Tag Archives: Righteousness

If Nobody is Home

Exorcism can be dangerous, Jesus said, because it can leave you worse off.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” –  (Matthew 12:43–45)

The problem in this scenario is that the soul of the exorcised person is not filled with another and better spirit.  It is merely “swept clean.”  It may be “put in order,” temporarily following a set of rules for moral living.  But it is vulnerable to spiritual attack.  This is the condition of so many who attempt to become morally good by following rules and strict discipline.  In Jesus’ day, it was the Pharisees who followed that path.  In our day it is frequently those raised in a legalistic church who find themselves in this kind of peril.  His or her “house” is “swept clean” but it is “unoccupied.”  Take that person out of their childhood environment and plunk them down, unsupervised on, say, a college campus and some very strange and sad things tend to happen.

However, when a person trusts Jesus, He sends His Spirit to live in their soul to guide them and empower them in truth.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  –  (John 14:16–17)

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. –  (John 16:13a)

This is an essential difference.  Their “house,” their soul, is no longer “unoccupied.”  It is the reason why the message of Jesus is not merely another religion, doomed to failure, but is genuine, Good News!  He gives the Holy Spirit Who lives in our souls and overpowers the forces of evil.

Quotes: The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Mt 12:43–45). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Two Boxes

Smartest thing I ever did was take a lesson from an expert in organizing clutter.  His name was…   let’s see, it’s around here somewhere…   Well, anyway, one of his tips was to take two big boxes and label them, “Keep” and “Pitch.”  Then, everything you pick up, toss it into one box or the other.  I discovered this system only works if you actually get rid of the “Pitch” box.

A similar task confronts those who are given new life through faith in Christ, sorting through the elements of their old nature and new, keeping the new and discarding the old.  Paul explained this process as the logical extension of our having “died with Christ” (Colossians 2:20a) and having been “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1a – See the previous post, “Refocus”).  In a sense, he said, get yourself two boxes, a “Death” box and a “Life” box.  Toss the parts for which Christ died and keep the parts for which He was raised. 

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

(Colossians 3:5)

“But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. – ( Colossians 3:8)

New things Paul listed to put in the “Life” box and keep included:

“…compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – (Colossians 3:12b-14)

Clutter can be debilitating; it feels so free to finally get it sorted and cleaned out. Similarly, the clutter of old habits and attitudes can wear us down and tangle us up with guilt and shame. Instead of fighting that battle, Paul says, drop all that old stuff into the “Death” box and haul it to the dump. Of course it is not entirely as easy as that. You will probably have to repeat the cleanup from time to time (just like you do in the basement closet!). But the boost you experience each time is worth it.


While you are reading this, do not look to your right.  Have you messed up yet? “Thou shalt not…” commands have an unintended effect on us: they make us want to do the very things they have forbidden. This, in a nutshell is what makes legalistic religion fail. Rules don’t restrain us, they tempt us.

How much better, God’s plan to restore us by implanting His Spirit to guide us, not by restrictive rules, but by creating in us the desire to do right. And yet, from the earliest days of the Christian church, men have tried to distort this message and turn the church into another religious bastion of rules.
Which led Paul to lament:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. – (Colossians 2:20-23)

It is not that Paul believed Christians are not tempted to do sinful things, or that nothing in the world is harmful to taste or touch. But, rather, that attempting to live by “Thou shalt not” rules never accomplishes in us a life in harmony with the ways God intended. But neither does Paul leave us passively waiting for the Spirit to overpower our temptations. Instead, he teaches us to refocus our hearts and minds:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
– (Colossians 3:1-2)

Testing, Testing

When Jeff Bezos said Amazon was testing drones for package delivery, I’m sure he meant that they were putting the drones to the test in various kinds of bad circumstances, to make sure they would respond faithfully to the commands sent to them by Amazon.  No doubt, there are bad guys out there who will also try to influence and control those drones but in a different way.  They are going to try to override the delivery instructions, to tempt them off course, so to speak, in order to steal the goods.  Presumably, there will be two kinds of testing going on for the drones – perhaps even simultaneously.  Amazon’s testing will be designed to make them succeed; the other type of testing will be designed to make them fail.

There are two kinds of trials, two kinds of tests that happen to us humans, too.  God allows us to encounter trials, in order to help us learn to operate responsively to His instructions.  But we also encounter temptations (in Greek – both “trial” and “temptation” are the same word) designed to cause us to go astray or be destroyed.  This kind of test, temptations, come from Satan.  Remember the distinction between those two kinds of testing as you read these words from Jesus’ brother, James:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)

Temptations that drag us down toward evil and destruction never come from God.  His tests are designed to help us “fly right.”  Satan’s temptations usually are experienced as “evil desires.”

“Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)

If we respond to the commands from the One Who made us, the end result is life, not death:

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:16-18)

Quote: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.



Someone asked me, “Do you have any hope for us?”  She knew I was blogging about the Bible and we had been talking about the recent spate of terrorist attacks.  World attention has been focused on the tragedy in France, but Boko Haram has slaughtered more than 10 times as many in Nigeria.  And, from all reports, there is more to come.  Does the Bible have any hope for us?

3000 years ago, King David poured out his heart in a Psalm:

“O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” (Psalm 7:1-2)

David’s prayer was not merely for his own situation:

“Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high;” (Psalm 7:6-7)

The problem with all of human attempts to put down wickedness thus far, both diplomatic and military, is that we humans are imperfect.  Justice is relative for us.  We make decisions based on expediency. We play favorites.  Those imperfect decisions each breed more discontent and violence.  There will be no solution for terrorism without perfect justice.  But God has promised to establish His justice and rule the whole world “from on high.”

The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the One Who would bring this about:

” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:1-4)

This prophecy about the coming Messiah, Jesus, is but one small sparkling drop of the hope the Bible has for us.  It would be mere wishful thinking if it were not for the fact that Jesus did come and fulfill the prophecies regarding His initial coming.  Even the one about His crucifixion and resurrection (see Isaiah 53).  Think about how unlikely it would be for any itinerant peasant in a tiny, conquered country, to be known and revered around the world, 2000 years later.  This, too, was foretold by the prophets.  And they also foretold His return to reign in justice.

When human strategies against wickedness fail, you need a Ruler from on high, Who plays no favorites, Who is not limited by mere appearances, but Who reigns with absolute, perfect justice.  Jesus is coming again.

So, like David, we pray, calling out to God for hope in a world filled with wickedness.  We say,

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

In a Nutshell

How many words would you need to summarize the Old Testament?  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus… Moses, the Ten Commandments, The Exodus, King David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah – the whole thing: how would you boil it down and how many words would you need?  Jesus needed 14 words. He said:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:12)

Elegant.  Golden.

Not to Worry

Terry Bolter escaped from the Gestapo by jumping across 6 feet of space to the roof of the adjacent building and then dropping down through a skylight.  He was a British WWII pilot, downed behind Nazi lines, who eventually made it back.  His journey ( It’s a hair raising tale; I’ll include the link below) was made possible by following guides from the Belgian resistance.  Throughout this perilous escape, Terry was constantly faced with a choice: worry or trust.  Worry would have paralyzed him.  Putting aside worry and trusting his guide gave him the ability to make it through each day’s dangerous obstacles.  Jesus taught the same principle in the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t worry; Trust.  He said:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  (Matthew 6:25-34)

Worry, stressing over having enough food, clothing or money, can prevent us from entering into life – real life.  Instead of worrying, Jesus said, trust Him and follow His guidance.  Bobby McFerrin had it wrong when he sang “Don’t Worry; Be Happy,” which is a potentially dangerous exercise in wishful thinking.  Jesus said, “Don’t worry; trust God and follow Me, your guide.”  There is a big difference.

So, what did Jesus, our guide, tell us to do?  “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.”  He didn’t say, “Clean up your act and do righteous things.”  He said, “Seek God’s righteousness, given to those who respond to Him as their King.”  It’s not the self-righteous who enter the kingdom of God, but rather, Jesus taught, it is the “poor in spirit,” who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3&6).  In other words, it is those who know they cannot make it on their own, those who are ready to trust Him to guide them (“blessed are the meek” – Matthew 5:5).  Terry Bolter couldn’t rescue himself.  He was trapped in a building with the Gestapo hammering on the door.  His only hope for safety was to put aside worry and trust his guide.  That’s the situation we are in.  Jesus says, “Don’t worry; follow me, seeking God’s Kingdom and righteousness.”

Here’s the link to the rest of Terry’s story:  click here




“You gob of spit!”  Ever call someone that?  They did in Jesus’ day – the Hebrew word for it was “Raca,” which, if you pronounced it with a sloppy, wet “hhhhchhhr” sound at the front end, sounded about like hawking up a Louie (is that how you spell Louie?  Lewie?  Don’t know…).

Anyhow, if you did that, Jesus says,  you are just as far out of bounds with the Law of God as you would be if you murdered him!  It wasn’t the word, spit, that was so bad. He said,

Anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell.”. (Matthew 5:22b).

Well, He certainly had the Pharisees attention, because they badmouthed people all the time.  He’s got my attention, too.  There have been times…   probably for you, too.  Can Jesus be serious?

Jesus had just said, “For I tell you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:20).  Jesus is serious, but He is also radically redefining what it means to be righteous.
Here is the deal.  The common religious idea is that righteousness is a matter of not doing bad things.  What are bad things?  The religion makes a rule, draws a line, and says, “Anyone who steps over that line is unrighteous.”  Jesus, however, says righteousness is more about what you do than what you do not do.  It’s not about not stepping over the line but rather, turning around and going as far as you can in the opposite direction.

In the case of murder, it’s not about stopping short of shooting someone, but turning around and repairing anything that has caused separation between the two of you.  Even your own caustic mutterings.
Jesus says,  (No matter what seems more important – even taking a gift to church) …” go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew First 5:24 – with my paraphrase of 23)

See the idea of this?  the righteous person does not stay angry with his brother, but does whatever is necessary to repair the broken relationship. 

Good Enough?

How good do you have to be to get to heaven?  For most people, the answer is, “As good as me…  I hope…”. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees thought the bar was set very high and literally spent their every waking hour trying to follow God’s commands.  Then along comes Jesus, teaching that it isn’t the self-righteous who get to heaven, but the people who know they are unrighteous, the spiritually bankrupt.  (See the previous posts .).

Imagine being one of those Pharisees, working hard to be good enough for God, and then hearing some guy from Nazareth suggest that the spiritual losers were doing better than they were! 

Then Jesus made 4 radically confusing statements:
1 – He said He wasn’t abolishing the scriptures, but fulfilling them. (Matthew 5:17)
2 – He said all of scripture would remain intact, even down to the tiniest punctuation marks, until “all things are accomplished.”
3 – He said “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…’ (and vice versa – Matthew 5:19)

And then, when he had them really scratching their heads, He really made them furious:
4 – “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”. (Matthew 5:20)

Huh?  All the commands are essential, right down to the tiniest marks, but in order to get into heaven, you have to do much, much better than the guys who specialized in strict obedience to the laws?   If you are confused, good, because that is what Jesus was trying to do.  He knew that righteousness had very little to do with strict obedience and more to do with what was going on inside our hearts. 

In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains true righteousness, giving several challenging examples.

Stay tuned…

Breaking the Rules

Why was Jesus such a threat to  religious people?  A lot of it was because He seemed to be breaking the rules of their religion.  God said,  “Don’t do any work on the Sabbath.” Religious people were very strict in deciding what actions constituted work, so they could be sure they didn’t break that rule. 

They still are, today!  In Jerusalem,  Orthodox Jewish leaders have decreed that pushing elevator buttons is work.  Consequently, the hotel elevators are programmed to stop at every floor on the Sabbath.  But Jesus didn’t seem to care about or obey their rules about the Sabbath.  There were no elevators, but Jesus sure pushed a lot of buttons, especially on the Sabbath – healing people, walking too far, and picking grain to eat. 

When religious people are threatened by people who don’t obey their rules.  If they can’t make them conform, they throw them out and badmouth them so others won’t be corrupted.  That’s what they did to Jesus (and much worse). 

You can see why they got the idea  Jesus didn’t respect the Scriptures.  But they were wrong – wrong about the rules and wrong about Jesus’ attitude toward the Scriptures (in those days called “The Law and the Prophets). 

That’s why there was much scratching of heads when Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

How could this teaching fit with Jesus’ apparent disregard for the rules of the religious?   Chew on that and try to figure it out.  Next time we’ll try to unpack what it means to “fulfill” the Law.