Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Be Good! (Part 2)

Dear Friends,

Last week we saw that the top resolution in 2018 was to: “Be a better person.” In other words..BE GOOD! But then we immediately got bogged down because there is no agreed upon good or bad or right or wrong in our society and not even within our church traditions. We saw that we can’t depend on politicians, our society or even our religions to determine what’s good and what’s bad. Last week’s AMEN Corner ended with a question: “So how in heaven’s name can we be good and become a better person in 2018 if there is no absolute moral truth that would define for us what “good” looks like?”

But of course we actually do have a Book that contains the absolute moral truths that we need to know in order to become a better person. The problem is that so few of us Christians actually read it. Like the rest of the world, we have let the loudest voices in our society and in the media determine what is “good.” We’ve ignored the word of God and have let the world define “good.” Polls show that 100% of churchgoers read news, watch TV commentary and/or engage with news on social media, but only 19% of churchgoers read their Bible on a daily basis. In fact, 40% read their Bible just a few times a year or never read a Bible. And yes these are the churchgoers! For those nominal Christians who do not attend church, the statistics are even more depressing. So then, who do you suppose that our Nation’s Christians are being most influenced by, MSNBC or by God? But if we do go to church, are we not taught what is good and bad and right and wrong? Let’s see. There are two large branches of the Lutheran church in our Nation. One preaches that same sex relationships are “bad”–that homosexuality is a sin. The other branch preaches same sex relationships are “good” and have a bishop and his husband to promote that new doctrine. If you remember the “law of non-contradiction” from last week, we realize that only one of those Lutheran teachings can be the word of God and is “right and good.” But which one is it? It’s up to each one of us to rediscover the absolute moral truths that can only be found in our Bible.

If the word of God is indeed true and immutable as we claim it to be, then everything we need to know about good, bad, right and wrong is written in our Bible. So, in order to be “good,” we need to find out what God defines as good. That’s why you need to read your Bible. By the way, everyone who has ever told me they don’t understand their Bible has a King James that they’re trying to read. I tell them to keep the beautiful King James Family Bible on display in the living room and get a Bible that they can understand. The New Living Translation (NLT) is a literal, accurate translation in English that you and I can easily understand. The NIV and ESV are also popular and easy-to-read translations. Let me know if you’d like to have the NLT, I have some extra copies. 

And then, we need to read the New Testament. That’s where we find the good, bad, right and wrong stuff for those of us who are Christian believers. The Old Testament is the Jewish law which is not as helpful for us in determining what is “good” unless you are looking for the right way of presenting your sheep for sacrifice at the Temple. We’ll read the Old Testament later.

Step One on our journey to be good is to take a hard look at ourselves. I was at the funeral of a co-worker once where the priest attempted to preach one of the most malefic humans I have ever known into heaven. I knew the guy. Baptized Catholic, this now self-described atheist was abusive to his family and to those he supervised at work. But out of consideration for the grieving family, the priest selected a few good attributes (loved his two dogs, loved his motorcycles, was a good provider) and the dude was on his way to glory. We need to make sure that when we are self-evaluating we are not just looking at the good things. We don’t want to pat ourselves on the back for dropping the dollar in the beggar’s cup and overlook the shabby way we treat our family members. 

Like the priest working hard to promote the deceased to sainthood, we tend to brush aside our sinful behavior and spin the highlights of our own existence into something close to angelic. Steven Covey once said that we “judge ourselves by our intentions while we judge others by their behavior.” And our behavior, or more specifically, the “fruit” of our lives is what we need to look at. We are saved through Christ alone by faith alone, but the evidence of our salvation is our good works and changed life. As Jesus said, we are to judge others by the  “fruits” of what their words and actions produce. By using the metaphor of a good tree producing good fruit, He gives us the metrics to measure our own life as well. Matthew 7:18-20 

If your resolution is to be a better person and do good, then use this next week for some self-evaluation. Let go of your own ideas for self-improvement and determine God’s desire for you. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 NLT When we self-examine, we are taking care to not condemn ourselves but to just notice those areas in our life that God is pointing out to us. Take the week to do this every day and write down in a journal or notebook the things that you are doing that offend God and make Him unhappy. Remember that God loves you just the way you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay that way. We’ll conclude this next week...

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