

I think we have to accept the fact that this is not foolproof, nor even entirely possible. So with that qualification, we can attempt to do what is right in the sight of everyone, even while doing things which we know in and of themselves won’t be accepted by everyone as good and right in themselves. How we do something, the sensitivity used is surely something of what Paul might have been getting at here.

That no one would speak badly about what we do would be the goal. That at least they can see that we’ve made the attempt to come across in a way that’s acceptable, and even good and right. Whatever else they might think about what we’re about, let’s bend over backwards to not have them stumble over something we do which is neither good nor right. In and through Jesus.

the good shepherd guides us along the right paths

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3b

Do we think the good shepherd, the Lord guides us, or do we think we’re more or less on our own, in need of the shepherd only when we’re in trouble? Of course we would answer the former, yes, we believe the shepherd guides us always, or that we need his guidance always. And yet do we really act like it? It seems to me that by and large we operate more in the latter, we cry out for help when we’ve messed up or are lost. We pay lip service to the idea that we need the Lord’s guidance always, but we really rely on ourselves, maybe asking for some wisdom from God along the way, which is good and a start, but not enough.

Instead we need to seek to be guided by the Lord throughout the entire day, even every moment. I don’t think the Lord deletes our inclinations, but rather changes them over time. It’s hard to break away from inclinations which may not be all that helpful. For example we might spend too much time on social media, or checking out the news, sports, entertainment, politics, whatever. It’s easy to get lost in any number of things.

The paths of righteousness is the traditional rendering, but along the right paths for our good and for God’s reputation is probably more the thought here (see NET Bible footnote). Certainly learning to do righteousness is part of it. But along the right paths includes much else, such as keeping us away from what would be harmful to us, and close to the shepherd, hopefully along with other sheep.

So each day we need to ask the Lord to keep us on the right path. We are moving, life changes along the way, new challenges, new opportunities. So it’s not like we know, having been there, done that. Age with wisdom can help one know what and what not to do more and more as one gets older. But a huge part of that is to remain dependent on and close to the good shepherd. To depend on God in Jesus to guide us in ways to help us know God’s goodness in all of life.

 

accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

remaining hinged in an unhinged world

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3

It’s an unhinged world today it seems. And it’s easy, in fact impossible not to react when one has opinions or convictions.

James’s passage is about the power of the tongue for life and especially for death. He echoes Proverbs, but as a faithful pastor, expounds on that. That precedes what is quoted above (click link).

Then James ends on the note above, about true wisdom.

There seems such a dearth of that nowadays, and it can become confusing when government leaders, and especially religious, indeed, even Christian leaders seem to advocate for something different, askew from true wisdom. I suppose they would argue otherwise, if they would be concerned about this suggestion at all. And Satan comes as an angel of light, so that his messengers come as servants of righteousness. A lot of time what is going on is a muddying of the waters. Again it becomes confusing and even more so when Christian leaders get involved in what seems to be something less than wisdom, at least to me. And sad.

Regardless of the merit of my thought here, there is one thing for sure. What God calls us to in Christ is a heavenly wisdom which is down to earth, but not of this world. It’s a wisdom that refuses to exact pound for pound of flesh. But instead, forgives one’s wrongdoers, though holding them accountable out of love.

Although this is not what the passage above is talking about, it is indeed related to it. Give it a good look and listen. That is what God is calling us Christians to be and do today, what is wonderfully exemplified to us in this young man.

In and through Jesus.

the insight and strength needed

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.

mourn and weep, then laugh and dance

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    …a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…

Ecclesiastes 3:1,4

In this life there’s always plenty of good reason to mourn and weep. Plenty. Right at our doorstep. Not only around us, but over our own mistakes and failures. And there’s a time for that.

But saying there’s a time for that implies that it is meant to be only so long. There’s also a time to laugh and dance. Notice that these two opposites: grief and mirth are juxtaposed in the poetry of this passage so that one indeed can’t miss the contrast.

As humans we can’t carry the weight of our own burdens forever. We’re meant to cast them on God in prayer, and to carry each other’s burdens.

There is a time as well for us to carry our own burden. In taking seriously the harm we’ve done, or being weighed down by our concern for others.

And the time to relax, to let it go only in the sense of no longer stressing over it. Not that we let go of the actual concern. But even with that, through trust in God, we’re able to relax and enjoy God’s gifts, and especially God himself as we seek to contemplate on him.

In and through Jesus.

 

 

theology for real life

The book of Job is a good case in point of how all of Scripture (the Bible) is meant for real life. No one is likely to be affected much by how many angels can dance on a pin, something allegedly, Christian theologians were contemplating in the past. It’s not like we have to look for only what seems relevant and ignore the rest. We need to prayerfully consider just what God might be saying to us through everything, especially through the words found in Scripture.

I like our church’s statement of faith, because it’s not simply about knowing or confessing something. It is about applying truth to life, or letting Scripture critique and change us.

The danger in all of this is that we want quick, pat answers. We think the Bible is written for us to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. Not. Scripture, God’s word is meant to shape us according to God’s will, which means conformity to Christ.

I am blessed too to work for a solid evangelical ministry which has the motto:

The mission of Our Daily Bread Ministries is to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.

We have to beware of piling in information which we’re not applying. According to James, that is a sure recipe for self-deception. We can think we’re doing well and in the clear just because of what we know. But what we’re given to know is meant to be applied, every single bit of it. We may not know how, but we should be in prayer over it. God’s word has some effect on us, whether we always get it or not. But our goal should be to listen and learn for faith and life. What we believe is meant to impact how we live. And how we live can either confirm or undermine what we believe. The two go together.

This isn’t easy. It’s not like, here it is, plain and simple, so do it. Yes and no. Because although that’s the clear path, it’s beset with challenges to our faith, so that either our roots will have to go deeper in search of God’s wisdom, or we’ll more or less give up, shrivel and die. To live in between is to remain unsettled and eventually sets us up for failure, because it won’t work (James 1:6-8).

So we have to set our sight on one thing: God and God’s will in Jesus in this life. Everything else is secondary and subsidiary to that. In and through Jesus.